The four Gospels detail the women’s discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb in slightly different ways, which to some are difficult to reconcile. The intention of this blog is to offer one possible reconciliation. There may be more.
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
To reconcile these, one must assume the Gospel authors made mention of figures they felt were key in the narrative. If authors made mention of one of the women, it doesn’t mean others were not present. If authors made mention of one angel, it does not mean another was not present. You can equate this with a sports reporter who focuses on the quarterback in a football game. We know other players were there, but to that reporter, they may have been minor contributors to the game.
Furthermore, note that ancient writings often were not ordered chronologically. With the exception of Luke, the other Gospel authors did not strive for an orderly account.
While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene traveled to the tomb, where she found it to be empty, so she went to tell the disciples (John). At dawn (Matthew), just after sunset (Mark), she returned to the tomb with other women, including Mary the mother of John and Salome, where they found the angels (Mark). Some of the women returned to the apostles and told them about the angels, while Mary Magdalene may have lingered. At this point, the apostles had reports from multiple women that the tomb was empty and/or angels had appeared to them (Luke). These came from Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and others. So Peter and John ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty.
Mary Magdalene started crying in front of the angels she saw in the tomb (John). Then Jesus appeared to her, telling her to go back to the apostles to let them know. Mary the mother of James joined her and they left (Matthew). Jesus suddenly appeared again. Perhaps this was for Mary the mother of James’ benefit. Mary Magdalene then reported to the apostles that she had seen the risen Lord (John).
Question your assumptions if you’re claiming the Gospels are in conflict. Assumptions are often built into this sort of a conversation. One cannot assume the women traveled in a pack, as the Gospels don’t make that claim. One also cannot assume the women only traveled to the tomb once. The Gospels do not state that either. It’s likely the tomb was the epicenter of their attention, given the situation.
Thank you for your time.
 Matthew 28:1-11
 Luke 24:1-12
One Reply to “Can Jesus’ Empty Tomb Accounts Be Reconciled?”
Thanks. Very well researched and great insight. Love the football reporting analogy.