(I)f Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:17-19, KJV).As vital to Christianity as the resurrection is, it rests upon the flimsiest of evidence: four contradictory "gospel" accounts and some scattered references in the New Testament epistles to a risen Messiah. And that's it. As far as scholars have been able to determine, none of the gospel accounts of the resurrection were written by anyone who could have been an eyewitness to the event, and most of the epistolary references to it were made by the Apostle Paul, who by his own admission did not witness it either. He claimed that he had seen the resurrected Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus.
The contradictory nature of the hearsay accounts of the resurrection constitute the most damaging evidence against it. If alleged eyewitnesses to an event as extraordinary as the revivification of a dead man should contradict themselves in a court of law as patently as did the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in their telling of the resurrection story, no intelligent jurors would give a speck of credence to their testimony, yet millions of Christians have accepted a resurrection story that is riddled with discrepancies.
In future issues of TSR, we will look at several points of discrepancy in the four resurrection accounts, but for now I will focus on just one: an alleged post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. If one were to ask a Christian versed in the scriptures if the disciples of Jesus met him in Galilee after his resurrection, the answer would surely be, "Yes, they did." After all, Matthew, writing about postresurrection events, clearly said, "But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted" (28:16-27).
That seems clear enough, and if Matthew had been the only one to write about postresurrection events, this meeting in Galilee would certainly be believable to anyone who could accept the premise that a dead man had been resurrected. Considered in the context of all four gospel accounts of the resurrection, however, this meeting in Galilee poses tremendous credibility problems, because Luke said in his gospel that Jesus told his disciples on the night of his resurrection that they were to stay in Jerusalem until they were "clothed with power from on high" (24:49). According to the same writer (Luke), this power came to them about fifty days later when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:3-5; 2:1-4), but by then Jesus had already ascended back to heaven, because he had remained on earth only forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). So if Luke was right and Jesus did tell his disciples on the night of his resurrection not to leave Jerusalem until they received "power from on high" and if this power from on high did not come to them until fifty days later and if Jesus remained on earth for only forty days after his resurrection and if the disciples obeyed Jesus's command not to leave Jerusalem until they had received power from on high, how could they have possibly met him on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew claimed?
Bibliolaters will say that the command to stay in the city until they were "clothed with power from on high" was not given to the disciples on the night of Jesus's resurrection, but careful analysis of the text will not support them in this. Luke 24:1-12 described events that occurred at the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection. The women went there "at early dawn" (v:1), found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty (vv:2-3), and encountered two men in dazzling apparel who told them that Jesus was risen (vv:4-8). The women ran to tell the news to the eleven (v:9), who considered their words to be only idle talk (v:11), but Peter ran to the tomb, looked inside, and went back home, "wondering at that which was come to pass" (v:12).
After all these things were related, Luke said, "And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus" (v:13). The expression "that very day" surely was intended to mean the very day of the resurrection, the day all of the events just mentioned had happened. So the encounter between Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (vv:15-27) had to have happened on the same day that Jesus was allegedly resurrected. If not, what did "that very day" mean?
Evidence that it was the very day of the resurrection is seen in verse 21. In the conversation that Jesus had with the disciples, the one named Cleopas stated, with implied doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah:
But we hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel. Yea and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things came to pass.Cleopas clearly indicated in this statement that the events being narrated in this passage were taking place on the thirdLuke 24, everything happening was happening on the day of the resurrection. What day could that have been except the third day following the trial and crucifixion of Jesus that Cleopas had just summarized? As any Sunday school student knows, the resurrection was supposed to have occurred on that third day. So at this point in
When the trio arrived at Emmaus, Jesus "made as though he would go further" (v:28), but the two disciples "constrained him, saying, Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent" (v:29). The "far-spent day" would have been the day the journey started, so Luke's narrative shows quite clearly that everything he was telling had happened on the third day, the day of the resurrection.
The insistence of the two disciples prevailed, and Jesus went into Emmaus with them. When they sat down to "break bread," Jesus blessed the bread and gave it to the others. Until then, the two disciples had not recognized Jesus, but at the breaking of the bread "their eyes were opened" and they realized who he was as "he vanished out of their sight" (v:31). "And they (the two disciples) rose up that very hour, and returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered together" (v:33).The eleven told the men that "the Lord is risen indeed and hath appeared unto Simon," and the men told the eleven what they had seen (v:34). Emmaus was located only seven miles from Jerusalem, so if the two disciples had left "that very hour" after recognizing the vanishing Jesus and returned to Jerusalem, they would certainly have arrived there the same night.
