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Choose Life That You Might Live

Part 8: Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament
Most of the 'mistakes' discovered in the Scriptures actually arise from not having a clear understanding of what a real contradiction is. People are not contradicting one another when they give us different or additional information. Problems also stem from understanding too little about the Bible, the languages, customs, the time periods etc

Carol Brooks

List of Chapters
For a slightly longer description of each chapter, please go to the Main Index

Part 1: Spiritual not Religious. The question is how do you know that the spiritual path you are on will lead somewhere you want to be? What does it offer you in the long run... beyond this life?
Part 2: Religious Pluralism. It is tragically true that few of those who believe that all spiritual beliefs are valid paths to God seem to have made an in depth study of various religions to see if their claims are based on fact, or fairy dust.
Part 3: Faith and The Bible. Christianity is perhaps the only religion that does not demand 'blind faith' from its followers.
Part 4: God And His Bible. There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books which usually consist of endless streams of often mind numbing philosophy, with little or no framework or context. The evidence includes the Bible’s humanly impossible authorship, its archaeological and scientific accuracy and  fulfilled prophecy.
Part 5: Alleged Old Testament Discrepancies. The charges are usually careless, overconfident and unsubstantiated.
Part 6: Why Jesus Is Without Equal.  Many so called holy men claim to to be divine or divinely inspired - to have had mystical visions or experiences. So what?
Part 7: The Reliability of The New Testament. If we applied whatever criteria liberal scholars use to dismiss the Gospels, to the evidence for other historical people and events, we would have to dismiss as myth everything we think we think we know about the ancient past.
YOU ARE HERE 001orange Part 8: New Testament Differences and Discrepancies  Most alleged 'mistakes' arise from understanding too little about the Bible.
Part 8 b:The Resurrection Accounts The so-called contradictions are trotted out without a single reference to the possible solutions that can very plausibly and naturally explain them.
Part 9: The Bible, Then And Now. People commonly reject the Bible because they believe the original text has been changed significantly since it was first written, and therefore, it is a corrupted book. But is there any truth to the charge?
Part 10: Historical Corroboration. Were any of the Gospel accounts substantiated by non-Christian sources?
Part 11: Archaeology and The Bible. Does archaeology confirm, or undermine, the New Testament accounts?
Part 12: Is The Evidence Insufficient or Too Obscure? A far more sensible way to look at it is... the more severe the consequences, the fewer risks we should take.
Part 13: The Message of The Bible. The Heaven Jesus was sent to tell us about is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there. In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far more practical than that of our theologians. '
Part 14: The Warning of The Bible. We are all under the death penalty. If dying once sounds terrible to you, how does doing it twice sound? -  which is exactly what the Bible says will happen if...
Part 15: Who Is and Isn't a Christian. Since the word originated with the Bible, only the Bible has the right to define what a "Christian" is.
Part 16: Myths and Misconceptions that stem from knowing too little about Biblical Christianity.


What Is and Isn't a Contradiction
Modern Vs. Ancient Biographers
Scoffers Tend To Fall Into One of Three Categories

Supplementary Information is Not Necessarily Contradictory Information
All the Authors Included Details That the Others Did Not

Differing Accounts Are Not Necessarily Contradictory Accounts
Jesus' Genealogy, The Flight Into Egypt

Not Giving the Passages Enough Thought
When Did Jesus First Meet Simon Peter and Andrew?
A Mustard Seed is Not The "Smallest of all Seeds"

Being Unaware of All The Facts
"Down" To Jericho?
Leaving or Entering Jericho?

Not Understanding The Greek Words Used
The Pharisees Claimed To Have Never Been in Bondage
Did The Men Traveling With Paul Hear God's Voice and Fall To The Ground Or Not?
Abiathar or Ahimelech

Only the Original Text Is Inerrant... Copyist Mistakes Could And Did Occur.
What Hour was Jesus Crucified?

Jesus' Last Words
Did The Disciples Get Jesus' Last Words Wrong?

Different Points of View Aren’t Contradictions
Is John's Gospel Really So Different?
John simply focused less on the historical details and more on the meaning of Christ's words.

James and Paul - Justified By Faith Alone - Yes or No?

001orange  The One Crucially Important 'Discrepancy' Almost Everyone Misses
While critics focus on largely inconsequential discrepancies, Christians and non-Christians alike ignore a few seemingly major contradictions in the writings of the authors of the New Testament. Perhaps because to do so would strike at the very heart of one of Christianity's most cherished beliefs, i.e. salvation is attained at the moment of conversion.

Alleged Discrepancies in The Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection
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What Is and Isn't a Contradiction
In a typical 'damned if you do' and 'damned if you don't' situation, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would be accused of collusion if their accounts were to agree in every single little detail. But because they expressed themselves differently and did not always include the same details, critics claim they 'contradict' each other and cannot be trusted. (I would imagine that if the authors were making up stories at the very least they would  have been very careful to ensure there weren’t any glaring inconsistencies.)

