Is The Bible Filled With Contradictions?

A Forensic Investigation Of The Biblical Text

One of the criticisms asserted by those who doubt the reliability of the New Testament is the idea that there are differences in the testimonies of Jesus in each of the four Gospels. The idea being that if the events really happened as they allege, the testimonies would agree.

This argument is made because those who read and see these differences, do not have the training to recognize or understand what they are seeing.

One of the pieces of evidence that fully validates the authenticity of the four Gospels, is their singularity as four independent reports. It is important to our comprehension of the New Testament Gospels that we understand these men are writing an account from their own perspectives.

As with any group of people who are recounting the same story; some of the witnesses will see things that others did not. These variations in recollection are not contradictions, but great evidence of authenticity. False accounts, and those which are contrived, make certain that all of the witnesses state the same details. Perhaps you have seen a movie where a group of people agree together on exactly what they are going to say to the authorities, before they are questioned. This is so that their stories match exactly and are found credible.

When we examine the four gospels we see that very often each of the writers have slightly different recollections of the same event. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are not perfectly matched, for good reason. Genuine accounts that are written by multiple eye witnesses seldom have precisely the same details.

In the gospels we see a genuine narrative of four honest men who have told the truth, according to their recollection. These minor differences in their accounts, are evidence of truth.

Courts of law frequently have to deal with multiple testimonies concerning witnesses. It is quite common to see these variations in the story, which does not affect the actual facts of the events. These minor differences are understood by a judge as necessary to a valid testimony and do not invalidate or detract from the material facts of the testimony.

Legal Analysis Of The Four Gospels As Valid Eyewitness Testimony

One good example of these slight variations in the accounts of the four gospels that is alleged as contradictory by critics of the Bible, is found in Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus. Notice that in each of the three accounts of this event, the men who are telling their story use different ways of explaining where this event took place.

Blind Bartimaeus Healed

Matthew 20:29-34 Mark 10:46-52 Luke 18:35-43

Matthew
And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him….

Mark
And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples, a great number of people also followed…

Luke
And it came to pass, that as he was near Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the road begging

People who are of a certain disposition to criticize what they see as inconsistencies in the Bible, point out that this account of Blind Bartimaeus displays a contradiction of terms. If we read the four gospels independent of each other, we miss this subtlety. By reading all four gospels together at the same time, we see this variation of terms:

All three agree that this took place at or near Jericho. The event that we are primarily concerned with is the healing of Bartimaeus.

  • Matthew states that “two blind men were sitting by the road…”
  • Mark states that “blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the side of the road, begging…”
  • Luke states that “a certain blind man sat by the road begging…”

Is it a contradiction that Matthew remembered two blind men, while Mark remembered only Bartimaeus? Luke remembered one blind man, but did not know his name?

If we were reading a myth or a contrived story, we would not likely see a variation in recollection. We would see three men who recorded the exact same story. The fact that we are able to read the same encounter with Bartimaeus, written by three different writers who were actually there and saw these events, is proven by the slight differences each writer records. What each man considered important, is what he describes. Matthew thought it was important to note two men. Mark was focussed only on the primary subject, Bartimaeus. Luke doesn’t name anyone.

This narrative which describes blind Bartimaeus and his healing by Jesus, demonstrates an effective tool that forensic experts use in determining whether written testimony is truthful or contrived. When we get to the chapter called “Forensic Evidence,” you will see this technique utilized by the FBI today, as we apply it to other alleged inconsistencies that people find in the Bible.

Differences In Statements Between Matthew And Luke Concerning Jesus As He Is Before The High Priest

This next example is one that a majority of people would never notice. In simply reading through the text of the New Testament, it is unlikely that you would ever see what I am about to show you. I notice artifacts in the scriptures like this because I study every word, sentence, and the structure of the text, intensely. Follow me now as I demonstrate for you one of the tools we can use to determine whether the New Testament is really a reliable, eyewitness narrative.

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!” Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” ~Matthew 26:62-68 (NLT)

This verse doesn’t make sense upon first examination. When these men began to beat Jesus in His face with their fists, and slap Him, they ask Jesus “who hit you that time?”

Understanding that they men who struck Jesus in His face are standing right in front of Him, why would they ask “who hit you?” This makes no sense to the reader until we also read Luke’s account of the same event:

They blindfolded him and said, “Prophesy to us! Who hit you that time?” ~Luke 22:64 (NLT)

Matthew left out the detail that Luke includes, that these men had blindfolded Jesus before they began to hit Him in the face, then asked “who hit you?” The reason these men asked this of Jesus was because He had claimed to be a prophet, who is able to know the future. Without Luke’s detail that Jesus was blindfolded, using Matthew alone, none of what is said about Jesus would be intelligible.

