Recently I watched a series of videos by Pastor Mike Winger on Biblical contradictions. In one of the videos he addresses Bart Ehrman and unfortunately makes some spurious claims. The one I will correct here is as follows. Pastor Winger claims that Bart Ehrman says that any attempt to harmonize the gospel accounts amounts to writing your own gospel. I can’t speak for Professor Ehrman on this one. However, since I agree with his conclusion I will clarify the point here.
Can one harmonize without writing your own gospel?
If one reads the story of the empty tomb from all 4 Gospels, one will find contradictions. Most if not all of these can be harmonized. Take, for example, the number of women going to the tomb. Each Gospel gives a different number.
- John tells of one.
- Matthew says two.
- Mark names three.
- Luke has an unspecified number greater than five.
It is perfectly reasonable to harmonize these accounts. None of the authors use the word “only”. Hence, it’s fair to assume that none of them are excluding more visitors. Rather, they are simply naming the one or more they knew about or deemed to be noteworthy.
More importantly for our discussion, this harmonization doesn’t require writing your own gospel. Luke writes of the largest number. Hence, it is already written. Since none of the others exclude his visitors, one is simply treating the text fairly by not reading the others as excluding them. Thus, harmonization fairly resolves this issue.
Can every contradiction be resolved without writing your own gospel?
There are many contradictions in the Gospels that cannot be resolved through harmonization. Consider Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. I use this example because it’s one that can be resolved through harmonization. However, doing so requires writing your own gospel.
in the Gospel of John, Jesus cleanses the temple early in his ministry. However, in the synoptic Gospels he does so days before his crucifixion. Is this a contradiction? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Similarity doesn’t equal sameness. Moreover, this can be resolved by assuming that Jesus cleansed the temple on two occasions. Once early in his ministry, and once days before his death.
What’s the problem with this harmonization?
None of the accounts exclusives state that Jesus only cleansed the temple once. However, none of them say he did it twice. Therefore, when one states that he did so twice they are writing their own gospel. That doesn’t make them wrong, it simply makes them presumptive.
Isn’t this a fair case of writing your own gospel?
That depends. Are you willing to do this for every event in the life of Jesus where the timeline doesn’t match up between accounts? If so, then it is fair. If not, it’s selective editing.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus is born during the reign of Herod the Great. However, in Luke he is born when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Since Herod died in 4 BCE and Querinius didn’t become governor until 6 CE, are you willing to say Jesus was born on two occasions 10 years apart? If so, then it’s fair to say he cleansed the temple twice.
The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was crucified on Passover, or the 15th day of the month of Nisan. However, John’s Gospel has the crucifixion occurring on the day of preparation, or the 14th day of Nisan. Are you willing to postulate that Jesus was crucified twice? If so, it’s fair to presume that he cleansed the temple twice.
Writing your own gospel can be demanding.
Any contradiction can be rationalized away. It’s not a question of if it can be done. Rather, it is a question of how far one is willing to go to do it. Moreover, one needs to determine how consistent they will be with the solutions they use to resolve the problem.
Perhaps a better solution is to reconsider one’s views on the Bible. If it is the inerrant word of God, one has to clear these hurdles. However, if it’s merely the historical account of godly men, one faces no such burden.
Perhaps John got the date of the crucifixion wrong. Does that mean he got the event wrong? Perhaps he was making a theological point by changing the date. Does that mean it never happened?
If one insists on writing their own gospel to rectify these discrepancies, then one will eventually face this dilemma anyway. While one can argue that the four Biblical Gospels are the word of God, it’s extraordinarily difficult to make the same claim for one written by one’s self.