Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

Those Darn Contradictions

 by Sean D. Harmon 

 

Jesus taught his apostles to proclaim the gospel from town to town, and those who accepted would often provide the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothes, etc.), and those who rejected it, he instructed them to simply shake the dust off their feet and move on to the next town. Most people know that the Christian institution is big business these days, and obviously most churches would die on the spot if they followed Jesus' mode of advice. The more congregates that are fed into this institution, the bigger the business gets, and of course the more it thrives. Therefore, one need not bring up things like contradictions or errors in scripture lest this scare away the majority of congregates who might feel they've been "hoodwinked," as well as scaring off potential congregates, hence the fear of an undesirable mass exodus of disillusioned congregates within this thriving Christian institution as a result of such a damning revelation. The typical Christian only wants to know that the bible passages being spouted off by the preacher they're listening to every Sunday morning is correct and error free, if not then this rightly upsets their comfort zone, because how do they know where God's word crosses human interpretative error unless they actually spend time studying the scriptures themselves? Most contradictions and errors can be solved with a little reasoning, knowledge, and fairness, but the unfortunate error most Christians themselves make is confusing "divinely inspired" with "inerrancy of scripture" which are two entirely different matters, and this basically sums up the whole dilemma for the Christian in a nutshell.


What is a contradiction?

Scenario A:

Story #1: Joe got up in the morning. Decided to have some cereal. Discovered he had no milk. Walked to the store to buy some. Stopped and talked with a man he knew along the way who lived on Hollywood blvd and Vine. Came back home from work and made some eggs and bacon.

Story #2: Joe got up while it was still dark. Went out to talk to his only nearby friends Bill and Susan who lived on the Strip. Arrived at the store. Came back home and made himself some eggs and bacon.

At first glance, S2 sounds like it's racked with gross contradictions compared to S1, and can easily be argued as such, yet it is really just a matter of S1 and S2 leaving things out the other included. S1 leaves out that Joe talked with a man and a woman, which S2 specifically gives names to (Bill and Susan), and there could be a slew of reasons for this, such as S1 having a lot more conservative and traditional views about men who were not allowed to talk to women in the early morning than S2 (this is just an hypothetical example). To the reader who doesn't know that the slang for "Strip" means Hollywood blvd, this would also appear as a contradiction. S1 also leaves out the fact that Joe bought eggs and bacon, yet since S1 does not mention Joe returning home, we can reasonably assume that Joe changed his mind when he got home, and decided to have a different breakfast, or maybe the store had no milk, so Joe was forced to prepare a different breakfast, or -- we have the option of either assuming Joe had a servings of eggs and bacon both for breakfast and dinner, or he had it for dinner only, yet S2 simply does not mention that he returned home from work. And since S2 did not specifically mention where he returned home from does not overlap S1, therefore cannot be classified as a contradiction. See how subtle this is?

The skeptic will cry contradiction right off the bat. He might even fill in the gaps with his own interpretative suppositions to make it even worse. Example: they will probably argue that S1 states Joe got up in the day, while S2 states Joe got up at night. Not true. He might argue that S1 indicates Joe bought milk, while S2 indicates Joe bought eggs and bacon. Nope, because even though S1 presupposes Joe went to the store to buy milk, it isn't specific about what he actually bought. The skeptic will probably reveal his ignorance of Hollywood being referred to as the "Strip," and argue that the two places contradict. And he'll most likely point out that S1 indicates he came back from work whereas S2 states he came back from the store, yet since S2 does not mention work or specifically where he came back from, this merely assumes a contradiction. See how tricky this is?
 
Scenario B:

Story #1: Joe got up in the morning. Decided to have some cereal. Discovered he had no milk. Walked to the store to buy some. Stopped and talked with a man he knew along the way who lived on Hollywood blvd and Vine. Arrived at the store and bought milk. Came right back home and ate cereal.

Story #2: Joe got up while it was still dark. Went out to talk to his only nearby friends Bill and Susan who lived on the Strip. But they weren't home. Arrived at the store. Came right back home and made himself some eggs and bacon.

I'll leave it up to you to now find the two clear contradictions. Inerrancy of scripture in itself is a theological fallacy. God inspires, yes, and though God is perfect, humans are not perfect, it would be impossible to suggest that God's perfect word would remain perfect as it is conveyed through imperfect vessels
unless God imposed his will against theirs or forcibly controlled them like marionettes, yet this type of divine imposition is not demonstrated in scripture. But much like textual criticism, the issue of biblical discrepancies has been one of the critical arena's greatest and most pervasive attack against the New Testament, which is yet another issue typically blown out of proportion on every skeptic site and published book about the subject. I have yet to find one skeptic medium which touts a list of contradictions where about 90% are not actual contradictions. Yes, there are unfixable contradictions and errors in the bible as noted in Scenario B, which is to be expected in the context of how God interacts with and inspires his human vessels. But legitimate contradictions are few, the majority represented in Scenario A, which can be pieced together with a little reasoning or knowledge of the subject in question. Naturally, skeptics lump A and B together into one scenario, fill in the gaps with their own suppositions, and granted, this can make the gospel records look rather horrific than they actually are, and it always amazes me why they don't realize the grave disservice their doing to the credibility of their own arguments.