However, there are nowhere near the number of discrepancies, contradictions and mistakes in the Gospels as some claim. Actually not everyone seems to be clear as to what a real contradiction is. Many people assume that any difference in the details or the order in which they were recorded amounts to a contradiction. Others assume that there is a contradiction if certain details are recorded by one author, but not by others.

Not so!

A true contradiction only occurs when two (or more) different statements on a topic cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

There is no contradiction if two or more people give us different or additional information simply because when more than one person speaks or writes about the same event, each of them is going to use the different words and phrases in their description and include or exclude various details.

Additionally, many critics that point accusing fingers do not bring to the Bible the common sense they would bring to a reading of the average newspaper. Much of the time they do not give the passages any real thought, are unfamiliar with the languages and customs of the time, and do not have the slightest knowledge of the book they so freely criticize.

This is not to say that every difficulty in the Bible can be resolved, but enough of them have been to realize that there are probable answers to the remaining few.  Neither time nor space allows for a detailed examination of every objection raised, but the vast majority of 'contradictions' can be grouped under some general headings.

Modern Vs. Ancient Biographers
One of our modern assumptions is that recorded history has to be absolutely precise, ie. every single little detail had to be set down in exactly the order it occurred. The problem is no one told ancient historians that this was what they were supposed to do, thus they often just gave the gist of what took place. And the authors of the Gospel were no different. As New Testament scholar and Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, Anglican cleric Professor R. T. France once wrote

    It has long been an accepted dictum of New Testament scholars that the gospels are not biographies. In the sense that they do not set about their task in the way a modern biographer does. This is undoubtedly true. Their records are highly selective, have only a loose chronological framework, focus one-sidedly on matters of theological significance, and tell us little or nothing about their subject's psychology or personal development. In these ways, however, they are much closer to the type of 'biography' which was fashionable in the ancient world /12/. To commend the teaching and example of a great man by means of a selective and 'moralizing' anthology of his sayings and deeds was an accepted approach. Many such 'biographies' were of heroes long ago, and are largely mythical and valueless as historical sources; but in the case of a more recent figure there is no reason a priori why authentic historical reminiscences should not form the basis for such a 'life' [00]

Not only do we need to remember that Jesus, like any other preacher, was very likely to have repeated the same message at different times, but also that none of the Gospels were intended to give a chronological blow–by–blow account of Jesus' three-year ministry. In fact John made it perfectly clear that time and space prohibited them from telling us everything that Jesus said and did.

    And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 NASB)

Scoffers Tend To Fall Into One of Three Categories

Repeating something that I said in a previous chapter, there are three categories of people who claim that the Bible is full of inconsistencies.

    First, the person who has, somewhere along the line, heard that this is the case and assumes it to be Gospel truth (no pun intended). However, it is often the case that they have no idea what these inconsistencies are, nor where they are to be found.

    Second, the person who has read some of these discrepancies but, not knowing very much about the language, context, culture, geography, and oblivious to what constitutes a true contradiction honestly believes the Bible narrative is full of holes.

    Lastly, we have the skeptics who do not seem interested in finding out the truth... they simply want to chalk up another victory (regardless of how frivolous) for their case that the Bible is a book that cannot be trusted. In many cases, they seem very intent on majoring on the minors.

To all three, I would like to point out that since it usually takes a great deal of research to answer an objection, alleged contradictions are far more easily raised, than answered.

As Professor R. T. France also wrote

    Undoubtedly the most powerful motive for questioning the historical reliability of the gospels has been the fact that they record ideas and events which are foreign to most modern Western scholars' conception of what may be accepted as 'historical'. At the narrative level we find angels, miracles, the raising of the dead, a visionary experience of Jesus speaking with men who died centuries earlier, and Jesus' own bodily resurrection.

    At the level of thought, the gospels envisage a God who controls events, to whom man is accountable, with a future prospect of heaven or hell, and Jesus as the one who determines a man's destiny. Here is a total world-view with which modern secular culture cannot be comfortable, and which in the view of many scholars has forfeited any claim to be regarded as 'historical'. Even if the men of those days believed in such a world, modern science would seem to rule out such happenings, and those who wrote as if such things really happened are ipso facto discredited as purveyors of history. [01] .

Supplementary Information is Not Necessarily Contradictory Information
Also, and equally importantly, is to not confuse supplementary information with contradiction. In a contradiction two facts cannot possibly be true at the same time. It is a contradiction if person A says Robert Smith works at Atlas construction company and person B says the same Robert Smith doesn't work at Atlas construction company, this provided they are speaking about the same time period.

    For example, it is not necessarily a contradiction if person A says Robert Smith works at Atlas construction company, and person B says the same Robert Smith is studying for his law degree. Smith may be attending night school, taking online classes etc. Person B may simply be giving us additional information about Robert Smith.

Similarly, each of the authors of the four Gospels not only wrote their accounts from different perspectives and stressed different things, but each of them but sometimes also included details that some or all of the others might have left out. For example, only Luke mentioned Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (Luke 2:22-38) and only Matthew recorded the flight into Egypt.

