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  • Writer's pictureJon Peters

Biblical Contradictions: Section 3/4

Updated: 14 hours ago

“And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant” ~ 2 Samuel 7:28

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” ~ John 17:17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

In the Part 1/4 of the Christianity section of this site I attempted to document that the Bible is a collection of books written over hundreds of years and contains many changes, which we would expect if it were written by men and civilizations that were changing through time. God did not protect His vital messages to humanity, some that could result in eternal torture according to conservative Christianity if not followed. Indeed, if He wanted to effectively reach the world He would have gone to the Egyptians or Chinese, two more advanced civilizations compared to the Middle East.

In Part 2/4 I discussed some of the many errors present which again would not be unexpected for a Biblical human origin alone, since the case I am building from my perspective is that even a few examples are enough for us to dismiss claims of Biblical divine origin or influence. To quote from it as authoritative evidence is unwarranted, irrational and unjustified when one learns about the real origins of the Bible. Even to refer to it for moral teaching is problematic given the many horrible moral narratives about Yahweh and teaching regarding homosexuality, slavery, marriage and divorce for example. See Part 4 and the Consequences section.

This Part 3/4 is a glimpse at some of the contradictions I learned that are present in the Bible. There are many and I’m only listing some that added to my conclusion that the basis of Christianity (and the other Abrahamic religions), could not be true if the source material was contaminated, full of errors and contained contradictions. Of the three problems I encountered regarding the validity of the Bible, none has produced more apologetic defensive writing than arguing against Biblical contradictions. They can’t exist for conservative Christians and so no amount of ink or electrons for digital exposure have been spared to try and explain them away.

It is important to review these apologist explanations for what appears to be contradictions are real contradictions. The reader will need to decide if apologetic explanations are reasonable or more like ad hoc pleas and rationalizations. Be sure when looking at both sides that one uses the best religious scholars available as apologists on first pass often come across as very authoritative until challenged by those who are very qualified in their Biblical fields outside the conservative religious bubbles to comment on why the apologetic explanations are nearly always wrong. These religious scholars who have not been convinced by apologists are usually at the major universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, UC North Carolina, etc. and not at pure religious schools - where often faculty must sign a statement of faith insuring that they can’t change their views in a major way even if evidence points to needed shifts or even abandoning fundamental dogma. As an example of a qualified debate between scholarly opponents I have reproduced such an exchange in #11 in the list below.

1. How did Judas die? Matt. 27:5 vs. Acts 1:18.

These do not match. According to Matthew he hung himself. According to Acts, he fell down and his abdomen split open. The most common way apologists try and reconcile these is to mash them together and say that Judas hung himself from a high tree and then the rope broke and he fell down producing the abdomen splitting. Some apologists will also add that the tree was near a cliff and thus the body fell from a great height to split the corpse’s abdomen when hitting the ground, often adding the body probably hit a rock. But these are two different authors writing separately and the most logical reason they don’t match is because the authors were pulling from different oral traditions or other written sources at the time. In addition, on what justification does one have to add to the author’s writings and intent, to read into those verses what is not there? To let your imagination add to the stories whatever suits you? Even the Young Earth Creationist organization Answers in Genesis notes: “…even when people suffer bad falls, they do not usually burst open and have their internal organs spill out. Skin is very tough, and even when it is cut in the abdominal area, internals do not usually spill out. Thus, it is unlikely that Judas could die in this manner merely from falling. (1). Their justification is thus that Judas must have died by hanging and Acts is just describing what happened later. In addition, note that the verse in Acts is most often translated “fell headlong”. This is a clear meaning that Judas tripped and to try and say that his corpse falling from a tree fits well with the translation is not persuasive at all and just reveals motivated reasoning through intellectual gymnastics. This is all ad hoc arguing.

2. How was the Potter’s field purchased? Matt. 27:7 vs. Acts 1:18.

In Matthew’s tale, the chief priests took the money that Judas threw back at them in remorse for his betrayal and the priests purchased the field: “After conferring together, they used them [the pieces of silver] to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners”. But we read in Acts: “Now this man acquired a field with the reward for his wickedness;…”. Apologists will say that the priests purchased the field for him using his money - but can one really “acquire” land after one is dead? Perhaps if there is a trust - which of course no such information is provided? But Acts says he acquired it, not his heirs, not the priests, etc. Again, here we see apologists taking liberal license to read into the verses what is not written but what they must have it say to save their claim that the scriptures are inerrant. It’s a contradiction read honestly.

