Series Part 6: Do the Gospel Writers Contradict the Response of the Women in their Accounts?

826e07cef9aaa8f1cdae30c2f6607fbaby Rob Lundberg

Have you ever heard a story multiple times where each teller of that same story told it from their perspective?  If you have, the chances are that the story teller added some nuances or some details that may have come as a result how they saw them. In this  This final posting for this series, another challenge from the skeptic taking on the events at the tomb, one comes which is rather interesting.  It is interesting because each of the gospel writers present a unique picture of their own with respect to the responses which came from the women following the dialogue with those they encountered at the tomb of Jesus.

As it has been the procedure for this entire series, I will follow the same approach, set up the objection and then give a response to show how it fails.


Setting up the Objection


Our skeptic confronting the passages points out that there are differing accounts. For example they tell us that in Matthew’s gospel, the “women run away and did tell the disciples.”  In Mark’s gospel they point out that the “women run away and didn’t tell anyone.”  It is also alleged by our antagonist that the “women tell the disciples what they saw, but the disciples all say, (essentially) “Oh you did not”(Luke’s gospel). Finally, over in John’s gospel our skeptic states that Mary Magdalene “gets curious and goes back to the tomb, right behind the two men, and she stays after they’re gone. Then she sees two angels in white, plus she sees Jesus, but she thinks he’s a gardener.


Are these all contradictory accounts?  If you take the method of a Bart Erhman or any other new skeptic, they might look like they are contradictory.  But what you have to do is look at the overall big picture of all these accounts when put together.  To do this let me bring in the passages themselves.


What Do the Passages Say?


To get the big picture, before coming to the response, I have provided the passages for yours and my reference.


Matthew 28:8,   “And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples.”


Mark 16: 7, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'”  8They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”


Luke 24: 8  “And they remembered His words, 9and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  10Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.


John 20:10,  “So the disciples went away again to their own homes.  11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  12and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.


A Response to the Challenge


In opening a response to this objection, let me first summarize the challenge by responding to each of the points made.  In some aspects of this response, I will look at a combination and show how it is brought into play with other gospel accounts.  


First allow me the privilege of dealing with the passage in Luke’s gospel.  We are told by the skeptic that the “women tell the disciple what they saw, but the disciples all say, (essentially) “Oh you did not”.  First off let me say that the women were not told what they were told in the manner our skeptical challenger states.  They do bring in a very interesting point.  Why weren’t the women believed by the disciples when they told the men that they had seen the empty grave and seen the Lord?


Let the record state, and it is pretty common knowledge that in a patriarchal culture like Israel was at that time, that a woman’s testimony was not worth its weight in a court of law.  So if it is not, figuratively speaking here, “worth a plug nickel” in the minds of the Jewish men, why did the writers include it? This is what is known as embarrassing testimony, which is also known as the Principle of Embarrassment.[1]

Skeptics do not like this principle because their desire is to put a prejudicial limitation on this passage. But here is how this plays out.  If you don’t believe a woman in a court, and they are all testifying that a dead man has come to life, you cannot throw out the testimony unless they are proven to be liars. The only option is to believe them and then try and prove them wrong, whether they are women or not.

This is one of the reasons why these passages provide the New Testament with the credibility and the authenticity it proves throughout its pages. No person trying to make their case during this period of time would dare to bring in the women’s testimony to what they saw into account, unless what they were testifying was to prove true.


Now let’s look at Matthew and Mark’s accounts. Our skeptic tells us that in Matthew’s gospel, the “women run away and did tell the disciples” and Mark’s gospel tells us that the “women run away and didn’t tell anyone.”  However in order to get the full picture of this, all three synoptic gospels must come into clear focus.


Both Matthew and Luke bring to the forefront that the women do testify that the LORD had risen, while Mark’s gospel states that the women were silent.  This is interesting because there are two gospel writers who bear witness to a testimony, and another gospel writer who gives a different look to the resurrection witness (John’s gospel).  Is there anything to be gleaned from this?  Yes.


Mark is the transcriber of the gospel bearing his name, but he is also Peter’s “secretary” or scribe to the events of the gospel account.  Peter is mentioned in John’s gospel as having been there with John.[2]  


While Mark’s gospel states that the women did not say anything, the question now is for how long did they not say anything?  The disciples had to have known something about the grave being empty.  How did they find out if the women were there first and they didn’t say anything (Mark).[3]

To get the whole picture, allow me to paint it so that we can see it in its clarity. Remember these accounts are narrative historical accounts.

The women go to the tomb, and when they get there, they see the stone rolled away.  The gospel writers are pretty consistent that the women eyewitnessed the empty grave, and the body of Jesus no longer in that grave.

Finding this absolutely astounding, (after all, they SAW HIM DIE), emotions start stirring around.  Shock and fear of the unknown about a dead man coming to life, amazement and a whole plethora of other emotions take over.  Matthew and Luke say that the women reported what they had seen to the disciples.  Luke brings out that their testimony was not believed until Luke 24:12 when Peter gets up and runs to the grave to see for himself.  Peter’s connection to the Mark’s gospel is his narrative to what he saw.  He knows the women said some things, but I think it is safe to say, that even though Mark states they did not say anything, he has meant this to mean it to be a momentary silence. Something like your Messiah raising from the dead, fulfilling His words, is not something one can keep quiet about. They could not be kept silent from declaring that “He’s Alive!”[4]  


If you put all this into one big package, I believe it is clear that the events recorded by all four gospel writers are not in contradiction with one another. The gospel writers were independent of one another. None of them needed the other to write the events they had eyewitnessed, or in Luke’s told by eyewitnesses.

If you have found this series interesting, please know that you can retrieve all the posts in this series by using the links below:


Series Part 2: Do the gospel accounts contradict one another? What time did the women go to the tomb?

Series Part 3: Are There Contradictions about What Was Seen Regarding the Stone at the Tomb?

Series Part 4: Angel/Angels, or Young Man/Men at the Tomb? Which gospel writer has it correct?

Series Part 5: Are the Accounts of What the Angels Told the Women Inconsistent?


[1]  This is known as the Principle of Embarrassment. The Principle of Embarrassment is applied historical documents to evaluate their trustworthiness, authenticity, and veracity. Briefly stated, the Principle is statements by authors which tend to disparage their own agenda are more trustworthy.  Applying this to the Bible, this principle implies the veracity of the historicity of events described in the Bible.

[2]  I don’t know whether you have noticed it or not, but there is an interesting parenthetic written by John about his and Peter’s speed in getting to the tomb.  Check out John 20:3-7.  Who got to the tomb first?

[3] It looks like Mark gives only part of the details, where the other three Evangelists tell more of the details.  You have to look at the whole context of the event when all the possible passages show part or all of the event.  The event in this scenario is the Resurrection of Christ.

[4] Mary Magdalene’s eyewitness testimony falls in line with all that the other women had experienced.  The timeline of the full event is not given, but this does not sacrifice the truthfulness of the texts.


cropped-562652_10151004082787891_176468518_nRob 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    If you have other questions about apologetics or doing apologetics, or if you are looking for apologetics resources, contact our ministry by email.

Author: roblundberg

I am a blogger, writer, equipper, and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and then take it and communicate it to a confused culture in a "brave new world." My mission involves evangelism undergirded by apologetics, and training; and equipping you to walk in the spiritual disciplines. I currently serve as the local Chapter Director and Community Apologist for Ratio Christi in Fredericksburg, VA.

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