Matthew's Gospel written, as it was, to a primarily Jewish audience often mentioned details that would not have been relevant or even understood by any other community. For example, in telling of a conversation Jesus had with His disciples, Matthew mentioned Jeremiah and the fact that Jesus used the term "Son of Man" (a phrase used over 90 times in the book of Ezekiel alone - both details left out by the others. Also See Why Matthew Only Named Two Women in the Next Chapter.

Mark often added some inconsequential but interesting details. Since Mark himself wasn't a disciple, he was either physically present on some of the occasions or was recounting what was told him by someone who was - and that someone had a very good memory and a knack for detail. For example, in the story about the storm that arose when Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the sea of Galilee, Mark mentions that other boats were also around (4:36) and that Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat with His head on a pillow (4:38). Both details are absent in Matthew’s account.

In many cases, Mark is also the only one who records some of the actual Aramaic words that Jesus used. For example

  • Jesus named the disciples James and John Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder" (3:17).
  • He raised Jairus' daughter with the words ‘Talitha cumi’ ("Little girl, I say to you, get up!") (5:41).
  • Jesus used the Aramaic word ‘Ephphatha’ (be opened) when healing the deaf man (7:34).
  • Mark is also the only one of the four Gospel writers to record that Jesus called the Father "Abba" (14:36)
  • And that just before breathing His last, Jesus called out in Aramaic  "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "my God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Differing Accounts Are Not Necessarily Contradictory Accounts.

The Importance Of Genealogies In Israel
The maintaining of genealogies was an important Jewish custom. Ancestry and blood lines served several important functions - status within the larger community, inheritance rights, allotment of land, the stability of the throne etc. In earlier times, the right to serve as a priest before God was contingent upon an individual being able to prove his or her place in the proper lineage.

When the Jews returned from the exile in Babylon some who had claim to a priestly lineage could not prove their genealogy thus were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood until the Urim and Thummim could be consulted  (Ezra 2: 59-63)

    Urim and Thummim: Although no one knows exactly how they functioned, it seems reasonably clear that they were used by the high priest to determine God's will. They apparently indicated which of two alternatives was right hence inquiries to be decided by them were designed to elicit "yes" or "no" answers (I Samuel 23:9 -12; 30: 7-8 ).

It was also critical for Jesus, as the promised Messiah, to be able to demonstrate that He was indeed descended from both Abraham and David. Otherwise, His claim to be the long-awaited Messiah would be regarded by the Jews as invalid.

Jesus' Genealogy
Israel's king could only be a Jew according to Deuteronomy 17:15.

    you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.  (Deuteronomy 17:15 NASB)

Later on it was established that one of King David's descendants would sit on the throne. Note: The verse below refers both to David's son Solomon and to a perpetual kingdom which precludes the idea of a human ruler. See Typology

    When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom ... Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:12, 16 NASB)

Only Matthew and Luke include the account of Christ's birth and His genealogy in their Gospels (John didn't because the primary purpose of his Gospel was to emphasize the divinity of Christ and God has no ancestry).

    Matthew: Matthew's words "The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1) is an introduction to the entire new Testament. Focused as it is on Jesus as the Messiah who fulfilled the many prophecies sprinkled throughout the Hebrew Bible Matthew's Gospel was doubtless intended for the Jewish community to whom genealogy was extremely important. After his initial statement Matthew records a descending ancestral list, i.e. one that begins with Abraham and descends downwards to Jacob the father of "Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah". (Matthew 1:16 NASB)

    Luke: Luke's genealogy goes the other way. It begins with Jesus and goes all the way back to "Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:38). Since Luke's whose writing was geared towards the Gentiles, it is understandable why he went all the way back to God whose offer of salvation is to to all people.

One has to ask where Matthew and Luke obtained their information when they wrote their genealogies. Luke who was a historian par excellence (See Chapter Archaeological Accuracy) actually traced Christ's line all the way back to Adam something that would have been impossible if no written records were available. Both had to have relied on the written documents then in existence, which means that other people could have checked the same documents and raised a stink had they found Matthew or Luke tampering with the records to prove (especially in Matthew's case) that Christ was the son of David and heir to the throne. However, when the Romans burned Jerusalem to the ground in A.D. 70, the documents must have been destroyed leaving the Jews scattered with no way to prove their genealogy.

The 'Discrepancies'
The main problem is that Matthew's genealogy is very different from Luke's in many details. Except that the order of names is inverted both lists are almost identical from Abraham to David. However, after David the two lists only have two names in common, i.e. Shealtiel and Zerubbabel but they had to be different people with the same name because they are recorded as having different fathers in both accounts

Numerous theories, some bordering on the bizarre, have been advanced as to why this is so, since every person's ancestry can be traced through both their parents, the most probable reason for the differences is that Matthew traced Christ's genealogy through Joseph, whereas Luke followed Mary's line.

Matthew deviated from the norm when he listed four women in Jesus' ancestry. Not, as one might expect, the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah who were the wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but four women who would have been looked down on by the self-righteous.  Ruth was not a Jewess, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, Rahab was considered a harlot, and Tamar was involved in a pretty sordid affair.

Luke” Although, in the culture of the time, it would have been highly unusual to trace a maternal genealogy, there was nothing usual about the circumstances surrounding Jesus' conception and birth. Additionally, there are several solid reasons to believe Luke traced Jesus' ancestry through Mary.

