|Photo courtesy Wikipedia Japan|
Strict chronological order in all accounts of the same eventsSince the Bible claims to report historical events, people have sought to show that it reports history unreliably. They will sometimes point to different Gospels reporting the same event, but recording that it occurred at different times or in different circumstances. But it shouldn't surprise you that the way people report historical events has changed a bit in the last 2000 years. Scholars note that ancient historians would not always feel compelled to report the events of a person's life in the chronological sequence in which they originally occurred. Sometimes they were more concerned about displaying a certain aspect or character trait of their subject, so they would assemble different events around a central teaching or significant point to substantiate their claim.1 Therefore, Matthew felt he had the freedom to report the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in a different order than Luke.
Assuming similar events must be the same eventMany times the claim of contradiction is raised when different gospel writers offer seemingly conflicting details on a particular event. For example, Jesus' sermon containing the Beatitudes ("blessed are the poor in spirit… etc") is famously called "the Sermon on the Mount" since it begins with Jesus going up on a mountain with His disciples following Him. But Luke records that Jesus stood in a level place when preaching the Beatitudes, so it sounds like Luke contradicts Matthew. Of course there could be a level place on the mountaintop, such as a plateau, where Jesus decided to preach this sermon. That would remove the contradiction.
However, it is also possible that Jesus preached the same sermon more than once in different locations! If the principles of a teaching were important, then it stands to reason that Jesus would want to let many people in different locations hear the message. There were no newspapers or tape recorders in those days; then only way to disseminate your teachings quickly is to repeat them. Even today, speakers will recycle full speeches to different groups so that all get to hear the principles that they feel are worthy of more attention. Either way, this cannot be used to prove a contradiction since either explanation is a plausible possibility.