More contradicting Bible verses?
Are there contradictions in the Bible? Previously we looked at several Old Testament examples that some claim have contradicting Bible verses, but what about the New Testament – especially the gospels? With four different people telling essentially the same story, contradicting Bible verses seem almost inevitable.
Supposed Contradictions in the Bible
Although they tell the same story, they were originally written to different groups and emphasize unique aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. When multiple statements are taken from different people about the same incident, it is not suspicious when they recall different things or use slightly different terms. In fact, the opposite is true. If every account is identical, it implies that the witnesses have ‘gotten their stories straight’ rather than telling what they remember.
The four gospels do not have contradicting Bible verses but paint a more complete picture than we would have with only one or two accounts. Not everyone agrees. The American Humanist Association rejects the Bible as not only made-made but harmful. They use so-called contradictions in the Bible as proof of its unreliability and human origin.
Each instance below is taken from an article on why humanists reject the Bible. Keep in mind, a contradiction is not just different information being presented, but information that negates the other. Are these contradicting Bible verses really there, or is this simply an example of personal bias against the Bible itself?
The Genealogy of Jesus
…Matthew says Josephs’ father was Jacob, while Luke claims he was Heli. Matthew runs Jesus’ line of descent through David’s son Solomon, while Luke has it going through David’s son Nathan.
Two possible reasons for the differing genealogies both have to do with legal versus actual lines of descent. Many believe that Matthew records the legal genealogy of Jesus through his adopted father, Joseph, while Luke records the human genealogy of Jesus through Mary, his only actual physical relative. Others believe that both genealogies are Joseph’s, one a legal genealogy (with adoptive and legal information) and the other a physical line of descent for Joseph .
Either way, these don’t represent contradictions in the Bible, but viewpoints. Who were the readers? What did they care about? Since we’re talking about genealogy, why does one start at Abraham and come forward to Jesus and the other starts at Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam? It’s all tied together.
Matthew was originally writing to a Jewish audience, and showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies about the coming Messiah – the Jewish king. The genealogy he provides ends with Abraham.
Luke was writing to a Greek believer, Theophilus, whose name means ‘god lover’. As a gentile, he was unlikely to care about Jewish kings, but the perfect man was something that Greek culture was very interested in. That’s what Luke’s gospel draws out, and why the genealogy he provides goes back to the first man, Adam.
The Journey to Egypt
…Matthew 2:13-15 depicts Joseph and Mary as fleeing to Egypt with the baby Jesus immediately after the wise men from the east had brought gifts. But Luke 2:22-40 claims that after the birth of Jesus, his parents remained in Bethlehem for the time of Mary’s purification…and then returned to their home in Nazareth. Luke mentions no journey into Egypt or visit by wise men from the east.
This objection accurately states what each scripture reference says, but incorrectly assumes they are contradicting Bible verses. Joseph and Mary did flee to Egypt after the wise men visited, however that was approximately two years after Jesus was born. How do we know that? Based on the age of the children that Herod had killed when the wise men failed to report back to him. Joseph and Mary would have been traveling to Egypt with a toddler, not a newborn.
Another thing Matthew says is that Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem, but it doesn’t implicitly say that Bethlehem is where the magi found Jesus. Matthew says:
“the star went on before them and stood over the place where the Child was…after coming into the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother…”
Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census. They didn’t move there permanently. When the wise men found them, they were in a house, not a stable. We get different information from each account, but they are not contradictions in the Bible.
The Death of Judas Iscariot
…Matthew 27:5 states he took the money he had received for betraying Jesus, threw it down in the temple, and “went and hanged himself.” …Acts 1:18 claims Judas used the money to purchase a field and “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out.”
So what happened to Judas after he betrayed Jesus? Matthew tells us that he returned the money he had been paid, throwing it into the temple. If we keep reading we find that Jewish law wouldn’t allow the money to be returned to the temple treasury since it was blood money. Judas didn’t wait around to get this information, but went out and killed himself.