Without realizing, Matthew forgot to include the important detail that before these men had beat Jesus in His face, they blindfolded Him. Luke was a Greek Physician who is highly trained in recognizing specific details. Luke includes this fact that Jesus was blindfolded before they struck Him in the face and asked “who hit you?”

As a medical doctor, Luke knows that a man who is struck in the face while blindfolded, cannot see the punch coming. The human brain working with the eyes, has an involuntary reaction to objects approaching the head, by causing a sudden recoil of the head at the moment the object makes contact, in order to lessen the effects of the impact.

Because Jesus could not see the punches coming, the damage inflicted upon His face was much more severe than if He had been able to see the punches coming. Luke knew this and he felt it was important to include this detail for us.

We see this attribute of inclusive details for Luke in His Gospel and in the Book of Acts. Luke is a precise recorder of details and always tells the reader much more about what is taking place than Matthew, Mark, or John.

This omission was clearly unintentional and not realized by Matthew. This becomes a marker for us as the reader that these narratives are telling us the truth. In false written testimony, we do not see these unintentional errors. We find that liars make certain their details agree so that they will not be exposed as liars.

This type of testimony where one person includes something that other witnesses leave out, is empirical evidence of genuine testimony. The witnesses didn’t realize they had done this, but we observe it 2,000 years later and it becomes for us, evidence that these men are telling the truth.

Using this type of method to scrutinize and evaluate the words that are written in the four Gospels, there is no question that what we are reading are the actual words that were spoken by Jesus.

Additional Details In Discrepancies

Another remarkable example of genuine testimony that is found in the four Gospels is in Matthew 26:7 where a woman is described by Matthew as bringing costly fragrant oil and pouring it on Jesus’ head.

A woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. ~Matthew 26:7

Luke also gives us an account of this event:

And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. ~Luke 7:37

Neither Matthew nor Luke tells us who this woman was. When we read the narrative of John for this same event, we discover that the woman was Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.

There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. ~John 12:2-3

Why did John include Mary’s name when Matthew and Luke did not? Perhaps it was because Mary’s love for Jesus was extreme. John remembered her deep devotion, an emotion he held in common with Mary.

This event was apparently engraved upon John’s memory and when he wrote his testimony of this event where Mary poured costly oil on Jesus’ head. John remembered who it was, while the others did not, or simply omitted her name by oversight. Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts of this event about 60 A.D. John wrote his, including Mary’s name, near 90 A.D.

It is likely that John had read the texts of Matthew and Luke, and remembered who this woman was. By John including Mary’s name into His Gospel, which he wrote after the others, we can understand that this is proof that all four Gospels are truthful and not contrived. We can also use this as evidence that Matthew and Luke must have written their Gospels before John.

This might seem like a vague and unimportant difference, but for a person who is trained in fraud detection for written testimony, this is empirical evidence of genuine testimony. By this example of John including a minor detail in adding Mary’s name, while the other Gospel writers did not, we understand that these differences in testimony validate the Gospels as genuine accounts.

I challenge you to read through a portion of text that is found in three or all four of the Gospels and carefully compare exactly what each writer is saying. You will see the same narrative, but with slightly different statements that either add or omit certain details. These details do not change the story, but they do tell us that we are reading four separate accounts by four separate writers who all saw the same events.

The writers of the four Gospels claim that they are eyewitnesses of all they wrote. We see in the text that Jesus called these four men to be His witnesses and they were with Him during his entire three and one half years of ministry. These men say in the text that they saw Jesus perform miracles, but didn’t believe He was God or Messiah at first. They say that it was only after they saw Jesus crucified and then alive three days later, that they were convince by the physical evidence of His risen body that He is God and Messiah.

This is what eyewitness testimony is all about.

People see events in past history. They write about what they saw. These documents are circulated. If the events were true, many thousands of documents are copied and further distributed. After 2,000 years, we have the historical artifacts of what these men saw; the surviving 24,593 manuscript copies. Events that are myth, are soon discovered as myths and they do not have 24,000 surviving manuscript copies, 2,000 years later.

There are many places in the narratives of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which retain slight differences in their descriptions. These are clear evidence of truthful testimony. You will learn many details like this throughout this book that will help you understand how much evidence there is in the New Testament narratives that can be used to validate these texts as truthful.