3. Do you die or not if you see God? Genesis 32:30 vs. John 1:18.

Genesis states “…for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” However, in John we read “No one has ever seen God…” One apologist attempt at reconciliation is to say no one has seen God in a full and complete way. Special pleading?

4. There are many contradictory doublets in the Bible.

> 1 Kings 4:26 vs. 2 Chronicles 9:25

Did Solomon have 40,000 stalls or 4,000 stalls?

> 2 Kings 24:8 vs 2 Chronicles 36:9

Was Jehoiachin 8 years old or 18 when he became King? > 2 Kings 8:26 vs. 2 Chronicles 22:2

Was Ahaziah 22 or 42 when he began his reign?

> 2 Kings 25:8 vs. Jeremiah 52:12

Did Nebuzarradan come to Jerusalem in the 5th mo/7th day or 5th mo/10th day?

> 2 Samuel 8:3-4 vs. 1 Chronicles 18:3-4

Did David take 700 horsemen from Hadadezer or 7,000?

> 2 Samuel 6:23 vs 2 Samuel 21:8

Did Sau’s daughter have no children or 5 children?

“Theologians were prompted to develop the Documentary Hypothesis as a result of observing the presence of doublets in the Pentateuch. These pairs of stories which occur in two separate locations in the text. The doublets generally do not agree fully; there are usually minor differences between the stories” ~ R.E. Friedman. Who Wrote the Bible? 1997. He lists a number of them: Two creation stories in Genesis

Two descriptions of the Abrahamic Covenant

Two stories of the naming of Isaac

Two instances where Abraham deceived a King by introducing his wife Sarah as his sister

Two stories of Jacob traveling to Mesopotamia

Two stories of revelation at Beth-el to Jacob

Two accounts of God changing Jacob’s name to Israel

Two instances where Moses extracted water from two different rocks at two different locations called Meribah.

The site goes on to list extensive examples of contradictory verses and how they show the Pentateuch could not have been written by one person, Moses.

5. How the Israelites really came to occupy the area of Canaan.

> The archaeological record shows that, in many cases, cities mentioned in Joshua did not exist when the Israelite invasion was supposed to have happened. In most of the other locations, there were no signs of destruction as described in the Bible. There is a growing belief among archaeologists that neither the Judges nor the Joshua biblical stories are true. Rather, the Israelites developed from what some call proto-Israelites who "...started out as indigenous Canaanites," already in Canaan. In other words, the ancient Israelites started as a sub-culture within Canaan; they did not attack Canaan from outside.

> Most archaeologists who are not conservative Jews or Christians, believe that Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and other leaders mentioned in the Bible prior to King David were probably the product of myth; they did not exist as actual people. Archaeologists are debating about how much of David's and Solomon's stories are accurate.

> Daniel in Babylon, Ester in Persia, Johah in Jaffa and Nineveh, and Ruth in Moab and Bethlehem, are regarded by many archaeologists as mythical characters.

> Modern-day archaeologists are studying ancient Palestine independently of the Bible. They no longer try to match their findings to passages in the Bible.

The findings of archaeologists in recent decades would probably upset most of today's Christians and Jews. Many of the latter, as children, were taught the remarkable stories of the Old Testament. However, discoveries from the Middle East are rarely discussed outside of scientific journals. Students in mainline and liberal Christian seminaries learn about these findings; however, they rarely discuss them in sermons in order to avoid distressing their congregations.”(2).

