Contradictions in the Bible

Contradictions in the Bible
by John Windsor, MDiv

January 26, 2020

Modern NT scholarship would eschew the idea that there are no real contradictions among the gospel accounts, only seeming ones. The field of redaction criticism, which has emerged as a major force in NT theology in recent decades, seeks to discover the individual author's purpose behind the gospel he authored. This field of study deals quite a lot with contradictions.

The gospels were composed during pre-modern times, within a mindset that did not employ rigorous criteria such as developed during and after the Enlightenment. Consequently, John was free to include the Cleansing of the Temple near the beginning of his gospel rather than toward the end as in the Synoptics, because (and here is redaction-critical thinking) it suited his purpose — which was probably to convince the remaining disciples of John the Baptist that Jesus did not fail to qualify as the fire-and-brimstone Messiah that John had proclaimed ("his winnowing stick is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his threshing floor," etc.).

The presence of discrepancies among the four resurrection accounts actually strengthens them. Were they identical, we could expect collusion. However, the differences allow the two main facts to shine forth: Jesus was seen early on the first day of the week by one or more women who were expecting him to be dead.

Many differences among the gospels deal with geographical niceties: names of villages, people, etc., many of which are completely understandable if the author were not familiar with Palestinian geography or history. Some are altogether human: Mark mentions that the woman with the issue of blood not only could not be healed by physicians, but actually grew worse — a remark the physician Luke conveniently omits.

Trying to deny the presence of real contradictions is a Don Quixote type of crusade that is unlikely to convince many modern rationalists. It is far more effective to acknowledge contradictions as part of the humanity of Scripture, and instead insist on the truth of the substance of what is being conveyed through the human efforts of the authors.

John Windsor holds a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree and is a convert to Orthodoxy. He has studied New Testament Greek for over 40 years.


John Windsor