To Galilee or Jerusalem?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Three times in the gospel of Matthew, the writer recorded where certain disciples of Jesus were instructed to meet the Lord in Galilee after His resurrection. During the Passover meal that Jesus ate the night of His betrayal, He informed His disciples, saying, “After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). Three days later, on the day of Jesus’ resurrection when Mary Magdalene and the other women came to the empty tomb of Jesus, Matthew recorded how an angel told them to notify the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection, and to tell them exactly the same thing they were told three days earlier: “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him” (28:7). Then, only three verses later, as the women were on their way to inform the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection and the message given to them by the angel, Matthew recorded how Jesus appeared to them and said: “Rejoice!… Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (28:9-10). Sometime thereafter, “the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them,” and “worshipped Him” (28:16).
According to Matthew, Jesus unquestionably wanted to meet with His disciples in Galilee following His resurrection. However, some skeptics and sincere Bible students have asked why, according to Luke, Jesus met with His disciples in Jerusalem (24:33-43), and then commanded them to stay there until they were “endued with power from on high” (24:49). Does Luke’s account contradict Matthew’s? According to one Bible antagonist,
Matthew, Mark, and John have Jesus saying the disciples are to rendezvous with him in Galilee, northern Israel, about three days journey away. In contradiction to this, Luke’s two books—The Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts, have Jesus planning to rendezvous in Jerusalem….
In the real world, people cannot be in two places at the same time, and to claim otherwise is to be caught up in a contradiction…. The Bible, like the cheating husband, has been caught in a contradiction, exposed as a liar, and therefore can’t be trusted to tell the truth (Smith, 1995).
Is the skeptic right? Is the Bible at fault in this instance? Does it place the same people in two different places “at the same time”? Where exactly did Jesus intend to meet with His disciples—in Galilee or Jerusalem?
The truth is, Jesus met with His disciples in both places, but He did so at different times. One of the reasons so many people allege that two or more Bible passages are contradictory is because they fail to recognize that mere differences do not necessitate a contradiction. For there to be a bona fide contradiction, not only must one be referring to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense, but the same time period must be under consideration. If a person looks at a single door in the back of a building and says, “That door is shut,” but also says, “That door is open,” has he contradicted himself? Not necessarily. The door may have been shut at one moment, but then opened the next by a strong gust of wind. Time and chronology are important factors to consider when dealing with alleged errors in the Bible.
Consider another illustration that more closely resembles the alleged problem posed by the skeptic. At the end of every year, the professional and managerial staff members at Apologetics Press travel to Birmingham, Alabama, for a two-day, end-of-the-year meeting. Suppose the Executive Director reminds us of this event three days beforehand, saying, “Don’t forget about our meeting in Birmingham beginning Thursday,” and then calls our homes on the morning of the meeting as another reminder, saying, “Don’t forget about our meeting today in Birmingham.” Would someone be justified in concluding that our Executive Director had lied about the meeting if, on that Thursday morning, all of the staff members at Apologetics Press (including the Executive Director) showed up at work in Montgomery, and carried out some of the same tasks performed on any other workday? Not at all. Actually, on the day the staff at Apologetics Press leaves for the end-of-the-year meeting, it is common for everyone to work until about 10:30 a.m., and then depart for the meeting in Birmingham. If someone asked whether we went into work in Montgomery on Thursday, one honestly could say, “Yes.” If someone else asked if we traveled to Birmingham on Thursday for a 2-day meeting, again, one could truthfully say, “Yes.” Both statements would be true. We met at both places on the same day, only at different times.
Similarly, Jesus met with His disciples both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, but at different times. On the day of His resurrection, He met with all of the apostles (except Thomas) in Jerusalem just as both Luke and John recorded (Luke 24:33-43; John 20:19-25). Since Jesus was on the Earth for only forty days following His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), sometime between this meeting with His apostles in Jerusalem and His ascension more than five weeks later, Jesus met with seven of His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee (John 21:1-14), and later with all eleven of the apostles on a mountain in Galilee that Jesus earlier had appointed for them (Matthew 28:16). Sometime following these meetings in Galilee, Jesus and His disciples traveled back to Judea, where He ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12).
None of the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances contradicts another. Rather, each writer supplemented what a different writer left out. Jesus may have appeared to the disciples a number of times during the forty days on Earth after His resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-7), while the New Testament writers mentioned only the more prominent instances in order to substantiate the fact of His resurrection.
Still, one may ask, “Why did Jesus command His apostles to ‘tarry in the city of Jerusalem’ on the day of His resurrection until they were ‘endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), if He really wanted them to meet Him in Galilee?” Actually, it is an assumption to assert that Jesus made the above statement on the same day that He arose from the grave. One thing we must keep in mind as we study the Bible is that it normally is not as concerned about chronology as modern-day writings. Frequently (especially in the gospel accounts), writers went from one subject to the next without giving the actual time or the exact order in which something was done or taught (cf. Luke 4:1-3; Matthew 4:1-11). In Luke 24, the writer omitted the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Galilee (mentioned by both Matthew and John). However, notice that he never stated that Jesus remained only in Jerusalem from the day He rose from the grave until the day He ascended up into heaven.
According to Luke 24 verses 1,13,21,29, and 33, the events recorded in the first forty-three verses of that chapter all took place on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. 24:1,13,21,29,33). The last four verses of Luke 24 (vss. 50-53), however, took place (according to Luke) more than five weeks later (cf. Acts 1:1-12). But what about verses 44-49? When were these statements made? The truth is, no one can know for sure. Luke gives no indication (as he did in the preceding verses) that this particular section took place “on the first day of the week” (24:1), or on “the third day” since Jesus’ crucifixion (24:21). All we know is that verses 44-49 took place sometime before He ascended into heaven (vss. 50-51). Simply because Luke used the Greek conjunctive particle de [translated “and” (ASV), “then” (NKJV), and “now” (NASV)] to begin verse 44, does not necessarily denote a close connection between the two verses, but only a general continuation of the account and a brief statement of what Jesus said. Even though many twenty-first-century readers assume that the events recorded in Luke 24:44-49 occurred on the very day Jesus rose from the grave, the text actually is silent on the matter.
The burden of proof is on the Bible critic to verify his allegation. Although the skeptic quoted earlier compared the Bible to a “cheating husband” who “has been caught in a contradiction,” one must remember how equally deplorable it is to draw up charges of marital unfaithfulness when there is no proof of such. In reality, the Bible should be likened to a faithful husband who has been wrongfully accused of infidelity by prejudiced, overbearing skeptics whose case is based upon unproven assumptions.
Smith, Mark A. (1995), “Gospel Wars: Galilee -vs- Jerusalem,” [On-line], URL: http://www.jcnot4me.com/Items/contradictions/GALILEE-vs-JERUSALEM.htm.