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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. Avatar
    scissors  April 17, 2019

    There’s an awful lot of supposing going on in Firth’s response on the genealogies. It’s instructive that neither Matt or Luke mention either levrite marriages or the idea that one is writing a different type of genealogy. The explanation is pretty ad hoc and seems to require a lot of tap dancing.

    • Avatar
      nichael  April 19, 2019

      As an aside:

      While it’s correct that it’s not in the context of the genealogies, the concept of Levirate marriage is explicitly mentioned in the story of Jesus’s discussion with the Saducees about the seven brothers (Mt 22:23-33, Mk 12.18-27, Lk 20:27-40.

  2. Avatar
    Hngerhman  April 17, 2019

    Two reporters from the same newspaper show up to the scene of a car accident where there is an overturned car, a fire hydrant spewing water, a dead dog and an agitated eyewitness who is the dog’s owner. The owner tells his account of the wreck to both reporters simultaneously.

    The next morning on page 1 of the paper the following story written by Reporter A appears:
    – The car came speeding into the intersection
    – The car swerved but was too late to avoid hitting the dog
    – The swerving car hit the hydrant and flipped several times before settling

    On page 2 the following story written by Reporter B appears:
    – The car came speeding into the intersection
    – The car lost control, hit the hydrant and flipped
    – While flipping, the car struck the dog before coming to settle

    Later an iPhone video surfaces that shows the dog’s owner giving his testimony to the reporters. Due to his emotional state, the owner actually recounted the story twice, once exactly the way Reporter A told it, and once exactly the way Reporter B told it.

    The eyewitness’s account is self-contradictory, each of story A and B are incomplete, at least one story is incorrect, and together story A and B are contradictory.

    You would not subscribe to this newspaper.

  3. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  April 17, 2019

    1. Sounds plausible, so maybe?
    2. It’s quite creative, but okay.
    3, 4. It’s so much easier to think that the Gospel writers heard different stories about Jesus and wrote their own truth.

  4. Avatar
    RayC  April 18, 2019

    On the birth narratives I just want to be clear on your position. Verse 30 from the NRSV ” When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” If I understand correctly, between the two words in verse 39″…Lord, they…” you claim that all that Matthew narrates about fleeing to Egypt, the slaughter, attempted return to Bethlehem, and then finally to Nazareth occurs. Your position is that it is possible to avoid contradiction. You also claim that that it doesn’t say they return directly to Nazareth. But, equally, it doesn’t say anything that Matthew says either, which would render your position even more untenable as the plain reading says they returned when all that was required by the law was finished. Your comments?

  5. Avatar
    jdub3125  April 18, 2019

    Rev Firth, do you think that both genealogies were written by the original authors, as opposed to having been added later? Also, for those of us who were taught that Jesus had no human father, should we interpret the lines as only “alleged”, not for real? Personally I don’t think the lines add any value to the overriding message of the NT anyway.

  6. Avatar
    Buckner  April 18, 2019

    “In terms of the genealogies, I will be much briefer and I will simply propose a solution.” Am I wrong in thinking this argument commits the ad hock fallacy?

  7. Avatar
    sjh0278  April 18, 2019

    Mostly expected line of responses from Rev Firth but as experts’ debates usually do, attract me to flip-flop.

  8. Avatar
    forthfading  April 18, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    If Matthew had Mark as a source, why would Matthew knowingly write a contradictory account of the daughter dying? Do historians assume that the author of Matthew simply trusted another version of the tradition more and so included it over what was written in Mark, or is there any possibility there is something to the “telescoping ” hypothesis? In the end, I don’t feel Reverend Matthew agrees with your definition of what a contradicton is. The goals is not try and harmonize different accounts.

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  April 19, 2019

      Because he didn’t think Mark was the Word of God that could be altered, and he thought he could produce a better, more succinct version of the account. In doing so he created a contradiction. But he wasn’t worried about htat. He didn’t know that 2000 years later we’d be comparing the two.

      • Avatar
        godspell  April 21, 2019

        It is a universal truth that writers look at something some other writer has written and see things they want to fix. That’s part of what makes writers writers.

        (Note: I rewrote this several times before posting it.)

  9. Avatar
    AstaKask  April 19, 2019

    How about Jesus being born both before 4 BCE and after 6 AD?

  10. Avatar
    Brandman0485  April 19, 2019

    How many different hypothetical scenarios does one have to read into a text before the theology developed from it becomes patently false ?

  11. Avatar
    jogon  April 19, 2019

    Two points: there is almost no overlap between the birth stories in Matthew and Luke yet Rev Firth believes they are both true with each author only reporting half the story. Does he believe that Matthew and Luke met up to ensure they were each only reporting elements the other wasn’t or does he think that this happened by pure chance which seems incredible.

