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Answering The Atheist
July 1, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 26

Was Mary Magdalene happy or sad when she saw the risen Jesus? Matthew 28:8-12 says she was filled with joy, but John 20:11-15 says she was grief-stricken. Is there a contradiction?

To aid in answering this question, let us first provide a detailed chronology of the events on the resurrection morning.
Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1-2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1Mary and the other women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus
Mt 28:2; Mk 16:3-4; Lk 24:2Angels came from heaven, rolling away the stone from the door of the tomb
Jn 20:1-2Seeing the stone rolled away, Mary immediately ran to tell the apostles. Her words to the apostles reveal that she had not approached the tomb and heard the testimony of the angels as the other women had.
Mt 28:5-7; Mk 16:5-7; Lk 24:3-8Angels tell the women (except Mary, who had already left) that Jesus is risen from the dead
Jn 20:3-10Peter and John run to the tomb after hearing from Mary that the body was taken. They find the tomb empty, and so return.
Jn 20:11-13Mary approaches the tomb after Peter and John leave, and sees the angels inside
Mk 16:9; Jn 20:14-17Jesus makes His first resurrection appearance to Mary, just outside the tomb where He'd been buried. She did not recognize Him at first (being grieved), but did after He spoke to her
Mt 28:8-9Jesus appears to the other women. Whether Mary was among them or not cannot be determined conclusively
Mk 16:10; Lk 24:10-11; Jn 20:18Mary Magdalene and the other women went and told the disciples that He was alive
When Mary first saw Jesus following His resurrection, she was grieved, for she did not realize it was Him. She still believed Him to be dead, and His body to have been moved (John 20:11-15). However, once she realized that Jesus was raised from the dead, her sorrow turned to joy (John 20:16-18). Both emotions are found in John's account, and both are valid, given her understanding at the time.

As indicated in the chart above, we cannot conclusively determine whether Mary was with the other women when Jesus appeared to them. But, even if she was with them, that appearance occurred after Jesus appeared to Mary alone. Thus, she would already know that He was raised, and of course, she would be filled with joy.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible