Reconciling Gospel Passages

Question: I have a couple of questions concerning passages in the Bible: (1.) How do we reconcile Jesus' telling Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb not to touch Him as He has not yet ascended to the Father, but inviting and permitting the Apostle Thomas to touch Him even though He still had not yet ascended? (2.) He also told Mary Magdalene to tell the others that He would first meet up with them in Galilee, but in actuality He first met with them after the Resurrection in Jerusalem in the Upper Room. How do we explain that apparent inconsistency? (3.) If the angel told Joseph that the child would be named "Emmanuel," why did Joseph and Mary name Him Jesus?
 

Discussion: You asked some very interesting questions, so let's start by seeing exactly what the Holy Scriptures say. Regarding your first question, the Gospel of John mentions that word to Mary Magdalene in chapter 20, verse 17. According to the Revised Standard Version (RSV), "Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." The New American Bible (NAB) translated that key phrase as "Stop holding on to me," and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) said, "Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father." Those phrases "Do not hold," "Stop holding on," and "Do not cling" could indicate that such actions somehow hindered Jesus' purpose of rising to the Father. More likely, though, Mary Magdalene did not merely want to touch Jesus, but she could not bear to let him go. Therefore, Jesus quickly assured her, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." In speaking to Thomas, however, Jesus addressed a different concern. In verse 27 of the same chapter of John, Jesus said, "Put your finger here…." Used in all three of the previously mentioned translations, the phrasing indicates no concern about being clung to or being held back by a finger but instead shows that Thomas needed to see for himself that Christ was indeed among them. (As a little aside, the expression of a "doubting Thomas" gives bad press to a faithful disciple who was willing to die for Christ and who did not doubt Jesus but questioned reports from those who had already seen him.) By inviting Thomas' touch, Jesus encouraged this loyal follower to, "…not be faithless, but believing."

 For your second question, let's look again at the actual texts. In Matthew 28:10, Jesus said to the women at the tomb, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." None of the above translations say this meeting would be first, so no discrepancy exists. To check this out, you'll find additional information in Mark 16 and Luke 24 as well as John 21, which includes an appearance of the risen Christ in Galilee, right where he said he would be. Jesus just didn't say when.

Regarding your third question, a similar study of the precise wording of Holy Scripture can also resolve the problem. To find the account you mentioned, we need to look in Matthew and Luke since both of those Gospels provide Jesus' genealogy so will be the most likely places to look. To help Joseph understand and accept what had happened to the Virgin Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and, according to Matthew 1:21, explained, "She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, " with "you," of course, referring to Joseph. However, in verse 23 of the same chapter, the same angel in the same dream quoted Isaiah 7:14, saying, "'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means 'God is with us'." Notice how the angel said "they shall name him…." To clarify this distinction, The New Jerusalem Bible translated the verse as "'Look! the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel,' a name which means 'God-is-with-us'."

Similarly, in Luke 1:35, the angel, who, in this account, had previously been identified as Gabriel, explained to Mary herself what would happen. The New American Bible translated the answer like this: "And the angel said to her in reply, 'The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God'." Again, we have the understanding that Jesus will be known by wondrous names, but his given name in Hebrew is Yeshua, which, in English, translates as Joshua and, in Greek or Aramaic, Jesus.

Interestingly, each of your questions brings up similar but crucial points: First, to clarify our understanding or verify information, we need to look up everything that gives us any cause to pause or be perplexed. (A concordance in the back of a Bible speeds the search for a word or biblical topic, but since none of the Catholic editions I've seen include this handy help, a concordance can be purchased as a separate book.) Also, to answer the type of question you've asked, a paraphrase of the Bible text will seldom help but can increase confusion. Then what seems to be conflicting information or inconsistencies may actually be a problem in our understanding or memory. To avoid either of those concerns, double-check quotations and compare each account in such precision-oriented translations as the New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version, or The New Jerusalem Bible.

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  • Guest

    Thanks for letting me know the hotlink to What A Body! had been changed. For info on that retreat planning book, look for new releases on the CSS Publishing website. Or you can find the new hotlink on my website for Catholic Poets & Writers. God bless. And thanks for reading Bible Talk.

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