I’ve said it before and let me say it again, the Bible is under siege. It is under siege in the classroom, the media, in the books we read, in entertainment, and on the Web. If you are a genuine believer in Jesus Christ, you had better wake up to that fact. As you know, over the last couple weeks I’ve been talking about a professor Ehrman, who is bent on demonstrating that the Bible is hopelessly riddled with discrepancies, that Jesus Christ was a false prophet[1], and that the Bible simply cannot be trusted as the infallible repository of redemptive revelation.  

Now I don’t have a personal ax to grind with Professor Ehrman, I don’t even know him, but I have a completely different mission. He talks about how “the more conservative students–– resist for a long time, secure in their knowledge that God would not allow any falsehoods into a sacred book, but before long, as students see more and more of the evidence, many of them find that their faith in the inerrant and absolute historical truthfulness of the Bible begins to waver.”[2] My goal is not to cause students to lose their faith; my goal is to cause students to find their faith. To trust the Bible—and I am particularly focused on this goal right now in that we are reading and recognizing on the basis of research that the vast majority of kids that come from conservative evangelical homes are walking away from the faith. Some say 75% of them[3]; Josh McDowell said it could be upwards of 94% of them[4], which is to say that only 6% of them survive the onslaught against the Bible and the historic Christian faith.

So I’ve been devoting some time to demonstrating that the supposed discrepancies are just that, supposed.

According to Professor Ehrman, the first of the key discrepancies with respect to the resurrection involves the female or females who allegedly discovered the empty tomb. Ehrman writes, “Who actually went to the tomb? Was it Mary alone (John 20:1)? Mary and another Mary (Matthew 28:1)? Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)? Or the women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem––possibly Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and ‘other women’ (Luke 24:1, see 23:55)?”[5]

Well, it all depends on what Gospel you read, and in responding to a dogmatist, who has made a virtual art form out of exploiting the discrepancies in the secondary details of these Gospels, a number of thoughts spring immediately to mind. Let me share them with you.

First, it’s helpful to recognize that the gospels are complementary rather than contradictory. If John had stipulated that Mary Magdalene was the only female to discover the empty tomb, and the other Gospels had claimed more than one woman was involved in the process, we’d be faced with a genuine contradiction. Instead the complementary details provided by the four gospel writers simply, as Paul Harvey used to say, flesh out the “rest of the story.”

Furthermore, credible scholars are always looking for a reliable core set of facts in order to validate historical accounts. In this case, liberal and conservative historians agree that the body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. As credible scholars have noted a member of the Jewish court that condemned Christ to death is an unlikely candidate for Christian fiction.[6]

Additionally, when we consider the role of women in 1st century Jewish society, what’s remarkable is that the empty tomb accounts feature females as heroes of the story in the first place. This, of course, demonstrates that the gospel writers factually recorded what happened even if it was culturally embarrassing.

One final point; if each of the gospel writers presented secondary details in exactly the same way, Professor Ehrman would no doubt dismiss their accounts on the basis of collusion. Instead of course the gospels provide unique yet mutually consistent perspectives on the events surrounding the empty tomb.

These principles not only revolve and resolve the conundrum I’m discussing now, but include all the supposed resurrection contradictions that are highlighted by Ehrman in his latest book. Indeed, we can safely conclude that far from being contradictory that the gospel accounts are clearly complementary, that a consensus of credible scholarship consider the core set of facts presented by the gospel writers to be authentic and reliable, and that the unique perspectives provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John preclude the possibly of collusion. For further information on supposed Bible contradictions please see my Complete Bible Answer Book

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[1]  Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 244.

[2]  Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) (New York, Harper One, 2009), 6.

[3]   Southern Baptists of Texas Convention,  “Youth ministry summit to explore mass exodus of young from churches” This news release cites LifeWay Christian Resources’ Glenn Schultz in his book Kingdom Education on the 75% number. (http://www.sbtexas.com/default.asp?action=article&aid=3313&issue=11/7/2006).

[4] North American Mission Board, “Studies Show that Once Students Graduate from High School They Struggle With Their Faith”, this News Article cites McDowell’s 94% statistic. (http://www.namb.net/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=9qKILUOzEpH&b=1594365&ct=3237289)

[5]  Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, 48.

[6] Raymond Brown as quoted in Wilkens, Michael J. and J.P. Moreland, eds., Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 148.