I want to deal with some of the issues that have been brought to my awareness by one of our listeners who wrote me a letter saying that he was a non-Christian for a number of reasons. In fact he gave me his top ten reasons for why he is not a Christian. I felt, as I read through those reasons, that these are some of the reasons that are commonly cited as opposition to Christ and a Christian worldview. Earlier I dealt with one of his reasons, the idea of hell. He found that to be horrendously cruel, primitive and just a horrible idea.
Today I want to deal with another reason he gave, namely that the Bible is full of contradictions and thus is not a divine work of God and has to be the ruminations of human beings rather than being uniquely inspired by God.
Many of the alleged contradictions in the Bible can be reverted back to what we find in the Gospels. For example, a frequently cited alleged contradiction involves the female discoverers of the empty tomb. According to Matthew the discoverers were Mary Magdalene and another Mary. If you go to the Gospel of Mark you’ll read that they were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke claims that it’s Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and then others. If you read the Gospel of John he focuses solely on Mary Magdalene.
To provide a defensible argument against this kind of dogmatic assertion with respect to contradictions it’s helpful to point out that Gospels are complementary, not contradictory. If John, in the example I just cited, had stipulated that Mary Magdalene was the only female to discover the empty tomb while the other Gospels claimed that more than one woman was involved, we’d be faced with an obvious contradiction. But that’s not what’s going on. The complementary details provided by the Gospel writers simply serve to flush out the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey likes to say.
Not only that, but credible scholars always look for a reliable core set of facts to validate historical accounts. In other words, they look for this reliable core, and in this case liberal and conservative scholars agree that the body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and as a member of the Jewish court that convicted Jesus Christ to death, he’s unlikely to be Christian fiction.
When we consider the role of women in the first century, Jewish people were very, very clearly oriented to thinking that women were mere chattel. What’s remarkable is that the empty tomb accounts would feature females as heroes of the story. This demonstrates that the Gospel writers recorded what happened, even if they felt it culturally embarrassing.
One other point, and that is, if each of the Gospel writers presented secondary details in exactly the same way, critics would dismiss the accounts in the Gospels on the basis of collusion. Instead, the Gospels provide unique, yet mutually consistent, perspectives on the events surrounding the empty tomb. So we can safely conclude that, far from being contradictory, the Gospel accounts are clearly complementary. A consensus of credible scholarship considers the core set of facts presented by the Gospel writers to be authentic and thus reliable, and the unique perspectives provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually preclude the possibility of collusion.
In a court of law, someone is considered innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, when it comes to the Bible people often render a guilty verdict without considering all the evidence.