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Contradictions in the Gospels – Rev Matthew Firth’s Response

Thank-you very much, Bart, for your opening gambit. It has given me a most enjoyable afternoon of delving deeply into the Gospel texts, and I really appreciate the written format of this debate, which allows space for considered reflection, study and learning, rather than the rhetorical tennis of some other formats of debate which, while they produce spectacle, rarely achieve deep insight either for the proponents or the onlookers.

I will now take the cases in the order in which you proposed them.

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Why Are the Gospels Anonymous?
Contradictions in the Gospels



  1. JulieGraff
    JulieGraff  April 16, 2019

    Rev Firth, I beleive you are aware of Jewish Exegesis…

    I will not speak of the first 3 points for now as for me the 4th was calling my attention…

    You may give a plausible explanation for the delay from leaving one place for the other, I still find your explanation thin… but I would like to get your thought not on the word but on the spirit of it… let’s dive deeper in the Pardes (Peshat, Remez, Derash, Sod) as Jesus was a Master of the Torah (he was teaching the Torah wasen’t he not, with authority!)

    In Mathiew their is an urgency to go to Galilee (what is the spirit of that text?) were as in Luke it is clear, sooo sooo clear that it is relating to Chavouot (the gift of the Torah)? I’m not talking about timelines here, I’m talking about the Spirit of the text! How are they both connected, how are they not contradicting themselves?

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    Wondless  April 16, 2019

    So you are saying by omission anything could have happened and since no one can say it did not, then it is possible it did? That is what I been trying to convince all my family and friends about my alien telepathic contacts I have experienced over the past few years!!

  3. Robert
    Robert  April 17, 2019

    Telescoping, abbreviating, blurting out, recording snippets, levitate wife-laundering, temporo-spatial discontinuities via Dr Who’s TARDIS … INNERANCY!

    Only problem being, in order to spare a magical abstract idea about a collection of texts, one must destroy the meaning of each individual text.

    It is comparable to Paul’s teaching about Jesus being allowed to eventually cover up and smother Jesus’ own teachings about how to live. Paul at least thought he was also preserving Jesus’ teachings within the communities he was building. But once we had the magical perfect text, we no longer need the communities to whom and for which they were written.

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    Konrad Kurzacz  April 17, 2019

    If we were to believe this narrative, it would mean that Jesus must have been born well before 4 BC, the date of Herod’s death, and only assuming that this narrative is happening in the last year of Herod’s life. Maybe earlier?
    I wonder how many “years” it is? Three? Seven? Was Jesus already in his fifties when he died?
    Does this mean that for 2000 years we have been using the wrong calendar?

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    fedcarroll77  April 17, 2019

    Well documented and written post Reverend. As a former Christian I whole-heartedly embraces concepts like these described above. Especially on point 2 of the genealogies. However I have come to change my mind on this part due to lack of sufficient documents and too much propositions with no grounding. I think the theory you proposed is s common one but yet leaves more questions than answers.

    Take for instance back in the Hebrew Bible we have absolutely no recordings of David’s son Nathan, other than a passage mentioning him as the son of David along with others. Nothing in Chronicles or Kings describing his lineage. Unless we have Apocrapha works indicating so, I see this harmonization baseless. This is in my view only from my studying of the texts. Another questions which comes to my mind is where did the author of Luke/Acts get his information about the genealogy? His work was written down after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple which I believe that was where birth records and lineage listings were stored. If it was oral tradition, then we run into the problem of ancient orators who made up things to captivate the audiences for a more pleasurable reaction. Questions like these race through my mind when I hear theories like yours because they leave the reader/listener with more questions than closure. I respect your position and your theological understanding of the Christian New Testament, but I think you and others are grabbing at straws on this point. I think we all should leave the stories at face value with contradictions and all without trying to mesh it together into one story. Remember what John Dominic Crossan says frequently “…these are gospels according to such and such, not the gospel of Jesus or according to Jesus…”

    I’m not looking for a rebuttal to my comment, just wanted to comment on my opinion of this pointt.

