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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.

bullet Some 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.
bullet Conservative 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:

bullet Mark 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)
bullet Matthew 27:52 to 28:20
bullet Luke 23:44 to 24:12
bullet John 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

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

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

bullet Jesus 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.
bullet John 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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