    Luke says Mary was descended from David's son Nathan (Luke 3:31), whereas Matthew shows Joseph was descended from Solomon, David's other son (Matthew 1:6). The fact that the two genealogical records lead back to two different sons of David clearly indicates that each of the accounts is tracing a different person.

    The focus of the first three chapters of Luke's Gospel is Mary. In fact, it is the only one of the four to focus on the events surrounding Jesus' birth from Mary's perspective that would make it not at all unusual that he also used her genealogy.

    When Paul stated that Jesus "was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3) he could have only been referring to Mary being of David's line because Jesus was not physically related to Joseph, i.e. He had no connection with Joseph "according to the flesh."

Joseph's Father:
 However, there is also a discrepancy regarding who each of the evangelists said was Joseph's father.

    Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.  (Matthew 1:16 NASB)

    When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son (Gk. uihos) of Joseph, the son of Eli,  (Luke 3:23 NASB)

However, if Mary's father was named Eli (or Heli), then it is entirely possible that if Luke was, as seems to be reasonably clear, tracing Jesus' ancestry through Mary, then his calling Joseph Eli's son simply meant that Joseph was Eli's son-in-law. This would have been quite appropriate if Heli had no sons of his own.

Note the Greek word uihos translated "son" does not necessarily mean an immediate relationship, i.e. one person is the physical child of another. The word can mean son, grandson or even descendant. Matthew 1:1 says Jesus was the son (Gk. uihos) of David but a few verses later he says Joseph was son (Gk. uihos) of David. Also, note Jesus's words to the Pharisees, in which He was certainly not referring to literal sons.

    If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons (Gk. uihos) cast them out? ... (Matthew 12:27 NASB)

Symmetrical Lists:
Finally, both Matthew and Luke display an interesting symmetry in their listing of names.

    Matthew's list is in three groups with 14 names in each. The first group spans the time from Abraham to David, the second from David to the time of the Babylonian exile, while the third covers the period from the exile to Christ.

    Luke's longer list consists of eleven groups, each of which has seven names. The first three groups (21 names) covers the time from Jesus to the exile (remember Luke works backwards). The second three groups (21 names) cover the period from the Babylonian captivity to King David, The next two (14 names) from David to Abraham, and the final three (21 names) from Abraham to Adam.

To accomplish this uniformity, both accounts had to skip generations - Matthew more so than Luke. Why? We have no idea. However, as Al Maxey points out (Emphasis Added),  

    "... such Genealogical Abridgement is very common in Jewish record keeping. In Ezra 7:3 (when compared with the longer list in 1 Chron. 6:7-10), for example, we see six generations deliberately skipped. The purpose of many such lists was to establish descent, and this could be done just as easily by listing only the major figures in a genealogy. Not every person had to be listed, according to the Jewish way of thinking. We see a sample of that in Matt. 1:1-- "The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Obviously, a great many generations were skipped in this statement, but the purpose of this short list was to establish that Jesus was descended from these two men. It was not necessary to list all the others to declare this fact. More on The Genealogy of Jesus

The Flight Into Egypt
In the book of Matthew we are told that, after being warned by an angel, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape Herod's murderous plans staying there until Herod's death and given the green light to return to Israel. (Matthew 2:13-14, 19-20)

    Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.... But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, "Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead."

Luke however indicates that after the days of Mary's purification (Mothers were considered ceremonially unclean for a period of time after childbirth) were over that (40 days after the birth according to Leviticus 12:3-4) Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. Luke goes on to say that the family then returned to Nazareth. (Luke 2:22, 39)

    And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord... When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.

The implication is that because Luke says nothing about the family fleeing to Egypt and Matthew is silent about their trip to Nazareth soon after Jesus' birth, one of them has their facts wrong. This is based on the assumption that Matthew and Luke recorded every single little detail in exactly the order it occurred.

As said previously, ancient historians often gave the gist of what took place including or excluding various details. In this case, none of the other three Gospel authors wrote anything about the temple visit. Luke not only recorded it but added some interesting details including the fact that two older people in the temple (Anna and Simeon) both recognized Jesus as the Messiah.

Matthew was the only one of the four that wrote about the exile in Egypt which, on consideration, is not really surprising. Because his Gospel was aimed at the Jews he specifically pointed out that  Jesus returning to Galilee... "was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Hosea - "out of Egypt i called my Son" (Hosea 11:1). The problem being that Hosea was referring to God's deliverance of the nation from bondage in Egypt that took place several centuries earlier without any apparent Messianic overtones. Many have accused Matthew of arbitrarily using the passage from Hosea ascribing a meaning to it that suited his purpose. . See "Out of Egypt I called My Son" under 'Historical Types' on THIS Page  (Details)

In conclusion, it is entirely likely that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph returned to Nazareth (Luke 2:39) and stayed there a while before fleeing to Egypt.

Not Giving the Passages Enough Thought
When Did Jesus First Meet Simon Peter and Andrew?

A point often brought up by critics (and possibly not always understood by Christians) is the fact that Matthew appears to have Jesus meet the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee but John says Jesus met them by the river Jordan.

