Contradictions in the Gospels are causing me to have doubts


#1

Hey everyone. Some seeming contradictions in the Gospels are causing me to have doubts and it is really bothering me. I have noticed these seeming contradictions for a long time but only lately have they really been bothering me. I asked a priest a while back whether or not there are contradictions in the Gospels and he said that there are. This really unsettled me.

I can't get very specific at this time but there seem to be contradictions in the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as while as contradictions in the stories of Jesus' birth and early life. The one about his birth seems to say that his family stayed in Israel and did not go to Egypt but instead that they went to the temple and then went back to Nazareth while another version seems to say that they went to Egypt the very night he was born because of threats from Herod.

I am so confused and could really use some help.


#2

I'm not exactly sure why the priest you talked to said there are contradictions in the Bible - there aren't any. Now as to some of the texts about Jesus' early life - some of the stories do not mention what other stories do - this doesn't mean that they didn't happen according to one text, but rather that to one text they were un-important, or un-necessary; whereas with other texts it is important when considering the message that the author is trying to give, and the people he is trying to touch specifically.


#3

There are no contradictions, it can be harmonized and has been successfully by St. Augustine and others. Not to say that its not very complex to do, but there is no reason why a Catholic should settle for a very untraditional answer when Catholic tradition has defended against such a notion. First of all, don't let your heart be troubled because there are works that have been done by the greatest Catholic minds that tackle this issue. Augustine's Harmony of the Gospels is a massive work that is a great place to begin studying. I'm on my phone now but will post a link to the resource when I get home!


#4

It depends on what you mean by contradictions.

There may be minor details here and there that are of no consequence (ie. they don't matter) that do not match up, but there are no contradictions in the overall Truth of the Gospels. There was an article a little while ago that describes how these small "contradictions" actually lend credibility to the Gospels rather than discredits them. I'll see if I can find it, but I can't remember the name of it.

This radio show may also be of some help:
catholic.com/radio/shows/apparent-contradictions-in-the-bible-8124


#5

[quote="bzkoss236, post:4, topic:330221"]
It depends on what you mean by contradictions.

There may be minor details here and there that are of no consequence (ie. they don't matter) that do not match up, but there are no contradictions in the overall Truth of the Gospels. There was an article a little while ago that describes how these small "contradictions" actually lend credibility to the Gospels rather than discredits them. I'll see if I can find it, but I can't remember the name of it.

This radio show may also be of some help:
catholic.com/radio/shows/apparent-contradictions-in-the-bible-8124

[/quote]

I think I saw that article. I've heard that before, too. When you pull four eye-witnesses aside and ask them for their account and they all tell you exactly the same thing, that is often a sign that something fishy is going on. That tends to happen when people get together and actively try to "get their stories straight" so as not to arouse suspicion that they are lying.

In reality, eye-witness accounts will vary because one person found one aspect to stand out more while another will emphasize something different. The Gospels are similar.

Further, I would always be cautious about trying to insert our own chronology of events based on a timeline that is not explicitly indicated.

For example, with the Holy Family's flight to Egypt, nowhere does it say they fled to Egypt the very night he was born. First he was born. Then the magi came and left. Only then did they leave for Egypt. This could very well have taken months. Remember, Herod called for the murder of all children under two years old. Even granting that he was erring on "the safe side", that would seem a bit extreme if Jesus was only one day old.

So there is plenty of time for the Holy Family to go to Jerusalem for the Presentation and then also meet the magi and flee to Egypt.


#6

[quote="Joe_5859, post:5, topic:330221"]
In reality, eye-witness accounts will vary because one person found one aspect to stand out more while another will emphasize something different. The Gospels are similar.

[/quote]

To further this, we already know that the Gospels have different target audiences, so other things will also be emphasized, and some things possibly left out.


#7

I noticed these too, 30 years ago. A wise person said the Bible is not meant to be word for word accurate. But it is 100% reliable in what we need to know about God and Jesus to get to Heaven. And that's true.

Lately I've been watching Father Benedict on the Telecare channel and today he was talking about this very topic. I can't explain it as well as he did. Try and watch his show this week because I think it's the same message all week.

Some of the conclusions I've come to in 30 years of pondering this are as follows. First of all, the Bible was never meant to be word for word accurate. Or if it was, you'd have to be able to read it in the original languages it was written in, and you would need the original manuscripts. For the most part they have been lost in time. But even with them, in those original languages, some have no spaces between words, no vowels, no upper and lower case letters, and no punctuation marks. So translating them into English is extremely difficult, to say the least. Moreover, much of the NT wasn't written down for decades after Jesus left Earth. The original apostles expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes, so they saw no reason to write things down. The very earliest churches functioned on oral information.