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    mikezamjara  April 17, 2019

    I think that when we talk about contradictions in written texts, the real question should be “do the explanations offered to solve the apparent contradiction are more probable than the statement that the text is really contradictory?. The explanations that the reverend is giving are not supported by any evidence (they are just imaginative assertions) so the contradicton statement (which is supported by the existence of the text itself and the mechanisms of oral transmition which aways renders contradictory testimonials as can be proved by many psichological and sociological studies) is more probable at the moment. The revenrend must put more effort to bring strong evidence to support his “solutions” to beat Dr Ehrman.

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    godspell  April 17, 2019

    It seems to me that Reverend Firth is presenting potential explanations as to WHY there are contradictions in the gospels, not proving that there are none. This is not the point of the exercise at hand. There can be conflicts in differing stories of the same event (there almost always are), but even if you can prove for a fact the event happened (which isn’t true for anything described in the gospels), that doesn’t change the fact that the accounts differ.

    If the gospels are infallible representations of actual events, as willed by a celestial power, then less equivocal terms and phrases would have been employed and literary license would have been revoked by divine edict. If they are, in fact, just recollections of past happenings by four individuals, written over a period of years, and the authors may not have witnessed any of those events (could not possibly have witnessed all of them), then we must take it for granted that contradictions do exist, and we can’t take any of them as incontrovertible evidence that a particular event happened in a particular way. We can believe one version, or none, but not all.

    If you have to explain away contradictions, that means there are contradictions to explain. The matter is related to the texts themselves, not possible interpretations of said texts. Either they agree on all points or they do not. They clearly do not.

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    turbopro  April 17, 2019

    You say, “tomayto,” I say, “tomahto.”

    As with some apologetics, it’s a semantic issue.

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    Robby  April 17, 2019

    Good examples of the gyrations and hoops that apologists have to jump through and manuver to try and explain contradictions. I did the same as a former apologist at a large church. Instead of letting the text speak for itself, they have to basically say, “let me explain to you what God ment to say.”

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    Tm3  April 17, 2019

    Reverend Firth,
    To me you are indicating that there are no contradictions as long as the quoted areas don’t mean what they say. If I apply that logic to the entirety of the Gospels then there is no reliability to anything written in them. It is simply not probable that four different authors with different written sources, theologies and oral traditions would write the same story.

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    darren  April 17, 2019

    It’s great that it’s raising money for a good cause, but this is as pointless an exercise as I can imagine.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 19, 2019

      Ah, I can think of lots more pointless things. I have a good imagination!

      • Avatar
        flcombs  April 19, 2019

        I understand what was meant, but I don’t it is pointless to air different views such as this from time to time. It is a good reminder if the specifics of the arguments from time to time.

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    Gary  April 17, 2019

    It only takes a creative imagination to harmonize any two seemingly contradictory statements. Christians, Mormons, and Muslims are particularly good at this ploy when it comes to the massive quantity of apparent contradictions in their holy books. Here is one of my favorites:

    Educated, intelligent Christians long ago recognized that the scientific evidence is just too overwhelming to continue believing the Genesis Creation Story literally. But how do they harmonize this fact with the statements by Jesus about the Creation story? Jesus certainly spoke as if he believed in a literal Adam and Eve. Clever solution: Jesus knew that Adam was not a real historical figure but he spoke as if he were to fit in with the culture of his day. Or…Jesus voluntarily gave up his divine omniscience while here on earth, adopting the beliefs of his culture, even if the culture was wrong.

    Oy veh!

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    fishician  April 17, 2019

    This kind of convoluted reasoning that stretches reasonableness to the breaking point is one of the reasons I had to abandon my previous views about the Bible. I think that many people can keep their faith better by recognizing the human qualities of the Bible rather than sacrificing their common sense to an unnecessary standard of divine inerrancy.

