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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
    tomhuang  April 21, 2019

    The fact that the good Reverend ran out of word count without addressing all the issues is a clear indication the kind of gyrations in logics and reasoning required to offer a remotely respectable rebuttal.

    Let me help you, Reverend, to condense everything into a two paragraphs:

    If the contradictions arises from omission, then it’s down to “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” This is a fallacy in informal logic, Reverend. Argumentum ad ignorantiam.

    If the contradictions arises from anything else (“timeline difference”, “name difference”, etc), then it’s because, Bart, you read it wrong and these are the reasons why you read it wrong: “insert some fantastical explanations without giving any evidence: “Matthew was telescoping”, “Levirate marriage” etc?)

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    Jayredinger  April 21, 2019

    After reading Rev Firth’s responses, I would suggest honesty demands he pay the £1000.00 over to Dr. Ehrman.

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    davebohn  April 21, 2019

    As noted by Dr. Ehrman, a contradiction is “two statements that cannot, at the same time, both be literally true.” Reconciliations are not so easy to define. For example, if I tell one person “I drove HOME to Pascagoula from Dallas,” and another “I drove home to Pascagoula from Dallas, and stopped in New Orleans,” the reconciliation is simple.

    But, if I tell one person, “I drove home to Pascagoula from Dallas,” and another “I drove home to Miami from Little Rock,” those two are, literally, not reconcilable, since I was referring to the same, single trip. Yes, someone could say “well, you once stayed in Miami for two weeks—thus you were “living” there for that time, and we know you went to Little Rock once; perhaps you drove from Little Rock, to Dallas, then to the temporary “home” in Miami, then on to New Orleans, then on to Pascagoula…presto! Reconciliation!” But that contradicts BOTH stories, and creates a third THAT CANNOT BE FOUND IN EITHER OF MY STORIES!

    Matthew states that Joseph and Mary were ALREADY IN Bethlehem when Joseph learned of the pregnancy, and desired to put her away; but, he is angelically counseled to the contrary. Jesus is born, and later they flee to Egypt, then attempt to return to Bethlehem, and then, warned again, SETTLE in Nazareth. (Matt 1:18-2:23)

    Luke states that Joseph and Mary are LIVING in Nazareth, but travel to Bethlehem for a census while Mary is pregnant; while there, Jesus is born; after some religious duties and some 40-odd days are accomplished, they go back HOME to Nazareth. (Luke 2:1-40). These are not reconcilable, they are two different stories, and to “reconcile” the two narratives creates a third…based on nothing but supposition or perceived omissions, and complicated backstories. In short, while Firth’s “any-reconciliation will suffice” reply is spiritually anesthetizing, it does not reconcile anything. It simply creates a third narrative found nowhere in the gospels.

    Either the Matthew-narrrative is true, literally, or the Luke-narrative is true, literally. They were either living in Nazareth, or living in Bethlehem. They either returned to Nazareth shortly after the birth, or journeyed there years later. “Connecting the dots” requires that one or the other narrative is factually incorrect, an unacceptable conclusion (for Evangelicals). Worse, the convoluted reconciliation should leave one wondering whIch, if any, narratives in the bible, are LITERALLY reliable. So, Pastor Firth opts for spiritual anesthesia. Happy Easter, everyone.

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    Neurotheologian  April 21, 2019

    Dear Dr Ehrman. All I would say is that the boy (MF) did good. I wonder whether you under-estimated him :-). I look forward to the next installments

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    meajon  April 21, 2019

    Disappointing responses. I’m not a Biblical scholar but it’s clear that your approach, i.e. to say that “here’s a possible way of reconciling these contradictions” is GROSSLY illogical. No one’s surprised that a person could fabricate some answer (insert a new person in the genealogy, e.g.) to fix the contradiction. Not every response is an adequate response.

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    karlpov  April 22, 2019

    Hm. A common ancient practice was “telescoping.” How do we know that?

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    gavriel  April 22, 2019

    I’m afraid the apology supplied in #4 is a real howler.
    Suppose that there is a temporal gap between verse 35 and 36, so that during this period, the disciples went to Galilee according to Matthew, experiencing the risen Lord on a mountain top. If so, Luke 24:37 becomes meaningless, because they would have no more any reason be ” terrified and affrighted”.
    If there is a temporal gap, it has to be moved further to the end of the chapter.

    But is that possible? The Lukan “Jerusalem-centric” position starts already at verse 47. That leaves 43/44 as the only possibility. In my opinion, this is in the middle of one narrative unit. It is hard to break it into to this order: that Jesus first demonstrated his corporeal resurrection(Luke), next had the disciples march to the Galilean mountain to receive the Great Commission (Matthew) including the meaning of it all and finally, back in Jerusalem, Jesus explained the Scriptural meaning behind the crucifixion (Luke). It is completely illogical.

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    davebohn  April 22, 2019

    The simplest summary of Firth’s first response, and all the others I expect we will see is, “well, it doesn’t really MEAN what it says.” Ok, fair enough. But if we must incorporate telescoping, evaluation of emotional responses, interpolation of facts not given in the text(s), etc., then we can conclude that the text REALLY, WELL AND TRULY does not mean what it says, it means something else. Accordingly, the texts become invalidated on their faces, and the reconciliation, as it were, is rendered pointless.

    JAIRUS: it *says* she was alive, but it maybe “meant” something else; lots of emotions going on, and hey, all that matters is He healed her, right?

    GENALOGIES: it *says* certain persons were ancestors, but it “meant” in the legal sense (when convenient), not the biological sense

    BIRTH NARRATIVE: it *says* that they were from Nazareth, went to Bethlehem for a census, and returned home after the baby was born; but add in some backstory, and it “meant” that they did a lot of other stuff, too

    RESURRECTION: it *says* the guys from Emmaus Road were sharing their experience (Luke 24:35), and while they were all chatting about it (24:36)… well, it “meant” that a few months passed between those two verses, all we need is a little interpolation of facts not in the texts. Uh, that one is a real WOW-er, since there were no chapter and verse separations in any ancient manuscripts

    The only form of reconciliation offered by Pastor Firth is open invalidation of the written text in the first place! I must have missed that technique in debate class.

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    bradseggie  April 23, 2019

    Basically, the argument is that there are no contradictions if the Bible means something completely different from what it appears to say. But wouldn’t that be true in cases of non-contradiction? For example, when the Bible says that Jesus is the son of God, maybe that’s technically correct but really means nearly the opposite? When Acts 2:38 says go and be baptized, all of you, and you will receive the Holy Spirit, perhaps it means that you should receive the baptism of Mithra? If the Bible is simply incoherent when it’s convenient for you, maybe it is always incoherent?

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    RSKICE  May 14, 2019

    This probably too late to put in here. Since I have been away from the blog for a while.
    Just wanted to comment on genealogy part. The other contradiction in the in genealogy is that Matthew says is was 28 generation from David to Jesus i.e. about 1000 yrs. However, Luke says it was 43 generation about 1500 yrs. If Luke is right, then Jesus was born about 500 yrs. later. This inconsistency is irreconcilable. We know that Matthew omitted four evil kings in his genealogy but still we are talking about 400 yrs. difference.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 14, 2019

      Ah yeah, lots of fun stuff here. Another is that Matthew’s explicitly labeled “14” generations (the last batch of three) is only 13…

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