Following is an excerpt from my book: Things I Never Learned in Sunday School: Facts about the Christian faith that will surprise and astound you.
Like many other believers, I had a vision of what took place on that eventful morning. Several women visited and found an empty tomb. There was an earthquake. An angel appeared and said Jesus had risen. The guards became like dead men. The women were told to go and tell the disciples what they had witnessed.
But is this what really happened? Upon closer examination, I was surprised to find the gospel writers each had a slightly different version. In fact, they agreed on only three things: (1) Mary Magdalene visited the tomb, (2) it was on the first day of the week, and (3) the tomb was empty.
They did not agree on: the precise time the women visited the tomb; the number and identity of the women; the purpose of their visit; the appearance of the messenger(s) — angelic or human; what the women were told, the women’s response.
How are we to account for these variations? Considering that none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses, plus the fact the gospels were written several decades after the death of Jesus, it is highly likely the resurrection accounts were based on oral tradition. In fact, as previously noted, the writer of Luke commented at the beginning of his gospel that he was writing about things that had been “handed on” to him.
Many feel the noted differences are unimportant. They point to the theme that runs throughout each story — Jesus was not in the tomb. For them, the words written over 2,000 years ago about a dead man missing from a grave is all they need to affirm their belief in the resurrection.
When we consider the resurrection story from a rational perspective, the only thing we can say for certain is that Jesus died. What happened after depends on whose view you favor among the four that are offered.
As with many other passages in the bible, the inconsistencies are rampant. Yet, believers refuse to question them, preferring to accept whatever version is presented to them by their church leaders.
The interesting thing about the resurrection is that there is no mention of a man named Jesus returning to life anywhere but in the scriptures. Not one word. Surely seeing a dead man walking around and talking to people (at one point, 500 at a time) would have prompted other writers to record the event. But to date, no historic or scientific evidence has been uncovered to validate this extraordinary phenomenon.
For those of us who prefer facts over faith, it seems the resurrection story must remain in the skeptical file.