Testing The Narratives Of The New Testament For Truth

How can we know for certain that the testimony of men in the New Testament who claim to be eyewitnesses, are telling the truth?

It is possible to subject any written text to rigorous scrutiny by scientific methods in order to determine whether the statements in these texts are truthful or bear evidence of deceit.

It is also possible to subject 2,000 year old statements of first century men to modern examination techniques by using only the text itself.

The Danger Of Assumptions

A basic rule for determining reliability for all ancient documents which assert eyewitness testimony is that every document should be assumed trustworthy unless it can be shown unreliable through the burden of proof.

One of the techniques utilized in document analysis is that when an examiner uses the presumption that the subject is lying, the test will always be self-refuting. The presumption that a person is always lying while performing any examination for truth is pointless since the conclusion is already made before the examination has begun.[1]

Unless we assume a general presumption of truth in every testimony, we will never be capable of determining whether anything is actually true. The only effective method that actually allows a professional examiner to determine truthful testimony is the presumption of truth at the onset.[2]

The methods that modern liberal scholars often use today in determining the reliability of the New Testament is the assumption that the text must not be true due to its supernatural references. If any examiner uses this method, even though the text specifies supernatural phenomenon, the result will aways be inaccurate. The examiner must let the textual evidence itself determine the conclusions, not their person bias at the onset.

In order to rightly determine whether the New Testament is telling the truth about Jesus, we must begin with the assumption that the narratives are true and then see if there is any evidence to disprove the assertions made in the text.

When techniques used in determining whether written testimony is true or contrived, are applied to the New Testament, we find that the narratives pass with integrity in virtually every test they are subjected to.

We can prove by evidence that the person called Jesus of Nazareth is a genuine person of history from the testimony that is written about Him. We also have a substantial record of non-biblical sources that comes to us from the historical record of the Romans and the Jews. There are 121 secular references to Jesus, His crucifixion and resurrection, in non-biblical texts that was written in the records of the Roman Senate and the Jewish Talmud. See the chapter: “Secular Witnesses.”

Both the Romans and the Jews were not sympathetic towards Jesus and His followers and they had no desire to preserve a record of Him. By writing their harsh criticisms of Jesus and the trouble He caused at Jerusalem just before and after He was crucified, the Romans and Jewish leaders unknowingly preserved a record for us that is independent of the New Testament Narratives.

By examining these secular texts and comparing them to the New Testament, we have a congruent and seamless timeline for all the events that took place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can recreate the entire narrative of Jesus from these non-biblical records, without the aid of the New Testament. When we combine both the secular and biblical records, we have the most detailed and accurate historical record for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that exists for any person in the history of the world.

When we consider that the story of Jesus did not begin with the New Testament, we are struck by the immensity of additional historical evidence that exits for Jesus. Nearly 1,500 year before Jesus arrived on earth and proclaimed that He is Jehovah-God and Messiah, Moses, David, and the Prophets, wrote an extensive record for the Messiah—which Jesus later claimed that was written for Him.

Then Jesus said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things. ~Luke 24:44-48

Jesus said that everything written by Moses, David, and the Prophets, was for Him. These men from the Old Testament, began to write nearly 1,500 years before Jesus arrived, that He would come and prove that He is the One they wrote about, by performing supernatural works that only God was capable of. The miracles of Jesus were predicted by the Old Testament prophets as proof to a later generation, whereby, we could validate anyone who might claim to be the Messiah God promised.

The story of Jesus did not begin in the New Testament 2,000 year ago. It started with the writings of Moses in Genesis 3:15, and continued with David in the Psalms, and all the Prophets of the Old Testament. This is a record of Jesus that dates back 3,500 years ago and has remained for us to the present day. The entire Bible is the largest contiguous record of any single person, that has ever been written during the entire history of the world.

After Jesus was raised from the dead in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets, He appeared to those whom He wanted to be His eyewitnesses and commanded them to write a permanent record of all that He had said and done. This record is available today to any sincere seeker of God. We can know for certain whether the New Testament is telling us the truth, simply by a forensic examination of the text.

Experts in textual analysis accomplish the very same thing today in determining whether written testimony is true or the writers are lying. This is accomplished by a precise method of forensics that allows us to know for certain whether what is written is true or false.