However, if you read the account of Jesus meeting the brothers at the Sea of Galilee it simply says that Jesus told them to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men. At which they immediately put their nets down and followed them.

    Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He *said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-20 NASB)

One has to ask how feasible this scenario be if the brothers had never met Jesus before this. Would any one simply lay down the tools of their trade and follow a total stranger? They were very obviously aware of who Jesus was said to be and, in all likelihood, at least one of them had already had contact with Him.

As John wrote, Andrew and another man were disciples of John the Baptist and were with him when John saw Jesus and called Him "the Lamb of God". Hearing this Andrew and the other disciple followed Jesus and invited to see where Jesus was staying spent some time with Him. Andrew then told his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah and took him to meet Jesus who re-named him Cephas (Peter).

    Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and *said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and *said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?" He *said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

    One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He *found first his own brother Simon and *said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42 NASB)

However, Jesus did not ask them to follow Him until sometime later when He met them again at the Sea of Galilee.

A Mustard Seed is Not The "Smallest of all Seeds"
Jesus' parable of the mustard seed has people claiming that Jesus could not have been God since He seemed not to have had a clue that smaller seeds existed.

    And He said, "How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? "It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade." (Mark 4:30-32 NASB)

Although the modern nation of Israel seems to be able to grow just about anything (See The Flourishing of The Desert In Palestine on THIS Page ) it is highly unlikely that plants with smaller seeds than the mustard (Ex. orchids and strawberries) grew in the Middle East at the time. Thus it wouldn't have made any sense for Jesus to refer to a plant or tree they had never heard of.

On the other hand because mustard trees thrive in hot, arid climates with well-draining sandy soil they grew in the Middle East The mustard tree would therefore have been a tree (actually a large shrub) very familiar to the inhabitants of Israel.

Jesus was not giving the disciples a botany lesson but we, in our infinite ability to not see the forest for the trees, missed the whole point He was making... that the Kingdom of God began as a small and insignificant mustard seed but would gradually grow into a huge tree that eventually gave shelter to the birds of the air. This last stage will come about only when Jesus makes His return to establish His physical rule on earth... an event that isn't exactly very far away. See The Kingdom - When?

Being Unaware of All The Facts
"Down" To Jericho?
Critics often point to the fact that since Jericho is several miles northeast of Jerusalem, Jesus 'mistakenly' implied that Jericho was south of Jerusalem when He said "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho..." (Luke 10:30).

Actually Jesus wasn't wrong!

The elevation of the old city of Jerusalem is approximately 2,490 ft above sea level, while Jericho is located in an oasis in the Jordan Valley some 846 ft below sea level. In other words, Jerusalem is at least 3,300 feet above Jericho. Therefore, someone traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho would in fact be "going down".

Leaving or Entering Jericho?
The differing versions of Jesus restoring the sight of a blind man somewhere outside Jericho is slightly more complicated.

    Matthew says Jesus restored the sight of two blind men as they were leaving Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34).

    Mark confirms that Jesus was leaving the city with His disciples and a large crowd, but says "a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus" implored Jesus to heal him, which Jesus did (Mark 10:46-52).

    Luke, on the other hand, says as Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. On finding out that Jesus was passing by, He cried out to the Lord to have mercy on him. Again Jesus restored the beggar's sight (Luke 18:35-43).

How Many Blind Men Were Healed?
While all three accounts have Jesus asking the person/s concerned what they wanted Him to do for them, both Luke and Mark speak of only one blind man being healed, while Matthew speaks of two.

As pointed out earlier, Mark often included details that the others did not. In this case, he named the blind man as 'Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus'. Quite obviously his readers would know who he was referring to. There would be little point in naming father and son if they were unknown in the community.

 What it doesn't necessarily mean is that Bartimaeus was the only one healed.

We might do exactly the same thing. If two people were miraculously healed of the same disease at a prayer service one being a total stranger and the other your aunt, it would be perfectly understandable if you told someone how your aunt was healed by prayer without mentioning the other person who was also cured.

Was Jesus Leaving or Entering Jericho?
One possible explanation for the fact that that Luke has Jesus approaching the city of Jericho at the time, and Mark has Him leaving.

The healing happened when Jesus was leaving Galilee in the north and making his way to Jerusalem for the last time. Matthew 19:1. The last stop for pilgrims who traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem was Jericho - a route apparently taken to avoid passing through Samaria. However, Jericho had a long and checkered history and was destroyed and rebuilt several times - not necessarily in the exact location.

The Old Testament city of Jericho that was occupied by the Canaanites before Joshua conquered it lay some five miles west of the Jordan river. However, Herod the Great rebuilt the city about a mile or so away from the original city. This 'Herodian Jericho' as it is called, included public buildings, a hippodrome, an amphitheater, and a winter palace for himself.

Although the old city was largely in ruins in Jesus' time, it is entirely possible that Jesus was between the two Jerichos causing one writer to say he was approaching the city, and the other two to say He was leaving it.

