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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Bible Contradictions - More of My Way or the Highway

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Japan
We're on the home stretch of a series I've been posting covering various types of contradictions that the Bible has been accused of. I've grouped the nature of the accusations into three main types of errors: expecting "robot" reporting, snubbing style to force meaning, and demanding "My way or the highway." For the full list of links to the series, click here. Here's a couple more from our last category.

Strict chronological order in all accounts of the same events

Since 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 event

Many 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.

Example: Did Jesus cleanse the Temple at the beginning or the end of His ministry?

All four gospels tell of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Matthew, Mark and Luke have this event happening in the final week of Jesus' ministry, while the gospel of John records it very early in chapter two. Is this a contradiction? No.  It's possible that John is not sticking to a strict chronology, but recording the cleansing of the Temple early.  John's Gospel is structured differently from the other three in that John uses seven events to instigate seven major discourses by Jesus, each emphasizing a specific aspect of Jesus' divine nature.

But scholars also recognize that it's quite likely that Jesus cleaned the Temple twice in His ministry - once at the beginning and once in the final week before His crucifixion. The accounts seem to differ in tone (Jesus was thoughtful in John, making a whip with cords and preplanning the event and He told the sellers "stop making My Father's house a place of business" while in the other accounts the actions seem more immediate and Jesus' speech is more aggressive, saying "You have made [this  place] a robber's den."

Since John records at least three Passover visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, it would not be a stretch to believe that within two or three years, the moneychangers had come back to the Temple and once again set up shop.  There was good profit in selling to worshipers and the priests were considered the real authority for the Temple, not Jesus.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus coming back to the Temple saw the re-established merchants and again drove them out.


1. John W. Haley notes that other historical accounts have taken this approach. "From the pen of one writer we receive an orderly, well-constructed biography; another gives us merely a series of anecdotes, grouped so as to suit some trait, sentiment, or habit of the person described.  Thus, in Xenophon's Memorabilia, we do not find a proper biography of Socrates, but we see various points in his life and character set forth by anecdotes respecting him and by reports of his discussions."

1 comment:

  1. "I have seen God face to face" Gen. 32:30
    "No one has ever seen God" John 1:18


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