I started to write this to tell the story of Easter, the biblical story not the actual meaning of Easter, which is the based around the coming of spring and other Pagan stories. But I became sidetracked (like I always do) with all the contradictions of the New Testament. So before I get to Easter I want to give my standard boilerplate warning about reading the bible. I want to point out, as I have been reading the different accounts of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that these books differ greatly and they probably contain little if any real facts. Be careful not to fall into the same trap that many Christians do, assuming that the four Gospels are in any sense a historical record. Their multiple authors, none of whom published anything until many decades after the Crucifixion of Jesus, cannot agree on anything of importance. Matthew and Luke cannot concur on the Virgin Birth or the genealogy of Jesus. They completely contradict each other on the "Flight into Egypt," Matthew saying that Joseph was "warned in a dream" to make an immediate escape and Luke saying that all three stayed in Bethlehem until Mary's "purification according to the laws of Moses," which would make it forty days, and then went back to Nazareth via Jerusalem.
The Gospel according to Luke states that the miraculous birth occurred in a year when the Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census for the purpose of taxation, and that this happened at a time when Herod reigned in Judaea and Quirinius was governor of Syria. That is the closest to a triangulation of historical dating that any biblical writer even attempts. But Herod died four years "BC," and during his ruler ship the governor of Syria was not Quirinius. There is no mention of any Augustan census by any Roman historian, but the Jewish chronicler Josephus mentions one that did occur—without the onerous requirement for people to return to their places of birth, and six years after the birth of Jesus is supposed to have taken place. This is, all of it, quite evidently a garbled and oral-based reconstruction undertaken some considerable time after the "fact." The scribes cannot even agree on the mythical elements: they disagree wildly about the Sermon on the Mount, the anointing of Jesus, the treachery of Judas, and Peter's haunting "denial." Most astonishingly, they cannot converge on a common account of the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. Thus, the one interpretation that we simply have to discard is the one that claims divine warrant for all four of them.
In the December 2004 issue of Free Inquiry, Tom Flynn, the Editor of that excellent magazine, assembled a collection of articles documenting the contradictions and gaping holes in the well-loved Christmas story. Flynn himself lists the many contradictions between Matthew and Luke, the only two evangelists who treat the birth of Jesus at all. Robert Gillooly shows how all the essential features of the Jesus legend, including the star in the east, the virgin birth, the veneration of the baby by kings, the miracles, the execution, the resurrection and the ascension are borrowed – every last one of them - from other religions already in existence in the Mediterranean and Near East region. Flynn suggests that Matthew's desire to fulfill messianic prophecies (descent from David, birth in Bethlehem) for the benefit of Jewish readers came into headlong collision with Luke's desire to adapt Christianity for the Gentiles, and hence to press the familiar hot buttons of pagan Hellenistic religions (virgin birth, worship by kings, etc.). The resulting contradictions are glaring, but consistently overlooked by the faithful.
Richard Dawkins says it best when he writes; sophisticated Christians do not need anyone to convince them that the things that you read in the Bible aren't necessarily true. But there are many unsophisticated Christians out there who think it absolutely is necessarily so, people who take the Bible very seriously indeed as a literal and accurate record of history and hence as evidence supporting their religious beliefs. Do these people never open the book that they believe is the literal truth? Why don't they notice those glaring contradictions?
Shouldn't a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph's descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists! In any case, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph's ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfil, on Jesus' behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David. The American biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, in a book whose subtitle is The Story Behind Who Changed the New Testament and Why, unfolds the huge uncertainty befogging the New Testament texts.
Never the less, here are the resurrection stories from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I bolded some of the inconsistencies and interesting points.
Matthew 28 (King James Version)1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord 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.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.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.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.16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.Mark 16 (King James Version)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 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?4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.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.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.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.12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.Luke 24 (King James Version)1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.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 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,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.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.13 And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.15 And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.16 But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.17 And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?18 And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?19 And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:20 And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.21 But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.22 Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre;23 And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.24 And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.43 And he took it, and did eat before them.44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 And ye are witnesses of these things.49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.John 20 (King James Version)1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, 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.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.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.18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her.19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
It’s funny that Jesus was not recognized by his followers after he rose from the dead, and they were apparently not familiar with the idea that Jesus would rise again in three days, because this had to be explained to them in each version of the story. Also the authors point out that he must rise on the third day to complete the prophecy! As I have said before, it is easy to write a story that fullfils a older prophecy that you know about. I have been rebuked by people saying, “People weren’t well educated in that time and didn’t know the prophecies.” To this I say read Luke 24:44
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
As I have said in, Jesus’ Resurrection, According tothe New Testament, Resurrection is apparently so common during that time period that the idea that Jesus ‘rose from the dead’ is no more unique than:
The Resurrection of the child that Elijah raised (1 Kings 17:22)
The Resurrection of the man that was thrown into Elisha's grave (2 Kinngs 13:21)
The Resurrection of the Lazarus (John 11)
The Resurrection of the man at funeral that Jesus raised (Luke 7:12)
The Resurrection of the child that who fell out a window (Acts 20:9)
The Resurrection of an unknown number at Christ's death (Matthew 27:52-53)
All these ‘resurrections’ undermine the uniqueness of the resurrection by which all of mankind’s sins were forgiven. There is no cult or religion before or since, from Osiris to vampirism to voodoo, that does not rely on some innate belief in the "undead."
For now though, we can say that resurrection would not prove the truth of Jesus’ doctrine, nor his paternity, nor the probability of still another return in fleshly or recognisable form. The action of a man who volunteers to die for his fellow creatures is universally regarded as noble. The extra claim not to have "really" died, because he was back in three days, makes the whole sacrifice tricky and meretricious.
Thus, those who say "Christ died for my sins," when he did not really "die" at all, are making a statement that is false in its own terms. Having no reliable or consistent witnesses, in anything like the time period needed to certify such an extraordinary claim, we are finally entitled to say that we have a right, if not an obligation, to respect ourselves enough to disbelieve the whole thing, unless or until superior evidence is presented, which it has not been. Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence!
Miracles in any case do not vindicate the truth of the religion that practices them: Aaron supposedly vanquished Pharoah's magicians in an open competition but did not deny that they could perform wonders as well. However, there has not been a claimed resurrection for some time and no shaman who purports to do it has ever agreed to reproduce his trick in such a way as to stand a challenge. Thus we must ask ourselves: Has the art of resurrection died out? Or are we relying on dubious sources?
There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them, to police our doctrine. Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us, as are relics and the worship of any images or objects (even including objects in the form of one of man's most useful innovations: the bound book). To us no spot on earth is or could be "holier" than another: to the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage, or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or shrine or rock!
The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked.
Have a good Easter. If you’re with your family, enjoy them, but don’t focus on a barbaric murder and an improbable resurrection.