Old News! Approaching Contradictions in the Gospels

Note: For anyone that wants to go deeper on this issue: Go to our articles/posts section and scroll down to the part about contradictions in the Bible. There are plenty of links that deal with these issues such as here.

Has anyone ever heard the objection that there are just loads of contradictions in the Gospels? We still have our share of scholars like Bart Ehrman who write books that are intended for the masses and act like there are so many contradictions. Sadly, they present this information to the public as if it is “new” news. But the reality is, this issue is “old” news. Scholars have known and written about these issues for decades.

I have always said that trying to place a hyper-modernist/Enlightenment grid on an ancient text is a bit silly and naïve. As Ben Witherington says so well, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.”

But in this case, I am going to appeal to my friend Neil Mammen who has his own apologetics ministry called NoBlind Faith.Com .

Neil gives us an illustration as to how to deal with this issue.

December 2005 
Neil writes:
Hi all,
I was just reading the news last night about that tragic accident in Chicago. One thing occurred to me. I don’t think there really was a crash. Because when I read the story from these 5 different sources they all seemed to disagree with each other. Just shows how the media twists things.

AP – Sat Dec 10,
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 rests in the middle of Central Ave. Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005 in Chicago. The jetliner, trying to land in heavy snow slid off the runway Thursday at Midway Airport, crashed through a boundary fence and slid out into the street, hitting one car and pinning another beneath it. A child in one of the vehicles was killed. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Radio@UPEI December 9, 2005

A snowy runway caused a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to skid off the runway in Chicago Thursday evening. Nobody on the plane was seriously injured, but a 6-year old boy was killed as the plane skid onto the intersection of 55th Street and Central Avenue, and hit the vehicle he was traveling in.

– This one must be false as well because it only mentions 1 vehicle being hit and nothing about going through any fence, but we know there were fences from the first report.

AFP/Getty Images – Fri Dec 9,
Southwest Airlines jet sits on a roadway after it crashed through a security wall the evening before at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois. US authorities launched an investigation after the jet skidded off a Chicago airport runway and into a street where it hit two cars and killed a child (AFP/Getty Images)

– This also must be made up because it says the plane went through a security wall, not a boundary fence like the last one said it did. Don’t you think that if a plane went through a brick wall it would have exploded or at least caught on fire?

Reuters – Fri Dec 9,
A Southwest Airlines plane bound from Baltimore, Maryland, sits on a road along Chicago’s Midway Airport December 9, 2005, after crashing through a safety barrier while trying to land during a snowstorm in Chicago on December 8, 2005. (Frank Polich/Reuters)

-This story doesn’t mention that someone was killed in this crash. Don’t you think this is kind of important? It talks about a safety barrier not a wall, it also doesn’t talk about any cars being hit. So were NO cars hit?

AP Canadian Press – Fri Dec 9, 
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 rests nose first at the intersection of W.55th Street and Central Ave. in Chicago Friday after it skidded off the runway at Midway Airport Thursday. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

– This is a second AP source that doesn’t agree even with the first source. It doesn’t say anything about any cars (forget about 2 of them), it doesn’t mention a fence of any sort, nor does it mention anybody dying. You’d think that was important.

So folks can you help? Are we being snowed by the media? Did this event really happen? Can we trust that it really happened?

Question 1: Did any cars get hit? Two reports don’t mention it, the others do.
Question 2: How many cars did get hit? One report only says 1 car, some say 2 cars.
Question 3: Did anyone really die? Two reports don’t mention any deaths at all.
Question 4: What did the plane crash through, did it crash through anything? Some reports say it crashed through a security wall, other a boundary fence, and others a safety fence. Some don’t say anything about crashing through any sort of wall or fence.

So my conclusion is: 
1. This story is a lie and made up by the media.
2. There may be some semblance of truth to it, but on the whole it is inaccurate and should not be given any credence. Probably a myth?
3. Each of these news medias are deliberately colluding to create a false story and they can’t even get their lies straight.
4. Besides we all know that if a plane crashes into a car it will explode in a big fireball, so this whole story is just unacceptable.

Now let’s apply this illustration to the resurrection accounts in the Gospels: 
To see the comparison of the resurrection accounts, click here:

As we compare the so-called discepranices in the resurrection accounts with the plane story, my friend Neil concluded the following:

” If you re-read the media stories, all the stories were correct. But only some emphasized certain parts. For instance some accounts mentioned 2 cars, others only mentioned the car with the 6 year old that died. They said “about 8 years old” which was correct. Some mentioned his brother who was OK, yet others did not mention him. Yet all the accounts were correct. They were not inconsistent since no account says there were no OTHER cars or no brother etc or that he was exactly 8 years old. This is similar in the resurrections accounts. Nobody said there was ONLY 1 angel etc. The overriding facts in the news story were the plane and the child dying. All other events were subsequent to this and thus each witness could choose to mention it or not without any inconsistency. Similarly, in the Gospel events on the resurrection, we see the overriding facts are that he died and that he rose. This is the “gist” of the event. All other events are noted or not, similar to the newspaper accounts when noted they are correct but not necessarily the complete picture. There is no inconsistency nor are there any contradictions – only apparent ones that can be as easily resolved as the SWA flight.”

I (Eric) assume that just about everyone has seen Titanic. When James Cameron was working on Titanic movie, he discovered numerous conflicts in the available eyewitness reports about what happened on Titanic’s fateful voyage. Some of the reports were given in court under oath, meaning there was no need to doubt their essential veracity. Yet, as is typical of multiple eyewitness accounts, the reports contained a variety of apparent contradictions.

Despite the conflicts in the reports, Cameron reported that he found enough in common among the reports to start reconconstructing the main lines of what really happened. And by the way, does anyone know that there are also discrepancies on the reports of Alexander the Great, the Kennedy assassination, the Lincoln assassination, or the 9-11 reports? The list goes on. We never hear anyone complaining about these issues. But then again, these stories don’t make claims that challenge our human autonomy before God.

As Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy note, “Examples like this demonstrate that a hypercritical historical methodology is just as damaging to good “critical” historiography as is a naively uncritical approach.” (see The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition)

I was recently having this discussion with a friend who is involved in the apologetic enterprise. We both concluded that the discrepancies in the gospel accounts are exactly what we would expect from the honest accounts of eyewitnesses. Anybody who handles eyewitness testimony knows this; so long as nobody’s lying, you can expect the accounts to match on the major details, but they’ll be all over the ballpark on the minor details. One will remember a person arriving, another will remember that same person leaving, a third will swear that same person wasn’t there. This actually strengthens the reliability of the gospel accounts, in that it confirms that these are the actual eyewitness accounts of genuine, honest witnesses. If they agreed on all the same points, it would be collusion