Contradictions in the New Testament

I came across these interesting passages in the NT and was curious what the christian explanation is.

The story of the resurrection and the tomb is one of the most widely debated Christian topics I’ve seen lately. The 4 books of the bible do not agree with one another on the story of the tomb.

John says it was still dark when Mary went to the tomb, while all the other books say it was very early in the morning, or just after sunrise or right at dawn.

Matthew 28:1 “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb”

Mark 16:2 “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb”

Luke 24:1 “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb”

John 20:1 “Early on the first day of the week, =“DarkGreen”]while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”

How many women visited the tomb, was it Mary alone, or was it Mary and the other Mary, or was it Mary, Mary mother of James, Salome, or was it, Mary, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and the others?

John 20:1 “…while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb…”

Matthew 28:11 “…Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb”

Mark 16:1 "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body

Luke 24:10 “…It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them…”

As we read further on, we see the woman or women saw the stone was rolled away or felt an earthquake and saw the Angel who rolled away the stone and sat on it.

John 20:1 "…Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance."
Mark 16:4 "But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away"
Luke 24:2 "…They found the stone rolled away from the tomb."
Matthew 28:2 "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it

Luke 24:3-4 “but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus”, “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.”

Mark 16:5 “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe”

John 20:12 “and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been…”

Matthew 28:8 "So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples"
Luke 24:9 "When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others"
Mark 16:8 “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”

The only question I have is why didn’t the god who inspired the bible protect it from contradictions. None of the contradictions in the 4 sections above can be true at the same time. It’s either dark or after sunset, the women either told the disciples or said nothing to anyone, it can’t be both at the same time.

I think you came out with similar thread earlier on – the seemingly contradiction of the Bible and in particular the New Testaments Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. I thought it has been explained that the Gospels were written by different reporters to different audience. The particular Gospel writer wrote what he thought relevant for his audience respectively.

If you look from this angle of explanation, actually there is no contradiction at all. Was it dawn or dusk – probably both with different women come at different time. Did they tell or did they not – probably both – at first they did not tell but Mary Magdalene did tell.

Was it Mary Magdalene alone or were there other women – John mentioned about her; other mentioned the other women were also there. No contradiction here because John did not explicitly mention the other women were not there.

Ultimately, it’s whether you want to see contradiction or you just have faith in that it is a Holy Bible. Whether you see it with the faith of little children or with an analytical mind of scholars. Jesus told us one has to be the former and only if it is so then the mystery of God’s Kingdom might be revealed. As for the latter’s they become the proverbial those who have eyes but do not see, have ears but do not hear.

The basis for the Bible for Christians is that Jesus was a historical person. Crucifixion did take place and that was substantiated by historians. The New Testaments were written by eyes-witnesses of Jesus or pupils of these eye-witnesses. Christianity has its foundation on the witness of the first Christians, specifically Jesus’ apostles.

The Bible has been around for nearly two thousand years; if there was any discrepancies it should be picked before. There was none because the Bible serves as the written faith for the religion that was already in place.

I do not wish to dampen the discussion on this topic and I am sure others will oblige you with the explanation of the specific verses you mentoned.

I don’t find these “contradictions” particularly surprising or disturbing - in fact, they make it more likely that what we have are multiple accounts collected from various people of an event that happened some years prior to when the compliation was written down, some few of whom actually participated, the rest retelling stories that were told to them.

I have a large extended family - dozens of cousins, uncles and aunts. My grandmother was one of ten siblings. We share several lifetimes worth of memories - weddings and funerals, camping trips and car caravans, celebrations and tragedies. Get any random set of 12 us together and ask about an event, and you will get at least 12 variations on the story - who was there, what order things happened in, even what year it was and what else was going on at the same time. (Was it on the camping trip to Prince Edward’s Island that cousin Lee had meningitis, or was that the summer we went to Niagra Falls?) Now add the stories we were told that we didn’t actually participate in - How Lilly met Walter, or what Elsa told the man on the train about her daughters. Who was the baby the year that they lived in the little house in Jamaica Plain? Which fiance did Jon bring to Thanksgiving the year we had snow in Connecticut?

You get the idea. None of the people retelling the tales are lying, or even necessarily wrong, since different people at the same event will have individual experiences and perceptions of what is going on. And the event did actually happen - Lilly and Walter did marry and have three children, Lee did actually survive meningitis contracted on some camping trip, etc.

If the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection (or the feeding of the multitude, or other such examples) were identical in every detail, they would be much more suspect. The only way you would get that would be if the writers were working from a pre-scripted set of notes - “talking points,” to use modern politi-speak.

Instead what we have is, as one of my professors observed years ago, “just what you would expect from a bunch of excited people running around in the dark . . .”

And speaking of the dark, there is actually no contradiction between “just after sunrise,” “at dawn,” and “while it was still dark.” If you live in the country you know that there is an extended (well, depending on how close you are to the equator) length of time when you can see the sunlight on the horizon but it’s still dark around you. The point is that they started out as soon as the Sabbath restrictions ended - you can imagine them sitting in the dark, watching the horizon for the first glimmer of sunlight.

The problem with comparing story time with grandma and scripture, indeed the whole bible is life span. With the current average lifespan for woman in the US at 80.97 years. Your Grandmother most likely lived to a ripe old age and was able to remember those stories. The average lifespan of a man at the time the first scriptures where written “the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written some time between 60 and 85 A.D” was 35 at the most. So, it’s not unlikely that these book were by third generation story tellers and we all know what happens when a story is told over and over to & by different people.

Jordan, two points:

  1. First century Palestine is not 20th or 21st century America. We have reams of paper, books and libraries in most every town. We have the internet. We do not need to remember things about our history because they are easily accessible. Jews of the 1st Century (or any other) were steeped and trained in Midrash and memorization because theirs was an oral tradition, as opposed to our written ones. They used poetry. parable; allegories and apocalyptic to recall central facts about their theology and their history.

2)Because of point one, the Jewish people were not likely to be swayed by something they read in a book the way that we are now. People will believe almost anything they find on the internet at times or in Zinn’s “History of the American People” in much the same careless way that people say “I saw it on tv the other night.” We are subject to deception in a way that they were not. Since everyone was steeped in this culture of remembering, there was no danger of the vast majority forgetting who they fought for independence or who the ruler of some remote enemy camp had been.

If our culture were similar, then we would all sing songs of poetry about which North Vietnamese commander was struck down in this or that village in the fall of '69, for example; or. which Indian tribe had massacred which settlement and how many were killed. We would know each street that JFK treveled just before his assassination. We would all remember the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and who was standing near him when he died. As it is, we get distracted by Star Trek reruns. Ask a true trekkie who Cpt. Kirk faced in battle on some obscure planet in episode X however, and you will hear the definitive reply of an expert, just as if you had you asked an audience of 1st century Jews to repeat the geneaology of King David’s royal line, you would get a single answer and a crowd of fellow experts standing around to make sure they didn’t make a mistake. Even now boys reaching their Bar Mitzvah’s must memorize long passages of the Torah in Hebrew and sing it back to the Synagogue without error.

Reruns. 1st Century Palestine was steeped in oral reruns and culturally pressured to know what was playing at all times, only they didn’t have 350 channels to swim through. Only one. I’ve seen cultural historians of good reputation say that in such a culture 50-100 years is insufficient time for legends to grow up around commonly known facts. Midrash? Yes. Legends? No way.

All my best . . .

If these men were all inspired by God, wouldn’t they be inspired to write the same thing?


Not all of these are contradictions if you read the full context. For example, with the case of John 20:1 with regards to the other cited passages, you’ll find this right after:

Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” [John 20:2]

Note the “we” Mary uses - obviously, she’s not high enough to be using a “royal I,” so she has to be referring to other people who were there with her. John did not name them, nevertheless he hints that they were there. This can be understood in the context of other passages that do not name all women.

Also in regards to Mark 16:8:

Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. [Mark 16:9-10]

The women did go and tell the disciples eventually, and on the same day. In fact, Mark’s account seems to be perfectly in line with John’s, which adds even further detail to the account between Christ and Mary.

In the case of the stone rolling away, there’s a complimenting rather than contradicting: Matthew adds more detail to the story, in the same manner that Luke specifies that one of the thieves mocking Christ later repented, and John specifies that of all the disciples who accosted Jesus for letting a woman use expensive ointment only Judas had any real evil intent. Thus while Mark, Luke and John do not specifically speak of the angel rolling the rock back and the Roman soldiers panicking, Matthew gives the specific details about how the stone got rolled back.

Let me put it this way: suppose you have three people who see a robbery suspect. One man knows he wore a yellow shirt; another man knows he wore black pants; another man knows he wore brown shoes. All of these men have something to add to the story, and hint at what the man looked like. The fact they only present specific details does not negate the entirety of the witnesses.

I think we must also ask if any of these “contradictions” affect Christian theology. Is the Christian understanding of God turned upside down because we don’t know the exact number of women who went to the tomb, or is the fact that there were witnesses to the resurrection that is important?

Furthermore, look at what we certainly do know from all four accounts. Does the fact that only one account specifies what happened when the rock rolled back negate the fact that all four gospels confirm the stone was rolled back? Do the individual details given about the crucifixion negate the fact that all four gospels confirm Christ was crucified? Or that He died on this cross, and was resurrected? Of course not.