Personally, while I'm certainly not a fan of the way some Christians butter down issues, bog down divine inspiration with affirmations of inflexible doctrine, or try and hide facts because of dogmatic insecurities, this is why I often can't take secular criticism seriously which is just the other side of the extreme. Another issue that is left out of this equation is that the intent of the gospel authors wasn't necessarily chronicling history for secular communities or future public archives (though they naturally are rich in history), in addition to the fact that the gospels are oral constructs (discussed here: The Q Conundrum, Problem #6), and we would certainly expect telescoped, condensed, even conflated or patches of oral tradition strewn together into a written form specifically for religious purposes. With all this in mind, piecing a reasonable scenario or bridging the gap between two accounts that might appear like a contradiction, such as the resurrection accounts in the four gospels for example, is not an unreasonable method of historical detective work and exegesis. And though Bart Ehrman argues that this borders on what he calls "meta-narrative" or creating a gospel of your own to clear up difficulties,[1] I would argue that the same is true for skeptics who try and accentuate or create contradictions out of non-contradictions, or exploit those gaps with their own suppositions to make it worse than it is. So the same is true on both playing fields.

 

The folly of ignorance

In many instances, an event or saying sounds like a contradiction, but is solely dependent on the contextualization or understanding of the meaning, theology, culture, the historical situation itself, or even the original language (typically Hebrew or Greek) of the actual phrase or event in question, which are usually the instances that are most often misinterpreted as contradictions by those who have very little knowledge or understanding in this area. Critics, particularly the sleuths on Internet sites, are usually under the impression that the NT was written in English instead of Greek and Hebrew, thus always assume the English translation is the original language it was written without realizing a possible mistranslation from the Hebrew or Greek to English.

Sometimes the critic merely takes a word, phrase, or situation out of context, something that is quite easy to do with a myriad number of passages. Just one brief example of this is the confusion between Luke (23:43) and John (20:17), where Luke indicates that "today" Jesus would be in paradise, whereas John indicates that Jesus had not yet "ascended to the Father." Did Jesus immediately go to heaven when he died or not? But "paradise" wasn't always thought of as heaven in the sense we understand it, and in Jewish culture paradise was often referred to as Sheol or Hades (hell), or a "holding place" either on or within the earth (see Matthew 12:40; Acts 2:25-31; Luke 16:22-31), sometimes even above the earth, or a place that was distinguished from the "bad" hell, usually referred to as Gehenna.[2] This coincides with the Christian theological belief that Christ descended into Hades during the three days prior to his resurrection. Tradition holds that he actually preached the gospel to the souls in Hades who were being held there prior to his coming (see Ephesians 4:9-10; 1 Peter 3:18-20). The point here is that in this particular case, it is clearly due to one's lack of knowledge about the nuances of Jewish and Christian tradition and theology, and I'm always amazed how so many freely criticize a subject in spite of this ignorance. I won't go elaborate here, as I would guess these particular instances make up the majority of alleged contractions, and there are about as many apologetic sites addressing these contextual, linguistic, theological and historical issues concerning the numerous passages in question as there are skeptic sires exploiting them.

 

Markan priority authority

A good number of contradictions are also based on the textual-dependency theory (a la Markan priority), by erroneously presupposing the theory as fact which inevitably creates contradictions just based on this presupposition. In other words, if three authors copied the Olivet Discourse from the same literary source, and since the discourses differ somewhat in each gospel, particularly more in Luke than Mark and Matthew, this would be assumed as a radical redaction by Luke himself. Yet if in fact the authors wrote independently, using the same common oral outline, then there is no doubt that there are a lot of cases that two instances of what some might assume is the same account is actually two different yet similar accounts. We dissected just how plausible the textual-dependency theory really is in another article so I won't go into detail, but is it unreasonable to assume that Jesus was asked one time about the fall of the Temple and the future events to come? Or that he was asked once by a community to confirm his position or claims by giving them a sign? Or that he taught one Sermon on the Mount? Or that he taught each recorded parable one time? Cleansed the Temple once? N.T. Wright states…

"If we come to the ministry of Jesus as first-century historians, and forget our twentieth-century assumptions about mass media, the overwhelming probability is that most of what Jesus said, he said not twice but 200 times, with (of course) a myriad of local variations."[3]

Simply put, if the textual-dependency theory is false and we're dealing with a number of independent oral traditions instead, then probably about 60% of what are automatically deemed contradictions or redactions of the same account are merely two similar, yet entirely separate accounts or sayings all together.

 

Perfection imperfection

Matthew 9:18 "While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, 'My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.'"

 

Mark 5:23 "... and implored Him earnestly, saying, 'My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.'"

This often parallels the same demands of perfection that exists in textual criticism. Was his daughter dead at this point or was she about to die? Is it really that important? The point was that she had a fatal illness and was as good as dead, if not already dead, and both Matthew (9:23-24) and Mark (5:38-39) record that she was indeed dead by the time Jesus arrived. A large number of these types of discrepancies are simply way too technical than necessary and just plain nitpicky.

 

Gaps, different perspectives and timelines

In other cases, two accounts could simply have gaps between the accounts, perfectly normal in ancient literature (more on that in a bit), or two gospels picking up where the other leaves off. Did Jesus call Peter and Andrew to discipleship from the Sea of Galilee or the Jordan River (compare: Matthew 4:18-22 vs John 1:42-43)? And was John the Baptist imprisoned before or after he had called the disciples? The answer is the Sea of Galilee and before he had officially called his disciples.

In Matthew chap. 3-4, Jesus is baptized then immediately tempted. When using a little common sense, we realize there is an obvious gap in Matthew between the temptation and when John the Baptist is arrested (Matthew 4:12). The encounter Jesus has with the disciples in Matthew (4:18-22), where he officially calls them to follow him, obviously precedes an encounter they had previously. It’s hard to believe they would simply leave everything, their family and livelihood behind to immediately follow a perfect stranger. The great commission (Matthew 10), or when Jesus assigns his disciples to evangelize on their own, also follows this shortly after (within just days, a week at the most) which is a clear indication that he had spent years prior teaching and training them up to the point they were able to carry out Jesus' mission of spreading the gospel from city to city on their own. John fills in that gap between the "calling" and his baptism/temptation. Somewhere in the beginning of John's gospel (John 1:15-34), Jesus is baptized and tempted, though John leaves these events out, if you notice, when he mentions John the Baptist he is describing the baptism in the past tense (John 1:32-33).

