Bible Contradictions

Two propositions which contradict each other cannot both be true. This leaves two remaining alternatives: one might be true, or both be false. In the land of Bible criticism, believe it or not, we strike out the first alternative, "But, it is ever the case with two contradictory narratives, not only that if one stands it excludes the other, but also that if one falls it shakes the other. . ." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Part III, Chapter III, Section 130, p. 664). In other words, if two accounts contradict each other, both are discarded! As the reader will discover, the majority of these 'Bible contradictions' consist in extra detail provided by a more compendious account versus a concise, telegraphic account. These contrasts are not what is known to logic as a 'contradiction' at all.

According to Richard Dawkins,

"But there are many unsophisticated Christians out there who think it absolutely is necessarily so — who take the Bible very seriously indeed as a literal and accurate record of history and hence as evidence supporting their religious beliefs. Do these people never open the book that they believe is the literal truth? Why don't they notice those glaring contradictions?" (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 120).

Oh? Like, for instance. . .

I Thirst Timothy the Gentile
Faith vs. Works Love Your Enemies
Paul the Maverick Seeing God
Realized Eschatology He Hanged Himself
Uncorroborated False Witness
Atonement Head Covering
Men and Angels From Everlasting
Preach the Faith Bishops and Deacons
Cock Crow Wrong Day
Two Genealogies Editor's Choice
Sermon on the Mount. . .or Plain The Twelve
With You

I Thirst

Bart Ehrman is a great promoter of Bible contradictions: "The Gospels were written decades after Jesus's death by people who were not eyewitnesses and had probably never laid eyes on an eyewitness. They are filled with discrepancies and contradictions." (Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 289). For one case, he explains that, according to Mark, Jesus says nothing on the cross until the end:

  • “In Mark's account of the Passion, Jesus is silent during the whole proceeding. He says nothing on the way to be crucified, while being nailed to the cross, or when being abused by everyone on the scene, including the two other criminals being crucified with him. It is only at the end that he speaks, as he cries out the words of Psalm 22: 'Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,' which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34)...Here Jesus is portrayed as a man in despair, silent as if in shock...”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 219).

Is this indeed so, that Mark reports Jesus remained silent while other gospel writers portray him as saying, for instance, "I thirst" (John 19:28)? Does Mark ever say, 'Jesus remained silent?' Of course not. Rather, he does not quote other utterances, such as "I thirst." This is the Rule of Exhaustive Utterance: If Mark quotes Jesus as saying 'Eloi, eloi,' then Mark is affirming that Jesus did NOT say anything else. Any quotation must follow the rule: 'He say thus-and-so, [AND NOTHING ELSE].'

Do we ever apply this Rule of Exhaustive Utterance in daily life? For instance, if the Reuters news article on Yahoo quotes an Australian fire-fighting hero as saying, 'The flames were fifty feet high,' and the AP article quotes the same man as saying, 'It was touch-and-go for a while,' do we say, 'the two accounts contradict one another'? Rather, does it not strike us that the man probably said BOTH things? That is the normal protocol readers follow when differing accounts offer complementary information. We allow the accounts to supplement each other. That is the best way to garner information about the world. Why is it not followed here?

Mark's gospel is the shortest of the gospels and would consequently be expected to report the fewest incidents. What is so incredible about a man dying on the cross saying "I thirst"? We do a two-step shuffle with Dr. Ehrman: first we pretend that the gospel authors are writing fiction, purportedly to allow them to speak for themselves, though they did not think they were writing fiction and were indeed even liable to challenge from surviving witnesses. Were we not pretending that the gospel authors were writing fiction, we would not have said that Mark describes Jesus as silent except for "My God, my God, etc.," since there are very plainly recorded six other utterances from the cross in the other evangelists. Then, having created a 'Bible contradiction' through the pretense that the gospel authors are writing fiction, we suddenly recall that they are not writing fiction but history. After all Jesus cannot both have said nothing except "My God, my God, etc.," and also have said the six other utterances recorded elsewhere. Thus, we simultaneously rediscover that the evangelists are writing history...and that it's error-ridden history! This methodology leaves one wondering: why did we pretend these authors were writing fiction, when we knew all along that they were not?

Does the pretended courtesy of allowing the evangelists to speak with their own voice accomplish its stated aim? To the contrary, the evangelists assert that they are writing history, incorporating eye-witness testimony into their accounts: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word..." (Luke 1:1-2). How then does it show respect to these authors to treat them as if they were writing fiction? A fiction writer is a god making his own universe; if he does not recount an event, then it never happened, not in his universe. Do the evangelists want this protocol applied to their writings? To the contrary, they specifically disavow any intent to deny events they do not describe: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25). To read them with Dr. Ehrman's protocol is to deny their expressed wish. John does not want to be understood to deny those "many other things" he has omitted to mention.

The pretended courtesy of allowing these authors to speak for themselves amounts in the end to accusing them of fraud. They say they are historians, Dr. Ehrman says they are fiction-writers. He accuses them of fraud...because he is so concerned to maintain their integrity!: "To approach the stories in this way is to rob each author of his own integrity..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 70). Why not accuse them of absconding with the funds as well? And he will treat them as historians in the end...but only after he has destroyed their credibility by first pretending they are novelists!

Dr. Ehrman is at least theoretically aware that those people who concern themselves with the formal validity of arguments do not consider the argument from silence as valid; he notes that this criticism was levied against Walter Bauer: "Bauer was attacked for making too many arguments from silence..." (Bart D. Ehrman, 'The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,' p. 177). In fact one argument from silence is one too many; it is not a valid argument. Dr. Ehrman evidently thinks it is not really so bad; he goes on breezily to bolster the argument from silence with his customary argument from authority: "...the general perspective offered by Bauer has become a dominant view among scholars of early Christianity today." (Bart D. Ehrman, 'The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,' p. 178), as if two bad arguments combined might make one good. The fact remains it is not a valid argument. The reader is not entitled to infer Jesus' silence from Mark's silence about what Jesus said.

Dr. Ehrman elevates his claim about Jesus' reputed "silence" in Mark to the point where he is not only denying what the other evangelists say, he must deny what Mark himself says. He requires the reader to isolate the crucifixion passage and to find in it evidence that Jesus ended His life in shock, not comprehending why this was happening to Him. If that is what Mark wishes to communicate, why does he report Jesus saying about the woman who anointed Him: "She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial." (Mark 14:8)? Dr. Ehrman claims to find a difference between Mark's account and Luke's in that in Luke, "He is in charge of his own destiny, knowing what he must do and what will happen to him once he does it." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' pp. 143-144). But Mark reports Jesus answering the high priest, “Jesus said, 'I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'” (Mark 14:62). Is it not evident that Jesus did not have to claim openly to be Daniel's Son of Man as he here does, and that the outcome of the trial might have been different had He instead made mild and conciliatory statements? Why would One who does not know what He must do and does not realize what will happen to Him once He does it make such a deliberately inflammatory statement?

Mark and his Bible-believing readers know that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, a Psalm whose initial cry of distress gives way to the shout of triumph,

"For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from Him;
But when He cried to Him, He heard." (Psalm 22:24).

If the author Mark had had any such intentions as Dr. Ehrman ascribes to him, would he have reminded his readers that Jesus was quoting a Messianic psalm, or refrained from mentioning it, which was certainly within his power? He goes out of his way to remind them, reporting that some by-standers waited to see whether Elijah would come. They thought that, in quoting a Messianic Psalm, the Lord was setting in motion a train of events. The expectation that Elijah would return to clear the way for the Messiah comes from Malachi 4:5-6:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

An American who paid attention in elementary school, hearing 'Four score and seven years ago..." cannot help but think, '...our fathers brought forth upon this continent...' If you try not to think 'our fathers brought forth,' you will think of it anyway. Memorized material makes our minds run on rails. For a reader, accustomed to hearing the psalms sung, to hear the cry of dereliction without any penumbra surrounding it, without the sense that 'there's more,' requires a feat of mental gymnastics of which few are capable. To hear something that you're used to hearing as if you've never heard it before is difficult. But Bart Ehrman demands no less. And this is where we came in; this is where the 'quest for the historical Jesus' started, with the demand for a decontextualized, dejudaized understanding of the cry of dereliction, breaking its connection with Psalm 22:

"Reimarus (1694-1768) was the great iconoclast.. [...] Jesus was a Jewish reformer who became increasingly fanatical and politicized; and he failed. His cry of dereliction on the cross signalled the end of his expectation that his god would act to support him. [...] Go back to the beginning, and you will find your faith...resting on a failed Messiah and a fraudulent gospel." (N. T. Wright, 'Jesus and the Victory of God,' pp. 16-17)

The dramatic difference it makes is underscored by those newspaper accounts of Bart Ehrman's triumphs written by people who appear not to know the Lord is quoting Psalm 22 in saying, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me." Here's the psalm in its entirety:

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.

"Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

"I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this." (Psalm 22).

The reader will notice that what happened to the Lord is just what the Psalm says will happen to the Messiah, a point which certainly hadn't escaped Mark's attention. A narrator who wishes to evoke a certain response on the part of his audience may find it helpful to draw attention to other spectators who are displaying just that response. Given humanity's natural tendency toward imitation, this is a non-obtrusive and non-coercive way to make a point. The spectators to whom Mark draws our attention thought that Jesus was calling on Elijah; they thought He was, or that He thought He was, the Messiah. So should we. This is one point Mark is making, not that Jesus was confused or defeated or any of the other things Dr. Ehrman wills into the passage.

One irony here is that the Christian believer understands the cry of dereliction as dark and disturbing precisely because the one crying was no mere man as Dr. Ehrman imagines. What is so remarkable about a man who feels estranged from God? Dr. Ehrman's reading of scripture gives new luster to the phrase "one-dimensional." What offends Bible believers about this shell game: that Dr. Ehrman accuses Matthew, Luke and John of making up bogus utterances from the cross,-- is the only way he can hold onto "My God, my God, etc." Why? Replace for the moment your understanding of the world and the actors in it with all their complexity by a bare kitchen table with little cardboard figures strewn across it. The little cardboard man who has the slogan scribbled across his chest of 'compassion' must be pulled up to leave room for the little cardboard figure with the slogan reading 'pain' or 'estrangement.' You see, 'compassion' is not the same thing as 'pain' or 'estrangement,' and the little cardboard man cannot wear both slogans at once. So the other six utterances must be discarded to make way for this one. Bible-believers, of course, cannot tolerate those other six utterances being discarded, nor is there any reason they should have to. Mark does not say, 'He said this and no more.' And what is so unlikely about a man dying on the cross saying "I thirst"? Let us sweep our little cardboard men off the table; there is no plumbing the depths of a human heart, much less a divine heart. The Lord can certainly really feel 'compassion' as well as 'estrangement.'

Dr. Ehrman's response to "My God, my God, etc.:" 'Too bad, sucker,'-- is not the right one. We should fall down on our knees and thank Him:

Darkness Too Pure
Psalm 22 Suffering Servant
Say It and Mean It Quest for the Historical Jesus
Ends of the Earth

My God, My God 
My God, My God

Timothy the Gentile

Here is a 'discrepancy' "between Paul and Acts" with which Ehrman favors the reader:

  • “At one point, Paul indicates that he absolutely refused to allow his Gentile companion Titus to be circumcised in order to placate those who believed circumcision was important for a right standing before God (Gal. 2:3)...Luke's 'Paul' has a different view, however. According to Luke, Paul had another companion, Timothy, circumcised for just this reason, to placate the Jewish Christians they knew (Acts 16).”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 99).

  • "In Acts, Paul has the Gentile Timothy circumcised so as not to offend other Jewish Christians; according to Paul, he refused to have the Gentile Titus circumcised..."
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 155).

