A Kairos Focus Briefing Note:

Notes on the First Easter's Timeline:

GEM 03:02:09, as rev. April 18b & rationalised May - June 2004
this update: Dec 19, 2005a

OUTLINE: The research notes following are compiled as a response to recent local newspaper articles appearing in Jamaica that have alleged that the NT Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are prime examples of the alleged "thousands of contradictions" in the Bible -- so that those who hold the traditionally high view of that Book as the inspired word of God that reflects his unlimited truth, power and loving intent to save us are ignorant, backward or intellectually dishonest.

For, according to Gleaner Columnist (and Catholic Deacon) Peter Espeut:

“Now how is that for contradictions! If these four [Gospel writers] appeared at witnesses at a trial, they would be thrown out of court! The only three points they agree on are: it happened on a Sunday; Jesus' body was absent; and Mary Magdalene was there. All points of these four accounts of the resurrection cannot be historically accurate; the contradictions are too profound. This is typical of thousands of contradictions contained within the Bible. Fundamentalists cannot deal with this level of contradiction; their efforts to "harmonise" the four accounts or to "explain away" the contradictions are in vain. Their position cannot stand up to honest scrutiny.” ["The Religion of a Book," Gleaner, Wed Jan 29, 2003.  http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030129/cleisure/cleisure2.html; parenthesis and links added. Context is here.]

The below is, first of all, therefore a response to these specific accusatory -- and unjustified -- claims made in the popular press in Jamaica in January/February 2003; but the underlying themes are quite broad in scope: the Bultmannian-style vision of the task of the modern theologian as one who rescues a small kernel of theological truth from a large trashy husk of ancient "Christian" myths and legends that are in reality a product of man's evolving religious consciousness rather than any "final revelation" in Jesus [Cf. Heb 1:1 - 3]. Further to this, the liberationist form of such theologies further attacks Christians with a high view of the Bible as being ignorant, backward, intellectually dishonest, helping to frustrate Jamaica's hopes for liberation of the nation, and generally materially contributing to social ills, as is summarised and responded to here and here.



--> The Standing Rebuke to Radical Bible Criticism
--> The Logical Issue
--> But, is the Claim Plausible?
--> The Quality of the Evidence & the Morison Challenge
The Broader Issue: Credibility of the NT

 A)  The Question of Methodology 
B)  “E”: A Logically Possible Timeline of the First Easter 

C) On the Issue of Logical Possibility vs. Psychological Plausibility


Appendix A: More on the Women of the Company of Disciples   
Appendix B: The Logic of Harmonising Explanations 
 --> The Craig Challenge
--> Inference to "best" historical explanation

Appendix C: Translating Erchomai 
Appendix D: Articles to date   


Links and References | Selective Hyperskepticism | Site Home Page | Discussion Forum


The below is, first of all, a response to specific claims made in the popular press in Jamaica in January/February 2003; but the underlying themes are quite broad in scope: the Bultmannian-style vision of the task of the modern theologian as one who rescues a small kernel of theological truth from a large trashy husk of ancient "Christian" myths and legends that are in reality a product of man's evolving religious consciousness rather than any "final revelation" in Jesus [Cf. Heb 1:1 - 3]. Further to this, the liberationist form of such theologies further attacks Christians with a high view of the Bible as being ignorant, backward, intellectually dishonest, helping to frustrate Jamaica's hopes for liberation of the nation, and generally materially contributing to social ills, as is summarised and responded to here and here. (And, if widely circulated opinions, such as those in Mr Dan Brown's popular but misleading novel, The Da Vinci Code-- in which Mr Brown falsely asserts in introductory comments, under a grossly irresrponsible or even deceptive headline, "FACT," that its descriptions of "artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals . . . are accurate" -- are of concern, please see informed critical reviews here, and here (and here).)

On this broader point: the now widespread "Fundamentalists are dishonest, anti-progress ignoramuses" accusation, it is important to observe that in January 2002, Mr Espeut made an earlier, equally harsh and poorly founded, overblown, caricatured accusation that "one of the sources of Jamaica's backwardness is . . . fundamentalism, which calls on its adherents to suspend reason and logic  in favour of rote and recitation." This last appears in: "Bishop Spong and fundamentalism," Gleaner, Jan. 16, 2002; an article in which he uncritically and emphatically endorsed that extremely radical -- indeed, evidently atheistic -- theologian, who, in the words of the Sunday Telegraph: "holds no discernibly traditional Christian views at all"; as Mr Martin Henry ably exposed in a stinging rebuttal. (For, while there are many people who hold the traditionally high view of the Bible who suffer from the lack of access to high quality formal and informal education that continues to be a challenge in our nation as a whole [including the need for training in critical thinking and in critical consumption of the media's offerings], many of those who Mr Espeut labels and demonises from his privileged public pulpit as a weekly columnist in Jamaica's leading newspaper as "fundamentalists" are highly educated people who are every inch as concerned to properly and sustainably develop a truly free and prosperous Jamaica as he is. Indeed, in his work as an Environmentalist, he has rubbed shoulders with many of us -- including the author of this note. Also, Mr Clinton Chisholm, who he has dismissed as "that lyrical fundamentalist," sat in the very same classes with him in the UTC under the same Professors, and for good reason came to a different conclusion than he did. Sir, do please understand that we have REASONS for the hope we have, and also for our high view of the Scriptures. -- not to mention our concern that the prophetic, ethical voice of these Scriptures should be heard and heeded in the halls of power in our land.)

On such broader themes, since space and time are limited, the notes below can only briefly highlight underlying questionable core philosophical assumptions and key fallacious arguments, thus providing a rather rough preliminary sketch of how one part of the much needed provision of Christocentric, prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership in the Caribbean at the dawn of the third Christian Millennium may look, leading to the renewal, revival, reformation, blessing and transformation of our culture through the fullness visions's operational form of the church's discipling the nations mandate, thus continuing the work of liberation through the gospel that the early dissenting Missionaries did so much to foster.

(Moreover, though we cannot survey their substance here, the introductory level notes on Apologetics found here, and the introductory level course in philosophy here, will also prove useful, given the common tendency to multiply charges against the intellectual competence and/or integrity of those who hold a high view of the Bible when an attack on any one specific point is countered -- probably on the theory that though a specific defense may be mounted at a given point, the overall case against evangelical Christian faith is overwhelming; a perspective that is partly driven by a failure to properly assess the comparative difficulties of the options in the face of what William James long ago termed the forced momentous choice among the actual live alternatives we have. Also, since Islamic advocates ever since the C19 have been fond of quoting the claims of radical Bible critics in their debates, it is important to be able to address these issues in addressing Islamic claims as well. The July 2003 Caribbean Conference on Islam's Bridgetown, Barbados Declaration and papers on (1) the relationships among the Abrahamic traditions; including (2) remarks on the biblical perspectives on the Promised Land issue and also a survey of the modern history of Israel; and (3) a response to the Sultana Afroz claims regarding the religious history of Jamaica will also be important in this yet wider context. On this point, we should note that Islam denies the crucifixion and death of Jesus, in the teeth of the amply recorded C1 consensus that he "suffered under Pontius Pilate.")

On the more specific focal point for these notes, it therefore bears highlighting at the outset, that the following remarks are predicated on the general LOGICAL principle that a contradiction (i.e. asserting or implying that the same claim is both true and false), if proved to exist, destroys the credibility of an account or argument -- cf. Mr Espeut's "they would be thrown out of court." But, at the same time since the charge contradiction is so stringent, once a logically possible state of affairs exists such that the claims alleged to be in contradiction actually are in harmony, then the challenge to the coherence of the record falls to the ground, defeated. Such a state of affairs will shortly be described in Section B.

Further to this, the plausibility of the required state of affairs: one in which God exists and intervenes miraculously into human affairs for good reason, will also be explored; as there is a tendency to blur the quite material distinction between contradiction on the one hand and implausibility relative to modernist-influenced thought -- and it is in fact modernism and post-modernism that are indeed self-refuting and/or question-begging (thus in fact irrational) -- on the other.

Let us therefore now turn to these issues, on matters "of first importance" [1 Cor 15:3] to the credibility of the Christian Faith.

SOURCES: Major source: John Wenham’s Easter Enigma, 2nd Edn., (Paternoster, 1996.  This is a book-length treatment on the subject.). Marshall’s Interlinear NT, J D Pentecost's Harmony of the Gospels, Scroggie's Guide to the Gospels, Scofield's Study Bible, and Wieand's harmony of the Gospels were also very helpful. Also cf. more technical online discussions: Miller at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/ordorise.html and Holding at http://www.tektonics.org/rezrvw.html . (More . . .)


INTRODUCTION: The First Easter timeline presented in Section B below is intended to show that, contrary to the harsh, and indeed contempt-filled and unjustifiable allegations cited above, an honest, logically coherent and arguably plausible narrative timeline can in fact be constructed from the Four Gospels; without artificial forcing of the text -- opinions of many learned theologians over the past 200 years notwithstanding. 

That is, through the logic of contradictions and the concept of a logically possible state of affairs, a demonstrably correct technical answer can and will shortly be given to the strong but unjustified accusation cited above. (It is further hoped that the fact that the answer below is based on Logic should suffice to also quietly show that the notion that those of us who view the Bible as the authentic Word of God are somehow all characteristically irrational, ill-informed, illogical and backward, is clearly also unwarranted.)

However, in a Christian context, a mere technical answer is never enough. For, we need to reckon with the spiritually-driven worldview roots of the accusation, if we are to respond in the right spirit to the thinking and perceptions that underly the intemperate and unjustified accusations that have been publicly and repeatedly raised by Mr Espeut and his ilk over the past several years:

    1. Giving a reasonable -- that is, logical, truthful and factually well warranted -- answer for our eternal hope [1 Peter 3:15];

    2. Exposing persuasive but misleading arguments and underlying prejudicial assumptions that lead many to reject such truthful and reasonable responses; thus also exposing and correcting associated agendas that work to rob people of the confident knowledge of the true God; thence, bringing our thoughts under alignment to the true liberation that is only found in Christ: "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." [Col 2:3 in light of 2 Cor 10:4 - 5, Ac 17:16 - 32, Rom 12:1 - 2, Jn 8:31 - 36, & 2 Cor. 3:17 - 18.]

    3. Resisting and exposing the "endarkenment" caused by demonically-inspired stormy winds of erroneous doctrine and associated wrong-headed, wrong-hearted, chaotic and destructive skeptical or [neo-]pagan mindsets and lifestyles (or even in some cases calculatedly deceptive schemes) -- through the God-given power of the truth in love [Eph. 4:9 - 24];

    4. Refusing to yield to the temptation of futile quarrels and controversies, but instead we must "gently instruct" those who oppose us, in the prayer that through God's grace, they may "escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" [2 Tim 2:24 - 26.]; and,

    5. Providing, further, a positive model of faithful Christian discipleship: commitment, life and witness in the Spirit's power "to all nations," holding fast to the faith that was "once for all entrusted to the saints." [Matt 28:18 - 20, Acts 1:4 - 8, Eph 4:9 - 24, Titus 2:11 - 14, Jude v. 3.]

These requisites are a tall order, one that requires much prayer and reflection.

After such prayer and reflection, we will need to take a necessary analytical step: placing the above accusations in context; for understanding leads to both empathy and the ability to aptly respond, not just to (1) the rhetoric of so-called "anti-fundamentalism" that is now sweeping not only the liberal/liberationist wing of modernist theology, posing a challenge to us to create a biblically sound theology and praxis of ethics and development; but also to (2) Mr Espeut's characteristic post-modernist twist, as was also expressed in the Jan 29, 2003 article cited above, as follows:

One group of Christians called "Fundamentalists" [NB: highly offensive and prejudicial term: Bible-believing Christians are so-called by those who would thereby demonise, label and dismiss us as dangerous, backward and potentially violent extremists] . . . believe that the Bible is inspired by God in such a way that every word is literally, scientifically and historically true. Catholics and others believe the Bible is directly inspired by God and is 100 per cent true, but that not every word is intended to be historically or scientifically true: every word is theologically true. Theological truth is much more important and useful than bald history or science, so we should prefer to find timeless theological truths. [Parenthesis, links and emphasis added.]

Of course, the claim here first drastically misrepresents responsible evangelical scholarship, as I pointed out in my published (but ignored and further misrepresented) response of Feb 1st: for, such evangelical scholars have long held that "poetic language, imagery, context and other relevant factors must be reckoned with before one can conclude as to what any text (biblical or otherwise) affirms or denies." [See, for instance, a simple primer on Bible study for small group leaders, by way of a basic example. The many well-received and readily available technical evangelical works on Hermeneutics will elaborate the point at a professional level, but since the implication of the above is that we are misleading the public at large, we must also answer at the basic level. Further to this, Mr Espeut should reflect on say the linked basic primer on Apologetics, and the also linked materials on straight thinking. and on the destructive power of media spin.]

Moreover, the underlying concept in Mr Espeut's artfully worded, Bultmann-inspired claim is that the Bible is true theologically, while at the same time it can be riddled with historical errors, myths and self-contradictions, as well as scientific fallacies: just compare his remark later in the same article that in reporting the resurrection, the Evangelists so contradict themselves that "they would be thrown out of court" -- revealing that he knows full well that if such accounts were hopelessly confused and contradictory, they would discredit one another. (In this case, were his accusations true, that would in fact seriously weaken the foundations of the historic Christian Faith: 1 Cor 15:1 - 20. Thankfully, he is demonstrably in error; as will be shown below.)

Yet further, Mr Espeut's words reveal that his underlying modernist-influenced theological concept is that "truths" about God are in the Bible being communicated through folk-tales similar to the ancient pagan myths that are long since discredited as history, much less science. So, following Bultmann et al, the modern theologian's task, then, is viewed as trying to extract the alleged "kernel" of theological truth from the "husk" of pre-modern, pre-scientific myth and error.

However, this modernist-driven conclusion reflects not only a devastating self-referential inconsistency, but also a failure to reckon seriously and fairly with the Apostle Paul's clear statement that the resurrection's actual status as a plain, established real-world fact (widely held antisupernaturalist prejudices notwithstanding) is a major and vital component of the gospel.

For instance, we may listen to the great Apostle as he speaks before the Areopagus in Athens:

God . . . now commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. he has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. [Ac 17:30 - 31]

That is, the resurrection is God's evidence to all men, that he ultimately reverses man's ubiquitous injustice and holds the wicked -- all of us: Rom 1:18 - 32 & 3:9 - 26 -- to account for their oppression and wickedness. Therefore, Paul speaks in God's name and calls on all of us to reckon with this fact, and so has given us a survey of the highlights of what his travelling-companion, Luke, sums up as: "many convincing proofs." [Ac 1:3] Consequently, as the Apostle goes on to formally state, in words penned ~ 55 AD but traceable to the circle of Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem in the mid- 30's, the core facts of the gospel are these:

1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. [1 Cor 15:1 - 8, 11.]

Plainly, if these facts are not so, equally momentous but devastating consequences follow: that is, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God . . .For if . . . .Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" [vv. 14 - 20.]

Thus, the matters at stake are grave indeed, being "of first importance," and so Mr Espeut's remarks therefore require a careful and strong but measured response. We will begin with:

The Standing Rebuke to Radical Bible Criticism

Now, Mr Espeut's over-heated claim that the Evangelists "would be thrown out of court" is in fact especially telling against his case. For, the famous Professor Simon Greenleaf, the still highly respected father of the modern jurisprudential theory of evidence, has long since weighed in on this question; in words that are a standing -- but often ignored or overlooked -- rebuke to the methods, theories and assumptions of skeptics and radical Bible critics:

[1] In examining the evidences of the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice, and open to conviction. There should be a readiness . . . to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us . . . .

[2] In requiring . . . candor and simplicity of mind in those who would investigate the truth of our religion, Christianity demands no more than is readily conceded to every branch of human science. All these have their data, and their axioms; and Christianity, too, has her first principles . . . "Christianity," says Bishop Wilson . . . "does not profess to convince the perverse and headstrong, to bring irresistible evidence to the daring and the profane, to vanquish the proud scorner, and afford evidences from which the careless and perverse cannot possibly escape. This might go to destroy man's responsibility. All that Christianity professes, is to propose such evidence as may satisfy the meek, the tractable, the candid, the serious enquirer." . . . .

[3] . . . The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact -- the fact of the birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. These are related by the Evangelists as having actually occurred, within their own personal knowledge [and/or that of their sources, in the case of Luke, cf. Lk. 1:1 - 4]. Our religion, then, rests on the credit due to those witnesses. Are they worthy of implicit belief, in the matters which they relate? This is the question, in all human tribunals, in regard to persons testifying before them; and we propose to test the veracity of the witnesses by the same rules and means which are there employed . . . .