  1. We can prove that what Jesus said and did was recorded by eyewitness.
  2. We can prove by the written testimony that exits in the New Testament that the men who wrote that Jesus claimed to be God,  performed miracles, was crucified and died, and rose again on the third day, were telling the truth.
  3. We can prove from evidence that Jesus was seen alive after his death and resurrection by eyewitnesses and that these witnesses are telling the truth.
  4. We can prove that the miracles Jesus performed were predicted for the Messiah and that Jesus fulfilled over 400 of these prophecies with extreme precision.
  5. We can prove from evidence that the New Testament was written as a historical record so that people who would read the text years later would know the certainty of truth concerning Jesus.
  6. We can prove from evidence that the fundamental and important points of the New Testament that describe Jesus’ claim to be God and Messiah; performing miracle to prove these claims, His crucifixion and His resurrection from the dead, were never changed during the entire history of the New Testament.
  7. We can prove that the New Testament was written before the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army general, Titus, in 70 A.D. Only the Book of Revelation was written after 90 A.D. See the essay: When Were The Gospels Written?

Forensic Analysis Of Testimony

By examination of eyewitness claims, we can use a number of techniques that allow us to test the reliability of these witnesses. We can closely scrutinize the statements of eyewitnesses and look for things that they choose to minimize, and what things they choose to emphasize. We can study the text and see what these witnesses omit altogether. We can tell by the written testimony whether the witnesses are expanding their timeline or have shortened the duration of time in which these events are alleged to have occurred.

These basic tools allow us to determine whether any written testimony, either ancient or recent, is true or false. When we examine the eyewitnesses who wrote their accounts, we can tell who is lying, and who is telling the truth. This allows us to easily conclude whether what we are reading is accurate or manufactured.

When we apply this particular skillset to the four Gospels of Jesus Christ, we find certain stunning and revelatory facts.

When we look at the death of Jesus by crucifixion, outside the four Gospels, we find that there is a substantial secular record that fully validates that Jesus existed, was crucified, and that these events are fixed in the records of both the Romans and the Jews from the exact time period that the four Gospels also place Jesus at Jerusalem. See the chapter: “Secular Witnesses.”

Although the four gospels are written by four individuals, from their own unique perspectives, these separate testimonies all contain the same eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

When we consider whether or not the purpose of writing the four Gospels was to start a new religion and make people think that Jesus had the power of miracles when He did not, we find stunning evidence that this is not possible.

All successful conspiracy theories involve the fewest number of people as possible so as to remove any possibility that the witness would be caught in a lie. It is much easier for two people to maintain a lie and not get caught than it is with multiple witnesses. When we examine the number of witnesses that are named in the New Testament, we find that more than 20 individuals describe Jesus as performing miracles, claiming to be God, claiming to be Messiah, crucified, risen from the dead, and 500 eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive for a period of 40 days. Not one record exists in the entire history of the world which has ever impeached the certainly of what these witnesses said.

This tremendous number of eyewitnesses becomes an insurmountable problem for those who want us to believe that the testimony about Jesus is not true. In order to believe that 500 separate people are lying or were all deluded at once, we would have to believe that a massive and organized group of 500 people were able to write and preserves this false testimony for nearly 2,000 years. There are far too many witnesses to what Jesus said and did, for this many people to all keep their testimony consistent and not be discovered as liars.

We have the twelve Apostles, the many disciples of Jesus, the brothers of Jesus, and Paul, all saying the same things about Jesus. They all consistently tell us that Jesus performed all the expected works of God, they saw Jesus crucified, and they saw Him risen from the dead, over a period of 40 days before He ascended back to heaven.

The Christian church preserved these records and maintained stewardship over these documents, copying them for hundreds of years and distributing these texts all over the world. Not once in the 2,000 year history of the Christian church has any documents surfaced that proves that what is written about Jesus in the New Testament is not true. It is not possible to maintain a false story for 2,000 years without it being uncovered as untrue.

We also find that the men who wrote these narratives about Jesus, stating that they had seen Him perform miracles, watched Him die on the cross, and saw Him alive after three days, they all had their homes taken away, lost their jobs, their families were killed, and all of the Apostles died horrible deaths affirming that they had told the truth. All of these men were tortured and died, refusing to recant what they had seen.

The idea that a large group of men got together in the first century and came up with this bizarre story, consistently wrote the same narratives and preserved this narrative for 2,000 years, dying for their lies, does not carry the weight of evidence nor reasonable logic necessary to sustain a conspiracy theory.

