2019-05-17: Questions about the Passion

Every major Christian sect asserts that the stories related in the bible are true and accurate. If that were true then there should not be a single contradiction between any two passages of the bible.

In fact the bible is riddled with contradictions from start to finish. The following 14 questions pertain exclusively to the story of the betrayal, arrest, trial, conviction, execution, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as told by the four gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The answers to these questions show unequivocally that the biblical authors were in disagreement about the most basic and important details of this very key story. Each question is followed by a summary of what is said in each of the four gospels.

Question #1: When did Jesus arrive in Bethany?

Matthew 26:1 – 2 says that Jesus and the disciples arrived no more than two days before Passover. Mark 14:1 concurs. Luke 22:1 – 16 mentions the arrival of Jesus and the disciples in a city, but it’s not specifically named. John 12:1 – 3 says that they arrived six days before Passover.

Question #2: Where did Jesus stay while in Bethany?

Matthew 26:6 – 7 says that he stayed in the house of Simon the Leper. Mark 14:3 agrees. Luke 22:1 – 16 says nothing about where Jesus and the disciples stayed. John 12:1 – 3 says they stayed in the house of Lazarus.

Question #3: When did Jesus predict that Peter would deny him?

Matthew 26:30 – 34 says that it happened after they arrived at the Mount of Olives. Mark 14:26 – 31 agrees. Luke 22:34 – 39 says that it happened during the Passover dinner. John 13:37 – 38 agrees with Luke.

Question #4: Where did the arrest of Jesus take place?

Matthew 26:36 – 51 says that Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. Mark 14:32 – 45 says the same. Luke 22:39 – 54 says that it happened at the Mount of Olives. John 18:1 says that Jesus was arrested in an unnamed grove.

Question #5: Who cut off the ear of the priest’s servant?

Matthew 26:51 says it was one of the followers of Jesus. Mark 14:44 – 50 agrees. Luke 22:47 – 51 says the same but adds that Jesus healed the man’s ear. John 18:10 – 11 says that Peter was the one who cut off the man’s ear and that the servant’s name was Malchus.

Question #6: Who was the priest who questioned Jesus?

Matthew 26:57 – 58 says that the high priest Caiaphas was the one who questioned Jesus. Mark 15:53 says only that it was the high priest. Luke 22:54 also says that it was the high priest. John 18:12 – 24 says that it was first the high priest Annas, then Caiaphas– who was also a high priest at the time.

Question #7: Did Pilate send Jesus to King Herod?

Matthew 27:11 – 26 says only that Jesus was tried by Pilate. Mark 15:1 – 15 says the same. But Luke, in verses 23:3 – 16 says that Pilate found that Jesus was a Galilean and that therefore he fell under the jurisdiction of King Herod– so he sent Jesus to King Herod for trial. John 18:1 – 12 says nothing at all about King Herod.

Question #8: Who carried Jesus’s cross to Golgotha?

Matthew 27:27 – 34 says that a man named Simon of Cyrene was chosen by the Roman guards to carry the cross on which Jesus was crucified to Golgotha, the place where he was put to death. Mark 15:21 – 22 agrees, as does Luke 23:6. But in John 19:16 – 17 the fourth gospel author says specifically that it was Jesus who carried his own cross and he never mentioned anyone named Simon.

Question #9: What happened at the moment of Jesus’s death?

Matthew 27:50 – 53 says that at the moment that Jesus died the curtain of the temple was torn. Mark 15:38 – 39 and Luke 23:44 – 46 mention only the tearing of the temple’s curtain. John 19:28 – 37 mentions nothing specific that happened at the time that Jesus died.

But in addition Matthew says that there was an earthquake that was powerful enough to break open the tombs of holy people. Matthew further says that the holy people were resurrected from the dead and that they later went into town and were seen by many people. None of these events are reported by any of the other Gospel authors.

Question #10: Was the tomb of Jesus secured?

Matthew 27:62 – 66 says that the leaders of the Jewish community asked Pilate to post guards at the tomb of Jesus to prevent his followers from stealing his body and then claiming that he was resurrected. Pilate agreed and had the tomb sealed, and he posted two guards at the tomb. But neither Mark, Luke, nor John mentions any such thing, as can be seen by reading Mark 15:42 – 16:2, Luke 23:50 – 24:2, and John 19:38 – 20:2.