So here’s the chronology: Jesus is baptized and tempted in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Afterward, John picks it up from there which is the gap in the other three -- Jesus is hanging around Galilee and the Jordan River where John the Baptist is. Jesus meets some of the disciples for the first time, including the four fishermen -- Peter and John in that group (John 1:35-51). The situation here is completely different and much more causal than the synoptics since their accounts take place years after this. In John, they hang out with Jesus and attend the party at Cana (John chap. 4), and makes a couple of trips throughout Galilee to Jerusalem and back. This is the gap between his baptism/temptation and the arrest of John the Baptist (Matthew 4:12), and according to John at least two Passovers occur in this gap that are not mentioned in the synoptics (John 2:3, 5:1). Matthew then picks it up in Matthew 4:12, where Jesus starts his official ministry and calls the disciples while they are on the job (Matthew 4:18-22). Since they hung out with him for at least two years prior, as recorded in John, heard his teachings and saw his miracles, they follow him without hesitation. John does not mention when this second encounter occurs or when John the Baptist is arrested, so there is no overlap, thus no contradiction that can be claimed here. John the Baptist's arrest occurs somewhere between John 3:24-42 and 4:1-42, and the official calling of the disciples perhaps occurs somewhere between John 4:43 and 6:1.

It was perfectly natural in the ancient world to conflate or condense certain events, telescope events they were especially interested while leaving out other events, or leaving  gaps of information in between events, particularly a world that preferred sharing information orally. Martin Hengel points this out...

 

"Furthermore, chronological sequence, which is indispensable for us, played a secondary role in ancient biography: as Diogenes Laertius' lives of the philosophers or Suetonius' lives of the emperors show, chronology could be largely dispensed with; or, as in the case of Plutarch, it could be treated in a fairly cavalier fashion. In biography in particular, the tendency was less towards a continuous and consecutive account; authors were quite content to string together a series of typical anecdotes with virtually no connection between them... Even in a number of the larger historical works, however, the author limited himself to linking individual events and scenes loosely together; he would even jump over long intervals of time in a few sentences, after which he would once again describe particular incidents in very great detail."[4] 

 

In respect to ancient literary methodology it would be extremely difficult for even an expert to find a genuine contradiction in the gospels when they were in fact not necessarily maintaining strict chronological sequence. This can be combined with The folly of ignorance, or those not aware that this was a typical form of composition in ancient literature. Now the cleansing of the Temple may be chronologically out of whack in John (2:13-15), since it occurs at different times in the other gospels and clearly after John the Baptist was imprisoned. However, some have suggested that Jesus cleansed the Temple more than once. This is certainly a possibility, which would have indeed caused the Sadducees to see Jesus as a serial nuance. I don’t ever claim there are not at least minor flaws here and there, but the chronology and the so-called contradictions are never as bad as skeptics make them out to be. It stuns me how incidents such as these are just outrightly dismissed as contradictions, yet with bias in the equation, it doesn't surprise me at all and only presents trends in their erroneous methodology. 

There are also different chronological placements or ways a series of duplicated traditions are uniquely arranged. Example: raising of Jairus' daughter from the dead in the three synoptics. Upon Jesus' return from across the lake, the gospels reveal a general sequence of events we can follow:

  1. Jesus is greeted and overwhelmed at the seashore by a crowd.
  2. Jesus heals a paralytic before the huge crowd.
  3. Jesus calls Matthew to follow him from a tax collection booth and goes to a party at Matthew's house
  4. Jesus has a discussion with the Pharisees, and then the disciples of John the Baptist.
  5. Jairus approaches Jesus about his dying daughter.
  6. Jesus heals the woman with the hemorrhage on his way to Jairus' residence.
  7. Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead.

Matthew's gospel records these events in the exact sequence from #1-7 (Matthew 9:1-25). Mark and Luke record event #1 (Mark 5:21; Luke 8:40), then immediately jump to #5-7 (Mark 5:21-42; Luke 8:41-55), placing events #2-4 at an earlier part of their gospels (Mark 2:10-20; Luke 5:24-35). These aren't contradictions, just different chronological placements, certainly expected in a culture where these traditions were told orally before transcribed to text, and the scholar, conditioned to Markan priority, naturally presupposes that this rearrangement simply served the literary or evangelistic purpose or style of the authors themselves. Yet looking outside of the textual-dependency theory, it's easier to believe that this was the various ways these traditions were taught and preserved orally in different communities, or separate traditions "patched" together in an oral construct which makes more sense. This makes much more sense as evidence of certain oral patterns each community felt comfortable memorizing or the variety of arrangements certain apostles and elders taught these oral traditions, rather than rearranging the entire structure by the authors themselves for no particular reason, not to mention the difficulty and impracticality this would have been. Imagine copying about a 50 page book, by hand, rearranging its entire structure, even adding other things from other sources and doing all this with an unerasable ink pen.

Cultural clarity

A specific redaction sometimes served a thematic purpose for practicality or clarity, and as we previously mentioned, might require from the reader a little knowledge about the history of the particular first century audience or culture each gospel author was targeting, or the community where the tradition may have been taught and preserved, in order to grasp the reason or methodology for the inconsistency. Example: there is a similar story of healing by all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26), where people bring a paralyzed man to Jesus, but because of the crowd, the men bring him on top of the roof, dig through the roof, and lower the man down to Jesus. Let's look at Mark and Luke's version…

Mark 2:3-4 "And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.

Luke 5:18-19 "And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus."