[26] . . . It should be observed that the subject of inquiry is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical proof. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error. [NB: Even there, after Godel's work in the 1930's, we recognise that (1) no rich mathematical system can have a set of axioms that are both complete and self-consistent, and (2) there is no constructive procedure to generate a self-consistent system of axioms. That is, Mathematical systems and arguments, too, are open-ended, unable to capture all true claims and are subject to a residual uncertainty.] . . . In the ordinary affairs of life we do not require nor expect demonstrative evidence, because it is inconsistent with the nature of matters of fact, and to insist on its production would be unreasonable and absurd . . . The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth . . . .

[35] . . . The discrepancies between the narratives of the several evangelists, when carefully examined, will not be found sufficient to invalidate their testimony. Many seeming contradictions will prove, upon closer scrutiny, to be in substantial agreement; and it may be confidently asserted that there are none that will not yield, under fair and just criticism . . . All that is asked for these witnesses is that their testimony be regarded as we regard the testimony of men in the ordinary affairs of life. This they are justly entitled to; and this no honorable adversary can refuse. . . .

[39]. . . Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false . . . .

[42] All that Christianity asks of men on this subject is that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth. In the course of such an examination, the undesigned coincidences will multiply upon us at every step in our progress; the probability of the veracity of the witnesses of the reality of the occurrences which they relate will increase, until it acquires, for all practical purposes, the value and force of demonstration.

[Excerpts from The Testimony of the Evangelists, available in print [e.g. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1995] and online: e.g. URL http://christjesus.us/greenleaf.html. Emphases, parentheses and links added. Cf. further remarks below on J W Montgomery's current update to this classic essay, which includes the telling comment that: "Simon Greeenleaf's summation of the testimonial case for Jesus' life, ministry and claims about Himself offers a perennial challenge to the earnest seeker for truth."]

In the work cited above, Professor Greenleaf confidently averred: "Many seeming contradictions will prove, upon closer scrutiny, to be in substantial agreement . . . . the undesigned coincidences will multiply upon us at every step in our progress." The proper way to establish that, as shown below, is to create a consistent timeline that exhibits just how the reports cohere on close examination. For, once we have thus shown that a self-consistent timeline for the first Easter morning exists, it immediately and necessarily follows that the four diverse resurrection accounts are in fact demonstrably not contradictory.

In short, Mr Espeut's claim that 'efforts to "harmonise" the four accounts or to "explain away" the contradictions are in vain' is an empty boast; one that, sadly, leads him astray even as he unfortunately resorts to contemptuous dismissal based on the obvious fact that it is also possible to construct radical disharmonies relative to a given body of evidence; tied to his unwarranted preference for such disharmonies (which provide powerful rhetorical -- persuasive, NOT demonstrative -- ammunition for such radical critics). But this sad result seems to reflect preferences and agendas, rather than a serious engaging of the actual logic of harmonising explanations; as was regrettably manifest in both his Feb 5th follow-up column and the April 16 2003 Dialogue at Grace Missionary Church in Kingston, Jamaica.

Now, the force of the conclusion that the four Gospel accounts are in fact not contradictory, in the teeth of many confident declarations by a great many learned theologians over the past 200+ years, is perhaps surprising. But, it is perfectly in order: "contradiction" (i.e. asserting or implying that the same claim is both true and false) is so stringent a claim that it is an appropriate and indeed demonstrative logical defense/rebuttal to simply show that (say for a set of joint claims P, Q, R, S) there is at least one possible, non-contradictory state of affairs in the world (say E) in which the claims (P, Q, R, S) would all be true. Once such a logically possible state, E, exists [cf. B below] the above and similar allegations fall -- defeated -- to the ground.

(NB: We must observe carefully: E does not at all have to be factually true or even plausible relative to modernist and/or post-/hyper- modernist assumptions about the world -- as long as E is a logically possible state of affairs, i.e. one that could exist, then if E AND PQRS is consistent, PQRS must also be consistent. This is in fact essentially the same logical strategy as that used by the famous Christian Philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, to successfully rebut the deductive form of the problem of evil. That is, in the below I am not using a novel and untried/suspect method, but rather I am making use of generally applicable, materially relevant and powerful principles of logic. [NB: My brief discussion & summary of Plantinga's rebuttal and its underlying logical defense strategy is here, under G: The Problem of Evil.] )

A little elaboration will be helpful. So let us turn to:

The Logical Issue

Putting the case in symbolic logic terms: IF accounts/claims P, Q, R, S can be harmonised by a logically possible hypothetical state of affairs E, THEN – even if E proves false to actual fact – the logical conjunction P AND Q AND R AND S [symbolically, PÇQÇRÇS] cannot be a contradiction in the proper sense of that term. 

For, basic logic theory teaches us that E Ç(PÇQÇRÇS) can only be non-contradictory if PÇQÇRÇS is internally consistent -- for, if the latter were inconsistent it would be necessarily false (i.e. it would have logical value 0) and E Ç 0 = 0; consult any serious level introductory text on logic, e.g. Copi's deservedly famous Logic (Prentice Hall). Or, in practical terms, it is impossible to construct a successful harmonising explanation that would unite actually contradictory accounts P, Q, R, S. Thus, if P, Q, R, S are contradictory, the attempt to harmonise them will always end up in a contradiction within E, or it will require the suppression of one or more material claims -- the pieces of the puzzle simply will not fit together to make a coherent whole. (Where E is a timeline based on an available set of records, either of these would as a rule be easily detected.)

So, to actually see if one can construct such a logically possible harmony, E, one resorts to the logic of Abduction/Explanation, whereby:

If we can develop an explanation, E that logically implies the set of "observations" (PÇQÇRÇS); which may otherwise be puzzling or paradoxical, i.e. E => (PÇQÇRÇS),

Then (PÇQÇRÇS) provides provisional empirical support for E and E serves as a model or hypothesis that provides a harmonious/ coherent logical explanation for (PÇQÇRÇS).

[See Appendix B for more details.]

Now, properly, the burden of proof to directly show that in general no such logically possible state of affairs, “E and/or E1 and/or E2, and/or . . . En[1] exists belongs to those who allege contradiction -- but such a direct proof would be a hopeless attempt to prove a universal negative. 

Objectors such as Mr Espeut tend instead to use an indirect strategy: they confidently assert that they have demonstrated in the biblical narratives specific material statements that affirm and deny (directly or implicitly) the same claim, say K Ç K’.  But, once a logically possible harmony E exists, as is shown below, this too falls to the ground -- ridicule notwithstanding. (And, in fact, the perceived contradictions are the result of the perhaps unconscious injection of what we may term a radical contradictory "disharmony" [say, D] into how the text is read. For instance, Mr Espeut seems to have a problem with the established fact that in the style of say John, only Mary Magdalene is named in Ch. 20:1 but in v. 2 immediately following, she speaks of "we," i.e. there is plainly a group involved -- as the other Gospels elaborate. So, he sees a contradiction, where it is in fact plain that we are dealing with the group of women who appear again and again in the NT narratives as an identifiable cluster among the inner circles of disciples of Jesus. But on the strength of D, Mr Espeut perceives that there is no "group" so the narratives appear to him to be in mutual and hopeless contradiction. But, unless it has been shown that (i) there is no possible harmony E, and also that (ii) the defects in the accounts are material and substantially damaging rather than simply the common sort of relatively minor difficulties over details that are often found in diverse historical accounts; then all proposed radical disharmonies D, D1, D2, etc. must be rejected as unnecessary, unwarranted and in some cases even uncharitable.)

In short , the mere fact that we can state a coherent logically possible state of affairs, E, as displayed below [and/or other similar proposed harmonies, such as those of Wenham in his Easter Enigma, 2nd Edn, or Scofield in his well-known reference Bible, or the ten similar examples in http://www.christian-thinktank.com/ordorise.html, etc.] logically defeats the attempt to dismiss the Gospel writers as so hopelessly contradictory that they would be discredited and "thrown out of court." For, E provides a reasonable (i.e. non-contradictory/logically possible) harmony of the textual claims – one that could also be turned into a temporally feasible and arguably psychologically plausible timeline. But, this requires that one be willing to accept the possibility (as opposed to the plausibility) of the supernatural and the miraculous

That, in our post-modern but modernist influenced age, is however a big "if" indeed, and leads to the next question:

But, is the Claim Plausible?

This will be elaborated in Section C, below. But, in essence, the key point is that we live in an era where many claim that once "I" can doubt your claim, "I" can simply dismiss and disregard it: radical skeptical doubt rules by default over all knowledge and proof claims.

Then, too, Hume's critique of miracles leads many to doubt that any evidence (including any testimony) can ever amount to an adequate reason to accept that the firmly established laws of nature have "exceptions."

Thirdly, post-Kant, with his claim that we cannot know things as they are in themselves, only as we perceive and conceive them, many are strongly inclined to doubt that non-physical entities can be real -- so a world of spirits and miracles sounds like so much superstitious nonsense.

These arguments are, however, all fatally (but subtly) flawed:

  • Not even our senses, perceptions, memories and reasoned thoughts are beyond doubt, so Cartesian radical doubt in theory leads to an absurd infinite regress of challenges: to accept A requires evidence B, but B in turn requires C, and C, D; and, on to infinity. In practice, such radical skeptics invariably resort to selective doubting of those truth claims they wish to reject. Selective skepticism, of course, refutes itself; for it obviously discredits the intellectual integrity of the skeptic: intellectual hypocrisy, in short. So, as professor Greenleaf pointed out 150 years ago, it is perfectly proper for us to insist that in discussing the resurrection, we must be willing to consistently abide by rules of reasoning and evaluating evidence that we routinely accept in other momentous contexts: say, in Court, or even when crossing the street. (Just imagine: 'My senses tell me there is a fast-moving car approaching, but they are not 100% reliable and I do want to get across just now! Besides, it is discredited "Aristotelian, linear, black-and-white thinking" to believe that "the car is rushing towards me" means that it cannot "not-be-there to me" at the same time.' Then: CRASH!)

  • Some, too, are overawed by the evidentialist thesis, that in effect belief can only be justified if it is proportioned to evidence, so that extraordinary events or claims require extraordinary evidence; as was proposed in C19 by W. Clark Clifford. But in fact, this is both self-refuting and counter to the realities we encounter in life. The first is so, because the assertion is itself incapable of being based on evidence without begging the question: assuming what was to be proved -- or else we end up with an absurd infinite regress: so, we cannot have adequate evidence to hold to it! (In short, it refers to and contradicts, itself.) Secondly, in most of the affairs of life, we are required to trust our senses, our memories, witnesses and other sources that are far from infallible. Thirdly, we are at every moment of our lives forced to act in the face of residual uncertainty, and we in fact act in light of the balance of evidence, given probabilities (as we perceive them), and based on the possible gain/loss if we are right/wrong -- as Pascal's Wager argument long ago pointed out. Thus, again, we see the fallacy of selective skepticism at work.

  • Hume is simply begging the question: he has smuggled in the "exceptionlessness" of natural laws into his assumptions. But, once God's existence is possible, it is not at all unreasonable that for higher purposes God might intervene into the usual course of nature as we ever so dimly and fallibly -- thus provisionally -- perceive and speculate about it. Topping this off, experiencing and judging the reality of the resurrection actually requires no more capacity and common sense than most of us have: Can you [A] tell a live man from [B] a dead one? Can you tell which of two events was first, and which second? [NB: We typically observe people alive, then dead. In the case of Jesus, he was observed to be executed, then certified dead by the executioner; then seen alive and able to interact with acquaintances for forty days -- up to five hundred at once. It is the IMPLICATION of the observations that is mind-boggling, not the observations themselves: [A] JESUS ALIVE --> [B] JESUS DEAD --> [A'] JESUS ALIVE.]

  • Kant is actually self-refuting. (Cf. Section C below.) For, a careful reading will show that his major point is a claim that he actually know how our minds and perceptions work -- but this is impossible on his assumptions! There is in fact a quite good basis for believing in the reality of many abstract and/or non-physical realities: truth and propositions that express it, right/wrong, numbers, causation, logical reasoning and more. Even energy, mass and time -- not to mention information and the reality of other minds -- become very slippery when we press beyond operational definitions and associated measuring instruments! Thus, spiritual realities are not inherently unreasonable.

  • Finally, a historical footnote with contemporary relevance. Up to about fifty years ago, a movement called the Logical Positivists used the verifiability/falsifiability principle to discredit claims that they wished to reject, as "meaningless." Their concept was that if a claim about the external world is not subject to experimental verification/falsification, it had no meaning. They had great fun deriding and discrediting concepts such as God; but then, someone asked: why should we accept the verifiability/falsification principle? It turned out that it was itself meant to speak of the external world, but was not subject to empirical test -- so it refutes itself. Unfortunately, it still turns up in the reasoning and rhetoric of those who are not up to date with their epistemology; so, this note.

Thus, we may confidently take the question of the resurrection as a serious and meaningful issue, and proceed to examine:

The Quality of the Evidence

In assessing the evidential merits of the canonical Gospel accounts, it is wise to start with the celebrated Ancient Documents rule, as was summarised by Simon Greenleaf:

"Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody; and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise." [Testimony, Section 8]

This leads us to first of all reflect on the fact that even the very earliest Church Fathers whose works have survived cite the canonical Gospels as authentic and authoritative: (1) Clement of Rome [~ AD 96] refers to the three synoptics; (2) Ignatius [~ AD 108], refers to all four; as does (3) Polycarp [~ AD 110] -- who was a disciple of John in his old age. [Cf. Paul Barnett's Is the New Testament History, Hodder 1987, pp. 33 ff.] Now, too, these three authors, between them, cite 25 of the 27 NT works -- including 1 Cor, which summarises the official testimony of the resurrection in a form traceable to the mid 30's AD. Moreover, ~ AD 130, (4) Papias affirms that the canonical gospels were written by their traditional authors. And, ever since, the Gospels and other NT writings have been regularly cited and used, copied, translated and widely circulated, so that there are literally thousands of manuscripts, fragments and credible citations and allusions, right to the edge of C1. Thus, the textual critics are quite confident that we have a highly reliable text. [Similarly, for the OT, the Dead Sea cave manuscript discoveries allowed us to suddenly jump back 1,000 years in the history of the Hebrew scriptures. The fidelity of transmission across the 1,000 years was astonishing.]

And, if one insists on doubting the general historical credibility of the church's c. AD 35 witness as recorded in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 c. AD 55, and/or the broader picture painted by the NT as a whole [probably c. AD 50 - 95], one then has some challenges to meet in composing a superior explanation of even the sheer basic fact of the C1 origin, survival and growth of the church that preached the message of the crucified and risen Christ. For, as Barrister Frank Morison famously pointed out some seventy years ago:

[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . . Why did it win? . . . . We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]

In short, apart from the fallacious prejudices cited above, there is little historiographical basis to doubt the basic authenticity of the NT materials.

Further to this, in the case of Luke, who wrote Acts as a sequel to his Gospel, his detailed habitual accuracy and carefulness of facts has long since been well authenticated, ever since the famous Anatolian archaeological studies of Sir William Ramsey. (It bears noting, too, that: by sharp and striking contrast, the Gnostic "Gospels" such as Thomas and Peter -- which are of C2, NOT C1, provenance and contain plainly fantastical elements [e.g.the talking cross that comes out of the tomb at the resurrection in Peter] and/or claims that cut straight across what we otherwise know of Jesus [e.g. that women may not enter the Kingdom, so Mary Magdalene will have to receive the soul of a man, in Thomas] -- do not meet even the above first forensic credibility test Greenleaf presents. But, certain Theologians now wish to use these ancient frauds to challenge the concept that Paul emphasises in both 1 Cor 15:1 - 24 and Rom 10:8 - 13, which are unquestionably Pauline, from the mid 50s AD (i.e. within twenty-five or so years of the event): to be a true Christian, one must believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 ff., when some in Corinth doubted that Christians would rise from the dead, Paul argued from the known and accepted fact of Jesus' resurrection to the confident expectation of our own.)

Sadly, such an obvious contrast in authenticity has not fazed the radical critics, who inter alia allege "contradictions" and "legendary embellishments" in the texts, especially in the accounts of the resurrection; in order to impeach the credibility of the C1 Canonical Gospels that cut across their own theological ideas. In the case of Deacon Espeut, he specifically wishes to argue that the Bible may at one and the same time be 100% God-inspired and full of theological truth, while being scientifically fallacious and historically contradictory and unreliable; thus he claims that he still believes in the factuality of the resurrection even though the records -- on which such a claim is in the end based -- are so hopelessly contradictory that the Evangelists "would be thrown out of court."