6. Genesis 1:1-23 vs. Genesis 2:4-25: P and J.

Were humans created after the other animals or before? Scholars have known for over a hundred years that there are two separate creation narratives in Genesis. The story in Genesis 2 is the older one. Scholars have designated that there were two different sources, P and J. We have known this since the 18th century when religious scholars finally began to look critically at the writings. See especially (3) for brief reasons we know this to be true although there are many, many articles and books detailing this and accessible to anyone who wishes to verify it. “Although tradition attributes Genesis to Moses, biblical scholars hold that it, together with the following four books (making up what Jews call the Torah and biblical scholars call the Pentateuch), is "a composite work, the product of many hands and periods."[9] A common hypothesis among biblical scholars today is that the first major comprehensive draft of the Pentateuch was composed in the late 7th or the 6th century BCE (the Jahwist source), and that this was later expanded by the addition of various narratives and laws (the Priestly source) into a work very like the one existing today.[3]... The creation narrative is made up of two stories, roughly equivalent to the two first chapters of the Book of Genesis[11] (there are no chapter divisions in the original Hebrew text; see Chapters and verses of the Bible). The first account (Genesis 1:1–2:3) employs a repetitious structure of divine fiat and fulfillment, then the statement "And there was evening and there was morning, the [xth] day," for each of the six days of creation. In each of the first three days there is an act of division: day one divides the darkness from light, day two the "waters above" from the "waters below", and day three the sea from the land. In each of the next three days these divisions are populated: day four populates the darkness and light with Sun, Moon and stars; day five populates seas and skies with fish and fowl; and finally land-based creatures and mankind populate the land.[12] Consistency was evidently not seen as essential to storytelling in ancient Near Eastern literature.[13] The overlapping stories of Genesis 1 and 2 are contradictory but also complementary, with the first (the Priestly story) concerned with the creation of the entire cosmos while the second (the Yahwist story) focuses on man as moral agent and cultivator of his environment.[11]" (4) Genesis' Two Creation Accounts Compiled and Interpreted As One.

7. Mark 14:12, 15:25 vs. John 19:14.

Was Jesus crucified after the Passover meal or the day before the meal?

8. Gal. 1:16-17 vs. Acts 9:26.

Did Paul not go to Jerusalem to see apostles after his conversion or did he first go to see them after leaving Damascus?

9. Luke 2:39 vs Matt 2:19-22.

Did Joseph and Mary return to Nazareth after they had come to Bethlehem or did they instead flee to Egypt?

10. Matt. 26:34, 74-75; Luke 22:34, 60-62; John 13:38 vs. Mark 14:30.

Did the cock crow once or twice after Peter denied Jesus?

11. Matt. 9:18-26 vs. Mark 5:21 and Luke 8:40-56.

Did Jairus’s daughter die after Jairus was talking to Jesus or did she die and then Jairus approached Jesus? This particular contradiction I want to share some additional information. First, “I. Howard Marshall, a well respected evangelical in Europe, was unable to sign the Chicago Statement of inerrancy a few years ago because of this passage”. This is the 1978 Statement signed by 300 evangelicals. “Ian Howard Marshall (12 January 1934 – 12 December 2015) was a Scottish New Testament scholar. He was Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He was formerly the chair of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research; he was also president of the British New Testament Society and chair of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians. Marshall identified as an Evangelical Methodist. He was the author of numerous publications, including 2005 Gold Medallion Book Award winner New Testament Theology."

I remind the reader that Christian apologists have had 2,000+ years to throw every intellectual tool they have to counter proposed biblical contradictions. Reading their explanations without testing their arguments with good non-conservative religious scholars will do you a disservice. Secondly, in the Appendix in this blog is an example of what happens when a top religious scholar (Ehrman) at a secular university debates a typical religious scholar at a conservative seminary, at least that is what I have found if you dig deep enough to get the best sources. Please take the time to review this. I know it is long - Ehrman addresses 4 contradictions. My main point is that apologists sound very convincing on the surface but when challenged with someone who knows the Bible as well or better than they do, I have nearly always found that the apologetics fails. This certainly has been the case with creationism and science in my experience (for example in the debate regarding human chromosome 2 fusion and evolution that occurred between the Discovery Institute and Carl Zimmer in 2012). Gospel Contradictions: My Debate [Ehrman] with Rev. Matthew Firth June 23, 2022. See Appendix end of this blog.

12. Bible Contradictions Game Show. A sampling of just how many contradictions there are in the Bible.


An avalanche of digital electrons and ink has been spilled by apologists attempting to explain away numerous biblical contradictions. They are too numerous to be ignored and too obvious to be rationally explained away. If the Bible is divinely inspired by God he is either incompetent or asleep at the wheel from protecting His Word to mankind considering that according to Christianity there are eternal grave consequences for choosing the wrong reception of this book of books. A close examination will reveal too many errors for the Bible to be taken other than historical myth and literature.



All That's Wrong with the Bible: Contradictions, Absurdities, and More: 2nd edition. 2017. Jonah David Connor, PhD. His book of only 126 pages is an easy and relatively quick read of more examples. As a graduate of the fundamentalist Liberty University and a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin, he is well qualified to show numerous major problems in taking the Bible as divinely derived.