Bart Ehrman

"The Gentile Timothy"? Is there, indeed, a discrepancy between Paul's unwillingness to to have the Gentile Titus circumcised, and his willingness to see the same done to Timothy? Though Ehrman cannot tell the two cases apart, there is a dramatic difference: Titus is a Gentile, Timothy a Jew. Timothy was not a Gentile, but an anomalous case: a Jewish man who had not been circumcised:

"Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek." (Acts 16:1).

To this day this is the criterion used by the immigration authorities in Israel: a Jew is either a convert or the offspring of a Jewish mother: "It was so laid down in the original Basel Programme of 1897, in Article 6 of the 1922 mandate, in the Declaration of Independence, 14 May 1948, and formally enacted in the Law of Return of 1950. Section 4B of the Law defined a Jew as 'a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.'" (Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 538).

Why not the father, when descent is normally reckoned through the father? Because of verses like Ezra 10:3:

"Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law." (Ezra 10:3).

Why were the children sent away? They had Jewish fathers, weren't they Jews? The expectation in the Old Testament is that pagan mothers will succeed in enticing their children away from their father's faith:

"For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly." (Deuteronomy 7:4).

Perhaps because mothers spend more 'face time' with the child, the mother is expected to win the contest for the child's allegiance. Thus, "The offspring of a Jewish mother and a Greek father was regarded by Jews as a Jew, but if uncircumcised as illegitimate. . .had Timothy been a Gentile, like Titus, nothing would have induced Paul to 'circumcise him because of the Jews that were in those places.'" (John Pollock, The Apostle: A Life of Paul, p. 118).

The early church agreed that Gentile converts to the Christian faith need not take on the yoke of the law. But on a different, though related, question (Ehrman cannot tell these two questions apart): should a Jew who acknowledges Jesus as Messiah continue to observe the Mosaic law in whole or in part,-- there was, to put it gently, less agreement.

Paul's position on this latter point leaves far more room for liberty of conscience than this author imagines. There were people in Paul's churches who observed the Jewish holidays and sabbaths. They were never kicked out, though Paul did not see the need:

"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind." (Romans 14:5).

In this case, a 'Bible contradiction' has been created by inventing a fictitious set of circumstances: that Timothy was a Gentile,-- not found in the text.

Faith vs. Works

"The four gospels do not agree.

"Matthew, Mark and Luke knew nothing of the atonement, nothing of salvation by faith. They knew only the gospel of good deeds -- of charity." (Robert Ingersoll, 'About the Holy Bible,' VII)

I'm not sure what this author means by denying these three authors know anything about the atonement:

"And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:27-28, Mark 10:45).

Is there a conflict between salvation by faith as taught by the apostle Paul and the exhortations to works of charity with which the gospels are filled?:


 Is Salvation by Faith or by Works?

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Altoona Ungodly
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Leopard's Spots His Mercy

Bart Ehrman shares this concern as well:

"And so the problem is this: if Matthew's Jesus was right, that keeping the law and loving others as yourself could bring salvation, how could Paul be right that doing these things were irrelevant for attaining salvation?" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 92).

But Paul does not say works are "irrelevant" to salvation, he says that they are the consequence of salvation:

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Making something which is a consequence of another thing into a precondition for that thing may leave you with the dizzying feeling you are going around in circles.

Love Your Enemies

According to Robert Ingersoll, Jesus demonstrated the impossibility of His own moral teaching by rebuking the Pharisees:

  • “Love your enemies.

    "Is this possible? Did any human being ever love his enemies? Did Christ love his, when he denounced them as whited sepulchers, hypocrites and vipers?

    "We cannot love those who hate us. Hatred in the hearts of others does not breed love in ours. Not to resist evil is absurd; to love your enemies is impossible.”
  • (Robert Ingersoll, 'About the Holy Bible,' VIII).

Does it show hated to correct the erring? Jesus demonstrated His love by His deeds:

"For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8).

There is something unearned about Robert Ingersoll's comparison of the state of civilization as depicted in the book of Judges, when "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25), with the highest achievements of Christian civilization, because Christian civilization is by no means the default condition of mankind. If you take away its foundation, it does not remain forever suspended in mid-air, as should have been discovered in the twentieth century when the advances of scientific Marxism-Leninism led to the horrors of Stalinism.

Deist Tom Paine is another infidel not sold on the virtue of loving one's enemies:

". . .but when it is said, as in the Testament, 'If a man smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,' it is assassinating the dignity of forbearance, and sinking man into a spaniel.
"Loving of enemies is another dogma of feigned morality, and has besides no meaning. It is incumbent on man, as a moralist, that he does not revenge an injury. . .but to love in proportion to the injury, if it could be done, would be to offer a premium for a crime. . .to say that we can love voluntarily, and without a motive, is morally and physically impossible." (Tom Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter III).

This same author wants to say, however, that "the fragments of morality" found in the Bible "are the natural dictates of conscience. . .and are nearly the same in all religions." (Tom Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter III). This very same incoherence is found in gospel critics today. They begin with 'me-tooism,' saying 'You can be good without God'. . .and only later admit surreptitiously that, of course, none but a cringing spaniel would turn the other cheek, or love an enemy. For that matter they see little reason to live in accordance with Christian sexual morality. So why start with a pretense which will soon enough be dropped?

Paul the Maverick

Atheists have long claimed that Paul shows no awareness of the gospels: "In it [1 Thessalonians], as in all the other Pauline Epistles, there is a complete lack of any reference, whether direct or indirect, to the four Gospels, and so it is a fair inference that they did not exist in Paul's lifetime, else he would have mentioned them." (H. L. Mencken, A Treatise on the Gods, Kindle location 2235).

Bart Ehrman has picked up this banner in the present day. He finds a contradiction between the characterization of Paul in Acts and in Paul's own letters. In some cases the contradiction arises, like with 'Timothy the Gentile,' from Ehrman's own imaginative reconstruction rather than the text. For example, there is a discrepancy between the various places Acts finds Paul preaching: synagogues, by the river-side, the lecture-hall of Tyrannus, the upper chamber from which Eutychus fell, Mars' hill,— and the locale which Ehrman has discovered was his only place of proclamation, his work-shop (Paul was a tent-maker). But Paul does not say he used his work-shop as a place of proclamation, nor even that he opened a retail establishment in the various places he went as opposed to, say, selling his leather goods to a wholesaler. Was Paul's work-shop even open to the public? Perhaps it was one of these 'factory outlets.' If Paul was able to preach while working his needle, then he was more deft than those of us who must attend to one thing at a time. But since he says no such thing about himself, this 'Bible contradiction' needs no further elucidation.

Ordinarily we do not interpret the authors we read in hopes of creating a conflict. If Suetonius says something that might imaginatively be interpreted so as to conflict with Tacitus, but need not be so interpreted, most readers will choose the interpretation which harmonizes the two authors. This is not because anyone thinks these authors inspired, but only because they are describing the same world. The 'Jesus' industry turns this normal interpretive paradigm upside-down. An improbable and tendentious interpretation of a passage will be adopted. When it is then noted that this interpretation conflicts with another passage and thus, under normal circumstances would be discarded, instead we discover a 'Bible contradiction.'

Luke records Paul preaching on the history of Israel, but according to Ehrman, he "never" recounts these events in his letters:

  • “Moreover, in the sermon itself, it is striking that 'Paul' stresses the history of Israel, especially Jesus' ties to his ancestor David. This is not at all an emphasis that we find in Paul's letters (where he never recounts the events of Jewish history).”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 143).

Hypatia's Bookshelf

Is this true, that Paul in his letters "never recounts the events of Jewish history"? No more so than usual:

"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.' Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer." (1 Corinthians 10:1-7).
"Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away." (2 Corinthians 3:12).
"And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.'" (Romans 9:10-13).
"For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman." (Galatians 4:22).

Not only is Paul not interested in Old Testament history, in Bart Ehrman's world, he's not even interested in New Testament history:

  • “More striking still, Paul's sermon [in Acts] gives a summary of the life of Jesus -- a kind of precis of the Gospel narratives about Jesus...But there is nothing in Paul's own writings to indicate that Jesus' earthly life was of primary (or any) importance to him...I tell [my students] to read through all of Paul's letters in the New Testament and to make a list of everything that Paul says about what Jesus said and did during his life.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 143).

Quotation marks, like Saran Wrap and sliced bread, are modern innovations. But it is true quotations of the Lord's words which necessitate quotation marks are infrequent in Paul. Infrequent however does not mean absent. Several examples:

"For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.'" (1 Timothy 5:17);
"And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages." (Luke 10:7).

It is a neat trick for Paul to quote Luke's gospel, which would not be written until after he was dead, or so they say, as Bishop John Shelby Spong explains: "The Gospels appear in our Bible first, but the fact remains that every epistle of Paul was written and Paul himself was dead before the first Gospel was written." (Easter Moment, John Shelby Spong, Kindle location 1374). It could be that Luke was quoting a saying he first heard from his travelling companion Paul, though of course these people don't believe that either. This provision of the Lord is probably referred to also in 1 Corinthians 9:14, "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." Compare with Matthew 10:9-10, "Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food." Paul also directly quotes the Lord's institution of communion,

"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Compare with Luke 22:20, “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 20:19-20). Not only do Paul's churches practice communion, as commanded by the Lord, they also baptized: "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;. . .And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other." (1 Corinthians 1:14-16). What an amazing coincidence, the Jesus movement also practiced baptism, "When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee." (John 4:1-3).

If direct quotations are rare, the Bible reader is also aware that Paul doesn't care about much besides Jesus:

"For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2).

There are many citations of the Lord's teachings which do not require quotation marks because Paul summarizes the substance rather than repeats the words. Paul knows, and of course is interested in, Jesus' teaching on divorce:

"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife." (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Compare with Luke 16:18, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery." (Luke 16:18). Paul is examining a case not explicitly considered by the Lord, that of a marriage solemnized under pagan auspices, one of whose participants is now a new-born Christian.

Another instance, pertaining to the end times which Paul, like Jesus and His disciples, also believed in, in one of those odd and unaccountable, but surely coincidental, twists of fate:

"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Compare with, "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31). Plainly Paul is interested that there is a "word of the Lord" on this point. In other cases Paul's turn of phrase reminds the Christian reader of sayings of the Lord, for instance,

"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2).

The phrase 'faith to move mountains' might seem like a shop-worn cliche, but it comes from Jesus:

"For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." (Mark 11:23).

When Paul urges the Philippians to become lights in the world, ". . .children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. . ." (Philippians 2:16), this calls to mind Matthew 5:14, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." Paul says, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." (Romans 14:14). Where might he have heard this teaching of the Lord? Perhaps from Peter's recollection, as, “When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, 'Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.'” (Mark 7:14-15). Paul says, "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20); how remarkable he knew nothing of Jesus' saying, "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23). Is it really such a common-place expression, to say that some other party lives in you? But this was a specific promise of the Lord!

If the main points of Paul's teaching do not come from Jesus, then one must marvel at coincidence. Paul's gospel is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior:

"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." (1 Timothy 2:6-7).

Remarkably like what Jesus said about Himself:

"And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:27-28).

Paul's ethics revolve around love and forgiveness:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:14-21).

"See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all." (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10).

As coincidence would have it, Jesus' ethics revolve around the very same themes:

"But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you." (Luke 6:27-28).
"And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:39).

Jesus said that His disciples would be known by their love for one another: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for one another." (John 13:35). He did not say, 'All men will know you belong to any random new religious movement, if you love one another,' because mutual love is not actually characteristic of any and every new religious movement. Paul strikes the same note, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1). Paul did his best to live up to this high calling: "And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:. . ." (1 Corinthians 4:12). As it happens, that is just what Jesus said to do: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. . ." (Matthew 5:44).

