Did Jn and Mt’s Christophany to Mary (Jn 20:11f; Mt 28:9f) evolve from the angel/man in Mk 16:7?
In the Gospels of Matthew and John we see reports of the risen Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene at the site where she discovered Jesus's tomb mysteriously empty (Jn 20:11-17; Mt 28:9-10).1 Is it the case that these reports are in fact embellishments of an earlier less-evolved form of the story (i.e. Marks account in Mk 16),2 where the figure appearing was not Jesus but in fact just an angel? Rather than being a Christophany (appearance of Jesus) from the start, was it an angelophany (appearance of an angel)?
- The verses are:
- Matthew 28:9-10 -- And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” And they came up and took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus *said to them, “Do not be afraid; go, bring word to My brothers to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
- John 20:11-18 -- But Mary was standing outside the tomb, weeping; so as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they put Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and yet she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Thinking that He was the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you put Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.
- The verse:
- Mark 16:5-7 -- And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 But 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; see, here is the place where they laid Him. 7 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.’”
- The verses are:
Jn 20 and Mt 28 are independent of each other
The reported appearances of Jesus to Mary in John 20 and Matthew 28 are quite independent of each other.
Consider one reason to agree:
- The accounts in Mt and Jn are remarkably similar, but since Matthew is dated earlier, the only dependence-theory that would work is Jn depending on Mt. But Mt does not depend on Jn. E.g. they share few words in places were we would expect to see similar words if Mt was using Jn as a source.
This makes it difficult to say that the appearance of Jesus to Mary in the reports is simply an evolved angelophany because we'd have to posit that the improbable embellishment event independently happened twice, without a clear explanation. It is hardly a desirable story, the idea that Jesus first appeared to a woman, so there was no real motive to invent it. The appearance to the apostles was and would be more than enough.
The angelophanies remained unreplaced
Both reports of the Christophany record it as a distinctly seperate event, specifically following the angelophany. If the authors (Mt and Jn) intended to narrate the angelophany they saw as a Christophany, then the angelophanies would disappear. Yet in neither account does it disappear. So in addition to both reports independently embellishing an angel-appearance report to make it into a Christ-appearance report, we are to also believe they also independently chose to leave the original angel-appearance report in it?
Christians would sooner evolve it in the other direction
1st Century Christians would be naturally pressured to place Peter as the first to see Jesus. Turning Mary’s Christophany into an angelophany would have been a natural solution--much more natural than the reverse. (see Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus [Continuum, 2005]).
The events are different at their core
It major contours, the two events are quite different from each other. For example:
- Angel(s) were inside the tomb but Jesus was outside (a very counterintuitive change).1
- The appearance of Jesus was on Mary’s 2nd visit.
- There were two angels.
- But, the authors might haven chosen to do this such that they could fit in both the tradition of Jesus and the angel(s). But, then we would sooner expect to see the angels appearing to them outside the tomb, and encouraging the women to look inside (where they find Jesus risen).