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Biblical descriptions

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Biblical descriptions of Jesus' death and resurrection:

There were many defining moments in the life of Jesus. Two of them were his baptism by John the Baptist, and his crucifixion by the Roman authorities. The canonical gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) are basically in agreement about the events in Jesus' life between his baptism and crucifixion. But they differ greatly when describing the events before his baptism and after his death.

bulletSome liberal theologians have concluded that the birth, childhood and resurrection stories were pieced together by the authors of the gospels out of developing legends that were circulating among various Christian groups at the time.
bulletConservative theologians believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and that God inspired its authors. Thus they believe that the apparently conflicting gospel stories can be harmonized into a single coherent picture.

Details of the death and resurrection of Jesus are described in the following Gospel passages:

bulletMark 15:33 to 16:8 (Verses 16:9 to 16:20 are a later forgery inserted by an unknown author long after the original book was written)
bulletMatthew 27:52 to 28:20
bulletLuke 23:44 to 24:12
bulletJohn 19:29 to 20:18

By combining the various gospels' accounts Jesus' death and resurrection, one can develop a common story that is consistent with most of the Biblical texts: Simon from Cyrene was pressed into service to carry the cross from Jerusalem to Golgatha, the place of crucifixion. There, Jesus was offered a drink of wine mixed with a bitter substance. He refused. He was nailed to the cross through his palms and feet. Two robbers were crucified with him; one on either side. People passing by hurled insults. From the 6th to the 9th hour, it became dark. Jesus cried out. He was offered vinegar to drink. He cried out again and died. The gospels record different final messages. The veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom by an unknown force. Joseph of Arimathea obtained permission to take Jesus' body to his private tomb. He wrapped the body in a clean linen cloth, placed it in the tomb and sealed the entrance. On Sunday morning, an unknown number of women came to the tomb. The stone had been rolled away. They found that Jesus' body was missing.

But not all of the gospels totally agree with this story. Disagreements abound: 1

bulletWho carried the cross to the place of execution?
bulletMark: Simon
bulletMatthew: Simon
bulletLuke: Simon
bulletJohn: Jesus
bulletWhat was the sign over Jesus' head on the cross?
bulletMark: "THE KING OF THE JEWS"
bulletJohn: "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS" in Aramaic, Latin and Greek
bulletWhat did the robbers say to Jesus?
bulletMark: they both hurled insults
bulletMatthew: Same as Mark
bulletLuke: One hurled insults; the other said that Jesus' execution was unjust because he was not guilty of any crime
bulletJohn: Nothing was recorded
bulletWhat were Jesus' last words?
bulletMark: Jesus "cried out", but the words (if any) were not recorded
bulletMatthew: Same as Mark
bulletLuke: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
bulletJohn: "It is finished."
bulletWho went to the tomb with spices to prepare Jesus' body?
bulletMark: 3 women on Sunday morning just after sunrise
bulletMatthew: No record
bulletLuke: 4 or more women on Sunday morning very early in the morning, presumably while dark
bulletJohn: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus on Friday before sundown
bulletWho visited the tomb on Sunday with Mary Magdalene?
bulletMark: Two women: Salome and Mary the mother of James
bulletMatthew: One woman: "the other Mary"
bulletLuke: Three or more women: Mary the mother of James, Joanna and at least one other woman
bulletJohn: None; she went alone
bulletWhen did she/they visit the tomb on Sunday?
bulletMark: just after sunrise
bulletMatthew: at dawn
bulletLuke: very early in the morning, presumably while it was still dark
bulletJohn: while it was still dark
bulletWhat happened to the rock that sealed the tomb?
bulletMark: The stone had already been rolled back before they arrived
bulletMatthew: An earthquake happened; an angel appeared and rolled it away as the women approached the tomb.
bulletLuke: Same as Mark
bulletJohn: Same as Mark
bulletWho did she/they find at the tomb?
bulletMark: A young man dressed in a white robe was inside the tomb
bulletMatthew: An angel sitting on the rock outside the tomb
bulletLuke: Two men were inside the tomb, dressed in clothes that looked like lightning
bulletJohn: Nobody
bulletWhere was Jesus at the time?
bulletMark: not at the tomb; he was on his way to Galilee
bulletMatthew: same as Mark
bulletLuke: unknown
bulletJohn: unknown
bulletDid she/they enter the tomb?
bulletMark: Yes
bulletMatthew: Yes. They were invited by the angel to "come see the place where he lay"
bulletLuke: Yes
bulletJohn: No
bulletHow did she/they react to the news?:
bulletMark: They fled, trembling and bewildered
bulletMatthew: They fled, fearful and joyous
bulletLuke: They left
bulletJohn: She ran to Simon Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved
bulletWho did she/they see on the way to the disciples?
bulletMark: Nobody
bulletMatthew: They met Jesus, who they immediately recognized
bulletLuke: Nobody
bulletJohn: Nobody
bulletHow did the disciples react to the news?
bulletMark: They didn't; the woman told nobody of the news because they were afraid.
bulletMatthew: They believed the women.
bulletLuke: The disciples, and "all the others" didn't believe the women. Peter ran to the tomb anyway.
bulletJohn: They believed Mary.
bulletDid the women/woman return to the tomb?
bulletMark: No record
bulletMatthew: No record
bulletLuke: No record
bulletJohn: Yes. Mary saw two angels and Jesus there; but she thought that Jesus was the gardener
bulletTo whom did Jesus first appear?
bulletMark: to all the disciples somewhere in Galilee
bulletMatthew: to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they left the tomb to tell the brethren
bulletLuke: to Cleopas and an unidentified person on a road between Jerusalem and Emmaus
bulletJohn: to all the disciples in a house in Jerusalem
bulletPaul: to Peter (I Corinthians 15:5)

Two minor errors seem to have crept into the Gospel account of the crucifixion:

bulletJesus would not have carried his cross to the place of execution. Condemned prisoners only carried the crosspiece. The upright stakes were stored at Golgotha for repeated use. To do otherwise would not be efficient; and the Roman Army held efficiency at a high premium.
bulletJohn 20:25-27 refers to nails having been forced through Jesus' hands during the crucifixion. Luke 24:39 and John 20:27 also imply that Jesus' palms were pierced: This has traditionally been shown in Christian artwork as nail holes through Jesus' palms. This would not work, because the weight of the victim's body would tear through the flesh of the hand. When the Romans used nails, they passed them through the wrist between the two bones of the forearm, not through the victim's palms. Often the Romans used no nails at all; they tied the victim's arm to the crosspiece.

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  1. Paul Kurtz, "The Transcendental Temptation", Prometheus, Buffalo NY, (1986). Pages 153-160.

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Home page > Christianity > Christian history, etc > Beliefs > Resurrection > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2002 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Essay last updated: 2002-MAR-30
Written by. B.A. Robinson

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