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Explaining resurrection details

Published: 7 September 2019 (GMT+10)
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Jack N from Australia writes:

Why did the women go to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus' body (Mark 16:1–2), when He apparently had been dead for three days and decomposition would have started, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already carried out the usual Jewish burial customs of wrapping the body, including 75 pounds of spices (John 19:38–42). There was also supposed to be a guard over the tomb, and women would probably be hesitant about facing the soldiers.

Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:

If you only look at two of the Gospels, you have an incomplete data set. To explain why the women came back, we need to look at all four Gospels, because all give us slightly different details. Together they give us a more complete account.

When Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:58; Mark 15:43). He put Jesus’ body in the tomb (Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:46) and covered it with linen (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46). Nicodemus also helped Joseph of Arimathea and brought 75 pounds1 of spices to anoint Jesus, but everything was rushed because the Sabbath was close at hand, i.e. Friday sunset by our reckoning (John 19:39). The women were there when this happened (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47), so they knew where Jesus’ tomb was. They went back and prepared spices and ointments, but rested on the Sabbath to obey the commandment (Luke 23:56). The women headed for the tomb on the first day of the week, which would be any time after the Sabbath was over (Saturday sundown) with the spices (Luke 24:1). They wondered who might roll the stone away for them (Mark 16:3), but the stone was already rolled away when they got there.

So first, we note that the accounts dovetail together to form a coherent account. We might ask why the women brought more spices, but there are no contradictions between the accounts. We also note that the timing of events probably is the answer. All of the accounts bring up the fact that they had to be done burying Jesus by the time the Sabbath started.

So it’s likely that they got together what they could to bury Jesus quickly; using the new tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had in his garden, and perhaps Nicodemus, as an old man, was already anticipating needing spices for his own burial, hence having 75 pounds on hand (about the amount one would expect for a rich man’s funeral). Perhaps the women saw how rushed everything was and wanted to do it ‘properly’ on Sunday, hence why they went back and prepared what they could so they would be able to go at the earliest possible moment on Sunday morning to finish the job.

This explanation fits perfectly with the accounts of Scripture and what we know about Jewish burial custom of the day. So there is nothing to really object to in this harmonization.

This highlights the importance of reading all the relevant data before coming to conclusions about what is or is not plausible. Also, when one reads Scripture with the goal of finding an objection, one usually succeeds, but the objection is usually not a good one. A better reading of Scripture sees how the different Gospel accounts complement each other.

References and notes

  1. Greek: 100 litras or Roman pounds, which were only 12 ounces rather than 16. So this would have been 34 kg. Return to text.

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