In recent days I have taken up a task I had given up on a number of years ago: harmonizing the resurrection accounts in the Gospels.  I hope to blog on this in considerable detail in the future, but wanted to explore a particular anomaly I have encountered that has me befuddled – an anomaly I am hoping you, the community, can help me resolve.

All of the Evangelists – with the exception of Luke[1] – report that Jesus appeared to several of Jesus’ women followers after they saw the angels in the empty tomb, but before they reported the incident to the apostles.  Luke, however, does not mention a resurrection appearance to the women.  According to Luke the women discover the empty tomb, encounter angels who tell them Jesus is risen, and then leave to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.[2]  If this was all there was to Luke’s account it would not be much of a problem, since each of the Evangelists omit certain details that the others chose to include.  While it would be a curious detail to omit, its omission would be just that: a curiosity.

But the story is complicated by the testimony of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  

Jesus appeared to these disciples in disguised form while they were journeying toward the village of Emmaus.  As they talked with Jesus, they recounted to Him the events of recent days, beginning with Jesus’ crucifixion and culminating in the women’s report.  In their own words, “Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (24:22-24) 

Why didn’t they relay the women’s report of having seen Jesus alive from the dead?  Surely that testimony would be more “amazing” than the angelic appearance and announcement of the resurrection, so why would they choose to report the angelic appearance rather than Jesus’ appearance if they were aware of Jesus’ appearance to the women?  This seems inexplicable.  And that they were aware of Jesus’ appearance to the women, there can be no doubt.  The other Evangelists are clear that the women did not report to the disciples until after they had seen Jesus (Mt 28:8-11a; Mk 16:8-10; Jn 20:14-18).  So if the two disciples were present for the women’s testimony as they claim to have been, then they must have known that they saw the resurrected Jesus.  So again, why didn’t they report this to Jesus?

As I have been mulling this over in my head, I have come up with at least two options to explain the apparent conflict between Luke and the other Evangelists.  The first option is to conclude that Luke was simply unaware of the tradition that Jesus appeared to the women disciples.  This is possible if one accepts Markan priority (meaning Mark was the first Gospel to be written), and if one accepts Lucan dependence on Mark as the basis for his own gospel, and if one accepts that Mark 16:9-20 is not original to Mark’s Gospel, since Mark’s Gospel without the longer ending lacks any reference to Jesus’ appearance to the women.  Of course, we still have to consider the fact that Luke is writing his gospel approximately 30 years after the events.  Surely the tradition would have been well-circulated by that time, and thus known to Luke.  Even if it hadn’t been well-circulated, Luke tells us his account is based on research from eyewitness and other written accounts of the life of Christ.  It is unreasonable to think he would not have stumbled on this tradition during his research had he not already known of it.  After all, Matthew was clearly aware of it, and Matthew wrote his gospel at approximately the same time Luke wrote his.  For these reasons, I don’t find this explanation very persuasive. 

A second option is to conclude that while Luke was aware of Jesus’ appearance to the women, he purposely omitted it – not only from his own report of the women’s experience, but also from the testimony of the two disciples.  On this explanation, the two disciples were aware of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the women, and even recounted the report to Jesus, but Luke chose to excise that portion of their testimony in his own report of their conversation.  

This invites a question: Why would Luke purposely edit such an important event out of his account?  It is difficult to say since we do not have access to Luke’s mind, but the apologetic liability of the appearance to the women could be the answer.  In the social context of the first century, the testimony of women was not considered reliable.  In such a cultural context, reporting women as the principal witnesses of the resurrection would be rather embarrassing.  In fact, it could cause some to doubt the church’s claim that Jesus was raised from the dead.  That it was an apologetic liability is evidenced by Celsus’ (2nd century non-Christian) response to the story.  He discredited the resurrection saying, “Who saw Jesus rise from the dead? A hysterical female.”  It is likely that Luke was trying to avoid scandalizing his readers with this embarrassing historical fact, and thus chose to eliminate it from the reports of both the women and the two disciples. 

What do you think?  Do you have a different perspective, or another insight?  Is there another solution to the problem I am not seeing?  

[1]If one does not accept the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, then Mark would need to be included as well.
[2]The most popular harmonization of the accounts has Jesus appearing to two different groups of women.  This is a plausible harmonization, but for the sake of ease I will only refer to a single resurrection appearance to the women disciples.