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Contradictions In The New Testament

The New Testament contains a number of contradictions. Some of these are small, but some are quite significant. These contradictions can be used to demonstrate that the Bible is not divinely inspired or reliable.

The most famous contradiction in the New Testament is the one between Paul’s letter to the Romans and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Romans, Paul commands his followers to obey their masters and not to seek revenge (Romans 12:17-21). In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus tells his followers that they should turn the other cheek when someone strikes them and should go two steps further than their enemy if they strike back at all.

Another contradiction occurs between Paul’s first epistle to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:11-15) and Jesus’s sermon on divorce in Matthew 19:3-12. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says that women must keep quiet in church and learn from their husbands at home because it is not proper for them to teach men. In Matthew 19:3-12, however, Jesus says that there is nothing wrong with a woman speaking as long as she does so “quietly” (verse 15). This means that either 1 Timothy is incorrect or that Matthew 19:3

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Contradictions In The New Testament

Bible scholar Bart Ehrman began his studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Originally an evangelical Christian, Ehrman believed that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. But later, as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, Ehrman started reading the Bible with a more historical approach and analyzing contradictions in the Gospels.

Ehrman, the author of Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), tells Terry Gross that he discourages readers from “smash[ing] the four Gospels into one big Gospel and think[ing] that [they] get the true understanding.”

“When Matthew was writing, he didn’t intend for somebody … to interpret his Gospel in light of what some other author said. He had his own message,” Ehrman says.

To illustrate the differences between the Gospels, Ehrman offers opposing depictions of Jesus talking about himself. In the book of John, Jesus talks about himself and proclaims who he is, saying “I am the bread of life.” Whereas in Mark, Jesus teaches principally about the coming kingdom and hardly ever mentions himself directly. These differences offer clues into the perspectives of the authors, and the eras in which they wrote their respective Gospels, according to Ehrman.

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“In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not interested in teaching about himself. But when you read John’s Gospel, that’s virtually the only thing Jesus talks about is who he is, what his identity is, where he came from,” Ehrman says. “This is completely unlike anything that you find in Mark or in Matthew and Luke. And historically it creates all sorts of problems, because if the historical Jesus actually went around saying that he was God, it’s very hard to believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke left out that part — you know, as if that part wasn’t important to mention. But in fact, they don’t mention it. And so this view of the divinity of Jesus on his own lips is found only in our latest Gospel, the Gospel of John.”

Ehrman teaches religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible, is now out in paperback.

Numerical Contradictions In The Bible

Excerpt: ‘Jesus, Interrupted’

Jesus, Interrupted
JESUS, INTERRUPTED: REVEALING THE HIDDEN CONTRADICTIONS IN THE BIBLE (AND WHY WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THEM)
BY BART D. EHRMAN
HARDCOVER, 304 PAGES
HARPERONE
LIST PRICE: $25.99

Chapter Four

Students taking a college-level Bible course for the first time often find it surprising that we don’t know who wrote most of the books of the New Testament. How could that be? Don’t these books all have the authors’ names attached to them? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the letters of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2 and 3 John? How could the wrong names be attached to books of Scripture? Isn’t this the Word of God? If someone wrote a book claiming to be Paul while knowing full well that he wasn’t Paul — isn’t that lying? Can Scripture contain lies?

When I arrived at seminary I was fully armed and ready for the onslaught on my faith by liberal biblical scholars who were going to insist on such crazy ideas. Having been trained in conservative circles, I knew that these views were standard fare at places like Princeton Theological Seminary. But what did they know? Bunch of liberals.

What came as a shock to me over time was just how little actual evidence there is for the traditional ascriptions of authorship that I had always taken for granted, and how much real evidence there was that many of these ascriptions are wrong. It turned out the liberals actually had something to say and had evidence to back it up; they weren’t simply involved in destructive wishful thinking. There were some books, such as the Gospels, that had been written anonymously, only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them (apostles and friends of the apostles). Other books were written by authors who flat out claimed to be someone they weren’t.

In this chapter I’d like to explain what that evidence is.

Who Wrote The Gospels?

Though it is evidently not the sort of thing pastors normally tell their congregations, for over a century there has been a broad consensus among scholars that many of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names are attached to them. So if that is the case, who did write them?

Preliminary Observations: The Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts

As we have just seen, the Gospels are filled with discrepancies large and small. Why are there so many differences among the four Gospels? These books are called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John because they were traditionally thought to have been written by Matthew, a disciple who was a tax collector; John, the “Beloved Disciple” mentioned in the Fourth Gospel; Mark, the secretary of the disciple Peter; and Luke, the traveling companion of Paul. These traditions can be traced back to about a century after the books were written.

But if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus, why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles.

Did two of the earthly followers of Jesus really have such radically different understandings of who he was? It is possible. Two people who served in the administration of George W. Bush may well have radically different views about him (although I doubt anyone would call him divine). This raises an important methodological point that I want to stress before discussing the evidence for the authorship of the Gospels.