Forensic Examination Of The Written Testimony Found In The New Testament

We find in the four Gospels, that the writers of these texts have left us with great evidence that they obviously never realized or intended. Some writers include certain facts, others inadvertently omitted these facts. This differences between the statements of these witnesses is often seen by critics as inconsistencies. These observations are made because these critics are untrained. To those who are experts in determining the validity of written testimony, these differences are empirical evidence of truth. I will show you why this is true in the remaining portion of this chapter.

We see examples of these differences in written testimony for the New Testament in several places. For the sake of space, I will list only three here in this chapter. For additional examples, please see my book, “These Things Were Written: An Expositional Treatise Of The Life, Death, and Resurrection Of Jesus.”

Differences In Statements Between Matthew And Luke Concerning Jesus As He Is Before The High Priest

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!” Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” ~Matthew 26:62-68

This verse doesn’t make sense upon first examination. When these men began to beat Jesus in His face with their fists, and slap Him, they ask Jesus “who hit you that time?”

Understanding that they men who struck Jesus in His face are standing right in front of Him, why would they ask “who hit you?” This makes no sense to the reader until we also read Luke’s account of the same event:

They blindfolded him and said, “Prophesy to us! Who hit you that time?” ~Luke 22:64

Matthew left out the detail that Luke includes, that these men had blindfolded Jesus before they began to hit Him in the face, then asked “who hit you?” The reason these men asked this of Jesus was because He had claimed to be a prophet, who is able to know the future. Without Luke’s detail that Jesus was blindfolded, using Matthew alone, none of what is said about Jesus makes any sense.

Without realizing, Matthew forgot to include the important detail, that before these men had beat Jesus in His face, they blindfolded Him. Luke was a Greek Physician who is highly trained in recognizing specific details. Luke includes this fact that Jesus was blindfolded before they struck Him in the face and asked “who hit you?” We see this attribute of inclusive details for Luke in His Gospel and in the Book of Acts. Luke is a precise recorder of details and always tells the reader much more about what is taking place than Matthew, Mark, or John.

This omission was clearly unintentional and not realized by Matthew. It becomes a marker for us as the reader that these narratives are telling us the truth. In false written testimony, we do not see these unintentional errors. We find that liars make certain the details agree so that they will not be exposed as liars.

This type of testimony where one person includes something that other witnesses leave out, is empirical evidence of genuine testimony. The witnesses didn’t realize they had done this, but we observe it 2,000 years later and it becomes a certainty that these men are telling the truth.

Using this type of method to scrutinize and evaluate the words that are written in the four Gospels, there is no question that what we are reading are the actual words that were spoken by Jesus.

An Incredible Event That Convinced Peter

There is an event that is recorded by Matthew in his gospel where Jesus tells His disciples that some of them will not die before they see Jesus in His future kingdom. This did not mean that these men would not die until Jesus returns, but that Jesus is going to give them a future glimpse of what His return will look like while they are still alive. Matthew writes that this took place just six days after Jesus said this.

And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”

The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus. As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” ~Matthew 16:28 – 17:9

Later Peter spoke of this event in his second letter, as something that he personally saw as an eyewitness. He stated that he had heard the Father speak from heaven and say that Jesus is His Son, equal to God.

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.  ~2 Peter 1:16-18

Again, reading the testimony of Matthew and comparing it with Luke’s description of the same event, we find that Luke said that this happened about eight days later.

About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray.~Luke 9:28

To the untrained, this difference of two days looks like an inconsistency that would cause some to imagine that the four Gospels are not reliable. From the perspective of a Forensic Investigator, this difference of two days that differs between Matthew’s description and Luke’s description, is evidence of truthful testimony.

Let me explain why this is true. If it was the intention of a large group of men to write a story about a fictional character who they want us to believe is God, they would not have allowed a two day difference in the timing of this event to remain in the permanent record.

If Matthew and Luke are writing their Gospels independent of each other, not copying from Mark or each other, we would expect to find minor discrepancies like this between their testimony. In forensic investigation, these minor differences are classic evidence of truthful testimony.

Notice that a difference of two days does not change the primary point of the story in the least. Both Matthew and Luke state that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain and there before their eyes, Jesus’ image was transformed. His face was as bright as the sun, and His clothes as white as light. They both saw Moses and Elijah, and most important, they both heard a voice from heaven that spoke and said that Jesus is the Son of God.

It is interesting that when we see Jesus in His future kingdom, as described by the Book of Revelation, we see Him exactly as Matthew and Luke describe Him in their testimony.

