How do we deal with discrepancies in Scripture? There are numerous cases in the Bible where one author seemingly contradicts another in certain details or even in matters of principle, and atheist scholars have long pointed to these instances as proof that the Bible could not be divinely inspired.

One of the most prominent examples of this phenomenon is the lack of consistency between the Gospels. The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are very similar tellings of Jesus’ life and ministry, each following roughly the same chronology. And yet, there are a plethora of minor differences in their books that may seem to suggest that one or all are incorrect on certain topics.

One explanation is that these books (as well as many other books in the Bible) are focused on slightly different messages and intended for slightly different audiences. Therefore, the authors chose to emphasize certain elements of their accounts or maybe even had a different perspective due to background and education, and therefore would have been seeing entirely different parts of the same events.

Luke, for example, was well educated and methodical in his approach. He did many interviews and cross-referenced numerous firsthand accounts in writing his Gospel. He focused on many of Jesus’ human traits and the realities of his fleshly experiences. Matthew, meanwhile, presented Jesus primarily in His identity as King of the Jews, the prophesied Messiah. He often quotes the Old Testament, focuses on Jesus’ Jewish genealogy, and writes to encourage the Jews subjugated by Roman rule. Mark, on the other hand, gives more emphasis to Jesus’ ministry as a servant and humble emissary, emphasizing His accessibility and love for the common people and the Gentiles.

Perhaps the biggest discrepancies in the Bible – and a key case many atheists often point out – occur in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As we approach Holy Week, it’s important to examine and reflect this story.

In the synoptic Gospels, the authors record that the resurrection occurred early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, while John describes it as still dark. Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and Mary James’ mother, while Mark includes Salome, and John mentions only Mary Magdalene. Matthew and Mark describe one angel at the tomb, while Luke and John mention two. Matthew and John record very different quotes from Jesus upon His resurrection.

Do any of these details discount the truth of the resurrection? Not at all. In fact, they arguably legitimize the story. If there were no differences at all, one might conclude that these men colluded together to fabricate a story or even that they convinced themselves they had all seen the same thing. Because they noticed slightly different elements, it gives validity that they are human men recording what their minds saw and remembered. Discrepancies are not contradictions. Did some people see two angels, while others failed to see the second? Did one of the angels depart before everyone arrived at the scene?

All of the accounts share the important elements:

Jesus died and was buried.

Several women close to Jesus went to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week.

The stone was rolled away and the tomb did not contain Jesus’ body.

An angel spoke to them.

The women fled from the tomb.

The disciples were confused about Jesus’ death and resurrection and did not understand what Mary told them until Jesus appeared to them personally.

While there are many other situations like this one in Scripture, it’s important to remember that divine inspiration and personal retellings do not make the authors of individual books infallible. They were human beings, and even what God told them directly was interpreted through limited human minds and memories and written with human hands. The truth of Scripture and the message of Jesus’ life and ministry remain the same, and have stood the test of thousands of years.

To learn more about God’s character and other complex doctrines of the Christian faith, check out some of the online Bible studies at International School of the word. Consider starting with Basic Theology or Biblical Apologetics. Visit today to get started on an affordable online biblical education!

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