It's not like this ethical convergence has gone unnoticed, either in the early church or in later times: ". . .if, then, I am perfect, I bless him that curses me, as Paul also blessed, for he says: 'Being reviled we bless.' He had heard Him who says: 'Love your enemies, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.'" (Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, Book 1, Chapter 48, Section 244). Compare, "The virtues mentioned by Paul at least twice are love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, unity, peace, joy, righteousness, forgiveness, and endurance. These match the virtues that Jesus taught in the Beatitudes so closely that hardly any need discussion. . ." (Kingdom Ethics, David P. Gushee & Glen H. Stassen, Kindle location 1232). But there's an atheist sucker born every minute.

Both preachers preach God's grace; Jesus came to give His life a ransom for many, "He taught it, for example, in the parables of the laborers in the vineyard and of the servant coming in from the field. In those two parables Jesus expressed His opposition to the religion of works, a religion which can open an account with God and seek to obtain salvation by merit. Salvation, according to Jesus, is a matter of God's free grace; it is something which God gives to whom He will. . .But it is the same doctrine, exactly, which appears in Paul. The Paul who combated the legalists in Galatia, like the Jesus who combated the scribes and Pharisees, was contending for a god of grace." (J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion, p. 135). Remarkable coincidence.

Paul teaches an ethical, spiritual and voluntaristic dimension to the Kingdom of God:

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatian 5:19-21).

Many in Israel in that day looked to an immediate political kingdom, one might almost say a secular kingdom: "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done." (Luke 24:21). Even Philo perceived the Messiah as a conquering hero: ". . .for a man will come forth, says the word of God, leading a host and warring furiously, who will subdue great and populous nations, God sending that assistance which is suitable for pious men; and this assistance is an intrepid hardihood of soul, and an irresistible strength of body, either of which things is formidable to the enemy, and if both qualities are united they are completely invincible." (Philo Judaeus, On Rewards and Punishments, Chapter XVI). But not Jesus, and not Paul; both are nonconformists from the prevailing consensus:

"In the first place, Jesus and Paul present the same view of the Kingdom of God. The term 'kingdom of God' is not very frequent in the Epistles; but it is used as though familiar to the readers, and when it does occur, it has the same meaning as in the teaching of Jesus. The similarity appears, in the first place, in a negative feature— both in Jesus and in Paul, the idea of the Kingdom is divorced from all political and materialistic associations. That fact may seem to us to be a mater of course. But in the Judaism of the first century it was far from being a matter of course. On the contrary, it meant nothing less than a revolution in thought and in life. . .But the similarity is not merely negative. In positive aspects also, the Kingdom of God in Paul is similar to that which appears in the teachings of Jesus. Both in Jesus and in Paul, the implications of entrance are ethical. . .Finally both in Jesus and in Paul the Kingdom appears partly as present and partly as future." (J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion, p. 132).

Odd coincidence, no? Anyone who thinks these are inevitable doctrines that all will discover who delve into the Old Testament law should recall the Rabbis rummaged in the very same archive and came up with something distinctly different. So here are the facts: two first century preachers preached the same message, one a decade or two after the other. The second told whoever would listen he was a follower of the first. The ethics he taught is substantially the same as taught by the first. Yet the second preacher, it has lately been discovered, did not much care about what the first preacher said. Say what?

Aside from the congruence of the 'big' ethical themes, are shared phrases which are unlikely to be coincidence: “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:39-40), compared with "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:2), or "Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober." (1 Thessalonians 5:6), compared with,

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36).

So while it is true that Paul gives no detailed itinerary of Jesus' travels through Galilee and Judaea, it is certainly not true that he was unaware or uninterested in Jesus' teaching.

Seeing God

"Moses, the celebrated prophet and legislator of the Israelites, ingratiated himself into their esteem, by the stratagem of prayer, and pretended intimacy with God; he acquaints us, that he was once admitted to a sight of his back-parts! and that 'no man can see' his 'face and live;' and at other times we are told that he 'talked with God, face to face, as a man talketh with his friend'. . . " (Ethan Allen, Reason, the Only Oracle of Man: Or a Compendious System of Natural Religion,  Chapter VI, Section IV.)

Is there a problem here?

  • “Can it be that this same God talked to Moses 'face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend,' when it is declared in the same chapter, by God himself, 'Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live'? [Ex. xxxiii, 11, 20.]”
  • (Robert Ingersoll, 'Inspiration of the Bible,' 40.).

Seeing God 
The Beatific Vision

Realized Eschatology

Does the realized eschatology of the letter to Ephesians contradict Paul's other writings? Or are the future resurrection in the flesh and the present heavenly life with Christ two different, but complementary, perspectives, two facets of a complex reality?:

  • “...Paul was quite clear and explicit in 1 Corinthians that people should not think that the resurrection had already occurred as a kind of spiritual experience...Just the opposite message is proclaimed in the letter to the Ephesians, also attributed to Paul, but probably written by a 'second' Paul...It may seem odd that someone would write this in Paul's name, since this is precisely the view that he opposes in his letters to the Corinthians.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 157).


Is there indeed a contradiction between the message of 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, such that we must follow Dr. Ehrman in labelling the latter letter as a forgery? Or are these two aspects of complex whole?:

Absent from the Body To Depart is Better
Dead Lion Never Die
God of the Living Abraham's Bosom
Moses and Elijah Thief on the Cross
You Have Eternal Life Abolished Death
From Death to Life

Most fields of inquiry, following William of Ockham, look for the most parsimonious explanation. The 'Jesus' industry is a notable exception, preferring to multiply authors, documents, and everything else, without end and without reason. But if Paul actually did write the letter to the Ephesians, that explains a lot of the misconceptions he later had to combat. People might have taken his language in an 'either/or' sense, when he meant it in a 'both/and' sense. This would, in any other field, be a reason to attribute Ephesians to Paul, not to a forger.

He Hanged Himself

"Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:5).

"Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood." (Acts 1:18-19)

If these are two alternative causes of death, then they are contradictory. One cannot both die by hanging and by spontaneous disembowelment. The coroner must note one or the other on his report.

For that matter, how do you die of spontaneous disembowelment? Bart Ehrman wants very much for the account in Acts to be another cause of death: "Peter describes his death in graphic terms...Most striking of all, this is not a death by hanging. Judas somehow falls headlong on this field, and when he does so, his stomach rips open, his intestines gush out, and he makes a bloody mess." (Bart D. Ehrman, 'The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,' p. 38). But how to make 'stomach rips open' work as a cause of death? Perhaps this field, purchased to be used as a potter's field, is filled with rocky crags: "It's not clear exactly how Judas falls headlong: Does he jump from a cliff? Does he lurch forward onto some stones? Does he simply fall down and burst open?" (Bart Ehrman, 'The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,' p. 39). Uneasy that he hasn't made sense of Acts 1:18-19 as a cause of death, Dr. Ehrman later brings up accounts in Josephus and other authors of grotesque deaths in antiquity, apparently the result of untreated intestinal cancer. But Judas wasn't ill before the crucifixion; he still functioned as treasurer, and walked to the place of betrayal. And if the field had the topography Dr. Ehrman is forced to ascribe to it, surely the high priests could have found one better suited to its function of a potter's field. How are the grave-diggers to make progress amongst all those cliffs and stones?

Dr. Ehrman is not concerned with making sense of this material, but rather with making nonsense of it. What doesn't make sense as a cause of death makes perfect sense post-mortem. A bloated, decomposing corpse decays in the sun, then falls face down as the rotting rope deteriorates. Something similar reportedly happened to William the Conqueror's corpse; it's an argument for speedy burial. As TV crime shows endlessly show us, corpses which are not fresh are fragile. Burying the dead was a religious duty, a filial duty, and a duty of friendship. One of the horrors of the Jewish war was the unburied dead. It is in the nature of treason that a traitor has few friends; his old friends, whom he betrayed, have little use for him, and his new friends have even less.

Why would Peter or anyone else care what happened to a dead body? People do care. The curse against Jezebel was executed post-mortem, that the dogs should disturb her body (2 Kings 9:36). People in antiquity found it a hard thing that Achilles dragged Hector's body around the walls of Troy; and people today find it a hard thing that Somali militiamen dragged the body of an American helicopter pilot through the streets of Mogadishu. God's curse against the idolatrous Jeroboam included this final indignity, “The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Jeroboam and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field; for the Lord has spoken!” (1 Kings 14:11). The horror associated with an unattended and unmourned death, and lack of burial thereafter, is brought out by the Old Testament prophets:

"And the carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away." (Jeremiah 7:33).

"And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven." (Ezekiel 29:5).

It is very natural for readers, not instructed to do otherwise, to combine the several accounts: ". . . and Judas, who stole the poor’s money, betrayed the Lord of glory to the Jews, and repented, and hanged himself, and burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. . ." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 7, Section 1, Chapter 2, pp. 926-927). Since no contradiction arises from so doing, it is difficult to see the problem with this otherwise inevitable approach.

Bart Ehrman also claims to find a contradiction as to the purchaser of the field. According to Dr. Ehrman, the high priests were the owner of record: "it is purchased by the Jewish high priests." So by his interpretation, just exactly what they said they could not do: put the money back into the temple treasury -- they did, and purchased the lot on behalf of the Temple association, or in the name of the high priests. But they said they could not do that.

Nor is it likely that by-standers immersed in the law of Moses would find it easy to pick up the money. We are accustomed to 'finders keepers' being the law in some cases, for instance in marine salvage. But it's not the law of Moses, which does not allow people to pick up what isn't theirs. They can only hold found items in trust: "You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him." (Deuteronomy 22:1-2). So Judas may not only have been the constructive purchaser of the field, but perhaps his name was on the deed. Otherwise the high priests might stand accused of conversion. In some cases a lot is freed for public use, not because the public owns it, but because nobody does. Judas did not want the money back. Yet he may have realized no one could prevent him from defiling with his death a parcel bought under his name.

Bart Ehrman finds further discrepancies in Judas' reported motive:

"The four accounts differ on why Judas did the foul deed. There is no reason stated in Mark, although we are told that he received money for the act, so maybe it was out of greed (14:10-11). Matthew (26:14) states explicitly that Judas did it for the money. Luke, on the other hand, indicates that Judas did it because 'Satan entered into him' (22:3). In other words, the devil made him do it. In John, Judas is himself called 'a devil' (6:70-71), and so presumably he betrayed his master because he had an evil streak." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' pp. 45-46)

It is difficult to see the force of Dr. Ehrman's "on the other hand." On what other hand? Is it not to be expected that Satan will use people's existing moral weaknesses, such as greed, to drag them down? The Bible teaches there are unseen spiritual agencies at work in the world, who take an interest in human endeavors:

"And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." (2 Kings 6:16-17).

These unseen armies stand behind both good and wicked men. This understanding is not in place of the idea that men themselves are morally responsible for their own actions. Observers can open, or close, their eyes to these armies. A full and comprehensive listing of the forces drawn up in battle array must include them. Dr. Ehrman's 'either/or' scheme fits the Bible evidence on this point no better than on the others.

There remain two different accounts of why it's called the field of blood. But the same interpreter, reading a poem, may give two complementary interpretations, which reinforce one another rather than conflict. This is another 'Bible contradiction' where there is less than meets the eye.



"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth....But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me." (John 5:31-39).
“The Pharisees therefore said to Him, 'You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.' Jesus answered and said to them, 'Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going...And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.'” (John 8:13-18).

