How do accounts of the resurrection in Matthew Mark Luke and John differ?

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Mark's Gospel was the first canonical gospel, written approximately 70 CE. The earliest known manuscripts of Mark do not even have a resurrection narrative, beyond the young man telling the women that Jesus had risen. Later interpolators added resurrection appearances to bring this gospel more or less into line with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, the answer in respect to Mark must be that the original gospel did not mention the risen Jesus.


Matthew's Gospel reports an earthquake that rolled away the stone. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary saw the angel who caused the earthquake sitting on the stone. The women saw Jesus later while on the way to tell the disciples of their experience. Finally, the eleven disciples went to a mountain in Galilee and saw Jesus.

In Luke's Gospel, the stone had already been moved when a group of women arrived, but there is no mention of an earthquake. This time, two men appeared to the women in shining garments, apparently angels. Later, Jesus appeared to two men, Cleopas and (presumably) Peter, but they did not recognise him, even after conversing with him, inviting him home, and eating dinner with him. They only assumed that he was Jesus based on his words and behaviour, but then he vanished out of their sight. At his next appearance, Jesus went to some lengths to assure them that he really was Jesus, showing the disciples his wounds, and finally being drawn up into heaven. All this happened in and near Jerusalem, not in Galilee.

In John's Gospel, only Mary Magdalene went to the sepulchre and saw the stone moved. Then came 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' and Peter, who went in and saw only the linen clothes and the napkin. Next 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' went in, saw and believed. Only after they left did Mary see two angels in the sepulchre. Mary afterwards saw Jesus standing and knew not that it was Jesus, supposing that he was the gardener. The next two appearances are quite similar to a single appearance in Luke's Gospel except, as Elaine Pagels points out in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), the account seems intended to disadvantage the disciple Thomas, by causing him to miss the blessing of the Holy Spirit and then appear to doubt that it was Jesus that he saw [Pagels identifies a thread of anti-Thomas narrative in John's Gospel.]. Finally, Jesus appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius but, although 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' quickly identified him, none of them dared to ask who he was, presumably meaning that his identity was still not obvious to them all.

Who went to the tomb?
Mary alone (John)
Mary and another Mary (Matthew)
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome (Mark)
Women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem…maybe Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and others. (Luke)

Had the stone already been rolled away from the tomb?
Yes (Mark)
An Angel rolled it away while the women were there (Matthew)

What or Who did they see there?
An Angel (Matthew)
A young man (Mark)
Two men (Luke)
No one (John)

What were the women told?
Tell the disciples to go to Galilee where Jesus will meet them. (Mark)
Remember what Jesus had told them while in Galilee, that he would die and rise again. (Luke)
Then the women tell the disciples what they heard and saw (Matthew)
They do not tell anyone (Mark)
These two different stories will have great significance later that appears to be irreconcilable.

If they tell someone, who is it?
The eleven disciples (Matthew)
The eleven disciples and "others" (Luke)
Simon Peter and another anonymous disciple (John)

What do the Disciples do?
Nothing because Jesus immediately appears to them (Matthew)
They do not believe the women (Luke)
They go to the tomb to see for themselves (John)

Remember that the writers of these stories had no idea that their works would end up side-by-side in a single book. The gospels aren't written by who they say they are and there are many many discrepancies.

Also according to the Gospels several things happened around the time that Jesus died on the cross.
His death was supposedly accompanied by a three hour blackout of the sun, earthquakes, and the rising of the dead. No record of these events is to be found anywhere outside the Bible.

"All four gospels are anonymous texts. The familiar attributions of the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John come from the mid-second century and later and we have no good historical reason to accept these attributions."
Steve Mason, professor of religious studies, York University in Toronto
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