Category Archives: New Testament

CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT? LESSON 4: ALLEGED CONTRADICTIONS

In this study, we will continue examining alleged argumentation against the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). We will be looking more into alleged arguments that are internal within the text of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

THE AUTHORS IN THIRD PERSON?

SKEPTIC’S ARGUMENT:

If Matthew was the author of Matthew, then why did he refer to himself in the third person (Mt. 9:9; 10:3)? If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are truly the authors of these gospel accounts, then isn’t it strange that they would write in third person? This is clearly evidence against the alleged fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

RESPONSE:

It was a fairly standard practice in ancient writings to refer to oneself in the third person. Ancient historians often referred to themselves in the third person.

Caesar’s Commentaries (100-44 BC.) never identify the author at all, and they refer to Caesar in the third person. Yet, no one doubts or questions if Caesar was the author of the writings attributed to him.

The same type of evidence to determine the authorship of Caesar for his writings is the same type of evidence used to determine the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Xenophon (431-351 BC.) refers to himself in the third person in his writings:

“There was in the army a certain Xenophon, an Athenian, who accompanied the army neither as a general nor as a captain nor as a private soldier; but Proxenos, an old acquaintance, had sent for him.” (Anabasis Book 3, ch 1; See also Anabasis 1.8.15; 2.5.40; 3.1.10, 47, etc.).

Josephus was a Jewish Historian (AD. 37-100) and he refers to himself in third person (The Jewish War 2.20.4, 3.9.5, etc.).

For one to argue that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John cannot be the authors of the gospel accounts because they sometimes allude to themselves in third person is a fallacious argument per the aforementioned information.

DO THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS CONTRADICT?

SKEPTIC’S ARGUMENT:

The writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John cannot be trusted because they contradict each other in many places. We do not know which gospel account, if any, to trust. Therefore, we cannot trust any of them.

RESPONSE:

First, we have to properly define when a contradiction actually exists. The Law of Contradiction is stated as follows: “Nothing can both be and not be” (Jevons, 1928; Elementary Lessons in Logic; p. 117). A contradiction can only exist when every possible means of harmonization and explanation has been fully exhausted and negated.

 4 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

(1) Is the same thing, same event or same person under consideration?

(2) Is the same time period under consideration?

(3) Is the same type of language employed?

(4) Is the same sense or perspective being used?

These four questions must be properly answered in order to determine if the situation under consideration is indeed an actual contradiction. Let’s consider a few practical examples.

(1) Is the same thing, same event or same person under consideration?

 Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different person named Jason could be under consideration.

(2) Is the same time period under consideration?

 Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different time period could be under consideration for the same Jason.

(3) Is the same type of language employed?

 Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different type of language could be employed for the same Jason during the same period. Jason is rich in love, but poor in wealth.

(4) Is the same sense or perspective being used?

Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different type of perspective could be employed. Depending upon the author— the level of understanding for rich and poor could vary greatly.

AN EXAMPLE OF A CONTRADICTION

It must be conclusively proven that the same person, event, place or thing is under consideration during the same time utilizing the same language and perspective.

A contradiction would exist if one person claimed that Jason had $100 in his bank account while another person claimed that the same Jason did not have any money in the exact same bank account during the same time.

DO THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS CONTRADICT?

When someone claims that the gospel accounts are full of contradictions, typically they cannot even begin to cite one specific example. They have just heard what others have said and flippantly repeat it.

With that being said, there are certainly differences between the gospel accounts. So, when someone uses the word “contradiction” to describe the gospel accounts, they should be using the word “difference.”

There are certainly many differences between the gospel accounts. However, as stated before, a difference does not equate to a contradiction. Let’s consider several of these differences that are often misunderstood as contradictions by skeptics.

DID THE WOMEN REPORT THE RESURRECTION OR NOT?

Matthew’s Account: The women reported the resurrection to the disciples (Matt. 28:8).

Mark’s Account: The women did not report the resurrection to the disciples (Mark 16:8).

 EXPLANATION:

First, a different time frame might be under consideration. If such is the case, then Mark would be reporting what the women initially did and Matthew included what they eventually did. They could have left the tomb quickly and said nothing to anyone. Then, after gathering their thoughts, they could have run to tell the disciples.

Second, a different sense/perspective is possible. In other words, Mark might be writing from the implication that the women told no one (other than the disciples). While Matthew supplements us with the exception (except the disciples).  Therefore, putting the two gospel accounts together, the conclusion could be that the women told no one other than the disciples.

It was not at all out of the ordinary for one gospel writer to include information, qualifiers or exceptions when another gospel writer didn’t. In these cases, we are dealing with supplemental information and not contradictory information.

Several other examples of this would include:

 A sign would not be given for Jesus’ divinity (Mk. 8:12).

