In my book Scrolls and Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted I lay out a case for the trustworthiness of the Bible by discussing a variety of different evidences for the Bible’s trustworthiness…
- • Fulfilled Prophecies
• Archaeological Evidence
• The Bible’s Internal Consistency
• Extrabiblical Historical Writings
• The Bible’s Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
• Manuscript Evidence
• The Bible’s Forthrightness about its Authors’ and Heros’ Failures
• The Persecution the Early Christians Were Willing to Endure
• The Bible’s Transforming Power for Good
• The Testimony of Jesus, the Son of God
All of those taken together build a strong cumulative case for the trustworthiness of the Bible. In this article I’d like to address one of the popular objections critics have when it comes to the trustworthiness of the Bible: supposed contradictions in the four New Testament Gospels.
This is a popular apparent contradiction cited by critics of the Bible, so we’ll start here. Let’s take a look:
“And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel [singular] answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”
It appears from what Matthew says in verse 5 that there was only one angel at the tomb at the time of Jesus’s resurrection. Well, critics of the Bible say that John’s account says something different. Turn over to John 20.
We’ll start in v. 10. I want you to notice that verse 10 makes it clear that what we’re about to read in verses 11 and 12 was later in the morning after most of the disciples had been to the tomb and gone back to their homes. Verse 10 says…
Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.
So, the disciples had already visited the empty grave and gone home—with the exception of one (Mary) as we will see here momentarily. This is something critics almost always overlook. And that’s unfortunate, because it helps solve the alleged problem. All right, let’s continue reading…
“But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.”
So, John makes it clear here that Mary saw “two angels.” So the critic says…
CRITIC: “Aha! Matthew says there was one angel on the scene but John says there were two! This is a contradiction!”
Is this really a contradiction as critics suppose? Not at all. The possible solutions are so simple, it’s hard to believe this is so often cited as a contradiction.
Let’s suppose you email a friend later and say, “I saw a pastor [notice the singular phrasing] by the name of Charlie at church this morning.” World’s most boring email, but there it goes.
Now, someone else comes along after you and emails the same person and says, “I saw two pastors, Charlie and Joe, at church this morning.”
Has this person contradicted your previous statement? Not at all. This person is just giving a fuller account of what happened at church this morning. He’s making it clear there was actually more than one pastor on the scene here today. It’s not that you were wrong when you said you saw a pastor. You were just speaking with a narrower view of the days events.
The same is true with the accounts of the angels at Jesus’ tomb.
Matthew mentioned one angel—the angel who rolled away the stone very early in the morning (Matthew 28). John, talking about a scene later in the morning, tells us there were two angels on the scene (John 20).
The accounts are not contradictory. They are complementary.
One of the mistakes critics of the Bible commonly make is:
ASSUMING A PARTIAL REPORT IS A FALSE REPORT.
There are places in the Bible, especially in the Gospels, where one author chose to leave out certain details in his account of an event that another author chose to include.
The critic comes along, reads both passages, and then assumes one of the authors has erred or contradicted the other writer. But this is an error on the part of the critic.
It is perfectly acceptable—even in today’s society—for reporters and biographers who are writing about the same event or person, to include or omit details that others do not.
When we read the news on two different websites, we expect to read some different details about the same story.
If the Gospels all included the exact same details with similar wording, they would have been discredited long ago on grounds of collusion.
All right, with the number of angels at Jesus’s tomb cleared up, let’s look at a second apparent contradiction. This one has to do with…
An ABC television documentary on the life of Jesus brought up this supposed contradiction some time back. Let’s look at it. Notice the question the people were asking about Jesus.
“Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were offended at Him.
According to this passage, we learn that Jesus was a carpenter. But look at what Matthew writes…
“And when He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son?”
Critics, on the lookout for ways to discredit Christianity, say that the Gospels contradict one another here. Why?
CRITIC: “One says Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and another says His father was the carpenter (Matt. 13:55).”
So, which was it?
• Was Jesus the carpenter as Mark tells us?