Others wish to go much further: for instance, those influenced by Bultmann et al often argue that the resurrection appearances are a combination of Peter's guilt-induced hallucination and mass-hysteria induced when he reported his vision to the other disciples. Then, those in circles like the Jesus Seminar introduce the C2 Gnostic pseudo-gospels, such as Thomas, to argue that since they are at least as authentic as the now largely discredited Canonical Gospels, one can use Thomas etc to argue that one may be a Christian while believing the anti-supernaturalist claim that Jesus' body simply rotted away, probably in the local mass-grave for executed criminals.

It is, therefore, not at all coincidental that it is in the aftermath of the rise of the dubious[2] philosophical presumption that the laws of nature are exception-less, that many theologians began to see multitudes of allegedly irreconcilable contradictions in these accounts of the major miracle in the Bible. But, in light of the below, I must respectfully but firmly suggest that the multitude of contradictions often perceived to be in the canonical Gospel accounts of the resurrection – e.g. Espeut's “they would be thrown out of court” [never mind that we are looking at diverse narratives, not even direct much less cross-examination in court!] – are as a rule the product of injected external (anti-supernaturalist) ideas that force the diverse accounts into an artificial state of conflict

Misunderstandings, in short.

The Broader Issue: Credibility of the NT

We may also make a further, more general remark. For, Deacon Espeut (and also Bishop Spong et al) say that the alleged Gospel narrative contradictions regarding the resurrection are typical of the "thousands" alleged to be found in the Bible as a whole. John Wenham similarly points out in his Easter Enigma, that in these accounts, we find "the point where the evangelists are thought to be most at sixes and sevens." So, then, we may well deduce a very different overall opinion of such alleged contradictions than Modernist-influenced theologians are wont to.

Specificaly, we can and will shortly show that in fact "contradiction" is unsubstantiated in the captial exemplar case; for in fact a logically possible and arguably plausible state of affairs plainly exists in which the diverse accounts of the resurrection would stand in harmony to each other. Thus, "contradiction" is at best being loosely and improperly used, and that without a proper reference to the relevant underlying logic. Indeed, so much is this so, that on being pressed to justify the claim "contradiction" by informed people in an open forum, modernist theologians are often wont to pull back from the full and proper sense of "contradiction," shifting to implausibility (relative to modernist assumptions about reality) instead. That is, such modernists are exploiting the devastating rhetorical impact of the claim, "contradiction," through creating strawman-like mis-readings of the text that make them appear ludicrously contradictory; but have not in fact shown that the texts cannot be reconciled through a logically possible state of affairs in the world.

In short , when they are challenged, resort is made to a bait-and-switch: they do not address the nature of contradictions and how a logically possible harmony dissipates the charge. But rather, they typically ridicule the project of creating such a logically possible harmony; and fudge the marked and material distinction between a contradiction and what is merely implausible relative to question-begging -- and in many cases self-refuting -- antisupernaturalist assumptions.

Indeed, sadly, this is exactly what Deacon Espeut did in a public dialogue with Rev'd Clinton Chisholm, April 16 2003, at Grace Missionary Church, sponsored by the JTS-CGST and attended by Theologians and theology students. For, on being challenged regarding the proper force of the claim "contradiction," he immediately switched to asserting implausibility! (Then, on that basis, he set out to rebut and even ridicule an earlier form of this note, which focussed on articulating the logically possible timeline below as a demonstrative proof that "contradiction" stands defeated. Of course, the demonstration still stands: E shows that the four Gospel accounts are in fact NOT contradictory. However, since it is plainly easy to persuasively ridicule the logically possible as implausible relative to modernist-influenced thought, we need to address the latter point as well, as an important rhetorical -- as opposed to logical -- consideration.)

Unfortunately, too, there is a second rhetorical consideration. For, the context of Mr Espeut's implicit yielding of the main point does not change the rhetorical big picture: those who challenge modernists do not have as free an access to publication in major (or even minor) public media, so that this forced withdrawal of an extreme and damaging but plainly unsubstantiated allegation has not become widespread public knowledge. Sadly, too, the question-begging and self-refuting, fallacious nature of modernist thought is also not well known -- not even among Evangelicals.

In this light, and given the logic discussed below, it is further plain that the frequently observed contemptuous general dismissal of attempts at textual "harmonisation" that one often sees in say discussions of Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, or other similar attempts by Evangelicals [notwithstanding specific errors such works may and do contain] is wrongheaded -- and maybe in some extreme cases, sadly, even wrong-hearted. [Cf. Jn 3:19 - 21, Rom. 1:16 - 32, 2 Cor 4:1 - 7, 2 Peter 1:16 - 3:18, and the general introductory level discussion here.]

So, given the stringency of the requirements for a logical contradiction to exist, and the clear want of demonstration in the chief example adduced, Evangelicals plainly have a right to insist that those who glibly allege "contradiction" on matters of import bear the burden of demonstrative proof beyond all reasonable doubt. And, if such debaters switch to "implausibility," we have a further right to challenge the underlying question-begging assumptions and to expose the associated self-refuting philosophical ideas.

Indeed, we have a perfect right to rest confident in the absence of a convincing and fair demonstration, that the above general charge of "thousands of contradictions in the Bible" that would make our position intellectually dishonest is materially exaggerated, or even largely ill-founded and question-begging. (Here, "materially" is used to refer to the well-warranted distinction between: (a) debates over well-known and long discussed relatively minor difficulties and discrepancies on textual minutiae such as copyist errors and divergent numbers of people in Chroniclers' accounts, or diverse summary reports on the exact phrasing of what people in the accounts may have said, or even the precise details of the timeline of the Gospel or Acts narratives in general, on the one hand; and, (b) the central claims of the Christian Faith, such as the resurrection, on the other.)

With these remarks in mind, we may now turn to the specific issues, arguments and concerns at stake.


An immediate methodological objection to such an exercise as the below, is that it works “on the supposition that all the records were reliable and of equal value, which . . . no historian has any right to assume.  Rather, before attempting such harmonization there should be a proper evaluation of the texts, with careful differentiation between primary and secondary sources.”  [Wenham, Easter Enigma, preface to 2nd edn, p. 8.] 

However, the root of the problem is precisely in that claim and its underlying assumptions.  For, on essentially arbitrary philosophical ideas (such as the idea that prophecy – as a miracle -- is impossible, so any apparently accurate prophecy was written after the “predicted event”) the dates on the materials and estimates of their degree of authenticity as narrative or as true sayings of Christ are often assigned through circular arguments based on question-begging assumptions.  (The Jesus Seminar’s coloured-ball votes and alleged rules of scholarly wisdom are a notorious example, one crowned by the manifestly false claim that their tendentious conclusions state the consensus of competent scholarship on the Gospels.[3])

Paul Barnett, in his Is the New Testament History?, provides a better place to start, by giving us a resume of the the consensus view of early non-Christian sources from late C1 to early C2, on the roots of the Christian faith and its characteristics:

On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:

  1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus}
  2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]
  3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]
  4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]
  5. He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]
  6. His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]
  7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]
  8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]
  9. His brother was James. [Josephus.]

[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31.]

The pattern in these corroborating sources is instantly recognisable; that is, the NT accounts plainly fit into an historical pattern of facts credibly established for the C1 origins of the Christian movement, giving of course far more details than one would expect from these further sources that mention these facts in passing as they make their own points. Howbeit, this raises a specific challenge to how we approach the NT documents, for, as John Wenham observes in his Christ and the Bible, there are two current major views on the text:

H. E. W. Turner [16] has distinguished two basic approaches to the Gospels: the historical and the interpretative. The former believes that the Gospels were intended to be historical records, the latter that they were essentially propaganda, written to present a particular view of Jesus. The former assumes that the records are true unless good reason can be showed to the contrary; the latter assumes the opposite. The attitude of Bultmann and his school to a Gospel-saying has been summarised as . . . '(1) If it reflects the faith of the church after the resurrection, it must be regarded as a creation of the church, rather than an authentic saying of Jesus. (2) If there is a parallel saying attributed to a Rabbi, it must be held as a Jewish tradition which has been erroneously attributed to Jesus. But if it is neither -- if it is clearly distinct both from the faith of the church and from Judaism -- then it may be safely accepted as authentic.' [17] This means of course that any appeal to Scripture by Jesus is at once suspect. This approach produces an improbable view of both Jesus and the early church. Jesus becomes an eccentric who took almost nothing from his environment. The church becomes inexplicable, since it took almost nothing from its master. Rather it so altered what it received from him that its teaching can be seen in sharp contrast to the few sayings which it preserved. [Christ and the Bible, (Guilford, Surrey, England: Eagle, 1993), pp. 45 - 46. Emphasis added.]
16: H. E. W. Turner, Historicity of the Gospels (London, 1963)
17: R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (London, 1963), pp. 26f.

Of course, the result of the Bultmann-style approach is a patent absurdity: the Christian church as we know it over the past 20 centuries simply could not have come into existence other than through the impact of the life and ministry of Jesus, and in turn Jesus' ministry would have never been accepted as messianic-prophetic by a significant cross-section of the Jewish community -- the critical mass that formed the nucleus of the church in the 30's AD -- unless he clearly stood within the Hebrew faith-tradition, ministering as an anointed prophetic/apocalyptic figure.

So, it is appropriate to look at the first framework and where it leads; such as, what would happen if we were to for the moment treat the texts as being what they purport to be, early records of eye-witness testimony.  As John Wenham aptly summarises:

Conclusions [of many contemporary theologians] are the result of a long process of critical study whereby the authority of parts of the gospel text has been eroded bit by bit till nothing dependable is left.  The end result is a downgrading of the canonical gospels which may ultimately put them in the category of Christian romances or merely on a level with the Gnostic gospels [as the Jesus Seminar has done with its The Five Gospels].  This means an abandonment of the belief that the gospel-writers were competent witnesses of the events they relate.  But to depart from this belief is to depart from historic Christianity into something quite other.  If, however, it can be shown at the point where the evangelists are thought to be most at sixes and sevens that their accounts can be reconciled in detail and without strain, it suggests that much of the modern critical structure is on the wrong lines, and indeed that the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ saw to it that the church had a trustworthy record of that tremendous happening.  [Easter Enigma, pp. 11 – 12, parenthetical notes & link added.]

In this spirit, we may therefore embark on an exploration, provisionally using the following alternative working model – which is based on well-known internal and external witness -- that the five main textual accounts bear the following relationship:

·        First, in light of Papias’ ~ 130 – 150 AD tradition, that Levi/Matthew (as a former tax collector familiar with record-keeping and by virtue of his profession concerned with accuracy in such record; and as Greenleaf observed, therefore also habitually suspicious of and well-experienced in detecting fraud), noted down and collected the major public teachings and acts of Jesus in their original Aramaic, probably highlighting thematic emphases [such as the Sermon on the Mount] within a broadly narrative framework.  Here, it is to be noted that as an itinerant preacher in the days before mass media, Jesus would necessarily have had to repeat his teachings on many occasions, backed up with miraculous demonstrations that served to authenticate his radical claims.  [Cf. Mt. 9:9 – 17, 11:1 – 24, & 12:1 – 50, esp. vv. 22 – 28. We should note, too, that the hostile Talmudic witness provides inadvertent corroboration: it does not deny the miraculous, but rather insists on demonic sources – just as the Gospels state of Jesus’ objectors.]

·        Second, that Paul, in 1 Cor. 15:1 - 11, ~ 55 AD, records a creedal tradition of the church from the 30’s AD, that was handed on and/or confirmed to him by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem on his first post-conversion visit as recorded in Acts 9:23 – 31 and Gal 1:11 – 2:4. (Note on timing: the remarks in Gal. 1:16 - 18 & 2:1 - 4, written ~ AD 53 and indisputably and classically Pauline, indicate that Paul's first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem was three years after the incident on the road to Damascus, and that his second, a further fourteen years later. As Sir William Ramsey argues in his St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, CH III Sections 3 - 4, this second visit is quite probably the famine relief visit that was based on a prophetic revelation, as described in Ac 11:27 - 30. The first missionary journey, Ac 13:1 - 14:28, took place a fairly short time thereafter. It was during this journey that the Galatian churches were planted, and shortly after the church-planting tour that the ~ AD 48 - 49 Jerusalem Council of Ac 15 took place. Shortly after that there was the second Missionary journey, during which Paul was brought before Gallio (elder brother to Nero's counsellor, Seneca, then Proconsul of Achaia) at Corinth [Ac 18:12 -17]; and it is independently known that this Proconsulship is AD 51 - 52 [NB Ramsey IX.6], which is consistent with the AD 49 expulsion of Jews from Rome, recorded by Suetonius as due to disturbances over "Chrestus." These dates are consistent with Paul being converted in the very early 30's, and returning to Jerusalem ~ 35 AD.   Thus, the summary of the official testimony of the Apostles in 1 Cor 15:1 ff, is credibly traceable to the specific city where the resurrection occurred, well within a decade of the event!)

·        Thirdly, that Mark is the basic, narrative gospel, <64 - 68 AD; one based on the teachings and recollections (possibly, already noted down -- perhaps in Aramaic) of the lead Apostle of the circle of the Twelve, Peter. This is based on the ancient tradition that states that Mark was Peter's "interpreter," and fits well with the way in which Peter is consistently portrayed in a rather humbling light in that Gospel -- most easily explained by his humility and concern to be frank about his own struggles as a young believer, as an honest example to others (including of course, Mark!).

·        Fourth, on motives to record and pass on an authentic history of Jesus' life and ministry within the lifetime of the Apostolic witnesses, as well as perspectives on the clash: true vs. false teachers, it is worth looking at the remarks in 2 Peter 1:12 – 2:22, esp. 1:16 – 2:3, pausing carefully over the claim to eyewitness testimony in 1:18 and the link made to 1 Peter -- very well supported by external witness as authentically Petrine -- in 3:1. For, in 2 Peter, there is a clear concern to preserve and pass on the authentic witness to Christ, in the face of the gathering and indeed already present threat of false teachers.  To my mind, then, there is on balance a want of good reason to impugn this letter, given the plausible allusion to it in Clement's letter to the Corinthians [~ 96 AD], the citation in Ignatius [~ 108 AD; so 2 Peter does not date to ~ 150 AD as has been alleged in some quarters!], and the obviously well-respected authority of Paul's writings [cf. 3:15 - 18] in the churches he founded that led to the consensus of the church as a whole (and even heretics such as Marcion) on the value of his writings. (Here, too, the force of traditions and records in the NT that place not only Peter and Paul, but also Mark and Luke, in Rome in the early-mid 60's should be reckoned with.) Moreover, we should observe that the notoriously flawed Historical Critical approach -- which tends to argue from the facts that (a) there is a close parallel to Jude, (b) in Jewish tradition there were several pseudonymous "testaments" written in the name of long-dead OT worthies, and the transition from prediction regarding false teachers to the present tense in 2:1 - 18, (c) there are diffences in style from 1 Peter, and (d) the authenticity of this Epistle has been debated over the centuries; to the claim that 2 Peter should therefore be regarded as pseudonymous in the absence of positive proof the other way -- cuts across the clear points that: (1) Given circumstances circa 64 AD Peter would obviously have had a strong motivation to urgently pass on his "theological will" as Paul arguably did in 2 Timothy; (2) So, too, would Jude -- and a shortened summary of Peter's remarks with further comments would be very apt for such a purpose; (3) sytlistic variations may well reflect little more than having a different collaborator in writing (Silas apparently being not available); (4) Even as early as ~ 53 - 57 AD Judaising and Hellenistic false teachers were already at work, as Galatians and 1 Corinthians Chs 1 - 2 & 15 strongly demonstrate! Indeed, the Gospel of Mark aptly complements the sentiments in 2 Peter 1:12 - 18. Would it not be inherently plausible -- i.e. putting skeptical tendencies to one side for a moment, to gain a fresh perspective -- to see these two works as a classic "one-two punch"? For instance, what if we were to entertain for at least a few moments the possibility that 2 Peter could have served as a "cover letter" for a copy of Mark sent to the believers in Anatolia? (After such a pause to consider what an alternative might look like, do the various skeptical theories -- which embed question-begging assumptions and equally questionable methods -- now look as imposing as they did before?)

