Why do the synoptic gospels seem to contradict each other? Certain biblical scholars have attempted to put these three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) next to each other, lining up each of the stories that they tell and creating one cohesive narrative. But when they do this, they find that they run into problems. They seem to be inconsistent with one another. This is an issue that even biblical scholars have struggled with, after all, how can an inerrancy account contradict with another inerrant account? Why do the synoptic gospels seem to contradict each other?
This issue has actually de-converted certain Christians and has forced a lot of laymen to question their faith. Atheists, have a challenge going around in which they tell people to write up a narrative of the gospels in which all of the facts make sense in light of the divergent details in the gospels. The assumption, of course, is that such an endeavor would cause people to lose their faith. But the Bible is the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There are no mistakes in it. So how can we make sense of this conundrum?
These authors are writing from different perspectives. When people find contradictions in the Bible, it is usually because they are looking for contradictions. But these always turn out to be proof-texts, or single lines that are taken out of context. But what we have to remember is that these authors are writing for a different perspective to a different audience. John the Baptist was first made aware of Jesus at his baptism (Matthew 11:2-3). Later he may have had a crisis of faith while in prison and sent his disciples to question him (John 1 :29-34,36). These are different stories from different perspectives, but they do not contradict.
Further and critically, when two people recall an event, we can be certain that they will not remember it just the same. They will remember different details of the same event. Matthew and Mark only recorded when the thieves mocked Christ (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32), but Luke recorded the later event when one thief repented (Luke 23:39-40). This sort of divergence in details is precisely what we would expect when two people recall an event. You and your friend may have been eye-witnesses to a certain event but will have different recollections of the event. That is to be expected.
In fact, let’s suppose that there were four gospels written by different authors to different audiences, and they all told exactly the same story. If four journalists told exactly the same story, we would expect that they got together and carefully talked over the details to ensure that their accounts were exactly the same. The very fact that there are divergent details proves that these authors were telling the truth. They were just telling the story as they recall it.
Every single one of the contradictions can be answered. The problem with people who give these long lists of contradictions is that they do not care if they are true. They do not bother to investigate or look into finding the answer. In fact there is usually a very easy solution to an alleged contradiction. They will say that there are two different accounts of Judas’ death. That is true, but they do not contradict each other. Judas hung himself (Matthew 27:5), and later his rotting corpse fell from the rope and he was split open (Acts 1:18). Jesus told men to let their good works shine before men (Matthew 5:16), and simultaneously commanded us not to be prideful, doing good works in public just to get public praise (Matthew 23:3-5). A lot of these contradictions just need a few moments of thought.
Some may be more difficult to answer. Why is the genealogy report of Jesus different in the two accounts? In Matthew, Joseph’s father is Jacob, and in Luke, his father is Heli. This is because these are two different types of genealogies. Matthew’s semitic genealogy report can apply the word “father” as somebody who was an important member of his family in distant lineage. Mark has Jesus crucified on the third hour (Mark 15:25) and John has Jesus crucified on the sixth hour (John 19:14-15). Well this is sort of like someone in California saying, “the Superbowl is at 6 o’clock” and someone in New York saying “the superbowl is at 9 o’clock.” These are not contradictions. They are just different time zones. Similarly, Mark and John were narrating different systems of time that are used by different groups.
There are no contradictions in the Bible. It is the inerrant, inspired, and authoritative word of God. You do not have to go through every single contradiction to know this. Just trust in God and in his word.
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