This is the fourth in a series of four articles from *The Skeptical Review* designed to show inconsistencies in the resurrection accounts of the four gospels:
By Farrell Till
In the Autumn 1991 issue, we began a series of articles designed to show inconsistencies in the resurrection accounts of the four gospels. Gallons of ink have been used in attempts to explain away these inconsistencies, but some of the variations in the accounts are so discrepant that only the very gullible could possibly believe the far-fetched scenarios that bibliolaters have resorted to in trying to harmonize them. Of these discrepancies, none is more obvious than the variations in what the gospel writers said that the women did to spread word of the empty tomb after hearing from the angel(s) that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Matthew and Luke both said that the women hurried from the tomb to tell the disciples what the angel(s) had told them (Matt. 28:8; Luke 24:9). Even John, whose version of the story differs significantly from the synoptic accounts, said that Mary Magdalene ran to find Peter and "the other disciple" to tell them that the body of Jesus had been taken away (20:2). Three of the gospel writers, then, clearly depicted the eagerness of the women to report to the disciples what they had found at the empty tomb.
Mark, however, recorded this part of the story in an entirely different way. After telling of their encounter with an angel, who told them that Jesus was risen and that they should go tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee (16:6-7), Mark said that the women were too frightened to tell others what they had seen:
And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid (v:8).
The discrepancy is obvious, but it is even more obvious if Matthew's and Luke's accounts are juxtaposed with Mark's:
And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word (Matt. 28:8).And they remembered his (Jesus's) words and returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest (Luke 24:8-9).
Luke's account even recorded an alleged conversation between Jesus and two disciples (on resurrection day) in which one of the disciples said that the women had reported finding the tomb empty:
Moreover, certain women of our company amazed us, having been early at the tomb; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive (24:22-23).
So the facts in this matter are apparent enough: three gospel writers said that the women ran to report the empty tomb; one said that they were so frightened by what they had seen that "they said nothing to anyone." A rule of evidence noted in an earlier article in this series ("The Resurrection Maze," Spring 1992, p. 12) states that two or more contradictory statements cannot all be right. So who was right in the way this part of the resurrection story was told? Were Matthew, Luke, and John right in saying that the women ran to report the empty tomb to the other disciples? Or was Mark right when he said that they were so frightened that they said "nothing to anyone"? Did they tell anyone what they had seen or didn't they? That's the problem that inerrantists must resolve.
(T)he women told no man they met by the way, but the accounts are correct in that they told the apostles (Jackson-Till Debate, TSR edition, p. 63).
I say that this solution is speculative for the simple reason that it assumes something that is not explicitly stated in the text. Mark did not say, "(A)nd they said nothing to anyone on their way to find the disciples, for they were afraid"; he said that they said nothing to anyone, period. The Church of Christ, which Mr. Jackson preached for, prides itself on "speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent." However, when Bible inerrancy is at stake, Church-of-Christ preachers will speak volumes on matters that the Bible is clearly silent on. This is just one example of their willingness to break biblical silence.
At this point, inerrantists will usually argue that Mark did say that at least one of the women reported what she had seen at the tomb:
Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved (16:9-11).
Such appeals as this, however, ignore completely the question of authenticity. In scholarly circles, Mark 16:9-20 is known as the "Marcan Appendix," because there are sound reasons for believing that the author of Mark did not write this passage. Textual evidence indicates that as far as original materials are concerned Mark should end at verse 8 with the statement about the women being too afraid to tell others what they had seen. Verses 9-20 were redacted by a later scribe.
My own edition of the American Standard Version affixed this footnote at the beginning of verse 9: "The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from ver. 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel." My NIV edition has a bracketed statement between verses 8 and 9: "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16: 9-20." Of the 17 versions of the New Testament in my personal library, 15 of them have reference notes to tell readers that this ending to Mark was not in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
One of the early manuscripts that did not include the Marcan Appendix was Codex Sinaiticus (4th-century A.D.), which ended Mark's gospel at 16:8. In Secrets of Mt. Sinai, James Bentley made this observation about the omission of the Marcan Appendix in Codex Sinaiticus:
The scribe who brought Mark's Gospel to an end in Codex Sinaiticus had no doubt that it finished at chapter 16, verse 8. He underlined the text with a fine artistic squiggle, and wrote, "The Gospel according to Mark." Immediately following begins the Gospel of Luke (p. 139).
Codex Sinaiticus is the only ancient Greek manuscript that contains the entire New Testament. The fact that it did not include the Marcan Appendix clearly suggests that the 4th-century scribes who copied it had before them a version of Mark that ended with 16:8. In the foreword to Bentley's book (p. 6), the renown pseudepigraphic scholar James H. Charlesworth pointed out that Codex Syriacus (a 5th-century translation), Codex Vaticanus (mid-4th century), and Codex Bobiensis (4th- or 5th-century Latin) are all early manuscripts that exclude the Marcan Appendix. In addition to these, approximately 100 early Armenian translations, as well as the two oldest Georgian translations, also omitted the appendix (Bentley, p. 179). Manuscripts written after Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have been found that contained the Marcan Appendix but with scribal notes in the margins that said the verses were not in older copies; others have been found that had dots or asterisks by the verses in the Marcan Appendix as if to signal that they were in some way different from the rest of the text (Bentley, p. 179). These facts give us compelling reasons for suspecting that the Marcan Appendix was indeed the redaction of a scribe who considered Mark's omission of postresurrection appearances to be an inadequate way to end the gospel.
