As every careful reader of the gospels will have noticed there are many discrepancies in the story. Not only are there differences between what one gospel says and what another says there are contradictions within each gospel. What does this say about biblical inerrancy? Decide for yourself. We don’t have the original gospels, just copies of copies of copies. That means plenty of opportunities for editing and carelessness to take their toll. Even if we had the original texts they were written at different times in different places, years after the events they purport to describe, by men with different axes to grind.
Unfortunately some bible readers today are in denial. They are only familiar with the devotional approach to scripture, not the historical-critical approach This blog will list just a few discrepancies out of many. Maybe they could be used in discussions with the fundamentalist brothers and sisters?
An american Professor of Religious Studies, Bart Ehrman, whose books I highly recommend, says about his seminary students:
“A very large percentage of seminarians are completely blind-sided by the historical-critical method. For students who come into seminary with a view that the Bible is completely, absolutely, one hundred percent without error, the realization that most critical scholars have a very different view can come as a real shock to their systems. And once these students open the floodgates by admitting there might be mistakes in the Bible, their understanding of Scripture takes a radical turn. The more they read the text carefully and intensely, the more mistakes they find, and then they begin to see that in fact the Bible makes better sense if you acknowledge its inconsistencies instead of staunchly insisting that there aren’t any, even when they are staring you in the face.” (i)
(1) After Jesus’ death the women go to the tomb.
Mark writes “they saw a young man.” (Mk 16:5)
Luke says “two men stood by them.” (Lk 24:4)
In Matthew 28:2 we read that it was “an angel of the Lord.”
I remember coming across this discrepancy as a teenager in a week when our English teacher at school had read out excerpts from our homework essays on a class trip somewhere. We all laughed because it sounded like a completely different set of trips to different destinations. And, remember, Mark, Luke and Matthew weren’t even there at the tomb.
(2) The two irreconcilable accounts of the cleansing of the temple are interesting. In Mark 11:15-18 Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the last week of his life and was arrested shortly after. In John 2:13-16 he does it at the very beginning of his ministry and doesn’t get arrested.
(3) Jesus predicts that Peter (the first pope) will deny him “3 times before the cock crows twice.” (Mk 14:30) or “3 times before the cock crows” ( i.e. once) (Mt 26:34).
I don’t find this particularly surprising or upsetting – I just think it vital to establish the principal that contradictions do exist. Here are a few more.
(4) At his last meeting with the disciples, Jesus is asked by both Peter (Jn 13:36) and Thomas (Jn 14:5) “Where are you going?” Yet shortly after, Jesus upbraids his disciples, saying “I am going … yet none of you asks me where I am going.” (Jn 16:5)
5) What to make of the following? When Jesus turns water into wine “this was the first sign that Jesus did.” (Jn2:11) In John 2:23 we read that Jesus did “many signs in Jerusalem” (Jn 2:23), yet a healing in John 4:54 “was the second sign that Jesus did.”
(i) Ehrman, Bart “Jesus Interrupted. Revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible (and why we don’t know about them)” Harper (2009)