This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord. The Gospel reading for the Easter Vigil is Matthew 28:1-10, a passage that has been subject to much criticism. Some skeptics allege that Matthew contradicts the other Gospel accounts of the resurrection. Let’s look briefly here at two particular charges.
First, Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene being among other women, a detail that is also found in Mark and Luke’s version of the event (Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:10). But John only records Mary Magdalene as going to the tomb (John 20:1). So, which is it? Did Mary go alone? Or did she go with other women?
We’d first point out the false assumption: that John was intending to say Mary Magdalene was the only woman. John merely showcases Mary Magdalene without any mention of the other women. And just because an account is incomplete, it doesn’t follow that it’s in error. Even Luke doesn’t give a complete account of the women that went to the tomb (24:10).
Second, John’s later account of Mary’s response to Peter and John indicates that he knew other women were with her: “she ran . . . and said to them . . . we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2; emphasis added). This would fit with Matthew’s reference to more than one woman. Luke employs a similar tactic when he first showcases Peter going to the tomb (Luke 24:12), but then later informs his reader that others had gone as well (Luke 24:24).
A second charge notes that Mark (Matt. 16:5-6) and Luke (Luke 24:4) record that two men were sitting at the tomb, but Matthew says that it was an angel (Matt. 28:5), and John’s account says two angels were present (John 20:11-13)! So, are they angels or men? And how many were there? Two or one?
First, if some reports say men were present, and others say angels were present, that in no way makes for a contradiction. It’s plausible to suggest that Mark and Luke describe what the women saw (“men”) without any intention to suggest what they were. Recall that angels often appear as men (Gen. 18:1-2; Heb. 13:2). Matthew and John, on the other hand, give an interpretation (perhaps the women’s own interpretation) of what the women saw (“angels”).
Concerning how many were present, Matthew and Mark showcase the one who spoke to the women, and simply omit the other. And as mentioned before, just because a report omits some details, it doesn’t follow the report denies those details.