 ·        Fifth, given the fact that we are discussing a post-modern, modernist theology-influenced Catholic Deacon's challenge to the classical Protestant view of the Bible as the authentic written & fully verbally inspired Word of God [2 Tim 3:14 - 17, 2 Pet 1:18 - 2:3 & 3:15 - 18, Jn 10:35b], there is also a need to observe that the remarks just above do not at all commit us to the Magisterium. For, while we acknowledge that a written and/or oral tradition is all but inevitable once a religious movement goes beyond one generation, we should also see that in the case of C1 Judaism, the reformation that had started so well under Ezra and Nehemiah [cf. Ezra Chs 7 - 10, Neh Chs 8 - 10], had so deteriorated into mere hypocritical human opinions masquerading as God's Law, that Jesus had to rebuke the religious leaders: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions . . . you nullify the word of God by your own tradition that you handed down" [Mk 7:9 - 15.] Sadly, this can also be shown to have happened multiple times in the church's history -- including not only (1) the Medieval Popes whose corruption became so blatant and indefensible that it triggered the Protestant Reformation as a response to perceived (some would say, "notorious") abuses, corruption and doctrinal error; but also (2) the more recent case of the Bultmannian tradition being discussed in this note, and (3) the many, many sects and schisms that have dogged church history from C1 to today. Now also, some argue that in Matt 16:13 - 20 Jesus, announces that Peter/Cephas is the rock on which Jesus would build the church, and thus was the first Pope; setting up the Apostolic Succession that continues to today. But in fact, though Aramaic [Cephas] does not distinguish stone/Rock as the Greek does: petros/Petra, we must recognise that when the NT was published -- in Greek, the distinction was obviously put in the text by the Apostle Matthew and recognised by the wider apostolic circle. Indeed, the actual emphasised focus in Mt 16:13 - 20 is on the bedrock revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the true basis -- i.e. "foundation" -- of the Church: "You [Jesus] are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Supporting this, in 1 Pet 2:4 - 6, Peter says as much, citing a key OT reference:

As you [God's elect, cf. 1:1] come to him, the living Stone -- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him -- you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' [Cites Isaiah 28:16. Emphases added. Also note that this is a classic text on the spiritual priesthood of all believers. Also cf. Heb 6:1 - 2 and the related discussion of basic discipleship here and practical guidelines here.]

·        Sixth, that the other three Canonical Gospels set out to augment/supplement Mark in distinctive ways:

(a)  Matthew: the Greek form of the gospel is an expanded revision of the original Aramaic form attested to by Papias (who overlaps with C1 witnesses) as cited by Eusebius; bearing in mind that Peter as one of the inner circle of three, was privy to events Matthew had not been. (Matthew would therefore have been quite naturally and appropriately interested in its contents. His use of that work as a major source for his expansion would then be an implicit corroboration of its authenticity.)  Thus, we can plausibly synthesise both the ancient witness and contemporary findings on sources, without damaging the basic credibility of the work. The Gospel of Matthew provides the major public teachings [e.g. 5 - 7, 24] and acts of Jesus, & stresses matters of special interest to Jews, e.g. fulfillment of OT prophecies.

(b) Luke: lays out a well-organised historical narrative as a record fitted to the intellectually minded Greeks [who are concerned about history and proof: cf. 1:1 – 4] such as the eminent personage and sponsor/recipient of the work, Theophilus. He did so by interviewing witnesses and examining the existing accounts, as he summarises in his preface; probably during Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea.  (Possibly, Luke-Acts as we have it is actually an expanded and extended form of defence briefs prepared for the Apostle at that time, and/or for his appeal to Caesar.) In any case, the general circumstances would pin the underlying data to < ~ 55 – 60 AD; and it is a material point that then existing records were consulted, and used as sources. This is of course well within the lifetime of witnesses, especially the circle of women [Cf. 8:1 - 3, 23:55 - 24:10 & remarks below] who play such a prominent role in this Gospel and in particular are the discoverers of the empty tomb that first Easter morning. Already, too, this context -- within the lifetime of witnesses and in the face of hostile witnesses and advocates before Courts and knowledgeable rulers in the jurisdiction in which the reported events occurred [Ac Chs. 22 - 26, esp. Ac 26:24 - 32] -- lends great prima facie credibility to the account and its underlying sources and witnesses. Further to this, the generally agreed fact that Luke, who Sir William Ramsey long ago showed to have a detailed, habitual accuracy and sense of the local C1 situation, made heavy use of Mark in a context where the accounts would probably have had to stand up to severe hostile scrutiny (e.g. before the Neronian Court of Appeals, circa 60 - 62 AD) speaks volumes on Luke's high estimation of that earlier work's accuracy. It is worth noting, too, that 1 Tim 5:18 (which most naturally dates to the period immediately following Paul's apparently successful initial appeal) cites Lk 10:7 -- and though there are disputes over the authenticity of the Pastorals, it should be noted that from the works of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp on, 1 Tim has been cited and/or evidently alluded to in the Fathers, and until the days of Schliermacher, its authenticity was simply not in dispute. Of course, from 2 Tim and Titus, with Romans, we infer Paul had a period of further ministry in Spain and again in the Aegean region [including Crete, cf. Titus 1:5], but was re-arrested once Nero had determined to fix blame on the despised Christians for the major fire in Rome in 64 AD; itself an eloquent testimony to the success of the evangelistic efforts in that city. Thus, we see that there is excellent reason to believe that the Gospel of Luke existed in at least an early manuscript form by ~ 63 - 67 AD; the latter date being fixed by Paul's martyrdom at the hands of the infamous tyrant. [NB: As with Mark, the abrupt end to Luke's final form of the two-volume work, in Acts 28, is perhaps eloquently suggestive of an untimely demise at the hands of hostile authorities; who from ~ 65 AD on, would naturally have targetted known and accessible leaders of the church for ruthlessly fatal attention. Cf. 2 Tim. 4:1 - 18, esp. vv. 5 - 8, also Rev. 12:1 - 17, esp. vv. 11 - 12.]

(c) John: after ~ 40 - 60 years, as the eyewitnesses are now dying off [and so also, beyond the reach of the potential persecutors; who would obviously have a hostile interest in the list of "ringleaders," should the account fall into their hands], the remaining Apostolic Eyewitness records the private, deeper teachings to committed disciples (hitherto, orally communicated) in order to strengthen their faith, fill in gaps in the narrative timeline of the synoptics, and not least correct the rumour that he would never die! In this, the fact that he did not set out to refute the earlier accounts, but instead often corroborates them in the most subtle, undesigned and natural ways [cf. discussion of the telling "we" in Jn. 20:1 - 2 in the below] is a further eloquent testimony to the underlying quality and credibility of the Synoptics.

Thus, we have a plausible alternative historiographical working model for testing the claim that the five received reports of the resurrection are based on reliable eyewitness testimony and are fundamentally logically coherent and therefore likely to be close to the facts, as undesigned coherence in diverse reports is a strong indicator of underlying accuracy. That is all that is needed for a rebuttal to the Espeut charge above, for - as Greenleaf long ago pointed out -- the burden of proof properly belongs to those who would overthrow the prima facie authenticity of ancient record that has been kept in good custody and bears on it no manifest signs of fraud. (And, the Jesus Seminar and its ilk notwithstanding, mere skeptical allegations driven by question-begging modernist assumptions are not sufficient to constitute evidence of fraud!)

Of course, I am open to correction and clarification: kairosfocus@yahoo.co.uk.


Using the Gospels and making reference to other harmonies, especially that of Wenham, we now seek to construct a naturally coherent logically possible explanatory harmony, E.[4]

Now, this is a challenge, for, as Wenham observes:

The most obvious point of difficulty concerns the events of the first Easter morning, where Luke mentions at least five women at the tomb, while Mark refers to three, Matthew to two, John to one [Added note: but in 20:2 Mary Magdalene speaks of "we," demonstrating how Gospel authors could sometimes refer to only some of those present and/or speaking, as key representives of a wider group] and Paul to none at all. John puts the visit to the tomb while it was still dark and Mark when the sun had risen. Mark's and Luke's messengers are men (Mark one, Luke two), while Matthew's and John's are angels [added note: who often appear in the Bible as very handsome young men!] (Matthew one, John two). Mark, Luke and John locate them inside the tomb, while Matthew's angel starts outside the tomb and finishes inside. Matthew tells of an appearance to Christ to a number of women who held his feet unrebuked, while John tells of an appearance to one woman who is forbidden to touch him. As to appearances to the Eleven, Matthew only records one [on a mountain] in Galilee, while Luke only records an appearance at Jerusalem [added: and John at least three, two in Jerusalem a week apart, and one by a lake in Galilee]. [Introduction, p. 11.]

Mr Espeut's claims [re-presented in bullet points, being excerpted from his "The Religion of a Book," Gleaner Jan 29, 2003, http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030129/cleisure/cleisure2.html; my comments are in italicised square brackets] are far harsher, and far more imaginative and at points even demonstrably careless:

Let us examine the most important event in Christian salvation history - the Resurrection - told by all four Gospel writers. You would think that in recounting the resurrection events the four evangelists would be extra careful to get the story straight; but if we examine Matthew , Mark, Luke and John we will see that the four disagree on every point but three.

  • First they disagree on the time of day. Matthew: "towards dawn"; Mark: "when the sun had risen"; Luke: "at the first sign of dawn", and John: it was "still dark". [This depends on how ERCHOMAI is understood: times of departure/continuation rather than arrival, and if we are able to notice that an expedition assembled from Bethany and various parts of Jerusalem to go to the tomb, reaching it at sunup]
  • They disagree about who first went to the tomb: Matthew: "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary"; Mark: "Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome"; Luke: "Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Joanna"; John: Mary Magdalene alone. [E. ignores and then on Feb 5, denies that an identifiable group of women is involved and that in the Gospels' style, sometimes a representative member of a group is highlighted in the narrative without implying that others are NOT present, cf. Jn 20:1 - 2 and "we." The earliest revovered fragment of John dates to ~ AD 125, so the text is indubitably C1 and can be used to illustrate that such compression of a group through highlighting of a representative figure is a possible, indeed plausible, stylistic features of such an early narrative. The reason for such compression is not hard to infer: the scroll format, unlike the codex format (that of books we are familiar with) is practically limited to a relatively short document. Indeed, it is the need to circulate the Bible widely that led to the general acceptance of the familiar codex format.]
  • Matthew: the women saw the stone being rolled away by an angel dressed in dazzling white who then sat upon the stone; Mark, Luke and John: the stone had already been rolled away. [Nowhere does it state that the women saw the stone being rolled away, or that they saw the at first "frozen" then fleeing guards. In fact, their conversation is about who -- perhaps the gardener? -- would help them get into the tomb, given the large size of the stone at its mouth. Later of course, MM thinks Jesus is the gardener!]
  • Matthew: the angel delivered his message from on top of the stone; [simply not in the text!] Mark: the women went inside and saw "a young man in a white robe sitting on the right-hand side" who delivered his message; Luke: when the women went inside "two men in brilliant clothes suddenly appeared at their side" and delivered their message; [Groups and representatives again; also, angels often appear as young men in the Bible, Cf. Lk. 24:1 - 12, 22 - 24. W. has an interesting argument that rejects the claim that v. 12 is a late insert.]
  • John: as soon as Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away, she ran and told Peter and another disciple, who ran to the tomb and went inside, but they saw no one. [This suggests that P & J were there immediately, but the round trip to SW Jerusalem, where the two apostles were likely to be was > 1 mile!]
  • Matthew and Luke: the messengers direct the women to go and tell the others; Mark: the young man instructs them to tell no one. [Mark: 16:7 actually reads: "go, tell the disciples and Peter" - Feb. 5th, Espeut then hops to v. 8 to evade having to acknowledge this careless misreading; which I had pointed out, Feb. 1. This is carelessness backed up by evasion of correction. It is especially telling, given his preliminary comment on Jan 29 2003 that evangelicals (who he insists on smearing as "fundamentalists" -- and then protests that the term is not derogatory!) are intellectually dishonest. With all due respect, sir: Physician, heal thyself.]

Is it even sensible to attempt a harmonising reconciliation?

Yes, for it is a well known jurisprudential observation that

(1) True testimony often appears on the surface as a diverse and puzzling mass of apparently conflicting incidental details drawn from different points of view, but which coheres on closer examination into a sensible whole.

(2) In contrast: false, collusive testimony is at first sight all too well aligned -- "singing off the same hymn-sheet"; but when witnesses are probed one by one, as the line of inquiry or cross-examination moves beyond what was previously agreed, then either a sudden and mysterious lack of recollection of details surfaces, or else contradictions begin to appear.

The Apocryphal extension to Daniel, Susanna, is a classic in point: when, in vv. 42 ff., Daniel asks the accusers separately as to under what type of tree Susanna was seen being unchaste with a young man, their stories fell apart -- one said a small gum tree; the other, a large oak. Hence, the value of the biblical principle cited by Jesus: "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall a word be established." [Matt. 18:16, cf. Dt. 19:15 - 21. In our day where many in the media and politics or even the wider community seem to think slander substitutes quite well for truth [cf. Jn 3:19 - 21, 2 Cor 4:2] -- to damaging impact, we would do well to ponder the emphatically mandatory sentence for false witnesses: the fate they intended for their victim, they should suffer.]

Obviously, the NT record does not at all fit the collusive pattern, so it is appropriate to see if it fits the former: superficial diversity that on close inspection actually fits into a harmonious framework. (And, if the documents were produced by late authors copying from one another based on embellished traditions, to answer to issues and concerns in their day, why did they not at least get their basic story off the same hymn-sheet?)

Further, because we are rebutting an accusation of CONTRADICTION, all that is required is that we propose a logically possible -- as opposed to plausible to the anti-supernaturalist, Modernist mindset -- state of affairs as in the timeline that now follows. As is discussed above and in Appendix B below (as well as as Plantinga so ably exploited in his rebutal of the logical form of the problem of evil), this permits us to suggest possibilities and probabilities at will, providing they are not in contradiction to one another:

The skeleton of the proposed outline, fleshed out in the table immediately below, is:

E1. During dawn, from first light to sunup, the women of the company of disciples assemble from Bethany [at first light] and Jerusalem and go to the tomb, reaching it at sunup.

E2. Meanwhile, two angels come down and scatter the guards before the women arrive, one rolling away the stone from the tomb's entrance and joining the other inside.

E3. As the sun rises, the women arrive and find the tomb empty; Mary Magdalene assuming the worst and running off to tell Peter and John that "they" -- probably the authorities -- have taken Jesus' body; but the others go inside.

E4. There, the remaining women are met by angels who become visible, at first sitting then standing. One addresses them as a representive. They are to tell the apostles and disciples of the resurrection. But, at first they are terrified and flee. Then, as courage returns, they set out on their mission, going to Jerusalem first, then onward to Bethany ~ 2 miles to the east across the Kidron valley.

E5. Peter and John, then Mary arrive after the women have left, and the men examine the tomb.

E6. Mary stands in the entrance weeping, and the angels re-appear, asking her why she is weeping. Jesus approaches and she converses with him, at first assuming he is the gardener. On recognising his voice, she clings in a death-grip, and is gently asked to stop. She runs back to Jerusalem to report.

E7. Meanwhile, the other women report in Jerusalem, and begin to go on to Bethany, encountering Jesus in the vicinity of Gethsemane.

E8. By about this time, the guards report to the priests, and are bribed to tell the preposterous tale that while they were sleeping the disciples stole the body. (How do you know what happens while you are sleeping?)

E9. Jesus appears to Peter privately, perhaps in Gethsemane.

E10 - 13. Emmaus Road encounter, the supper meeting and further appearances to the disciples and his hitherto unbelieving family; across the 40-day period before his ascension: in Jerusalem, then in Galilee, and back in Jerusalem, where the disciples are told to wait for the Spirit.

In case this timeline's framework is thought to be a novelty, it is worth pausing to note Tertullian's summary in his Apology, which was confidently addressed to the reigning Emperor in an attempt to challenge the slanders and persecutions of the Christians at about 200 AD -- i.e. it would have to stand up to searching hostile scrutiny; appealing to the then extant Annals of Palestine, which were regularly submitted and kept in Imperial custody:

. . . they brought Him before Pontius Pilate, at that time Roman governor of Syria; and, by the violence of their outcries against Him, extorted a sentence giving Him up to them to be crucified. He Himself had predicted this; which, however, would have signified little had not the prophets of old done it as well. And yet, nailed upon the cross, He exhibited many notable signs, by which His death was distinguished from all others. At His own free-will, He with a word dismissed from Him His spirit, anticipating the executioner's work. In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. [NB: Total Solar Eclipses (which can turn day into temporary night in a rather narrow strip across the face of the Earth) do not occur at Full Moon, the time of the Passover, as the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun when it is full; rather at that time, at night, we may have Lunar Eclipses if the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow. It then appears as a dark blood red.] You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives. Then, when His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a sepulchre, the Jews in their eager watchfulness surrounded it with a large military guard, lest, as He had predicted His resurrection from the dead on the third day, His disciples might remove by stealth His body, and deceive even the incredulous. But, lo, on the third day there a was a sudden shock of earthquake, and the stone which sealed the sepulchre was rolled away, and the guard fled off in terror: without a single disciple near, the grave was found empty of all but the clothes of the buried One. But nevertheless, the leaders of the Jews, whom it nearly concerned both to spread abroad a lie, and keep back a people tributary and submissive to them from the faith, gave it out that the body of Christ had been stolen by His followers. For the Lord, you see, did not go forth into the public gaze, lest the wicked should be delivered from their error; that faith also, destined to a great reward, might hold its ground in difficulty. But He spent forty days with some of His disciples down in Galilee, a region of Judea, instructing them in the doctrines they were to teach to others. Thereafter, having given them commission to preach the gospel through the world, He was encompassed with a cloud and taken up to heaven,--a fact more certain far than the assertions of your Proculi concerning Romulus. All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius. Yes, and the Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars. His disciples also, spreading over the world, did as their Divine Master bade them; and after suffering greatly themselves from the persecutions of the Jews, and with no unwilling heart, as having faith undoubting in the truth, at last by Nero's cruel sword sowed the seed of Christian blood at Rome . . . . Search, then, and see if that divinity of Christ be true. [Apology, Chapter XXI. Explanatory note and emphases added.]

