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Contradictions in the Gospels

This is the opening gambit in my debate with Rev. Matthew Firth on whether there are contradictions in the Gospels.  I believe there are many.  He believes there are none whatsoever.  So who is right?   I would strongly recommend that, if you are really interested in the matter, you actually look up the passages in question and see for yourself.

I will need to be brief on each one, since space is highly restricted.  I ended up requiring 1300 words, and so obviously Rev. Firth can follow suit.

  1. I start with one that may seem completely unimportant, but is, to me, a clear contradiction. In Mark 5:21-24 a man named Jairus approaches Jesus in distress.  His daughter is “very ill.”  He wants Jesus to come heal her so she doesn’t die.  Jesus agrees to go, but before he can get to Jairus’s home, he is delayed by a woman who herself desperately needs to be healed (5:25-34).  While Jesus is dealing with her – it takes a while – someone comes from Jairus’s house to tell him that it is too late, the girl has now died (5:35).  Jesus comforts Jairus, goes, and raises her from the dead.  Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26).  But in this case …Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26).  But in this case Jairus comes to Jesus to tell him that “My daughter has just now died” (9:18).  He wants him to raise her from the dead.   Jesus goes and do so.

So the contradiction: when Jairus comes to Jesus: does he want him to heal his sick daughter, who unfortunately dies before Jesus can get there?  Or does Jairus come only after the girl is dead, wanting Jesus to raise her from the dead?

To see more, inclucing three other contradictions that most people will find important — dealing with key passages of the Gospels — you will need to belong to the blog.  Joining is quick, easy, and relatively cheap — just about 50 cents a week.  You get a lot for that money.  So why not join?

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Click here to readContradictions in the Gospels – Rev Matthew Firth’s Response

Contradictions in the Gospels – Rev Matthew Firth’s Response
What Is a Contradiction?



  1. Robert
    Robert  April 16, 2019

    Bart: “In considering the question, note: both genealogies are *explicit* that this is the line of Joseph (not, for example, Mary … Moreover, the genealogies are patrilineal – not traced through mothers but explicitly through fathers to sons.”

    I hate to bring this up about a fellow blog member, but even a nonfundamentalist professional biblical scholar such as Professor James Tabor misreads Lk 3,23 ὡς ἐνομίζετο to argue that Luke is really giving Jesus’ genealogy through Mary, thus reviving this old canard and giving aid and comfort to the fundamentalists.

    Is there not some sanction that you can impose on James through the blog rules, UNC, or SBL?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2019

      Yes, that’s a serious misreading of the grammar, imho. BUT, as it turns out, I just asked James if he’d like to do some guest posts! 🙂

      • Avatar
        Monarch  April 17, 2019

        That would be great, I like Tabor’s books and think he’s an original, insightful thinker.

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        ZeroSheFlies  April 17, 2019

        If James Tabor does a guest post, it might be interesting if he addressed the issue of Jesus birth – specifically the `Pantera“ story which I believe he thinks is a viable possibility. I think its an interesting take and something that is rarely discussed. Just a suggestion.

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        Hngerhman  April 20, 2019

        That would be great – and folks would probably also enjoy Dr Tabor’s thoughts on the linkages between 4Q521 ‘On Resurrection’ and the ‘signs’ that Jesus’s followers related to JB during his imprisonment (that the ‘signs’ may have their roots in Qumran). Much like the recent Joel Marcus guest post on JB, I would think it would likely spark interest. Not to staff Dr Tabor with more work…

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    wostraub  April 16, 2019

    The Matthew/Luke nativity account is the most blatantly obvious contradiction in the entire New Testament, and I believe Bart should have led off with it. It actually contains multiple contradictions, all of which have historical and logical connotations that have no basis in fact (the census, being in Egypt and Jerusalem at the same time, Herod’s slaughter of children, the traveling star, etc.). I haven’t seen Rev. Firth’s rebuttal, but it seems that the only possible rebuttal is to choose willful ignorance.

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    3Timothy  April 16, 2019

    Bart, I like your examples.

    I’ll share two contradictions that may not be so clear cut, but they amuse me.

    In Luke 1:35, an angel explains to Mary that her coming son will be very special: “…the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

    But Luke 2:48-50 reports that Mary doesn’t understand that Jesus is special: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this?…’ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

    It seems Mary forgot about an angel explaining how Jesus is the Son of God.

    Matthew has God the Father speak to a crowd at Jesus’s baptism, saying that Jesus is “my son.” Clearly Jesus has a favored status: “…a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3: 17).

    Later, Matthew 11:3 cites the question Jesus is to answer for John the Baptist: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

    Was John the Baptist asleep at the baptism?

