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Contradictions and Contradictions: Final Response to Matt Firth

Matt: thanks for your additional comments.   I’ve given my replies below.  At the outset I should say that I’m not sure I understand what a “genuine contradiction” would look like for you.    If you have two authors who at least appear to contradict each other, surely the best explanation will not be one that:

  • Suggests an author / speaker really doesn’t mean what he says but means something else.
  • Suggests an option that has never ever happened, to our knowledge.

With that in mind, I turn to your new explanations.  I’ll respond in green.


Thanks very much, Bart, for these interesting responses. I will get straight into explaining why I still don’t think you have shown that the examples you have offered are genuine contradictions.

In the case of Luke 24 you say that the grammar of the Greek indicates that ‘Luke is extremely careful to date the entire sequence of chapter 24, at the beginning of each major paragraph. It all happens on the day of the resurrection.’ But we know from Acts, Luke’s sequel, that Luke certainly does not think that all of Luke 24 happened on the day of the resurrection. He says in Acts 1:3 and the following verses that after Jesus’ suffering and resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles over a forty-day period, and after that he was taken up. This means that Luke is well aware that Luke 24:50-53 did not happen on the day of the resurrection, despite your assertion that the grammar makes it clear that all of the events of Luke 24 did happen on the day of the resurrection.

What this indicates is that the Greek grammatical usage here is much more flexible and much less rigid than you make out in relation to what it is saying about the temporal chain of events. It also indicates that Luke is happy to leave out descriptions of intervening events which he knows to have happened. The implication of this is that there are a number of places in the flow of Luke 24 where an intervening trip to Galilee could have occurred. Given that the Greek is much more flexible than you make out, I still maintain that the excursion could have happened between Luke 24:35 and Luke 24:36. But it is also possible that it happened between Luke 24:43 and Luke 24:44. There is therefore no necessary contradiction.

Here I see that you don’t actually address my objections but bring in a new factor: Luke appears to date the as ascension to the day of the resurrection in Luke but to forty days later in Acts, and so he could not have meant what he said in Luke.

Your logic seems to be that if a person contradicts himself, he must not mean what he says because he wouldn’t contradict himself.  Is that it?  I.e., are you saying …

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  1. Avatar
    wostraub  May 3, 2019

    Matt Firth is not swayed, and neither is Bart Ehrman. I think Ehrman won hands down with Bible facts and logic, but Firth is not convinced. He and his fellow believers will never be convinced. As for the timing issue, claims that what happened between verse x and verse x+1 can always be plausibly expanded to include any convenient event whatsoever.

    My claim is that there is no metric that everyone can agree on that leads to the truth in these matters. Debates such as this do not change anyone’s mind, although they strengthen one’s convictions that their beliefs are correct anyway. Religion is exactly like today’s politics, which is why neither subject can be politely discussed at the dinner table.

  2. epicurus
    epicurus  May 3, 2019

    It would be interesting to see Matt argue that there are contradictions in the Koran or Book of Mormon, if he does in fact believe there are. Then we would get to see what he believes a contradiction actually is, and how he argues his case to show it.

    • Avatar
      sotteson  May 10, 2019

      Having previously been a Mormon, I can tell you Mormon apologists make the same kinds of arguments about the Book of Mormon and other Mormon truth claims. This back and forth has gone pretty much like expected.

  3. Avatar
    smackemyackem  May 3, 2019

    //For example, suppose a large percentage of the population believes that an American president was born in Kenya, and another large percentage thinks he was born in Hawaii. Are you saying that this is not a contradiction, because different people living at the same time would not believe different things?//


  4. Avatar
    cestmarrant  May 3, 2019

    Totally fascinating. I love all the detail, even though I’m not a scholar, and don’t read Greek. Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    Bkjar  May 3, 2019

    It’s rather difficult to convince someone who has religious conviction, that there are errors and counter dictions in the Bible, they simply invoke the Devine. The errors and counter dictions are part of God’s plan us lowly mortals don’t understand.

  6. Avatar
    vienna1791  May 3, 2019

    Well, if I ever had a single doubt that these particular passages discussed over the course of this debate did NOT contradict, it is dead and buried.

    I was really hoping to understand logically why many hold to scriptural infallibility and inerrancy. I’m certain now that it has nothing to do with the text itself, but with religious dogma.

    One more thing!! IF I EVER give a sermon and I saw Dr. Ehrman among the congregation, I’d just dismiss with a prayer– I’d be too nervous and would second guess everything that would come out of my mouth.

  7. Avatar
    Apocryphile  May 3, 2019

    What’s interesting about all this to me is that your back and forth can be distilled down to one thing – that to both of you, the question of contradictions in scripture *matters*. As Bart suggests, the ancients apparently didn’t get that worked up about contradictions, and probably didn’t even notice them in their own works, but we certainly can and do today. For Rev. Firth, trying to show that they aren’t really in scripture is important since he needs to believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. For Bart, it’s important to point them out wherever they appear in order to demonstrate the opposite – that the Bible is the imperfect work of human writers alone.

