Why Didn’t Mary Recognize the Resurrected Jesus?
by J Warner Wallace
Skeptics sometimes question the Gospel eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection, particularly related to the early observations of the risen Christ. In John’s record of the Resurrection, Mary doesn’t immediately recognize Jesus in the garden. In fact, she initially mistakes Him for the gardener (John 20:1-16). How could that happen? Does this passage of Scripture support the claims of conspiracy theorists? Was the resurrected “Jesus” merely an imposter? Was it just someone posing as Jesus? Why wouldn’t Mary recognize the resurrected Jesus; the very man who meant so much to her? A closer examination of the Biblical texts may provide some answers.
While some critics of the Gospels maintain they are contradictory because they are not exactly the same, as someone who has interviewed hundreds of eyewitnesses, I can tell you a difference isn’t necessarily a contradiction. My son Jimmy may tell you I’m young, while my other son, David, may describe me as having grey hair. The truth is they are both right! I’m (relatively) young (no laughing), but I do have grey hair. No contradiction here, just a difference in description. Given my experience with eyewitnesses, the Gospel accounts contain exactly what I would expect from four eyewitness testimonies; each telling the story from a slightly different perspective and from the innate presuppositions, life experiences and abilities of each witness. I get suspicious when the stories of witnesses are exactly the same, not when they vary within acceptable expectations. When people conspired to lie about an event, they typically align their stories. This is not the case with accurate and true eyewitness accounts. They always vary to some degree. When evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, it’s my job to assemble the cumulative narrative. Let’s do this now, with the accounts related to Mary’s initial observation of Jesus…
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