Impeaching A Primary Atheist Argument: Contradictions In The Bible

One of the easiest arguments to impeach that is made by atheists consistently today, is the idea that the Bible is filled with contradictions. After 45 years of scholarly study, writing, teaching, and publishing commentary on the entire Bible, I am certain that there are absolutely no contradictions in the Bible.

What does exist are the misguided, and often calculated attempts by disingenuous critics, to impeach the Bible without knowledge of what is being stated.

The primary target of many atheists today, is the idea that because the Gospels of the New Testament contain different testimonies about Jesus, they are contradictory, and therefore, unreliable.

I have written extensively on this subject and have demonstrated repeatedly the specific places in the Bible where these alleged contradictions are said to occur. I have impeached every attempt at asserting these contradictions, and have proven the presenters of these false ideas, as defective in their presuppositions, and conclusions.

In this essay I will address just one recent assertion that was made to me by a man who claims to be a Ph.d, and an atheist. The claim of this person is that Jesus is described as arrested on two different days in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Let’s examine this text for ourselves and see what we can learn from the narrative:

The Alleged Contradictions Occur In The Text Described As “Jesus’ Betrayal and Arrest in Gethsemane”

The atheist who presented this argument to me recently, said that these four Gospels do not agree with each other, and they present Jesus as arrested on two occasions, which cannot possibly be true. First, these texts are about Jesus arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane. Second, there cannot possibly be two arrests on two separate days. The atheist is partially correct.

Read the four Gospels for yourself and note the differences between the testimony of each writer:

Matthew 26:47-57

47 And while Jesus was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.
48 Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.”
49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.
50 But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?”
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.
51 And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
52 But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?
54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”
55 In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.
56 But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
57 And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.

Mark 14:43-54

43 And immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
44 Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.”
45 As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.
46 Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.
47 And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
48 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?
49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
50 Then they all forsook Him and fled.
51 Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, 52 and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.
53 And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. 54 But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire.

Luke 22:47-56

47 And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”
50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
Peter Denies Jesus, and Weeps Bitterly
(Matt. 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; John 18:13–18, 25–27)
54 Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed at a distance.

John 18:1-11

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.
2 And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.
3 Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.
4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
6 Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?”
And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
8 Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,”
9 that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.”
10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

Did you see the differences between the testimony of these four Gospel narratives?

Did you notice the subtle differences between Matthew and Mark?:

Matthew 26:48: Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.”

Mark: 14:44 Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.”


Matthew 26:49: Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.

Mark 14:45 As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.

Do these minor differences change the story in any way, or cause the event to be seen as occurring on two different nights?

Would you expect that Matthew and Mark would write exactly the same text in describing the same event, or would they each write what they remembered, from their own unique perspective?

In fact what we see are two different men acting as different witnesses of the same event that took place on one night, but writing slightly different words to describes the same night. Their different words do not change or diminish the reliability of the narrative. In fact, in the science of forensic investigation these slight differences in written testimony are crucial markers of truthful testimony. More about this later in this essay.

Let’s add Luke and John’s testimony:

Luke:

47 And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

John:

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.
2 And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.
3 Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.


Luke and John add new details that Matthew and Mark did not include in their written testimony:

Luke calls the detachment of soldiers, “a multitude.”

Luke adds the detail that Jesus questioned Judas: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

John adds a detail that informs us of the location where this event took place, at the Garden called Gethsemane, across the Brook Kidron.

John informs us that Judas knew this place, and Jesus would be there on that night with the disciples, after they had finished the Last Supper.

John adds descriptions of the things the soldiers were carrying, “lanterns, torches, and weapons.”

John adds the detail that the soldiers who came to find Jesus were: “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees”


From this brief observation in the differences between the four Gospel narratives for the night that Jesus was arrested, we can easily see that the four writers are all describing the same event, on the same night. Although there are additions and omissions between the four accounts, these differences do not change the overall story, nor make it possible that these men are describing different nights or a different event.

What we see are the details that each of the four men remembered when this event happened. In all truthful written testimony, these differences in details, while still describing the same event and primary persons, are forensic evidence of truthful testimony.

  1. All four writers are telling us what happened to Jesus when He was arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, by a detachment of soldiers.
  2. All four writers are describing the same event, though each includes different details.
  3. These differences in the descriptions of what was said and done on that night are not contradictions, they can all be true at the same time. It is possible for all of the differences in testimony about what each writer remembered, is true, along with what the other writers describe.
  4. These differences in testimony add to our understanding of the event, they do not confuse or distort the event. Without these four narratives, with four separate testimonies, we would not know nearly as much about what happened if there was only one story that had the exact same texts.
  5. In forensic investigation of written texts, when there are multiple witnesses who write a testimony that is identical with the other witnesses, this is a clear marker of false and misleading testimony. It is not possible for four witnesses to write exactly the same text, unless they had all agreed ahead of time to say the exact same things and nothing more.
  6. When we examine the entire body of text for these four narratives that described the night Jesus was arrested at Gethsemane, we learn that it all happened on one night, and the four writers are describing the exact same event.
  7. If you continue to examine the rest of the text that we did not cover so far, you will see the same artifacts of truthful testimony we have already observed.

Matthew 28:51, he describes a sword that is drawn, but no person is named carrying the sword.

Mark 14:47, the one with the sword, still unnamed, cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. The name of the servant is unknown.

Luke 22:49-51, a question is asked of Jesus, “should we strike with the sword?” An unnamed man cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus heals his ear.

John 18:4, 6-8, 10, We learn that it was Simon Peter who drew the sword and cut off the RIGHT ear of the servant, who is named by John as “Malchus” (is Peter left-handed?). Jesus questions the men who come to arrest Him and asks who they are seeking. They respond, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answers with the Old Testament name for God, “I AM.” When Jesus speaks the eternal name for God, and claims He is that God, the I AM, the soldiers fall backwards under the power of God’s name.

  1. Again, four narratives, all describing one night, one event: the arrest of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane.
  2. If we didn’t have these four separate accounts, we would never have known who the man was that drew the sword, who the person was who had his ear cut off, and that Jesus had claimed to be the Eternal God, “I AM,” when the soldiers questioned Him.
  3. We needed all four Gospels to learn the depth of all that happened on that fateful night.
  4. The assertion of the atheist who claims these four accounts contradict each other, and there are two different nights, is impeached!
  5. In this brief exercise we learn the importance of good Bible exegesis in determining the true facts of the New Testament.

A Few Points Regarding Forensic Study Of Written Texts

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 these types of forensic methods 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.

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 include 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.

Although different writers remember different details, all of the differences can still be true at the same time. Added details are not inconsistencies or contradictions, they are forensic evidence of truthful written testimony.

By understanding these principles, any Christian can easily impeach the constant assertion that there are many contradictions, discrepancies, and inconsistencies in the Bible. From this brief exercise, we learn how to impeach these false assertions made by atheists, and demonstrate that the Bible is true, accurate and reliable.

To see the complete evidence to prove the New Testament narratives of Jesus are true, reliable, and accurate, see my book: “Yeshu: The Historical Jesus.”



Categories: Agnostics and Skeptics, Alleged Contradictions, Contradictions in the Bible, Exegesis and Hermeneutics, How The NT Writers Remembered, Messianic Prophecies, New Testament Criticism, Reasons For Unbelief, Robert Clifton Robinson, Secular sources for Jesus, Studying the Word of God, The Historical Jesus, The Importance of the Bible

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