    Secondly John helpfully numbers the resurrection appearances and his three don’t occur on a mountain in Galilee so this must mean that Matthew’s appearance is the fourth appearance. This makes the disciples’ behaviour in Luke seem downright ludicrous.

  12. epicurus
    epicurus  April 19, 2019

    As a way to raise more money from donations, what if you made this debate open to non subscribers to read ( but they cannot comment – you don’t want the whole blogosphere commenting). Maybe a few would donate even though they don’t become members. I read a few sceptic and atheist blogs, many of the people there would surely read the debate, and a few may donate. Again, just don’t allow non subscribers to comment. Just an idea.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 21, 2019

      Thought about it. But was hoping to entice people to join to see what htey were missing (since I always allow the opening part of the post to be public as a teaser)

  13. Avatar
    mikezamjara  April 19, 2019

    Dr Ehrman at what time will you say “copies of the copies of the copies of the copies”?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 21, 2019

      Ha! Not in this particular debate. We won’t be arguing about whether scribes changed the text but whether the authors who wrote the texts originally contracited each other.

      • JulieGraff
        JulieGraff  April 21, 2019

        Mr. Ehrman, I believe that the best way to establish contradictions is to dive into the Spirit, the Essence of the text.

        We can argue about timelines, and wordings and all that… but a fish smells like a fish, and a goat smell like a goat… you know what I mean, the Essence of things, with a capital “E”!

        We can read that a fish started a journey at some point then went this way, and did this and that, but bottom line, it will smell like a fish… If in the other text he smells like a goat, well, that’s a big red flag!!!

        What are your thoughts on that? (you may have talked about it already but I missed it)

        • Bart
          Bart  April 22, 2019

          I prefer to think of it as a court case. If you were charged with killing your neighbor’s goad, and a prosecuting attorney says you did kill the goad but the defense attorney says you actually killed the person’s fish, the prosecutor would not be allowed to get you off the hook by responding, Hey, it’s all the same thing!

          • JulieGraff
            JulieGraff  April 22, 2019

            Mr Ehrman, it’s funny. I got your answer as I’m watching RBG’s (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) movie as I’m thinking of going bach to University for a degree in Politics specialising in Law. I must say I like your approach! 😉

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 19, 2019

    Dr. Firth some of this is more than a little hard to follow. I am sorry, but it is. I have read the bulk of the Apologetics Press website so have some understanding about how these arguments are made. I am left with three questions:
    1. Having lived in the Bible belt all of my life, I find it increasingly difficult to be as tolerant and understanding of fundamentalists having these literal views as I would like to be. Actually, Dr. Ehrman does a much better job of having this understanding than I do. So, do you think this emphasis on the literal view as the only view and the correct view makes it hard for non-literalists to develop some understanding and tolerance of this literalist view?
    2. Does this literalist view have some possible harm such as does it lead to bigotry toward women and bigotry toward gays? Did it contribute to the Biblical defense of slavery?
    3. If the goal is to convert others, doesn’t this literalist view turn away many from churches from the get-go?

    Thanks for the discussion even if I could not follow a lot of it.

  15. Avatar
    b.dub3  April 20, 2019

    Rev Firth, your response to Dr. Ehrman does not seem to address his central position regarding the resurrection narratives. According to John, Jesus appears to the disciples (minus Thomas) that Sunday of the resurrection and in Luke to all 11 on that Sunday. John specifically states, “It was late that Sunday evening and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them.” Luke also states that Jesus appeared to them that Sunday evening (with Thomas present, not a week later as in John). However, Jesus and angels/man, state in Matthew and Mark on that morning to the women that the disciples should go to Galilee because it is there that he would appear to them as Dr. Ehrman states, but you do not address. Why would the “angel/young man” and Jesus instruct such a thing in Matthew if he was going to appear to them that very day? Telescoping, which you seem to rely on, does not bridge this contradiction without pretzel-like contortions of the text when comparing all 4 gospels in concert. Either he appears first to them in Galilee as directed in Mark and Matthew, or he appears to them in Jerusalem that very same Sunday in Jerusalem as in John and Luke. How do you explain such a contradiction? With all due respect, It seems that with your explanations that you are relying on an incoherent approach to the text that is wholly undergirded in circular reasoning.

  16. Avatar
    Smithjacusmc  April 20, 2019

    Although I have not yet read the argument made by Dr Ehrman, on my way in a moment, this counter argument is the sane old “stuff” I have heard for over 30 years in the church, 20 years in ministry, and the reason I’m here…despite all their efforts, no christian ever explains the real “why”, they never answer the hard questions, just explain them away with suppositions and much imagination.
    Kind of like so many shallow conspiracy theories.