Looking at Acts chapter 1, we see another account of the same event. Here we learn that not only did Judas hang himself, he fell and burst open and all his intestines gushed out. That gruesome scene made an impression on the people of Jerusalem, and they called that place Field of Blood. The same name as the field mentioned in Matthew that was purchased by the priests with the money they’d paid Judas.
Evidently the priests used Judas’s money to buy the field where he hanged himself and made it into a burial place for strangers. Since it was legally still Judas’s money, one writer notes the legal transaction – Judas purchased the field, another writer notes who physically made the purchase – the priests. Not contradicting Bible verses, but different facets – legal versus practical.
Who Carried the Cross?
In describing Jesus being led to his execution, John 19:17 recounts that he carried his own cross. But Mark 15:21-23 disagrees by saying a man called Simon carried the cross.
Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution. Before Jesus was crucified he was brutalized, mocked and beaten. The Bible says he was no longer recognizable as a man (Isaiah 52:14). After all of this punishment, He had to carry all or part of his cross up to Golgotha. The cross would have weighed between 100 and 300 pounds, depending on whether it was the whole thing or just the horizontal cross beam.
Mark is not the only gospel to mention Simon of Cyrene. In fact all the gospel writers except John mention him. The question, then, is why did John fail to mention the man who helped Jesus carry the cross? Is this a contradiction in the Bible, or could there be another solution?
Remember that each gospel emphasizes different details of Jesus’ life. The gospel of John was written after the early church was already established. Believers of that time would have been familiar with what was included in the previous three gospels. John’s purpose wasn’t to retell the same story, but to clarify issues that had popped up in the early church.
One of these issues was a false teaching that Jesus had not actually been human, but was pure spirit. John refutes that throughout his gospel, from the beginning where he says “the word became flesh and dwelt among us…” to the end when he emphasizes that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood man who carried his own cross.The fact that another person was conscripted to help him doesn’t make the first statement a contradiction in the Bible.
The Mocking Thieves (or Thief?)
…Matthew 27:44 tells us Jesus was taunted by both criminals who were being crucified with him. But Luke 23:39-42 relates that only one of the criminals taunted Jesus, the other criminal rebuked the one who was doing the taunting, and Jesus told the criminal who was defending him, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Have you ever had a change of heart? That is the easiest explanation for why one account says both criminals taunted him, yet another account says that one defended him. Crucifixion was not a quick death. It took hours and sometimes even days for those executed in this way to finally die.
These three men, the criminals and Jesus, were hanging on those crosses for hours. At some point during that time, one of the criminals who had been mocking repented and asked Jesus to remember Him in His kingdom. This criminal knew they were all going to die. He was essentially saying that he believed Jesus had a heavenly kingdom, that Jesus was who He claimed to be.
When you dig a little deeper, you find not a contradiction in the Bible, but a beautiful example of how it is never too late to repent. As long as you have breath, you have hope of salvation. Even if you were a mocker before – Jesus loves you. His death was for you if you will accept it.
Different ‘Last Words’ From the Cross
…Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 quote Jesus as crying with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Luke 23:46 gives his final words as “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” John 19:30 alleges the last words were, “It is finished.”
Neither Matthew or Mark claim that the words they record were the final words of Jesus, just that they were spoken from the cross. Both gospels include additional information and conversation from those around the cross. Different details, but not contradicting Bible verses. All of these could be (and are) accurate accounts of what happened during the final hours at the cross.
John includes an entire scene from the crucifixion that none of the others do, between Jesus, his mother and John. John was at the cross when Jesus breathed his last, close enough to hear things that weren’t cried out, but simply said, including instructions to take care of His mother. These are not instances of contradictions in the bible, (information that negates other information), but of completion of the picture.
The Women at the Tomb
…Mark 16:2 states that on the day of the resurrection, certain women arrived at the tomb at the rising of the sun. But John 20:1 informs us they arrived when it was yet dark.