Ehrman debate with Firth regarding a passage in the Bible.

What happens when a top apologist debates a top religous scholar at a university? “To celebrate our 10th year anniversary from April 18, I’m reposting all my previous (ten) April 18 blog posts. Now I’m up to 2019. In that year I agreed to do a blog debate with a fellow named Matthew Firth, an Anglican rector who studied theology at Oxford University. Firth had challenged me to a debate on whether the Gospels contain contradictions, and offered to donate $1000 to the blog if I managed to convince him. That, of course, was a bit of a joke, since there’s no way on God’s green earth that someone with his mind made up (so much that he wants to debate) is going to change his mind. But it was an interesting ploy and so I said, Why not?

The debate involved a back and forth that spanned part of April including our celebratory anniversary. Here was my opening gambit; I will go ahead and post his response to it and my reply to his response, in the two posts that follow (to which he replied and then I replied to his reply: but I won’t provide the entire season of reruns here….)


This is the opening gambit in my debate with Rev. Matthew Firth on whether there are contradictions in the Gospels. I believe there are many. He believes there are none whatsoever. So who is right? I would strongly recommend that, if you are really interested in the matter, you actually look up the passages in question and see for yourself.

I will need to be brief on each one, since space is highly restricted. I ended up requiring 1300 words, and so obviously Rev. Firth can follow suit.

1. I start with one that may seem completely unimportant, but is, to me, a clear contradiction. In Mark 5:21-24 a man named Jairus approaches Jesus in distress. His daughter is “very ill.” He wants Jesus to come heal her so she doesn’t die. Jesus agrees to go, but before he can get to Jairus’s home, he is delayed by a woman who herself desperately needs to be healed (5:25-34). While Jesus is dealing with her – it takes a while – someone comes from Jairus’s house to tell him that it is too late, the girl has now died (5:35). Jesus comforts Jairus, goes, and raises her from the dead. Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26). But in this case Jairus comes to Jesus to tell him that “My daughter has just now died” (9:18). He wants him to raise her from the dead. Jesus goes and do so.

So the contradiction: when Jairus comes to Jesus: does he want him to heal his sick daughter, who unfortunately dies before Jesus can get there? Or does Jairus come only after the girl is dead, wanting Jesus to raise her from the dead?

2. Of more importance, but a famous one. Matthew and Luke both give a genealogy of Jesus that is strictly patrilineal: father to son, going back for generations (Matthew 1:1-16 starting with Abraham and bringing the family line down to Joseph, Jesus’ alleged father; Luke 3:23-38 starting with Joseph and taking the family line the other direction, all the way past Abraham to Adam). Question: Who was Joseph’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and so on –all the way back to King David? Was it Jacob, Mathan, and Eleazar … (Matthew 1:15-16)? Or was it Heli, Matthat, and Levi… (Luke 3:23-24).

In considering the question, note: both genealogies are *explicit* that this is the line of Joseph (not, for example, Mary; or the brother of Joseph; or someone else–*Joseph*). And note, these are not simply alternative names for the same people: most of the names are *completely* different from one another, all the way back to David. That’s because in Matthew Joseph is the descendant of David’s son Solomon; in Luke he is the descendant of a different son, Nathan. Moreover, the genealogies are patrilineal – not traced through mothers but explicitly through fathers to sons.

3. More complicated. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-23), he is born in Bethlehem. Nothing indicates that his parents came from anywhere else to get there: there is no story here of a trip from Nazareth to register for a census only to find there was “no room in the inn.” They simply are in Bethlehem. When the wise men come to worship the child, the King of the Jews, Herod, learns of Jesus’ existence, and he sends the troops to kill him (2:16-18). Joseph is warned in a dream, and he takes Jesus and Mary and they travel, on foot, to Egypt, where they remain until Herod dies (2:13-15, 19-23). When they return home, though, they cannot return to Bethlehem (presumably their home, since there would be no other reason to ponder coming back there), and so relocate in Nazareth.

In Luke’s account (Luke 2:1-39) Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and they end up in Bethlehem because of a census in which “the entire world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1). Mary is pregnant, full term, and happens to give birth while they are there. After Jesus is circumcised (2:21), and brought to the temple (2:22), they perform the sacrifice required for women who have given birth in order to return to ritual purity (2:24). This is to follow the law laid out in Leviticus 12:2-8; the sacrifice was to happen 33 days after the circumcision (so 40 days after birth). As soon as that is completed, they return straight to Nazareth (2:39).