His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. ~Revelation 1:14

And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. ~Revelation 1:16

His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. ~Revelation 10:1

Repeatedly we read in the New Testament that what these men wrote, they did so as eyewitnesses. The testimony of those who were there when Jesus was crucified is that three days later, He was seen alive by over 500 eyewitnesses, over a 40 day period of time.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also (Paul), as by one born out of due time.  ~1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Paul wrote this testimony that he also had personally seen Jesus alive after He was crucified and risen from the dead. It was Paul who had carried documents of authority from the Jewish leaders at Jerusalem, to towns all over Israel to arrest and condemn Christians to death (Acts 9). Paul wrote that Jesus appeared to Him personally after He had risen from the dead. From that moment, Paul changed from an adversary of Jesus to His chief advocate in proving that He rose from the dead.

Dr. Thomas Arnold, Oxford History professor, concerning the evidence For Jesus Christ:

“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”[3]

Former Atheist Leader and Philosopher, Anthony Flew:

“The evidence for the resurrection alone is better than for claimed miracles of all other religions. Their leaders are buried and still in their graves.Jesus tomb was found empty!”[4]

There are nearly 25,000 surviving manuscripts today which declare that Jesus said and did the things written about Him in the New Testament.

With their own words, these men stated that their purpose in writing this narrative was because they wanted to preserve a truthful historical account of what Jesus said and did, so that those who read their words would have an evidentiary basis to believe.

This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.  ~John 21:24

We proclaim to you, Jesus, who existed from eternity, whom we have heard and seenWe saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. …We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard…  ~1 John 1:1-3

The Internal Forensic Evidence From Matthew And Peter, Regarding Judas

One example that proves the narrative of Jesus is genuine is observed in the New Testament by the difference in testimonies between Matthew and Peter’s narrative of Judas’ suicide. Matthew describes Judas as hanging himself on a tree after his betrayal of Jesus. Peter, in Acts chapter 1, describes Judas as falling head first into a field with his intestines spilling out. Some critics of the Bible see these differences in the description of Judas’ death as a discrepancy that casts doubt upon the reliability of the New Testament.

  • Matthew says that Judas “hanged himself”.
  • Peter says that Judas, “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out…”

These accounts of Matthew and Peter do not conflict with each other; they are the records of the actual occurrences which took place, as each of these men described different parts of the same event as they remembered them.

Matthew recounts how Judas hanged himself.

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!”  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  ~Matthew 27:3-5

Peter describes further details of this event where the rope that was used apparently broke, and Judas fell into the rocks of the field below. This fall ruptured his stomach area, spilling out his intestines onto the ground. This is the reason this field was later called the Field of Blood.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.” (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)  ~Acts 1:15-19

When different people are at the same scene of an incident, they will often remember different details of the same event. It is common for a person who is interviewing eyewitnesses to hear added details that others who were also present did not think of or say. These differences are understood by experts as consistent with true testimony.

As we observe this phenomenon in Matthew and Peter’s descriptions of Judas’ death, we understand that these variations bring great credibility to their testimony as valid and authentic accounts of the same event. There are no discrepancies between these two narratives; there are simply additional details given by Peter, which Matthew did not mention.

There are many places in the narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which retain slight differences in their descriptions. These are clear evidence of truthful testimony.

When people are at the scene of an incident, they  often remember different details of the same event. It is common for a person who is interviewing eyewitnesses to hear added details that others who were present did not think of or say. These differences are understood by experts as consistent with the true events which took place.

As we observe this phenomenon in Matthew and Peter’s descriptions of Judas’ death, we understand that this brings great internal evidence for their testimony as valid and authentic accounts of the same event.

There are no discrepancies between these two narratives; there are simply additional details given by Peter, which Matthew did not mention. If the story was a fabrication, those who wrote the fabrication would be careful to make sure that the accounts of all witnesses were the same, so as to remove any doubts about their authenticity.

A Second Objection

Matthew records the prophecy of the Messiah’s betrayal coming from the prophet Jeremiah.

The actual prophecy that Jesus fulfilled is from Zechariah.

Matthew

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me.  ~Matthew 27:9-10

Zechariah

…And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter ~Zechariah 11:13b

The divisions between each scroll of the Old Testament into individual books did not take place until much later, after Matthew and Peter had quoted from Zechariah and Jeremiah. At the time the Gospel of Matthew was recorded, the writings of Zechariah were included in the larger scroll of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah, being the more important of the two prophets, Matthew simply quoted from the scroll of Jeremiah where Zechariah’s prophecy was also located.