The timeline can now be fleshed out (so, do pardon its necessary length), with the supporting scriptures for each stage being shown in parallel columns in the immediately following rows:


During Dawn: “The Women” of the Company of Disciples [Lk 24:22, KJV] assemble in Jerusalem, perhaps at several sites, to go to the tomb of Jesus during dawn[5]; being an identifiable group of women among the circle of leading disciples, who had long followed and supported Jesus, starting in Galilee.  Based on Lk 8:1 – 3 and the Passion narratives, the group comprised women who (a) had been healed/delivered through his ministry; (b) supported him financially and/or logistically/materially (esp. through hospitality); (c) had accompanied him on the final trip to Jerusalem; and (d) were in attendance at the crucifixion and burial. 

The core of the group as it assembled on that first Easter morning included:

(1)   Mary Magdalene [MM] – likely coming from Bethany (~ 3km/2 mi. E of Jerusalem) who would have to set out as soon as light was in the sky, i.e. while it was still quite dark [Jn 20:1]. Cf. Wenham’s support for the tradition that identifies MM with M of Bethany;

(2)   Mary Mother of James & Joses [MMOJ&J], wife of Cleopas, who apparently accompanied MM from Bethany at first light [Cf. Mt 28:1 for “as it began to dawn” in KJV, with Jn 20:1 (“when it was yet dark”) & 2 (where “we” implies MM was not alone in 20:1)];

(3)   Salome mother of John and James and sister to Mary (i.e. mother of Jesus), presumably coming from the Zebedee house in Jerusalem, probably located in the well-to-do SW quarter;

(4)   Joanna, probably coming from Herod’s Palace, near the temple (N. Jer.); as she was the wife of that King’s steward, Chuza.  [NB: Is it not just possible, that she may have intervened with Pilate’s wife on the night of the arrest; perhaps by sending Susanna (here assumed to be her personal attendant and/or a close and confidential friend)?  That could help to explain the troubled dream that moved Pilate’s wife to ask him to treat Jesus justly.  Cf: Mt. 27:19 – how was this intercession known to the Evangelist?]

These four or five women (if Susanna is present), working according to a plan made at the burial (which they had observed, Lk. 23:50 - 56, cf. 24:1 - 12, 22 - 24), had bought and/or prepared spices after Sabbath end Saturday evening; intending to complete the burial process that had been interrupted by the onset of the Sabbath.  They assemble and head to the tomb, on the N side of Jerusalem, outside gates near its main entry; reaching it at approx. sunup. This was at a site they had carefully observed while the burial was in process.

A logically possible (and perhaps even plausible; given the inevitable delays that accompany such an expedition) route and associated sub-timeline would thus be:

(I) Bethany (1st light -- i.e.  while it was still quite dark: 2 Marys, Mt. 28:1 & Jn 20:1 – 2; NB: this village, ~ 2 mi E of Jerusalem & beyond the Mount of Olives and the Kidron valley, had been the disciples' base during Passion Week) -->

(II) Zebedee house, SW Jerusalem (+ Salome; perhaps Peter, John and Mary, Mother of Jesus [Salome's sister -- now in the care of Salome's son, John] were also now based in and/or near this house) -->

(III) Herod’s Palace, N Jer. (+ Joanna & possibly Susanna, plus spices, at early dawn Lk. 24:1) -->

(IV) Collective arrival at the tomb, NW of city as per Mk 16:2 (i.e. came to the tomb ~ at sunup).

For, (1) dawn/sunrise is a process, not an instant: from first light to “sunup” and the full light of day; and, (2) different people will perceive/report the resulting changing degree of light diversely as they focus on the light or the darkness (similar to the ½ full/empty cup). Cf. Prov. 4:18 for a description of dawning as a temporally spread out process; within the Hebrew culture.

The expedition thus summarised would naturally take up much of the time for the process of dawn/sunrise.   [Refs: Mt 28:1, cf. 5; Mk 16:1 – 5; Lk 24:1 – 2, cf. 10 & 22; Jn 20:1, nb. “we,” from v. 2 (i.e. even though MM is highlighted in v. 1 by the Narrator, others were present).  Appendix C below discusses the translation of erchomai.]

Mt 28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb . . . .

5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

Mk 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

Lk 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. . . .

10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning

Jn 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

1 Cor 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . .

11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. 12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Meanwhile: At the tomb, angels come down. One rolls the stone away & sits on it, deliberately terrifying the guards – not the women -- with his awesome appearance.  On his joining his companion inside, the guards recover & flee. The women, it is evident, have not as yet arrived – had they seen this calculatedly awesome spectacle, they would most likely have fled and gone for reinforcements long before they entered the tomb.  [Mt 27:62 – 66, 28:2 – 4, 11 – 15.]

Mt. 27:62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." 65 "Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Mt 28:2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

As the sun rises: The Women reach the tomb, finding it open. MM peels off, perhaps at its entry (as one can see there is no body inside from the entrance; cf. Jn 20:1 – 3 & 11 - 12). She runs to P & J with the report of a missing body; fearing that Jesus’ enemies are not willing to allow him the dignity of a decent burial – especially one in so accessible a place as near the main entrance of the city.  P & J are likely at John’s house, in SW Jerusalem, ~1 – 11/2 km away, based on Wenham’s estimate. [Mk.16:2 – 5; Lk 24:2; Jn 20:1 – 3, nb: MM sees empty tomb and THEN runs to P & J.]
Mk 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. Lk 24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, Jn 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.

Meanwhile: the remainder of The Women enter tomb, are met by the Angels who become visible, first sitting (to minimise the inevitable shock), then rising as one acts as a spokesman and addresses the now awestruck women.  Instructions are to report to the Apostles and disciples.  But, awestruck & trembling, at first these women flee and speak to no-one; but as courage returns with rising joy, they make their way to Jerusalem and onward to Bethany where the main company of the 12 likely fled at the arrest of Jesus. (This last is probable, as that is the opposite direction to where the arrest party came from, and is in more open country, as it is across the Kidron valley and the Mt. of Olives. Beyond would be the wilderness that had concealed more than one band of fugitives, e.g. David and his followers. Bethany had also been used by the company as a base during Passion Week: Mk. 11:11 – 12, Jn 12:1.) [Mt. 28:5 – 9; Mk 16:5 – 8; Lk 24:2 – 11, 22 - 24.]
Mt 28:5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Mk 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Lk 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. . . . .

22[Cleopas:] In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

Back at the Tomb: John arrives, then Peter, then MM.  John looks, sees an empty “shell” where the body once was, formed by grave-clothes & spices; he believes that this is the result of Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter walks right in, examines, but is not yet convinced. The Angelic Honour Guard are back in invisible mode.  The Apostles return home.  [Mk. 16:9 – 11(cf. W etc for arguments for authenticity, but also cf http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html and. http://www.tektonics.org/markend.html ); Lk 24:12 (KJV, cf. W for argument that this is not a late insert), 22 – 24; Jn 20:3 – 10.] Also, Lk 24:12 & 24 illustrates in parallel with Jn 20:1 - 2, how one member of a group -- in this case, Peter -- is highlighted in the compressed narrative style used in the accounts, without implying that there are no companions with him.

Lk 24:12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

Jn 20:3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes,

In the Garden: MM stands weeping at the entrance of the tomb, peers in; sees Angels, who ask why the weeping.  She says because they took away her Lord’s body, she knows not where.  Jesus stands behind her & converses, MM still confused, but recognises the voice when he calls her name.  Clings in a joyful death-grip. Please, let go. She runs back to Jerusalem, to report. [Mk. 16:9 – 11; Lk 24:22 – 24; Jn 20:11 – 18.]
Mk 16:9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Lk 24:22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." Jn 20:11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

A bit later: The other women report their experiences to the disciples (nb: wider than “the twelve”) in Jerusalem [who disbelieve them], and as they begin to go over to Bethany to report to the rest of the disciples [cf. 4 supra], they meet Jesus on the way; these women also hug him. (This possibility is suggested in light of the parallel train of events with MM, Peter and John; note how it now brings Peter to the N side of Jerusalem, across the city from the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would naturally go to reflect on the strange events. Perhaps, also, MM rejoins the circle of women as they go on to Bethany; this would fit in with the report that the message of the risen Lord is reported by the whole group of women inclusive of MM, Lk 23:10 -- recall, the Apostles are probably at this time in two groups, one in Jerusalem [P & J], the other [the remaining 9] in Bethany, ~ 2 mi/ 3km E across the Kidron and within easy reach of the Judaean wilderness beyond -- in case a further retreat was necessary in the face of the threat of the authorities.  [Mt. 28:8 – 10; Mk 16:9 - 11; Lk 24:22 – 23, nb “they.”]
Mt 28:8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." Mk 16:9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Lk 24:22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.

About this time: some of the soldiers/guards go to priests with their report, and are bribed to tell a patently false story. Oh, the willful, hard-hearted denial that that implies! [Mt 28:11 – 15.] Also, let us observe the implausibility of the official story: ill-armed and frightened disciples mounting a successful raid on well-armed and trained troops on guard duty on pain of their lives, and (a) finding them asleep [so how did they know who was attacking them?], then (b) breaking into the sealed and guarded tomb, and (c) making off with a body wrapped in burial cloths with 75 + lb of spices in them -- wouldn't that leave a trail of highly aromatic spice particles behind and on the raiders' clothing? [NB: The Romans had K9 patrols: using vicious bloodhounds . . .]. The Matthean response -- which would only be effective if it was common knowledge that this strange, self-refuting official story had been widely circulated -- invites the further inferences that:

(i) the authorities inadvertently corroborate that the tomb was empty and the body missing, and

(ii) Matthew's rebuttal that

(1) the "raid" was carried out by a heavenly patrol and

(2) the guards were bribed to lie,

reflects the fact that the true story was also well known and credible because it was public knowledge in Palestine that Jesus (and now his followers) indeed had supernatural powers. [Cf. Ac 4:1 - 20, 26:4 - 9, 22 - 31.]

Mt 28:11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

During the day: Jesus appears to an uncharacteristically but understandably subdued Simon Peter.  [Lk 24:33 - 34; 1 Cor 15:5, cf. Vv 1 – 3.] A likely location, as W. argues, is Gethsemane -- it would not have been likely to be a private meeting otherwise, given the crowded nature of the city and the likely reaction of the disciples to the gathering breaking news: clustering together to find out more and more.
Lk 24:33 They [Cleopas and companion, some argue this is actually Luke!] got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 1 Cor 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

That evening: Emmaus Road encounter, followed by the appearance to the 10 in Upper Room (John Mark’s House) as Cleopas and his companion finish their report.  Possibly, the company walk out to Bethany, where Jesus goes to His home for the night, as he will for the next 39 days until he finally officially Ascends to the Throne at the Right Hand of the Majesty on High. (NB: W, an authority on NT Gk, argues that (1) the link-word de is fairly generic and context-dependent: i.e. “but/and/yet/then” etc., so it is not necessarily temporal; so (2) the end of Lk should be understood as a compressed summary of the 40 days, expanded in Acts 1:1 - 11.  Also, Matthew has no Ascension summary, but is a complete Gospel. Also, the notion of a "three storey" cosmos is offensive to many Modernists. Such should be prepared to understand that, here, Jesus ascends physically to some distance. as a concession to the current cosmology, but fundamentally shifted from the spacio-temporal to the eternal order of existence that undergirds our everyday world: in him, we live, move and have our being. Oddly, those of us who grew up on Star Trek etc. have no imaginative problem here: starships routinely move off some distance on "impulse power," then shift to "warp drive" and thus "sub-/hyper- space," consequently apparently vanishing. Similarly, for angels who appear/disappear at will. H'mm: one wonders just what literature Gene Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov et al were reading when they came up with their Science Fiction scenarios . . .) [Refs: Lk. 24:13 – 35 (Emmaus encounter & report); Mk 16:14 – 18 (as they were upbraided for unbelief) & Heb.2:1 – 4, esp 4; Lk 24:36 – 48 (while Emmaus report has just been given); Jn 20:19 – 25.]
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." Lk 24:36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." 1 Cor 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Heb 2:1 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Next Sunday: Meeting with the eleven, including Thomas.  [Jn 20:24 – 31.]
Jn 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 1 Cor 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Later: Galilee: breakfast meeting with seven disciples by the Lake Tiberias, with the draft of 153 fishes.  As W. suggests, perhaps, this is used to plan the later convened meeting on a mountain with the 500+, where the Great Commission is given.  (W. argues that the "some doubted" in Mt. 28:17 in Gk reflects a subtle shift in focus, i.e the doubt is among the wider circle of disciples.) Personal meeting with James, maybe with other members of the immediate family – cf. Jude v. 1.  [REFS: Jn 21:1 – 25 (by the lake Tiberias in Galilee); Mt 28:16 – 20, 1 Cor 15: 6 (500+, Great Commission given); 1 Cor 15:7 (James).]
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jn 21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 "I'm going out to fish," . . . 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. 6 He said, "Throw your net on the right side" . . . 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" . . . . 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread . . . . 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead . . . . 24 This is the disciple [the one who he loved and who leaned against his chest at the last Supper] who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. 1 Cor 1 Cor 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

E13.  Back in Jerusalem, day 40:
  Final meetings and discussions, ascension. 120 wait for Pentecost.  [Mk. 16:19 – 20; Lk. 24:49 – 53 & Acts 1:1 – 12; Heb 1:1 – 2:4, also cf. Rom 1:1 – 4 and Phil 2:5 - 11.]
Mk 16:19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. Lk 24:49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. Acts 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." 6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.


The pattern of strong mutual support, and the high goodness of fit between "E1 -13" and the narratives should be quite evident!

As a final note on Table 1, too, it is well worth observing just how naturally the four Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles show gaps and overlaps in coverage, in an almost random fashion -- except at highly important junctures; and also how one account naturally fills in or corroborates details from another. This easily seen pattern is highly suggestive of multiple, independent, diverse but mutually corroborating witnesses -- it therefore strongly enhance our confidence at points where there happens to be no overlapping. Further, providing we are not closed-minded relative to the possibility that God -- for good reason -- may miraculously intervene in the affairs of men, the artless natural coherence of the quite diverse accounts (as shown above) above is a strong testimony to the substantial truthfulness and independence of the accounts and their underlying eyewitness accounts.

But, that is a big if in our day; so we now turn to reflecting:

C) On the Issue of Logical Possibility vs. Psychological Plausibility

Now, the above simply set out to simply show that a logically possible timeline exists, such that the diverse accounts in the four canonical Gospels are in harmony. This, is quite evidently feasible, as has just been shown; whether or not one is inclined to accept that all the details are probably correct. Thus, the charge "contradictions" falls to the ground, defeated.

But, the typical modernist response, as happened in the April 16, 2003 Grace Missionary Church public forum, is to make a quick transition to the next claim: the proposed timeline is ridiculed as being implausible, and so it should not be taken seriously; without even a courteous pause to acknowledge the material significance of the main point -- i.e. the harsh and frequently emphasised charge "contradiction" is demonstrably moot, for a successful harmony defeats a major and potentially damaging accusation. (This is the same rhetorical stratagem that has often been used, even by Philosophers who should know better, in dismissing and ridiculing the significance of Plantinga's successful Free Will Defense against the logical form of the Problem of Evil.)

But, not so fast!

