Discussing the eyewitness testimony at the Empty Tomb
Question: Why does the Bible say that Mary Magdalene and another Mary discovered the empty tomb, while another Gospel says that only Mary did, while another says that Simon joined them? This to me seems like inaccuracies in the Bible.
Lee’s answer: It’s important to clarify between a biblical inaccuracy (what others often call a contradiction) and what a Gospel writer simply chose to include or emphasize in his account. A contradiction is to affirm and deny the same thing, at the same time, in the same respect. A contradiction regarding the eyewitness testimony cited would be, for instance, that “only Mary Magdalene went to the empty tomb” – something no Gospel writers say – and “Mary and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1) went to the empty tomb.
To shed a bit more light on the biblical passage you cited, John mentions only Mary Magdalene explicitly at the tomb in his Gospel (John 20:1). But if we read carefully we see in the next verse (20:2) that Mary tells Peter, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb but we don’t know where they have put him!” This supports the other Gospels when they say that other women went to the tomb with Mary, perhaps following closely behind. As the NIV Study Bible says, the we “indicates that there were others with Mary (see Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1,Luke 24:10) though John does not identify them.” So when John wrote his Gospel, he only mentions one woman by name but uses the plural pronoun “we” to indicate that others were with her.
Further, if the Gospel writers, two of whom were among the Twelve disciples of Jesus, wanted to fabricate a story about the resurrected Christ, it is unthinkable that they would have put women at the tomb first. It is well established that a woman’s testimony in the ancient world was generally not considered to be credible and that they were for the most part not allowed to testify in a court of law.
See, for instance, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, by William Lane Craig.
This essay was written by Lee Strobel and originally appeared in his Investigating Faith newsletter about faith.