In addition to the Marcan Appendix, some manuscripts ended Mark's gospel with other variations. Codex Washingtonensis (late 4th or early 5th century A.D.), for example, included the addition to 16:14 that is known as the Freer Logion. It is the underlined statement added to the following quotation of verse 14:
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sit- ting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And they excused themselves, saying, "This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal your righteousness now"--thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, "The term of years of Satan's power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and imperishable glory of righteousness that is in heaven" (NRSV).
Other manuscripts added to verse 8 still another but much shorter ending than the Marcan Appendix: "And all that had been commanded them they (the women who had gone to the tomb--FT) told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation" (NRSV), to which even other manuscripts added Amen.
If anything is clear from all this it should be that the ending to Mark's gospel has undergone considerable editing. What the original ending actually was may now be permanently lost in the wake of all this scribal tampering, but the scholastic consensus is that none of the variant endings-- the Marcan Appendix, the Freer Logion, and the "short ending"--were the work of the original writer. The reasons for that consensus are summarized in the following quotation from The New Jerome Biblical Commentary:
The longer ending, traditionally designated Mark 16:9-20, differs in vocabulary and style from the rest of the Gospel, is absent from the best and earliest mss. now available, and was absent from mss. in patristic times. It is most likely a 2nd-cent. compendium of appearance stories based primarily on Luke 24, with some influence from John 20.... The so-called shorter ending consists of the women's reports to Peter and Jesus' commis- sioning of the disciples to preach the gospel. Here too the non- Marcan language and the weak ms. evidence indicate that this passage did not close the Gospel.
The so-called Freer Logion in Codex W at 16:14 of the longer ending is a late gloss aimed at softening the condemnation of the disciples in 16:14. All the endings attached to Mark in the ms. tradition were added because scribes considered 16:1-8 inadequate as an ending (p. 629, emphasis added).
The stylistic and vocabulary differences referred to in this quotation are apparent even in English translations of the variant endings, but even without this consideration, suspicion is cast onto their authenticity by (1) the obvious attempt to reconcile Mark's ending with Luke's and John's accounts of postresurrection appearances and (2) the inconsistencies between the appendix and what Mark had said earlier in the chapter.
As noted in previous articles, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all referred to women (plural) who went to the tomb and found it empty. Luke mentioned three by name and referred to "other women" who were on the scene (24:10), and even Mark specified that at least three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) were there. However, after declaring that the women "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (v:8), chapter 16 of Mark suddenly begins to read like John's version, which focused on Mary Magdalene's role in the story: "Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons" (v:9). If "Mark" really wrote this verse, one has to wonder why, after having said that at least three women had gone to the tomb, and seen the angel, and heard the angel's message to go tell the disciples, he would have said that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. If other women were there, why wouldn't they have all seen him? Indeed, Matthew claimed that they did all see him (28:9). So this 9th verse reads suspiciously like a statement written by someone wanting to give a twist to the story, as Mark had begun it, that would make it at least a little more compatible with John's version.
If this was the redactor's intention, he failed miserably, for he later said that Mary Magdalene "went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept, (a)nd they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved" (vv:10-11). This deviates significantly from John's version, whose Mary Magdalene went not to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen and that she had seen him but to say, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him" (20:2). Indeed, John's Mary never saw Jesus until she had returned to the tomb, and even then she didn't recognize him. She thought he was the gardener (20:14-15)!
The redactor of the Marcan Appendix went on to say, "And after these things, he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country" (v:12). This was surely an allusion to Luke's account of the appearance Jesus made to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13-27), at which time he wasn't recognized until he sat down with the disciples and broke bread with them (vv:28-31). In telling this, however, the redactor again bungled his attempt to harmonize Mark's ending with other postresurrection accounts, because he said that after Jesus appeared to these two disciples, "they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them" (vv:12-13, NRSV). This disagrees with Luke's version of the report that the Emmaus disciples made to the apostles. Luke said that when they realized they had seen Jesus, the disciples from Emmaus "rose up that very hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them" (24:33). However, Luke's eleven did not disbelieve the report of the Emmaus disciples. Even before the two from Emmaus reported that they had seen Jesus, the eleven said to them, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon" (v:34). Only after this did the Emmaus disciples tell "the things that happened in the way, and how he was known of them in the breaking of the bread" (v:34). So why would the apostles have disbelieved the report of the Emmaus disciples if by then they themselves were proclaiming that Jesus had risen and appeared to Simon?
What we have in the Marcan Appendix, then, is an obviously bungled attempt to harmonize the ending of Mark's gospel with other accounts of postresurrection appearances. The failure is so apparent that the authenticity of the appendix must be rejected. So the did-they-or-didn't-they problem is still with us. As far as we know, "Mark" wrote nothing about postresurrection appearances and possibly ended his gospel at 16:8. At that point, he said that the women ran from the tomb so frightened that they "said nothing to anyone." Matthew, Luke, and John all disputed that. So what is the truth in this matter? Did the women go tell the disciples what they had seen or didn't they? Both versions of the story can't be right.
Somebody has to be wrong, and the inerrantists can take their pick. The version of Matthew, Luke, and John or the one by Mark--it doesn't matter. If either version is wrong, then the Bible is not inerrant. One thing is sure: the four resurrection accounts are certainly not inerrant.