There is no word in Luke about King Herod’s decision to have the child killed or of the flight of the holy family to Egypt. And so, the contradiction: if Luke is right that 40 days after Jesus’ birth, the family returned directly to Nazareth, how can Matthew be right that they instead went and stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod?

4. On to the climax of the Gospels: the resurrection narratives. In both Matthew and Luke, some of Jesus women followers go to the tomb on the third day after the crucifixion, and learn that he has been raised from the dead. In Matthew’s version (Matthew 28:5-8) they see an angel there, who tells them that Jesus will go ahead of them to meet them back home in Galilee (way up north, about a five day walk from Jerusalem, where they had come for the Passover feast). As the women run off to tell the disciples the good news Jesus himself appears then to them, telling them the same thing: they are to instruct the others to go meet him in Galilee (28:9-10). The disciples then do go to Galilee (28:16). Jesus meets them there (this is their only recorded meeting with him in Matthew) and gives them his final instructions (28:16-20).

In Luke’s account (Luke 24:1-53), the women do not encounter an angel at Jesus’ empty tomb but “two men” (24:4). The men do not tell the women to go tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee; instead they remind them that when he had been in Galilee Jesus had instructed them that he would rise from the dead (24:5-8). They go off to tell the disciples Jesus has been raised (they aren’t believed).

“That same day” (24:12) two disciples meet the resurrected Jesus on “the road to Emmaus” (a village seven miles outside of Jerusalem; 24:12-32). These two return immediately (“that same hour”) to tell the other disciples what has happened. As they are telling them, Jesus appears to them as a group (24:36) and tries to convince them he has been raised (24:38-43). He explicitly instructs them to stay in Jerusalem. They are not to leave “until you are clothed with power from on high” (24:49). This is a reference to what will happen next, in the second volume written by the author of Luke, his book of Acts, when the disciples, who stay in Jerusalem as instructed, after 50 days, on the day of Pentecost, receive the Spirit who descends from heaven to empower them (enabling them to speak in tongues, etc.; Acts 2:1-42). While they are still in Jerusalem (forty days later? So the book of Acts) Jesus ascends to heaven (see Acts 1:6-9).

And so the contradiction. Matthew is explicit: the disciples were instructed to leave Jerusalem and they went to Galilee and it was there that Jesus met them and gave them their final instructions. Luke is also explicit. On the very day of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were instructed not to leave Jerusalem and they followed their instructions. They stayed in Jerusalem from the day of Jesus’ resurrection until at least 50 days later (even then, in Acts, they are not said to return to Galilee; they start the church in Jerusalem). So which is it? Did they return to Galilee or stay in Jerusalem?

Yeah, Those Are Contradictions. My Response to Firth.

June 26, 2022

Matthew Firth came up with interesting responses to my examples of contradictions in the Gospels (in the previous post); here now I try to show how his explanations simply don’t work.


Thanks, Matt, for your thoughtful comments on the four contradictions I discussed in my opening post. I agree – this form of debate is much better than the oral back-and-forths I’m used to on a stage in front of an audience, where it’s so easy to say something unwittingly that is completely stupid or wrong. With this format I’m able to think about it a bit before saying something completely stupid!

I appreciate your attempts to reconcile the contradictions. For years I wished I could reconcile all the ones I found – and did my best to do so, using many of these kinds of arguments. I ended up thinking it just didn’t work. I’ll try to explain below why I think so, step by step. I’ve decided that it would be easier for readers of the blog to be able to compare your reconciliations with my responses directly, and so I have copied your comments and will be giving my responses in green so they will be easily distinguished.

Blog readers: this post will seem, as a result, twice as long as usual. But no need to read the whole thing if you don’t need to; my green responses are the only new ones. And so we begin:


Thank-you very much, Bart, for your opening gambit. It has given me a most enjoyable afternoon of delving deeply into the Gospel texts, and I really appreciate the written format of this debate, which allows space for considered reflection, study and learning, rather than the rhetorical tennis of some other formats of debate which, while they produce spectacle, rarely achieve deep insight either for the proponents or the onlookers.

I will now take the cases in the order in which you proposed them.

1. The case of Jairus’ daughter can, I think, be usefully looked at in terms of the Greek Text, Matthew’s practice of ‘telescoping’ stories about Jesus, and the emotional reality of the situation.

