Resurrection Contradictions Part 1 of 3
Updated: Feb 10
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Note: Below is part 1 of “Chronological Order and Harmony of the Resurrection Events.” Watch for future submissions.
Chronological Order and Harmony of The Resurrection Events
(A response to critics of Scripture for believers)
By Jeff Berry
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool
according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5, NIV).
Atheist, naturalist and humanist (evolutionist) insist on debating the existence of God without using the Bible. And of course, there is plenty of extra-biblical evidence for the existence of God. However, as Christians if we agree to leave the Bible out of the debate, we are entering into “his folly” and “will be just like him.” Answer we must “or he will be wise in his own eyes.” If the Bible is full of errors and contradictions (like they say it is) then they should have no objections with permitting the Bible to be used in the debate. (By the way Proverbs 26:4-5 is one example that they like to use to “prove” that the Bible contradicts itself. Never fear, have faith, there are no contradictions or errors in the original manuscripts.)
Critics of the Bible often cite what they call “contradictions” to try to discredit Scriptural integrity, a statement cannot be both true and not true at the same time. If a critic can prove that the Bible contradicts itself the critic has proven the Bible to be a fraud; or at the very least if the critic has accomplished putting doubt into the believer’s heart he has met his desired objective.
Jesus warned such scoffers of the truth in Mark 9:42 when He said:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” (NIV). When dealing with such critics, it is important to genuinely believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Have faith. If indeed the original manuscripts were inspired by God there will never be a contradiction. However, there may be errors in various translations but not in the original manuscripts. For instance, one translation may do a better job translating than another or there may be a typographical error. One example is the King James Version. The KJV is one of the better translations nevertheless, the translators of the KJV did not have available to them some older manuscripts that we now know exist. As we shall see, the Bible can be relied upon because it is both grammatically and historically accurate! (To say that Scripture is grammatically and historically accurate is simply saying that it is without error.)
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV).
The Bible itself has withstood the test of time. Any student of the Bible should never be shaken when they come across, what seems to them to be, an irreconcilable contradiction. I would encourage any serious student of the Word (that should be you) to try to tackle these so called contradictions on their own. Please be a “Berean!” In fact, find a social web site where critics of the Scriptures tend to troll and find out what they are saying about the Word of God. I have spent most of my life studying the Word and never questioning what I was reading, I am in some way grateful to the critics! We are told (and supposedly taught) to think critically but when it comes to the Bible we, if you are like me, accept without question what we are reading. And that of course is not necessarily a bad thing but when we are
faced with having to defend our faith we are often blind sided, not being ready with a defense. I promise, questioning the Word of God and concluding for yourself that Scriptural accuracy can be relied upon will serve as a bulwark for your faith. And while working through the process, have faith, believe in and trust God’s Word. (I will insert here that the Bible will never contradict science. If there is a contradiction, we have the science wrong. Have faith my friend!)
Arduous, onerous and repetitious may well describe “Chronological Order and Harmony of The Resurrection Events.” (I would encourage the reader to be patient with both the writer and himself.) Untangling the names of the many witnesses (especially the many “Marys”) and the chaotic events that occurred following the crucifixion and putting the pieces of the puzzle together to create a larger harmonic and chronological picture can be very taxing.
It is important to understand that the four Gospels serve as eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of our Savior. Depending on the Gospel account, much of what was recorded was based on first and second hand testimonies. These accounts were written in the first and early second centuries and immediately prior to their existence the early church relied on oral accounts. For this reason, there are times when the Gospel accounts seem to use identical verbiage. (As we will discuss later, this is also likely why the accounts are not necessarily in strict chronological order.) Elsewhere, the accounts seem to “contradict” one another. (In either case, critics find reason to criticize.) We have already addressed the reason for the “similarities,” now lets consider some reasons for the differences or seeming “contradictions.”
None of the Gospels are intended to be a complete account of the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, each account gives us pieces of a larger puzzle that when put together as we have attempted to do here, give a more complete picture. Also, each account is (again) a first hand and/or second hand account of what someone witnessed. No two witnesses are always going to remember the same set of facts, however (assuming both testimonies are true) there will be no contradictions. Just because one witness mentions a fact or person (and the other does not) does not mean there is a contradiction. It just means that each witness adds information to the larger picture. Again, a statement can never be both true and false at the same time. That would be a contradiction. Anytime there seems to be a contradiction in Scripture, there is always a reasonable explanation. If I were to say for example, “I have no children”
and “I have children” I would seem to contradict myself. However, both statements can be true (depending on when the statements were made). Or, if a child’s father asked if the child’s mother went to the store, there would be no contradiction if the child said yes, but did not mention that the child’s sister also went. And, even if we could not reconcile two statements in the Bible, faith would require that we trust the Word of God to be correct (until we have more information). Ironically for the critic, these seeming “contradictions” should cause us to doubt the Word of God but for the believer, when reconciled said “contradictions” strengthens our belief in its’ inerrancy. I personally love the fact that what the critics think are “contradictions” only serve to bolster the believer’s faith. I don’t doubt for a moment that our God has a wonderful sense of humor!
