Are Differences Between The Gospels Contradictions?

It is written:

“as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16)

The emperor Julian worked very hard to destiny the church of Christ. In his famous book, Against The Galileans, he tried to disprove Christianity by finding contradictions between the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). He would often posit that the differences between these Gospel accounts proved that Christianity was full of contradictions.

However, a careful study of his work will actually go towards helping to prove the New Testament.

First of all, Julian’s work does make the claim that Christianity is riddled with contradictions. However, a simple study of the Gospels will quickly show that there are no contradictions between the various Gospel accounts! As one scholar has written:

“The purpose of this brief characterization of each of the three Synoptists has been to furnish some sort of guideline or rationale in accounting for what each Evangelist includes in his record and what he omitted, and for the particular manner of his presentation. But it should be understood that all three of them accurately related the events of Christ’s career and the words of His mouth, even though they included only what was pertinent to their particular approach. When any room is photographed in a person’s home, the camera may well capture different views of the contents, depending on the angle from which the picture is shot. All of them are accurate, even though they are by no means identical. The same is true with a classroom of students who are engaged in taking notes on their teacher’s lecture. Each student will note at least a few details that are not reported by the others, and yet none of them will be making a false report of what the instructor said. In the same way we are to fit together the testimony of each of the three Synoptists. Each one is on the alert for details that fit in with his own special view of Jesus, and so there are naturally going to be inclusions and omissions that correspond with the particular aim of each Evangelist. (Students of classical Greek literature notice a similar phenomenon in regard to Plato’s portrait of Socrates, his revered teacher in Athens, and the quite different emphasis of Xenophon, who was another of Socrates’ pupils. Plato dwells on his teacher’s skill in dialogue and his masterful treatment of philosophical themes: Xenophon in the Symposium concentrates on the character and personality of Socrates, as indicated by various anecdotes from personal experience. The two witnesses bring out different aspects of their master, but neither is in error!) As we deal with episodes in our Lord’s life that are of such importance that all three (or even John as well) furnish an account, our task is to line them up beside one another and see how each fits in with or supplements the others. In almost every case, a careful consideration will yield a synthetic account that bears a resemblance to a stereophonic player as contrasted with a monaural player, or a trio of monaural recorders. Some writers deprecate Tatian’s Diatessaron (which interweaves material from all four Gospels to form a composite, sequential account of Jesus’ works and words), but with dubious justification. Essentially the same method is followed in every inquest or court hearing where a multiplicity of witnesses are to be heard. Each of them may contribute differing details that bear on the case, but the judge and jury that hear the various testimonies are expected to fit together the contribution of each witness into a self-consistent, coherent picture of the entire episode or transaction.” (Gleason L. Archer, Jr., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason L. Archer Jr., 645-646 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

After years of studying these alleged discrepancies in the Bible, what did Archer conclude?

“As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archaeology, or science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and strengthened by the discovery that almost every problem in Scripture that has ever been discovered by man, from ancient times until now, has been dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the biblical text itself—or else by objective archaeological information. The deductions that may be validly drawn from ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, or Akkadian documents all harmonize with the biblical record; and no properly trained evangelical scholar has anything to fear from the hostile arguments and challenges of humanistic rationalists or detractors of any and every persuasion. There is a good and sufficient answer in Scripture itself to refute every charge that has ever been leveled against it. But this is only to be expected from the kind of book the Bible asserts itself to be, the inscripturation of the infallible, inerrant Word of the Living God.” (Gleason L. Archer Jr., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 15 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

Second, what are some other factors to consider when we examine whether or not there are actually contradictions between passages?