We left out Matthew because he omits the part about lowering him through the roof all together. But notice Mark uses "dug an opening," while Luke uses "through the tiles." This we could easily classify in our "Unrealistic demand of perfection" we previously mentioned. But the reason for this variation is that Mark may have been writing to an audience that was familiar with typical houses in a certain area that had thatched roofs through which one could dig through, while Luke was writing to an audience familiar with tiled roofs, and Matthew may considered it an inconvenience to mention either one. Or looking at this logically, it would seem more plausible that this tradition was preserved and customized in different communities that were costumed to what they knew of such houses. In other words, it would seem more logical that Mark got his traditions, for example, from the Christians in Judea where the roofs were predominantly thatched roofs, whereas Luke got his traditions from Christians in Antioch where the roofs were made of tiles (these are just examples, not meant to be accurate historical assessments), rather than the two authors consciously making these change themselves, as the textual-dependency theory would suggest. So there are often times necessary variations for practicality other than just outright careless mistakes, and though this is just an example, we could multiply this by many similar instances like this.

 

Contradiction as the benefit of the doubt

There are what can be seen as inconsistencies between the gaps of missing information, yet are not technically inconsistencies in that they don't necessarily overlap. These often lead to tendencies to fill suppositions into places that show obvious gaps that I mentioned earlier. There is probably no other event recorded that is a perfect example of this (other than the resurrection) than the Nativity birth story, and since this is undoubtedly the most extensive combination of supernatural events other than the resurrection, guess it just comes with the territory. What's even worse is that Matthew (chap. 1-2) and Luke (2:1-20) are the only two canon gospels that even include the story, and each story seems racked with gross inconsistencies. If we put aside the erroneous "inerrancy of scripture" belief, historical error is certainly to be expected, if this is indeed the case, particularly when we also put aside obvious collusion (and it is more than apparent Matthew and Luke never saw the work of the other; discussed here: Jesus Christmas, Church collusion).

Yet to the contrary, most of these inconsistencies, which are often exploited as contradictions, are merely exclusions one author includes that the other leaves out, therefore, without any direct evidence of overlap, they simply cannot be concluded as contradictions, just assumed as such. According to Matthew's account, Joseph gets his angelic messages in a dream (Matthew 1:20, 2:12), whereas Luke has Mary get it directly from the angel himself (Luke 1:28-35), but since there are two different parties involved here, these are not contradictions, just different perspectives with two different parties. Matthew is clearly telling it from Joseph's perspective, while Luke is telling it from Mary's, therefore the two authors obviously recorded different events and experiences by two different individuals, and undoubtedly had two different sources of information. Matthew records a visitation of magi (wise men), Luke records a visitation of shepherds -- which is it, three magi or three shepherds? Neither, because there is no specified number as to how many magi and shepherds there actually were in each group, contrary to extrabiblical tradition. Thus who's to say that both groups didn't visit the newborn? Fact is, each visit was in two different locations after the birth had occurred. The shepherds visited the infant in a manger (Luke 2:15-16), the magi visited the infant in a house (Matthew 2:11; note: Matthew never indicates who’s house this was), therefore there is no evidence of overlapping, no conflict, only an assumed contradiction since the explanation that serves as a bridge for both locations obviously is not recorded. Yet if either the magi or shepherds had visited both the house and the manger, or if you had three shepherds in one account and three magi in another then you might have a problem. In Matthew there is no journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth as in Luke (2:4), and in Luke there is no hurried departure from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape king Herod’s pending slaughter of the newborns as in Matthew (2:13-15), yet they do not overlap (with one assumed discrepancy, which I'll discuss in a bit), therefore cannot be ruled a contradiction, just assumed as one.

I've heard a slew of explanations to try and explain the two genealogical differences in both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38), and though every critic naturally assumes that the two genealogies are Joseph's, this is mere speculation, and rather careless speculation that is not at all supported. The most plausible explanation to me is that Matthew recorded Joseph's genealogy while Luke recorded Mary's. I went into this extensively in another article (here: The She Seed, King Jeconiah's curse) so I won't elaborate. But the typical method or credo for an historian is to put subjective biases aside, give the accounts the benefit of the doubt and find reasonable and workable explanations before jumping to speculative conclusions, especially when arguing fabrication is not only question begging, but requires one to stretch beyond what we would assume of genealogies which were not written as fiction but written to prove one's heritage, and in this particular culture with a people who were exceptionally attentive to such issues, such a consequential claim of lineage would have been inevitably verified. Whether most of these events are contradictions or not, it is simply not provable either way, therefore the bottom line is that the matter is purely subjective to one's personal opinions, whether you are either for the story or against it, and in this case you can distinctly see where the battle lines cross between skeptic and apologist.

When I analyze the so-called contradictions, the only genuine problem I find is that Matthew (2:23) seems to imply that Joseph and Mary settled in Nazareth for the first time after Jesus was born, whereas Luke (1:26-27) clearly indicates they lived in Nazareth prior. If it was a mistake on Matthew's part, it was minor, and a mistake that is certainly understandable, although Matthew certainly doesn't directly indicate this settling was their first time. Another issue, though certainly not a contradiction but may raise a timeline issue, is that Luke (2:22) indicates Joseph and Mary --  following the law of purification (Leviticus 12:4) which prohibited a woman from entering the Temple after the birth of a male for about a month -- came to the Temple to present the child after the month was up. So this narrows the plight to Egypt in Matthew (Matthew 2:13-14), the death of King Herod (Matthew 2:19-21) and their trek to Nazareth afterwards within a one month radius. In other words, there is a one month gap between the visit of the shepherds (Luke 2:20-21) and Jesus being presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22), and it's certainly not an impossibility that Matthew's flight to Egypt fits into this gap, but further supplies ammunition for those who would choose to readily exploit it as a problem. I should also note the subtle way Luke describes it. He indicates that Joseph, Mary, and the infant arrived at the Temple after the purification law, but this certainly didn't apply to Joseph and Jesus. Since Luke combined both the law of purification and the requirement of the first born law (Exodus 13:12-13), this suggest that they fulfilled both laws in one shot. However, it would have been unnecessary and somewhat odd for Joseph to wait for Mary's purification to adhere to the firstborn law unless he had been unable to bring Jesus to the Temple before that time.

