In this week's episode of Life, Love, & Light, we examine the four gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ by the women. It has long been observed that there are numerous disparities in the empty tomb stories. Unfortunately, for some readers, these variations and inconsistencies have given rise to doubt and even disbelief. Since the four canonical gospels diverge not only in details, but in personal viewpoints, we must delve deeper to discover what was deemed absolutely necessary to convey. To deal with these issues, we ask: What is the historical bedrock of each resurrection story? What is dramatization for effect? What is the elaboration of tradition by the early church? And what is a developing theological understanding of Jesus as the Son of God?
In the process, we discover that the diverse ways of dramatizing the details of the empty tomb story—who saw and heard what and when— matter less than the essential meaning and message of the story itself. The tomb was empty for only one reason: Jesus had risen from the dead. Inconsistencies in the telling do not rule out truthfulness. Some might even say they add to a story’s authenticity. Each eye witness remembered and recounted the experience differently. Each attributed greater or lesser importance to certain aspects of the revelation. But the women who discovered the empty tomb and all who later saw the risen Jesus contributed in some way to the earliest oral tradition. All were convinced that the Jesus they had known before had now returned from the dead, utterly transformed but entirely recognizable. They knew this to be true because they had seen him with their own eyes. Some inconsistencies may indicate that each evangelist was determined to retell the empty tomb and resurrection story in his own particular way, with his own unique emphasis, articulating his own theological viewpoint. But these “teaching agendas” did not change the essential nature of what had actually happened. On the contrary, the kerygma—that is, the apostolic “proclamation” of teaching about the empty tomb and the risen Christ—was based on the core tradition from which all the gospels were written.
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