In Mark 5.23 we see that Jairus says ‘thugatrion mou eschatos echei.’ A wooden translation of this would be ‘my little daughter is at the end.’ In Matthew 9.18 we see that Jairus says ‘thugater mou arti eteleutesen.’ A wooden translation of this would be ‘my daughter just now died.’ But, the word ‘arti’ is not as rigid as one might think. It can mean ‘just now’ (immediate past), ‘now’ (immediate present), and it can also be used to suggest a sense of inevitable impending reality, as is the case in Matthew 3.15. This being the case, the word can be rendered ‘even now’. Also, while the word ‘eteleutesen’, being in the aorist tense, can simply be rendered ‘died’, it can also be used to create a sense of being at the very point of death, as is the case in Hebrews 11.22. So, a possible rendering of the sentence is ‘my daughter just now was at the point of death.’ So it seems to me that the Greek in both Mark and Matthew can be seen as creating a sense of impending inevitability.

This is a bit tricky since most blog members don’t read Greek. But let’s give it a shot! I’m afraid I don’t see how your explanation can work. Yes “now” (Greek ARTI) can indeed refer to something that has not yet happened, but that is only when it is used with certain verb tenses or moods. If you make a command “Now do this” then obviously the “now” does not refer to something that has happened already; and if you use it with a present or a future tense, same thing: “I’m driving now” or “Now I will wash the dishes.” But it does not mean that when used with a past tense: “Now I arrived.” Your arrival happened already.

Greek of course does not use verb tenses and moods in all the same ways English does. It does have an imperative (making a command) and a future (referring to what will happen). The example you give of ARTI (“now”) not meaning something that is past (Matthew 3:15) is an imperative. So you’re right, it doesn’t refer to the past. But as you note Matthew 9:18 doesn’t use an imperative (or a future, or a present), it uses the aorist indicative, the tense normally used to refer to a past act that has been completed.

It’s right of course that the Greek aorist can be a bit complicated. But it almost always refers to a completed action; only in exceptional cases does that mean something other than what has happened in the past. How do you know when you have an exception? Only when the context strongly indicates the action is not past. Aorist indicatives are almost always past actions over and done with. You can see hundreds and hundreds of examples of the standard use just in the Gospel of Matthew. If you say a girl “died” (aorist indicative) you mean she is already dead.

BUT, the most important point, this emphasis on a past action is especially strong if you have a *combination* of “now” (ARTI) with the aorist. “Now that has already happened.” There would be no other reason to combine the two, at least that I can think of. (I think your suggestion that “died” in the aorist can refer to something yet to happen based on Hebrews 11:22 must be a mistake? Hebrews 11:22 doesn’t use the aorist indicative of the verb. It is a *present* participle – “while he was dying”).

There is no instance in Matthew where ARTI is used with the aorist to mean anything other than a completed action. Or in the entire New Testament (I checked). I can’t imagine a Greek reader ever taking it this way. Do you have an example in mind?

Without it, there doesn’t seem to be an option: Matthew says the girl is already dead when Jairus comes to Jesus; Mark says she is sick and still living. That’s simply a factual difference, a contradiction.

Even if this is not the case, Matthew’s common practice of ‘telescoping’ or abbreviating the stories about Jesus (a common and very acceptable practice among ancient writers) can help us to see what is going on. Mark has Jairus pleading with Jesus to restore his daughter, then there is the intervening healing of the woman subject to bleeding, then messengers come to report that the daughter is dead, then Jesus goes to restore the daughter. Matthew abbreviates the story by cutting out the arrival of the messengers, and has, in one reading of the Greek, Jairus reporting his daughter’s death. Thus a two stage process has been trimmed down to one stage. Given that this was an acceptable ancient practice, and given that both accounts would have been circulating at the time, there is no sense of a particular problem here.

I completely agree with this one. It is indeed what Matthew has done. He has telescoped the story to make it much briefer. But that doesn’t show that there is no contradiction. On the contrary, it explains why there is a contradiction. Matthew has changed the story for literary reasons (I personally think that’s too bad: in my view Mark’s version is much more dramatic and interesting). In doing so Matthew has had to alter the assumed facts of the story. Now the girl has died before Jairus arrives. That contradicts Mark who says that girl had not yet died. I don’t see how that cannot be considered a contradiction, even if Matthew had a reason for creating it.