What makes sense is that in the minds of the two Jewish authors, ruined or not 'Old Jericho' was still the Jericho that featured so strongly in their history. Luke, on the other hand, was a Gentile who would not have had any attachment to 'Old Jericho'. Therefore when he said Jesus was approaching Jericho, he was referring to the city he was familiar with - Herod's Jericho.

Not Understanding The Greek Words and The Context
The Pharisees Claimed To Have Never Been in Bondage
In the Gospel of John, the Pharisees made what seems to be a rather ridiculous statement...

    So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" (John 8:31-33 NASB)

The problem being that the Jews had a long history of captivity, slavery and bondage. In fact, the Passover (Hebrew Pasach) instituted by the Lord Himself and observed by Jews through the centuries was designed to commemorate their freedom from bondage in Egypt. See The Seven Feasts of Israel. Even at the time of speaking they were under Roman rule

The Pharisees may have been a lot of things but they were not stupid and they certainly could not have been lying to another Jew (especially a rabbi) who knew the history of the nation like the back of His hand. So there has to be an answer to why they said what they did.

I believe that the Pharisees understood exactly when Jesus meant when He used the Greek word eleutheroó translated 'free' - "the truth will make you free". Although the word literally means set free or released from bondage, it can also be used in a figurative sense i.e. to remove the restrictions of sin. The word was used sparsely in the New Testament but when it does it usually refers to being freed from the bondage of sin. Here are a couple of examples.

    and having been freed (Gk. eleutheroó ) from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  (Romans 6:18 NASB)

    But now having been freed from sin (Gk. eleutheroó )  and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (Romans 6:22 NASB)

    It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gk. eleutheroó ); therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NASB)

This is supported by Jesus' next words

    Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. "So if the Son makes you free (Gk. eleutheroó), you will be free (Gk. eleutheroó) indeed. (John 8:34-36 NASB)

Jesus was offering them freedom from sin but the Pharisees who took great pride in being descendants of Abraham did not believe they were sinners.

Did The Men Traveling With Paul, Hear, Or Not Hear, God's Voice?
Although it is a very minor matter, there seems to be a discrepancy in the two accounts of Paul's conversion.

    And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing (Gk. akouo) a voice, but seeing no man.  (Acts 9:7 KJV)

    And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard (Gk. akouo) not the voice of him that spake to me. (Acts 22:9 KJV)

Although the Greek word akouo is common to both sentences similar to the English "listen" it not only has more than one shade of meaning, but is used in different senses in the New Testament.

1. To be able to hear, ie. not be deaf.

    They were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear (Gk. akouo) and the mute to speak."  (Mark 7:37 NASB)

    And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear (Gk. akouo) , the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them. (Luke 7:22 NASB)

2. To pay attention to what is being said. Used in exhortations:

    Listen (Gk. akouo), my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5 NASB)

    'He who has an ear, let him hear (Gk. akouo) what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.' (Revelation 2:7 NASB)

3. To understand what is said:

    for the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear (Gk. akouo), and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear (Gk. akouo) with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.'  (Matthew 13:15 NASB)

    having eyes, do you not see? and having ears, do you not hear (Gk. akouo)? And do you not remember,  (Mark 8:18 NASB)

It is entirely possible that the men heard the voice (Acts 9:7) but did not comprehend what was being said (Acts 22:9).

Did They Fall To The Ground Or Not?
Similarly, when Paul recounted the incident to king Agrippa, he said "And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 26:14 NASB). This again seems to contradict Acts 9:7, which says the men "stood (Gk. histemi) speechless". However, histemi can but does not necessarily mean to literally stand on one's two feet. Note other uses

    Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. (2 Corinthians 1:24 NASB)

    Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy,  (Jude 1:24 NASB)

    ...I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! (1 Peter 5:12 NASB)

    for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:17 NASB)

In other words, the men could simply have been transfixed - rooted to the spot.

Abiathar or Ahimelech... Which priest gave David the bread of the Presence to eat?
Responding to the Pharisees who were complaining about the disciples plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath, Jesus asked if they had never heard that when David was hungry he ate the bread of the Presence that only the priests were allowed to eat.

Jesus was referring to a passage in Samuel when David was on the run from Saul. The charge is that Jesus asserted that the priest who gave the bread to David was Abiathar although the relevant passage in the first book of Samuel says the priest was Ahimelech. However, if you read the text carefully, Jesus does not say Abiathar gave David the bread, but that this incident took place in the "time of Abiathar".

    Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of (Gk. epi) Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?" (Mark 2:25-26 NASB)

The same Greek word is used in Acts 11:28

    One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of (Gk. epi) Claudius.  (Acts 11:28 NASB)

Other translations render this verse "in the time of Claudius" (YLT), "under Claudius" (CLV), "in the days of Claudius" (KJV).

It is entirely possible that Jesus said what He did because Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech was well known. He is mentioned no less than 30 times in the Old Testament often in conjunction with David.

Only the Original Text Is Inerrant... Copyist Mistakes Can And Do Occur.
What Hour was Jesus Crucified?
It is often pointed out that the Gospel authors apparently did not even get the exact hour of Jesus' crucifixion straight. Mark says Jesus was crucified at the third hour, while John has Pilate handing Jesus over to the Roman guards at about the sixth hour, which would place Jesus' trial some time after Mark said He was crucified. The two verses in question are ....

