Given the fact that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), it should be no surprise that one of the most disputed days in history “just so happens” to be the most important day for Christians—the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-18). For centuries, critics of Christ have ridiculed the gospel writers’ resurrection narratives, contending that there are blatant contradictions within the accounts. In his book, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Dan Barker lists no less than 17 “discrepancies” within the resurrection accounts alone (1992, pp. 178-184). In his book Biblical Errancy, skeptic Dennis McKinsey lists 20 alleged discrepancies under a section titled, “The Resurrection Accounts are Contradictory” (2000, pp. 447-454). One of the questions that both of these gentlemen ask is, “Did the women tell what happened?” (Barker, p. 183; McKinsey, p. 451).
Allegedly, Mark’s account of the women who came to the tomb on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection disagrees with what Matthew and Luke recorded. Notice carefully what these three gospel writers penned concerning the women following their visit to the empty tomb.
“So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word” (Matthew 28:8, emp. added).
“Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9, emp. added).
“So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8, emp. added).
Since Matthew and Luke indicated that the women brought word of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples, while Mark specified that the women “said nothing to anyone,” then supposedly the resurrection narratives prove unreliable. Is this true?
Before answering this question, consider what the prophet Isaiah foretold about the silence of the coming Messiah. He wrote (as if it already had happened):
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth (53:7, emp. added).
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would not open His mouth, but would be “silent.” Question: Did Jesus ever speak during His ministry? Certainly, but this prophecy does not characterize Jesus’ entire ministry. Instead, it refers to the particular time when Jesus was tried and crucified. Still, however, Jesus was not completely silent even during His trial and crucifixion (cf. Matthew 26:64; 27:11; Luke 23:28-31,43). So how could Isaiah describe Him as being “silent”? Aside from the fact that “to open the mouth” frequently meant more than simply to speak or not to speak (see Lyons, 2004), Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled because there was a particular period of time in which Jesus remained silent. Mark recorded that Jesus, while being falsely accused, “kept silent and answered nothing” (Mark 14:61; cf. Matthew 26:63). The silence of the Sufferer was momentary, and any attempt to force Isaiah’s prophecy to mean more than temporary silence is unjustifiable.
Similarly, the women who visited Jesus’ tomb following His resurrection “said nothing” for a period of time. Barker, McKinsey, and other critics who point to Mark 16:8 as contradicting Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 fail to consider that these verses are incongruous only if the writers were referring to the exact same period of the day. The truth is, initially, the women were afraid and silent, as Mark recorded. Then, later that day, they broke their silence and “told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). Mark’s narrative does not contradict Matthew and Luke, but supplements their accounts. What’s more, if Bible critics were to examine all of Mark’s resurrection narrative, they would learn that following the women’s temporary silence regarding Jesus’ empty tomb (16:8), Mary Magdalene “told those who had been with Him” (16:10) just as the angel had commanded her and the other women earlier in the day (16:7). Thus, Mark defined what he meant when he wrote “they said nothing to anyone.” They said nothing for a time, and then later bore witness of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation).
Lyons, Eric (2004), “He Opened Not His Mouth,” Apologetics Press, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2603.
McKinsey, C. Dennis (2000), Biblical Errancy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus).