Are Luke 24:6 and Mark 16:6-7 in Contradiction?

Have you ever noticed the change that Luke 24:6 makes on Mark 16:6-7? Below are the two passages (in the King James Version). See if you can catch what Luke has done to the words spoken by the angel to the women at Jesus’s tomb. Here’s Mark 16:6-7:

And he [the angel] saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

Notice the present tense of the angel’s statement in Mark (“he goeth before you”). Also notice that the disciples are very specifically commanded to go to Galilee to see Jesus. Now look at what Luke does in rewriting Mark’s version of the angel’s words (Luke 24:6):

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you [about his resurrection] when he was yet in Galilee . . .

Do you see what Luke has done? He has changed Mark’s present tense and command to go into Galilee into a past tense observation (“remember how he spake . . . in Galilee”). And notice that Luke has thereby absented from the passage the angel’s command to go into Galilee.

Isn’t that shocking? Why did Luke do this?

Here’s a plausible surmise: Luke did this because all of the resurrection stories in his gospel take place in and around Jerusalem. For reasons we can only speculate on, Luke does not want the disciples leaving Jerusalem. It messes up his version of the story. So he changed Mark’s angel-statement from a command to go to Galilee (to see Jesus resurrected) into a recollection of what Jesus (while in Galilee) said of his resurrection. In Luke’s version, the apostles meet Jesus in Jerusalem, not Galilee (see Luke 24:33; and Acts 1:4). By contrast, Matthew follows Mark’s narrative and puts the disciple’s post-resurrection encounter with Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 28:16).

Sometimes people put forth the idea that Luke was a careful historian. But by simply looking at the free way that Luke made use of one of his sources (Mark), it is not difficult to conclude that, in fact, Luke probably played loose with at least some of his other sources as well. In the service of his own peculiar narrative purposes—and far from being a dispassionate and objective user of his source—Luke treated Mark exactly as he pleased.  He probably did the same with other sources as well.

Does this mean that Luke and Mark are, indeed, in contradiction?

Well, yes, it does. Mark had his purposes. Luke had others. Sometimes the straightforward explanation is the best (and arrives with its own clarities and pleasures).

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Are Luke 24:6 and Mark 16:6-7 in Contradiction?

  1. TomH says:

    Santi,

    You ignore the importance of testimony in the Jewish religion. Giving accurate testimony was one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The relevance of testimony was enhanced in Christianity with respect to the apostles, who were chosen especially because they were eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry. Thus, in early Christian morality, bearing true witness was intimately linked with the foundation of the Christian religion, which is the gospel (see I Cor. 15:1-11).

    But, as you point out, there is a divergence between Luke and Mark. I submit that there are many possible explanations for the divergence other than promotion of an agenda. For example, Luke and Mark may have been relying only on eyewitnesses and may have had access to different eyewitnesses when they wrote their accounts. This would accord with the emphasis in early Christian morality on bearing true witness.

    Does Luke have an obligation to report Mark’s historical statements if he cannot corroborate them? Certainly not.

    Luke reports that many people had undertaken to compile accounts, which implies some controversy and perhaps a strong interest in getting the facts right. This totally contradicts the notion of the gospel accounts being written as “false history.”

  2. santitafarella says:

    Tom,

    Your points are taken. The author of Luke may have been as honest as Abe Lincoln and may, for example, have thought Mark simply got that part of his story wrong. As far as Luke knew, Jesus was seen in Jerusalem, not Galilee. Maybe Luke had simply heard otherwise from Mark.

    I agree that is a possibility: Luke is correcting Mark.

    But that’s the problem, isn’t it? How do we say anything definite about the interpretation of these ancient texts (to which we have no access to the authors, or the context for their writing, or their ideological and rhetorical purposes)?

    Maybe Matthew, on meeting Luke, would have thought him a heretic (for Matthew follows Mark on where Jesus met the disciples). Likewise, John might have regarded the synoptic gospels as heretical. We simply don’t know.

    It may also be that Mark would have regarded the authors of Matthew, Luke, and John as heretics. Mark, afterall, seems, if read all by himself, to be blatantly dismissive of the apostles (and he doesn’t even have a resurrection meeting of Jesus with them at the end of his gospel). Likewise, Mark has no use for the “Q” sayings source that Luke and Matthew like so much. Maybe Mark didn’t know it, but maybe he knew it and didn’t like it. That’s possible as well.

    Lots and lots of things are possible. What’s true is not available to us.

    This is why it is not smart to read these four texts as if the authors share a common viewpoint. They don’t. They were written at different times, in different contexts, and in different places. And they were written by authors who appear to be frequently at cross purposes with one another, and with different audiences believing different things. They might well even have regarded one another (insofar as they knew of one another) as promoting false things about Jesus. And yet, by the contingencies of history, the four gospels have been decontextualized and conflated into a unified theological vision by subsequent generations (with John’s gospel, with its high christology, weirdly governing the overall understanding of the whole).

    I’d be curious, for example, to hear your views on these two books on Mark. I find them fascinating and persuasive. Perhaps if you get to them over the next year or two, you can let me know what you think:

    —The first is Mary Ann Tolbert’s astonishing reading of Mark, “Sowing the Gospel”. Here’s the amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Sowing-Gospel-Marks-Literary-Historical-Perspective/dp/0800629744/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276705737&sr=8-2

    —The second book is equally thought provoking. It raises the question of Mark’s literary sources. Were they Homeric?: http://www.amazon.com/Homeric-Epics-Gospel-Mark/dp/0300080123/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276705883&sr=8-1

    I raise the Homeric issue because even if Luke treats Mark judiciously, it is not at all certain that Mark was doing something historical himself. Indeed, Mark may well have been more concerned with doing something literary (as opposed to historical). And by the ironies of history, Luke, attempting to do something historical, may have incorporated sources into his two books where at least some of the authors—most obviously Mark—may have had very different purposes (specifically literary ones).