Contending for the faith!
Every Christian should be open to the possibility that they may be called to a ministry of contending for the faith on social media sites. (Certainly this, I believe, is a special calling like any other ministry.) Whether you actively engage with individuals (I say “individuals”
because you may be interacting with “believers” as well as nonbelievers) frequently or seldomly, you have to choose your “battles” wisely. You may or may not be
the right person to deal with a particular issue or individual. So by all means be prayerful and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. And always be kind, never lowering yourself to their level of name calling, etc.
To the right is the beginning of a conversation I had with a particular evolutionist. I however, did not choose this particular “battle,” I guess it chose me. After having posted a comment on my personal Facebook page, albeit making it a public comment, I began an interaction with an individual that was previously unknown to me. (I will have to say that
my interaction with this individual was much more pleasant, no hate filled name calling, etc., as I have often times experienced.) Names and profile pictures
have been removed, with only “creationist” and “evolutionist” being used to identify the individual posting the comment. I am only including a few screenshots to give you a general idea of the direction of the conversation. (PAUSE here and take a moment to read the post to the right...) There were a total of about 125 comments posted on this thread between myself and the other individual, so there are many large gaps. One gap included our transition from the “science” of evolution to Scripture. Although “Evolutionist” did not believe that evolution had anything to do with religion, he did not object to the transition (likely because he thought that the Bible would be an easy target). Ultimately, I stopped responding to his posts, in part because I felt that I was not making any progress. (Of course, we will often times not know what seeds we have planted, watered or cultivated in this life.) However, I also stopped because I felt that at least some of my goals had been accomplished. One goal was having a chance to expose some of my own family and friends to issues that they need to come to terms with themselves. I was also engaging in the conversation for my own benefit (debating evolution). (While there is much about “evolution” that I would like to address, that of course is not our purpose here... Whatever subject you may be debating online, never let them intimidate you with unfamiliar words or their exaggerated show of confidence! You have the internet too, you can arm yourself with the same information they have access to....) My reason for using this particular social media thread will become obvious shortly. We are primarily concerned with his last post below:
(PAUSE here and take a moment to read the post above...)
Eureka! I was content “debating” the first two chapters of Genesis and evolution but I was quite frankly surprised that he took the conversation to the resurrection, I was pleased. First of all notice that he states that I am NOT interpreting Genesis Chapter 2 literally (his last post above), something that I had not claimed to do, he was just assuming I believed in a literal interpretation. I think that you will agree that to say that we interpret the Bible “literally” is not really accurate. The word “literal” is too broad and vague and will give scoffers fuel for the debate. If you really think about it, it is most accurate to say that Scripture is always historically and grammatically accurate (or without error). While I had not stated this prior to the above post (I did after his comment) he saw that he was not making progress because I was operating on that assumption. And just as he did not make progress in Genesis, because I
was relying heavily on the fact that Genesis is both historically and grammatically accurate, no
progress was made on the subject of the resurrection. The difference (here) was that he was making an argument that I had never been faced with to this point. Wherever the conversation takes you, if you trust that Scripture is always historically and grammatically accurate you will be able to stand your ground with confidence. They will likely never concede. The important thing is that you have contended for the faith and you have likely planted, cultivated or watered and sometimes you will have harvested; If not the individual you are dealing with, perhaps someone following the thread! You certainly will have bolstered your own faith! So rather than a “literal” interpretation of Scripture it is more accurate to say that we believe in a historical and grammatical interpretation. Again, we are primarily concerned with his last post below:
(PAUSE here and take a moment to read the post above...)
Different stories or different accounts of the same story?
You will see how a grammatical interpretation reconciles what scoffers want to call contradictions. Before proceeding to our list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection, let’s address something that likely gives the critics a considerable amount of fuel. Like a lot of issues raised by the critics, this one has likely gone unnoticed by many believers (that is unless after reading this particular work and feeling either confused or smugly satisfied, you reread the Gospel accounts a little more closely). While each account can stand alone, when closely compared they can seem to contradict one another and this is likely why my friend “Evolutionist” exclaims “they are different stories.” Let’s look at each account
individually starting with Matthew.