I once argued with a Muslim over the death of Judas, which he claimed was contradicted between Matthew’s account and Act’s account. I pointed out that they weren’t contradictory at all, and then asked him that even if they were what affect would that have on Christian theology and our understanding of God and Christ. This question seemed to upset him and he never answered.

Each man had a different reason for writing the gospels. Matthew’s was directed towards the Jews, Mark’s was taken from Peter’s account (and if you study Church tradition you’ll see Mark admitted he didn’t keep all the stories in order), Luke was written for a mixed Gentile/Jewish audience, and John’s was written to combat heresies that were popping up around his time. This is why they focus on different things. Furthermore, each man had different styles of writing - Luke, for example, was a physician, and so he is more detailed about certain characters such as the God-fearing centurion or the Wise Thief, whereas John was a deep theologian and hence why so much of his gospel is more theological than historical.

I understand the Christian position on the bible is that it is the inspired word of God, if all of it is inspired, then there is no room for a particular gospel writer to “write what he thought relevant”.

regarding the the time the women visited the tomb, John 20:1 says it was very early in the morning while it was still dark. The other authors say it was very early in the morning at or after sunset when the women visited the tomb.

The discrepancy between John 20:1 and the other books regarding the timing of their visit can’t be attributed to errors in the system of manuscript writing either, because we don’t have the original words, what we have are copies of copies in languages other than what what was used by the authors, (This is my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong)

What I have a hard time understanding is that on the one hand the bible is the inspired word of God and on the other hand we see discrepancies in the details of some accounts. If there are discrepancies it can’t be said every word of the bible is inspired

The only people who believe “every word of the bible” is inspired (or rather, puts it on the same level that Muslims do the Koran) are extreme beliefs among Protestants who follow solo scriptura, the distorted form of sola scriptura which preaches the Bible and nothing else. The Bible is a holy book, and it is the focal point of our lifestyle, but sensible Christians do not raise it to any level of idolatrous worship without contextual and historical understanding.

Now in regards to the discrepancies, again I must ask if any of these have serious theological implications. If Mark describing it being dawn while John describing it as being early but dark (which, incidentally, can mean it was morning but not fully day, ie. dim dawn but not black night) is supposed to turn Christian understanding of God, Christ, the resurrection and other major points on their head, I must confess I do not feel threatened.

Christ’s teachings may be worded differently between the gospels, nevertheless they teach the same thing. The stories of various healings and miracles may be told differently, nevertheless they preach and represent the same thing. Details left out by one evangelist may be filled in by another, nevertheless the story remains intact. The same Christ is found throughout the gospels and the same Christian teachings found throughout the epistles - there are no changes among them.

What of Byzantine_Wolf’s explanation, Famdigy? It is pretty much what I would have written. The idea is not so much that each man had a different idea of what he personally thought was “relevant” and then included those details and not others, rather, that each of the gospels were written for different reasons, to different audiences. In light of that, we should not be surprised that the gospels differ in some respects. The Holy Spirit, who IS God, guided each of these men, and who better than God would know what would best communicate His message throughout time before different people with a myriad of different circumstances and motivations in their lives?

I have seen from your past posts that you are a very intelligent person. Please recognize that you cannot treat the Bible as you would the Qur’an, wherein every word is as a dictation. This makes the Qur’an what it is, namely, a book that relies entirely on its supposed incorruptability and uniformity as proof of its divine origin. The Bible is not like that. It is not a house of cards that will fall down if John writes 2 AM and Luke writes 3 AM.

Also, for my own knowledge, what do you think were the “original languages” of the gospels that we now only have copies of? If you know so certainly that what we have access to is not authentic, then surely you must be able to provide some theory as to what language/s these lost “original gospels” must have been written in?

I’m studying the same topic right now. I found this to be a good explanation:

"No contemporaneous and independent histories are pre-
cisely alike.** Inspiration would not secure the Evangelists
from discrepancies common to all other writers, because in-
spiration does not mean omniscience.** Even if we found
inexplicable contradictions between the Gospels, it would by
no means follow that the history they give is false. The
only just inference would be, that their authors were not

The scriptures are infallible but the writers were merely men, inspired, but not omniscient.

Also this article by Mark Shea.
"Divergence in the Gospels"

I’m inspired by God. I’ll probably become a married man. My friend Dan is inspired by God. He’s working on becoming a priest.

If we were both inspired by God, wouldn’t we do the same thing with our lives?

Try again.

As a matter of fact it is dark early in the morning, for example, 5 am, 4 am

I really don’t see what he is pointing out. Early in the morning is just after sunrise. Also it is dark early in the morning so whats the contradiction :confused:

Please study these and do your homework on these quotes before you post them on here :smiley:

God Bless!

That they were inspired by God to write what God wanted them to write, doesn’t mean that they were omniscient.

Inspiration doesn’t mean omniscience (ALL-KNOWING).

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