“But to make matters even worse, it is alleged that the Bible contains contradictions. That is, the Bible seems to say one thing in one place, and then the opposite in another. Which are we to believe? Obviously, two contradictory statements cannot both be true. While we might come to accept many of the peculiar claims of Scripture, a genuine contradiction cannot be true even in principle. It is not possible to have a sunny night, a married bachelor, dry water, a true falsehood, and so on. Thus, the claim that the Bible contains contradictions is a serious challenge indeed. For if the Bible has even one real contradiction, then it cannot be completely true. Yet the Christian asserts that the Bible is the Word of God and without error. The claim of contradictions is a serious allegation against the Christian worldview, and we must be prepared to defend the Bible against such claims….In this introduction, we’ve seen that many criticisms of the Bible are not even alleged contradictions, but mere opinions about what is possible. These are not logical problems for the Bible; they are simply psychological problems for the critic. A contradiction would be “A and not A at the same time and in the same relationship.” Many alleged biblical contradictions have been asserted. But in most cases we find that A and not A are not at the same time, or are used in a different sense or relationship and are thus not contradictions at all. The critic sometimes presents a pair of biblical principles as if they were two mutually exclusive options, when, in fact, this is not the case—a false dilemma. In other instances, we find that the words or phrases have been taken out of context: poetic passages taken hyper-literally, figures of speech not taken as such, or language of appearance taken as a Newtonian physics. Sometimes critics commit the fallacy of sweeping generalization: taking a general principle as if it were universally true, or taking a rule as if it had no exceptions. Some alleged contradictions are nothing more than a translational or manuscript issue; the original text contains no contradiction at all. Additionally, a number of contradictions are merely erroneous inferences: they exist only in the mind of the critic, not in the biblical text. One in particular that occurs frequently is when the critic assumes that a number (X) means “only X” when the Bible does not state this. Also, the Bible is sometimes alleged to conflict with an external “fact.” A number of these claims stem from a misreading of Scripture. In other cases, the critic has simply assumed that the Bible is in error when it contradicts a particular belief. In doing so, the critic has committed the fallacy of begging the question. Perhaps most significantly, we have shown that any claim of alleged contradiction actually confirms that the Bible is true. This is because the law of non-contradiction is based on the biblical worldview. When the critic accepts that a contradiction cannot possibly be true, he has implicitly presumed that the Bible must be true.” (Dr. Jason Lisle, in Ken Ham, Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Volume One: Exploring Forty Alleged Contradictions, 11-20 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added M.T.); Green Forest, AR; Master Books)

Third, it is worth noticing also that when the Roman emperor Julian launched his attacks against the New Testament Scriptures, he was implicitly affirming that these Books were written by their traditionally credited authors.

“Infidel writers of the first four centuries also wrote favoring our authors. The Emperor Julian, known as “the apostate,” wrote in 361 a work against Christianity; but he nowhere expressed a doubt as to either the books of Christians or their authors. It is almost certain that had occasion admitted of it, he would have challenged the genuineness of the books. Porphyry, universally conceded to have been the most formidable opponent to Christianity, wrote in 270, and spoke of Matthew as “their evangelist.” In 176, Celsus, esteemed by modern infidels as a wonderful philosopher, wrote a book against Christianity entitled A True Discourse, of which Origen has preserved fragments. But so unlike was he to his modern infidel brethren that he admitted the existence of the Christian or New Testament writings, and their genuineness… Whatever the reason, it must be apparent to every unprejudiced mind that earnest seekers after truth, who ignore such testimony accessible to the average scholar, are inexcusably guilty of trifling with indisputable evidence which would be convincing in any civil court. Such testimony has been provided in abundance by the friends and foes of the lowly Nazarene-our Lord in glory-and it proves that these”… holy men of God,” to whom their writings were assigned, “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).” (James Todd, quoted by W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words, 167-168; Old Tappan, NJ; Fleming H. Revell Company)

Finally, not only does Julian acknowledge the genuineness of the New Testament Scriptures, he demonstrates that they constituted the authoritative guide for the church. This was true long before the time of Constantine, dating back even to the first century itself (cf. 1 Timothy 5:18, where Paul quotes from either [or both] Matthew 10:10 and/or Luke 10:7 and calls it “Scripture”).

The more men attack the Word of God, the more firm it stands.

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