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Why are Matthew and John’s passion narratives incompatible? If read independently, the resurrection accounts presented by either Gospel appears fancifully viable, if all the other New Testament stories are ignored. When read side by side, however, the varsity of these two narratives becomes indefeasible because it would have been chronologically impossible for both accounts to have occurred. In fact, the crucial elements of the crucifixion story presented in these two Gospel narratives are so manifestly contradictory that even liberal Christians, who allow for the occasional mistakes that appear in the New Testament, should become alarmed by these conflicting stories.

This brief study will probe several unreconcilable contradictions of the resurrection chronology, as they are conveyed by Matthew and John. The following discrepancies have been selected because they cannot be harmonized or explained by tired arguments such as “each Gospel writer is giving us his own personal perspective.” Such a defense is untenable because the these Gospel conflicting narratives are so utterly irreconcilable that no explanation can account for the stark differences between them.

Matthew presents us with a post-resurrection story where an angel who had just rolled away the stone from the tomb’s entrance greets Mary Madeline and “the other Mary.” After revealing to both women the empty place where Jesus’ body once laid, the angel informs them that Jesus had already risen from the dead. The angel then instructs both Marys that they are to tell the disciples that Jesus had gone before them to the Galilee to meet them.

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for 2 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. 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.”

(Matthew 28:1-7)

If that encounter wasn’t convincing enough for the two women, Matthew claims that after leaving the tomb, both Marys unexpectedly encounter the resurrected Jesus himself, whom they both worship. Jesus then essentially repeats the angel’s instructions, and sends both women to inform the disciples that they are to go to the Galilee to meet Jesus.

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. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

(Matthew 28:8-10)

Like Matthew’s account, John’s resurrection narrative also contains the story of an empty tomb. That is, however, where the similarities between the first and fourth Gospel come to an end. In John’s version of the first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene arrives alone at Jesus’ tomb, there is no angel to greet her with information about Jesus’ whereabouts, or instructions about a rendezvous in the Galilee, as we find in Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:5-7). On the contrary, in John’s story, after Mary finds the empty tomb, she concludes that someone had removed the body from the grave. Mary certainly had no reason to believe otherwise. She therefore quickly runs back to the disciples and reports,

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”

(John 20:2)

This account in the Book of John could not have occurred in Matthew’s post-resurrection narrative. How could Mary have not known that Jesus’ body was not laid anywhere? In Matthew’s story, the angel had already revealed to her that Jesus rose from the dead and had gone to the Galilee. It would have been preposterous for her to think that someone had moved the body when the angels had already informed her that Jesus’ resurrection had occurred.

Moreover, if the angel’s instructions to her were not convincing enough, Matthew claims that Mary also met the resurrected Jesus himself immediately after leaving the tomb (Matthew 28:9) – and all this transpires before Mary ever sees the disciples! Why then in John’s Gospel is Mary clueless as to where Jesus’ body was moved, when according to Matthew, the angel at the tomb and Jesus himself had already informed Mary that Jesus rose from the dead?

Further contradicting Matthew’s post-resurrection account, John’s story lacks the Roman guards whom Matthew places at the tomb to prevent anyone from removing Jesus’ body. How could John’s Mary have thought that someone removed the body, when according to Matthew, Roman soldiers were placed at the tomb for the specific purpose of preventing just such an occurrence? Obviously, the author of the fourth Gospel has no need for Roman guards at the tomb, so in John’s crucifixion account they simply do not exist.

This Gospel problem of the missing Roman soldiers in the Book of John raises another important issue. Missionaries often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead.