Who Saw Jesus First — Mary Magdalene or Peter?

This week’s question of the week:  Who saw Jesus first after the empty tomb — Mary Magdalene or Peter? 

  • Mark says that Mary Magdalene, along with two other women, find the empty tomb on the third day. But the original Mark stops there and has no appearance stories at all. Interesting side note: We say “the original Mark stopped there” because most scholars think verses 9+ from the last chapter, depicting appearances of Jesus afterward, were … how do we say … appended later by someone else.
  • Matthew and John both have Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene before any of the disciples. Mary Magdalene and the ‘other’ Mary find the empty tomb, and later on Jesus appears to the women. It is not until after the disciples escape toGalilee that Jesus appears to them.
  • Luke leaves the women out of the picture, writing that Jesus appeared only to the male followers. But Luke also wrote Acts, Paul’s major marketing pamphlet. And Paul did not like women to have any kind of power in the church, let alone be the first to see Jesus. Paul’s sparse account of the resurrection also makes no mention of the women, and succinctly says that Jesus appeared fist to Peter.

This Peter vs Mary thing continues in some of the “other” gospels that did not make the cut. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas, Peter asks Mary to leave because, “women are not worthy of life.” And in the Gospel of Mary, Peter argues that surely Jesus would not have revealed his secrets to a woman.

So there’s that. 

Mark vs Paul on Jesus

Mark was the first Gospel, written probably in the 70s CE by a 2nd generation Christian (i.e. someone who had never met Jesus). Mark was written in Greek, not Aramaic (Jesus’ language). In the original form (not that we have the original manuscript), it had no punctuation, no spaces spaces between words, no chapters, no sentences, no verses. That was the thing back then. Punctuation was added hundreds of years later.

With that intro, let’s do a quick comparison between Paul and Mark on the life and death of Jesus. Reminder, Paul’s letters were actually written first. And even though Paul never met Jesus, he did meet Jesus’ brother James. And Peter. They did not like each other very much.

  • Jesus’ death. Paul says, “He died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” That’s it. No last supper, no Garden of Gethsemane, no betrayal at midnight, etc. Mark provides all these details. On Jesus’ burial, Paul says, “He was buried.” No tomb, no Joseph of Arimathea, etc. Mark adds all these.
  • The Resurrection. Here Paul provides a little more substance. We would expect that because the Resurrection is Paul’s primary message. But even with that, Paul’s descriptions are sparse. Paul simply says, “He rose again on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” Paul also talks about how Jesus “appeared” to Cepheus, the twelve (was Judas replaced?), James, and finally to Paul himself (six years later). But the Greek word “appeared” is open to a variety of meanings. Scholars such as Bishop Shelby Spong are not sure if Paul means it physically or spiritually. Nevertheless, there is no empty tomb, no angels, no visit of the women, and no angelic messenger in Paul. Mark adds all these.
  • Miracles. Paul says nothing about Jesus being a teacher or about any miracles. Mark starts both of these ideas.

Question of the week:  In which of Paul’s letters do we get his real theology?