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    David91  April 17, 2019

    “Even if this is not the case, Matthew’s common practice of ‘telescoping’ or abbreviating the stories about Jesus (a common and very acceptable practice among ancient writers) can help us to see what is going on. Mark has Jairus pleading with Jesus to restore his daughter, then there is the intervening healing of the woman subject to bleeding, then messengers come to report that the daughter is dead, then Jesus goes to restore the daughter. Matthew abbreviates the story by cutting out the arrival of the messengers, and has, in one reading of the Greek, Jairus reporting his daughter’s death. Thus a two stage process has been trimmed down to one stage. Given that this was an acceptable ancient practice, and given that both accounts would have been circulating at the time, there is no sense of a particular problem here”.
    Well for me personally it is a problem and here is why: It is like saying that ‘Hitler died by suicide’ and then you simply say ‘Hitler died’. True both have the same endings that Hitler died but here one is cutting important historical information. In the case of Jairus it is used to make more emotional but in reality he altered the story of what could have really happened.

    With regards to genealogies, I can not comment about the legal aspects of the time because I haven’t any readings yet it seems surely to me it can’t be both of them are right because the names are different.

    “The omission of a backstory does not mean that there was no backstory, especially in the context of ancient writers being very happy about trimming out material that we might think is vital.” If this is true than the person who wrote Matthew simply did not believe the stories he knew about how Mary got pregnant. To omit such details that would help to beef up the divinity of Jesus means that to Matthew either these stories were false or simply he did not know about them.

    I hope Professor Bart can correct me in this. I plan to write more on the following points.

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    brubel  April 17, 2019

    Does Matthew not deal with Herod the Great and Luke deal with the census of Quirinius? I thought Herod the Great died before Quirinius could have done his census? Could someone please clear up this issue, if I am mistaken?

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      Evan  May 11, 2019

      I agree. Matt 2:1 says Jesus was born during reign of Herod the king, which is 4 BCE or earlier. Luke 2:2 say Jesus was born when Quirinius did his census, which was 6 CE, ten years after Herod’s death. That by itself should put to rest any debate about whether there are contradictions in the gospels.

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    Phil  April 17, 2019

    Rev Firth – great debate, thank you and Dr Ehrmann too for taking part.

    You deal with the apparent resurrection contradictions by speculating that in theory, with some movement up and down the country, the Galilee and Jerusalem events can all find a place in the timeline. But you have not answered the actual contradiction, which is that in Matthew 28 7 Jesus explicitly gives the instruction for the disciples to go to Galilee where they will see him, and in v 16 they did, whereas in Luke 24 49 Jesus explicitly tells them to stay in Jerusalem.
    If this is this not a contradiction, I don’t know what would be.

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    jrauch  April 17, 2019

    I started by reading Rev. Matthew Firth’s response to #3. He states “The words ‘as soon as’ and ‘straight to’ and ‘directly’ are not there” yet prior to this comment he states “and another dream prompts him to take the family back to Nazareth” yet the word “back” to Nazareth is not there. He is trying to have us believe the author is saying that they had already lived in Nazareth whereas the writing implies that they are going Nazareth for the first time because of what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

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    jrauch  April 17, 2019

    Responding Rev. Firth’s comment to #1 “it’s possible that we see Mark and Matthew focusing on different snippets of what Jairus said.”. This sounds like a very human explanation (consistent with a very human book – the Bible). I would have thought that Rev. Firth would believe that God was the author of both Mark and Matthew. Would God focus on different snippets of what Jairus said?

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    nichael  April 17, 2019

    If we accept the argument that the apparent contradiction in the story of Jairus’s daughter can be resolved by assuming that Matthew has “telescoped” his version of the story, doesn’t this lead to a rather more serious problem?

    That is, we can argue that one source has “telescoped” his version, but still hold that both sources are nevertheless attempting to “*report* the same event”. All well and good, but this doesn’t avoid the fundamental problem. Rather in this case it’s not an issue of simply rephrasing a report. Instead –as Dr Ehrman points out– Matthew and Luke are, ultimately, “*telling* different stories”.

    The real issue here is that if we accept this as evidence of Matthew’s practice of “telescoping” (i.e of his altering the details of a story for stylistic considerations), doesn’t this necessarily require that we must abandon claims of the strict historical accuracy of Matthew? If we accept that he has made these kinds of changes to his report about an event in this case, how can we be sure that he hasn’t done it (multiple times?) elsewhere?

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    Chasdot  April 17, 2019

    I wonder at what point we collectively decide that one debater or the other may be violating Ockham’s razor?

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