Aug 17, 2009


Matthew’s Earthquake during the Resurrection

In Matthew’s account of the resurrection, he says, “a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.” Even though I phrased it somewhat differently, A.T. Robertson’s comments on this passage are quite reflective of my general response to Dustin:

Clearly not the earthquake of 27:51. The precise time of this earthquake is not given. It was before sunrise on the first day of the week when the women made the next visit. Matthew alone relates the coming of the angel of the Lord who rolled away the stone and was sitting upon it.

There are apparent inconsistencies in the various narratives of the Resurrection and the appearances of the Risen Christ. We do not know enough of the details to be able to reconcile them. But the very variations strengthen the independent witness to the essential fact that Jesus rose from the grave. Let each writer give his own account in his own way.

After I explained this to Dustin, he seemed to understand that Bart Ehrman was making a mistake by essentially labeling added or ommited details as contradictions. It is not as if all four Gospel writers need to say the exact same thing about every event!

Another way to think of it, I told him, is this: Mark, Luke, and John do not say at any point, “There definitely was not an earthquake during the resurrection of Jesus”. If they had, then we would have in Matthew 28:2 something that would constitute an actual contradiction – but we do not.

A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.;Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), Mt 28:2.


  1. Actually, at least in Jesus Interrupted anyway, Ehrman doesn’t label something like the omission of the earthquake from Mark, Luke, and John a “contradiction.” For the most part he uses the term “discrepancy” to describe omissions and additions.

    On the other hand, I think that your notion of what constitutes a contradiction may be a little too narrow. Writers don’t normally make it a practice to point out all the things that didn’t happen. If Mark didn’t believe that there was an earthquake, we wouldn’t expect him to write “there was no earthquake” any more than we would expect him to write “there was no tsunami” or “there was no forest fire.” Sometimes accounts differ due to different perspectives, but sometimes they differ because the reporters think that different events occurred.

  2. Vinny -

    I think you are right, he does usually label them as discrepancies and not just as contradictions.

    Perhaps I should have been more precise but I guess I was just referring to these accounts in the same words as my friend - he kept on using the word contradiction.

    Lastly, you are also right that it is a bit silly to think one writer would out and out say "there was no this or that" - in a way that was my point.

    But I do not see why omissions or extra details should really be viewed as discrepancies bordering on contradictions or anything like that - the core of the account is clear and each writer fills in some of the details in different ways - this is why we have 4 accounts, not one - to preserve the distinctives and unique emphasis of each author.

    As usual, I really enjoy when you stop by and the Evangelical world has been worse off ever since you left us ... ha =)


  3. My blogging has been focused on economics and politics recently although I do have a new post on whether Mark thought Jesus was God.

    I want to make clear that I don't think that every omission or addition should be considered a contradiction. There is no contradiction in one evangelist including a birth narrative while another does not. One writer might not know a particular story or might not think it important enough to include.

    I think some discrepancies do rise to the level of contradiction, however. When Luke reports Jesus' last words as "Into your hands I commend my spirit," I think that it is safe to say that he disagrees with Mark's report, particularly since it seems likely that he knew of Mark's report when he wrote his gospel.

    I also agree with Ehrman that apologists who come up with the kind of reconciliations that have the branch from which Judas hung himself breaking and his body flipping in the air as he falls are making up a new story altogether.

  4. One fact that I find interesting is this:

    even if there are true contradictions in reported events, it does not mean the event did not happen at all or that the account was made up ...

    Just something to ponder ...



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