Exception – A sign would be given for Jesus’ divinity (Mt. 16:4; Lk. 11:29)

Forgive – no condition mentioned (Mt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25-26)

Forgive – condition mentioned (Lk. 17:3-4).

 EXAMPLE:

A mother told her children, “Do not leave the house under any circumstance while your babysitter is here.” Later, once the mother left, the children asked the babysitter if they could leave the house if it caught on fire. The babysitter obviously told them that they would leave the house if it caught on fire. Did the babysitter contradict or supplement the Mother’s instruction?

This is a very simple example illustrating the difference between contradictory information and supplementary information.

HOW MANY BLIND MEN WERE HEALED?

Mark & Luke’s Account: Jesus healed one blind man (Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35).

Matthew’s Account: Jesus healed two blind men (Matt. 20:30).

EXPLANATION:

These types of differences regarding numbers are very common in the gospel accounts. For example, the one/two demoniacs who were helped (Mark 5:2; Matt. 8:28; Luke 8:27). The one/two angels appearing at the empty tomb (Mark 16:5; Matt. 28:2-3; Luke 24:4).

These differences are easily resolved in that one gospel account provides more detail than the other. If one account said “only one” or “just one” while another said “only two,” then you would have a contradiction. However, such is never the case in the gospel accounts.

Instead, one gospel account is simply supplying more information than the other—and focusing on a certain aspect. Specially, the main character of this story is Bartimeaus. Perhaps Mark and Luke focus on Bartimeaus because he was the loudest or most determined, a point worth focusing on for spiritual reasons. Perhaps he was the “leader” or “spokesman” for them. We don’t know the details, but since many possibilities exist, this cannot be considered a contradiction.

EXAMPLE:

A husband and wife are driving down the road and see a man and his family needing help. The husband and wife stop to help the family. The next day, the husband and wife are relaying the event to their friends. The husband said, “Yesterday, we were able to help a very nice homeless man.” The wife said, “Yesterday, we were able to help 4 homeless victims.” The husband and wife are speaking of the same incident—yet the sense is which the story is relayed is different, but not contradictory.

TAKE A STAFF OR DON’T TAKE A STAFF?

Mark’s Account: The disciples are told to take a staff and sandals for their journey (Mark 6:8-9).

Luke’s Account: The disciples are told to not take a staff (Lk. 9:3).

Matthew’s Account: – The disciples are told to not take sandals (Mt. 10:9-10).

EXPLANATION:

This is an instance where both language and perception give us all the answers we need. This is where understanding the contextual narrative is important-  from both a historical and linguistics standpoint.

 “The two concessions of a staff and sandals are unique to Mark. Both are forbidden in Matthew 10:9-10, and the staff is forbidden in Luke 9:3. Matthew used ktaomai (“to procure, acquire”), instead of airō (“to take”); so the disciples were not to acquire additional staffs or sandals – but to use the ones they already had. Mark and Luke both use airō, “to take or carry along.” But Luke says, “Take nothing for the journey – no staff (rhabdon),” presumably no additional staff; while Mark says, “Take nothing for the journey except (Mark 6:8-9) a staff (rhabdon),” presumably the one already in use. Each writer stressed a different aspect of Jesus’ instructions” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Vol. 2. Victor Books, 1983-1985 p. 128).

The sense of the Greek word Matthew uses for “provide” (ktaomai) is “to get or acquire.” In this passage, Jesus seems to urge His disciples to go now, don’t take the time to find another staff, just take what you have and go (http://biblehub.com/greek/2932.htm).

Mark uses a word with a broader meaning (airo), which indicates “lift or take up.” In this passage, Mark seems to convey the idea that Jesus wanted the disciples to take what they already have and go. Those who already had a staff were to take it but were not to acquire another staff (http://biblehub.com/greek/142.htm).

Although using the same word for take as Mark, Luke’s passage conveys the same sense as Matthew’s. Luke also conveys the idea that the disciples were to depart quickly and without taking lots of “things” with them. They needed to focus on preaching the kingdom of heaven and were to trust the Lord to provide for their needs (http://biblehub.com/greek/142.htm).

NO GENUINE CONTRADICTIONS

While there are many differences between the gospel accounts, there have been no proven contradictions. Even among more seemingly difficult passages, there are still possible explanations. As long as an explanation exists, it cannot be considered a contradiction.

Remember, the 4 questions to always ask yourself when studying an alleged contradiction:

(1) Is the same thing, same event or same person under consideration?

(2) Is the same time period under consideration?

(3) Is the same type of language employed?

(4) Is the same sense or perspective being used?

WHY THE DIFFERENCES BECOME FURTHER EVIDENCE

Ironically enough, the fact that the gospel accounts are different is only further proof of their validity.