    It was the third hour when they crucified Him. (Mark 15:25 NASB)

    Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he (Pilate) *said to the Jews, "Behold, your King!" (John 19:14 NASB)

Most Christian apologists defend this discrepancy by appealing to the different methods the Jews and Gentiles used to tell time. In orthodox Judaism, an hour is calculated by dividing the daylight hours from sunrise until sunset into twelve equal parts (The twelve hours of night were from sunset to sunrise). Because,depending on the season, both day and night hours are different lengths these hours are also called  "proportional"

    Mark used the Jewish method of counting the 12 hours of their day beginning with sunrise. Therefore Jesus' crucifixion at Mark's "third hour" occurred three hours after sunrise...ie. about 9 am.

    John, for what ever reason, was supposed to have used the Roman methods of counting the hours. The Romans began their day at midnight just like we do. Therefore, according to Roman reckoning, the "sixth hour" when Pilate handed Jesus over would have been about six in the morning. 

But why in the world would John, a faithful Jew, have used the Roman method of counting time (Apparently, there are supposed to be various 'clues' in his Gospel that show he did)

I beg to disagree.

To cut a long story short, if John were using Roman time, Pilate handed Jesus over to be executed around about six in the morning which would mean that his and Herod's questioning of Jesus took place in the wee hours of the morning. Is anyone seriously going to believe that Pilate was roused out of his bed to question Jesus (which, if you read John 18:28 to 19:14, was actually quite a long drawn out procedure). And, apparently we are also to believe that Pilate also got Herod out of bed in the very early hours of the morning to interview Jesus.

The implausibility of this time frame is further emphasized by another incident, i.e. Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria, which John also said took place at the "sixth hour". John says that Jesus, tired from the journey, was resting alone at the well while the disciples went into the city to buy food. (John 4:5-8). If John were using Roman time, not only does it mean that Jesus and the disciples traveled on foot through the night, but also that a woman was alone at a well drawing water at 6 am, and the disciples went into the city to buy food at this time long, I am sure, before anything was open. However, if John was using Jewish time, the entire incident would have taken place at about noon, which makes much more sense.

Something that we all too often forget is when we claim the Scriptures are infallible, it means there were no mistakes in the original writings. This does not mean that there were never any scribal errors in the copies made. When thousands of pages are being copied by hand, it is simply impossible to avoid any and all such errors, whether due to tired eyes, a slip of the pen etc.

And, it so happens that a few ancient manuscripts do have the "third hour" in John 19:14 but, taking their cue from the majority, most modern Bible translations say "sixth hour". However, in the second century Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, confirmed that either John's original text or an extremely early copy was preserved in the church at Ephesus. It says,

    "When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment-seat, in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the third hour,” as the correct books render it, and the copy itself that was written by the hand of the evangelist, which, by the divine grace, has been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful.  [03]

As reputed Bible commentator, Adam Clarke wrote, because "in ancient times all the numbers were written in the manuscripts not at large, but in numeral letters, it was easy for three, to be mistaken for six".

Although the New Testament was copied by hand in different lands and on different continents for hundreds of years the discrepancies or errors are so minor that they do not affect the basic message of the Bible and make no difference to doctrine or teaching. A perfect example of this is the two virtually intact copies of the book of Isaiah found in the caves at Qumran that are a good thousand years older than any in our possession. Yet...

 they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. [04]

See Chapter 9 for more on how accurately the Bible has been transmitted through the centuries. 

Jesus' Last Words
Critics often claim that, considering the momentousness of the occasion, the disciples should have been painfully aware of what Jesus' last words on the cross were but they got that wrong as well.

    About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" ...And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:46, 50 NASB)

    And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit." Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:46 NASB)

    A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:29-30 NASB)

While all three accounts appear to contradict each other, we need to pay attention to the fact that Matthew wrote that after Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?", He again "cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit". What Matthew does not tell us is what Jesus cried out the second time. It is entirely possible that Luke filled in this gap when he wrote that Jesus, "crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit", then breathed His last.

In other words, Jesus first cried out "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" then "Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit". After which He died.

While those two statements are easy to fit into a chronological order we do not know whether it was before or after this that Jesus sipped the sour wine and said "It is finished!" (remember that His ordeal went on for hours). Nor do we have any idea why each of these three disciples focused on only one dying statement made by Jesus, but the fact remains that all three reports supplement, not contradict, one another. They are simply three different statements that Jesus made at three different moments before He died.


Different Points of View Aren’t Contradictions

Is John's Gospel Really So Different?
The word 'synoptic' means presenting or taking the same or common view. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar wording. For critics to claim that John's account is so different from the Synoptics that he could not have been writing about the same events and the same person is so ridiculous that it hardly bears mentioning.

Not only is the substance of what Jesus said unchanged from the other Gospels, but many of Jesus' statements are in exactly the same words as the Synoptics. There is no substantial difference in John's version of Jesus walking on water, the feeding of the five thousand, the crucifixion, the resurrection etc.