What about Matthew's (2:16) indication that Herod killed the children of Bethlehem two years and under, suggesting that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed in Bethlehem when Jesus was at least two years old? Nowhere does the story that they were in Egypt for two years. Once again, I'm not a fundamentalist that claims everything has to be perfect, but I clearly see where the swords are drawn between skeptic and apologist based on partiality to the story. And since the skeptic has already concluded that the story isn't true a priori based on the miraculous, the skeptic usually goes beyond the bounds of reason to claim an overlap where there is none, and this is a perfect example. The magi were the only source of information Herod heard about the child, yet there is no way the magi knew how old Jesus was since their visit to Herod was before they visited the family, and Mathew makes it clear that the magi did not return to Herod afterwards, therefore based on common sense, Herod was obviously making a safeguard guesstimation. By the way, in case there are those who assume Herod slaughtered hundreds of children that went unnoticed incredibly in historical archives, scholars have actually discovered that Bethlehem in the first century was most likely not the same Bethlehem of today.The Bethlehem of the first century was actually located in Galilee and was a much smaller and obscure village.[5]

What about the Quirnius issue? Again, this is not the issue of this article (for that discussion go here). In fact, there is an obvious problem to contend with for those who argue against the story, because two gospels about the same subject, with both starkly similar yet unique differences, suggests that Matthew and Luke were using two separate external sources independently of each other, indicating both stories were connected to an earlier and broader tradition, adding that unneeded little thorn to those who readily dismiss this as a late legend invented by Matthew and Luke decades after the fact (discussed here: Jesus Christmas). Nonetheless, with but a couple of arguable problems aside, there are no contradictions because there are no genuine overlaps. The story was clearly connected at the core, yet obviously came from independent witnesses because the main points are the same with both authors:

  • Jesus had two human parents named Mary and Joseph. Mary conceived and became pregnant while she was still a virgin.
  • The Holy Spirit was the cause of Mary’s mysterious conception.
  • The news of Mary’s pregnancy was initially unexpected and troublesome to both Mary and Joseph.
  • A required angelic manifestation was needed to remedy their bewilderment.
  • The baby is given the name "Jesus" by the angel.
  • Through angels, Jesus is identified as the Messiah.
  • Jesus was born while Herod the Great was king of Judea. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.
  • Jesus' birth is understood in light of Jewish prophecies.
  • Unexpected visitors are supernaturally summoned to visit Jesus.
  • Jesus, though born in Bethlehem, was raised in Nazareth.

Genuine contradictions

Then there are the bonafide contradictions, such as the cleansing of the Temple and cursing of the fig tree (Matthew 21:10-19 and Mark 11:11-17).

 
Matthew                                                 Mark
Triumphal Entry (21:1-9)                           Triumphal Entry (11:1-10)
Jesus in Jerusalem (21:10-11)                     Jesus in Jerusalem (11:11)
------                                                    Overnight in Bethany (11:11)
Cleansing the Temple (21:12-16)              Cursing the Fig Tree (11:12-14)
Overnight in Bethany (21:17)                   ------
Cursing the Fig Tree (21:18-19)                  Cleansing the Temple (11:15-17)
------                                                    The Chief Priests and Scribes Conspire (11:18-19)
The Fig Tree Withered (21:20-22)               The Fig Tree Withered (11:20-26)

The difference of sequence here isn't the issue, nor the fact that Matthew left out "The Chief Priests conspire" which Mark included, but that Mark stated Jesus cleansed the Temple on the following day after his overnight stay in Bethany, whereas Matthew clearly indicated that Jesus cleansed the Temple the same day he arrived in Jerusalem. Though Jesus undoubtedly cleansed the Temple twice as indicated in John compared to the synoptics, and though some apologists use that to explain this error in this particular instance, it's not likely in this case. 

There is a possible error in Mark (14:66-72) where he records that the cock crowed a "second time," but does not record the first crow. Another irreconcilable error is in Mark (2:26), where he mistakenly identifying Abiathar as the high priest when it was actually Ahimelech who was a high priest at the time David ate the sacred Temple bread. Critics assume Matthew and Luke "cleaned up Mark's blunder" by leaving out the name (of course under the presupposition of Markan priority), but it would be just as logical to assume Mark independently added the name to clarify it to his readers, but added the wrong one, instead of Jesus making the blunder himself (click here for comparison of all three). In fact, what bolsters the idea that Mark added the mistake himself is the coincidence that both Matthew and Luke leave out the high priest name all together, which would also bolster the argument against textual-dependency, since the odds are more than likely at least one of them would have either copied his error or corrected the blunder with Ahimelech's name instead of leaving the name blank. 

 
The Resurrection conundrum

Another one of the most seemingly glaring and problematic sequence is the resurrection itself, and it can be a daunting task trying to decipher what seems to be a mess. What's worse is that the name Mary was such a common name during this era and in this culture, this can add to the confusion. So what really happened that day? First of all, we probably need to note (which we did in a previous article here: The Evangelists: The Judaic Embarrassment) once again that there is a possibility Mark's gospel ended at 16:8, and the subsequent verses 9-20 (verses in red in the chart below) were added by a later interpolator. This type of extensive manipulation of scripture (assuming it to be a historical certainty) wasn't common, with the exception of Marcion's second century failed attempt at revising the gospel of Luke for his own theological purposes, yet even he didn't add, but subtracted.[6] So we might assume that the scribe had good reasons for adding this, perhaps with firsthand knowledge that Mark never intended to end his gospel that way.

