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>Religious Tolerance logo

Harmonizing internal biblical conflicts

In the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

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Some examples:

There are countless instances of apparent conflicts in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Some are:

bullet The identity of Joseph's father: At first glance, two gospels appear to disagree on the identity of the father of Joseph:

bullet Matthew 1:16 states: "...Jacob begat Joseph..."

bullet Luke 3:23 states: "Joseph... was the son of Heli..."

However, there are a number of possible ways to harmonize these passages:

bullet Joseph's father might have changed his name sometime during his life from Jacob to Heli (or vice-versa). This is not unheard of in the Bible. Paul was originally called Saul, for example.

bullet Jacob could have been the name of Joseph's father. Heli could have been his nickname, or vice-versa.

bullet One of Jesus' parables: Another of hundreds of possible examples of apparent errors relates to Jesus' parable about the mustard seed.

bullet Matthew 13:31-32 quoted Jesus: "The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds..."

bullet Mark 4:31 states: "It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth."

In fact, there are many plants that produce seeds which are much smaller than the mustard plant. So, some argue that these passages prove that the Bible is errant. However, the mustard seed may have been the smallest seed that Jesus' audience would have been aware of. So, Jesus might have used the mustard seed as an example that was familiar to his audience. Thus, there is not necessarily a conflict between these verses and reality.

bullet Judas' death: One of the most frequently cited "errors" in the Bible relates to the events causing the death of Judas:

bullet Matthew 27:5 states that he committed suicide by hanging himself.

bullet Acts 1:18, written by the same author who wrote the Gospel of Luke, describes how he fell down so that his body broke open and intestines gushed out.

At first glance, there appears to be a contradiction: death by strangulation is different than death by massive body trauma. If we heard on CNN that a person had committed suicide by hanging, and then heard on ABC news that the same person had died from a fall so violent that his body was split open, we would suspect that the reporters had garbled their stories. But it could be argued that Judas hanged himself from a tree that overhung a cliff. The rope may have broken, and Judas could have fallen onto sharp rocks below and burst his body open. However improbable that series of events might appear, they would allow the Bible to be internally consistent about Judas' death.

bullet Sign on the cross: Still another popular example involves the discrepancy among the Gospels of the sign that was posted on Jesus' cross. No two of the Gospels agree on the inscription. They describe the sign as saying:

bullet Mark 15:26: "The King of the Jews"

bullet Matthew  27:37: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews"

bullet Luke 23:38: "This is the King of the Jews"

bullet John 19:19: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"

One explanation is that four signs may have been posted on the cross/stake: one in each of the four languages in use in Palestine at the time: Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. All four inscriptions could thus be slightly different, and yet the Gospels could still be accurate.

bullet Visitors to the tomb on Easter morning: Another common "proof" notes an apparent conflict in the identities and numbers of the visitors to Jesus' tomb on Easter Sunday morning:

bullet Matthew 28:1 - Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary.

bullet Mark 16:1 - Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.

bullet Luke 24:10 - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.

bullet John 20:1 - Mary Magdalene alone.

bullet 1 Corinthians 15:5 says that Jesus appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve male apostles.

Again, if a person heard these apparently conflicting stories from five different TV news anchors, they would assume that the reporters were incompetent. But it could be argued that Jesus appeared first to Cephas (Peter). Then, later, Mary Magdalene could have made one trip to the tomb alone. She could have followed this up with repetitive returns to the city and trips with various combinations of other women. Again, a very improbable story, but one that allows the Bible to be free of error.

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If there is an irresolvable biblical conflict that you would like to see covered here, please E-mail us.

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Copyright 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-NOV-11 (11/11/11)
Author: B.A. Robinson

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