• Or was Joseph the carpenter as Matthew tells us?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think this through. I’ve shared this Bible “difficulty” with junior high kids and almost all of them raise their hands when I ask the question, “Who was the carpenter?”
THEY WERE BOTH CARPENTERS.
It was very common for men at that time to follow in the footsteps of their father. And it appears that Jesus did that with Joseph. The crowd of people knew that and they were asking both questions…
• “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3)
• “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55)
So there’s no contradiction here at all. This apparent contradiction is laid to rest with some careful Junior High level reflection (as is the case with many of them).
A third apparent contradiction that critics have pointed out in the Gospels has to do with…
“Then it happened, as He [speaking of Jesus] was coming near Jericho that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And if you know the rest of the story, you know Jesus went on to open the eyes of this blind man. But notice back there in v. 35 where it took place. Luke says that Jesus healed this blind man as He was “coming near,” or as the NASB translation says, as He was “approaching Jericho.”
So, get this image in your mind. Jesus is approaching Jericho off in the distance when the man was healed. Now keep that in mind and turn over to Mark, Chapter 10. Mark seems to say something different.
“Now they came to Jericho. As He [Jesus] went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Did you catch that? Mark, as the story goes on to say, tells us that Jesus healed this man as He left Jericho. Notice there again v. 46. It says, “As He went out of Jericho…” (Mk. 10:46). So the critic says…
CRITIC: “Surely Luke or Mark made a mistake. They can’t possibly both be right.”
And that appears to be the case until you do a little research and find out that a German archaeologist by the name Ernst Sellin, working on an excavation in Israel between 1907 and 1909 discovered that there were actually what have been called “the twin-cities” of Jericho in Jesus’ time. There was the old city of Jericho (from the Old Testament story of Joshua) and the new Roman city of Jericho separated by about a mile. [Joseph Free, Archaeology and Bible History, 1992, p. 251]
There were two cities called “Jericho,” separated from one another by about a mile. Luke referred to one of the cities and Mark referred to the other. Luke referred to the city that Jesus was approaching. Mark referred to the one that Jesus had left. The incident occurred as Jesus traveled between the two.
The authors of the Bible did not err. The critic, who assumes that this is a contradiction, errs because he or she is unfamiliar with ancient Roman and Jewish geography.
Critics of the Bible would be wise to consult a good Bible commentary or two before passing judgment on the Bible. These kinds of solutions are easily accessible for the person willing to do a little homework.
Let’s look at another example. Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 26. This fourth apparent contradiction has to do with…
When God rescued His people from Egypt, He instructed them in the Book of Exodus (12:18) to celebrate the Passover (their deliverance from Egypt) once a year on “the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight.”
He was very specific as to the day. It would be a once a year anniversary to remember what God had done in delivering them from their slavery in Egypt. Well, critics of the Bible think this creates a problem in the New Testament. Let’s read what Matthew writes…
“And He [Jesus] said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.”
You know the rest of the story. Jesus’ disciples went on to enjoy the Passover meal with their friend and Lord the night before His crucifixion.
Now, John seems to contradict this by saying that the Jewish people ate the Passover meal the next day, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion (24 hours later).
—speaking of the people who arrested Jesus
“led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium,”
—“Praetorium” is a Latin word that means palace. It was Pontius Pilate’s residence
“and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled,”
—They had developed a tradition that said they would become ceremonially unclean entering a Gentile residence. Why would that be a big deal?
“but that they might eat the Passover.”
—When? Later that day, the evening after Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover.
John here seems to place the Passover meal 24 hours later than the other three Gospels. And so, critics of the Bible, like Bart Ehrman, point to this and say there is a discrepancy, an error, a contradiction. Well, they are overlooking background historical data that solves the alleged difficulty.
In Jesus’ day, the Passover meal was eaten on two different evenings. How do we know that? Two different sources outside the Bible tell us that was the case. What sources am I referring to?
1. Flavius Josephus
(a Jewish historian for the Roman Empire who lived in the first century A.D.)
2. The Mishna
(a compilation of the writings of well-known Jewish scholars that was completed in the third century A.D.)