Nonetheless, whatever the reason, the scribe seems to have kept with common tradition until he gets to verses 16:15-18 (not in the chart below) which then takes the story into left field, revealing a stark religious and rather odd orthodoxy. This may imply that there were two scribe forgers. In any event, verses 16:9-14 and 16:19-20 seem to comply in bits and pieces with Matthew, Luke and John's account. Though there are hypothetical scenarios that have attempted harmonization of the accounts in each gospel, complete harmonization is simply not possible, regardless how vehemently some Christians subscribe to this belief. Yet the lack of complete harmonization, in my opinion, once again only testifies to the genuineness of the account (which we will discuss later). Yet complete lack of any harmonization, or even a lack of harmonization in most cases, purported by skeptics, is also completely false.     
 

 

Matthew

Mark

Luke

John

A

(Matthew 28:1) came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre

(Mark 16:1) Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him

(Luke 24:1) they (the women) came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them

(John 20:1) cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher

B

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(Mark 16:4) And when they (the women) looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great

(Luke 24:2-3) And they (the women) found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus

(John 20:1) and she (Magdalene) seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher

C

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(John 20:2-10) Then she (Magdalene) runneth and come to Simon Peter, and to the other Disciple whom Jesus loved Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie… Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher… Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

D

(Matthew 28:2-7) And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, 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… 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

 

(Mark 16:5-8) Entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here… But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.' And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid

 

(Luke 24:4-6) And it came to pass, as they (the women) were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by 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 risen Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee?'

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E

(Matthew 28:8-10) And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped 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"

(Mark 16:9) Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene

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(John 20:11-17) But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 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. 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 have laid Him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, 'Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.' Jesus saith unto her, 'Mary' (Magdalene). She turned herself, and saith unto him, 'Rabboni;' which is to say, 'Master.' Jesus saith unto her, 'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.'"

F

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(Mark 16:10-11) And she (Magdalene) went and told them (the disciples) that had been with him (Jesus), as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not

(Luke 24:9-11) and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not

(John 20:18) Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her

G

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(Luke 24:12) Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass

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H

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(Mark 16:12) After that he (Jesus) appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country

(Luke 24:13-35) And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem… And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them… And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, 'The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.' And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread

 

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I

(Matthew 28:16-18) Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them

(Mark 16:14) Afterward he (Jesus) appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen

(Luke 24:36) And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you

(John 20:19) when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you

J

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(John 21:1-14) After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught."Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.


K

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(Mark 16:19-20) So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

(Luke 24:50-53) And He (Jesus) led them (his followers) out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.

 

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The unsolvable:

(A) Matthew records two women who arrive at the tomb: Magdalene and another Mary, whereas Mark records three women: Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and Luke is not descriptive until later. We might give Mark the benefit of the doubt here because not only does Luke (F) confirm both Mary's, and indicates a Joanna and other nondescript women, but Matthew (27:55-56) indeed mentions both Mary's with other nondescript women at the crucifixion scene prior to this. Since we know there were other women, and that Matthew was aware of other women, it is easier to assume Matthew excluded one woman than it is to assume Mark added the one. But I categorized this as unsolvable because, albeit extremely minor, it's still a discrepancy. 


(D) The fact that Mark and Luke record a man/men at the tomb, yet Matthew and John call them angels is not a contradiction since it was not uncommon in Jewish culture to refer to angels as men (discussed here: The Evangelists: Angels or suspicious men?). But Matthew and Mark imply one individual, while Luke and John indicate there were two. Mark and John indicate that the angels are sitting, Luke indicates they are standing. It's certainly plausible that there were multiple angel(s) sightings, but this is unclear. Yet with the exception of Matthew's angelic encounter, these are still non-consequential at best. I should also note that most of these contested contradictions (up to D) fall under the assumption of textual-dependency, so the door is wide open for possibilities, suppositions, and alternative options since textual-dependency is but a theory, and a theory that is much too faulty and inconclusive to use as a basis whereby to make certain comparisons and conclude them contradictions (discussed here: The Q Conundrum). In other words, if there were in fact multiple angel sightings and the textual-dependency theory happens to be incorrect, then these accounts represent independent sources. If this is case, this may reflect traditions that were condensed and/or conflated or patched together to form a simpler oral narrative. Another problem is that in Matthew (D), the women actually witness the stone being rolled aside, while Mark, Luke, and John (B) all indicate that they find the stone already rolled away. We should note, however, that Matthew doesn't indicate the women actually see the angel roll the stone away, even though this is might be implied (there could be a gap between the guards witnessing the event and when he speaks to the women), yet once again this could just be the way the oral story was preserved. 

 

(G) Luke confirms that Peter inspected the empty tomb, while John (C) indicates that it was both Peter and another disciple (possibly himself) that was with him, thus we have a few options:

 

  • This is a contradiction in Luke’s tradition.
  • Peter inspected the tomb more than once.
  • Assuming it was John himself who wrote his own gospel, he may have written most of it from personal experience, and may not have revealed this information prior. In other words, John certainly would have known he was with Peter if this was in fact his own work, whereas others would not have known this detail about the incident unless he specifically told them he was there with Peter.

