ABC:John 20

From BibleStrength

Verse 1 includes on its "List of Biblical Contradictions" the question, "Who Was At the Empty Tomb?"[1] also claims this is a contradiction.[2]

That this is not a contradiction should of course be patently obvious. None of the verses remotely appear to contradict one another. Matthew 28 mentions two of the three present, Mary Magdalene and another Mary. Mark 16 mentions all three, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Jesus, and Salome. John 20 mentions only Mary Magdalene. Luke 24 mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Jesus, Joanna (who may be the same as Salome and/or the mother of Zebedee's children in Matthew 27:56), and other women.

Rather than a contradiction, it is a proof multiple perspectives were being recorded, a proof against the erroneous claim the Gospels were produced from a single source (Q hypothesis). If one author was aware of one person present, another of two people, and another that three were there, it is in no way a contradiction. Or one writer may see fit to mention only one, another two, and yet another writer to mention all persons present.

In no way does it contradict, it simply means less detail was provided about those present by different writers. Had the Matthew or John passages said "ONLY X persons were at the sepulchre" than that would be a contradiction, but to put words in the mouth of the writers when that is not what they said is to falsely accuse the Bible of a contradiction that does not in fact exist.

Verse 10 claims the Bible is wrong about the following passage in their section "Was the Stone Rolled Away?", and makes the following comments (italicized):[2]

In actuality there were two different visits by the women and disciples. Compare Mark 16:8,10, and John 20:2,18 in particular, both of which clearly distinguish between the two visits. The first time only Mary Magdalene ran to tell the disciples, as seen from Mark 16:8 and John 20:2. The Interactive Bible has an excellent chronology of what occurred.[3] The critic is failing to mention crucial verses in Mark 16 and John 20 which reveal there were multiple visits by multiple women who went to tell different people.

First Visit, Three Women

First Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early while it is still dark, leaves, and runs to tell Peter and John, who both hurry to see for themselves. Mark 16 describes two other women accompanying her, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. John 20 appears to describe Mary Magdalene's account as verses 1-18 are all clearly from her perspective and she is mentioned by name 4 times in the chapter. Mark 16 on the other hand is the account of the other two women, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, both of whom, unlike Mary, did not go tell the disciples immediately afterward. Thus Mark 16 states that they were afraid and did not tell others right away, while John 20, Mary Magdalene's account, states that she did run to tell others. Observe that John 18:11 like Mark 16:8 describes Mary Magdalene having the same initial impression of fear and sorrow, thinking Jesus' body had been stolen.

Second Visit, Women, Peter, and John

Mary Magdalene, unlike Mary the mother of James and Salome, has run to tell everyone. Presumably the other two women are there, and upon hearing her story, end up telling what they had been afraid to before. (cp. Mark 16:8, Luke 24:10) On hearing all of this, both Peter and John come to see for themselves. The rest of the eleven do not believe, but Mary Magdalene and other women come with Peter and John.

Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John all encounter the risen Lord on this second trip. Mary Magdalene, having come to the sepulchre a second time with the disciples, stays after they leave, crying. She meets Jesus, and then runs a second time to tell more disciples what has happened. (John 20:11-20) Peter and John while returning from the sepulchre are puzzling over the disappearance of Jesus' body when Jesus accosts them and gives them a verbal thrashing for their lack of belief. (Luke 24:25-26) Other women also apparently went as well, and encountered Jesus on the way also. (Matthew 28:8-10)

Verse 12

Jim Meritt of claims a Bible contradiction exists and asks "Whom did they see at the tomb?".[1]

This is actually one of the more difficult alleged contradictions at first sight because so many diverse events occur in a complex order. There are two good explanations of this that I am aware of.

The first is by Steve Rudd at The Interactive Bible with a chart demonstrating what order the events all occurred in, namely (1) Jesus' resurrection and rolling away of the stone witnessed by the guards only, (2) Mary, Mary, and Salome go to the tomb while it's still dark, (3) They see the stone rolled away but don't enter, (4) Mary Magdalene runs to tell John and Peter, (5) Peter and John go to the tomb, (6) 5 women arrive at the tomb a second time, (7) The women meet the angels, (8) The women except Mary leave to tell the disciples, (9) Mary alone stays and meets Jesus at the tomb, (10) Jesus then appears to the other women, (11) The women meet with the disciples to tell them what happened.[4]

The second is by the Scofield Study Bible III in its note for Matthew 28:1 which presents roughly the same order: (1) Three women go to the tomb, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; (2) The women find the stone removed by an angel; (3) Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John; (4) Meanwhile Mary the mother of James, Salome, and the other women arrive at the tomb and meet angels assuring them Jesus is risen - they leave to tell the disciples; (5) Peter and John arrive at the tomb, look around, and leave; (6) Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb weeping and meets Jesus; (7) Jesus appears to the other women as they are on their way to meet the disciples.[5]

At any rate, there were multiple arrivals by multiple people at the tomb and this is evident just from reading any one of the Gospel accounts in context.

  • Matthew: First the women go to the sealed tomb. (27:61) Then they return a day later. (28:1)
  • Mark: First the women go to the tomb to see where Jesus is laid. (15:47) Then they return to annoint Jesus. (16:1)
  • Luke: First the women go to the tomb to see where Jesus is laid. (23:55-56) The next day they return to anoint Jesus. (24:1) Then Peter runs to the tomb to look for himself. (28:12)
  • John: Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. (20:1) Peter and John go see for themselves. (20:3) Mary apparently went with them because she stays at the tomb. (20:11)

None of the accounts contradict one another and all can be true. All the accounts except John mention the original arrival of the women to see where Jesus was laid, John doesn't mention it. Then the women all go to the tomb to anoint Jesus, all the accounts mention this, although John mentions only Mary Magdalene and Matthew mentions only her and another Mary. Luke and John mention the visit of Peter and the book of John mentions John and Mary Magdalene went with Peter as well.

It's not a contradiction for four different accounts to mention varying levels of detail about an event, if they all related the same exact detail there would be no need for four accounts, and they'd obviously have copied from one another and conspired to make a single cohesive account, right? Meritt appears to foolishly assume that "contradiction" means simply relating different levels of detail, a definition that makes absolutely no sense.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Meritt, Jim (1992). A list of Biblical contradictions. Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 TheThinkingAtheist. Bible Contradictions. Retrieved from
  3. Rudd, Steve. Matthew 28:1 Sequence of Events at the Tomb with Mary and the Apostles. The Interactive Bible.
  4. Rudd, Steve. Matthew 28:1 sequence of events at the tomb with Mary and the apostles. The Interactive Bible. Retrieved from
  5. Scofield, C.I. (2006). The Scofield Study Bible III. p. 1308. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from