When read in their entirety, these two passages say essentially the same thing: that Jesus' testimony to His mission is corroborated by His Father's testimony. But these two passages are oft quoted by agnostics because there is a verbal contradiction between John 5:31: "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true," and John 8:14: "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going..." The contradiction, however, is only verbal and not substantive, because 'true' is used in two senses: 1.) a technical legal sense in which testimony which is not corroborated is said to be not 'true' because not usable under Mosaic law, and 2.) the global, default sense of 'true' in which any statement is 'true' if it mirrors reality.

The law of contradiction states that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. This testimony is true and not true, not in the same, but in a different sense, and there is no contradiction: "And it will not be possible to be and not to be the same thing, except in virtue of an ambiguity...but the point in question is not this, whether the same thing can at the same time be and not be a man in name, but whether it can in fact." (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Chapter 4, 1006).

False Witnesses

On the very same point hangs this next 'Bible contradiction:'

"We have already seen that Mark represents the charge brought against Jesus at the Sanhedrin trial, that he would destroy the Temple, as 'false witness;' yet, earlier in his narrative, he records how Jesus had foretold the Temple's destruction." (S. G. R. Brandon, 'The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth,' p. 71)

Some readers see considerable similarity between statements Jesus is conceded to have made, and the statements the false witnesses, whose testimony did not agree, alleged that He had made:

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19).
"And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2).
"And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Matthew 24:2).
"As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Luke 21:6).

Recognizing a general similarity, let us not be so hasty as to slur over questions of voice and agency. It is one thing for President Reagan to stand in Berlin and say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," quite another for him to say, 'I will bring down this wall with 500 pound bombs.' The first statement is an exhortation addressed to another, the second is a threat of war; the first was well received, the second would have been ill received. If you go to the doctor and he says, 'I will kill you,' you call the cops, but if he says, 'You have six months to live,' you have no legal recourse. The accusation is that the Lord said, "I will destroy this temple:"

"And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together." (Mark 14:57-59).
"But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." (Matthew 26:60-61).
"And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." (Matthew 27:40).
"And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross." (Mark 15:29-30).

The prophecies are given in passive voice. To the extent that agency is suggested, it is 'enemies:'

"For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." (Luke 19:43-44).

The closest in form is John 2:19, but that is second person imperative, which does not mean "I will destroy!" The false witnesses did not get even the wording right, much less the interpretation.

There is another point. The legal standard set forth in the Talmud for corroborating testimony is stringent. The judges' questions present even a conscientious witness with an obstacle course; if he clears the first few gates, he may stumble at the sixth:

"Mishnah. They [the judges] used to examine them with seven searching queries [Hakiroth]: In what Septennate?  In what year? In what month? On which day of the month? On what day?  At what hour [of the day]? And, at what place? R. Jose said: [They were only asked:] On which day [of the week]? At what hour? And, at what place? [They were further asked:] Did ye know him?  And, did ye warn him?

"...The more exhaustive the cross-examination [Bedikoth] the more praiseworthy the judge. It once happened that Ben Zakkai cross-examined [the witnesses] even as to the stalks of the figs.

"What is the difference between Hakiroth and Bedikoth?  — In Hakiroth, if one [of the witnesses] answers: 'I do not know,' their evidence is void. With respect to Bedikoth, however, if one answers: 'I do not know,' or even if both say: 'We do not know, their evidence is valid. But if they [the witnesses] contradict each other, whether in the Hakiroth or the Bedikoth, their evidence is void." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 40a).

The Talmud was compiled some centuries after the New Testament era. Moreover, the Sanhedrin of Jesus' day was a mixed body of Pharisees and Sadducees. Once the law of Moses was no longer an operating law code, any pressure to keep it realistic was lifted, and the Rabbis were able to weave elaborate requirements. One must wonder how a witness awakened by a scream in the middle of the night, who witnesses a crime, is supposed to know "at what hour," when clocks had not yet been invented! Whether these particular interrogatories were in use during the first century or not, the concept of corroboration they imply is robust. It is not enough that the witnesses sort of agree; they must say the same thing, not just about the main point, but about subsidiary ones as well. It is unlikely that such a strict standard appeared as a bolt out of the blue. It is by a very strict standard that witness testimony is held to be 'false' or 'true,' i.e., usable or not usable to obtain conviction under the law of Moses.

Americans, too, are accustomed to a legal system with a high standard of proof and layers of protection for the accused. What this means in practice is that, from time to time, people who are as guilty as sin, like Lizzie Borden and O. J. Simpson, walk. This was no doubt as frustrating to the populace of Judaea as to the people of today. But they never changed the system. A legal system with a high standard of proof schools the public to weigh the evidence; at any rate, all those people who watch 'Court TV' sound like Philadelphia lawyers to me. Bear this in mind when you hear Bart Ehrman and the like describing first century Jews as child-like primitives who liked to make up stories, and weren't quite sure what you were asking when you said, 'but is it true?'


According to Bart Ehrman, Luke does not believe in the 'atonement:' that Jesus purchased redemption for erring mankind with His own blood,-- preferring to believing in 'forgiveness' instead:

"Luke's view is that salvation comes not through an atoning sacrifice but by forgiveness that comes from repentance." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 94).

This is supposed to be a discrepancy between Luke's work, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, and the remainder of the New Testament which does teach the atonement. Is this true? No more so than usual:

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28).
"'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'" (Luke 22:19-20 NRSV).

Head Covering

A political agenda drives modern Bible 'scholarship.' Since several things Paul said cannot be reconciled with women pastors, Paul must never have said those things. 'Paul,' his evil twin, said it. This field of 'scholarly' endeavor feels free to replicate entities without reason, so there may be as many 'Paul's' as one cares to count. Bart Ehrman makes up an additional 'Paul' to address a purported contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14:

  • “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.”
  • (1 Corinthians 11:4-5).

  • "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church."
  • (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

According to Dr. Ehrman, this is a direct contradiction: "In the disputed passage of chapter 14, however, it is equally clear that 'Paul' forbids women from speaking at all. It is difficult to reconcile these two views -- either Paul allowed women to speak (with covered heads, chapter 11) or not (chapter14). As it seems unreasonable to think that Paul would flat out contradict himself within the space of three chapters, it appears that the verses in question do not derive from Paul." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 184). As is common with modern Bible 'scholarship,' we are to envision a clumsy interpolator, who does not notice he is 'contradicting' what Paul just got done saying.

But is there any contradiction at all? In one case, the women are praying in the spirit and prophesying, in the other case they are asking questions of their own curiosity. Who is the speaker in the first instance but the Holy Spirit? The rule, when God speaks, is "Quench not the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 5:19). It is not prudent to command God to be silent when He wishes to speak.

The idea of the Holy Spirit speaking through women, or men, is unfamiliar to Bart Ehrman. He has some confused idea that the Christian perception of a unitary voice in scripture is a function of the book binder's art: "They assume that since all the books in the Bible are found between the same hard covers, every author is basically saying the same thing." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 62). But the voice that Christians hear speaking in scripture, picking up a theme, dropping it then revisiting and playing with it a thousand years later, is the Holy Spirit: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:21).

The "law" to which Paul refers is not the law of Moses, which contains no provision addressing decorum in public meetings. Was there a law in that locality forbidding women from speaking at a public meeting? As readers of the Greek novels realize, some women in pagan Greece lived under conditions almost like the Purdah of the Islamic world. They were expected to spend most of their lives indoors and were not free to come and go at will. Paul always encourages his flock to obey the law, though they need not volunteer obedience to laws of other jurisdictions. In any case there is no room left for lady pastors in 1Timothy 2:12, which says, "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

Men and Angels

"The same problem occurs int he accounts of Jesus' resurrection. On the third day after Jesus' death, the women go to the tomb to anoint his body for burial. And whom do they see thre? Do they see a man, as Mark says, or two men (Luke), or an angel (Matthew)?" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 8).

Angels have not the same nature as men:

"For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." (Hebrews 2:16).

However, they appear so very much like men that "some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:2). The same 'contradiction' occurs numerous times in the Bible, for instance in Daniel:

"Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation." (Daniel 9:21).
"Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz." (Daniel 10:5).
"And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" (Daniel 12:6).

These "men" are angels. As yet undiscovered Bible contradictions, no doubt! What is being called a "man" is what to appearance is a man, though known to be an angel. This seems to be a case, not of a real contradiction, but of the flat, simplistic use of language characteristic of Bart Ehrman. He reasons, 'if they're angels, they can't be men; if they are men, they cannot be angels.' But the visionaries who talk with angels are willing to call them 'men' at times, on grounds of the resemblance. It might be safe to say, what was seen were men in white, who were inferred, on solid grounds, to be angels. While it has very little merit, you will see this 'Bible contradiction' over and over again; it is one of the purported difficulties with the events of Easter morning:

"It has been thought in another quarter quite superfluous here to advance so many ingenious conjectures as to what the angels may have been, since, among the four narratives, two expressly tell us what they were: namely, natural men, Mark calling his angel a young man, νεανισκον, Luke his two angels, two men, ανδρας δυο."
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 20858-20859).)

From Everlasting

The church has always believed that the four gospels were written by two apostles, Matthew and John, and by two associates and travelling companions of the apostles, Mark and Luke. Those who prefer to disbelieve this must discard ancient testimony. Bart Ehrman demands that we discard all the actual evidence on this point, on grounds that:

  • “But if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus, why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning..."
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 102).

Is this even true, that Matthew teaches Jesus came into being when he was conceived or born? No more so than usual. Matthew quotes Micah 5:2:

"And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." (Matthew 2:6).

This is a quotation of Micah 5:2, which reads,

"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2).

The Septuagint gives the following rendering of Micah 5:2:

"And thou, Bethleem, house of Ephratha, art few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Juda; yet out of thee shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel; and his goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity." (Micah 5:2, Benton Septuagint).

If Matthew did not share Micah's view that the goings forth of the Messiah were from the days of eternity, then why quote the verse at all and remind people of a point which, according to Bart Ehrman, he wished to confute? Moreover, Bart Ehrman implies that Matthew did not think Jesus was God:

"In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 102)

Is that actually true? No more so than usual:

"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matthew 1:23).

If there is a case to be made for discarding contemporary testimony in the face of actual contradiction, there is no case to be made for discarding actual testimony in the face of bogus 'Bible contradictions' of the Bart Ehrman variety.

Eternal Son

The Son: Eternal God or Beginning in Time?

Preach the Faith

Bart Ehrman makes the vile accusation that some of New Testament letters which claim Paul's authorship were not written by Paul but by forgers masquerading as Paul. This is based in part on such minor differences of style as might be expected from an author who dictates to an amanuensis as did Paul. Dr. Ehrman also offers an argument from word usage. One word can have different meanings; for instance, when someone says, 'I feel well today,' and 'The well has run dry,' the word 'well' does not mean the same thing in both cases. According to Bart Ehrman, if the author of the pastoral letters does not invariably use the word 'faith' as it is used in other Pauline letters, then this author is unmasked as a fraud:

  • “Some of the significant words that this author uses are the same as Paul's, but he uses them in very different ways. Take the word 'faith.' For Paul, faith meant having a trusting acceptance of Christ's death in order to be put into a right standing with God. It is a relationship term, meaning something like 'trust.' In the Pastoral Epistles the word means something else: the set of beliefs and ideas that make up the Christian religion. (Titus 1:13)."
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 130).

This very powerful technique proves not only that Paul did not write Titus, but that he did not write Galatians either, because 'faith' is used in that letter in its neutral sense as 'religion:'

"But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed." (Galatians 1:23).

