The Women at the Tomb: Gospel Analysis
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 324-327.
Introductory comments about the resurrection narratives
- The resurrection is the fulcrum of faith. The resurrection is the axis, the center, the core, the pivot point of faith for a Christian. If there was no resurrection of Jesus, then Christianity is just another ancient religion with its own particular form of spirituality and morality. The truth of Christianity hinges on the resurrection. Either Christ was raised from the dead by the powers of God or not. Various Bible verses support these observations such as I Corinthians 15:14, 19, 20. “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain. …If for this life only that we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Such as I Corinthians 15:32. “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” … If the resurrection is not true, then our faith is foolish and we are to be pitied because of our self delusions. But the Apostle Paul, the disciples, the women, the early church were convinced of the truthfulness of the resurrection: “In fact, Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.”
- As we read the resurrection stories, we find that the women and the disciples came to the grave that Sunday morning expecting to grieve the painful and tragic death of Jesus. These first disciples did not have any expectation that they would find the tomb empty or meet the Risen Christ.
- As we read the resurrection stories, we find that there is a deep and persistent doubt among his disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead.
- As we read the resurrection stories, we find that the stories are enormously varied. That is, only the beginning story, #352, The Women at the Tomb, is found in parallel form in three of the gospels, and there are variations even in this first story.
- The Gospel of John is the only gospel which gives us a consistent flow of resurrection stories.
- As we read the resurrection stories, the Holy Spirit convinces us of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus and his gift of everlasting life. The resurrection stories, in themselves, do not convince us to believe in the resurrection of Jesus and his gift of everlasting life. If we believe, it is because of the power of the Spirit who has already worked in our hearts and minds and convinced us to believe.
- The Holy Spirit uses many and varied metaphors to convince us of the validity of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. Each human being who believes in the resurrection and eternal life has been touched by differing emotional and intellectual arguments. Differing arguments for the resurrection appeal to our differing hearts and minds. The philosopher Pascal said that the “heart has reasons that reason does not understand.”
- Some of these differing rationales and evidences of the resurrection and eternal life that appeal to our hearts and minds are.
- Evidences from nature e.g. intricately beautiful flowers. Flowers in springtime remind us that God creates such intricate beauty on this side of the grave. If God can create such intricate beauty as flowers on this side of the grave, God could certainly create even greater beauty on the other side of the grave.
- Evidences from logic. If there is a design, there must be a designer…to the eyeball and to the earth. There is a design to both the eyeball and earth. The eyeball and earth do not seem to be consequences of random selection but the consequence of an intricate design. If there is an intricate design, there must be an intricately thinking designer. The name of the designer of the intricacies of the eyeball and earth is God. If there is a design to life on this side of the grave, it makes sense that there is a design to eternal life on the other side of the grave.
- Evidences from human nature e.g. all cultures dream of human immortality. The dream/vision for immortality is deep within the human species. Eternal longings and intuitions live within all human hearts throughout all centuries. God designed human beings with a deep desire for immortality and eternal life. People often say, “I know that someone is waiting for me up there.” This longing for eternity must have been placed within us human beings by the Creator.
- Evidences from the Bible e.g. “No eye can see or mind imagine the good things that God has prepared for us in eternity.” The Bible is persistent and consistent about its teaching about eternal life, especially in the New Testament. There are 42 references to the phrase, “eternal life,” in the Bible and all of them are in the New Testament.
- Evidences from Jesus e.g. Jesus is the Son of God, the mind and heart of God. Jesus, revealing the heart and mind of God, clearly and repeatedly taught the truth about eternal life. Jesus used the words, “eternal life,” numerous times in his teachings. Jesus tells the truth about God, life, and eternal life.
- Evidences from the metaphors for eternity e.g. as an ugly and common tulip bulb being transformed into a gorgeous flowering tulip. The common human body will be transformed into the gorgeous eternal body of glory.
- Evidence from my mother. “My mommy told me so.” I learned to believe while on mommy’s lap and such beliefs are so deeply ingrained in me that they cannot be taken away.
- Evidence from human arrogance. There is an arrogance to human beings who think that we are the crown of creation and that there is no higher dimensions of reality above them. There is another step up in the order of existence and that step is eternity. It is arrogant of human beings to claim that there are only three/four dimensions to existence and that we (humans) are the highest order of creation.
- Evidence from the funerals of Unitarians and other non-believers in eternally life are invariably depressing, empty and hollow of the richness of eternal life.
- Evidence in the cynicism of atheists and agnostics. As a rule, the lives of atheists and cynics do not inspire and lift us up to be better people.
But all these evidences do not prove a thing about eternal life and immortality. When all is said and done, that we believe is because of the power of the Holy Spirit has worked the miracle of belief in our lives. The evidence for eternal life rests on faith, and not on proof or verification or signs or wisdom or intellectual arguments.
