Realizing that there are contradictions in our surviving New Testament texts matters a good deal when it comes to trying to reconstruct the history behind them. I’ll devote several posts to this question, a couple of dealing with the life of Jesus and at least one other involving the life of Paul.
The basic issue, of course, is that if you have two contradictory witnesses to an event, then they both can’t be right: they contradict one another! At the point of the contradiction, either one of them is wrong, or they are both wrong, but they both can’t be right – unless the contradiction can be reconciled in some way (in which case it is not really a contradiction).
And so the first step is to look carefully at the sources and see if they line up with one another or if there are places where they are at odds. If they appear to be at odds, then the next step is to be see if it is only an *apparent* contradiction or an *actual* one. If it’s an actual one, they you need to decide if there are good grounds for accepting one of the other as factual and the other a distortion, leaving open the possibility that both of them might be distortions. At every point, of course, you have to have grounds for your decision. History can never simply be a matter of choosing to think that one thing or another happened because you simply would like it to have been that way.
Over the history of this blog I have given many, many instances in which the accounts of Jesus life are at odds with one another. They start right at the beginning, with …
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