Starting with verse 1 in Chapter 28 Matthew writes:
1 “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” and then in verse 2 he writes: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” He continues in verse 5 “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you.’ 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
Just note that “chronologically” verses 2-4 likely occurred prior to verse 1. (Matthew gives no reason to believe that the women witnessed the “violent earthquake” recorded in these verses.) We will no doubt return to this subject.
Mark writes in Chapter 16 verse 1:
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb? ’ 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 ‘Don’t be alarmed,‘ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
So far, so good. A casual reading does not reveal any seeming “contradictions” unless you picked up on Matthew’s account having the angel outside the tomb and Mark’s inside the tomb. (If Matthew and Mark are recording the same event, certainly the angel in Matthew’s account could have moved in or near the entrance.) And of course Mark adds Mary the mother of James and Salome and omits “the other Mary” mentioned by Matthew (being, as we shall see, Mary the mother of James). We will address this issue when we get to the Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. Of course, my friend “evolutionist” would argue that Mark states that the women said “nothing to anyone” (see his last post) but Matthew (and as we shall see) John and Luke state that they told the disciples. However, the context in Mark makes it very clear that they spoke to no one but the “disciples and Peter...because they were afraid.” We will proceed to Luke’s account.
Luke writes in Chapter 24 verse 1:
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
Still no really big deal for the believer. Although Luke states that there are two angels while Matthew and Mark mention only one and Mark states that the women “bought spices” while Luke states they “prepared” them. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that a true believer would stumble over whether or not there were one angel or two. Of course this can be easily enough reconciled, maybe Matthew and Mark only mention the angel that spoke and felt it not necessary to mention the silent angel. Maybe. That is how many scholars reconcile this seeming contradiction. Luke adds Joanna to the mix and omits Salome.
John writes in Chapter 20 verse 1:
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him! ’ 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? ’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’). 17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”
Nothing obvious, right? Right! Without a doubt, the greatest seeming “contradiction” that believers fail to see but critics are all too willing to point out is that Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to have Mary at the tomb with the other women and John (if you read carefully) has her at the tomb with the other women, with Peter and John and alone. Notice that early in John’s account (above) Mary Magdalene is using the plural pronoun “we” (when speaking to the disciples) but later uses the singular “I” (when speaking to Jesus in the tomb and again when reporting back to the disciples).
And, of course, the number of angels, etc. We will address these issues shortly, but first lets consider to whom the angels were speaking.
To whom are the angels speaking?
Again, Matthew records in Chapter 28 verses 1-5:
1 “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid...’”
Remember, we have already stated that we have no reason to believe that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary witnessed the “violent earthquake” recorded in verses 2-4. So there is no reason to believe that Matthew’s account was in strict chronological order. While critics of Scripture routinely give authors of ancient “secular” writings a pass on similar writing styles (and that really is, all this is) they do not afford authors of the Bible the same courtesy. Very possibly, Matthew was using an intercalation (or “sandwich”) which is a literary device where a narrative is split and another is inserted between the two parts, commonly used in the synoptic Gospels. At this point Matthew had to have been recording what he had heard from a first hand eyewitness or eyewitnesses because he was not present.
Furthermore, we cannot conclude that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (being Mary the mother of James and Joseph) that went to look at the tomb in verse 1 confirms that “the women” the angel spoke to (in verse 5) were Mary Magdalene and the other Mary! In other words, did the angel necessarily speak to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary together at the same time? No. As we shall see, there are clearly gaps in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel accounts. (Be patient, we are building a case and it will all come together but it will be a slow arduous process that is very similar to a large puzzle with many small pieces. You have to complete much of the puzzle before you can begin to see the bigger picture!)
We will proceed to Mark in considering to whom the angels were speaking:
Mark writes in Chapter 16 verse 1: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body... 5 ...they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side... 6 ‘Don’t be alarmed, ‘he said...”
Does the fact that Mark states that “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices” in verse 1, confirm that “the women” the angel spoke to in verses 5 and 6 were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome (together, at the same time)? Again, no.
Eusebius Pamphilius quoting Papias (a contemporary of Mark) wrote the following in his Church History concerning Mark’s Gospel: “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ...so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.”
So as Papias concluded concerning Mark, we can also conclude about the other evangelist. Their concern was not necessarily chronology (where chronology was not important) but their concern was “not to omit any of the things that” they “had heard,” (or seen) “and not to state them falsely.” Now it cannot be emphasized enough that each Gospel account is a complete record and can stand alone. The early church circulated the written accounts individually once the evangelist recorded the oral accounts (they were not bound together like they are today); so must an account include every detail in order to be complete? Absolutely not! It cannot be argued that any one Gospel is incomplete although each Gospel provides information that the other three do not. So we therefore can logically conclude that there can be what we will call “gaps” in each account, that can be supplemented with information given by the other evangelists (and that they are not necessarily written in chronological order) which neither constitutes a “contradiction” nor an error as we shall see. Each Gospel account supplements the other three Gospels.