9. The Apostle Paul argues for the validity of a general resurrection of which Jesus Christ is the first sample of that resurrection. He argues strenuously for the “fact” of this general resurrection. All people die at the end of this life on earth, and then there will be the next life which we call eternal life. Paul assumes this coming resurrection for the next life, and the resurrection of Jesus was the first example of it. Paul writes in I Corinthians 15, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.. …What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
The Apostle Paul moves from his belief in the general resurrection of the dead to the specifics of Jesus being raised from the dead by the eternal powers of the eternal God. Jesus was the first sample or example of the resurrection. Paul did not argue that the resurrection of Jesus “proved” the resurrection of the dead. Rather, it was the other way around. Believing in the resurrection, Jesus was the first fruits/example/prototype of that resurrection.
Why do you believe in the resurrection and eternal life?
#352. The Women at the Tomb
Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-13
-When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
Notice that all four gospels are listed in dark black print which means that all four gospel narratives include this story located here. As students of the Bible, we feel a little more secure when there are four accounts of the same story in the same sequence of the story, even if the details of those four accounts do not precisely agree.
Underline the phrase, “when the Sabbath was over,” and write “the first day of the week.” The first day of the week was Sunday.
Notice who was present: Mary Magdalene is listed first in all four accounts. She is the one who will be the first human being to see the resurrected Christ and is the most important person in the story.
Mary, the mother of James, is present. This Mary is none other than the mother of Jesus. James was Jesus’ brother.
Salome is Mary’s sister.
-And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. Notice that all four of our gospels mention: very early, the first day of the week. Luke says “early dawn” and John says “while it was still dark.”
-They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. A fundamental problem for the women was who was going to have the strength to roll the stone back so that they could enter the tomb. The fact was: The stone had already been rolled from in front of the grave by the time the women got there. A question for the early church was: “Who rolled that stone back in the first place? If the women didn’t, who did?”
“The tomb could be sealed by a boulder rolled against the entrance; but the more elaborate tombs had a wheel-shaped slab of stone that rolled in a track across the entrance, having the effect of a sliding door.” Raymond Brown, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, V. 2, p. 982.
-As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all say that an angel/angels rolled the stone back. The Gospel of Mark does not say specifically that the young man was an angel, but it is implied in that the young man was dressed in a white robe and therefore was an angel. The Gospel of John had two angels sitting in the tomb. In other words, all four gospels agree on the presence of angels and it is implied that angels rolled back the stone.
-And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. This is Matthew’s account of the angel who rolled the stone back. The guards (of the high priest) trembled with fear.
-While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women* were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, This is Luke’s version of the same incident. There were two men (not one angel as in Mark and Matthew) who were dressed in dazzling clothes. Later in Luke, we will hear that the women saw a vision of angels. For Luke, these angels were a visionary experience. (See Luke 24:23, p. 329, “the women did not find his body and came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels.”)
-But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. See the parallel accounts in all three gospels. The angel gives the message: “Do not be afraid. Jesus has been raised. He is not here. Look at the place where they had laid him.”
-Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words (only Luke) Jesus had told the disciples three times that he was to suffer, be crucified and on the third day rise but the disciples did not comprehend what he had said. His words had not registered. His words went in and out of their brains and did not make an imprint. But this angelic messenger reminded the disciples of what Jesus had said about himself. If the disciples had listened more carefully to Jesus’ teachings, they should have known that he would suffer, die and be raised. But when Jesus previously said those things, the disciples did not comprehend his words. The suffering, death and resurrection; these all came as a shock to the disciples.
-But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you. The first three gospels record that the divine messengers sent the women to the disciples to tell them what happened and that Jesus was alive and would meet them. The Gospel of Mark underscores the role and primacy of Peter in the story. Peter, then, becomes the primary story teller to John Mark (the Gospel of Mark) about the women experiencing the empty tomb and angels.
All the gospels report that Jesus had told his disciples earlier about his resurrection.
-So they went out and fled from the tomb (with great joy), for terror and amazement had seized them; Matthew repeats this theme of the women running in fear from the tomb and Matthew adds the phrase, “with great joy.” This joy is the first expression of the great and glorious joy that Jesus was not dead but alive. The same is true for us today: when we come to that time when we believe in the resurrection and the gift of eternal life, there is both great joy and amazement in our hearts. Joy that it is true. Amazement that it is true.
-And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark only). In Mark’s gospel, at this moment, the women say nothing to anyone because they were so deeply afraid. And thus ends Mark’s gospel.
