In Matthew 28:1-8 we read:
“And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.”
In Mark 16:1-8 we read:
“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified”
In Luke we 24:1-10 we read:
“…but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing;”
In John 20:1-8 we read:
“They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
The discrepancy analyzed:
What we see here is that each author is focusing on specific details, and answering a different question. For instance, Matthew does not say there was only one angel at the tomb. John and Luke say that there were two angels at the tomb, and wherever there are two there is always one, that is implied.
For there to be a true contradiction at play here, Matthew or Mark would have to say there was only one angel, but neither did.
Subsequently, we may want to ask why there is a difference here at all.
This is where the focal point of the Biblical authors comes into play. Matthew and Mark address the issue of the earthquake and the removal of the stone. What caused the earthquake? The angel that came and rolled away the stone. From this point onwards, Matthew was singularly focused on this angel and what he told the women. Mark was also focused in a similar manner. For Mark and Matthew’s accounts the focal point and the question raised was who rolled away the tomb stone. The answer was just the one angel.
But what about Luke and John? In this narrative they address different questions altogether. We find that Luke also mentions that the stone was rolled away but he then focuses on the concerns the women had about Jesus’ missing body. Then they see two angels and the rest of the narrative is centered on their interaction with these angels.
John, on the other hand, is much less concerned with the interaction between the angels and the women. Instead it moves quickly from the grave scene to the report the women make to the disciples. But look at what the women reportedly said: “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Once again they addressed the issue of how Jesus was assisted out of the tomb, and once again the description of the angels was plural.
When describing who rolled away the stone, the Gospel authors reported only one angel. When describing who helped Jesus from the tomb, the Gospel authors reported two angels.
Each author addressed different questions and didn’t see a need to unify their description to match the others. This lack of effort to make the accounts match is yet another evidence of their reliability. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts.
There were two angels at the tomb of Jesus. One rolled away the stone. Both helped Jesus from the tomb. The Gospel accounts describe the angels in response to the specific questions and actions under consideration. There is no contradiction in this account.