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An angel
And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.
Matthew 28:2  NASB

A young man
Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.
Mark 16:5  NASB

Two men
While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing.
Luke 24:4  NASB

Two angels
… and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.
John 20:12  NASB

 

SAB Contradiction 485

 

Total confusion
Interesting enough not only critics, also theologians are really in trouble about the information of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels. The disturbing aspect is not only the miracle part of the occurrence, but also that a real story, a real narrative, is lacking in any of the Gospels. Only small collections of rather loose messages concerning the resurrection form the substance of the information we get per Gospel. It has always been a difficulty for Christian theologians to bring all information in right coherence until this day. That’s strange for an event with such a  far-reaching impact for the Christian faith, isn’t it? How is it possible that the apostles who were the publishers of the Gospels, didn’t seem to be aware of the problems they created: many people after them would be in trouble with their information about the main point of the Christian faith: Jesus’ resurrection. Didn’t the apostles themselves meet penetrating questions about the subject, in their life? How could they be so naive with their written information? That’s the real point. Jesus’ resurrection is in the first place an information problem, not a dogmatic problem, not a matter of “no it isn’t – yes it is”. We simply need decent and not questionable information, don’t we? Earlier I wrote: And it is pretty easy to turn these questions into Bible Contradictions. E.g. were there two (as in Matthew) or three (Mark, Luke) women near the tomb? Were there two (Luke) angels or only one (Matthew)?  (Compare the article: Were men or angels inside or outside the tomb when the women arrived?) Now we have to face the last one: Whom did the women see at the tomb?
 
 

Key for understanding
Happily the apostles have given us the key how to read the Gospels. And this key is really essential for right understanding. This apostolic testimony is in 1 John 1:3-4 “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

“We proclaim …” and “These things we write …” are so-called gnomic presents and used “to express customary actions and general truths.” (De Witt Burton, Moods and Tenses, 1955/repr. 1898, p. 8.) The apostles made known that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Already from their first encounter with Jesus they did, still being his disciples. That (we proclaim) were their customary actions from the beginning (1 John 1:1, John 1:42, 47). And also the apostles were always writing about what they saw and heard being with Jesus. “These things we write …” was also part of their customary actions. Always when they proclaimed the Gospel, written texts were part of the Good News and made our joy complete (v. 4). Good News without complete joy is no Good News, is it? So writing was part of the apostolic preaching from the beginning.
The key for understanding is that the task of the Gospel writers was to inform by delivering their notes they had made in the presence of Jesus and not to make fine eloquent stories of them.

 

Unpolished is no crime
The customary writing activity of the apostles and coworkers is the key to understand the Gospels and particularly the resurrection messages. The generation of the apostles knew that and they could immediately accept these messages without an a priori check on the internal relations between these messages. May be that was the reason that the apostles couldn’t accept what the women spoke to them about the resurrection. Only one woman, Salome (Joanna), had written and there were always several (speedy)writers at work. They overlooked that also Moses in a special revelation was alone with The LORD on the mountain to receive and write His messages (Exodus 34:27). 
It was indeed Jesus' goal to send out his disciples as his messengers – apostoloi, those who are sent (stelloo) from the source (apo), normally with written messages (post). Writing was a customary and holy task for the apostles. Through all ages this has been terribly misunderstood in theology in which one nearly only has focused on: Believe, believe, believe! As if it is a sin to know what one believes.

 

An angel
Speaker reduction. In the resurrection message of Matthew only one angel is mentioned. That is because there is in the description only one direct speech of an angel. Certainly there was also a second angel, but Matthew didn’t refer to him as he only delivered that one direct speech (28:5-7). That’s what we call speaker reduction: only the attendance of the speaker is mentioned, which may give the impression that there was only one angel.

Speaker reduction is also applied in the story of Legion in Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39, while Matthew is speaking about two possessed men (Matthew 8:28).

 

A young man
One of the angels who had led the women into the tomb had taken place at the right side. Probably the other was still standing while the women entered. Here again speaker reduction as the message of that one messenger is central in the description: Mark 16:6-7. He was not a normal man, not only did he wear a white robe, but when the women left him they were trembling and astonishment had gripped them (v. 8). The women knew that it was a divine messenger: an angel. (See further.)

 

Two men
The women saw two men in white, two angels, before they entered for the second time the tomb. No speaker reduction here, as they both spoke to them in the same way (the men said to them, … Luke 24:5-7). This was not inside the grave but outside. It would not be appropriate to neglect that both spoke to the women with nearly the same words. They were not ordinary men, but divine messengers in dazzling clothing; also the reaction of the women is meaningful (v. 5): the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
Forgotten by the critic is that Luke mentioned explicitly in 24:22-23 that angels are meant: "But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive." So the criticism isn't very impressive. It is clear that Mark spoke in the same way about an angel with the expression "a young man … wearing a white robe".

 

Two angels
When Mary was leaving the tomb she turned to see whether the other women were following here. But then her eyes were caught by the white shining angels. They asked why she was crying. No speaker reduction as they both posed a similar question as we learn from the used plural introduction: And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Exactly the same question came from Jesus himself when Mary turned again to move forward and saw Him (John 20:15).

 

Conclusion
We learn from the resurrection messages in the gospels that the fragments given in the four Gospels all together form a wonderful picture. Two angels were speaking to the women about the resurrection and they showed them the place where Jesus had laid. There they found the shroud as the empty cocoon of a butterfly and not mistakenly witnessing of Jesus’ resurrection. The women had seen the burial and how He was laid, now they saw the same shroud in the form of the body, but without the body. Jesus arose through the shroud just as He revealed himself in chambers with closed doors and windows (John 20:27).

No Bible Contradiction

 

See also:
How many women came to the sepulcher?
Were the men or angels inside the tomb sitting or standing?
Jesus’ Stenographers 2

For a complete overview of the Passion and Resurrection Story download the book "Jesus' Stenographers" for the Appendix "Highlights of the Passion and Resurrection Story", p. 316 – 350.