These two sources reveal to us that the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the two popular religious parties in Jesus day) disagreed about the day of the week on which to celebrate the Passover. The reason was because there was a disagreement over when a day began. Was it at sunrise or was it at sunset?
The Pharisees and the Jews who lived in northern Israel by the Sea of Galilee, believed that a day began with the sunrise.
The Sadducees and the Jews who lived in southern Israel (which would have included Jerusalem) calcu-lated days from sunset to sunset.
This difference in opinion, as to when a day started, is what led Jesus and His disciples from northern Israel to celebrate the Passover a day before those who lived in the south did. [Sources: John MacArthur, “The Last Passover, pt. 1” and Michael J. Wilkins in Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 162]
So once again, with a little research, an alleged contradiction is cleared up. The Passover meal was eaten on two different days.
Let’s look at a fifth apparent contradiction that critics have pointed out. It’s found over in Mark 15 and it has to do with…
What time was Jesus crucified? Approximately 9:00 AM. Why do we believe that? Mark 15.
“And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Mark here tells us here that Jesus was nailed to the cross during “the third hour.” When did a day begin?
Papias (A.D. 60-130) and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) tell us that the source of information for Mark’s Gospel came from the apostle Peter who related the events to Mark. Where was Peter from? Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:21, 29). Where’s that? Northern Israel. When did the Jews in northern Israel believe that a day began? At approximately 6:00 AM, with the rising of the sun. So, to say “the third hour” (Mark 15:25) would be the equivalent of approximately 9:00 AM. Well, that poses an apparent problem. Turn over to John 19.
“Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away.”
Notice back there in v. 14, that this whole scene with Pilate, this whole trial which took place before Jesus was crucified, took place at “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14).
About “the sixth hour”!?
Mark just told us in Mark 15 that Jesus was crucified at “the third hour” (9 AM, Mark 15:25). John tells us that Jesus is still standing before Pilate on trial at “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14). Three hours later? Do you see the problem here? Critics do! What’s the solution?
As I pointed out a minute ago, Mark (Mark 15:25) was referencing a Jewish time system, which for him began at sunrise. John, on the other hand, when he makes mention of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate at the “sixth hour” (Jn. 19:14), was referencing the Roman time system whose day began at midnight (like ours).
Referring to the Roman time system is something John does throughout his Gospel. [See Norman Geisler, When Critics Ask, p. 376]
For example, see John 20:19 where the evening of the resurrection is still called the first day of the week (Sunday) not the second day of the week.
So, this scene here with Pilate, that John says took place at “about the sixth hour,” took place early in the morning (around 6:00 AM), three hours before Jesus was crucified. This fits perfectly with the sequence of events and lines up precisely with what John said elsewhere. You’ll recall that he said in John 18:28 that Jesus was standing before Pilate “early [in the] morning.”
But why would John use the Roman time system? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all used the Jewish time system; why would John, who was also a Jew, do differently? Well, where was John was when he wrote his Gospel almost thirty years after the other Gospels were written? Was he in Israel still living with the Jews when he wrote the Gospel of John? No. Where was he? Eusebius and other first and second century writers tell us he was living in Ephesus.
What was Ephesus? Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. John was living under the Roman time system when he penned his Gospel! That was what he and his original audience would have been accustomed to.
Using Jewish time references with readers in the Roman Empire (hundreds of miles away from Israel) would have been confusing to them. And so to avoid confusing them, John converts the references to times they would understand. So, knowing a little background about when and where John wrote his Gospel solves the apparent problem.
Jesus stood before Pilate at “the sixth hour” (according to the Roman time system – John 19:14), which would have been about 6:00 AM. And Jesus was crucified about “the third hour” (according to the Jewish time system – Mark 15:25), which would have been about 9:00 AM our time.
Once again, we see that the critics’ alleged contradiction evaporates upon closer examination. All right, let’s look at a couple more of these.
