at the empty tomb

Text is from the New Revised Standard Version 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.


         With a diversity of voices, the New Testament relates the story of one of the most central tenets of the Christian faith - that, on the third day, Christ rose from the dead. A much debated, though not fully answered, question through the centuries has been: why not one story instead of many? If there are discrepancies between these accounts, does this fact prove the doctrine of the resurrection is false?
         However, once we ask this, the counter question needs immediately to arise, why were these differing accounts allowed to stand? Why did the early church not attempt to harmonize the story, especially at the stage when they were prayerfully deciding (over a span of centuries) which accounts to include in the "faith library" of the church we call the "New Testament?" Of course, we may see evidence of alteration in the texts as we have received them, but to nowhere near the extent of making them say the same things. That this is not one unified story which has been handed down to us is remarkable.
         We need to allow "God's Word" (however we may define it) to speak as we have received it, the differences intact. If God was part of the process of remembering these stories from person-to-person, church-to-church; if God somehow inspired the writing of them down for future generations; and later, if God was involved in the "canonization" of them (i.e. deciding which accounts speak with authority), then these diverse voices are God's voice. Furthermore, God is part of the process of our receiving and living out of these stories.
         Allow these voices to speak, each in their own distinct way. There are similarities, no doubt. There are also differences. Perhaps the most we can say of the common ground they each tread is with the early believers in the "Apostle's Creed" - "I believe ... in Jesus Christ ... (on) the third day He arose again from the dead."  As you read, listen. We are, after all, walking upon the path of faith here.


Matthew 28:1-15

Mark 16:1-8

Luke 24:1-11

John 20:1-18

{1} After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. {1} When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. {2} And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. {1} But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. {1} Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb
{2} And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. {3} His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. {4} For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.      
  {3} They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"    
  {4} When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. {2} They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, {3} but when they went in, they did not find the body. and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 
      {2} So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." {3} Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. {4} The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. {5} He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. {6} Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, {7} and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. {8} Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; {9} for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. {10} Then the disciples returned to their homes.
{5} But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. {6} He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. {7} Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." {5} As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. {6} But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. {7} But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." {4} While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. {5} The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. {6} Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, {7} that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." {11} But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; {12} and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. {13} They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 
{8} So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. {9} Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. {10} Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."     {14} When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. {15} Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." {16} Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). {17} Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
  {8} So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. {8} Then they remembered his words, {9} and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. {10} Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. {11} But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. {18} Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
{11} While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. {12} After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, {13} telling them, "You must say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' {14} If this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." {15} So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.  







Accounts of the Resurrection not included
in the canon of the New Testament

from The Apocryphal New Testament: Translation and Notes,
by M.R. James, 1924, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Gospel of Peter 9:34-13:57

The Gospel of Nicodemus 13:1-3
(also called the "Acts of Pilate")

{9:34} And early in the morning as the Sabbath dawned, there came a multitude from Jerusalem and the region roundabout to see the sepulchre that had been sealed.

{35} Now in the night whereon the Lord's day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, {36} there came a great sound in the heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence, shining with (lit. having) a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre. {37} And that stone which had been set on the door rolled away of itself and went back to the side, and the sepulchre was

{10:38} opened and both of the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw that, they waked up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping {39} watch); and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the {40} one), and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that {41} was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they {42} heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.

{11:43} Those men therefore took counsel one with another to go and report these things unto Pilate. And while they yet thought thereabout, again the heavens were opened and a {45} man descended and entered into the tomb. And they that were with the centurion (or the centurion and they that were with him) when they saw that, hasted to go by night unto Pilate and left the sepulchre whereon they were keeping watch, and told all that they had seen, and were in great agony, saying: Of a truth he was the son of God.

{46} Pilate answered and said: I am clear from the blood of {47} the son of God, but thus it seemed good unto you. Then all they came and besought him and exhorted him to charge the centurion and the soldiers to tell nothing of that they had {48} seen: For, said they, it is expedient for us to incur the greatest sin before God, rather than to (and not to) fall into {49} the hands of the people of the Jews and to be stoned. Pilate therefore charged the centurion and the soldiers that they should say nothing.

{12:50} Now early on the Lord's day Mary Magdalene, a disciple (fem.) of the Lord-which, being afraid because of the Jews, for they were inflamed with anger, had not performed at the sepulchre of the Lord those things which women are accustomed to do unto them that die and are {51} beloved of them-took with her the women her friends and {52} came unto the tomb where he was laid. And they feared lest the Jews should see them, and said: Even if we were not able to weep and lament him on that day whereon he was {53} crucified, yet let us now do so at his tomb. But who will roll away for us the stone also that is set upon the door of the tomb, that we may enter in and sit beside him and perform {54} that which is due? for the stone was great, and we fear lest any man see us. And if we cannot do so, yet let us cast down at the door these things which we bring for a memorial of him, and we will weep and lament until we come unto our house.

{13:55} And they went and found the sepulchre open : and they drew near and looked in there, and saw there a young man sitting in the midst of the sepulchre, of a fair countenance and clad in very bright raiment, which said unto them: {56} Wherefore are ye come? whom seek ye? not him that was crucified? He is risen and is departed; but if ye believe it not, look in and see the place where he lay, that he is not here: for he is risen and is departed thither whence he was sent. {57} Then the women were affrighted and fled.

{13:1} And while they yet sat in the synagogue and marvelled because of Joseph, there came certain of the guard which the Jews had asked of Pilate to keep the sepulchre of Jesus lest peradventure his disciples should come and steal him away. And they spake and declared unto the rulers of the synagogue and the priests and the Levites that which had come to pass: how that there was a great earthquake, and we saw an angel descend from heaven, and he rolled away the stone from the mouth of the cave, and sat upon it. And he did shine like snow and like lightning, and we were sore afraid and lay as dead men. And we heard the voice of the angel speaking with the women which waited at the sepulchre, saying: Fear ye not: for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified. He is not here: he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay, and go quickly and say unto his disciples that he is risen from the dead, and is in Galilee.

{2} The Jews say: With what women spake he? They of the guard say: We know not who they were. The Jews say: At what hour was it? They of the guard say: At midnight. The Jews say: And wherefore did ye not take the women? They of the guard say: We were become as dead me through fear, and we looked not to see the light of the day; how then could we take them? The Jews say: As the Lord liveth, we believe you not. They of the guard say unto the Jews: So many signs saw ye in that man, and ye believed not, how then should ye believe us? verily ye sware rightly 'as the Lord liveth', for he liveth indeed. Again they of the guard say: We have heard that ye shut up him that begged the body of Jesus, and that ye scaled the door; and when ye had opened it ye found him not. Give ye therefore Joseph and we will give you Jesus. The Jews say: Joseph is departed unto his own city. They of the guard say unto the Jews: Jesus also is risen, as we have heard of the angel, and he is in Galilee.

{3} And when the Jews heard these words they were sore afraid, saying: Take heed lest this report be heard and all men incline unto Jesus. And the Jews took counsel and laid down much money and gave it to the soldiers, saying: Say ye: While we slept his disciples came by night and stole him away. And if this come to the governor's hearing we will persuade him and secure you. And they took the money and did as they were instructed. [And this their saying was published abroad among all men. lat.]

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Other resources on this passage can be found at  "The Text this Week:"
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

comments 2001 Peter L. Haynes

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