Do Mt 28 and Jn 20 independently attest to (and endorse) the same appearance of Jesus’s to Mary?

  • Our question

    Both Mt 28 and Jn 20 report a Christophany to Mary.1 Compare:

    • Mt 28:1, 9-10Mary Magdalene…. at the grave… 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
    • Jn 20:11-17Mary [Magdalene]… outside the tomb;… she turned around and saw Jesus standing there… Jesus said to her, Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…”; but go to My brethren and say to them

    The similarities are striking enough to say the reports are connected somehow. Does the connection point predate both Gospels? How exactly do we account for the similarity of these reports? Sources count as “multiple independent attestation” only if neither depends, borrows from, or copies from the other. That is to say, multiple independent attention indicates that both sources draw on a tradition that predates them both. Do Mt 28 and Jn 20 draw on an older tradition that pre-dates them both, so as to count as multiple attestation? (Since it is widely agreed that Matthew pre-dates John, this question is often phrased as: does John draw on a pre-Matthean tradition which Mt also ultimately depends on, rather than Jn depending directly on the gospel of Mt itself or its spin-offs).

    1. Noteworthy is the fact that the the appendix in Mk 16:9-11 likewise has this report.
  • Historians

    • Claudia Setzer: “The fact that it is Mary Magdalene who fills these roles in John, combined with the unanimity of the Synoptics and the Gospel of Peter concerning her place in the empty-tomb tradition, suggests that it is a firmly fixed tradition that John cannot violate. [“Excellent Women: Female Witness to the Resurrection” Journal of Biblical Literature 116/2 (1997): 262.]
“Yes, after all…
  • They are strikingly/uncoincidentally similar

    There is a man standing in front of a mirror with his arms out. The man on the close side is labeled Matthew, the person in the mirror is labeled John.

    In several ways the relevant passage from John and from Matthew mirror each other.

    • Both agree on the context of Jesus’s appearance to Mary. (In both, Jesus appears just after the women visit the tomb, seeing angels.)
    • Both have Mary holding on to Jesus.1
    • Both have Jesus meeting the women?
    • Both have Jesus calling his disciples “my brethren”.2, 3
    • Both have Mary being told to share the news with them.

      {Note: The women report the message to Jesus’s eleven apostles—not his biological brothers.

    This is relevant if neither of these two sources copied from each other, since the coincidence is then best explained by an circulating account which predates them both.

    But so what? Plausibly...

    1. Compare:

      Mt 28:9 — [Mary] “took hold of His feet” (in Mt 28:9)
      Jn 20:17 — “Stop clinging to Me”
      Barnabas Lindars: “The command [in Jn] is only intelligible if Mary has made, some move to do so. It thus seems likely that John’s source had something corresponding with “took hold of his feet” in Mt. 28.9.” [The Gospel of John (Oliphants, 1972), 607.]

    2. Compare:

      Mt 28:10 — “go and take word to My brethren”
      Jn 20:17 —“go to My brethren and say to them”.

    3. David Wenham: “[t]he very striking agreement is in the introductory phrase, where the message is designated as for ‘my brothers’. This way of speaking of the disciples is almost, if not quite, without parallel in the gospels, (For some sort of parallel cf. Mt. 12:49, 25:40.)” [The Resurrection Narratives In Matthew’s Gospel, Tyndale Bulletin 24:1 (1973)].

“No, after all…
  • Jn 20 simply sprung from Mt 28

    Rather than being independent, John 20 simply branched off from the earlier report of Matthew 28. This matters because if Jn 20 simply came from Mt 28, then there’s no need to posit an earlier account predating both of them; it’s not actually multiple independent attestation.

    But no...1

    • In general, John is independent of the synoptics. (Most all scholars agree.)
    • John’s version is more precise.2
    • They share few words.3
    1. David Wenham: “It could be argued against this that the tradition originated with Matthew and that John was directly or indirectly dependent on Matthew (cf. Neirynck, art. cit., 18 f.). But the substantial differences between the two gospels make this view difficult. [The Resurrection Narratives In Matthew’s Gospel, Tyndale Bulletin 24:1 (1973)].
      Samuel Byrskog: “The three texts differ indeed from each other to a significant extent.” [Story as History—History as Story (Brill, 2002), 79.]

    2. David Wenham: “Various suggestions have been made about the relationship of the traditions. Lohmeyer agrees with Neirynck in regarding John’s as the later version (op. cit., 408f.). Levesque, art. cit., 14, regards Matthew’s as the less precise version.”

    3. If Jn depended on Mt, then it’s surprising that elsewhere they share “few words” (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 247).

      Samuel Byrskog: “The differences between the Matthean and the Johannine texts are surely significant enough to make it difficult to envision any direct dependence. ... Even if the Johannine author 'depended’ upon the synoptics at this point, these texts must have been re-oralized and supplemented to the extent that it becomes somewhat simplistic to speak of his ‘dependence’ upon the synoptics as sources. Neirynck admits the supplementary information provided by oral tradition (“John and the Syn”optics: 1975-1990", pp. 14, 59).) [Story as History—History as Story (Brill, 2002), 80.]