This is easy to understand if you’re reading without a personal bias that requires contradictions on the Bible. The women showed up at the tomb as early as they were allowed to be there according to Jewish laws regarding the Sabbath, which ended at sunrise. They got there as soon as they possibly could, showing their devotion to Jesus whom they still assumed to be dead.
The other gospel accounts make this clear. Luke 24:1 uses the term ‘early dawn’. Matthew 28:1 says ‘as it began to dawn’. When the sun first peeks over the horizon, the new day has begun, but it is still somewhat dark outside. Again we find, not contradicting Bible verses, but a well-rounded account of what happened.
…Luke 24:2 describes the tomb as open when the women arrived, whereas Matthew 28:1-2 indicates it was closed.
This supposed contradiction is easily resolved by simply reading what the Bible actually says.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, ~ Luke 24: 1-2
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. ~ Matthew 28:1-2
Matthew says an earthquake had occurred, meaning it happened before the women arrived. The reason for the earthquake is also given – an angel came and rolled the stone away. By reading the text we can see that both indicate that the tomb was open when the women arrived. Not a contradiction in the Bible, and honestly a bit of a surprise to find something so easily refuted given as a reason for rejecting the Bible.
…Mark 16:5 declares that the women saw a young man at the tomb, Luke 24:4 says they saw two men, Matthew 28:2 reports they saw an angel, and John 20:11-12 claims they saw two angels.
This may stem from a lack of understanding, but it seems to be willful misunderstanding driven by personal bias. Throughout the Bible these messengers or angels are referred to as having the appearance of a man. The word angel means messenger.
These beings at the tomb definitely had a message! When people arrived looking for the body of Jesus, they were told: He’s not here! He’s alive!
Details at the Tomb
Who was there? Were they sitting or standing? Were they inside or outside the tomb? These eyewitness accounts aren’t scripted like a play, making sure to note every movement of every person who was there that morning. The point was: Jesus is alive! Not who sat where and did they stay seated, etc.
By reading all four gospels, and using the presumption that they are true, can these ‘contradictions in the Bible’ be reconciled? There was an angel sitting on the stone when the women arrived. And there were two angels sitting inside the tomb where Jesus’ body had been. The account of Mark only mentions one of the angels and what he said to the women, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t two there.
Things were dynamic. People were in motion. It was a tense time, because as the people living this through it didn’t know how things ended like we do. Could the angels have been sitting at one point and standing at another? Of course. Were there people coming and going at different times? Definitely.
Whether Mary Magdalene immediately recognized Jesus is another instance some say is a contradiction in the Bible. Mary Magdalene was one of several Marys’ who went to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection. At some point she was there when others were not and had a one-on-one conversation with Jesus. She did not initially recognize Him until He said her name.
As odd as that may sound, this isn’t the only instance after His resurrection that Jesus was not recognized by his followers right away. It happened with two unnamed followers on the road from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13-35) and again on the beach with his closest disciples (John 21:1-9). In each case, Jesus said or did something that sparked recognition.
…Acts 9:7 states that when Jesus called Paul to preach the gospel, the men who were with Paul heard a voice but saw no man. According to Acts 22:9, however, the men saw a light but didn’t hear the voice speaking to Paul.
What Acts 22:9 actually says is this:
“And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.” (emphasis mine)
These aren’t contradicting Bible verses. Both verses say that those with Paul heard something. Paul’s detailed account given during his testimony to the Jews provides additional information that though his travel companions heard something, they didn’t understand it. Both are accurate. One is more specific, not a contradiction in the Bible.
Find Out For Yourself
When you know the authentic, you quickly recognize a counterfeit. Don’t let one person’s skepticism shake your beliefs. God isn’t intimidated by their questions, or by yours. He wants to be known by His people, and the primary way He reveals Himself is through scripture.
These so-called contradicting Bible verses are great examples of why you should get to know the Bible for yourself. The more you know your Bible, the easier it becomes to answer arguments from those who suggest there are contradictions in the Bible.
Do you know the Good News?