    And I would also note that Luke may have had his eye on literary motifs as well. Treating the gospels as (primarily) attempts at history may be a genre interpretation error. See here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Does-New-Testament-Imitate-Homer/dp/0300097700/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276706581&sr=1-2

    —Santi

  3. concerned christian says:

    While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John talked about appearances of Jesus in both Jerusalem and Galilee, the Gospel of Luke talked about the appearances in Jerusalem only. It is possible to combine the two stories by the fact that Jews have to visit Jerusalem on the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Weeks as instructed by the Torah: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.” (Deuteronomy 16:16) Given that all the Disciples came from Galilee, they could have left for home after the Passover which coincides with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, as mentioned in all four Gospels. Later they came back to celebrate the Feast of Weeks and witness the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit according to Luke. Regarding historical facts, I will pay more attention to first and second century documents than to twenty and twenty first centuries speculation.

    • santitafarella says:

      Concerned:

      It’s easy to propose that Jesus appeared to the apostles in both places, but it does not account for Luke’s curious and dramatic change of Mark. It also does not account for why neither Mark nor Matthew appear to know anything about appearances of Jesus to the apostles in Jerusalem.

      It might just as well be the case that Jesus appeared in neither place, and that the stories are contradictory folkloric traditions. We just don’t know—and barring some dramatic ancient documentary or acheological finds, we’ll never know.

      As for treating the late 1st and 2nd century Christian authors as more “in the know” than 21st century scholars, I think that is a ridiculous position. Ancient authors, though living at the time, had very, very limited access to holistic perspectives on their information sources. A contemporary scholar like Bart Ehrman, for example, has access to a great deal more information about the first century than someone living at the time did. He doesn’t have the physical feel for the period in the way a living person would have, but he has the historical breadth to adjudicate evidence that no one living at the time could hope to match. What a first century person knew (or thought they knew from their limited regional vantage) about the stories told about Jesus is very different from the systematic and careful knowledge built up by contemporary scholarship. We are on a mountain; they were in a valley.

      —Santi

      • concerned christian says:

        Santi:
        This is a great subject for a long discussion. Unfortunately I can’t spend enough time to put together a detailed response, but I will raise two issues which need to be discussed in detail:
        1. I will use the mountain as a key to studying historical events but I will play it backward; I will put the original event at the top of the mountain, for example concerning Jesus I will put him at the top of the mountain history. The elevation is the time dimension, as we descended the mountain we move forward in time, the spread of the mountain is the various witnesses at different places who relate to this event. So those who have the best understanding of Jesus are those closely related to him in time and space, those who lived with him and wrote about him in the Gospels and NT, namely the Apostles. The next most valuable witnesses are those who followed the Apostles, the Early Church fathers, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement and Origin and so forth. As we move forward in time and descended the mountain, we may loose our view of the top, but every now and then we may have a better view of the top. So yes while some modern historian can give us a better appreciation of ancient events, it is always better to give more weights to ancient historians IF you can establish that they are knowledgeable honest and fair.
        2. As for academic research, I am a scientist and I am always skeptical about new theories because I know that researchers, especially in Academia, need to come up with new ideas all the time to move up the Academic ladder. These ideas may improve or even totally change our understanding of a subject which is great, but most of the time these “New Ideas” lose their luster after a while and they get replaced with a “New New Idea!”

  4. gary says:

    Can you really trust your English Bible to be God’s true Word?

    Have you ever had an evangelical or Reformed Christian say this to you:

    “THAT passage of the Bible, in the original Greek, does NOT mean what the simple, plain reading of the passage seems to say in English.”

    It happens to me all the time in my conversations with Baptists, evangelicals, and fundamentalists on my blog. They state: “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” was mistranslated. “This is my body…this is my blood” is a metaphorical expression, “Baptism does now save us” is figurative speech for what happens to us spiritually when we ask Christ into our hearts.

    What they are basically saying is that unless you speak ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek…you can’t read and really understand the Bible without the help of an educated Churchman!

    This morning I came across an excellent article on this subject, written by Jordan Cooper, a Lutheran pastor. I am going to give the link to his article below. I have copied a couple of his statements here:

    “So here is a question that we all need to ask ourselves when doing this (refusing to accept the simple, plain, English translation of a passage of Scripture): If a verse seems to disprove your theological beliefs, and you translate it in some way that doesn’t fit with any of the dozens of major English translations of the Bible, and that unique translation just happens to fit your own theological biases, could it be that it is in fact you who are in the wrong? Could you be reading your own preconceived theological convictions back into the text?”

    “I know it can be frustrating when you are constantly told that Scripture can’t be understood unless you learn (an ancient) language or read ancient documents that you don’t have either the time or the energy to study. Honestly, if you have a few good English translations at your side, and you take the time to compare them to one another, you have all the tools you need to understand the meaning of the Bible.”

    Link to Pastor Cooper’s original article:

    http://justandsinner.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-wrong-use-of-biblical-languages.html

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