Resurrection of Jesus—Wenham's harmony of the four accounts of the first Easter Sunday

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Resurrection of Jesus—Wenham's harmony of the four accounts of the first Easter Sunday

Holy Bible—the first Easter Sunday morning
  • The table lists all the verses, according to the KJV, always in verse order.
  • "It now seems to me that these resurrection stories exhibit in a remarkable way the well-known characteristics of accurate and independent reporting, for superficially they show great disharmony, but on close examination the details gradually fall into place." (Wenham 2005[1] p11.)
  • "I first became interested in the subject in 1945 when living in Jerusalem..." (Wenham 2005 p10). John Wenham also wrote "The Elements of New Testament Greek" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965, 1991).
  • "None of them [the gospel writers and Paul] attempts to tell the whole story; all would echo John's closing words: "There are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."" (Wenham 2005 p43.)
  • Where God has only given us some pieces of the jigsaw, we currently have no unique solution to the remainder. That is, multiple theories are possible, provided they are all consistent with all four gospels.
Matthew Mark Luke John notes

Mt ch28

1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came ["went" (NIV)] Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

Mk ch16

1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came ["were on their way" (NIV)] unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

Lk ch24

1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came ["went" (NIV)] unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

Jn ch20

1 The first day of the week cometh ["went" (NKJV, NIV, Wenham 2005 pp81f)] Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre,

The witnesses were proceeding to the tomb.

"Bethany was nearly two miles from the city...." (Wenham 2005 p45.)

There is a full moon at Passover (Wenham 2005 p49), so night travel was possible.

" could have been undeniably dark on the women's departure and undeniably light on their arrival, particularly if their starting-point were Bethany.... the words "went" in Matthew, Mark and Luke [RSV] translate the same verb as the "came" in John.... If John is thinking of Mary Magdalene setting off from Bethany, the translation "went to the tomb early, while it was still dark" would be precisely accurate." (Wenham 2005 pp81f re John 20:1.)

Mt ch28

2 And, behold, there was ["had been" (KJV margin)] a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord ["had" (Wenham 2005 p78)] descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

Mk ch16

4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

Lk ch24

2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

Jn ch20

and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

The witnesses arrived at the tomb.

Mary Magdalene left to find Peter and John.

"Mary's words 'we do not know where they have laid him' clearly imply the presence of other women." (Wenham 2005 p91, emphasis Wenham's, re John 20:2.)

Mt ch28

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

Mk ch16

5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Lk ch24

3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men ["angels" (Luke 24:23)] stood by them in shining garments:

5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

8 And they remembered his words,

"... an angel, depicted as all biblical angels are, not as a winged creature, but as a man. The two-winged cherubim and six-winged seraphim are scarcely angels." (Wenham 2005 p85.)

'The translation "stood by", which would bring Luke [24:4] into contradiction with Mark's "sitting", cannot be insisted on. The word is frequently used meaning "to appear to"....' (Wenham 2005 p85.)

"If witnesses, who had been in the tomb at the same time, had been asked independently, "Precisely how many men did you see?" and had given different answers, that would have shown one or other to be unreliable. But these witnesses are not answering the question "How many?", they are giving (as all descriptions must be) incomplete descriptions of a complex event." (Wenham 2005 p87.)

The remaining women left to tell the disciples.

Jn ch20

3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

John 20:8. The testimony of the disciple Jesus loved (Jn 21:20,24 with Jn 20:2).

Mk ch16

9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

Jn ch20

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

Mt ch28

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

"As the two appearances [of the Saviour] are distinct, that to Mary Magdalene must be put first (as Mark 16:9 says) and the second must be put at a sufficient interval after the women's flight from the tomb to allow for all the comings and goings recorded by John.... this meeting somewhere on the track between Jerusalem and Bethany...." (Wenham 2005 p95f.)

This important conclusion of Wenham that the meeting of Matthew 28:9,10 occurred on a track between Jerusalem and surrounding villages depends only on two assumptions. First, that sufficient disciples were staying in villages outside the city for women to go there - it is almost certainly false to claim that all were lodging in the city, especially since Jerusalem city may have been packed for Passover, and Martha and her family were at Bethany. Second, that Peter and John were in the city on the first Easter Sunday morning - John was known to the High Priest, that is, he had connections with the city, or Peter and John might have accompanied women who left a village while it was still dark.

But it is not clear that even those two assumptions are needed - the "sufficient interval" (Wenham 2005 p95 above) might simply have been generated by the long-as-a-piece-of-string task to "tell his disciples" (Matthew 28:7).

Mk ch16

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

Lk ch24

9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

10 It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Jn ch20

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Mt ch28

11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

14 And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

Lk ch24

12 Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

To restrict Peter to a single visit to the tomb seems brash - especially since he had denied the Saviour three times - Lk 22:34. Wenham (2005 pp91f) probably regards this visit as the same as that of Jn 20:3-10, but the Eusebian Canons do not link the sections (210Jn and 339Lk[2]).



  1. John W Wenham (1984, 1992, 2005), "Easter Enigma—Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict?" Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock. Chapters 7-11.
  2. Edgecomb KP (n.d.) "Eusebius of Caesarea, The Gospel Canon Tables", viewed 13 June 2017, \<\>.


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