This next apparent contradiction has to do with…
“Then he [speaking of Judas] threw down the pieces of silver in the temple [Judas felt guilty for betraying the Lord] and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
We read here of how Judas died. He hung himself. That’s pretty clear. But critics say there is a contradiction found over in Acts 1…
“Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity;
Sidenote: Matthew makes it clear in his Gospel that this purchase was made by the chief priests after Judas died (Matt. 27:6f). They bought it in Judas’s name with the 30 pieces of silver he gave back to them.
and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.”
That’s pretty graphic, hunh? Judas fell and his body burst open. Probably not a verse you’ve highlighted or committed to memory. Definitely not a KLOVE verse of the day. But, be that as it may, critics say…
“There’s a contradiction here. One account says Judas hung himself. Another account says he fell.”
Well, what’s the solution? Did Judas hang himself or did he fall? The answer is both. Judas hung himself and then one of four things likely happened…
• the rope snapped
• a bad knot came untied
• the branch broke
• someone came along and (maybe not wanting to touch a dead body) cut the rope
And what happened? Judas fell to the ground, his body broke open, and out gushed his entrails. Again, neither of these accounts are contradictory. They are complementary. When you take both accounts together (Matthew 27; Acts 1) they provide a fuller picture of what happened to Judas.
Let’s talk about a seventh and final apparent contradiction. This one has to do with…
Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus said to His disciples…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
You’re probably familiar with those words. Jesus taught that we, His disciples, are to extend love to our enemies. We are to “bless” them, “do good” to them and “pray for” them (v.44). That was what Jesus did, and that’s what He commands us, as His followers, to do as well. Well turn over to Luke, chapter 19. Jesus seems to contradict Himself. Look down at v. 27. If you have a Bible that has the words of Jesus in red, you’ll notice that v. 27 is in red ink. These are Jesus’ words my friends. Jesus says…
“But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”
What!? Jesus tells His disciples to bring His “enemies” before Him and “slay them”!? That seems to contradict everything Jesus just said in Matthew’s Gospel! What’s going on? Here’s the solution:
The words found there in Luke 19:27, although spoken by Jesus, actually appear in a parable and are attributed to a slave-owner. You need to start reading back in verse 11 to get the whole story. Jesus is stating what the slaves’ master said in His story; He’s not commanding His disciples to slay anyone. In fact, look at Luke 19:28, the verse immediately after the verse in question. Luke writes….
“When He [Jesus] had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.”
Jesus left immediately after He finished the parable. This totally rules out any possibility that He intended people to be brought to where he was so they could be slain. Critics assume the Bible contradicts itself here in Luke because of a…
FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT.
And unfortunately, it’s this kind of superficial, shallow reading and investigation of the Bible that has led critics to make all kinds of inaccurate conclusions regarding this Book.
The Bible is absolutely trustworthy and it proves to be so the more one investigates it.
So, I encourage you to read the Bible, believe it, trust it, savor its truths, delight in its promises, and get to know your Creator! That’s why He’s given us the Bible, so that we might know Him personally and intimately.
Do you know God in that way? You can.
That’s why Jesus—God in the flesh—died on the cross. Because of His great love for you, He died there in your place, to pay the penalty for your sins! Why? So that you could be forgiven, rescued from spending eternity in Hell, and be brought back into a relationship with your Creator (John 3:16).
He rose from the grave three days later and today He is offering mankind (you!) the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and the “free gift” (Rom. 6:23) of everlasting life to all those who will repent and place their faith in Him. Place your faith in Jesus today: Steps to peace with God.
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
is the founder of the ABR Apologetics Ministry, a popular guest teacher at churches and conferences in the United States and internationally, and the author of several books and DVDs, some of which include:
• The Bible’s Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
• Evidence for God
• One Minute Answers to Skeptics
• Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
• Answering Atheists
• The Case for the Resurrection
• If God is Loving, Why is there Evil and Suffering?
• Homosexuality and the Bible: Answering Objections to the Biblical View
• Teaching and Preaching God’s Word
• Apologetics Quotes
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Charlie frequently speaks—free of charge—at churches, conferences, retreats, etc. If you are a pastor and would like to inquire about him speaking at your church or event, please contact ABR here and let us know the date(s) you'd be interested in, and someone will email you back shortly.