When Matthew was trying to remember where the prophecy was written, he was doing so from memory and mistakenly thought it was in Jeremiah’s writing.

Very often as a pastor and Bible teacher, I have made this same mistake without realizing my error while I am teaching from the pulpit. I have often stated that a particular verse of scripture is located in a certain book when, in fact, the verse came from a different book of the Bible. The text of the verse I am quoting was correct; I simply described the wrong book.

The fact that we observe this occurring in the gospels gives us a great reason to believe that the New Testament scriptures are genuine.

If a person was seeking to fabricate a lie and write a story to convince us his false story was true, he would make sure that the details of his accounts were consistent with known sources.

If, however, a person was simply trying to recount the verse of scripture that he believed were fulfilled—much as I do when teaching on a Sunday morning before the congregation—he might misquote the wrong book.

The existence of this artifact in the Gospels tells us that the details which are written in Matthew 27:9 are a sincere, genuine account of what actually took place. This so-called “discrepancy” is not a discrepancy at all, nor a valid reason to doubt the New Testament. In reality, the existence of this additional detail that is understood by reading both versions together is a great reason to believe the testimony about these events is true.

Another possibility is that this verse does not specifically state that the prophecy was written in the scroll of Jeremiah; it says that it was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet. Zechariah may have recorded the words of Jeremiah who had originally spoken them.

When we investigate the New Testament in great detail, we find that the internal evidence which the writers have provided, gives us an abundance of clues to validate the authenticity of their narratives.

The differences between Matthew and Peter’s account of Judas’ death, the mistaken quote of Matthew in describing Jeremiah as the source of Zechariah’s prophecy, tell us that we have a true account of the events which they describe.

We can have confidence that the life of Jesus Christ has been recorded for us truthfully, by the actual people who saw and heard Him. These men did witness His crucifixion and resurrection three days later, and testified that He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.

The evidence from these stunning prophecies concerning Judas—written by David and Zechariah, and later recorded as fulfilled by the New Testament—leave us with sufficient empirical evidence to conclude that Jesus is God and far superior to all the gods of myth, legend, and religion.

The Internal Forensic Evidence Of Jesus And The Centurion

The Centurion was a Roman officer who had authority over 80-100 men. This particular officer addresses Jesus as “Lord,” while the leaders of Israel do not. This Roman citizen, who had grown up in a culture which worshipped a multitude of gods, believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Hebrew scriptures. Where did he learn about the Messiah? Who taught Him? What was it that brought his heart to this place of preparation? It may be that he had studied Jesus and the works that He had done, for some time. It is certainly possible the he had a few Jewish friends who had told him about the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Perhaps he had compared Jesus’ words and actions with the Hebrew scriptures and came to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah who was promised. Finding faith in the God of the Hebrews while being a Gentile and a leader amongst the soldiers of Rome was a truly amazing event.

The Centurion shows that he is sensitive to the traditions of the Jewish culture, who believed that a Jew who entered the house of a Gentile, would become defiled. When Jesus offers to come and heal his servant, the Centurion refuses, not wanting to bring any disrepute upon Jesus. This humble man does not disdain this tradition nor debate it. He acknowledges that this is a Jewish custom, and he submits himself to its demands, though he may not have believed it himself. Although he has great authority, he humbly submits himself before Jesus as Lord.

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.”

This Gentile, who happened to be a Roman Centurion, is a shining example of what Isaiah wrote concerning the coming of the Messiah.

And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him… ~Isaiah 11:1

Jesus was a descendant of David who was the son of Jesse. The Root of Jesse is a reference to the fact that the Messiah would be descended from David’s lineage. Of this Messiah, Isaiah predicts that the Gentiles shall seek Him. Here is a Gentile who displays such incredible faith, he must surely be the object of Isaiah’s prophecy. Here is a Roman officer who has greater insight and clarity into the word of God than all the leaders of Israel.

Luke’s account of this event appears to some critics of the Bible, contradictory to Matthew’s account. Matthew describes the Centurion coming to Jesus personally with a request; Luke speaks of the leader of the Jews being sent on behalf of the Centurion, to ask for help from Jesus.

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him…” ~Luke 7:1-4

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” ~Matthew 8:5-6

What we observe here is not a contradiction but a common writing method used by Matthew to abbreviate certain events. Matthew simply reports what the Centurion said to Jesus through his friends in the Jewish authority.

