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This outline was prepared using the NIV translation. Then it was changed to the ASV of 1901 (which is now in the public domain), because of copyright restrictions. If one prefers the KJV, he will find that, though there are a few textual differences, only one has any impact on the chronological arrangement given in this outline - and that difference is only slight. For that part of the outline (which deals with Matthew 28:9), an alternate sequence of events is presented.
Though the original writings are inspired, this outline definitely isn't! It is not the "final answer" to the question of how the different accounts go together. There are many details not included in the accounts, including the time frame of many of the events. (An attempt has been made to point out areas of uncertainty.) Also, within a single appearance, there may be some question as to the exact chronological timing of some of the minor details. (Example: Do the women remember Jesus' words (Luke 24:8) before or after the angel tells them to look at the place where Jesus had been laid (Matthew 28:6 and Mark 16:6)?
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It is a common feature for one account to mention the total number of individuals involved in some specific event, and another to mention only the predominant or main characters. Example: Some accounts will mention the presence of two angels at the resurrection, whereas others will mention only one angel - the one who speaks to the people. [This feature is common throughout the gospels.] See the additional comments below.
When people are quoted, the quotations will be an accurate representation of what the individual said, but not necessarily the exact words. (This is due, in part, to the fact that the words were spoken in Aramaic - the language predominantly spoken by the Jews - but were written in Greek - the "official" language of the entire Roman Empire.) As a result, different accounts will often say the same thing, but in different ways. Furthermore, the written accounts will not necessarily include everything that was mentioned by the speaker. As a result, different accounts will often include different sections of the total speech. [These features were accepted literary practices at the time these accounts were written, and occur frequently throughout the gospels.]
There are different stages in the people's acceptance (belief) of what happened at the resurrection. For example, a person may reach the point of believing that Jesus rose from the dead, yet still not understand that his resurrection included his physical body. A person may conclude that Jesus has risen from the dead, but think (incorrectly) that he is a spirit.
John tends to use the Roman concept of "day" - which is similar to what most people use today; the other gospels tend to use the Jewish concept of "day" - which begins at 6 p.m. during what we would call the previous evening (6 hours earlier).
The authors of these various accounts of the resurrection were interested primarily in communicating the message of Jesus - who he was (and is), and what he did, etc. It was not their primary purpose to arrange everything in chronological order. Some things are in chronological order, but the authors considered themselves free to place things in other arrangements (such as topical), if doing so would accomplish their purposes better than chronological order. [This might not necessarily be an issue in the accounts of the post-resurrection events, but it does occur frequently in the gospel accounts.]
The phrases "the eleven" and "the twelve" are both used (in different accounts), to refer to the entire group of apostles (with Judas no longer present). In some instances, these terms were used as titles - names that designated the entire group, even if not all were present. (Matthew, Mark and Luke use the word "eleven"; whereas John and 1 Corinthians use the word "twelve.")
Depending on the context, the term "disciple" sometimes refers only to the 11 remaining apostles; and sometimes to any (or all) of the followers of Jesus. Within the scope of the verses in this outline, the term "apostle" is used only in reference to the 11 remaining apostles, and the term "brother" is used as a synonym to the term "disciple."
At times, an author will compile a selection of Jesus' teachings, which were spoken on different occasions, and present them together at one time. In such cases, the author may choose to omit details that he would consider unimportant and trivial, such as the chronological order of the various teachings.
Jesus most likely said the same things on several occasions, using repetition to help his disciples to remember them better. (Others did this, for example, Peter - 2 Peter 1:12-15.) As a result, two accounts may present similar teachings at different chronological times in their accounts.
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THEMES COMMON TO MANY (OR ALL) ACCOUNTS - The empty tomb; seeing the resurrected Jesus (incl. the fact that he has a physical body); the good news (to be communicated to others); the ascension.
MATTHEW - Going to Galilee to see Jesus; the truth vs. the lie.
MARK - The unbelief of the disciples.
LUKE - The fact that both Old Testament prophecy and Jesus' own predictions were fulfilled.
JOHN - A few selected events described in greater detail.
ACTS - Being called to be witnesses around the world.
1 CORINTHIANS - Many appearances of Jesus.
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Opponents of the Bible will be quick to point out that parallel accounts of an event often mention different numbers of people (or angels, etc.) as being present. At the first visit to the tomb, Matthew mentions two women, whereas Luke mentions three, and says that others were also present - a total of at least five people. Whether through ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation, these opponents are quick to point out that this happens many times in the New Testament, but they fail to mention that this was an accepted practice at the time these documents were written. Instead, they superimpose their own criteria onto the Word, claiming that each account MUST always mention the same number of people, or else the Bible is in "error." They should, instead, take heed to the words of James, who reminds us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19) ... and not be so eager to jump to false conclusions.
Rarely, if ever, will a single account include every possible detail surrounding an event. Each account will include what the author considers important for the message he is communicating. One author may mention the total number of people present, and another may focus only on the main characters who were involved. But this doesn't mean that the one author forgot that other people were present. Take, for example, the apostle John, who only mentions Mary Magdalene, when he mentions the first visit to the tomb. (This is the same incident in which Matthew mentions 2 women, Mark mentions 3, and Luke mentions at least 5.) John knows others were present, as testified by his quote of what Mary said to the disciples: "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him" (John 20:2). The word "we" indicates that more than one person was present when Mary visited the tomb! But since John's intent was to write about the woman who first saw Jesus, she is the only one he directly mentions.
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Dennis Hinks © 1999