I've also come to the conclusion that the idea of the Bible being word for word accurate is a relatively recent idea, within the last 1000 years or less, and started by Protestant thinkers who wanted to go against the Catholic church. But by doing this there are now over 100 different protestant denominations who can't seem to agree on much of anything. Which, btw, is exactly why I'm on this Catholic board.

The Bible is true and reliable in what it says about Jesus. He was part of God since always. He came to Earth and became flesh and blood to die for us as a sin offering. He was resurrected from the dead by Father God. He was then brought back to Heaven until such a time known only to Father God. He will then come back, and if I'm right, He will be accompanied by countless Holy and Loyal angels. Beyond this I'm uncertain. All I know is we best be living for God either when we die, or when Jesus returns.


#8

Thank you everyone for the explanations. How does one explain the seeming contradictions in the story of the resurrection of Jesus? Each Gospel seems to differ some.

Also, what does the Catholic Church officially teach on this matter?


#9

[quote="Holly3278, post:8, topic:330221"]
Thank you everyone for the explanations. How does one explain the seeming contradictions in the story of the resurrection of Jesus? Each Gospel seems to differ some.

Also, what does the Catholic Church officially teach on this matter?

[/quote]

Of course they are going to differ some. They are told by different authors, with different intentions, to different audiences. So their intentions were slightly different. One is written to a Jewish audience, another Gentile. John's Gospel is more theological and has a different tone than the synoptic Gospels. They all will vary.

Now to the discrepancies, list the ones you are wondering about most and we can discuss them. Be sure to not read more than what is in the text, and make assumptions. A good example is the listing of the women who go to the tomb. There are multiple lists of women, but does one Gospel saying that Mary and Mary went, and another saying Mary, Mary and Joanna went, does that mean that one list is wrong? Nope. The author didn't say that Joanna DIDN'T go, just two of the women that did. A reason for could be the intended audience for one Gospel wasn't familiar with Joanna, while the other audience was familiar with her. (Maybe she went evangelizing to another land, or she had died, or any of various reasons)

To give an example, imagine if I were to ask for the story of your birth, from the perspective of 1. your mother, 2. your father, 3. the physician, and 4. your grandmother. These stories would vary greatly in some ways that would appear to be contradictions, but wouldn't be. They are different angles on the same story. Your father may speak about your mother, you and the physician, and omit the grandmother and attending nurses. The physician may speak about the two patients and the nurses and omit the father and grandmother. Your mother may speak of just herself and you, and omit everyone else. Your grandmother may only speak of you and omit anyone else! :)


#10

What specifically are you seeing as contradictions? (this will help us to clarify)


#11

An example:
One gospel narrative gives Mary Magdeline at the tomb alone thinking the man she sees is a gardner, who is really Jesus. It dosen't mention anyone else except Mary Magdeline and Jesus.

Another Gospel narrative gives Peter and John racing to the tomb and says nothing about anyone else.

The first story about Mary and Jesus happened before that of Peter and John, and both stories are true.

But when comparing two gospel narratives, they seem to contradict one another when in reality they just left something out the other is telling.

"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand.
For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand."

St. Anselm of Canterbury

"Understanding is the reward given by faith. Do not try to understand in order to believe, but believe in order to understand." St. Augustine

Just some thoughts.

"Holy Wisdom,lamp of learning, bless the light that reason lends." (hymn)


#12

[quote="Holly3278, post:1, topic:330221"]
Hey everyone. Some seeming contradictions in the Gospels are causing me to have doubts and it is really bothering me.

[/quote]

If you conceive of Christianity and/or Catholicism as the experience of love, instead of the experience of ideology and belief, you'll have no need to be concerned with contradictions in ancient Bible stories.

Contradictions in the Bible may exist, or may not exist, it doesn't really matter if the focus is on reaching for a deeper experience of love in the here and now, 5 minutes at a time.

I don't know about others, but that seems like plenty to keep us busy to me.


#13

[quote="fred_conty, post:11, topic:330221"]
An example:
One gospel narrative gives Mary Magdeline at the tomb alone thinking the man she sees is a gardner, who is really Jesus. It dosen't mention anyone else except Mary Magdeline and Jesus.
Another Gospel narrative gives Peter and John racing to the tomb and says nothing about anyone else.
The first story about Mary and Jesus happened before that of Peter and John, and both stories are true.
But when comparing two gospel narratives, they seem to contradict one another when in reality they just left something out the other is telling.
"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand.
For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand."

St. Anselm of Canterbury
"Understanding is the reward given by faith. Do not try to understand in order to believe, but believe in order to understand." St. Augustine

Just some thoughts.