The 'faith' Paul sought to destroy while unbelieving was not 'trust or confidence in God,' but rather the Christian religion, just what the term means in Titus 1:13. For that matter the pastoral letters also use 'faith' in the sense of trust and confidence in God's promise of salvation:

"Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned..." (1 Timothy 1:5).
"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:15).

It is not clear why Paul, having used 'faith' in the special sense of committing one's cause to Jesus and relying upon Him solely, loses the normal liberty speakers otherwise enjoy of using the word also in the sense of 'religion.' I don't know if the immigrant Albert Einstein had any relatives in this country, but if he did, I suspect he said to his wife, 'Let's go visit the relatives.' Because he had used the words 'relative' and 'relativity' in a special sense in his physical theorizing, was he forbidden from using the word in this common and familiar sense? Must he say, with the news media, 'loved ones,' when that is not the common way of referring to those to whom we are related by birth or marriage? Certainly it would not be proof of two Einsteins, if he said 'Let's go visit the relatives.'

These people must get rid of the pastoral letters because they disallow women pastors, but they have not proved Paul did not write these letters. Although it is a true and worthwhile point that Paul uses 'faith' in a special sense in his teaching of salvation by faith, this does not require Paul to use the word only that sense, as if he were a programmed mechanism. The New Testament letter written by James, the Lord's brother, and Paul's letter to Galatians look at first glance like mirror images. Galatians teaches salvation by faith, James expresses skepticism on that score. Paul indulges in holy cursing (Galatians 1:8-9); James scolds people who curse (James 3:9).

But as the church realized, this shot across Paul's bow, if so it was intended, sailed wide, cleared the superstructure and landed harmlessly in the water. Paul, in writing of salvation by faith, does not mean by 'faith' a 'verbal or mental assent to a list of propositions.' He means throwing oneself upon God, without any other plea or backup plan. The two letters are not contradictory, because they are not really talking about the same thing.

It is helpful to keep in mind the sense in which Paul uses 'faith' in letters like Galatians and Romans. But his special use of this word does not mean that Paul is forever in the future mechanically tethered to using the word 'faith' in only that sense and none other. He retains the same liberty as does any other speaker of the language to use the word in its full range of meanings.

Bishops and Deacons

Bart Ehrman tries to give substance to his venomous accusation that the Pastoral letters were written, not by Paul, but by a forger, by suggesting a novel form of church governance for the churches Paul (the real one) founded: there was none. There were, he says, "no appointed leaders" in the church at Corinth. Because the Pastoral letters give "Directions for appointing bishops who were evidently in charge of the spiritual oversight of the church, and deacons who were in charge of almsgiving and taking care of the physical needs of the community" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 133), they cannot have been written by Paul, because his churches had no such officers as bishops or elders presiding. This leaves the reader wondering where the bishops came from whom Paul addresses in Philippians 1:1, which Dr. Ehrman acknowledges as Pauline:

"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons..." (Philippians 1:1 NRSV).

Presumably "bishops" sprung up in those days like mushrooms, with no one appointing them. Except Luke says it was Paul and his colleagues who appointed church officers:

"And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." (Acts 14:22).

In New Testament usage, 'elders' are not distinguished from 'bishops,' though the two offices would later be differentiated into a hierarchy. Paul addresses the "elders" of the church at Ephesus, and tells them that they are "bishops:"

"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church...Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers ['episkopos'], to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:17-28)

How does Dr. Ehrman imagine the churches are to function with no leadership? He says they don't need leaders because church members are "given an endowment of the Holy Spirit." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 131). People who want to test this theory can walk into their local Assemblies of God church, and ask for the pastor. There should be none, right, because these churches cultivate speaking in tongues and other charismatic gifts?

The word 'bishop' is found in the Old Testament as well as the New:

"And these were the children of Benjamin...And Joel son of Zechri was overseer ['episkopos'] over them: and Juda son of Asana was second in the city. (Nehemiah 11:7-9 Benton Septuagint).

"And Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and the people, that they should be the LORD’S people; between the king also and the people. . .And the priest appointed officers ['episkopos' επισκοπος] over the house of the LORD." (2 Kings 11:17-18).

When the word 'elder' occurs in the New Testament, it is as likely to refer to an office of the old dispensation as the new:

"Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread." (Matthew 15:2).

For that matter the word 'church,' 'ecclesia,' meaning assembly, is found often in the Septuagint:

"And the king turned his face, and blessed all the congregation ['ecclesia'] of Israel: and all the congregation ['ecclesia'] of Israel stood by." (2 Chronicles 6:3 Benton Septuagint).

...translating 'qahal.' "In the Septuagint the word 'ecclesia' was used to denote the solemn assembly of the people of Israel." (J. Gresham Machen, The Literature and History of New Testament Times, p. 184). There would be less confusion on these points if the New Testament's 'ecclesia' were consistently translated as 'congregation' or 'assembly,' rather than the discordantly novel 'church,' but established interests did not want it so:

"Fourthly, the [KJV] translators were given certain guidelines under which they were to work...'The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz. the word "church" not to be translated "congregation."'" ('The Translation of the KJV,' James R. White, 'The King James Only Controversy,' p. 71).

Since these offices are not even novelties of the New Testament congregation, it's odd that Paul could not visualize them and it awaited a forger to introduce them as new things. Moreover, it is hard to understand why the Holy Spirit gives Christians the gift of 'government:'

"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28).

...when this celebrated author says there was no government "in the church." If this gift is altogether superfluous, why offer it at all?

As noted, in the Pastorals, as in the rest of the New Testament, the offices of 'elder' and 'bishop' are not differentiated but identified. Compare:

"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous..." (1 Timothy 3:1-3).


"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." (1 Timothy 5:17).
"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre..." (Titus 1:5-7).

As this situation would later change, when the growing 'catholic' church pried apart these two titles, bishop and presbyter, into two distinct offices at different levels, this usage is a testimony for an early date. Missionary churches, at our own late date as then, bring in ministers from outside and by appointment, because a minister cannot be a new believer: "Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:6). But the church in the mission field is made up of novices! That Paul runs his missionary churches as missionary churches have always been run is no difficulty, nor any contradiction to the long-standing habit of settled and established churches of choosing their ministry.

Cock Crow

"And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Mark 14:30).
"Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Matthew 26:34).

Some general notes about language: a speaker who wishes to relay the words of another has several ways of doing so, none of them illegitimate, dishonest or contradictory. There is direct quotation: 'She said, "You are to go to the store."' There is indirect quotation: 'She said for you to go to the store.' A speaker may paraphrase or summarize without, normally, being suspected of a crime. If the speaker quoted used a foreign language, it will be necessary to translate; and two translators, acting in perfect good faith, can employ different words. If speakers of the two languages also use different methods of reckoning time, the translator may find it necessary to recast the time-language to avoid misunderstanding.

Most of us count one cock crow: at dawn. But the Romans counted at least two. It's the "second" cock-crow which resounds at dawn:

"He may shut the windows, cover
   cracks with curtains, lock
The doors, douse the light, make
   everyone leave, let no one sleep
Near at hand: but before the dawn the
   neighborhood barkeep
Will know what he was doing at second
   cock crow
, will hear
Also what his chief cooks and carvers
   invented." (Juvenal, Satires, IX, 105-109)

If the "second cock crow" is dawn, then when is the first? The middle of the night. One of the guests at Trimalchio's dinner tells a werewolf tale:

"It so happened that our master had gone to Capua to attend to some odds and ends of business and I seized the opportunity, and persuaded a guest of the house to accompany me as far as the fifth mile-stone. He was a soldier, and as brave as the very devil. We set out about cock-crow, the moon was shining as bright as midday, and came to where the tombstones are...Was ever anyone nearer dead from fright than me? Then I whipped out my sword and cut every shadow along the road to bits, till I came to the house of my mistress...My Melissa wondered why I was out so late. "Oh, if you'd only come sooner," she said, "you could have helped us"...I couldn't keep my eyes shut any longer when I heard that, and as soon as it grew light, I rushed back to our Gaius' house like an innkeeper beaten out of his bill, and when I came to the place where the clothes had been turned into stone, there was nothing but a pool of blood!" (Petronius, Satyricon, Volume 2, The Dinner of Trimalchio, Chapter 62).

Notice, please, they leave "about cock-crow," he has time to watch his companion turn into a werewolf at the cemetery, he has time after that to get to his girl-friend's house, she wonders why he was "out so late," and then, unable to sleep, he rushes back home "as soon as it grew light." Manifestly, "cock-crow" is not dawn but sometime during the dark of the night. This was the first cock-crow. The second cock-crow resounded at dawn.

The antiquarian Macrobius fixes cock-crow, in the Roman "civil day," at some time after midnight but before first light:

"The divisions of the civil day are these: first, 'the middle turning point of the night;' then 'cock crow;' after that, 'the silence,' when the cocks are silent and men are still asleep; then 'first light,' when day becomes discernible; after that, 'morning,' when the light of day is clear." (Macrobius, The Saturnalia, Book I, Chapter 3:12)

Does this add up to a 'Bible Contradiction,' or at most a translation issue?:

The Problem Language as She is Spoke
The Second Cock Crow The First Cock Crow
The Watch System Fulfillment

Wrong Day

This difficulty may be summarized by, "The dating of the Last Supper is another well-known crux, since John appears to set it on Nisan 13, while the synoptics prefer Nisan 14." (A Shorter Life of Christ, Donald Guthrie, p. 57). On what day of the week was Christ crucified?

When we hear the phrase, 'Preparation Day,' we ask, preparation for what? What are they preparing for? A fishing trip? Back to school? So when we read, "And it was the preparation of the passover. . ." (John 19:14), we say, 'Aha! They're preparing for the passover!' "To this it may be added that this same succeeding day, on which Jesus was crucified, is called the preparation of the passover, παρασκευη του πασχα, i.e. the day on the evening of which the paschal lamb was to be eaten. . ." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Part III, Chapter II, Section 121, p. 614). Now, let us surmise that New Testament readers, instead of wondering, when they encounter the phrase 'Preparation Day,' what it means, think they already know. Let us surmise the phrase had already achieved a stereotyped meaning as 'the day of preparation [for the Sabbath],' i.e., Friday. This is the meaning it still retains in modern Greek. Equating the 'day of preparation' with 'Friday' seems a reasonable surmise:

"Both the Scriptures (Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42) and Josephus indicate the day of preparation is the day before the weekly Sabbaths, namely, Friday. Even Westcott, who holds to a Thursday crucifixion, concedes that the normal use of the phrase refers to Friday. (2) Mark 15:42 exclusively points to “the day of preparation” as being Friday when it states: “and when the evening had come, because it was the day of preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath.” In reading Mark, one sees that he is speaking of the regular weekly Sabbath, and hence the παρασκευη refers to Friday. (3) The statement “the day of preparation for the Passover” in John 19:14 seems to have reference to the Friday in the Passover week rather than the day before the Passover."
(Hoehner, Harold W. (2010-06-29). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Kindle Locations 812-818). Zondervan.)

Let us further surmise that 'Passover' can mean, not just one evening, but the entire week of the feast of unleavened bread, as it also is understood in modern Israel. This is how Luke defines it:

"Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover." (Luke 22:1).

This usage is not common in the Old Testament, but it's not unknown either:

"In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten." (Ezekiel 45:21).