On to Luke:
Luke writes in Chapter 24 verse 1 “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb... 5 ...but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’... 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”
Does the fact that Luke states that “it was” Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others in verse 10, confirm that “the women” the angels spoke to in verse 5 was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others (together, at the same time)? No.
Remember that Luke’s Gospel was written entirely based on second hand eyewitness accounts and what Eusebius Pamphilius quoting Papias (a contemporary of Mark) wrote about Mark can also be said of Luke (and the other Gospel writers):
“Mark...wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ...so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.”
We can only conclude that Luke’s account is not in a strict chronological order because he inserts the women’s encounter with the angels (verses 4 to 6) before the women made their first report to the disciples. As we shall see, their first report to the disciples would have taken place before their encounter with the angels. Mary Magdalene would not have exclaimed “we don’t know where they have put him” prompting Peter and John to run to the tomb (Luke 24:12 and John 20:2ff) considering the angel’s declaration: “he is risen.” Consequently, Luke has inserted the combined group’s second visit (as we shall see minus Mary Magdalene) between their first visit and their first report to the disciples. In other words: Luke seems to have Mary encountering the Angels before Peter and John are prompted to run to the tomb, but; John has Mary declaring “we don't know where they have put him,” before being prompted to run to the tomb. (Again, this will become more clear as we progress.)
Does a Gospel account that is seemingly out of chronological order constitute a contradiction? No. (Not unless the evangelist claims that his account is in strict chronological order! We will address whether or not Luke makes this claim later.) This is no more a contradiction than if a parent’s scrapbook of a child’s athletic achievements were out of chronological order. The order of events has no bearing on the authenticity of the individual records.
And finally, John writes in Chapter 20:1 and 11-13 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb... 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’”
Does the fact that John states that “the woman” the angel spoke to was Mary Magdalene confirm that she was alone (and there were no other women)? In this case, contextually and grammatically we can conclude that she was alone.
Are you beginning to see the “problem?” (Matthew, Mark and Luke all have Mary Magdalene with one or more women speaking to an angel or angels while John has her speaking to two angels alone. The fact is, the angel or angels did speak to the women but not necessarily all together and at the same time.) These are issues that likely only critics of Scripture would recognize and can easily be reconciled.
Moving forward, we will see how relying on Scripture to be historically and grammatically accurate (or without error) helps us to understand the resurrection events and how, what critics of Scripture call “contradictions” (such as one account stating that it was “at dawn” and another “very early in the morning” and another “while it was still dark” and one account claiming that they “bought spices” while another claims that they “prepared” spices) are not contradictions at all. In fact these said “contradictions” only support our claim that there were multiple groups of women making multiple trips to and from the tomb!
I know this can be very confusing, as you can imagine the confusion and chaos that ensued the morning of the resurrection. Not to mention the overwhelming grief and fear that undoubtedly paralyzed them since the crucifixion just three days prior. These women and Jesus’ disciples, not fully understanding what Jesus had forewarned them of, must have been in a very dark place. The chaos, the many individuals, multiple trips (to and from the tomb) and multiple recorded accounts can give a nonbeliever ammunition if one wishes to discredit Scripture. For the believer however, reconciling seeming “contradictions” can be a blessing.
In summary: to reconcile many of what some might call contradictions, one only needs to remember that in all of the confusion and chaos, there were at least two groups of women and multiple trips between the tomb and where the disciples were staying. Of the disciples, apparently only Peter and John visited the tomb and neither of them were afforded the good tidings the women received from the angels. Of the two groups of women, there were at least two angelic appearances. Likely, one to a combined audience of both groups of women (minus Mary Magdalene) and the other to Mary Magdalene alone. Each group of women likely made at least two trips to the tomb. So we have a likely scenario where the women arrive at the tomb at about the same time of day (while it was still dark and/or at about sunrise, traveling in at least two separate groups). The women see that the stone has been rolled away and at least one (Mary Magdalene) looks in to see that his body was not there. This being the first visit by both groups of women. All the women (as one larger group) return to tell the disciples. However, according to Luke (24:12), Peter ran to the tomb (and John [20:3] adds himself, “the other disciple”) and Mary Magdalene follows them for her second visit.
Note: Watch for the next submission, we will consider “Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection."
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Click HERE to go to Resurrection Contradictions (Part 1).
Click HERE to go to Resurrection Contradictions (Part 2).
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