 

The obvious discrepancies are minor, and I find them soothing because such minor discrepancies are typical and natural of any authentic multiple eyewitness account, and that there aren’t major discrepancies that reek of obvious fiction, like Jesus actually being seen rising from the dead and coming out of the tomb; or the disciples or someone else discovering the tomb in one account instead of the women in the other accounts; or Jesus coming out as an 80 story giant with a talking cross in one account, like the Gospel of Peter; or Jesus descending into hell, like the gospel of Bartholomew; or Jesus as an angelic being glowing with the glory of God like he did at the Mount of Transfiguration in one account and not the others; or Jesus ascending into the clouds on a white horse in one gospel, a flaming chariot in another, and carried by angels in another. Not only is the resurrection relatively agreeable, but is pretty tame and uneventful by standards we would expect if the discrepancies were the natural result of the stories being fictionalized by different people.

 
The solvable:

(A) Matthew and Mark indicate that Magdalene and another Mary visited the tomb first, whereas John seems to imply that Magdalene visited the tomb alone. We should note, however, that John also has Magdalene use the plural "we" when she runs off to tell Peter and the other disciple, clearly indicating she was with others at the tomb and that John was aware of this (John 20:2). This seems to be either John choosing to focus on Magdalene, or was simply the tradition itself that John was extracting the account from, and since she was obviously the catalyst of the story, John or the tradition saw no point in mentioning the other women. We put this in the solvable category because the tradition of the other women certainly would have already been known to John (and it was, as was pointed out) so logically it's unlikely this was an unconscious mistake. 

 

(D) Mark indicates that the women ran from the tomb in fear and did not say "anything to any man," and this is supposedly where his gospel ends and the interpolation begins (all the subsequent verses in red). Yet the other three gospels obviously contradict the fact that the women told others, thus we have a few options here:

 

  1. This is a contradiction.
  2. A specific point Mark was making.
  3. Mark perhaps meant that they told "no man" outside of Jesus' following.
  4. Mark's gospel did not end here, but he either ran out of space, or the rest of it was lost.

 

Points #1-2 are moot because we have no way to confirm if this was all there was to his gospel, and just because one story may have ended where the others continued certainly doesn't equate to a contradiction by omission anyway (more on that in a bit). If #3 is true, perhaps Mark's gospel did not really end here. Let's face it, for them not to tell the disciples would not only have been blatant disobedience against specific instructions from the angel of the Lord -- a rather bad example of religious obedience -- but to assume their total silence ever after doesn’t make much sense. This is often why skeptics ritualistically cling to Markan priority. Assuming that Mark is the earliest, they can then suppose that there really was no resurrection story, and the other subsequent gospels simply came along and made it up with added embellishments as they copied Mark. But this is a silly and pointless argument to make. In light of the angel's confirmation of Jesus' resurrection and the fact the tomb was open and had no body, Mark wanted his readers to know that something obviously occurred, and thus we can assume he was implying eventual appearances -- which was at the traditional core of the Christian movement long before Mark was even written, and goes as far back as the "Resurrection Creed" in Paul's letters (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). If Mark's account was all there was to the tradition that started the whole Christian movement, or particularly if Mark was making this tradition up to sell the story or even add to an incomplete tradition, he would have certainly expounded on the resurrection, not left it dangling at the worst possible point. So the argument that this was all there was to the tradition prior to Mark because it was a legend that took off and evolved from that point on in the subsequent gospels after Mark is pretty absurd.

Obviously Mark indicates to us that the appearances occurred in Galilee with the angel's declaration that such appearances would ensue. Based on common sense, the resurrection tradition was known in full prior to Mark (perhaps this is just more evidence that he was not the first gospel after all?) and Mark was merely summarizing and felt no need to fill in what was already known (maybe he had limited time or papyrus space?). Of course, we’re still under the assumption here that Mark intended on ending his gospel this way, as opposed to him either not being able to finish it or perhaps had an ending that was lost (a missing codex?), or the manuscript itself was damaged, options that certainly can't be ruled out as explanations. Therefore, we put this in the solvable category because Mark’s ending is inconclusive, albeit not that much of an unsolvable issue. It's more than clear that he was building off resurrection tradition appearances that were already known (i.e. empty tomb, body gone, angel's announcement of appearances).

While some early manuscript copies of Mark don't have anything after 16:8, other manuscript copies actually have different endings at 16:8 than the one in the chart above (the one above being the one that is standard in all bibles today). So I included this in the solvable category because there are just too many outstanding assumptions and speculations to suppose a contradiction, aside from the fact a contradiction would make no sense anyway, as I explained. We can only assume with a degree of certainty that 16:9-20 in the chart above was in fact a later interpolation, then proceed to speculate whether Mark planned on abruptly ending it at 16:8, and then proceed to further speculate either why he did end it at that point or if it was instead a result of precipitating circumstances either with Mark himself (martyrdom before he could finish?), damage to the actual manuscript, or some other reason for its abrupt end.

 

(E) According to John, Jesus tells Magdalene not to touch him, but Matthew indicates that Jesus let the other women touch his feet. I covered the possibility for this extensively in another article (here: Can't Touch This).

 

(I) Location of the appearances is another sticky point on the surface, until we dissect it properly, realizing that there are not only obvious gaps of time and information between these accounts, but this did not occur all in one day, which would also account for a lot of the problems previously noted. Matthew seems to imply that Jesus' first appearance to the disciples was at a location in Galilee (I). Mark confirms this (D) with the angel's instructions, and Matthew also confirms this (D) and (E), while Luke (H) seems to imply that the first appearance to his disciples occurred at Jerusalem.

