Contradictions in Gospel Accounts of Jesus' Tomb

Jesus Tomb in Holy land

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Jesus’ burial is important because, without it, there can be no tomb from which Jesus can arise in three days. It’s also historically implausible: crucifixion was intended as a shameful, horrible execution which included allowing the bodies to remain nailed up until they rotted off. It’s inconceivable that Pilate would have agreed to turn the body over to anyone for any reason. This may have something to do with why the gospel authors all have different stories about it.

How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb?

Jesus is portrayed as being dead and in the tomb for a given length time, but how long?

  • Mark 10:34—Jesus says he will “rise again” after “three days.”
  • Matthew 12:40—Jesus says he will be in the earth “three days and three nights...”

No resurrection narrative describes Jesus as being in a tomb for three full days, or for three days and three nights.

Guarding the Tomb

Would the Romans have guarded Jesus’ tomb? The gospels disagree on what happened.

  • Matthew 27:62-66—A guard is stationed outside the tomb the day after Jesus’ burial
  • Mark, Luke, John—No guard is mentioned. In Mark and Luke, the women who approach the tomb do not appear to expect to see any guards

Jesus Is Anointed Before Burial

It was tradition to anoint a person’s body after they died. Who anointed Jesus and when?

  • Mark 16:1-3, Luke 23:55-56—A group of women who were at Jesus’ burial come back later to anoint his body
  • Matthew—Joseph wraps the body, and the women come the next morning, but no mention is made of anointing Jesus
  • John 19:39-40—Joseph of Arimathea anoints Jesus’ body before burial

Who Visited Jesus’ Tomb?

The women visiting Jesus’ tomb is central to the resurrection story, but who visited?

  • Mark 16:1—Three women visit Jesus’ tomb: Mary Magdalene, a second Mary, and Salome
  • Matthew 28:1—Two women visit Jesus’ tomb: Mary Magdalene and another Mary
  • Luke 24:10—At least five women visit Jesus’ tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and “other women.”
  • John 20:1—One woman visits Jesus’ tomb: Mary Magdalene. She later fetches Peter and another disciple

When Did the Women Visit the Tomb?

Whoever visited and however many there were, it’s also not clear when they arrived.

  • Mark 16:2—They arrive after sunrise
  • Matthew 28:1—They arrive at about dawn
  • Luke 24:1—It is early dawn when they arrive
  • John 20:1— It is dark when they arrive

What Was the Tomb Like?

It’s not clear what the women saw when they arrived at the tomb.

  • Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2, John 20:1—The stone in front of Jesus’ tomb had been rolled away
  • Matthew 28:1-2—The stone in front of Jesus’ tomb was still in place and would be rolled away later

Who Greets the Women?

The women aren’t alone for long, but it’s not clear who greets them.

  • Mark 16:5—The women enter the tomb and meet one young man in there
  • Matthew 28:2—An angel arrives during an earthquake and rolls the stone away, and sits on it outside. Pilate’s guards are also there
  • Luke 24:2-4—The women enter the tomb, and two men suddenly appear — it’s not clear if they are inside or outside
  • John 20:12—The women do not enter the tomb, but there are two angels sitting inside

What Do the Women Do?

Whatever happened, it must have been pretty amazing. The gospels are inconsistent in how the women react, though.

  • Mark 16:8—The women keep quiet, despite being told to spread the word
  • Matthew 28:8—The women go tell the disciples
  • Luke 24:9—The women tell “the eleven and to all the rest.”
  • John 20:10-11— Mary stays to cry while the two disciples just go home
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Your Citation
Cline, Austin. "Contradictions in Gospel Accounts of Jesus' Tomb." Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, Cline, Austin. (2020, August 27). Contradictions in Gospel Accounts of Jesus' Tomb. Retrieved from Cline, Austin. "Contradictions in Gospel Accounts of Jesus' Tomb." Learn Religions. (accessed March 20, 2023).