One of the stock objections which the village atheist raises to the Bible are alleged contradictions in the Resurrection accounts.
Village atheism suffers from self-reinforcing ignorance. There’s a typical failure on the part of your average village atheist to acquaint himself with evangelical scholarship–or other types of literature which fall outside his provincial outlook. So he repeats the same stale objections ad nauseam as if these had gone unanswered.
So we need to give the village atheist a remedial tutorial on the question at issue:
1. At the risk of stating the obvious, the more complex an event–which is to say, the more things happening, at different times and places, involving different participants–the more difficult it will be to reconstruct the original sequence of events. There are so many possible combinations. So many different ways to correlate the same data points.
2. Keep in mind that where you have overlapping events, it isn’t even possible to reduce the sequence to a single linear series.
3. In the case of the Gospels, an already complicated situation (1) is further complicated by the rhetorical strategies and compositional techniques of the respective writers:
i) The gospel writers are selective in what they report. They omit details which are extrinsic to their purpose.
ii) They sometimes rearrange the order of events to create a thematic rather than chronological sequence.
iii) They engage in narrative compression.
iv) Sometimes they employ literary conventions like numerology.
v) The same person or place may go by more than one name.
4. In addition, what one writer includes or omits won’t be the same as what another writer includes or omits. One writer’s thematic sequence may differ from another writer’s thematic sequence. One writer’s numerology, or narrative compression, may differ from another writer’s numerology, or narrative compression.
Since we don’t have direct access to the original sequence of events, we may not be able to retroengineer a thematic sequence back into a chronological sequence. Indeed, that’s not a reasonable expectation at our distance from the time and place.
To know how the reported events go together, you need to know everything that happened, in time and place. For you need to know the connecting events. How two events are interrelated in time and space is often determined by intervening events. That’s how historical causation works. Where an earlier event causes, or leads up to, or leads into, a later event. But you can’t retrace a stepwise progression if there are too many missing steps in the record.
5. Then there’s a fairly unique complication in harmonizing the Resurrection accounts. Normally a person can only be at one place at a time. But even before the Resurrection, Jesus could do remarkable things in time and space. He could walk on water. He could disappear in the middle of a crowd. And in John 20, he has the ability to appear or disappear at will. Physical barriers pose no obstacle.
So in harmonizing the Resurrection accounts, we must also make allowance for paranormal phenomena like bilocation. Which, in turn, raises the issue of spatiotemporal displacement. Variables like that introduce a degree of flexibility which you don’t ordinarily have in a spatiotemporal series. But Jesus is not an ordinary person.
Of course, infidels don’t believe that. But if they’re going to attack the coherence of the Resurrection accounts, then that’s a case of judging each account on its own terms, given the theological assumptions of the narrator.
6. Some village atheists seem to imagine that merely showing how the Resurrection accounts are formally contradictory somehow disproves the inerrancy or historicity or reliability of the accounts. But that’s terribly naïve. That would only be a problem if each writer intended to mirror the original series of events. Since that is manifestly not what they meant to do, the problem is a pseudoproblem.