As Vox Day aptly observes, a psychology is a worldview's characteristic pattern of engaging the real world. Therefore, psychological plausibility is deeply interwoven with one's worldview commitments, and can easily become a subtle form of bias, or prejudice -- or even just plain crude begging of the question. Specifically:

  • We live in the Post-Enlightenment, Post-modern era, one in which many are still strongly influenced by Descartes' assertion of radical doubt as a basis for dismissing knowledge claims: if it is POSSIBLE to doubt, then one can dismiss a claim as worthless. But surely, the mere logical possibility of error is implicit in any truth claim that does not rise to the level of a mathematical demonstration! (That is, the logical possibility -- as opposed to a high epistemic probability -- of error is something that we have to live with in Science, day to day life, our Courts, secular Historical studies etc., so why should it be somehow anathema when we see an intersection between theology and history in Jerusalem, circa. 30 AD? That is, there is an intellectual vice at work in such selective skepticism -- and should one try to live consistently with the idea of Cartesian radical doubt, one could not trust one's reasoning, thoughts, memories, sensations & perceptions, the food we eat, the testimony of our eyes that the road is clear so we can cross it, and more. That is, as is typical of such vices, it leads to absurdity or else to inconsistency.)

  • Secondly, the Descartes position and its modern day descendants lead to an infinite regress of doubts and challenges: not even our thoughts, sensations and memories rise to that stern test, so we see an absurd result: if radical skepticism is a true claim, it implies that we cannot even trust the reasoning processes that have led us to it -- should we not rather doubt our doubts? Even Bertrand Russell put forward the five-minute universe argument on the point. We could not ever find a way to demonstrate that the universe, complete with the memories and artifacts we see all around us, was created five minutes ago: so, should we not immediately dismiss all our memories, artifacts and records of the past as dubious and therefore tantamount to false? Obviously not -- unless we see strong positive reason to believe we live in a manipulated Plato's Cave world -- Plato (and just possibly Socrates) scooped The Matrix by 2,400 years!

  • Third, there is often the feeling that Hume and Kant have made the thought of the miraculous incredible for any informed thinker. Unfortunately, such a claim lacks warrant. For, not only did William Paley, Thomas Reid and many others publish quite telling (but often ignored) rebuttals in C18 - 19, but it is by now well accepted by most philosophers that, first, Hume in effect begged the question -- not at the crude level of saying miracles do not happen because they cannot happen because the empirically established laws of nature forbid exceptions; but, at the somewhat more subtle level of asserting that our experience of the universal validity of natural law is so firm and unalterable that we would have a right to challenge and dismiss the evidence for any claimed "exceptions." But of course, this conclusion was achieved by implicitly assuming just this claim to discredit and reject the accounts of miracles, most notably the resurrection and its more than five hundred witnesses. [Cf. discussion, pp. 9 ff., the 1995 Ludemann-Craig debate, Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Fantasy, eds. Copan & Tacelli (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000). In that debate, it is the a priori rejection of the plausibility of the miraculous that led Dr Ludemann to argue that there MUST be a naturalistic option, leading him to accept the hallucination theory: Peter's guilt-induced vision led to mass hysteria and the worldwide Christian movement; Jesus' body simply rotted away in the common grave for executed criminals; and, the time from this event to that of the surfacing of the movement was so long that it was too late to go back and dig up old skeletons. In this, he makes particularly heavy going over the obvious implication of 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, that if Jesus was buried and was seen alive and well by acquaintances (including his hitherto skeptical half-brother, James) -- up to 500+ at a time -- over forty days in diverse places in jerusalem and Galilee; then it is plain that the tomb attested to in other records made within the lifetime of friendly and hostile witnesses was notoriously empty! The strained substitution of modern speculation driven by antisupernaturalistic assumptions in the teeth of ancient record of a quality we would otherwise immediately accept, should be obvious.]

  • Further to this, and as C. S. Lewis long ago pointed out, the perceived plausibility/probability of claimed miracles cannot be separated from the underlying controlling core assumptions in our worldviews. Specifically, if one is inclined to strongly doubt or reject God's existence, then in practice no level of evidence will ever suffice to lead one to accept a conclusion one wishes not to be so: for, miracles -- in particular, the resurrection of Jesus -- imply that God is at work. But, when we look at the vaunted laws of nature, it is immediately clear that the "uniformity" we observe and infer as laws of nature is at best provisional. Indeed, even statistics (perhaps the most perfect form of inductive reasoning) informs us that what appears to be an inexplicable and even suspicious exception to a "local" pattern we have hitherto observed, may in fact simply be part of the wider "global" pattern. (In the case of miracles, once the existence of God is accepted as at least possible or conceivable -- and surely it is not impossible/inconceivable -- then we have no basis to assume that God may not for good reason miraculously intervene in the usual course of nature as we have perceived it. Of course, once this more open-minded approach is accepted, as C. S. Lewis also pointed out, it is not at all difficult to see that there is quite adequate evidence that miracles have occurred; especially the resurrection of Jesus.) In short, the acceptablity of answers to the question turns on whether or not we are committed to the fallacy of the closed mind!

  • Similarly, with Kant, his argument that we can never know things as such [the noumenal world] but only as our senses and thought-world shapes them [the phenomenal world] has shaped an intellectual atmosphere that leads many to infer that non-tangible metaphysical entities are deeply suspect. The result has been frankly put in Bultmann's words: "It is impossible to use the electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world." [Cited, IBID, p. 12, from Rudolf Bultmann's "The New Testament and Mythology," Kerygma and Myth, ed. Hans Werner Bartsch (NY: Harper & Row, 1961), p.5] This perception, of course, is the basis for the Bultmannian concept that the Modern Theologian's task is to separate and discard the trashy husk of ancient -- historically incredible and scientifically ridiculous -- religious myths from the kernel of theological truth acceptable to modernist-influenced man, guided as he is by the thinking of Hume and Kant. However, not only is Hume arguing in a vicious circle as we just saw, but also Kant is in fact all too plainly self-referentially inconsistent:

    insofar as these . . . assumptions include Kant's strictures on the scope of scientific knowledge, they are deeply, fatally flawed. For Kant must at least be claiming to have knowledge of the way some things (e.g., the mind and its structures and operations) exist in themselves and not merely as they appear; he confidently affirms that the idea of God, for instance, has the property of unknowability. [10] So the theory relies on knowledge that the theory, if it was true, would not -- could not -- allow. [p.13, IBID. Ref. [10] is to Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 3 - 30, and is shortly followed by a reference to F. H. Bradley's gentle but stinging opening salvo in his Appearance and Reality, 2nd Edn.: that "The man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is impossible has . . . himself . . . perhaps unknowingly, entered the arena [of metaphysics] . . . . To say that reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is to claim to know reality." (Clarendon Press, 1930), p.1]

In effect, then, though very influential, Hume and Kant are plainly profoundly wrong: the first begs the question he claims to prove, and the second assumes knowledge he claims to prove is unknowable. Evangelicals therfore have a perfect right to challenge the question-begging biased assumptions and associated self-contradictions that lie beneath the ever so confidently stated challenges that miracles are inherently implausible. For, as Paul all too perceptively said to his judges in Caesarea:

"Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? . . . . What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king [Agrippa] is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. " [Ac 26:8, 25 - 26; emphasised. Cf. 2 Cor 10:4 - 5, NIV & GNB.]

Those who wish to reject the plausibility of such a timeline as the above, would therefore do well to reflect on these points, made by the C1's leading Apostle: on trial for his life, to informed judges in the very jurisdiction in which the resurrection happened -- remarks made well within forty years of the event, in the presence of hostile witnesses more than willing to pounce on errors, and recorded by an author whose habitual accuracy now stands well vindicated.

CONCLUSIONS: It is evident from the above that a natural, logically possible and psychologically plausible harmony of the accounts in the four Gospels is feasible, and that the harmony also dovetails with the early tradition independently attested by Paul in the mid-50’s AD.  Thus, the alternative historiographical model succeeds in integrating the accounts, rendering the charge: “contradictions,” moot.  For, so long as a logically possible explanation, E, is capable of harmonizing diverse accounts P, Q, R, S, then by the logic of contradiction, P, Q, R, S cannot be logically contradictory.

But also, in this case we see an apparent example of the diversity of eyewitness testimony that coheres on closer inspection, which reinforces the traditional view that the Gospels are in fact an early record of the church’s eyewitness testimony, that is, that they are fundamentally historical and reliable.

As Wenham sums up (with all due caution in a province of scholarship where conclusions must always be provisional) after his book length development of the explanatory harmony that has been somewhat reworked and expanded at points in the above notes:

The charge of irreconcilability brought against the resurrection stories has not been proved.  Rather . . . these records exhibit the characteristics of accurate and independent reporting, for superficially they show great disharmony, but on close examination the details gradually fall into place . . . and accurate knowledge of topography, a full acquaintance with the actors in the drama and an understanding of the different viewpoints of the narrators, all throw light on the probable course of events.  Maybe there are problems not fully solved and problems given a wrong solution, but when every effort has been made to give the details of the narratives their full weight, they add up to a consistent story.  The imperfect knowledge that we have gained by laborious effort nearly two millennia after the event was of course immediately accessible in a fuller and more accurate form to those who had lived through them.  The possession of such knowledge goes far towards explaining the certainty, stability and depth of the faith of the early Christians in their risen Lord.  [Easter Enigma, pp. 124-5, emphases added]

Further (as will be discussed a bit more in Appendix A), the harmony highlights the role of a circle of women who accompanied and logistically supported Jesus starting from his early Galilean ministry. Indeed, given the familial and friendship ties that emerge, it is now also clear why these four or five women should have been the discoverers of the empty tomb: they were trying to complete his burial, as a final service of support and love to the prophet who had rescued them from the enslaving power of the devil. 

But, as they busied themselves on that errand as that first Easter Sunday dawned, all heaven broke loose. 

Thus, we see why Mary Magdalene and the other women became the first witnesses to the resurrection; though, as women’s testimony was suspect in those times, it is Cephas who through a poignant private interview with his risen Master became the first Apostolic witness.  Thereafter, for forty days, in Jerusalem and Galilee, Jesus showed himself to be alive through “many convincing proofs” [Acts 1:3, cf. 17:30 – 32, 26:8, Rom 1:1 – 4] – not least, in his interview with Thomas (who, being aware of the implications, insisted on putting his hand into the spear-pierced side and his fingers into the nail-pierced hands).  Then, he ascended, promising to pour out the promise of his Father.

And, after fifty days, the Spirit was poured out in power at Pentecost, inaugurating the church’s historic, global witness:

“Therefore, since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day in which he shall judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

I want to remind you of the gospel I preached . . . by this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living [i.e. ~ 55 AD], though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . . Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

 [Acts 17:29 – 31, and 1 Cor 15:1 – 11.]


Major source: John Wenham’s Easter Enigma, 2nd Edn., (Paternoster, 1996).  This is a book-length treatment on the subject.

Marshall’s Interlinear NT, J D Pentecost's Harmony of the Gospels, Scroggie's Guide to the Gospels, Scofield's Study Bible, and Wieand's harmony of the Gospels were also very helpful.

Also cf. more technical online discussions: Miller at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/ordorise.html and Holding at http://www.tektonics.org/rezrvw.html .

Simon Greenleaf's Testimony of the Evangelists provides a reasonable alternative approach to evaluating putatively historical evidence in light of forensic practice, and the recent publication of the Craig-Ludemann debate of 1995, The Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, Eds. Copan & Tacelli (IVP 2000), is also quite helpful in understanding the conservative/radical alternatives (within the general historical-critical school) and how they interact in an open forum. John W. Montgomery's essay, "The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity," in JWM, Ed., Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Probe/Word, 1991), pp. 319 - 341, is a contemporary update to Greenleaf's essay; it makes essentially the same point -- it in fact cites Greenleaf, observing that "Simon Greeenleaf's summation of the testimonial case for Jesus' life, ministry and claims about Himself offers a perennial challenge to the earnest seeker for truth." [p. 330.]

Eta Linnemann's acid (and resented) but often all too telling critiques of the underlying framework of assumptions and methodologies for Historical-Critical theologising as a whole are well worth a careful examination: See her Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? [Baker, 1990] and Biblical Criticism on Trial: How Scientific is "Scientific Theology"? [Kregel, 2001].

Professor Edwin Yamauchi's observations regarding the interaction of historical-critical theology with the highly material archaeological evidence is also worth a sobering look, e.g. in his The Stones and the Scriptures (Baker 1972. NB: Kevin Miller's remarks on the new post-Albright, post-modern hyper-criticical school of archaeology that uses the self-referentially inconsistent hermeneutics of suspicion to assert that unless alternative explanations are positively ruled out, Albright-style readings of archaeological evidence as compatible with/supportive of the Bible should be derided as "fundamentalist" is telling: see his Did the Exodus never happen?.) So is Sir William M Ramsey's classic study: St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citrizen, which is based on profound knowledge of the classical literature backed up by the author's pioneering archaeological investigations of Paul's missionary journeys.

Similarly, it is worth a look at the online version of The Fundamentals of the early 1900's as well as the methodological questions raised by Greenleaf in his Testimony to see that the underlying weaknesses of the historical critical approach used have long been highlighted, but the modernist thought-based Historical-Critical School became dominant because its approach was in accord with the skeptical spirit of the times in the period since the late 1700s.

In turn, as modernism has now begun to crumble in the face of even more radical (and multiply self-refuting) post-modern critiques, an opportunity has opened up for Evangelicals to articulate, substantiate and confidently proclaim a renewed respect for the quality of the pre-modern wisdom and truth communicated in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, in our approach to theologising and to general intellectual and cultural leadership in the new, 21st Christian Century that lies open before us.


In his attempted rebuttal to my published letter of of Feb. 1, 2003, Mr Espeut asserted baldly that "There is no mention of any "group" of women; the four accounts do not agree on whether it was one, two or three women, and which women." ["An end to Fundamentalism," Gleaner, Feb. 5, 2003: http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030205/cleisure/cleisure2.html.]

But in fact, this is manifestly not so.

Specifically we may observe: Jn 20:2, after spotlighting MM in v. 1, uses “we”-- which implies MM had company, in a group: WE [the women, of Mt 28:5 & Lk 24:22 – 24, traceable all the way back to Galilee, i.e. Lk 8:1 – 3]. Also, Lk 24:22 – 24, on road to Emmaus, CERTAIN WOMEN OF OUR COMPANY, “the women” for short. (The same group had come down from Galilee [Mk 15:40 – 41], was of the circle of committed, active disciples; along with the twelve and the seventy.  In Galilee, they accompanied Christ, had been delivered of demons and/or healed of infirmities, and some provided financial/material – esp. hospitality? -- support to the 12, Lk. 8:1 – 3.)

Main members:

(1) MM -- possibly also the same as Mary of Bethany, as W argues;
(2) the other Mary [Mother of James & Joses, wife of Clopas/Cleopas/Alphaeus (possibly, bro of Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, cf. Wenham)];
(3) Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of the apostles John and James (prob. Sister of VM: Jn 19:25 has at cross VM & sister, M wife of Cleopas, MM; Mt 27:55 – 6 MM, MMOJ&J, “mother of Zebedee’s children”; Mk 15:40 has MM, M MOJ & J, & Salome watching from a distance);
(4) Joanna wife of Chuza, Herod’s Steward,
(5) Susanna, poss. a friend or attendant to Joanna. 

Angelic appearance to MM was after she returned to the tomb with P & J; that for “the women” of Mt 28:5 was before they left to report to the disciples generally  – so as per Jn 20:1 – 2, MM seems to have left group to report the missing body to P & J beforethe women” [Mt 28:5] went into tomb & saw angels (who 1st appeared sitting, then stood up to address, prob. to minimise fright), i.e. Mt 28:5 implies at least one or two more women with MM & the other M (MOJ); from the circle of Lk 8:1 – 3, as parallels indicate.

So, we have a name & stable, long-term identity for the group, that is able to survive comings/goings of one of its members, MM [Easter AM], or Salome [Good Friday PM, with VM & John]! Wenham infers that at the death of Christ, Salome accompanies John and her sister, the Virgin Mary, to their home; meanwhile others participate in the burial and plan to complete the anointing of the body Sunday after the Sabbath. This ties the events of the first Easter morning into the chain of support operations of the women of the company of disciples, ranging back to Galilee. Indeed, an examination of Ac 1:14, "the women" (nb how this cluster is there specifically distinguished from Mary, the mother of Jesus; so it is a proper name for a group, not a general term for female disciples) appears as the FIRST group after the eleven who were waiting for the Spirit in the upper room.

These women watched the crucifixion and burial [Lk 23:55 – 56], had supported Mary at & after it – Salome, apparently was Mary’s sister, & mother of John the Apostle/the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was probably a friend of the Saviour, say from age 6 on.  The Zebedee family apparently had a substantial home in Jerusalem, one of three bases for the disciples in Passion Week.  Cf. Wenham Chs 3 – 4.  He also argues, persuasively, in support of the tradition that MM was Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus & Martha, & the woman who twice anointed Jesus with costly ointment: once as the sinner of Lk 7:36 – 50, and once as Mary of Bethany of Jn 12:2 – 8, which last, with Jesus’ rebuke on values seems to have triggered Judas’ betrayal. Seems Martha was hostess, but dinner was in Simon the Leper’s house – yet another person healed by Jesus?