Nor is it unknown to the more modern Talmud: "What is the difference between the Passover as celebrated (by the Israelites while) in Egypt, and that observed by later generations?. . .also that it should be eaten with unleavened bread on the first night of Passover in a hasty manner; while in later generations the law of the Passover applies for the entire seven days of the festival." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume V, Section Moed, Tract Pesachim, Chapter IX, Kindle location 20871). Thus it is possible for the word 'Passover' to refer to the longer term: "Thus the Mishna means to say, that the paschal lamb was offered upon the first night only of the Egyptian Passover and should only be brought on the first night of the Passover of later generations, but leaven which was not eaten but on the first day of the Egyptian Passover should not be eaten for the seven days of the Passover of later generations." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume V, Section Moed, Tract Pesachim, Chapter IX, Kindle location 20900). "He (Rabban Gamaliel) decided the law leniently in respect of the following three things: He allowed to sweep on the festival between the couches (or sofas on which the ancients used to eat), to put spices on live coals (after meals), and to prepare a complete roasted kid on the nights of Passover (as a memorial to the Paschal lamb.)" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Betzah, Chapter II, Kindle location 27413).

"However, it was common to blend the slaying of the passover, the passover feast and the feast of the unleavened bread, and to look upon all three as one great festival, and to use the names passover and unleavened bread interchangeably to describe the entire eight days." (J. W. McGarvey, The FourFold Gospel, Kindle location 10024).

Medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides continues to refer to the week as 'passover:' The reason for the Passover is well known. It is kept seven days, because the period of seven days is the unit of time intermediate between a day and a month." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 404). One can't object to this usage in the New Testament, when it seen elsewhere under no objection. If we are allowed these two surmises, both of which have independent attestation, then 'preparation of the passover' means 'Friday of Passover week.' If that is the case, then John is saying exactly what the synoptists are saying:

  • “John 19:14, 'Now it was the Preparation of the Passover.' This is claimed to mean the day preceding the Passover festival. Hence Christ was crucified on the 14th Nisan, in opposition to the Synoptists. The afternoon before the Passover was used as a preparation, but it was not technically so called. This phrase 'Preparation' was really the name of a day in the week, the day before the Sabbath, our Friday. We are not left to conjecture about this question. The Evangelists all use it in this sense alone. Matthew uses it for Friday (27:62), Mark expressly says that the Preparation was the day before the Sabbath (15:42), Luke says that it was the day of the Preparation and the Sabbath drew on (23:54), and John himself so uses the word in two other passages (19:31, 42), in both of which haste is exercised on the Preparation, because the Sabbath was at hand. The New Testament usage is conclusive, therefore, on this point. This, then, was the Friday of Passover week. And this agrees with the Synoptists. Besides, the term 'Preparation' has long been the regular name for Friday in the Greek language, caused by the New Testament usage. It is so in the Modern Greek to-day."
  • (A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, p. 283).

With which John Gill agrees:

"Ver. 14. And it was the preparation of the passover...but it seems best of all to understand it only of the preparation for the sabbath, which, because it was in the passover week, is called the passover preparation day: and it may be observed, that it is sometimes only called "the day of the preparation", and "the preparation", Mt 27:62, and sometimes the "Jews' preparation day", Joh 19:42, and it is explained by the Evangelist, Mr 15:42. "It was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath"; on which they both prepared themselves for the sabbath, and food to eat on that day; and this being the time of the passover likewise, the preparation was the greater: and therefore to distinguish this preparation day for the sabbath, from others, it is called the passover preparation; nor have I observed that any other day is called the preparation but that before the sabbath..." (John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, Comment on John 19:14).

After the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the conjecture became popular that the apparent difference between John and the synoptists reflected a dispute about the calendar, or at least about the new moon, like the quarrel about the Day of Atonement between the Qumran covenanters and the priest. Calendrical disputes ultimately come down to a question of authority: who has the right to intercalate months or days? However there is no independent evidence that any one of the apostles or evangelists is riding a calendrical hobby-horse.

According to A. T. Robertson, John and the synoptists are in fact saying the same thing. The last supper is the Passover seder. That same day Jesus is sacrificed,— counting the days from evening to evening, evening on Maundy Thursday through the evening of Good Friday counts as one day,— synchronized to the meal, not the prior slaughter of the lambs. Unfortunately the gospel writers are not anticipating this question nor tailoring their language to answer it. John 8:39 taken literally and punctiliously situates the passover as the moment when the speaker says, "But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?"— but as noted 'passover' need not be used atomistically. According to Bart Ehrman, John 'changed' the day so that Jesus, the Lamb of God, could be sacrificed as our Passover. Thus, we have another of our famous 'Bible contradictions:' this one says, 'John and the Synoptic writers schedule the crucifixion on a different day of the week.' Can it be made to work?

The Passover lamb was sacrificed on 14 Nisan:

"Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month." (2 Chronicles 35:1).

It took quite a while to slaughter all those animals, according to Philo all the afternoon of the 14th:

"And after the feast of the new moon comes the fourth festival, that of the passover, which the Hebrews call pascha, on which the whole people offer sacrifice, beginning at noon-day and continuing till evening. And this festival is instituted in remembrance of, and as giving thanks for, their great migration which they made from Egypt, with many myriads of people, in accordance with the commands of God given to them; leaving then, as it seems, a country full of all inhumanity and practicing every kind of inhospitality, and (what was worst of all) giving the honor due to God to brute beasts; and, therefore, they sacrificed at that time themselves out of their exceeding joy, without waiting for priests." (Philo Judaeus, A Treatise to Show that the Festivals are Ten in Number, Fourth Festival).

While the temple still stood, the lambs were sacrificed on the afternoon of the 14th, in a sort of assembly-line procedure. Modern Jews celebrate the Passover meal the evening to follow, on 15 Nisan. The apocryphal Book of Jubilees, dating from about a century prior to the New Testament era, also situates the meal the next day:

"Remember the commandment which the Lord commanded thee concerning the passover, that thou shouldst celebrate it in its season on the fourteenth of the first month, that thou shouldst kill it before it is evening, and that they should eat it by night on the evening of the fifteenth from the time of the setting of the sun." (Charles, R.H. The Book of Jubilees (Kindle Locations 2119-2121). Chapter 49.)

So this seems fairly cut and dried. The modern 'Jesus' Publishing Industry is ever telling us that Palestine was an insignificant, out-of-the-way corner of the Roman world, however the Jews represented about ten percent of the total population of the empire. The numbers Josephus reports as coming to Jerusalem as mandated for this purpose are mind-boggling, and even though the individual Israelite was competent to perform the sacrifice, and even though the temple complex was huge, it is apparent it took more than a short period of time to work through the backlog of this monumental task. The Old Testament institution speaks of the "evening" and "the going down of the sun:"

"Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening." (Exodus 12:5-6).
"But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 16:6).

During the temple era, this moment in time could most plausibly represent the terminus of the process. In the synoptic gospels, the last supper is the Passover meal: "And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God..." (Luke 22:15-16). Consequently Jesus' sacrifice cannot be timed to coincide with the slaughter of the Passover lambs, because that has already happened. John, in fact, concurs that it has already happened. According to A. T. Robertson, those passages which suggest otherwise are not being read with sufficient attention to two facts: 'preparation day' means Friday, and 'Passover' means, not only the meal, but the entire festival. The NIV translates John 19:14 as, "It was the Day of Preparation of Passover Week..." Admittedly difficulties remain, though the problem with John 13:1, for instance, is more a infelicitous chapter division than a conflict. It is assumed to be an introduction to the account of the Last Supper to follow, though it fits better as a coda to the just concluded discourse on the people's unbelief.

The Romans reckoned days from midnight to midnight, rather than from evening to evening. There are advantages to counting the days as the Romans do; midnight is a fixed point, so the day is 24 hours long. It is an oddity of the Hebrew system that the day is never 24 hours in length. Approaching the summer solstice, as the time of sunset grows later and later, the day exceeds 24 hours, whereas it retreats in length approaching the winter solstice, as sunset comes earlier and earlier. The Romans also counted hours from midnight, as opposed to the Jewish usage of counting hours from sun-rise. Both systems were familiar to readers of the New Testament, so there is no need to see a conflict between John's timing, "the sixth hour," and the others. While discrepancies like these contribute greatly to the atheists' amusement, there is no real contradiction.


Bible Difficulties

Two Genealogies

The Bible reader who compares Matthew and Luke finds two genealogies for the Lord, which diverge in the next generation after King David, then reconverge upon Shealtiel, then again diverge. First, Luke:

  • “Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”
  • (Luke 3:23-38).

Next, Matthew offers a different genealogy, casting no aspersions, either veiled or apparent, on Joseph, Jesus' father in the eyes of the law:

  • “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
  • “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6and Jesse begot David the king.
    David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.
  • “And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.”
  • (Matthew 1:1-16).

What's going on here? Can one individual ever have two different genealogies? Actually the answer is yes; compare Suetonius' account of Nero, if we may compare darkness with light:

"Nero was born at Antium, nine months after the death of Tiberius, upon the eighteenth of the calends of January, just as the sun rose, so that its beams touched him before they could well reach the earth. While many fearful conjectures, in respect to his future fortune, were formed by different persons, from the circumstances of his nativity, a saying of his father, Domitius, was regarded as an ill presage, who told his friends who were congratulating him upon the occasion, "That nothing but what was detestable, and pernicious to the public, could ever be produced of him and Agrippina." Another manifest prognostic of his future infelicity occurred upon his lustration day. For Caius Caesar being requested by his sister to give the child what name he thought proper—looking at his uncle, Claudius, who afterwards, when emperor, adopted Nero, he gave his: and this not seriously, but only in jest; Agrippina treating it with contempt, because Claudius at that time was a mere laughing-stock at the palace." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero, Chapter VI).

There are two points: Nero was the natural son of Domitius Ahenobarbus, the adopted son of Claudius, the prior emperor. Neither can be omitted; he seems to have inherited his cruel temper from his natural father, but what he inherited from his adopted father was the empire. For all legal purposes he was the son of Claudius; only seventeen years old when Claudius died, why else would the legions have hailed him as emperor, with no accomplishments to his name? So both identities are important.

Someone may object, but the Jews had no such custom. But they did. "Was it not Merab who bore them, whereas Michal merely brought them up? But they bore the name of Michal, because the Scripture considers the one who brings up an orphan as if it were born to him." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter II, Kindle location 60149). Jacob claimed Joseph's two sons for inheritance purposes: "And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine." (Genesis 48:5). Straight-up adoption was also practiced; Mordecai adopted Esther:

"And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter." (Esther 2:7).

In fact the concept that a child can be the legal son of one man and the biological son of another is embedded in Jewish law: "And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." (Deuteronomy 25:6). In Levirate marriage, the child is the legal son of the dead brother, the biological son of the living one.

So inheritance can run in a different lineage from biological descent. An individual can be demoted from the genealogy: "Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s— the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi." (1 Chronicles 5:1-3). . .or added. These practices should not be unfamiliar; we have similar usages, of disinheritance for example. For Jesus to inherit from Joseph, his legal but not biological father, the right to rule, is not surprising or inexplicable. So the first possibility is that both genealogies seek to trace the descent of one individual, Joseph, but take different paths through prior levirate marriages, owing perhaps to concerns about avoiding individuals considered disqualified.

There is another view. Jesus' case is unique: He has one physical, biological parent. And so we must adopt a completely different standpoint, realizing that David was promised that one of his flesh would succeed to the throne of Israel. At this point Jesus' unique status amongst all of humanity comes into view. As the country gospel song 'On my Father's Side' puts it,

"What’s your name son?
On my mother’s side my name is Jesus
But on my Father’s side they call me Emmanuel.

"How old are you?
On my mother’s side now I’m twelve years
But on my Father’s side I’ve just always been.

"Where you from?
On my mother’s side I’m from Bethlehem
But on my Father’s side it’s New Jerusalem."

