I noticed something interesting while contrasting the gospels of Mark and
Luke the other day. The passages specifically were Mark 16:5-7 and Luke
24:4-7. On the surface these two passages appear to conflict in their
stories. Mark tells that when they entered the sepulcher they saw a young
man sitting inside clothed in white. In contrast Luke tells that they went
in, they didn’t find the body of Jesus, and (seemingly a bit later) then
TWO men came and STOOD by them in shining garments. I have always believed
in biblical inerrancy. I never really noticed this before, though. Am I
missing something?


A general rule I have noticed in such questions of biblical “error” versus
consistency is that if one begins with the assumption that we have to
independent but accurate descriptions of the event, then without exception
the apparent contradictions are very easily explained. I was a juror in
an attempted murder trial in which the various eye witnesses appeared to
contradict. Yet, when we the jurors got together, we found that the
details did not in fact contradict. The stories were the varied
impressions of different witnesses with different things that they noticed
or emphasized.

Such is the case with Mark 16:5-7 and Luke 24:4-7. There certainly is no
contradiction. Indeed, it is irresponsible to claim that there is. The
“young man” mentioned in Mark was not Jesus. I assume that it was an
angel. The fact that one eye-witness mentions one angel and another
noticed that there were in fact actually two angels is not a
contradiction. For one witness to notice further details than another is
certainly not evidence of contradiction or a cover-up. Similarly, in the
case of the demoniac in the region of the Gadarenes. One witness mentions
two demon-possessed men, while the other mentions only one. I assume that
one of the demoniacs was far more violent and expressive, so one witness
only mentions the one. There is no contradiction. We have two separate,
independent and non-contradictory witnesses, which is exactly what we
would want. If the gospel writers had all the details exactly the same,
what would be the value of more than one witness? The slight differences
actually point toward a stronger evidence of accuracy, as it proves the
witnesses are independent.

My conclusion: there were two angels, but Mark only takes note of one.
My speculation is that only one of the angels actually spoke. This is the
one who Mark notes. It is worth mentioning that Mark was not an actual
eye-witness, but received his testimony, most likely from Peter. Peter
may have mentioned the angel who spoke, not bothering to mention the other
angel. When Mark related the story, he only mentioned the one angel who
spoke. Likely, the witness Luke spoke with was not Peter, and therefore
Luke heard slightly different details of the events as described by Luke.
Bottom line, there is no contradiction of fact here.

John Oakes, PhD

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