Difficult Passages Series — Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1 for Apr. 7, 2010

1.     Why are these passages listed among difficult passages?

The issue in these passages is to answer clearly, who was at Jesus’ tomb early on that first Easter day?  Each of the four gospels gives a slightly different list summarized in the table below.

Reference Who is listed as present Helps in understanding
Matt. 28:1 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary   27:56 refers to Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons
Mark 16:1 Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome  Mark 15:40,41 identify these as the women who followed form Galilee
Luke 24:10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, the others with them Lu. 23:55 the women who followed Jesus from Galilee
John 20:1 Mary Magdalene  


There also seems to be a small issue over when the spices were prepared.  In Mark the women buy spices after the Sabbath, on modern Saturday evening.  In Luke, the preparing of spices is mentioned before the resting on the Sabbath.   

2.     How do we deal with the difficulties in this passage?

First of all, when you consider the other passages as to the identity of the group of women involved, it becomes obvious that there is actually complete agreement that the women involved are all from the group of women who had followed Jesus from Galilee (Lu. 53:55).  Since this is the case, it seems that Mary Magdalene is the leader and mentioned first in every case.  Others were mentioned or not depending on the purposes of the author.   For most readers, this concept is sufficient to remove the difficulty.

  Another approach to the problem of the varying accounts, a more purist approach, is to seek a sequence of events that fits all passages, that allows for exactly the women mentioned to be  there at some point.  NICNT author of the Commentary on Luke, Norval Geldenhuys, suggests a plausible scenario that reconciles all accounts in his note on the resurrection (p. 626).    It seems a little complex at first read, but all that is necessary is to know that such a scenario exists. 

 An additional harmonizing occurs by implementing the suggestion derived from comparing the accounts, that Salome may be the mother of James and John. This is the likely conclusion from the limited info that we have.  

3.     What are the key truths or inspirational messages of this passage?

The most important things to note in this passage are:

First, there were many witnesses.   This is the primary level of the Good News.   This is not just some fable made up to honor a famous religious leader as has happened concerning so many others.   This is an actual event.  People were there and saw the empty tomb and were mystified by it.    They could not have made it up because they did not understand it either. 

One of the NT writers says, these are not clever stories (2 Peter 1:16).  John says he touched him (1 John 1:1).   And as Peter also says in the same verse, “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty.”  

 Second, it is interesting to note that God gave this privilege to the women.   They had been so faithful.  They had loved much.   But in that society, the men’s witness would be crucial.   Yet it was the women who were the first witnesses.   I think it was part of how God began to raise the status of women in the world.

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