How many women visited the tomb? It seems to depend on which Gospel you read, and this is one discrepancy that is often used by critics. Take note as we underline the words that are appropriate in the verses below.
We read in Mathew 28:1-10:
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 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. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus *said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
In Mark 16:1-10 it says:
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. 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. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.
In Luke 23:27 we see:
And following Him [on the way to the crucifixion] was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
And in Luke 23:48-49:
And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts. And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things.
Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 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; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has [a]risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.
And finally in John 20:1-3 we read:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.
The discrepancy analyzed:
In the above verses we can see that Matthew mentions two women by name. Mark mentions three by name. Luke mentions at least three by name but describes more. John only identifies Mary Magdalene. It looks as if there may be a contradiction at play here.
Take In this particular case the most glaring exception in the description of the women is from John’s account. John mentions only Mary Magdalene by name. He does, however, tell us this Mary was not alone. When describing her visit to the tomb, Mary later tells Peter:
“They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” So even John’s account acknowledges the presence of additional women
Secondly, the core issue here is not that each author describes a different number of women, but that each author chooses to identify different women by name. Why do they do this? It all comes down to the purpose and individuality of each reporter. In this case John seems to be focused on the first male eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. Unlike the other Gospel authors, John spends much more time and gives much more detail about how he and Peter discovered the empty tomb. This means that in John’s narrative the women are of a secondary role. John mentions Mary Magdalene because she happened to be the woman who first contacted Peter about the tomb.
John seems to place higher value in his own eyewitness status than in the eyewitness status of the women. He later reinforces this by saying “This [John] is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
What we have in this case is that all the authors speak of a group of women, and some authors identify specific members of this group based on their personal perspective, purposes and audience.
As homicide detective Warner Wallace in his investigation of the Gospel’s writes:
“When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts.”
In fact, we can be further encouraged that the Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions of the women 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 four independent accounts.
So, in concluding, the four gospel accounts demonstrate the same narrative. How many women were at the tomb? Five, most likely. The Gospels are not contradictory in their description of these five women for the reasons we have seen.