A Reader’s Question

Reading with the Pastor
Matthew 28  and  Psalm 36

Today a question came in on the reading of Matthew 28. Below you will find the question and the answer I quickly scribbled out. Hope both are helpful.
.       I have a question for you on today’s reading in Matthew 28. 
.       It talks about how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb and an angel came down and told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. They immediately ran to tell the disciples. On their way, they were met by Jesus and bowed down and worshiped Him. 
.       I studied the book of John this past year in my BSF class and in John chapter 20 it talks about Mary going to the tomb and seeing the stone rolled away. It says that Mary began to cry and Jesus appeared to her but she thought He might have been the gardener and didn’t recognize Him until He spoke to her.
.       My question is, why the different versions to the same story? Is it as simple as two different people’s perspective? Matthew says that an angel came and told her to go and tell the disciples. John says she stayed there and wept. Angel or not, if I saw the tomb was open, I would have gone and told anyone and everyone what had happened.
.      Just curious….Thanks!

Here was my response.

Yes. It is as exactly how stories are told by eyewitnesses. One writer tells us the story with a summary and another writer tells the same story in a chronology or at least with some references to time. We do this all the time. For example:

My daughter comes home and says “Dad, the Wellivers have this cool snake. It doesn’t bite and it’s not poisonous and I got to hold it. But Doug wasn’t too keen, so I gave it back to him.”

My son comes back and says, “Dad, Aubre got to hold Doug Welliver’s pet snake. It was a boa constrictor. She was really scared but Doug let her hold it and then she gave it back to him.”

My other daughter says, “Dad, Aubre held a boa constrictor over at the Wellivers house.”

Three different accounts. Three different sets of details. One, the third, is a summary and tells nothing related to time or sequence. The first two accounts give some time references but there is still a lot of ambiguity. For example:

  • Was Doug not too keen
    • before Aubre held the snake or
    • while she held the snake?
  • Was Aubre scared
    • before she held the snake or
    • while she was holding the snake?
In Matthew’s account there is a lot of ambiguity, things we just don’t know. For example:
  • Was the angel still sitting on the rock when the two Mary’s got to the tomb?
  • Did the angel speak to the women while the guards were there or had they already left?
  • Verse 11, says “while they were going” the guard’s left to tell the priests what had happened.
    • Does the “while they were going” mean
      • “when they were going to the disciples” or
      • “when they were going to the tomb”?
    • It isn’t clear.
  • Verse 9, 
    • Does “and behold” mean
      • “while they were at the tomb” or
      • “while they were on the way from the tomb”?  
    • It isn’t clear.
The same thing happens when we examine the account of John. The accounts don’t contradict but they need to be harmonized. Two books that might be helpful to you are THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN STEREO (Johnston M. Cheney) and THE MERGED GOSPELS (Gary Crossland). There is also an update of Cheney called THE GREATEST STORY (Cheney/Ellison).
Keep reading folks. And don’t be afraid of what you might find.

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