As many of you know, Rev. Matthew Firth, an Anglican rector trained in theology at Oxford, will soon be participating on the blog in a fund-raising event, for which many of you, bless your souls, have already donated. This will entail a debate with me over whether there are contradictions in the Gospels.
The debate will start soon, but I thought I should lay a little bit of groundwork. I hadn’t planned on doing this originally, and haven’t told Rev. Firth that I’m going to do it now – but I’ll show this post to him and allow him to respond if he feels inclined, prior to my opening gambit when I mention several points in the Gospels that appear to me to be contradictory to one another.
I do not plan or intend anything in this post to be controversial, but in case Rev. Firth does want to respond, he’s certainly welcome to do so. Otherwise, we can just get on with the debate. But I did want to say a few words about why we are limiting ourselves to the Gospels and what I consider a contradiction to be. Again, this seems fairly straightforward to me, but maybe I’m wrong about that!
I’ve been asked several times why we’re limiting ourselves to the Gospels. That was Rev. Firth’s idea and I’m completely happy with it. There are indeed other possible passages we could look at – for example, possible contradictions between the Gospels and the book of Acts (e.g., connected with the death of Judas) or between Acts and the letters of Paul (did Paul go to Jerusalem to meet the disciples of Jesus immediately after leaving Damascus or not), etc. etc. I would argue that when looked at in detail, these various accounts do have contradictions; Rev. Firth almost certainly (I’m surmising) would argue they do not. But we’re not going there. And why?
For me, it’s simply a question of focus. We could spend months arguing about all the passages of the Bible that appear contradictory. But his contention is that there are not *any* contradictions in the Gospels, and so I don’t need to point to contradictions anywhere else. It’s a very good idea to limit what we consider, not from twenty-seven books but just from four. Plus, at the end of the day, most people interested in the issue of contradictions are indeed interested in the Gospels, since if they are contradictory in what they say about the life of Jesus – then how can we know what he really said and did? Obviously that’s a hugely important issue, not just for Christians but for anyone interested in the human past, at least in our part of the world.
But what counts as a contradiction? I hope Rev. Firth and I don’t disagree on that, though if we do the debate will take on a different tenor.
I have a pretty commonsensical and direct understanding of a contradiction, that it entails …
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