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J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. J. Warner was a conscientious and vocal atheist until the age of thirty-five, when he took a serious and expansive look at the evidence for the Christian Worldview and determined that Christianity was demonstrably true.

J. Warner Wallace, a former cold case detective and expert on eyewitness testimony, tells us in his book, Cold-Case Christianity, what we should expect to see if the New Testament accounts are provided by multiple eyewitnesses (www.coldcasechristianity.com).

1. THEIR STATEMENTS WILL BE PERSPECTIVAL.

Each eyewitness will describe the event from his or her spatial and emotional perspective. Not everyone will be in the same position to see the same series of events or the same details. I will have to puzzle together statements that might at first appear contradictory; each statement will be colored by the personal experiences and worldviews of the witnesses.

 2. THEIR STATEMENTS WILL BE PERSONAL.

Each eyewitness will describe the event in his or her own language, using his or her own expressions and terms. As a result, the same event may be described with varying degrees of passion or with divergent details that are simply the result of individual tastes and interests.

3. THEIR STATEMENTS MAY CONTAIN AREAS OF COMPLETE AGREEMENT.

Some aspects of each eyewitness statement may be completely identical. This is particularly true when witnesses describe aspects of the crime that were dramatic or important to the sequence of events. It’s also true when later witnesses are aware of what others have offered and simply affirm the prior description by telling me, “The rest occurred just the way he said.”

4. LATER STATEMENTS MAY FILL IN THE GAPS.

Finally, as described earlier, I expect late witnesses who are aware of prior statements to simply fill in what has not been said previously.

With respect to the four gospel accounts, Wallace writes:

All four accounts are written from a different perspective and contain unique details that are specific to the eyewitnesses…All four accounts are highly personal, utilizing the distinctive language of each witness.

Mark is far more passionate and active in his choice of adjectives, for example. Several of the accounts (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) contain blocks of identical (or nearly identical) descriptions. This may be the result of common agreement at particularly important points in the narrative, or (more likely) the result of later eyewitnesses saying, “The rest occurred just the way he said.”

Finally, the last account (John’s gospel) clearly attempts to fill in the details that were not offered by the prior eyewitnesses. John, aware of what the earlier eyewitnesses had already written, appears to make little effort to cover the same ground. Even before examining the Gospels with the rigor we are going to apply in section 2, I recognized that they were consistent with what I would expect to see, given my experience as a detective.

CONCLUSION

We should be confident in the fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew’s account was an eye witness testimonial account. John’s account was an eye witness testimonial account. Mark’s account would have been based upon Peter, who was an eye witness. Luke’s account was based upon unidentified eye witness accounts.

The fact that they sometimes mentioned themselves in third person would not be out of the ordinary nor disqualify them as being the authors. The gospel accounts, while containing many differences, do not contain legitimate contradictions.

 SOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

  • Gleason Archer. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan, 2001.
  • William Arndt. Does the Bible Contradict Itself? A Discussion of Alleged Contradictions of the Bible. 5th rev. ed. Concordia, 1976.
  • —. Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions. Rev. ed. Concordia, 1987.
  • Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Intervarsity, 2007. See Chapter Four.
  • R. T. France. “Inerrancy and New Testament Exegesis.” Themelios (1975) 12-18. He is a world-class scholar who respects Scripture. Incidentally, in that article, he explains the differences in the pericopae about the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Did the centurion approach Jesus, or did the Jewish elders?
  • Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Baker, 1992.
  • John W. Haley. An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Scholarly Publishing House, U Michigan P, 2005.
  • Gleason Archer. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan, 2001.
  • William Arndt. Does the Bible Contradict Itself? A Discussion of Alleged Contradictions of the Bible. 5th rev. ed. Concordia, 1976.
  • —. Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions. Rev. ed. Concordia, 1987.
  • Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Intervarsity, 2007. See Chapter Four.
  • R. T. France. “Inerrancy and New Testament Exegesis.” Themelios (1975) 12-18. He is a world-class scholar who respects Scripture. Incidentally, in that article, he explains the differences in the pericopae about the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Did the centurion approach Jesus, or did the Jewish elders?
  • Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Baker, 1992.
  • John W. Haley. An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Scholarly Publishing House, U Michigan P, 2005.

– Kevin Pendergrass

THE NEW TESTAMENT: THE MOST TEXTUALLY AUTHENTICATED DOCUMENT(S) IN ANTIQUITY

It is not rare to hear or read about attacks on the Bible. Some claim it is just some old book that can’t really be trusted. But what is the reality of the situation? What does one find when they take the Bible and put it against other writings of antiquity? The following stats that I am about to quote are from Daniel B. Wallace given in a public debate in 2012 when he debated Bart Ehrman (Is The Original New Testament Lost?).