Matthew seems to imply that the meeting in Galilee was not Jesus' first appearance by indicating that Jesus had already "appointed them" to meet him, and though it's highly possible that Matthew was referring to the command the angel and Jesus gave to the women prior, it's also possible that there was an appearance at Jerusalem not recorded by Matthew, where Jesus had appointed them directly himself. In any event, most likely there was an appearance at Jerusalem before Galilee as indicated in both Luke and John, being that it was during a Jewish festival. In John (I), the appearance behind locked doors was his first, yet John does not specify where this occurred. We can certainly assume this was the same appearance behind locked doors that Luke (I) also records, which was at Jerusalem. John then goes on to record the appearance in Galilee (J). It seems more than apparent the first appearances occurred at Jerusalem, which Matthew omits, we could assume because the disciples doubted the reports of the resurrection at first, thus ignored the command given by the angel to the women to meet him in Galilee until after his appearance to them at Jerusalem (could this be why Mark left this out as to omit the unfaithful actions of the disciples?).  

I should also point out since I see many make this mistake of assuming Matthew (I) and John (J) end with the disciples in Galilee, because they assume the ascension takes place in Galilee in Matthew and John's version, while it takes place in Bethany in Luke's version (K). This is way off the mark simply because Matthew and John do not record the ascension nor even mention the ascension. Therefore nothing suggests that the meeting at the end of Matthew and John in Galilee was his "last" meeting before he ascended. Mark (K) mentions the ascension but does not specify what location they are in. Contrary to what some assume, Jesus did not ascend the very same day he had reportedly resurrected.

Luke records that Jesus was with them for over a period of a month post-resurrection and before his ascension (Acts 1:3). There is a second appearance John records, which we did not include in the chart above that occurs before John's Galilean appearance. John indicates it had occurred "eight days later," and is the scene with doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29) who was not with them during the first appearance in John (I) that took place eight days ago. Luke mentions an appearance to Peter (Simon) that he does not record (Luke 24:33-34). Paul also records appearances that are absent from the gospels (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). As I mentioned, Luke records in his second work that this occurred over 40 days, whereas in his first work he makes it seem as though it was one long day. Obviously he would not have contradicted himself in his own work, so we can safely assume traditional conflation and omission was intentional.

So not only do the authors record different appearances at different times, but there are appearances not fully accounted for, so indeed there are gaps of time and missing information, and the appearances are scattered throughout the gospels in places such as Jerusalem, Emmaus, mountains in Galilee, the sea of Tiberius, Bethany, etc. The incident in John (J) where Peter and the other disciples decide to go fishing also logically implies a time lapse, since it would be unreasonable to assume that the disciples would have had the urge to fish on the SAME day Jesus resurrected. And since we know he was with them for over a month, this suggests scattered eyewitness accounts like any other genuine eyewitness account, accounts from different eyewitnesses, different perspectives, even some discrepancies here and there, but gaps of missing information because they met in multiple places over a span of a considerable amount of time. On top of that, we also need to consider the methodology of oral tradition, where the accounts may have been conflated, condensed, things omitted (such as what we find with Luke), certain things highlighted above other things, etc. Therefore the so-called problem of meticulous chronology that skeptics believe we should expect and thus try and exploit might be a problem for precise inerrantists, but in reality, is a non-issue.

 

Final thought

It's undoubtedly a catch-22, because if the gospels were cloned documents, then the skeptics would argue collusion: that the church cleaned up the discrepancies in an effort to present a nice and neat unified front to the world, and of course, they'd use it as an excuse to further propagate the textual-dependency theory even further. So either way, Christianity loses. Flaws are a good thing, and this is something Christians need to repeat to themselves at least ten times a day. Flaws attest to the story's genuineness, in addition to being free from contrivance and mutual collusion, but most of all -- to my personal delight -- they disrupt popular presupposed textual-dependency arguments. Contrary to what the skeptic argues and what some Christians believe, inspired scripture does not have to be error free. The true divine authority is not perfection, but begins with the resurrection of Christ -- whether this event historically occurred or not  -- and whether there are facts to support it (for that discussion go here: Onward Christian Martyrs). Until this is established, any spiritual, theological, philosophical or critical challenge to Christianity stands for zilch. In other words, if the resurrection is not a historical fact, even flawless texts won't save it, and as a result, Christianity is hopelessly moot going out the gate and everything else with it. And if you’re a Christian who is uncertain about this, letting your faith ride solely on an inerrancy credo, then you got a serious problem. However, if the resurrection is a historical fact, then not only does the text obviously need to be given the benefit of the doubt, not to mention the attention it deserves, but divine inspiration is certainly possible in this case, and more than likely probable. Looking at supposed contradictions is the cart before the horse.

However, as probable as it is, divine inspiration is as ambiguous, mysterious and complicated as trying to figure out the Trinity -- it's there, but who the heck knows what it is. God indeed inspired the writers and scribes, yet not as a wooden or definitive mechanism, or through some mystical auto-telepathic writing process forcefully imposed on the writers, guiding them like spiritual marionettes in order to keep it perfect, but an extraordinary ability of God to inspire an innumerable amount of people just enough, with all their faults, short comings, flaws, diversities and individualism to get his essential message through and keep those, willing to show some effort with a little research and examining of their own, on the right path. With this in mind, it's certainly no accident that we have an exorbitant amount of extant NT material to work with and compare, unlike most other ancient historical material of its time. Of course, there is a level of faith that needs to be applied here as well, and this is the dividing line between faith and human reason, which is why a historical resurrection must be the essential foundation on which to build this principle, otherwise everything else pretty much comes crashing down with uncertainty, and an inerrancy of scripture credo alone certainly won't save it.

Go home 

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Source References

1. Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, p.38; 2001.

2. Angelo S. Rappoport, Myth and Legend of Ancient Israel, pp.109-123; 2005.

3. N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p.423; 1992.

4. Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity, p.16-17; 1979.

5. James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and Archaeology, p.95-96; 2006.

6. See Marcionism: Teachings.