"Holy Wisdom,lamp of learning, bless the light that reason lends." (hymn)

[/quote]

These are imaginary contradictions because they are different lived experiences that are subsets of the whole. The evangelists are not telling everyone's story. It is not reasonable to think they would. We can rest assured all the events took place, but it is uncertain how they are merged. If two gospels say two different people were first, that is because they said it within a restrictive context. i.e. St. Paul says the Lord appeared first to Peter and then to the twelve. He is first among the apostles to witness, but does that contradict Magdalen being first as a non-apostle? Most contradictions are just a failure of imagination.


#14

[quote="Holly3278, post:8, topic:330221"]
Thank you everyone for the explanations. How does one explain the seeming contradictions in the story of the resurrection of Jesus? Each Gospel seems to differ some.

Also, what does the Catholic Church officially teach on this matter?

[/quote]

You might check out the Pontifical Biblical Commission's document The Historicity of the Gospels. They touch on many of these issues in that document.


#15

It is wise to listen to those who are faithful scholars.

Question on 16/12/2007:
Does the Catholic Church still maintain that all of scripture is inspired and inerrant, or did this teaching change with Vatican II’s Dei Verbum #11, in which only the portions of scripture necessary for salvation are considered to be inspired?
**Answer by Fr. John Echert on 20/12/2007 (EWTN):**You are likely working off a badly translated version of Dei Verbum, which changed the word order of the original Conciliar statement, which some use–erroneously–to claim that inerrancy applies only to matters related to salvation. In the text below, I provide an accurate translation, with the correct order: The Church formally teaches that the Sacred Scriptures are absolutely without error. This teaching is not arrived at inductively–namely, that a careful study of the entire Bible has revealed no discrepancies or difficulties–but follows from the fact that God is the ultimate Author of the Bible and falsehood is incompatible with Truth Itself. As taught by the Second Vatican Council: The inspired books teach the truth. **“Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.” **

On a literal interpretation:
See rtforum.org/lt/lt59.html: [Fr Brian Harrison refers to The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (*Dei Verbum) of Vatican II, 1963-5].
“The true sense of Dei Verbum, 11, then, is not that the guarantee of inerrancy covers those propositions which a biblical author affirms (or teaches) as opposed to those which he merely “states,” i.e., with less force or deliberation, but still as an expression of his own judgment. Rather, it covers those propositions he affirms (or teaches) as opposed to those which he merely “uses materially,” i.e., those in which what appears on paper, taken in isolation, or in its most superficially literal sense, does not express his own judgment in any way.

”These “materially used” (but not formally affirmed) propositions in Scripture would appear to be of three main kinds. First (and most obviously), there are those which the human author does not himself utter but attributes to someone else, in which case divine inspiration guarantees only the truthful reporting of such propositions, not the truth of the propositions themselves. Secondly, this category would include individual propositions used by the author as part of a parable or other imaginative literary composition, in which the formally affirmed teachings it sets out to convey emerge only from the story as a whole. Finally, there are propositions in which not every word is meant to be understood in the most immediate literal sense, since the author may be “using” hyperbole, metaphor, or other literary devices, even within a passage or book which is substantially ‘straight’ history or didactic teaching rather than fiction of some sort.

”In short, what is essentially guaranteed to be true by virtue of divine inspiration, according to the sentence of Dei Verbum, 11, we are considering, is not the isolated propositions taken in their ‘surface’ meaning and without regard to their historical and literary context, but rather (as the next article of Dei Verbum puts it) “that meaning which the sacred writers really intended, and which God, by their words, wanted to make known.” 55 The discernment of that divine and human meaning is what the Church understands by a proper ‘literal’ interpretation of the text - which is not to be confused with a ‘literalist’ interpretation.”

There are no “errors” or “contradictions” in the meaning which the sacred writers intended – only in the feelings of those fail to understand and assent to the teaching of the Church on the Sacred Scriptures.


#16

[quote="Holly3278, post:8, topic:330221"]
Thank you everyone for the explanations. How does one explain the seeming contradictions in the story of the resurrection of Jesus? Each Gospel seems to differ some.

Also, what does the Catholic Church officially teach on this matter?

[/quote]

What specific 'contradictions' do you think there are?

Della said on a different thread

It's like 4 reporters attending a White House function. Depending on the reporters' readership, each will list those persons there and what happened according to his own perspective. So, one or two of them might leave out details or mention of persons that the others left out. It doesn't mean the WH function never took place or that they colluded together to lie, but rather that they each reported what they believed would be of interest to their particular readership. It's the same with the Gospel writers. They weren't being modern historians, but rather they were being story-tellers. Story-tellers relating a true story as they saw it and understood it.

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=7288100&highlight=white+house+function+reporters#post7288100


#17

Awesome example by Della about reporters and Whitehouse function!


#18

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.