I’m not Christian, nor do I believe, and so it might indeed appear to be rather odd that the question I’m putting on the table is this:
What happened on that first Easter?
For most Christians, this should be an easy question, not simply because today is Easter Sunday as I write this, and so the concept is fresh in everybody’s mind, but because it is “the” question that is central to all of Christianity, and I’ve been inspired to ask it by Dan Barker’s posting that he first wrote back in 1992
First, let’s define a few parameters
I’m not asking for specific proof or evidence, and that is because I recognise that the claim is essentially untestable and is a belief and not a knowledge claim.
Instead I’m simply asking this – exactly what happened on that first Easter?
As outlined by Dan in his original challenge …
Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture–it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted. Fair enough?
So there you have it, using just the bible, map out the sequence of events of what is perhaps the most important event in the Christian belief.
I would argue that this is the most important question to ask today, because it is one that motivates 2.18 billion humans on the planet and that is roughly 31-32% of the entire population of humans, no other single issue can claim such an audience.
Why does it matter?
Well because this is the foundation of Christianity:
- If indeed the belief is correct, then it is the most astonishing and also the most important event in human history.
- If however the belief is wrong, then billions of humans have devoted their lives to a delusion.
There is no middle ground here, it is one or the other and can’t be both. Either way, it still remains a profoundly important question, one that I still argue is the most important one we face.
We all know what is claimed to have happened?
It should be easy, the central claim is repeated in five different places, The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and also in Paul’s letters, and so by putting them all side by side we should be able to come up with a consistent story.
The problem is that we don’t, and instead discover huge discrepancies.
One common metaphor often applied to explain all this, one that I’ve personally listened to many times, is that it is akin to a car accident seen by several witnesses. You will get reasonable variations, for example they might not all agree on the exact time of the accident, they might have small variations in the sequence of events, or make a mistake about the make or colour of one or both of the cars, and so the discrepancies are explained away like that.
Slight flaw: many of the discrepancies are not small variations, but instead are huge glaring differences, and would be akin to the various witnesses reporting that they had seen the accident happen, not just on a different day, but in a completely different city. (when exactly did Jesus first appear to the disciples?)
To even deploy the accident metaphor is to also admit that there are indeed mistakes in the bible, but it is supposed to be the divinely inspired word of god, so if that is correct, then what went wrong? If is such mistakes are there, then how can you possibly have confidence in anything you read?
Has Anybody ever taken up Mr Barker’s challenge?
Indeed yes, he explains …
An Assembly of God minister whom I was debating a couple of years ago on a Florida radio show loudly proclaimed over the air that he would send me the narrative in a few days. I am still waiting. After my debate at the University of Wisconsin, “Jesus of Nazareth: Messiah or Myth,” a Lutheran graduate student told me he accepted the challenge and would be contacting me in about a week. I have never heard from him. Both of these people, and others, agreed that the request was reasonable and crucial.
It should be easy to meet the challenge, and so the fact that it is not should act as a big bold red neon sign announcing clearly that there is something not quite right here with this most central core claim, because clearly they can’t all be right, and so some of the accounts in the bible are wrong.
Since that observation is indeed demonstrably correct, then how exactly do you work out what is and is not true, how do you decide what you will believe and what is not factual?
It would appear that the bible is not the absolute truth, and turns out to be a text in which people simply pick the bits they like and discard the rest by sweeping all such discrepancies under the rug. If you are going to base your entire life upon an ancient religious text, then picking one that is not consistent and reliable puts you in a very questionable place.
But what about Meaning?
If you did put the bible down and came to terms with the realisation that it might not be true, then does that imply a life with no meaning?
Nope, ot at all, Dan has a great book that you might like to check out –
.. and the kindle edition has a very reasonable price ($7.18 – that is on par with a cup of coffee and a muffin). Even if you believe, and don’t agree, it is still worth taking the time to pick it up and understand what the folks standing on the other side of the fence are saying, because once you understand the full conversation taking place, then that puts you in a stronger position.
Some of the Discrepancies
As listed by Dan in his posting, here are some of the questions to ponder over …
What time did the women visit the tomb?
