I’ve Heard It Said the Gospels Are Full of Contradictions

This article is part of the I’ve Heard It Said series.

A Challenge to Think More Deeply

It is often said that the Gospels are full of contradictions. And I think that’s often said in a context where there’s a sort of battle between two sets of ideas, and people are trying to use whether or not there are contradictions in the Gospels as part of that battle.

And my reply to that is, of course, that we’ve got four sources about Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and whenever you’ve got multiple sources about anything (any event), there are going to be differences, and often significant differences, of emphasis. But as a further element, I think Jesus, as a teacher, actually used paradox—that is, sometimes he used statements that appear contrary. He said that he had come into the world for judgment. He also said that he had not come to judge the world. And I think he said both of those things. And he's saying that to provoke us to think more deeply about what he means.

Can We Trust the Gospels?

Peter J. Williams

Written for the skeptic, the scholar, and everyone in between, this introduction to the historical and theological reliability of the four Gospels helps readers better understand the arguments in favor of trusting them.

So what I like to do with this question is to take it away from this almost culture war that you can have about this and slow down and really think about what’s going on. And when we do that, I don’t think that there are any differences between the four Gospels that mean that they can’t all be fully true.

There are questions about how you fit one bit together with another, but none of those are a defeater. What I mean is a defeater would be things that you can’t possibly fit together. For instance, if the Gospels had said that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in one Gospel and that he was born in Egypt in another Gospel, those things couldn’t fit together. And there’s nothing of that kind we find within the Gospels.

Rather, you find smaller things. For instance, there might be an event where there are either one or two people who are demon-possessed, or one or two blind people who are dealt with by Jesus. And those sorts of differences that people find are not of the kind that can’t possibly be reconciled. I think if you take a generous approach to the Gospels, you can see that everything is able to be true.

Peter J. Williams is the author of Can We Trust the Gospels?.

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