  17. Avatar
    jrblack  April 20, 2019

    I would call foul on point 4 right out of the starting gate. I’m sure my Greek isn’t anywhere near as good as Dr. Ehrman’s, and I will gladly accept correction from him, but it appears to me that the Genitive Absolute which opens Luke 24:36 in the original Greek cannot properly be translated as “while they were still talking about this”. Yes, both NIV and NRSV have some variant of this, but the RSV does a better job of capturing the literal meaning: “As they were saying this”–or even more literally, “While they were saying these things”–which almost certainly refers back to the words which had just been uttered by Cleopas and his companion in 24:35.

    The dictionary form of the Greek verb here is “laleo”, and as used in Luke-Acts it almost never refers to any sort of back-and-forth discussion. With very few exceptions, “laleo” in Luke-Acts is used to describe an essentially one-way communication in which one party (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, one or more angels, apostles, demons, false prophets, or whatever) is declaiming while everyone else just listens. And on the (very few) occasions when “laleo” is genuinely used in Luke-Acts to refer to some sort of actual conversation, as far as I can tell it is always qualified by the addition of extra Greek words to make clear that the parties are speaking “to one another”. (See, for example, Luke 2:15 and Acts 26:31.)

    The other point to consider here is that Luke uses Genitive Absolute constructions with “laleo” at least four other times: Luke 8:49, Luke 22:60, Acts 4:1, and Acts 10:44. This is part of Luke’s characteristic literary style; and every other time he uses it, its sense is that Event 2 (i.e., the event described after the Genitive Absolute) is taking place while Event 1 (i.e., the speech described before the Genitive Absolute) is still going on, or at most barely completed. As we might say, the speaker’s words are “still on his lips” when the next thing happens. That being the case, the natural reading of Luke 24:35-36 should be exactly the same: While the words of Cleopas and his companion are still “hanging in the air”, Jesus himself appears among them–which leaves no room for any intervening events, and certainly not a ten-day traveling disputation from Jerusalem to Galilee and back.

  18. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 20, 2019

    Dr. Firth: When it comes to religion and politics, humans tend to make up stuff to fit what they already believe (confirmation bias) making it almost impossible to know what happened yesterday much less what happened 2,000 years ago. So, how in the world do we know that the author of Matthew used “telescoping” and how do we know that this was a “common” technique used by ancient authors of that time? With regard to the genealogies, if there were some kind of complicated problem of remarriages why didn’t the Gospel authors just explain this problem and its affect on the genealogies? If these authors were inspired, surely they would have known that there were going to be questions about the different genealogies and explained them don’t you think? Thanks.

  19. Avatar
    JoeWallack  April 20, 2019

    Reverend Firth, thank you for confessing that based on the most common meaning of what they wrote, there is likely a contradiction in the Jairus story between “Mark” and “Matthew”. Nothing more than what you wrote is needed. What you failed to mention is the source issue and what that might mean.

    If we look at the parallel sentences in the original Greek:



    we see a reMarkable amount of parallels between the two suggesting a common source:

    [Same root words (case is different)]

    “Of me”

    Here we have the first change in root words, “dying” vs. “dead”.

    “that” vs. “but” (no difference in meaning).

    “Having come”
    “upon/on” “her

    And the second significant difference. “Mark” adds:
    “So that she might be cured.” This wording is consistent with someone who is dying but not dead.

    “She might/will live”.

    So for the parts that agree in meaning the specific words are not generally synonyms but the same root words.
    On the other hand the only parts with significantly different meanings are for the issue at hand, whether the
    victim at the time is dead or dying. In total this indicates that “Matthew” used “Mark” as a source here and “Matthew” INTENTIONALLY contradicted “Mark” by changing the meaning from “dying” to “dead” (a conclusion that most Christian Bible scholars would agree with). That leaves you in the strange/bizarre/macabre position of thinking that “Mark” and “Matthew” are inerrant but “Matthew” not thinking “Mark” was inerrant.

    The god of this Forum has commanded that we follow question monothesis so my question to you is:

    Which is more important to you:

    1) Concluding that there is no contradiction between “Mark” and “Matthew”.


    2) Understanding the likely meaning of what “Mark” and “Matthew” wrote.

    This is a rhetorical question but my interpretation here is that god’s commandment includes rhetorical questions.

    For those of you who would like to catch more of my act I’ll be appearing all week on top of The Christian Bible with a high powered argument at http://skepticaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/ .

  20. Avatar
    Carlov  April 21, 2019

    I’ve been looking for the link to this debate everywhere! Can someone please share it with me?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 21, 2019

      I’m not sure what link you’re referring to. So far I’ve posted a list of contradictions and Rev. Firth has posted his assessment of them — that’s all there is so far.

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