The only way to trace Jesus' physical descent is through His mother; His biology is on His "mother's side." Not that He is a clone of Mary, or He'd be female; for certainly God can speak into existence whatever genetic material is needed. But His biological ancestry cannot be traced through Joseph, to whom He has no physical link. The law perceives Him as Joseph's son, just as any child born during a marriage is assigned in law as a product of the marriage, but if physical descent is what one of our two authors is after, it cannot come through Joseph.

Thus arose the conjecture,— and, of course, it can be only that, Luke's genealogy is not stated explicitly to be Mary's genealogy,— that one of these ancestor lists gives Jesus' legal claim to the throne, which must run through Joseph, His legal father, and the other, His familial descent through Mary. Just as Suetonius is careful to tell us both about Nero's adoptive father, Claudius, so we can understand why he became emperor, and also about Domitius Ahenobarbus, whose cruelty was so unlike the passive Claudius, so also the New Testament gives both pieces of information. What is required to fulfill a promise like Psalm 132:11, "The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne"? Perhaps something more than Joseph's legal paternity. If the actual fruit of Mary's womb is physically descended from David, Mary herself being of that lineage, then this condition is met. So the idea that one genealogy traces Joseph's heritage, the other Mary's, fits conveniently into place. It was not the norm to trace descent through the mother, but the situation is absolutely unique: baby Jesus has no biological father.

And so we have two possibilities: either these two genealogies belong to one and the same individual, and are traced differently owing to a history of levirate marriage amid differing opinions as to which individuals were disqualified from the line, or else they belong to two distinct individuals, the (legal) father and the mother. This latter theory is the one I prefer. At this, some object, these two genealogies cannot belong to two different people, because they intersect. This objection seems weighty but is not.

The helpful thing about tracing descent from eldest son to eldest son, which was the custom, is that you come up with a line, not a cloud. Of course, in the case of succession to civic office, political considerations color the outcome: nomination by a prior monarch, election by the tribes, etc. But the concept that each individual has one forebear is a legal abstraction. Tracing actual genetic descent, you begin with one unique individual living in the present time, and you begin to multiply: this one unique individual has two parents, four grand-parents, eight great-grand-parents, sixteen great-great-grand-parents, etc. We have embarked upon a geometrical progression! But there is a reason why Ponzi schemes are illegal; our multiplication is likely to hit a limit. It is odd but true, that investigating genetic heritage produces a company that collapses back in upon itself. You have discovered a branching tree, but as you rewind the film, it can't continue producing new branches, because as you go back in time, the population shrinks, it does not increase:

"You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. Each generation back the number of ancestors you have doubles. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. If it were, your family tree when Charlemagne was Le Grand Fromage would harbor around 137,438,953,472 individuals on it — more people than were alive then, now, or in total. What this means is that pedigrees begin to fold in on themselves a few generations back, and become less arboreal, and more a mesh or weblike. You can be, and in fact are, descended from the same individual many times over. . .The simple logic is that there are more living people on Earth now than at any single moment in the past, which means that many fewer people act as multiple ancestors of people alive today. . .The math that falls out of that apparent impasse is that all of the billions of lines of ancestry have coalesced into not just a small number of people, but effectively literally everyone who was alive at that time. . .Our family trees are not trees at all, but entangled meshes." (A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford, p. 160-162).

So is it in fact so unlikely that it can be dismissed out of hand that Mary and Joseph were both descended from one individual, David, who lived a thousand years prior? Actually, it's not unlikely at all! Every Israelite ancestry, traced back to the patriarchal age, will ultimately hit one or several of the same twelve individuals. And if it were true, is it obviously irrelevant to the matter at hand? Not at all! It matters who Jesus' mother was, in a way that it did not for most people living under a legal system premised on patrilineal descent. His mother is His humanity. If there ever was a special case, this one is it.


Editor's Choice

An editor can choose between two ways of narrating history: strict chronological order, in which no plot-line can be wrapped up without distracting interruption from any foreign, unrelated event, — at the extreme, the approach loses itself in incomprehensibility, as in James Joyce's 'Ulysses,'— and the sub-plot approach, in which each story-within-a-story is told complete, by which approach however the reader risks losing sight of the whole picture. A historical author like William Shirer will, compromising between the chronological program and the topical, in telling the reader about Nazi Germany's war, skip from the scene in the Ukraine to what's happening in Belgium or North Africa. In each of these skips, the reader may lose six months or so, which can be disorienting; but no one goes around accusing these authors of contradicting themselves, because a strict chronological approach, tying the reader to a minute-by-minute time-line, would leave the reader even more confused and baffled.

The ancient rhetoricians were aware of the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, chronological and topical: "Next it is the function of a historian so to arrange his materials that everything shall be found in its proper place. . .Thucydides keeps close to the chronological order, Herodotus to the natural grouping of events. Thucydides is found to be obscure and hard to follow. As naturally many events occur in different places in the course of the same summer or winter, he leaves half-finished his account of one set of affairs and take other events in hand. Naturally we are puzzled, and follow the narrative impatiently, as our attention is distracted." (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Three LIterary Letters, Letter 2, To Gnaeus Pompey, Chapter III, Delphi Kindle location 23121). The chronological approach is guilty of ping-ponging the reader from one locale to another, without his being able to grasp the whole sequence entire, which leaves him confused. The topical approach is less wearying, but might create misunderstanding if the reader assumed the narrative sequence to conform to chronology. Modern criitics are generally unaware there is any way of presenting a historical narrative, other than in chronological order, and find 'Bible errors' as a result.

Let's see what happens when one gospel author chooses a chronological approach, and another follows through the sub-plot to resolution:

  • “Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.
  • “Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.
  • “And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”
  • (Matthew 21:17-20).

Matthew says that the fig-tree was withered presently, immediately, παραχρημα, forthwith, without delay. Mark's account, however, inserts an entire section of activity in the temple between the cursing and the disciples' perception of the fig-tree's having withered. While some describe this style as a 'sandwich' or intercalation, it might simply be a chronological recitation:

  • “Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”
  • “And His disciples heard it.
  • “So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”
  • “And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city.
  • “Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”
  • (Mark 13:12-21.).

This is a frequently-cited 'Bible contradiction.' It seems a large part of the problem arises from the two authors having adopted different narrative strategies, Mark telling the story in strict chronological order, allowing intervening events to interrupt the flow, whereas Matthew has allowed his sub-plot to move forward to its resolution unimpeded by irrelevant events. It's the editor's choice which strategy to adopt; if the historian wants to follow the narrative thread through, say, the North African campaign before departing for other venues, he has not done wrong by departing from strict chronology. Imposing strict chronology is very near to a punishment; one suspects many more people have read James Joyce's 'Ulysses' at the behest of an English instructor, for the same reason as they used to give out cod liver oil, because it's good for you,— or so they thought,— than have ever read that work for pleasure, of which it doesn't give much. When Matthew says "when the disciples saw it," he doesn't say when that was, or in any way deny that this discovery happened the next morning.

What 'immediately' means is subject to context, for instance when the Philippian jailer's household was baptized, "And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately [παραχρημα] he and all his family were baptized." (Acts 16:33). This cannot have happened, say, within 32 seconds by the stop-watch, because it would have taken a few minutes to go and get the water, etc. The word, in Greek or English, is not a time-count like such words as 'minute' or 'second;' for a tree to die immediately, wither over-night, and its death to have become perceptible by the next morning, does constitute an 'immediate' death as opposed to a 'lingering' one. By normal standards for that sort of event, the tree's extinction was immediate. Anyone who has ever stood by helplessly and watched as a shrub starts to look sickly, then turns yellow, then finally the leaves fall off, realizes that this process is not commonly all that rapid. Trees do not normally go from perfect health to dessication over-night. What the disciples saw the next morning would therefore have struck them as remarkable and uncommon.

A death-event that happens to a tree 'immediately' might not be perceptible immediately. An event, and general knowledge of the event, are not precisely the same thing; as per usual, this 'Bible contradiction' is contrasting apples and oranges. When we cut our Christmas trees and bring them indoors, they do not look dead at first. In the hot sun the tree's demise as a living organism would have become apparent sooner, though still not at the same moment the life went out of it. An observer seeing the dried out tree in the morning might justly infer the tree's death at the very moment of the Lord's curse. So when Mark explains that by the next morning, as they again passed by the tree, the disciples could see that it was dead, this does not in itself state when the tree died nor contradict Matthew's 'immediately.'

Part of what is creating the conflict here is the assumption that the disciples were the first discoverers of the tree's condition, as if all these events took place within a glass bottle. However, they are unlikely to have been, given that these events took place on a well-travelled road between a near suburb and a great city. Inquiring of local residents or habitual travellers might have yielded Matthew the information, 'No, it was already like that yesterday,' fully justifying his use of the word 'immediately.'

The prophet Jeremiah foretells this demand for fruit production:

“‘I will surely consume them,’ says the LORD. ‘No grapes shall be on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them.’” (Jeremiah 8:13).

Upon inspection, fruit production was found inadequate. It's editor's choice whether you tell the story topically or in chronological order. The historian Polybius was aware some people found his methodology (strict chronological order) jumpy and confusing:

"I am fully aware that some will be found to criticize my work, on the ground that my narrative of events is incomplete and disconnected; beginning, for instance, the story of the siege of Carthage, and then leaving it half told, and interrupting the stream of my history, I pass over to Greek affairs, and from them to Macedonian or Syrian, or some other history; whereas students require continuity, and desire to hear the end of a subject; for the combination of pleasure and profit is thus more completely secured. But I do not think this: I hold exactly the reverse." (Polybius, The Histories, Book XXXIX, Chapter 1).

Some people would prefer, of course, to hear the whole story of Carthage told consecutively and completely. You can do it one way, or the other. Diodorus Siculus is another historian who lamented that you can't have your cake and eat it too:

"At this point one might censure the art of history, when he observes that in life many different actions are consummated at the same time, but that it is necessary for those who record them to interrupt the narrative and to parcel out different times to simultaneous events contrary to nature, with the result that, although the actual experience of the events contains the truth, yet the written record, deprived of such power, while presenting copies of the events, falls far short of arranging them as they really were."

(Siculus, Diodorus. Library of History. Book XX, Chapter 43.7. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Locations 24733-24736).)

Allowing the gospel authors the normal freedom other authors automatically enjoy would in and of itself eliminate a passel of 'Bible contradictions.' There are four gospels, and they are not mimeographs of each other; while there are many similarities, there are also differences. Bingo, say the 'critics;' a 'contradiction!' How basic is selection of incident to authorial freedom and autonomy? Take for example the raising of Lazarus; only John tells the story; why the others omit it is thus left to speculation. Did it have something to do with the fact that Lazarus' restored life was at hazard? Was the incident deliberately kept quiet for his protection? See how it works: "Since then it cannot well be conceived that an incident of this kind, if it really happened, could remain foreign to the general tradition, and hence unknown to the author of the first gospel: the fact of this author's ignorance of the incident gives rise to a suspicion that it did not really happen. . .If the authors or collectors of the three first gospels knew of this, they could not, for more than one reason, avoid introducing it into their writings." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Kindle location 14125). We do not, in fact, know whether or not Matthew, Mark and Luke were unaware of this event, and we do not know why, unlike John, they prefer to focus on events outside Judaea. Mindlessly repeating this mantra cannot establish a 'Bible contradiction:' 'if the author had been aware of this incident, he would certainly have included it; therefore the author who does recount it made it up.' You know this how? "[T]hey could not. . .avoid introducing it" — really? These considerations cannot prove "that it did not really happen," only that, for whatever reason, an author did not choose to include it. Why is it constitutionally impossible for these types to say, 'We don't know?' Because some people just cannot ask a question.

