I recently received this query by a blog member, and it’s a question I often get, both on the blog and off.  I’m hoping that maybe you yourself have some wisdom on it.  How do you talk about historical and literary problems (contradictions!) of the Gospels to people who are convinced the Bible has no problems at all?

Here the question is articulated very well.  What’s your experience and judgment?  Let us know what you think!


QUESTION from a blog reader:

I’m fairly knowledgeable about the historical Jesus. When I find myself discussing the gospels with Christians who are not, I’m always tempted to lead with statements that certain things are not accurate: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t actually write the gospels; the four source hypothesis; contradictions in accounts by the gospels; no post-resurrection appearances in the original version of Mark; etc.

This seems like a needlessly negative approach to an informal discussion. Christians most often automatically react that I’m asserting some sort of superiority and even dogmatism over them.

Do you have any suggestions about how to approach and begin discussions like this? The best way I can think of is to start with important things that are thought to be historically accurate, eg, apocalypticism; the proclamation of the kingdom of god; the relationship of Jesus’s other teachings and actions to that proclamation; the great commandment; etc. I suppose I could go from there to how other things were meant to evoke faith in Jesus rather than to be factual accounts.

Or maybe just start out with the fact that for three hundred years “scientific” historians have been working out what probably happened and didn’t happen?