Thus, “the women”-- Mr Espeut's careless and tendentious remarks notwithstanding -- is a powerfully integrative construct, not only on the first Easter morning [cf. E.1 supra], but ranging far & wide through the gospels to provide insights into subtle dynamics and patterns.  For instance, how is it that Matthew – accor. to Mt 27:17 – 19 – knows of the dream & secret counsel to Pilate from his WIFE?  Why did she, appar. a pagan, know and care enough about Jesus to be that concerned lest her husband condemn him as an innocent man? Would not a logical explanation for this be that Joanna, a logical acquaintance, would have sent an urgent message requesting an intervention to avert injustice and tragedy -- perhaps through Susanna?

And, much more.

APPENDIX B: The Logic of Harmonising Explanations

An account, say P, can be converted, with some effort, into a chain of sub-propositions, p1, p2, p3 . . . pn. (NB: A proposition, roughly summed up, is a statement that asserts a definite truth-claim; and serves as the basis for logical reasoning: e.g. "Socrates is a man[J]; Men are mortal [K]; so, Socrates is mortal [L]" joins three such propositions, J, K, and L, into a classic valid and -- as Plato's Apology and Phaedus report -- sadly sound argument.)  If the account is claimed to be true, it is equivalent to claiming that the propositions p1 to pn are true, i.e. that p1Çp2Çp3 . . . Çpn is true.  This can be extended to a series of accounts, P, Q, R, S, etc.

Now, it may be suspected that the accounts are mutually inconsistent.  If this is so, at least one contradiction exists between the sub-propositions, say xi and yj.  [In the case where xi = yj, we have a self-referential inconsistency, and if the contradictory pair are between claims in one account, say P, then it is incoherent.  Otherwise, where xi and yj belong to say P and Q, P and Q are mutually inconsistent so that PÇQ = 0. This immediately implies that PÇQÇRÇS = 0, thus if we augment PÇQÇRÇS with a further proposition E; we see that as well E Ç (PÇQÇRÇS) = 0.]

For the purposes of this discussion, we assume -- without loss of generality -- that the individual accounts are internally consistent.  (If they are not, the claim of consistency already fails.)

Next, if we can construct a further logically possible – i.e. internally consistent (as opposed to factual) -- chain of propositions E such that EÇ(PÇQÇRÇS) is consistent, then it follows that PÇQÇRÇS is consistent.  For, this is only possible if none of the propositions in the chain entails the denial of either itself or another proposition -- as we just discussed.  Thus, E provides a meaningful harmonising explanation that integrates the diverse accounts/chains of propositions P, Q, R, S and by so doing dissipates the charge that the accounts are contradictory.

Practically, the synthesis of such an explanation is an exercise in Abduction, where surprising or puzzling accounts P, Q, R, S are logically entailed by E: E => PÇQÇRÇS.  (Such exercises are common in Science, History and Legal contexts, as well as in business affairs, decision-making and of course daily life: we all seek to understand events, concerns and relationships by creating successful (albeit inevitably provisional) explanatory models, at whatever level of simplicity or sophistication.)

If PÇQÇRÇS is inconsistent, such an explanation cannot be constructed.  For, if there is a contradiction among the propositions in accounts P, Q, R, S, attempts to do so will end up in contradictions within E, and harmony will only then be possible if at least one of the offending propositions in P, Q, R, S is deleted. In short, the project of attempting to construct such a harmony is a strong test for whether P, Q, R, S are in fact consistent -- and the suppression of material truth is a strong sign of wilful deceit [cf. Rom 1:18 - 32].

However, it is also usually possible to construct a radical disharmony, say D, which would make the accounts P, Q, R, S appear to be in mutual contradiction -- just as in a court case, the prosecution and defense cases usually reach radically different conclusions on the same evidence. (No wonder, then, that Luther once earthily but tellingly observed that reason is a whore: arguments are no better than their logic, assumptions and fact-claims, and rhetoric, notoriously is the art of PERSUASION, rather than proof.)

But, there is a way forward: just as there is a presumption of innocence in a sound jurisprudential system, the mere fact that one can create a disharmonious account cannot overturn the point of the above: the very existence of a successful harmony, E, suffices to show demonstratively that it is unreasonable to sustain the accusation, "contradiction." (For instance, consider Plantinga's successful use of this strategy to rebut the deductive form of the problem of evil. In this now famous case, it had been formerly held by many anti-theists up to the 1960's that the theistic conception of God was self-contradictory, given the existence of evil. Then, from the late 1960's/ early 70's on, Plantinga provided a defense based on a logically possible state of affairs in which the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good God is compatible with the fact that the world contains evil. So, however reluctantly, the leading atheologian philosophers have now had to admit that the free-will defense is successful. See a brief and highly simplified summary, here.)

In some cases, though, the accounts as they stand simply cannot be harmonised. In the case of partially inconsistent accounts where the question is over details as opposed to the main line of the account, it may be possible to make a judgement regarding which propositions to reject or simply leave out of the synthesised overall account, restoring consistency.  This often happens with historical sources -- and is the underlying persuasive argument of the advocates of Historical Criticism of the Bible. Unfortunately, they then fall victim to unjustified question-begging assumptions regarding the possibility of the intervention of the Living God into the affairs of men. 

But equally , in other cases, it may be hard or impossible to decide which account is more accurate, and resort will have to be made to the basic credibility of the accounts and the underlying witnesses, combined with Pascal's Wager-style prudence regarding which side it is safer to err on.  This, for instance, obtains in many court cases – raising the question of the benefit of the doubt and the requirement that a serious charge be proved beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases or at least on balance of probabilities in civil ones. And, on this, the basic rule of jurisprudence is:

The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. [Greenleaf, Section 29]

Beyond this, one may have to determine which of competing harmonising explanations, say E and E' etc., is superior.  Again, this is a difficult exercise, but it is a situation that often occurs in ScienceSimplicity; explanatory scope, power and elegance; lack of ad hoc hypotheses; predictive power; material superiority to the standard statistical "random event/coincidence" hypothesis and/or any actual competing theories; and other similar criteria would apply.  However, this is clearly a case of a provisional judgement of the community of the learned; one that is also quite prone to influence from unstated metaphysical assumptions. [NB: The discussion of Evolutionary Materialism here is worth a look, as a case in point.]

For the case in view, the resurrection of Jesus, William Lane Craig, in his 1995 debate with Gerd Ludemann [who believed in the "visionary" -- i.e. hallucinatory -- theory of the resurrection], put the matter aptly:

. . . we agree that the historian's task is very much like that of the trial lawyer: to examine the witnesses in order to reconstruct the most probable course of events . . . . I propose to defend two basic contentions in this debate: (1) Any adequate historical hypothesis about the resurrection must explain four established facts: Jesus' burial, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples' belief in the resurrection. (2) The best explanation of these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead . . . .

I want to share four facts that are widely accepted by New Testament scholars today.

Fact 1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea . . . .

Fact 2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers . . . .

Fact 3: On multiple occasions and under multiple circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead . . . .

Fact 4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason [i.e. it was counter to their interests and even safety] not to . . . .

In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. H. McCullagh lists six tests used by historians to determine the best explanation for historical facts. The hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" passes all these tests.

1. It has great explanatory scope. It explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw postmortem appearances of Jesus and why the Christian Faith came into being.

2. It has great explanatory power. It explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution [his death being certified by the executioner and accepted by the governor, who then released his body for honourable burial] . . .

3. It is plausible. Given . . . Jesus' own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation . . .

4. It is not ad hoc or contrived. It requires only one additional hypothesis -- that God exists . . .

5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis . . . does not in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don't rise naturally from the dead . . .

6. It far outstrips any of its rival theories in meeting conditions 1 through 5. . . . various rival explanations have been offered -- for example the conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars . . . .

[W]hy, we may ask, does Dr Ludemann [as a representative among many other modernist-influenced scholars] reject the resurrection hypothesis? As you read his book, the answer becomes clear: the resurrection is a miracle, and Dr Ludemann just cannot bring himself to believe in miracles. He states, "Historical criticism . . . does not reckon with an intervention of God in history." Thus, the resurrection cannot be historical; the hypothesis goes out the window before you even sit down at the table to look at the evidence . . . He says, "Hume . . . demonstrated that a miracle is defined in such a way that 'no testimony is sufficienrt to establish it.' " The concept of a resurrection, he says, presupposes "a philosophical realism that is untenable since Kant." [Excerpted, Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, Eds. Copan & Tacelli, IVP 2000, pp. 32 - 38. Links and parentheses added; italics in original. NB: Subsequent to this debate, Dr Ludemann became an atheist.]

In short, when it comes to the resurrection, our judgements on methods and appropriate conclusions are often subverted by underlying philosophical commitments; even on the part of great and honest scholars such as Dr Gerd Ludemann. So, as we look at the logical question of whether the existence of a logically possible state of affairs exists such that the four Gospel narratives fall into harmony, we must first and foremost beware of the power of such commitments/prejudices.

Secondly, we must be willing to assess plausibility within the context of appreciating that the existence of God is at least possible -- i.e. it is reasonable to believe in God.

Third, we need to recognise that if God's existence is possible then he may well for good reason intervene into the affairs of man and nature in miraculous ways; the redemption of humankind being the most compelling such reason -- and the one at work in this case. [Cf. Jn 3:14 - 21, 1 Cor 15;1 - 11.]

Finally, in assessing the credibility of witnesses, we must not allow ourselves to slip into the fallacy of selective radical skepticism.

Sadly, for many, these requisites are a tall order indeed.

APPENDIX C: Translating Erchomai

During a forum held on April 16, 2003 at Grace Missionary Church, Kingston Jamaica, under the sponsorship of that congregation and the Jamaica Theological Seminary, Messrs Peter Espeut and Clinton Chisholm discussed the issue as to whether the Gospel accounts are history, theology or myth.  During the discussion, Deacon Espeut spent considerable time discussing excerpts from these notes (sadly, without setting them in the proper context of a logical argument that does not seek to establish the actual historicity of timeline E above, but only to use its bare logical possibility -- given the stringency of the charge "contradiction" -- to refute the charge that the accounts are mutually contradictory; as is discussed in Appendix B, supra). In so doing, he argued that while erchomai “rarely” means “go,” the grammar forbids the translation “went” in the passages in question.

The obvious first response to this is, that the proposed timelines in E above are explicitly based on those of John Wenham in his Easter Enigma.  Wenham’s discussion, using the RSV translation for purposes of reference, is:

There is a fairly close agreement of testimony here (“toward the dawn”, “very early”, “at early dawn”, “while it was still dark”) except for Mark, who has the appearance of contradicting himself.  In the ancient world “very early” would hardly describe what we would mean by “when the sun had risen” . . . Sunrise in biblical usage, however, means break of day.  We have an Old Testament account of a dawn attack taking place “as soon as the sun is up”, and a psalm which refers to the night animals returning to their lairs “when the sun rises”. [Judges 9:33, Ps. 104:22.] 

There is perhaps no need to insist upon any distinction between Matthew’s “toward the dawn”, Mark’s “very early”, Luke’s “early dawn”, and John’s “while it was still dark”.  Darkness and light are relative terms and it would be perfectly possible, and not inaccurate, for one person to describe the time as “early dawn” which another described as “still dark”.  It needs to be remembered, however, that it could have been undeniably dark on the women’s departure and undeniably light on their arrival, particularly if their starting point were Bethany.  Furthermore, it should be noted that the words “went” in Matthew, Mark and Luke translate the same word as “came” in John and that either translation would be possible in any of the cases, it depending on what standpoint the writer is thought to be adopting.  If John is thinking of Mary Magdalene setting off from Bethany, the translation “went to the tomb early, while it was still dark” would be precisely accurate.  Similarly, Matthew’s “toward the dawn . . . went” suggests the same Bethany standpoint — the two Marys started their journey just before dawn.  Mark’s “very early” could well represent Peter’s recollection of the Marys and Salome leaving John’s house and Luke’s “at early dawn” would fit well enough to the departure of Joanna and ‘Susanna’ from the Hasmonean palace.  These distinctions may be too fine, but we undoubtedly get a consistent and coherent picture if we see the first departures as being in the dark and the last arrivals as being before sunrise.  [pp. 81- 2. Emphasis added.]

It could be baldly claimed that John Wenham, as author of a standard work on Greek for Theology Students[6], should not be making elementary mistakes in Grammar when he asserts that it is context which is decisive in this case. However, authorities can obviously make mistakes, even elementary ones.

The logical second step, then, is to see how the translators have rendered the word in the main English Language versions, to see whether there is a pattern to how the various Translation Committees render the word:


Mt 28:1

Mk. 16:2

Lk 24:1

Jn 20:1








were on their way[7]













“Went” frequency





Clearly  the modern Anglophone translators, cutting across geographical and theological spectra,  agree with Wenham that “went” is a viable translation in these contexts, so it plainly remains grammatically, contextually and logically possible to develop the timeline based on understanding the time references to speak of points of departure before actual astronomical sunrise, reaching the tomb approximately as the sun came up. [NB: The sun occupies about 30’ of arc, and at ~ 15 degrees per hour rotation rate for the Earth, it takes about two minutes for the sun to completely transit the horizon.]

Logical possibility, we must reiterate, is all that is required for our purposes, as is discussed supra in Appendix B.  Plausibility relative to other possible explanations (a far more subjective judgement: inference to BEST explanation) -- apart from the above remarks on possibility vs. plausibility -- is left to another forum.

APPENDIX D: Articles in the Espeut/Mullings “debate” so far:

NB: A rebuttal to the damaging but ill-founded allegations in the Espeut article of Feb 5th was submitted on the 7th of Feb., and was later shortened somewhat, as per discussions with the editorial staff; but has to date remained unpublished, despite repeated discussions with the relevant authorities in the Jamaican newspaper of record.

The letter responds to the following unjustified, and at points plainly -- and sadly -- intellectually dishonest attack. [Again, his specific claims are re-presented as bullet points, with bracketed comments]:

I stated last week that the many indefensible literal contradictions prove that God did not intend us to automatically take every word in the Bible as history or science, but as theology. Sometimes theology means history, but not always as Fundamentalists believe. Last week I named the three points on which the four accounts of the discovery of the resurrection agree, which are not in dispute (it happened on a Sunday, Mary Magdalene was there, and He had Risen) [Cf his actual remarks, to the effect that the ONLY points on which they agree, and that the four evangelists would be thrown out of court. Further to this, he had asserted that the Scriptures communicate theological truth while being scientifically fallacious, and historically contradictory. By proper definition, a contradiction necessarily entails factual error and discredit to those who contradict themselves -- and his remark on being thrown out of court betrays that he knows this. Cf. Greenleaf's quite different, telling remarks in a classic essay on the value of the testimony of the Evangelists, in the teeth of the already evident tendency to give the Gospels a very rough and unjustified handling. (Prof. Simon Greenleaf was the founding father of the modern jurisprudential theory of evidence, and a founder of Harvard Law School.) Similar remarks may be found in a contemporary re-visiting of the issue, in the contemporary essay by famous theologian and lawyer John Warwick Montgomery, "The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity" in JWM, Ed.: Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Word/Probe, 1991), pp. 319 - 341.]

I fail . . . to understand why Mr. Mullings claims that I am denying the historicity of the resurrection. What I am successfully demonstrating are some of the thousands of literal contradictions within the Bible, and I am amazed at Mr. Mullings' denial of what his eyesight is telling him. [In fact, Mr Espeut is demonstrating how he has injected the contradictions into the text, through an implicit radical disharmony. But, the mere existence of a logically possible explanatory harmony, E, as is shown above, is sufficient to defeat all such disharmonies. Moreover, if the four evangelists are so mutually self-contradictory that they would be thrown out of court, then the forensic/historical credibility of their remarks would plainly be deeply suspect -- hardly the stuff of the "many convincing proofs" described by Luke in Ac 1:3. As to the remark that I am in denial of what my eyesight is telling me, let the reader judge who has substantiated his claim. Let us pray for this sadly deluded man, and the many others who are like him: 2 Tim 2:24 - 26.]

