by Rob Lundberg
Another alleged contradiction coming from “cherry picking” skeptics is with reference to the time of the morning that the women arrived at the tomb of Jesus. Whenever critics of the Bible see one account differing from another in wording or phrasing, they want to point out that the gospel accounts cannot be in agreement with one another.
But this is really not a problem. There are no contradictions or discrepancies with the texts as I will demonstrate in this post.
Again I will be setting up the problem with presenting the objection. Then I will move to answer this objection and demonstrate that there are no problems with the accounts of the gospel writers recording the time when the women went to the tomb of Jesus. Bear in mind that, in the last post, I mentioned that each of the writers were granted their personalities in their writing. Just because there differences, it does not mean that there are conflicts.
What is the Problem?
What do the gospel writers tell us. First, Matthew: “it began to dawn the first day…” (v.1). Second there seems to be an issue with what Mark tells us in his gospel, “when the sun had risen”(v. 2). Luke and John fall in line with Matthew, where Luke tells us that they went “at early dawn” (v. 1) and John tells us that they went to the tomb “while it was still dark (v. 1)
Well you might say, “Hey Rob, It was at least early in the morning!” But what about Mark’s account? Why does it seem that his terminology does not seem to line up with the other gospel writers? Here is the response.
By definition, “dawn” is the moment that marks the beginning of the twilight before sunrise. It is recognized by the presence of weak sunlight, while the sun itself is still below the horizon. Dawn should not be confused with sunrise, which is the moment when the leading edge of the sun itself appears above the horizon.
As part of my researching the answer to this objection, Ia searched and found that an “astronomical dawn” is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as “the moment after which the sky is no longer completely dark, formally defined as the time at which the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon in the morning.” (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Astronomical Terms”)
Bearing these factors in mind, dawn by the given definitions, is definitely before sunup (Matthew’s gospel). Dawn can be considered right at the “crack of dawn” (Luke’s gospel). John’s gospel states “while it was still dark outside.” Dawn is not sunrise, so therefore it is safe to consider that there may be more darkness than daylight in that moment of John’s gospel.
There is another thought to this as well. Some might have a conflict with Mark’s phrase “after sunup.” The issue with the English text is that it gives the assumption that the sun is already up, but the Greek NT gives a participial form of the verb Mark 16:2, “at the rising” (anatailantos). This phrase “at the rising” means that the sun is still not completely risen.
This then would agree with the other gospel writers and thus we can conclude that the English translations of Mark 16:2 would be better rendered “at the rising of the sun“. Therefore, there is no contradiction between any of the Garden Tomb accounts by the gospel writers in this objection.
Please feel free to interact with anything that you read in this series or anything else you see on this blog. I welcome any questions you may have as I would enjoy visiting with you and helping you with your questions or your sharing your thoughts.
Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a confused, chaotic, “brave new world.” He is available to come and speak to your church, college club, or group. Find out what people are saying.
If you would like to book Rob for a speaking event, you can do so by emailing him at email@example.com If you have other questions about apologetics or doing apologetics, or if you are looking for apologetics resources, contact our ministry by email.