However, there is no question that this fourth Gospel is distinct from the others. John does not include Jesus' temptation in the wilderness nor His transfiguration on the mountain. He makes no mention of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's prayer, or the institution of the Lord's supper. He also says nothing about Jesus casting demons out of people. On the other hand, John includes a considerable amount of material not found in the Synoptics.

All the material in John 2-4, Jesus' early Galilean ministry, is not found in the synoptics. Prior visits of Jesus to Jerusalem before the passion week are mentioned in John but not found in the synoptics. The seventh sign-miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11) is not mentioned in the synoptics. The extended Farewell Discourse (John 13-17) is not found in the synoptic Gospels. [05]

Not only does John include events that the other three authors did not but his perspective is unique. John uses longer discourses and a lot more symbolism (ex. light versus darkness), and explicitly emphasizes Christ's divinity. Additionally, although he was an eyewitness he did not just record what he saw and heard at the time, but wrote about events with the understanding that only came to him and the other disciples after Jesus' death and resurrection, a fact that he pointed out several times. John focused less on the historical details, which were sufficiently covered in the first three gospels and more on the meaning of Christ's words and the significance of some of His actions.

    So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. (John 2:22 NASB)

    These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.  (John 12:16 NASB)

    For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:9 NASB)

    Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6:14 NASB)

    Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. "If this man were not from God, He could do nothing." (John 9:32-33 NASB)

It also bears mentioning that John's Gospel was probably not primarily targeted at a Jewish audience simply because the Jews would not have needed the words "Rabbi" and "Messiah" translated or explained, as in the following verses.

    And Jesus turned and saw them following, and *said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?"  (John 1:38 NASB)

    He found first his own brother Simon and *said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ).  (John 1:41 NASB)

A similar problem arises with James and Paul. This perceived contradiction is nothing but each of the men focusing on different aspects of salvation.

James and Paul - Justified By Faith Alone - Yes or No?
Paul seemed to put a lot of emphasis on being justified by faith, and not by the works of the Law

    because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 NASB)

    For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  (Romans 3:28 NASB)

    nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16 NASB)

    For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB)

However, Christ' brother James, the head of the church in Jerusalem strongly emphasized works without which he said, no one could be justified.

    for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. (Romans 2:13 NASB)

    Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?... You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:21,24 NASB)

Critics point to these verses as an example of the Bible contradicting itself. However, in this case it is hard to blame them because, although I am not sure why, this perceived contradiction between the words of the two apostles has long been a theological battleground in the church. Read in the context of each apostle's overall message, it becomes clear that each of them was addressing different situations, and had different objectives.

Paul was speaking of the faith necessary prior to conversion, and James was speaking of the works necessary after conversion. It also has to be noted that both James and Paul had exactly the same view of the law, which was that the law demanded perfection. But read it for yourself HERE

The Crucially Important 'Discrepancy' Most People Miss

Skeptics focus on absolutely inconsequential 'discrepancies' in the New Testament, such as how many blind men were healed, the location of Jericho, whether or not Paul's companions heard Christ's voice/fell to the ground and how many angels were at the tomb. Yet few have ever questioned a seemingly major contradiction between the authors of the New Testament... Paul in particular.

For example, the New Testament sometimes says that salvation is an accomplished reality, and at other times says it is still in the future,

    Ephesians 2:8-9 states that Christians have already been saved... "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast".

    but 1 Corinthians 1:18 says the process is ongoing... "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God".

    while Matthew 10: 22 says it is still in the future... "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved".

    As does Romans 13:11.. "Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed".

    While 1 Thessalonians 5:8 takes it a step further, speaking of the "hope" of salvation... "... let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation

This seeming contradiction is not limited to salvation alone, but also occurs in statements about other topics of crucial importance... justification, redemption, glorification, and adoption. Check it out for yourself.

So what is the answer? Can we be assured we have salvation now or is it something we have to strive and hope for? Have we already been adopted as sons, or are we eagerly waiting for this adoption? Are we righteous now or is it yet a distant hope? For those who are actually interested in what the Bible says on the subject...  as opposed to what parents, pastors, friends, or denomination may believe and teach, the answer to all of the above questions is .. BOTH. See The Two Phase Atonement

Continue To Part 8b: Alleged Discrepancies in The Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection
Critics claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John's accounts of the resurrection differ substantially from each other and that these discrepancies or contradictions can neither be harmonized nor explained. This is then offered up as 'evidence' that the Gospels are completely unreliable as eyewitness testimony and can therefore be summarily dismissed. However, is the charge true that there irreconcilable contradictions in the Gospel accounts? HERE

End Notes (Chapter 8)
[01] Professor R. T. France. The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus,The Founder Of Christianity.

[02] ibid.

[03] Philip Schaff. Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume six. That up to the Time of the Destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews Rightly Appointed the Fourteenth Day of the First Lunar Month. Section 7. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.ix.vi.v.html

[04] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL.: Moody Press, 1985), Pg. 25

[05] W. Hall Harris III. Major Differences Between John and the Synoptic Gospels.


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