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    mwbaugh  April 16, 2019

    This is all very soundly reasoned, though I suspect it will not have much impact on Rev Firth’s camp. People who believe in an inerrant Bible start out with very different set of presuppositions. Still, conversation across this line is a good thing, IMO. I hope it goes well.

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    RonaldTaska  April 16, 2019

    For those new to the blog Dr. Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted” is an excellent book about contradictions in the Gospels and I highly recommend it.

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    fishician  April 16, 2019

    I think the most prominent contradictions are found in the birth and resurrection stories. I think it is particularly striking that there are such problems in the resurrection stories, as one can argue, as Paul did, that it is the most important doctrine of Christianity. Odd that they couldn’t keep their stories straight for such an important event.

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    Rthompsonmdog  April 16, 2019

    No need to post this, but in case no one else has mentioned it. There appears to be a rogue private HTML tag at the end. I logged out and confirmed that the full text is available to non-members.

    Looking forward to the back and forth this generates.

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    AstaKask  April 16, 2019

    It’s all explained by quantum mechanics. The Christs (Joseph and Mary Christ, parents of Jesus Christ) were in a superposition of the two.

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    Drmagana  April 16, 2019

    The return to galilee and stay in jerusalem views are very much irreconcilable .

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    Duke12  April 16, 2019

    Don’t forget John 20-21, where a week or more is spent in Jerusalem and then the action shifts to the Sea of Galilee! (John 21 is still my favorite of the Resurrection narratives).

  11. Robert
    Robert  April 16, 2019

    Bart: “Yes, that’s a serious misreading of the grammar, imho. BUT, as it turns out, I just asked James if he’d like to do some guest posts!”

    Well I think he should have to defend his misreading of ὡς ἐνομίζετο in Lk 3,23. And, in the meantime, perhaps I should let him know that his blog membership may be riding on this …

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    Gary  April 17, 2019

    It is my experience that conservative Christians who believe in biblical inerrancy can never be convinced that any contradiction exists in the Bible. Why? Answer: Their faith is not based on evidence but upon the still, small voice that they believe talks to them in their heart (head). The fact of the matter is, any and all contradictions can be explained away if one tries hard enough to harmonize them. Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and others do the very same thing with the apparent contradictions in their holy books.

    I believe that a more productive discussion with Rev. Firth would involve the following topics:

    1. How do you know that the voice you hear “in your heart” is God and not simply…YOU?
    2. The majority of scholars, including the majority of Roman Catholic scholars who very much believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, reject the claim that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses. How strong is the evidence for the supernatural claims of Christianity, in particular, the Resurrection, if the four Gospels are not eyewitness sources? Just because all the apparent discrepancies in a story can be creatively harmonized does not prove that the story itself is historically true.

    • acircharo
      acircharo  May 28, 2019

      Such is the species nature of faith. It reminds me of Steve Martin’s method for getting $1,000,000, tax free!

      1st; Get a million dollars, then
      2nd:Tell the IRS the 2 simple words to not pay taxes: “I forgot”

      Evidence just doesn’t matter at all. Like everyone else, I have relatives like this; it doesn’t matter what you tell them, what evidence you present, they just “choose” not to believe it.

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    dankoh  April 18, 2019

    There is also the absence of evidence for such a world-wide census at that time, plus that there is no earthly reason for everyone to return to his “own town to be registered,” and plenty of reasons not, starting with the chaos that would have resulted. Also, the point of a census was to establish a tax base, which only makes sense if you do it where people are living now.

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    Thespologian  April 21, 2019

    When it came to identifying the 27 books of the NT, what is the logical explanation the church father(s) — or Athanasius, I suppose — had for including two gospels with contradictory geneologies? It’s one thing to have variances on events but genealogies? One can only assume contradictions were not edited out completely because no one was sure which one may be correct. Also, what is the earliest account of anyone pointing out such blatant issues?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      They reconciled them! At least to their satisfaction. But they had to include both Gospels because by that time *everyone* agreed these were the ones, and the intellectuals couldn’t possibly get away with saying, Nope!

  15. acircharo
    acircharo  May 28, 2019

    Prof Ehrman: If the genealogy is in fact patrilineal where’s the relationship to David for Jesus? Joseph wasn’t actually Jesus’ father after all, but doesn’t Hebrew scripture say the messiah will be descended from the house of David?

    Curiouser and curiouser…..

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    Brand3000  June 24, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What do you think the situation is with “the 11/12” from 1 Cor. 15:5 (or in what direction do you lean?) Do you think that, as some say, “The 12” was basically a nickname given to the apostles whether there were always a literal 12 men at any given time or not? or Do you think Paul didn’t know the story about Judas? OR as others from the Jesus Seminar have said, perhaps the Judas story was just a later legend?

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