Question #11: Who went to the tomb at sunrise on the day after the Sabbath?

Matthew 28:1 says that it was two women: Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary. Mark 16:1 – 2 says that it was three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke 24:1 – 4 and Luke 24:10 together say that it was more than three women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others. And John 20:1 says that it was only one woman: Mary Magdalene alone.

Question #12: Were angels present at the tomb when the women arrived?

Matthew 28:1 – 10 says that one angel appeared after the women arrived. Mark 16:1 – 5 says that one angel was sitting inside the tomb when the women arrived. Luke 24:1 – 4 says that two angels appeared after the women went into the tomb. John 20:1 – 12 says that when Mary Magdalene first went to the tomb she saw no angels there. She then went into town to tell Jesus’s disciples about what she had seen and two of them returned to the tomb with her. The disciples then returned to town and Mary went back inside the tomb– and then she saw two angels.

Question #13: Was the stone rolled away when the women arrived at the tomb?

Matthew 28:1 – 10 says that no, the stone was still in place when the women arrived; but when the angel arrived he rolled the stone back. And the moving of the stone caused an earthquake that terrified the guards (that only Matthew mentioned). Mark, Luke, and John all say that the stone was already rolled back as can be seen in Mark 16:1 – 5, Luke 24:1 – 4, and John 20:1.

Question #14: Who first saw the risen Jesus?

Matthew 28:8 – 10 says that the two women who went to the tomb saw the risen Jesus as they returned from the tomb to tell the disciples. The book of Mark has an addendum that says that it was Mary Magdalene only who saw Jesus. The relevant passage is Mark 16:9 – 13. Luke 24:13 – 16 says that a man named Cleopas and another man saw Jesus as they were on their way to a town named Emmaus. John 20:13 – 16 says that Mary Magdalene first saw Jesus as she returned from the tomb for the second time.

Summary

There is disagreement among the four authors on each of the above points of the story of the execution of Jesus. This is actually just a small sample of the many contradictions throughout the bible– both old and new testaments.

Some might argue that these discrepancies are of little consequence. The gospel authors all agree that Jesus was betrayed by Judas; that he and the other disciples had supper together on the night of the Passover feast; that he was arrested; that he was interrogated by the high priest; that he was tried by Pilate; that he was crucified; that he was buried; and that three days later he was resurrected.

If these events are really actual historical events and if these narratives were actually dictated by the Holy Spirit, then at a very minimum one should expect that the four narrators of this story would agree on every significant detail. But from the stories as we have them we don’t know when Jesus went to Bethany, or where he stayed. We don’t know when he predicted that Peter would deny him. We don’t know whether or not Jesus was sent to King Herod for trial. We don’t know if Jesus carried his own cross or if it was carried by another man named Simon. How many women went to the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning– One? Two? Three? More? We don’t know that, and we don’t know whether the women saw one angel or two. We don’t know if the angels appeared before or after the women arrived, or if the stone was rolled away when they arrived. And we don’t know who first saw the risen Jesus.

The most astonishing of these discrepancies concerns the events that happened at the moment of Jesus’s death. Matthew said that the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. On that point both Mark and Luke agree with him. But Matthew goes on to say that there was a humongous earthquake that broke open the tombs of holy people and that those holy people were resurrected from the dead. Matthew even claimed that the holy people later went into town where they were seen by many people– but apparently not by Mark, Luke, or John as none of them made even the slightest mention of an earthquake, let alone the resurrected holy people.

We have been told that the gospel writers were witnesses to real historical events. Just how does a news reporter catch an event like the tearing of a temple curtain but miss an earthquake and resurrected holy people? It just doesn’t make any sense.

If the bible were the word of God then there shouldn’t be a single contradiction anywhere in the text– not one. And yet, in just the 14 questions asked and answered above there are about three dozen contradictions that all have to do with the most important narrative of the entire new testament.

This story of the execution of Jesus is a great and deeply moving story– but it cannot possibly be completely true. There are just too many points of disagreement between the four narrators. Should we accept Matthew’s version over John’s? Or Luke’s? Or Mark’s? We have no basis on which to say that one of these versions is more accurate or complete than any of the others. And given the number and range of the discrepancies between the four variants of this story it is most likely that none of them is true.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore