The question is a little strange for someone within evangelical circles. After all, someone like me believes that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead some thirty-six hours after his crucifixion is an actual historical event. But I can understand someone asking the question if they do not believe the Scriptures present entirely historically accurate information regarding the events of Jesus' life and ministry, pre- and post-crucifixion. If someone doesn't believe Jesus was actually raised to life, then the question at hand becomes a valid question. But you know the nature of this blog, my perspective, my own convictions. The Scriptures are historically accurate. They have as their origin none other than God himself, and their words are mediated through human individuals, who were allowed to leave their style and "footprint" as they wrote what God intended. So, I want to answer the question from that perspective.
All four Gospels mention how the women went to tomb where Jesus had been buried. The sections of the Gospels are as follows: Matt. 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; and John 20:1. Luke supplies the names of three of the women who were present (Luke 24:10): Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary (James' mother); Matthew only mentions the two Mary's, (Matt. 28;1) and Mark names the two Mary's and Salome (Mark 16:1). Luke also mentions that there were other women who were "with them" (σὺν αὐταῖς, v. 10). Whether or not they were "with them" at the tomb is questionable. But since these women are reporting the same things that the women named above, it's possible. It's also possible that they are part of the group mentioned in Luke 24:9 when we read "all the rest" (πᾶσιν τοῖς λοιποῖς). It could be that the women named above came, reported everything that they had heard and seen at the tomb to the apostles and the rest (which includes the "other women" of 24:10), and then these women began to repeat the report to the apostles over some period of time. In other words, they just kept talking about it, possibly trying to understand what was going on, but perhaps attempting to convince the apostles who refused to believe the report.
John, by the way, only mentions Mary Magdalene (John 20:1), and he also mentions that it was still dark. That's one of those supposed contradictions that people often refer to when they discuss the "untrustworthiness" of the resurrection accounts. I think Robert Thomas and Stanley Gundry give us two very good solutions to the issue. Let me just quote them real fast:
"'When the sun had risen' in Mark 16:2 does not contradict 'while it was still dark' in John 20:1. Quite possibly Mary Magdalene ran ahead of the other women and arrived before the sun rose, as John describes, whereas the rest reached the tomb after sunrise, as Mark records. Another possible explanation is that it was dark when the party of women departed, and after sunrise when they arrived at the tomb." (A Harmony of the Gospels, 252 n. 2)What's most important for our question at hand is the information we find in in Matt. 28:8, Luke 16:11, and Mark 16:8. We know from Matthew's account that the women believed first in Jesus' resurrection. Matthew writes, "And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and they ran to report it to the disciples." In Mark we read, "And 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." The women, according to Matthew, believed what they heard from the angel and saw at the tomb. (Of course, the word "believe" does not appear; but that's what Matthew implies by his use of "joy" on their return to where the other disciples are.) Luke confirms this. The angel has to explain what's taken place by reminding them what Jesus had already taught them concerning his resurrection (Luke 24:6-7). Once reminded of Jesus' words, Luke says that they remembered what he said (Luke 24:8), and that serves as the catapult to run back to where all the disciples were mourning (Luke 24:9-10). So, why does Mark's account say that they didn't say anything, and doesn't mention anything about joy? Well, for one thing, this is a rather emotional experience. Matthew and Luke have already stressed that the women believed what they heard and saw. Peter, from whom we get the material found in the Gospel of Mark, adds another element to the story that had not yet been recorded . . . namely that the women, though they wanted to share all of what they heard, must have been questioning everything as they went back to where the apostles were staying. By the time that they get back, the apostles could clearly see that something had shaken these women up. They knew what they had heard and saw, but really? People can believe and not fully believe. I mean we see something like this in one of the conversations an individual had with Jesus' before the crucifixion. Remember how that person said, "I do believe, but help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). This is probably a really good picture of what's going on with the women. They believe, but they are somewhere toeing the line of "this is too surreal to even bring up." So, we find in the account of Mark this hesitancy on the women's behalf to speak up and say everything that they saw and heard, even though that's the whole reason that took off running from the tomb.
The first disciples who believe in Jesus' resurrection are the women who visit the tomb after his crucifixion. That is how we explain the rapid spread of belief in Jesus' resurrection. It starts with them, and spreads. But it's important to note that Jesus doesn't disappear from the tomb. His body is not just missing, leading people to offer an explanation for its absence. Instead, Jesus appears. And he appears repeatedly to individuals, sometimes in small groups and other times to larger ones. He even lets one individual physically touch him. The genesis of belief in the resurrection of Jesus begins, on one hand, with the testimony of the women at the tomb where Jesus had been laid. It spreads, though, not because of any sort of emotionalism or naivety. It spreads because of repeated appearances and confirmation time and time again that Jesus had indeed been raised to life from the dead.
There is one more post to come. And it's an important one, if you ask me. But there is one person who believes in the resurrection of Jesus before anyone else. And we need to understand who that person is, what he says about the resurrection, and the significance of such belief.