Incidentally, the story of the withered fig tree is a favorite of some Muslim apologists, who believe it demonstrates ignorance on the part of the Lord. Why didn't He know it was not the season for figs, if He is, as Christians claim, omniscient? This argument is somewhat overblown; in that climate, according to Josephus, figs were found on the trees a good long time:

"One may call this place the ambition of nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together; it is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruit beyond men’s expectation, but preserves them a great while; it supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually, during ten months of the year and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most fertile fountain. The people of the country call it Capharnaum." (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book III, Chapter 10, Section 8).

Since Judaea is even warmer than Galilee, these 'preserved' fruits which remained hanging on the tree might be expected at almost any time, even if it was not the season for new figs to appear. The entire story carries a symbolical meaning which cuts more to the heart of the matter than concerns about whether figs could or should have been found at that season.


Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Plain

This has long been a favored 'Bible contradiction:' "The reports of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew and Luke, are contradictory and, in part, irreconcilable." (H. L. Mencken, A Treatise on the Gods, Kindle location 2220). Matthew and Luke are assumed to be reporting the same event, though this is not stated in the gospels, and therefore every differing detail becomes a 'contradiction.'

It goes far beyond that nowadays. An oft-heard source of 'Bible contradictions' is the various occasions on which the evangelists report that Jesus told a particular story or issued a given injunction. This is, in fact, one of the commonest means by which these people 'prove' that the gospels contain fictitious material. If the same phrases are heard in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount as in Luke's Sermon on the Plain, then we are to conclude the Sermon on the Mount is an "editorial device," a fiction invented by Matthew, not "historical." See:

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." (Matthew 7:24-25).

"Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock." (Luke 6:47-48).

  • "It is unlikely that Luke has broken up and scattered a single connected sermon. The most obvious explanation for what we see before us is rather than Matthew constructed the Sermon by grouping together elements of Jesus' teaching which had come from different points in his ministry. In other words the Sermon on the Mount was almost certainly never delivered by Jesus as a complete sermon. . .It follows that the impression given by Matthew that the sermon was delivered on a single occasion is in fact not historical. But neither was it intended to be!"
  • (James D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus, p. 8).

Certainly the same, or very nearly the same, information has been given by both authors; Q.E.D., Matthew invented the Sermon on the Mount. Or maybe not! What if, like every other public speaker who has ever lived and travelled on the face of this earth, Jesus recycled the same material and reused His best lines for presentation to more than one audience? What if the 'Kingdom of God' stump speech given in one place had more than a passing resemblance to the same talk given elsewhere? What if He stayed on theme and on message; what if His parables, maxims and lessons were not so easily missed that a one-time absence assured that you would never hear it?

Benjamin Franklin felt it was an advantage of an itinerant preacher, versus the pastor who finds himself looking out over the same crowd every Sunday, that he could perfect his material and hone his presentation by repeat performances. He encountered the celebrated evangelist George Whitefield, who tried to convert him, without success: "He used, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but he never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard." (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, Kindle location 1898). If we adopt the principle of uniformitarianism, often advertised but seldom delivered, we would wonder, if modern-day itinerant preachers are notorious for delivering the same material at different stops along the line, as Benjamin Franklin rather waspishly noted, then why would first century preachers have felt the need to compose new material for each new occasion?:

"By hearing him often, I could distinguish easily between sermons newly composed and those which he had often preached in the course of his travels. His delivery of the latter was so improved by frequent repetitions that every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice, was so perfectly well turned and well placed that, without being interested in the subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse; a pleasure of much the same kind with that received from an excellent piece of music. This is an advantage itinerant preachers have over those who are stationary, as the latter cannot well improve their delivery of a sermon by so many rehearsals." (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, Kindle location 1914).

An advantage they have today, but not back then? Who, whose recollections go back that far, can forget the rapture, the delighted laughter with which Nancy Reagan used to great her husband's jokes on the campaign trail, which she had no doubt heard hundreds of times before? That's hard to do! But all public speakers repeat themselves: "It is totally gratuitous and unrealistic (and quite opposed to our own normal ministry experience) to decide that Jesus could only have spoken any given teaching on the one occasion, and then for us to deduce from this assumption that if any two pieces of teaching (often dubbed 'doublets') look similar, they must be variants of something said on that one occasion." (The Progressive Publication of Matthew, by B. Ward Powers, p. 38). This is yet another case where our own daily experience of the world shows how fatuous are these assumptions and procedures.

Or is it possible that, while it is well known that modern politicians and preachers repeat themselves, no one in antiquity had yet invented this behavior? The pagan rhetorician Isocrates, anticipating the cat-call, 'you're repeating yourself,' explained why it would be 'foolish' to refrain:

"Do not be surprised if I am found saying something which you have heard before; for one statement I may perhaps chance upon unwittingly, another I may consciously employ, if it is pertinent to the discussion. Certainly I should be foolish if, although I see others using my thoughts, I alone should refrain from employing what I have previously said." (Isocrates, Letter to the Children of Jason, 6-9, p. 439 Loeb edition).

The other orators are free to recycle Isocrates' earlier material, to their benefit; Isocrates alone is barred from repeating his best lines? Why, exactly? At least the only criticism the pagan Isocrates was likely to encounter was, 'you're repeating yourself;' not, 'you're repeating yourself, therefore you don't exist!'

Notice that Dunn's proof rests upon the assumption that everything Jesus said, He said once and no more than once. This assumption, if stated, is so obviously and patently false,— it is absurd,— that I cannot imagine why anyone would give assent to it. No modern-day politician followed around by the TV cameras ever delivers completely fresh material at each successive stop on the campaign trail, even though it's easy enough to 'catch' them recycling and re-gifting nowadays; so what was supposed to inhibit a first century Palestinian politician from giving His best material on more than one occasion? Though there is no earthly teacher so lacking in wisdom and prudence as never to employ repetition, without which learning does not take place, the Teacher never once repeated Himself? And why not. . .?

While it seems most likely these are two iterations of a standard 'Kingdom of Heaven' stump speech, there is no lack of commentators who point out that there is, as it happens, a natural geological formation which incorporates both a level place and a mountain: "Was the setting for this sermon a mountain or a plain? Actually, it was probably both. Jesus must have delivered His Sermon on the Mount on a plateau on a mountain. . . A large level place would have been needed to accommodate the crowds." (A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George Knight, Kindle location 3832). But in most cases like this, where the evangelists record similar but not identical sayings, the likeliest explanation is the simplest and most familiar, "Frequently, their wording of Jesus' teachings will differ because they are recording what Jesus taught on somewhat similar issues on different occasions, derived from different eyewitnesses." (B. Ward Powers, The Progressive Publication of Matthew, p. 339). If Jesus was a real, historic personage, a travelling teacher, then the idea that everything He said He said once and once only, is simply not possible.


The Twelve

The evangelists report that Jesus hand-picked twelve of His followers to be a select group commissioned to judge the twelve tribes of Israel:

"So Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'" (Matthew 19:28).

One of the twelve, however, turned traitor and was judged to have forfeited his place. Peter, quoting Psalm 109, says "'Let another take his office.’" (Acts 1:20). The candidate to take Judas's vacated place must be a witness to the resurrection, indeed to the ascension:

“Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22).

The man chosen by lot, Matthias, met these criteria. We do not hear about further elections to fill vacancies amongst the Twelve, owing to their death by martyrdom or other causes. Perhaps because these others were faithful unto death, and did not commit treason as did Judas, they were held not to have forfeited their place. In any event, after a certain point in history, no candidates could have been chosen who met Peter's criteria, and so we do not hear of the 'Twelve' continuing on into the ensuing centuries as a Christian leadership board.

So where's the Bible contradiction? Here:

"Even the appearance 'to Peter and the twelve' is not without problems relative to the later Gospel accounts, since the betrayal by Judas and his subsequent death (Matt. 27:3-10; Acts 1:15-26) mean that all the appearances in the Gospels are to only eleven of the original disciples, at most." (L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, p. 119).

He is referring to 1 Corinthians 15:5, where Paul, listing resurrection appearances, includes one to "the twelve." Shouldn't he have said, 'to the eleven,' realizing that Judas' defection and subsequent suicide had created a vacancy? Although this vacancy was subsequently filled by someone who in fact had seen the risen Lord, at the time Matthias saw the risen Lord, he was not yet one of the twelve!

Actually, I doubt that's even the correct usage. Who has ever talked about 'the eleven'? This is a number with no resonance in Israelite history. What is the correct rule, when the name of a governing body incorporates the number of sitting members? Should the ideal number be given, the number by original design, or the actual, with vacancies subtracted? To find our Bible contradiction we are assuming the latter, but I suspect the former is actually correct. Otherwise certain statements one would normally wish to make about vacancies would be self-refuting. See:

The Romans established a board of 'Ten Men' (decemviri) when they wished to adopt Solon's Athenian laws for use at Rome; their work product was the Twelve Tables. Now, if owing to death, illness or resignation, one seat becomes vacant, do we say, a.) 'there is a vacancy on the ten men,' or b.) 'there is a vacancy on the nine men,' updating the name of the institution to reflect its actual constitution at the moment? The problem with b.) is that it's self-refuting; there is no vacancy on the board of nine men, because there still are nine of 'em! Even if the number of surviving, sitting legislators goes down to zero, one will never be able to find a vacancy, because plainly there is not nor could be a vacancy on the board of zero men. But this is counter-productive, because we would wish to fill the vacancy, by whatever means was provided in the enabling legislation which established this board. Therefore 'ten men' is correct. And so it's 'twelve,' not 'eleven.'


Bart Ehrman

With You

This 'Bible contradiction' revolves around the difference between these verses:

"For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always." (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).

"Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:20).

Get it? First He says He won't always be with them, then he says He will! The pagan critic Macarius Magnes was responding to thought he'd hit the jackpot with this one:

"Moreover, as we have found another inconsequent little utterance spoken by Christ to His disciples, we have decided not to remain silent about this either. It is where He says, "The poor ye have always, but me ye have not always." The reason for this statement is as follows: A certain woman brought an alabaster box of ointment and poured it on His head. And when they saw it, and complained of the unseasonableness of the action, He said, "Why do ye trouble the woman ? She hath wrought a good work on me. The poor ye have always, but me ye have not always." For they raised no small murmuring, that the ointment was not rather sold for a great price, and given to the poor for expenditure on their hunger. Apparently as the result of this inopportune conversation, He uttered this nonsensical saying, declaring that He was not always with them, although elsewhere He confidently affirmed and said to them, "I shall be with you until the end of the world" (Matt, xxviii. 20). But when He was disturbed about the ointment, He denied that He was always with them." (The Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, Book III, Chapter VII).

This is a typical 'Bible contradiction,' because there is a verbal contradiction here, but anyone at all could tell you how to resolve it. Are both statements true? Yes. In a sense, Jesus is no longer with His people. Those who interacted with Him as He walked the dusty hills of Galilee were able to reach out and touch Him: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-3). You could even pour ointment on His feet if that was your bent. But this is no longer the case; you can't look Him up and knock on His door, because He has ascended into heaven to await His second coming. So then He will leave us orphans? No: "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18). He has promised that He and His Father will dwell with us: "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23). This is through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

This is not a bare metaphor, as if we might tell a departing friend, 'I will be with you in spirit,' meaning no more than we will on occasion direct our thoughts and feelings his way. God gets in our head in a way no human friend can: "The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1). Since both statements are true, they cannot really contradict; they might seem to do so, but there can be no real contradiction between two true statements. In a sense, Jesus is no longer with us, and in a sense, He is, as promised in this new covenant. He has never left His followers, giving them daily guidance, protection, direction and fellowship. And so we must conclude this 'Bible contradiction' is as Mickey Mouse as the others.