    The one overarching theme in this entire discussion is that both of you are inevitably working within a modern, post-enlightenment mental model where we like to separate and label things, both physical and mental, into discrete categories and like things to be either yes or no, black or white, good or bad as much as possible. Either the contradictions are there or they aren’t, ….. (right?) 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  May 5, 2019

      The only reason it matters to me is that the people who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible often put it to horrible uses that generate considerable harm (using the Bible as support). If there weren’t such people, I actually wouldn’t care a toss!

      • Avatar
        Bewilderbeast  May 7, 2019

        So true. And the kind, decent preachers enable it. They believe they are ‘not part of the (say) child abusers’ but their very presence, their inaction, their non-use of the law and their defence of (among other things) ‘biblical inerrancy’ allows, empowers and prolongs the abuse. And the abuse is mental, too (‘Oh, your baby died? Well, Jesus has a plan for him and he’s in a better place’) is a permissible comment in some (horrid) circles!!

    • Avatar
      Apocryphile  May 5, 2019

      As an addendum to my own comment, I would like to say that (at least to me) what is interesting is whether an episode from the gospels can be judged to be historical or not. If the same story appears in more than one gospel, what is interesting to me are not the contradictions in details or timing of events, but whether there is perhaps a kernel of historical truth behind the story.

      • Avatar
        Jayredinger  May 6, 2019

        If the authors were copying the same source, then naturally the stories would be similar, that doesn’t tell us anything about the legitimacy of the stories.

        • Avatar
          Apocryphile  May 7, 2019

          Quite correct – the same story appearing in two or more gospels doesn’t *necessarily* tell us anything about whether it is based on an actual historical event. As Bart could tell you, multiple attestation alone doesn’t determine the likelihood of this, but it is one criterion scholars employ.

  8. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  May 4, 2019

    All I can say is looking for logic is sometimes an exercise in futility. Reasoning with people who believe the sun rises in the east is hard; with those who also believe God made it rise there, is usually impossible – they’re often not actually seeking answers.

  9. Avatar
    patim  May 6, 2019

    Excellent stuff. Thousands of people, including myself, have found freedom from religion due to the hard work like people like Bart. If the foundation crumbles, the whole building falls. Many many thanks Bart. I would love to see more of these with the likes of Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, Lee Strobel, etc etc

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2019

      Yes, it’s been interesting! If there are any other fund-raising efforts proposed, I’m certainly open to it!

  10. Avatar
    AstaKask  May 6, 2019

    Not to be disrespectful, but this reminds me of a couple of nerds who discuss whether there are contradictions in the MCU movies.

  11. Avatar
    joncopeland  May 6, 2019

    I enjoyed this debate and hope you do more like it.

  12. Avatar
    brotherjmac  June 2, 2019

    So Matthew 28:16 shows the disciples being with Jesus meeting him in Galilee, conveniently not a more disclosed location, but Galilee nonetheless. Verse 17 in Matthew, And Jesus came and spoke to them… what we know as the Great Commission. I don’t think we have to accept that the Great Commission was delivered in Galilee. That could have been in Jerusalem. Then in Acts 1:4, Jesus commanded them not to leave Jerusalem. How do we know what transpired before they were in Jerusalem when Jesus told them not to leave? If Luke 24 only describes one day from resurrection to ascension, what can we make of Luke 24:29 that it was near the end of the day. Verse 33 says they rose up that very hour. What hour? Is it morning the next day? Still later in the same evening? Maybe I’ve missed something that makes one side more conclusive. I see contradictions elsewhere in the gospels, but this is one I see less provable as a contradiction.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      “That very hour” means right away — it doesn’t mean the next morning. Also, not, Jesus tells them not to leave Jerusalem on that very day (of his resurrection), and they are still in Jerusalem forty days later. In Matthew he doesn’t say not to leave; they are told precisely to leave. And they do leave. Seems pretty straightforward to me. In Matthew they go to Galilee; in Luke they never do (until, possibly, after the ascension).

  13. Avatar
    Daveppatrick@gmail.com  July 23, 2019

    Any chance of having other Greek scholars weigh-in on if Matt’s treatment of the texts are worthy of scholarship or not? The rest of us mortals might benefit from 3 or 4 scholars saying “yea, he’s full crap” or the opposite of true.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2019

      I don’t think I could possibly get 3 or 4 who’d be willing to put in the time. I can’t think of any critical scholar who would think he had handled the Greek texts well. He’s not to be faulted, I suppose, since he’s not a Greek scholar. But still….

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