If, though, some feel that there is indeed a problem with Matthew attributing slightly different words to Jairus than is the case in Mark, then the sheer emotional reality of the situation surely comes into play. Jairus is clearly utterly frantic. It is quite possible that he has just rushed from the bedside of his daughter as she was at the point of death in order to seek Jesus’ healing and restorative help. As he finds Jesus, it seems quite likely that he would blurt out all sorts of things over the course of their conversation, developing anxiously from ‘she’s about to die’ to ‘she’s died’. In this case, it’s possible that we see Mark and Matthew focusing on different snippets of what Jairus said.

I’m afraid don’t get this one. We are not talking about what actually happened one day to some person named Jairus, who was emotionally distraught and saying all sorts of things. We are comparing to accounts of the same incident trying to figure out if they are consistent with each other. What happened? Mark says one thing. Matthew says a different thing. They don’t agree on that, so far as I can see.

These considerations, taken together, indicate that there is no real contradiction here in my view.

2. In terms of the genealogies, I will be much briefer and I will simply propose a solution. It’s perfectly possible that Matthan married someone we will call Alice. They had Jacob together, but then Matthan died. Matthat then married Alice, and they had Heli together. Jacob and Heli are thus half-brothers, which means that Levirate marriage can come into play (Deuteronomy 25.5-6). Heli marries someone that we will call Barbara, but Heli then dies childless. Jacob then marries Barbara, and they have Joseph. So Joseph is Jacob’s biologically but Heli’s legally. This kind of theory is also backed up by the fact that while Matthew uses the word ‘egennesen’, which means ‘to bear, to give birth to, to lead to, or to cause’, Luke uses the word ‘tou’, which means ‘of’, with the word ‘son’ implied from 3.23. Given that ‘son of’ is a more legal term than ‘gave birth to’, this use of language means that the legal rather than biological link between Joseph and Heli can indeed sit well in this way of understanding things. So there is no necessary contradiction in my view.

My sense is that most of the blog readers are not going to be able to make sense of this! It’s pretty complicated (at least a couple have indicated that!). But if anyone wants to read a fuller account of the “Levirate marriage” way of explaining the genealogies, and a demonstration that it simply doesn’t work, I’d suggest bracing yourself and reading the authoritative discussion of Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary on the Infancy Narratives called The Birth of the Messiah.

For the immediate use of this argument, as you have given us, I have two questions. First, I have never seen any evidence of a Jewish genealogy being traced through what you’re calling a “legal” father – that is, an adoptive father, with the actual father having died – as opposed to through the actual father. Can you give us an example of that happening, either in the New Testament, the Old Testament, or any other Jewish literature at the time? Or a discussion of this being a possibility in any Jewish discussions of genealogy from the time? If there are no examples, then it doesn’t seem very plausible to me.

More important, just sticking with your specific example. Even here, Heli is not the legal father of Joseph. In the example, Joseph is born to Jacob. Heli was dead before Joseph was conceived. So Heli couldn’t adopt him legally. How then could he be the legal father?

So I don’t think it works. Matthew 1:15 says that Jacob was Joseph’s father; and Luke says that Heli was.

3. In terms of the birth narratives, you say that there is nothing in Matthew 2.1-23 to indicate that Joseph and Mary came from anywhere else to get to Bethlehem. That is indeed so, but it is inconsequential. The omission of a backstory does not mean that there was no backstory, especially in the context of ancient writers being very happy about trimming out material that we might think is vital. Given this understanding, and bringing in Luke 2.1-39, it is perfectly possible that the actual chain of events was that Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to Jesus. They then lived in Bethlehem for several years until the visit of the Magi. But then because of Herod, and Joseph’s dream, the family left for Egypt until the death of Herod (you say that they made this journey on foot, but the text does not say this). Joseph then has another dream which prompts him to return the family to Israel, but he avoids Judea due to the reign of Archelaus, and another dream prompts him to take the family back to Nazareth. The mention of the reign of Archelaus does indeed imply that Joseph was thinking of going back to Bethlehem, but that is understandable given that that is where they had just spent several years directly before their exile. In terms of Luke 2.39, you say that the text says that ‘As soon as’ the family had completed the various rituals they ‘returned straight to Nazareth.’ You reiterate, two sentences later, that Luke 2.39 says that the family ‘returned directly to Nazareth.’ But the text does not say that. It simply says that when the various rituals were complete, they returned to Nazareth. The words ‘as soon as’ and ‘straight to’ and ‘directly’ are not there. This means that there is no contradiction with Matthew’s insistence that there was a period of exile in Egypt after their Bethlehem years.