While the disciples from Emmaus were telling the eleven what they had seen, Jesus suddenly appeared out of nowhere:
And as they spake these things, he himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they beheld a spirit. And he said unto them, why are ye troubled? and wherefore do questionings arise in your heart? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold me having. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet (vv:36-40).Luke's narrative at this point reads very much like John's account of an appearance that Jesus made on the night of the resurrection day:
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side (John 20:19-20).The similarity of these two accounts should confirm that the appearance of Jesus to the eleven that Luke wrote about did allegedly happen the night of the resurrection, because John plainly said that it occurred on "the first day of the week."
In the continuation of Luke's narrative, Jesus asked for something to eat, and a piece of broiled fish was given to him (v:41). After eating it, he spoke to the disciples about non-existent scriptures (as we will see in a later article) that his resurrection had fulfilled (vv:44-46). Then in giving to them Luke's version of the "Great Commission," he made the statement that casts serious doubt on Matthew's claim of a postresurrection appearance in Galilee:
Ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high (vv:48-49).As related earlier, this "power from on high" that the apostles were to receive presumably came to them when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit:
(A)nd being assembled together with them, he (Jesus) charged them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: for John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence (Acts 1:4-5).The apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), so that would have been the time that they received Jesus's promise of "power from on high." Pentecost (from a Greek word meaning fiftieth) fell fifty days after the sacrifice of the passover lamb (see Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.10.5-6), and Jesus was crucified as the passover was approaching (Matt. 26:1-5, 17-19; Mk. 14:1-2, 12-16; Lk. 22:1-2, 7-13; Jn. 18:28, 39). John even said that it was during the "preparation of the passover" that Jesus was taken before Pilate (19:14). So if Jesus was crucified at the time of the passover, he had already ascended back to heaven when the apostles were "clothed with power from on high" on the day of Pentecost (50 days after his crucifixion), because Luke claimed that he stayed on earth only forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).
By now the problem in reconciling Matthew's resurrection account with Luke's should be obvious. Luke very clearly indicated that Jesus on the night of his resurrection charged the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they were "clothed with power from on high" (baptized in the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:4-5), so that leaves no room for a postresurrection appearance to the apostles on a mountain in Galilee. As I said earlier, IF Jesus did tell his disciples on the night of his resurrection not to leave Jerusalem until they received "power from on high" and IF this power from on high did not come to them until some fifty days later and IF Jesus remained on earth for only forty days after his resurrection and IF the disciples obeyed Jesus's command not to leave Jerusalem until they had received power from on high, they couldn't have possibly met him on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew claimed.
No one can successfully argue that the meeting on the mountain in Galilee happened before the meeting in Jerusalem on the night of the resurrection, because that would pose other textual reconciliation problems. For one thing, Galilee was too far from Jerusalem to make such a meeting logistically possible. The disciples were presumably in Jerusalem the morning of the resurrection, because the women ran to tell them of the empty tomb (Lk. 24:9). Peter and another disciple even ran to the tomb, looked inside, and returned home, wondering about what had happened (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-9). Are we to believe that after Peter returned home from the tomb, he and the other apostles journeyed to Galilee (a distance of some sixty or seventy air miles, even if the mountain was in the southernmost region of Galilee), saw Jesus, and then returned to Jerusalem ALL IN ONE DAY! The mere suggestion is preposterous (but perhaps not as preposterous as believing a resurrection story as riddled with contradictions as the one told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Besides, Luke said that when the disciples from Emmaus found the apostles in Jerusalem the night of the resurrection, they were immediately told, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon" (24:34). But if all of the eleven had met Jesus earlier that day on a mountain in Galilee, they would have surely told the disciples from Emmaus that Jesus had appeared to all of them.
There is just no way to reconcile Matthew's story with Luke's. If Matthew was right about a postresurrection appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, then Luke was wrong in at least some details of his description of a postresurrection appearance in Jerusalem the night of the resurrection. If Luke was right in all the details he described, then Matthew erred. One of them had to be wrong. Either that or believers in the resurrection will have to say that the apostles disobeyed Jesus's command to stay in Jerusalem until they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Either alternative they select won't build much confidence in the Bible inerrancy doctrine.
The principle of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus
(false in one
thing, false in everything) is certainly applicable to the four
resurrection stories. This rule of evidence recognizes that testimony
found to be false in one matter should be considered unreliable in
matters. So if either Luke or Matthew erred in telling the resurrection
story, how could it possibly be that both were protected from error by
Holy Spirit as they wrote? If either of them was wrong about the when
where of postresurrection appearances, then maybe they were wrong about
the resurrection period. Maybe it didn't even happen. This is surely
something for resurrection believers to think about. Or maybe they
rather go on with their heads in the sand.