Do the Gospel writers contradict the women testimonies?

by Rob Lundberg

Have you ever heard a story multiple times where each teller of that same story told it from their perspective?  If you have, the chances are that the storyteller added some nuances or some details that may have come as a result how they saw them.

In this final posting for this series, the challenge I will be addressing is rather interesting. It is interesting because each of the gospel writers present a unique picture of their own with respect to the responses which came from the women following the dialogue with those they encountered at the tomb of Jesus.

Following the same approach as the previous posts, I will set up the objection and then give a response to show how it fails. 

Setting up the Objection

When we were presented with these objections, the skeptic pointed out that there are conflicting accounts. Examples giving by our challenger point to the women’s responses after receiving the news of Jesus’s resurrection. In Matthew’s gospel (28:5-8), he states the “women run away and did tell the disciples.”  In Mark’s gospel (16:6-8), it is noted that the “women run away and didn’t tell anyone.”

When we get to Luke’s gospel (24:4-11), our skeptic points out that the “women tell the disciples what they saw, but the disciples do not believe them, and essentially discredit the testimony of the women.  Finally, over in John’s gospel (20:11-18) our skeptic states that Mary Magdalene “gets curious and goes back to the tomb, right behind the two men, and she stays after they’re gone. Then she sees two angels in white, plus she sees Jesus, but she thinks he’s a gardener.”

While there is a grain of truth in the summary of the one making the assertion of contradictions in these accounts, the question is still pertinent.  Are these all contradictory accounts?

If you take the method of our skeptic, it might look like they are contradictory.  But what you have to do is look at the overall big context of all these accounts when you put them together. To do this let me bring in the passages themselves.

What Do the Passages Say?

I referenced the passages in the previous section but for the purposes of having the passages in front of us, I want to share them here with you.  This so that we can get the big picture, before coming to the response. 

Matthew 28:8 – “And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples.”

Mark 16:7, 8 – “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'”  8 They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Luke 24: 8-11  “And they remembered His words, 9 and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  10Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.

John 20:10-13,  “So the disciples went away again to their own homes.  11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.

A Response to the Challenge

Whenever a question comes to the floor in an open forum or an objection comes to the forefront for a posting like this, it is always good to summarize  the objection before giving a response.  Let me do that here, and the move forward. 

First with reference to the passage in Luke’s gospel,  we are told by the skeptic that the “women tell the disciple what they saw, but the disciples all say, (and in the words of the skeptic) “Oh you did not.”  First off let me say that the skeptic is incorrect in how the disciples addressed the women. Now this does bring an interesting point. That is that the women’s testimony was not believed by the disciples when they told it to them. Why weren’t the women believed by the disciples when they told the men that they had seen the empty grave and seen the Lord?

This is actually pretty common knowledge in a patriarchal culture like Israel, where the testimony of two women in a court of law was equal to the testimony of one man. So in a patriarchal culture a woman’s testimony was not worth its weight in a court of law; and with reference to a “dead guy coming back to life” it weighed less.  This is what is known as embarrassing testimony, which is also known as the Principle of Embarrassment.[1]

The Principle of Embarrassment is a demonstration of one of those nuances in the New Testament, and at times in other writing where e reasons why these passages provide the New Testament with the credibility, because in a patriarchal society the men were supposed to be the brave ones going to the tomb, and not the women.  These women’s testimony would be proven true upon further investigation. 

Let’s move now to Matthew and Mark’s accounts. Our skeptic tells us that in Matthew’s gospel, the “women run away and did tell the disciples” and Mark’s gospel tells us that the “women run away and didn’t tell anyone.”  However in order to get the full picture of this, all three synoptic gospels must come into clear focus.

Both Matthew and Luke bring to the forefront that the women’s testimony of the LORD had risen, while Mark’s gospel states that the women were silent.  This is interesting because there are two gospel writers who bear witness to a testimony, and another gospel writer who gives a different look to the resurrection witness (John’s gospel).  Is there anything to be gleaned from this? Yes.

Mark is the transcriber of the gospel bearing his name. In penning it, he is also Peter’s “secretary” or scribe to the events of the gospel account.  Peter is mentioned in John’s gospel as having been there with John.[2]

While Mark’s gospel states that the women did not say anything, the question we should be asking is, “How long did they not say anything?”  The disciples had to have known something about the grave being empty.  How did they find out if the women were there first, and they didn’t say anything (Mark)?[3]

Allow me to paint the big picture so as to see it in its clarity. Remember these accounts are what is known as historical narratives.

Getting the Big Picture

The women go to the tomb, and when they get there, they see the stone rolled away.  The gospel writers are very consistent and in agreement that the women eyewitnessed the empty grave, and the body of Jesus no longer in that grave.

Finding this absolutely astounding, (after all, they did see Him die), emotions start stirring around.  Shock and fear of the unknown about a dead man coming to life, amazement, and a whole plethora of other emotions take over.  

Matthew and Luke say that the women reported what they had seen to the disciples. Luke brings out that their testimony was not believed until Luke 24:12 when Peter gets up and runs to the grave to see for himself.  Peter’s connection to the Mark’s gospel is his narrative to what he saw.  He knows the women said some things, but I think it is safe to say, that even though Mark states they did not say anything, he write this to mean it to be a momentary silence. Something like your Messiah raising from the dead, fulfilling His words, is not something one can keep quiet about. They could not be kept silent from declaring that “He’s Alive!”[4]  

If you put all this into one big package, I believe it is clear that the events recorded by all four gospel writers are not in contradiction with one another. The gospel writers were independent of one another. None of them needed the other to write the events they had eyewitnessed, or in Luke’s told by eyewitnesses.

Tell us what you think.  If you have found this series interesting, please know that you can retrieve all the posts in this series by using the links below:

Do the Gospel Accounts Contradict Who Went to Jesus’ Grave?

Are there contradictions in the time the women went to the tomb?

Are the Reports of What Was Seen at Jesus’ Tomb in Conflict?

Angels or Angel, Men or Man? Who Announced His Resurrection?

The Challenge of the Testimony by the Angel(s) to the Women at Jesus’ Tomb


[1]  This is known as the Principle of Embarrassment. The Principle of Embarrassment is applied historical documents to evaluate their trustworthiness, authenticity, and veracity. Briefly stated, the Principle is statements by authors which tend to disparage their own agenda are more trustworthy.  Applying this to the Bible, this principle implies the veracity of the historicity of events described in the Bible.

[2]  I don’t know whether you have noticed it or not, but there is an interesting parenthetic written by John about his and Peter’s speed in getting to the tomb.  Check out John 20:3-7.  Who got to the tomb first?

[3] It looks like Mark gives only part of the details, where the other three Evangelists tell more of the details.  You have to look at the whole context of the event when all the possible passages show part or all of the event. The event in this scenario is the Resurrection of Christ.

[4] Mary Magdalene’s eyewitness testimony falls in line with all that the other women had experienced.  The timeline of the full event is not given, but this does not sacrifice the truthfulness of the texts.


robgoodgravatarRob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a confused, chaotic, “brave new world.”

He is available to come and speak to your church, college club, or group. Find out what people are saying.  If you would like to support this ministry with a one time or monthly gift, you can do that by clicking here

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