  • The accounts disagree on whether it was light or still dark. [Not al all, cf. timeline above. A set of diverse descriptions of a process that extends through time during sunrise will naturaly have different time referents! Indeed, this is evidence of the material independence of the accounts, and the fact that the diverse accounts cohere on closer inspection fits very well with the characteristics of honest, independent eyewitness testimony.]
  • There is no mention of any "group" of women ; the four accounts do not agree on whether it was one, two or three women, and which women. [Cf. Appendix A and Jn 20:1 - 2's use of "we" [plus the second case in Lk 24:12, 24 of a clearly compressed narrative that highlights one member of a group] on how the accounts in fact testify to this group of disciples. Sadly, the circle of women is under-reported in most discussions of Jesus' ministry; but it seems that they in fact provided the indispensible financial and logistical base for the three-year itinerant ministry in the Gospels -- and, from various traditions, may have gone on to play key roles in the onward missions of the church, possibly as far away as France/Gaul, if we accept W's argument that MM and Mary of Bethany are one and the same. Similarly, the Acts is replete with the significant (though often background) role played by prominent, often plainly wealthy and highly educated women, in the planting, facilitation and spreading of the C1 church. Priscilla, for instance, seems to have come from a very distinguished Roman family.]
  • Mat. 28:2 says "Behold - which means they saw the stone rolled away, while the other accounts say the stone was already rolled away when they got there. [The accounts speak of an angel frightening off GUARDS; nowhere does it state that the women saw the event -- and they obviously would have likely also fled had they done so!]
  • They do not agree on whether the woman/women saw one person, two persons, or any person at all! I do not accept Mr. Mullings' denial of Scripture , that when it says "one" person it could mean "two". [Cf. Jn 20:1 - 2 to see a specific case in point, regarding the women: (1) MM alone is mentioned in v. 1, but (2) in v. 2 she speaks as a representative of a group, using "we." And, logically, where two are present, one is; so unless there is an explicit denial that two or more are present, angels/women, given the example of Jn 20:1 - 2, and that of Lk 24:12 & 24, we must be open to this element of the C1 narrative style. So, the issue is accuracy in observing the actual style of the text, not "denial of Scripture" -- an accusation that is to say the least, loaded but plainly unsubstantiated.]
  • Mat. 28:8 states "So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples", while Mark 16:8 clearly states "and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid." [This ducks the specific careless error on Mk 16:7 of Jan 29 as I pointed out in my published letter of Feb 1; then he fails to reckon with the necessarily temporary nature of the "silence" -- otherwise we would not know that they had been to the tomb at all, or that they had been instructed to tell the disciples of the resurrection! Note on this point the corroboration provided in Lk 24:1 - 6, 9 - 11, 22 - 24: "the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb . . . two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down . . . the men said to them, ' Why do you look for the living among the dead? . . .' . . . . they went and told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others . . . But they did not believe the women because their words seemed like nonsense. . . . . [Cleopas to Jesus]:' some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and said to us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.' " In short, the women were terrified at the awesome apparition, but on recovery from their initial panic, went and did as they were instructed: they told the disciples -- who would have been in Jerusalem and Bethany -- that Jesus was risen. In short, diverse, compressed and even incomplete narrative [if one accepts that Mk 16:9 ff is a closing summary supplied later to polish up the incomplete account] do not constitute a contradiction. Further to this, it is fair comment to observe that refusal to acknowledge such a correction of obvious error does not speak well of one's approach to serious matters of truth central to the Christian message and Faith: cf. 1 Cor 15:1 - 11.]

Why is Mr. Mullings in denial? [I think the evidence belies this loaded, slanderous charge, sir. That the Gleaner has refused to permit me the right of reply in the face of demonstrable slander also speaks volumes about the sad state of affairs at that once great newspaper.] He will not get at the sublime truth to be found in Scripture this way. [Please cf. my basic advice on Bible Study, here. The evidence of your performance, sir, does not at all commend your approach. I do not fear to let the reader of this note judge for him-/her- self, whether I have handled the text with integrity and soundness.] I challenge all persons who really want to know the truth to abandon fundamentalism and to study all of Scripture, and not bury their heads in the sand when it comes to contradictions. [With all due respect, sir: Physician, heal thyself! As to the implied accusation that I have suppressed the evidence of contradiction, let this note stand in the record as to who has taken the time to examine and address the issue in detail, in light of what a contradiction, properly understood, is. I think that in so doing I have fairly demonstrated that this account in fact is NOT riddled with contradictions, certainly not to the level of materiality such that the four Evangelists "would be thrown out of court." On the wider subject of the Scriptures as a whole, having read the Bible through several times and having studied it and thought over many years now about many of its major themes, what has struck me is the inexplicable coherence of the Word of God, were it merely an anthology of theological speculations and pre-scientific, historically suspect myths penned by some forty people across fifteen hundred years. Yes, there are difficulties and challenges, and points where there are evident copyist errors and minor discrepancies -- as say Mr Archer addresses in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties -- but in the end, it is the deep coherence, explanatory scope and power and life transforming spiritual impact of the message of the Scriptures as the Word of God that have impressed me; and the core Gospel message has changed then shaped and blessed the course of my life. 2 Tim 3:14 - 17, by God's kind grace, has come to life in my life. I pray that it will in yours and the lives of the many others who have been harmed by modernist-influenced theological speculations.]

That (unpublished) letter of rebuttal submitted under the right of reply follows:


The Editor
The Gleaner
[7 North Street, Kingston]

Feb 7, 2002[8]

Dear Sir

Deacon Espeut, in “An end to fundamentalism,” sadly, illustrates how “fundamentalism” is often used as a theological smear-word. [Gleaner, Wed. Feb. 5, 2003, p. A4.]

For instance, in “The religion of a book,” we see: “Matthew and Luke: the messengers direct the women to go and tell the others; Mark: the young man instructs them to tell no one.” [Jan. 29th p. A4.] 

I therefore pointed out in my Feb. 1st reply that “Mark 16:7 does NOT say the angel "told [the women] to tell no one," but instead "go, tell his disciples and Peter...."  [“Serious misrepresentations, Deacon Espeut,”  URL: http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030201/letters/letters3.html]

Instead of an admission, a brand new “contradiction” appears in the Feb. 5th column: “Mat. 28:8 states "So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples", while Mark 16:8 clearly states "and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid." [p. A4.]

Now, a contradiction “requires that accounts affirm and deny the same thing, in the same sense - diversity of perspectives, gaps in information or even difficulties are not enough.”  Moreover, when diverse accounts P, Q, R, S appear to be conflicting, but there is an explanation, E; then P, Q, R, S cannot be contradictory.  (E must be logically possible, but does not have to be true.)

But, Mark 16:8 plainly implies a temporary silence. Also, Matthew 28:8 concurs that the women first trembled with fear.  Is it not natural to see a fearful group of women, who then took heart and ran to tell the disciples?

Similarly, we read: “fundamentalists take everything literally – except where Jesus says: “This is my body”, and “This is the cup of my blood”.”  [Feb. 5]  But, this actually shows that Evangelicals and other Bible-believing Christians are aware that: “poetic language, imagery, context and other relevant factors must be reckoned with before one can conclude as to what any text (biblical or otherwise) affirms or denies.” [Feb 1st letter.]

The pattern extends to the other “contradictions” in the Jan. 29th and Feb. 5th columns:

·        The Greek for go/come/return to the tomb, erchomai, is used in all four Gospels, and is “consistent with a group of women setting out for Jesus' tomb as the new day was dawning.”  [Reference to this web-based article, at its original host location. (Added note, May 2004: It is reasonable to infer that he would have seen this unpublished letter and an earlier form of these notes, prior to his remarks on erchomai in the April 16 2003 forum. Indeed, in that forum he made deceptive rhetorical use of the earlier form of these notes that had been communicated to him personally, alleging -- again falsely -- that they, as posted on the Internet, were affiliated with the JTS [NB: Several months later, I subsequently worked with the JTS as a part-time Lecturer, but had no official affiliation with the School in the first three quarters of the year] and constituted an attack on him: in fact, they defend against and rebut his ill-founded attack on the credibility of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, the integrity of the Bible, and his repeated -- every January for several years -- uncharitable public demonisation of evangelicals as intellectually dishonest! He in particular misrepresented the nature of the logical case being made: attacking the timeline E as IMPLAUSIBLE, when the response was to the publicly made and reiterated claim that they were CONTRADICTORY; and failing to acknowledge a key distinction made: logical possibility is the basis for a refutation of an alleged contradiction. Cf. Appendix B above.)]

·        In Matt 28:2, the Narrator uses “behold” to call the reader’s attention to an event that made the tomb GUARDS – not the women -- freeze in fear.

·        John 20:1 – 2: Here, “we” shows that when a Narrator spotlights one individual, it does not imply that others are not present. So, I am not denying Scripture to say this.

Finally, Deacon Espeut originally claimed [Jan 29, p. A4]:

(I)                 “Catholics and others believe the Bible is directly inspired by God and is 100 per cent true, but that not every word is intended to be historically or scientifically true: every word is theologically true.”

(II)              “If these four [Gospel writers] appeared at witnesses at a trial, they would be thrown out of court!” 

Thus, he views the accounts in the Gospels as historically suspect.  So, since the Apostolic witness is that there were over five hundred eyewitnesses, and that “if Christ has not been raised . . . we are then found to be false witnesses about God,” we are still owed a clear explanation of how “the idea that Christ could have been raised theologically, but not historically or scientifically” does not fail “the test of basic common sense.”  [Cf. Letter, Feb 1, 2003.]


Gordon E. Mullings


Earlier letter:


Serious misrepresentations, Deacon Espeut
published: Saturday |
February 1, 2003

[as submitted; cf. published article]

Jan 30, 2003

The Editor
The Daily Gleaner
7 North Street Kingston

RE: Deacon Espeut's Straw-man

Dear Sir

Deacon Peter Espeut writes in a recent Gleaner Column: "One group of Christians called 'Fundamentalists' . . . believe that the Bible is inspired by God in such a way that every word is literally, scientifically and historically true . . . . Fundamentalists have their primary faith in a book, not the Lord of history who continues to reveal himself and his truth down to today." ["The religion of a book," Wed. Jan. 29, p. A4.]

This claim materially misrepresents the views of the vast majority of Evangelicals, Adventists, Pentecostals and other Christians who take seriously the Bible's claim that "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." [2 Peter 1:21.] The article also fails to reckon with the direct link between Scripture and faith in the apostolic teaching: "you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to wise for salvation through Faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." [2 Tim. 3:15 - 17.]

Further, poetic language, imagery, context and other relevant factors must be reckoned with before one can conclude as to what any text (biblical or otherwise) affirms or denies. Consequently, what is at stake is whether the text of Scripture as we have it materially preserves what God said through prophets and apostles, so that it authentically and authoritatively records God's revelation: the truth, in love, to us all.

Mr Espeut goes on to claim that "The Bible contradicts itself . . . in so many places, that a sensible person could not honestly continue with Fundamentalism." He then provides as a prime example of "thousands of contradictions . . . within the Bible" the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. (NB: let us bear in mind what is required for a logical contradiction to exist. It requires that accounts affirm and deny the same thing, in the same sense - diversity of perspectives, gaps in information or even difficulties are not enough.)

First, let us note that the idea that Christ could have been raised theologically, but not historically or scientifically fails the test of basic common-sense.

As Paul put it: "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith." [1 Cor 15:14.] What the Apostle affirms instead, is that there were over five hundred eyewitnesses. And, despite the arguments of Hume and many others that miracles violate laws of nature based on firm experience and so are impossible, there are millions alive today who have personally experienced or witnessed the miraculous power of God.

Second, we can simply check the text of the Gospels. What they show is devastating: · The accounts do NOT "disagree on the time of day." Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, & John 20:1 are all consistent with a group of women setting out for Jesus' tomb as the new day was dawning.

  • The names Deacon Espeut cites actually show that the Gospels collectively agree as to the members of the group of women.

  • Matt. 28 and John 20 do not state that any of the women saw the stone being rolled away, nor that an angel spoke to them while he was sitting on the stone that had blocked the entry to the cave-like tomb.

  • The accounts that speak of one angel do not deny that a second may have been present.

  • Mark 16:7 does NOT say the angel "told [the women] to tell no one," but instead "go, tell his disciples and Peter . . ."

Thus, the column reveals a lack of attention to the text, disregard for the inevitable diversity in eyewitness reports, and gaps in Deacon Espeut's logic - rather than "a mature Christianity born of deep understanding of the Scriptures."

Perhaps, it is time for mutually respectful dialogue rather than contemptuous dismissal with an epithetical lance - "fundamentalist" -- backed up by specious arguments.


Gordon E Mullings

Published Articles:


An end to fundamentalism
published: Wednesday |
February 5, 2003


Serious misrepresentations, Deacon Espeut
published: Saturday |
February 1, 2003


The religion of a book
published: Wednesday |
January 29, 2003

Earlier Espeut Articles:


Wednesday | January 31, 2001

An attack upon fundamentalism


Wed Jan 16 2002

Bishop Spong and fundamentalism

This starts:

If we discount for a moment Obeah, horoscopes and dream numerology the dominant religion in Jamaica is Fundamentalist Christianity. The name is a misnomer, for far from getting down to the fundamentals of the teachings of the Christ, that approach chooses a literal interpretation of the words of the Bible - usually in English, and usually from the King James translation of 1611; it should more accurately be called literalism. <NB: I have had to reiterate that this is a serious misrepresentation, in my letter to the editor of Feb. 7th 2003: A similar pattern is shown by Deacon Espeut’s continued insistence that “fundamentalists take everything literally – except where Jesus says: “This is my body”, and “This is the cup of my blood”.”  [Wed. Feb. 5, 2003, p. A4]  However, this example actually shows that Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Adventists and other Bible-believing Christians are very much aware that: “poetic language, imagery, context and other relevant factors must be reckoned with before one can conclude as to what any text (biblical or otherwise) affirms or denies.” [3rd paragraph, Feb 1st letter.]”>

I have argued in previous columns that one of the sources of Jamaica's backwardness is this dominant fundamentalism, which calls on its adherents to suspend reason and logic <NB: This note is based on the specific nature of the logic of contradiction>  in favour of rote and recitation . . .

[1] Miller collects ten other, similar harmonies: http://www.christian-thinktank.com/ordorise.html; John Wenham’s Easter Enigma, 2nd Edn, (Paternoster) is a very useful, book-length discusion.

[2] In brief, at any given time the alleged laws of nature are the product of logical abduction as outlined above, and are therefore always provisional. Further, these laws are based on a finite number of observations of the usual run of events, and so cannot rule out the possibility of exceptional occurrences. And, for a miracle to stand out as a sign, it REQUIRES that there be such a general pattern to events (as opposed to a confusing chaos), but that it be open to occasional intervention from God in accord with His higher purposes.  In the words of Paul: “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” [Ac 26:8.]

[4] Cf. Introduction and Appendix B for the function E fulfills in the argument.  It is NOT argued that it is true or even likely, just that it is logically possible, i.e. without self-referential inconsistencies.  That is all that is required for E Ç(PÇQÇRÇS) to be consistent, which immediately implies that (PÇQÇRÇS) is similarly coherent, the specific purpose in mind.  After that is established, we can then debate which particular explanation is most probable, but that is not the purpose of this discussion.

[5] Wieand, in A New Harmony of the Gospels, p. 249, notes that erchomai, as in Mk 16:2 and Jn 20:1, can mean either go/went or come/came, accor. to context. (NB: The aorist form -- denoting a completed action -- is in Mt 28:1 and Lk 24:1. Also, the Nestle-Aland Gk. NT’s  Dictionary adds the meaning: “return.”) [Cf. Wenham, Easter Enigma, p. 82: “If John is thinking of MM and setting off from Bethany, the translation “went . . .” would be precisely accurate.  Similarly, Matthew’s “toward the dawn . . . went” suggests the same Bethany standpoint.” Emphases added. NB: Wenham is the author of a standard textbook on Greek for Theological students.  Cf. Appendix C for Wenham’s discussion and the renderings in modern translations.] So, a logically possible (and perhaps even plausible) route is: Bethany (1st light -- i.e.  while it was still dark: 2 Marys, Mt. 28:1 & Jn 20:1 – 2) à Zebedee house, SW Jerusalem (+ Salome) à Herod’s Palace, N Jer. (+ Joanna & possibly Susanna, plus spices, at early dawn Lk. 24:1) à collective arrival at the tomb, NW of city as per Mk 16:2 (i.e. came to the tomb ~ at sunup). For, (1) dawn/sunrise is a process, not an instant: from first light to “sunup” and the full light of day; and, (2) different people will perceive/report the resulting changing degree of light diversely as they focus on the light or the darkness (similar to the ½ full/empty cup). Cf. Prov. 4:18 for a description of dawning within the Hebrew culture.

[6] I am reliably informed, this was an actual textbook used for Greek at UTC at the time of the panelists’ studies there.

[7] OED points out that “go”, of which went is a past form, can refer to departure on or continuation of a journey.

[8] Shortened by ~ 100 words, Feb. 18; more specific comment on erchomai inserted.