Harmonizing the Gospels

A quick word to help explain what considerations of mine go into putting all four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection together.

I believe we have to allow writers to tell a story their way. It’s important to note that the Bible records this story as any of us might tell a story. For instance, I could tell you that I went to a Christian conference in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and while I was there, I interviewed a protester who was a member of the Free Thinkers club at the University of Arkansas.

What I just wrote is a true statement. However, I didn’t include all the details I could have. For instance, I actually interviewed three protesters, but I only recorded two of those interviews, and I spent most of my time with one guy. So I can easily say I interviewed a protester –which is true, but what I cannot say is that I interviewed one protester. Also, while I was interviewing the protester I had a couple of friends with me. Therefore, while I can easily say I interviewed a protester, I cannot truthfully say I interviewed a protester while by myself.

In the Resurrection account, the four Gospels do what any of us do when telling a story: We give the details we think are important, but we don’t always go into everything. We sum it up instead of including every detail. Sometimes we do this for brevity. Sometimes we do this because we aren’t sure about all the details and we don’t want to say something that isn’t true. So here Mark says the women saw an angel and they were alarmed, while Luke is more detailed by saying that two angels were present. Both are true statements on their own, Luke is more detailed however. Mark gives a very abbreviated account (only 8 verses in the oldest manuscripts). His entire book is very short compared to the others, and only briefly goes over the resurrection.

It’s no different than me saying I talked to a protester. There were several protesters that I talked to, but saying “I talked to a protester” is not only true, it’s also a common way of briefly telling a story. We often focus on certain things that seem important to the story while not including the entire picture.

One final note: The Greek word we translated “stood,” in Luke’s account of the angels, means they were “suddenly present.” It doesn’t mean they weren’t sitting, it literally means, they “suddenly showed up.”

Anytime I run into an apparent contradiction in the Bible, I immediately go look at the original languages it was written in. Those would be Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Most of the time, it was the English language that gave the appearance of a contradiction. That would be the case here with Luke and Mark and whether or not the angels were sitting or standing.

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