In Richard Carrier’s book Proving History, Carrier states one of the rules (Rule 2) of the historical method is to “develop wide expertise in the period, topics, languages, and materials that you intend to blaze any trails in, or else base all your assumptions in these areas on the established (and properly cited) findings of those who have” (p.37). Daniel B. Wallace is certainly a man of expertise in the field of manuscripts and textual criticism. He is a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary who founder and serves as the executive director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He published his first edition of Greek Grammar beyond the Basics in 1996. His scholarship in New Testament documents is recognized by all scholars. His website is: www.csntm.org. When it comes to the integrity of the New Testament documents, Wallace makes the following statements:

• Even though a lot of the manuscripts we have are fragments, the average manuscript we have is 450 pages long.

• We currently have over 2.5 million pages of total manuscripts.

• Number of Manuscripts dating back to the 2nd century: 18; 3rd century: 64 and 4th century: 48 for a total of 124 within 300 years of originals and all of the NT is found within these when you combine them (fragments of the whole NT is contained within the first 300 years of the autographs).

• There are NO copies of classical writings within 300 years other than the NT writings.

• 500 manuscripts come before 900 A.D. and 124 come within the first 300 years.

• We have three times more NT manuscripts written within the first 200 years of the autographs than the average Greco Roman writings have within 2000 years.

• Even if all we had were 124 manuscripts of the NT within the first 300 years; that would far surpass any other classical writings manuscripts!

To say that the integrity of the New Testament manuscripts is powerful would be an understatement. There is no other book or document in antiquity that even comes close to the integrity and textual authentication than that of the New Testament manuscripts.

-Kevin Pendergrass

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An Article I wrote on Facebook. in response to this meme: 12187652_1172952069382436_8071328273543583322_n

Facts are important. I came across this meme in my feed and saw how others were propagating it. It is sad that we live in a society where a comedian can be looked upon as a scholar and authority in textual criticism. Unfortunately, I believe what is equally sad is that many Christians today couldn’t answer the fallacious and rhetoric-filled accusations that are in this meme.
I have taught two 13 lesson classes on textual criticism and continue to realize the importance on why we as Christians have to be educated on this topic, especially when so much ignorance is being spewed. The New Testament writings are the most textually authenticated writings in all of antiquity. This isn’t a debatable or “Christian” accusation. This is a matter of fact based upon textual criticism and the evidence we have (Ehrman Vs. Wallace Debate: Is the Original New Testament Lost?, 2012). Consider the New Testament alone. We have three times more NT manuscripts written within the first 200 years of the autographs (original writings) than the average Greco Roman writings have within 2000 years (ibid).
From antiquity, there are no copies of any writings within 300 years of the autographs (i.e., the original copies) other than the NT writings. So while no copies of any other writings exist within the first 300 years of the autographs, we have 124 manuscripts of the New Testament within the first 300 years of their autographs (18 copies from the 2nd century; 64 copies from the 3rd century; 48 copies from the 4th century; ibid, see also: Reinventing Jesus, p.75-103; Dr. Wallace).
When most people speak of “contradictions” found in the manuscripts, what they are referring to is a textual variant. A textual variant is any place among multiple manuscripts where there is not a perfect uniformity of wording. The majority of variants in the Scriptures have to do with spelling differences, synonym differences, etc. In other words, it does not affect the meaning whatsoever. (Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981, 53; and J Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Criticism, rev. ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995, 134 n. 2.). Today, it would be similar to writing “Would you like a apple?” versus “Would you like an apple?” It is certainly a variant, but has no impact on meaning. The majority of variants are similar and parallel (at least in principle) to this this illustration.
On the other hand, there are variables that affect the meaning of the text and are viable. These are the most important ones. This is by far the smallest category of textual variants and only about 1 percent of all textual variants fit this category. However, this can be a bit misleading because out of all the meaningful and viable variants, none of them actually contradict the message of the text nor does it change any doctrine or teaching. Below are a few examples of viable variants that change the meaning of the text itself, but not the message or application.

Romans 5:1: “We have peace (echomen)” versus “let us have peace (echomen)?”

1 Thess. 2:7: “gentle (epioi)” versus “little children (nepioi)”

1 Jn. 4:1: “our joy may be complete” versus “your joy may be complete”

As you can tell, while these variants change the meaning of the text itself, there are zero variants that contradict the message of the text, or change any doctrine found in Scripture. I have included here a link of a debate between Dr. Ehrman (an agnostic) and Dr. Wallace (a Christian).

Both are highly educated in the field of textual criticism and the discussion is very educational for all who listen. Dr. Ehrman (who is not a believer) concedes at the end and admits that while there are some 400,000 textual variants among the manuscripts, none of those variants have any sufficient or significant effect on the meaning of the text itself. If you are genuinely interested in learning more, please message me and I will be more than happy to discuss.