A second observation is that two people are recounting the same event by their own recollection. This is quite common amongst eye witnesses who see the same incident. Witnesses will tell similar stories, with slightly different versions. Police officers who interview witnesses who were present at an accident or crime, often report a similar phenomenon. People were clearly at the same event, but saw and heard slightly different things. These are not conflicts; they are a common occurrence in recording eye witness testimony.

The fact that we see a slight variation of the same event, as recorded by Matthew and Luke, gives greater credibility to the authenticity of what is written. Contrived stories almost always take special care to make certain that their testimonies match exactly, whereas genuine testimony almost always consists of similar versions of the same events, told from a slightly different perspective.

A key in understanding the two different versions of Matthew and Luke’s testimony is that in both instances, the Centurion himself reports that he understands the principle of imputed authority. It was understood during this time that a man who is in authority, when he sends his servant, that servant carries with him the authority of his master.

When the Centurion sent one of his servants with a request, it was as if he was speaking the words directly. The servant who carried his masters words also carried his master’s authority.

Notice that both Matthew and Luke record the testimony of the Centurion:

“For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” ~Matthew 8:9

Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” ~Luke 7:6-8

The Book of Acts records a Centurion called Cornelius who was greatly loved by the Jews for his generosity.

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. ~Acts 10:1-2

Whether this is the same Centurion whom Matthew and Luke are describing in this story, is not certain. There are seven Centurions who are recorded in the New Testament; all of these men are described as good and faithful. It appears that there were certain Jews who apparently loved this Centurion for his past generosity to their people.

Whether the Centurion actually came to Jesus himself, or sent one of his servants, is really irrelevant to the story. Matthew is interested in getting to the important facts of this event: The Centurion believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

As with the other alleged discrepancies noted in this article, we see that each writer is recording the events from their own unique perspective and memory. These differences in the story do not change the primary point of what both writers intended: Jesus heals the servant of a Roman Centurion without seeing him or touching him. This event is an example of the great faith of a Roman Officer, in comparison to the Jewish leaders of Israel, who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. A Gentile outside the covenant of God, found salvation on that day, while the son’s of the kingdom were disqualified.

Jesus recognizes every person who comes to Him by faith, regardless of their background, ancestry, or position.

Matthew holds a common view amongst the Jews of that time, that whatever a person says through an agent of his is viewed as being said or done by the person he represents. Jesus made use of this closely held belief among the Jews by illustrating how He came to represent the Father’s will for all human beings. The words of God were the words of Jesus. The will of God were translated into the actions of Jesus.

“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do (the works of my Father), though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” ~John 10:37-38

Evidence For Faith Or Excuses?

It is surprising that those who have hard hearts and will not believe the Bible because they claim there are “contradictions,” will not do the hard work of investigation. Any diligent person can easily discover the facts which I have laid out here concerning the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s narratives. Most often, misunderstandings in the Bible are due to an unwillingness to believe, veiled by an excuse for why they cannot believe.

Evidence Is Never A Barrier To Faith

In reality, there are no contradictions in the Bible; only uniformed conclusions based on a premise that the Bible must be wrong before any serious investigation is made. If a person is sincerely interested in discovering the truth, he can always find the truth. If, however, a person is set upon proving God a liar, or the Bible as untrue, he can always find an excuse to validate his unbelief.

It is because people do not want to believe that they use excuses to allow themselves to live a life without God. The word of God always stands true, and the excuses of those who have no desire to believe, reveal that evidence was never the problem.

Let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” ~Romans 3:4


NOTES:

[1] Professor of history, Louis Gottschalk,  Understanding History, p.89.
[2]  1. For an excellent treatment of the legal aspects of testing the trustworthiness of witnesses and the application of this testing to the New Testament, see John Warwick Montgomery Human Rights and Human Dignity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1986), pp.139–50.
2. Van A. Harvey surely errs when he says that it is required of a modern historian that he adopt a standpoint of methodological skepticism. See The Historian and the Believer (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 26.
3. For a general theory of evidence based on a prima facie burden of proof for skepticism, see Roderick Chisholm, “A Version of Foundationalism”, Studies in Epistemology, ed. Peter A. French et al., Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol.5 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1980), pp. 543–64.
[3] Thomas Arnold, Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed. (London: T. Fellowes, 1859), pp. 15-16
[4] Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew.” Available from the Web site of Biola University at www.biola.edu/antonyflew



Categories: Contradictions in the Bible, New Testament Criticism, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Robert Clifton Robinson

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