Many scholars suggest that originally, there was a longer ending to the Gospel of Mark and that Mark’s gospel did not end so abruptly at this moment. I agree. In Mark’s original gospel, there was surely more to the resurrection story, especially from the lips of Peter who was a primary eyewitness to the resurrection. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus appeared first to Cephas (Peter). Luke also tells us in Luke 24:34 that “the Lord had appeared to Simon.” If Peter was the source of the Gospel of Mark, he surely would have told us (via John Mark) about his experiences with the resurrected Christ. But we hear nothing of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel of Mark. There are no "first hand" resurrection experiences/stories that Peter was part of. The book ends abruptly and immediately with Mark 16:8. We sense that there was more to the story. For some unexplained reason, the concluding pages of the Gospel of Mark about the resurrection were lost. Scholars often comment about the “lost ending” of the Gospel of Mark. We will study the “lost ending” of the Gospel of Mark later, in Lesson 54.
There is a second ending to the Gospel of Mark, Mark 16:9-20. But these verses seem to be secondary and written later. These verses are now in italics in almost all versions of the New Testament. Why? Because these verses do not appear in two of the three most ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, 325-350 CE). Also, these verses feel like shortened or condensed versions/summaries of other longer, more elaborate stories found in the other gospels. These verses don't feel like the longer stories a person would have expected to hear from a first hand witness like Peter who tells about the women running from the tomb to share what they had seen (Mark 16:1-8). Some scholars have concluded that Mark 16:9-20 (a collection of short snippets) was added later, perhaps composed by a man named Aristion, a second century presbyter. Aristion's name is mentioned earlier by Papias (110 CE) and Eusebius of Ceasarea (325 CE).This longer ending is attributed to him in an Amenian manuscript written in 989 CE.
On the other hand, one Biblical scholar offers a convincing rationale for the inclusion of Mark 9:16-20 into the canonical text of the Gospel of Mark.
"The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20," Jim Snapp II, Minister, Curtisville Christian Church, IN. "I believe that the empirical evidence supports the view that the Long Ending was contained in the Gospel of Mark in the form in which it was first produced for distribution in the church, and that it was accepted as Scripture everywhere except in one Egyptian locale (probably Alexandria), where - due to an accident or a copyist's misinterpretation - it was temporarily lost."
-And they ran to tell his disciples (Matthew). They told all this to the eleven and to all the rest (Luke). The women ran to tell the disciples. The word, “they,” implies a plurality of women who ran to tell the disciples.
-Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (only Luke) We find the list of women again, and Luke confirms what Mark and Matthew have told us. Circle the word, “apostles,” for the disciples are now being put into another category, “apostles.” In the New Testament, the apostles are those who saw and experienced the resurrected Christ first hand. But notice that these great leaders initial reaction to the women was disbelief and they thought that the women’s story was an idle tale.
That is true for many modern people. That is, for many modern people, the resurrection of Jesus is nothing more than an idle tale which was created by fantasizing women who had needs to reconstruct an emotional myth that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
-So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ (John) In John’s account of the story, with a quick superficial reading, John reports only about Mary Magdalene and does not report the presence of other women. The person in John’s story is singular; that is, it is only Mary Magdalene. But if you read the above sentences carefully, circle the word “we” in the statement “we do not know where they have laid him.” A reader then realizes that there were other women with Mary Magdalene. “WE do not know where they have laid him.” In John’s story, Mary Magdalene is so prominent in her encounter with the resurrected Lord, that the presence of other women is not even mentioned. A careful study of the Gospel of John reveals that there were other women with Mary Magdalene. The Gospel of Luke gives us the names of those other women.
-But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves. Then he (Peter) went home, amazed at what had happened. (Luke’s version)
Look carefully. There are several specific details in this account: Peter was sitting when he heard the news and then got up; he ran to the tomb; he stooped to go into the tomb; he looked; he saw the linen clothes lying there by themselves. A reader can feel the action in this scene.
We, as readers, feel somewhat cheated that we do not have Peter’s own version of this resurrection story in the Gospel of Mark.
When the event was all over, Peter then went home, wondering and amazed at what happened. Both the NRSV and NIV translate the Greek word, “amazed” and not “wondering” as in the RVS. The emphasis in Greek is not on “wondering what happened” but “amazed at what happened.”
“There is a little debate among interpreters whether Peter believes at this point. In fact, most doubt it, arguing that the term "marveling" (thaumazo; NIV wondering) is ambiguous (see 4:22; 11:38; Acts 13:41). But surely it is hard to call Peter doubting here, and the term can be positive (as in Lk 1:21, 63; 2:18, 33; 7:9; 8:25; 11:14; 20:26; 24:41; Stein 1992:607). Something stirs him to check out the story when others are incredulous. In addition, his recent experience with his denials has surely taught him to trust what Jesus says.”
“Palestinian archeology shows us that the entrance to such tombs was on ground level through a small doorway, less than a yard high, so that adults had to crawl in.” Raymond Brown, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, V. 2, p. 982.
John’s version of this same story is slightly different and much more elaborate in its detail (John 20:3-13).
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