My first reaction was that this strikes me as implausible. But implausibility is in the eye of the beholder! Still, when we spell it out, I think it pretty clearly is a stretch (I’ll argue next that its not just implausible, but that given the grammar, it actually doesn’t work)

Plausibility: Your argument is that when Luke 2:39 says “When they finished everything required by the Law…they returned to Galilee,” what it really means is that they finished doing what they had to do, 40 days after Jesus was born, they did not return to Galilee but stayed in Bethlehem for several years, and then they took a trip to Egypt. They stayed there for a long while (till Herod dies). And THEN they went to Galilee.

Does any reader find that a plausible explanation for what Luke is trying to say when he says “When they finished everything required by the Law they returned to Galilee”? If he means that after they did what they had to do (forty days after Jesus’ birth), they actually stayed in Jerusalem for years – why would he even say that they went to Galilee after they did required to do by the law? Why wouldn’t he simply say they did what was required, and then years later went to Galilee? Or at least hint that this is what he meant?

But in fact I don’t think the explanation works grammatically. In fact the text does indicate that it was immediately after completing the requirements of the law they went back to Galilee (not years later). The Greek says “hōs etelesan” – using the conjunction hōs with our friend the aorist. This is a very common construction in Greek. When hōs is used with an aorist indicative verb it is a temporal conjunction to be translated “when, after.” And when it is used this way, it indicates what happens *next*. I count twelve occurrences of the construction in Luke’s Gospel. Anyone can look for themselves and see if ever there is any hint of a suggestion that when it is used it means, suggests, or hints that the thing that is described as happening next involves a delay of any kind, as opposed to happening immediately. Just look at the first three immediately preceding instances in the birth story itself: Luke 1:41, 44; 2:15. (English readers: the word will be translated “when” or sometimes “as soon as”). E.g., in 1:41, when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leapt. We certainly can’t imagine this happened years later? So too all the instances.

Since Luke (and probably all Greek users? I’d be interested in seeing an exception) uses this construction to show what happened immediately afterward, not in the distant future, then Luke 2:39 is indicating that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went back to Galilee forty days after Jesus was born. There is simply no time for them to have stayed in Bethlehem for a couple of years, and then make a trip to Egypt, before returning home, as Matthew indicates.

4. In terms of the resurrection narratives, I see things in a way which resembles the case I’ve just dealt with above, in that Luke leaves a temporal opening in which it’s perfectly possible that the events described by Matthew took place. In Luke 24.35 they are in the upper room in Jerusalem hearing the report about the events on the Emmaus road and the recognition of Jesus as the bread was broken. In Luke 24.36 they are ‘still talking about this.’ The text does not require an immediate jump from v.35 to v.36 with no temporal period in between. Indeed, the sense of ‘still talking about this’ could imply a protracted period of wrestling with the tumultuous events that they were discussing. It may be that Matthew’s Galilee encounter took place in this period. Luke’s text does not explicitly say that the instruction in Luke 24.49 took place ‘on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection’ as you say it does. There is therefore no necessary contradiction.

Again I’m afraid the grammar doesn’t work. As you know, Luke 24:36 opens with a genitive absolute. There’s no way I’m going to try to explain that to non-Greek readers here! But it is in the *present* tense, and so it must mean “while they were talking about this” – that is, at the moment they were speaking. That’s when Jesus appeared to them. In the room they are speaking in. So it was the same day. The same moment. It was not hours or days later. It was “while” they were speaking.

This happens, then, on the day of the resurrection. Luke is extremely careful to date the entire sequence of chapter 24, at the beginning of each major paragraph. It all happens on the day of the resurrection. On that day they are told not to leave Jerusalem. They do not leave Jerusalem. In the book of Acts, written by the same author as volume 2 of his work, they are still in Jerusalem fifty days later. If that is all true, then Matthew can *not* be right that they left Jerusalem and spent time in Galilee instead. So it looks to me to be a contradiction, and I don’t see any way out of it.

I’ve now run out of word count, so perhaps I can tackle the issue of the angel(s) at the tomb in another post, as well as expanding on some of my less well-developed points…”


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