- Matthew: “as it began to dawn” (28:1)
- Mark: “very early in the morning . . . at the rising of the sun” (16:2, KJV); “when the sun had risen” (NRSV); “just after sunrise” (NIV)
- Luke: “very early in the morning” (24:1, KJV) “at early dawn” (NRSV)
- John: “when it was yet dark” (20:1)
Who were the women?
- Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:1)
- Mark: Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome (16:1)
- Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women (24:10)
- John: Mary Magdalene (20:1)
What was their purpose?
- Matthew: to see the tomb (28:1)
- Mark: had already seen the tomb (15:47), brought spices (16:1)
- Luke: had already seen the tomb (23:55), brought spices (24:1)
- John: the body had already been spiced before they arrived (19:39,40)
Was the tomb open when they arrived?
- Matthew: No (28:2)
- Mark: Yes (16:4)
- Luke: Yes (24:2)
- John: Yes (20:1)
Who was at the tomb when they arrived?
- Matthew: One angel (28:2-7)
- Mark: One young man (16:5)
- Luke: Two men (24:4)
- John: Two angels (20:12)
Where were these messengers situated?
- Matthew: Angel sitting on the stone (28:2)
- Mark: Young man sitting inside, on the right (16:5)
- Luke: Two men standing inside (24:4)
- John: Two angels sitting on each end of the bed (20:12)
What did the messenger(s) say?
- Matthew: “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead: and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.” (28:5-7)
- Mark: “Be not afrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” (16:6-7)
- Luke: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (24:5-7)
- John: “Woman, why weepest thou?” (20:13)
Did the women tell what happened?
- Matthew: Yes (28:8)
- Mark: No. “Neither said they any thing to any man.” (16:8)
- Luke: Yes. “And they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest.” (24:9, 22-24)
- John: Yes (20:18)
When Mary returned from the tomb, did she know Jesus had been resurrected?
- Matthew: Yes (28:7-8)
- Mark: Yes (16:10,11)
- Luke: Yes (24:6-9,23)
- John: No (20:2)
When did Mary first see Jesus?
- Matthew: Before she returned to the disciples (28:9)
- Mark: Before she returned to the disciples (16:9,10)
- John: After she returned to the disciples (20:2,14)
Could Jesus be touched after the resurrection?
- Matthew: Yes (28:9)
- John: No (20:17), Yes (20:27)
After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?
- Matthew: Eleven disciples (28:16)
- Mark: Two disciples in the country, later to eleven (16:12,14)
- Luke: Two disciples in Emmaus, later to eleven (24:13,36)
- John: Ten disciples (Judas and Thomas were absent) (20:19, 24)
- Paul: First to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. (Twelve? Judas was dead). (I Corinthians 15:5)
Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?
- Matthew: On a mountain in Galilee (60-100 miles away) (28:16-17)
- Mark: To two in the country, to eleven “as they sat at meat” (16:12,14)
- Luke: In Emmaus (about seven miles away) at evening, to the rest in a room in Jerusalem later that night. (24:31, 36)
- John: In a room, at evening (20:19)
Did the disciples believe the two men?
- Mark: No (16:13)
- Luke: Yes (24:34–it is the group speaking here, not the two)
What happened at the appearance?
- Matthew: Disciples worshipped, some doubted, “Go preach.” (28:17-20)
- Mark: Jesus reprimanded them, said “Go preach” (16:14-19)
- Luke: Christ incognito, vanishing act, materialized out of thin air, reprimand, supper (24:13-51)
- John: Passed through solid door, disciples happy, Jesus blesses them, no reprimand (21:19-23)
Did Jesus stay on earth for a while?
- Mark: No (16:19) Compare 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this was all done on Sunday
- Luke: No (24:50-52) It all happened on Sunday
- John: Yes, at least eight days (20:26, 21:1-22)
- Acts: Yes, at least forty days (1:3)
Where did the ascension take place?
- Matthew: No ascension. Book ends on mountain in Galilee
- Mark: In or near Jerusalem, after supper (16:19)
- Luke: In Bethany, very close to Jerusalem, after supper (24:50-51)
- John: No ascension
- Paul: No ascension
- Acts: Ascended from Mount of Olives (1:9-12)