Why did the tradition eventually arise that these books were written by apostles and companions of the apostles? In part it was in order to assure readers that they were written by eyewitnesses and companions of eyewitnesses. An eyewitness could be trusted to relate the truth of what actually happened in Jesus’ life. But the reality is that eyewitnesses cannot be trusted to give historically accurate accounts. They never could be trusted and can’t be trusted still. If eyewitnesses always gave historically accurate accounts, we would have no need for law courts. If we needed to find out what actually happened when a crime was committed, we could just ask someone. Real-life legal cases require multiple eyewitnesses, because eyewitnesses’ testimonies differ. If two eyewitnesses in a court of law were to differ as much as Matthew and John, imagine how hard it would be to reach a judgment.

A further reality is that all the Gospels were written anonymously, and none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness. Names are attached to the titles of the Gospels (“the Gospel according to Matthew”), but these titles are later additions to the Gospels, provided by editors and scribes to inform readers who the editors thought were the authorities behind the different versions. That the titles are not original to the Gospels themselves should be clear upon some simple reflection. Whoever wrote Matthew did not call it “The Gospel according to Matthew.” The persons who gave it that title are telling you who, in their opinion, wrote it. Authors never title their books “according to.”

Moreover, Matthew’s Gospel is written completely in the third person, about what “they” — Jesus and the disciples — were doing, never about what “we” — Jesus and the rest of us — were doing. Even when this Gospel narrates the event of Matthew being called to become a disciple, it talks about “him,” not about “me.” Read the account for yourself (Matthew 9:9). There’s not a thing in it that would make you suspect the author is talking about himself.

With John it is even more clear. At the end of the Gospel the author says of the “Beloved Disciple”: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Note how the author differentiates between his source of information, “the disciple who testifies,” and himself: “we know that his testimony is true.” He/we: this author is not the disciple. He claims to have gotten some of his information from the disciple.

As for the other Gospels, Mark was said to be not a disciple but a companion of Peter, and Luke was a companion of Paul, who also was not a disciple. Even if they had been disciples, it would not guarantee the objectivity or truthfulness of their stories. But in fact none of the writers was an eyewitness, and none of them claims to be.

Old Testament vs. New Testament – What are the differences?

While the Bible is a unified book, there are differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In many ways, they are complementary. The Old Testament is foundational; the New Testament builds on that foundation with further revelation from God. The Old Testament establishes principles that are seen to be illustrative of New Testament truths. The Old Testament contains many prophecies that are fulfilled in the New. The Old Testament provides the history of a people; the New Testament focus is on a Person. The Old Testament shows the wrath of God against sin (with glimpses of His grace); the New Testament shows the grace of God toward sinners (with glimpses of His wrath).

The Old Testament predicts a Messiah (see Isaiah 53), and the New Testament reveals who the Messiah is (John 4:25–26). The Old Testament records the giving of God’s Law, and the New Testament shows how Jesus the Messiah fulfilled that Law (Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 10:9). In the Old Testament, God’s dealings are mainly with His chosen people, the Jews; in the New Testament, God’s dealings are mainly with His church (Matthew 16:18). Physical blessings promised under the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:9) give way to spiritual blessings under the New Covenant (Ephesians 1:3).

The Old Testament prophecies related to the coming of Christ, although incredibly detailed, contain a certain amount of ambiguity that is cleared up in the New Testament. For example, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the death of the Messiah (Isaiah 53) and the establishing of the Messiah’s kingdom (Isaiah 26) with no clues concerning the chronology of the two events—no hints that the suffering and the kingdom-building might be separated by millennia. In the New Testament, it becomes clear that the Messiah would have two advents: in the first He suffered and died (and rose again), and in the second He will establish His kingdom.

Because God’s revelation in Scripture is progressive, the New Testament brings into sharper focus principles that were introduced in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews describes how Jesus is the true High Priest and how His one sacrifice replaces all previous sacrifices, which were mere foreshadowings. The Passover lamb of the Old Testament (Ezra 6:20) becomes the Lamb of God in the New Testament (John 1:29). The Old Testament gives the Law. The New Testament clarifies that the Law was meant to show men their need of salvation and was never intended to be the means of salvation (Romans 3:19).

The Old Testament saw paradise lost for Adam; the New Testament shows how paradise is regained through the second Adam (Christ). The Old Testament declares that man was separated from God through sin (Genesis 3), and the New Testament declares that man can be restored in his relationship to God (Romans 3—6). The Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s life. The Gospels record Jesus’ life, and the Epistles interpret His life and how we are to respond to all He has done.

In summary, the Old Testament lays the foundation for the coming of the Messiah who would sacrifice Himself for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). The New Testament records the ministry of Jesus Christ and then looks back on what He did and how we are to respond. Both testaments reveal the same holy, merciful, and righteous God who condemns sin but desires to save sinners through an atoning sacrifice. In both testaments, God reveals Himself to us and shows us how we are to come to Him through faith (Genesis 15:6; Ephesians 2:8).

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