About the Book
Table of Contents
Part II: The Necessity of the Four
The Nature of Contradictions
IT IS MY purpose
in this chapter to set forth the nature of the evidence that
contradictions really do exist, that statements are made in one
part of Scripture which cannot by the ordinary laws of logic
be made to agree with other statements made in Scripture. But
I also want to show that these contradictions--far from undermining
the claim made by Paul when writing to Timothy that "all
Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16)
-- actually confirm the fact of inspiration in a unique and undeniable
way in every instance, except for one class which we shall consider
briefly under the first heading.
1. Contradictions which appear to have
arisen because of errors in transcription.
The majority of contradictions
in this category have to do with numbers. Despite all the research
by Hebraists from early Christian times to the present, we are
still not absolutely certain that we understand fully the system
of enumeration used in the Old Testament. The New Scofield Bible
states, in commenting upon I Chronicles 11:11, that there are
barely twenty-five cases where numbers in one part of the record
do not agree with those repeated elsewhere. Sometimes this is
clearly due to our failure to understand the system of reckoning
employed. Thiele's study, The Mysterious Numbers of the
Hebrew Kings, (1)
is an excellent example of how a proper understanding can bring
reconciliation where it had previously been thought impossible.
But some contradictions remain.
For example, in II Samuel 10:18 David is credited with having
destroyed 700 enemy chariots. In I Chronicles 19:18 the record
of the same event credits him with
1. Thiele, Edwin R., The Mysterious Numbers
of the Hebrew Kings, University of Chicago Press, 1951.
1 of 14
having destroyed 7000
enemy chariots. On this, H. P. Smith proposes that the difference
resulted from the desire on the part of a later chronicler to
enhance the extent of David's victory. On the other hand, of
course, since the Scriptures were copied by hand, the original
could have been misread. It could, in other words, be simply
a copyist's error. Curiously, people who have a low estimate
of inspiration are much more willing to attribute errors of this
kind to ulterior motives than to simple, unintentional mistakes.
It is ironic that Dr. Smith himself, when dealing with the text
of 2 Samuel 10:6 lists the number of Tob's fighting men as 1,200,
whereas the actual text says that there were 12,000! Was this
due to ulterior motives? Or was it perhaps not even Dr. Smith's
error at all, but the error of a typesetter? (2)
There are some extraordinary cases
of typesetting errors even in modern Bibles. I have an older
edition of the Scofield Bible. One day I noticed a typographical
error in the printing of Psalm 119; it has been corrected in
the newer edition. The reader will recall that this psalm is
divided into as many sections as there are letters in the Hebrew
alphabet. Each section is then headed with a Hebrew letter followed
by a conventional spelling-out in English of the way this letter
is pronounced. Curiously, in the older Scofield Bible, the section
headed by the word Yod (vv. 73-80), lacks the Hebrew character!
This is interesting because it is the one letter in the Hebrew
alphabet to which the Lord made specific reference in Matthew
5:18 when assuring his listeners that the Scriptures should never
fail. The jot of Matthew 5:18 is the missing Yod of
Psalm 119:73. Which only goes to show that with the best intentions
in the world -- and I am sure that tremendous care was taken
by the publisher -- omissions of this kind can occur. It escaped
the notice of everyone who had to do with the publishing of this
Sometimes such contradictions
appear to exist because the text has not been read with sufficient
care. Such a case is II Samuel 24:24 where a purchase involved
a price of 50 shekels of silver that in I Chronicles 21:25 reappears
as 600 shekels of gold. The purchase was made from a man whose
name is given in II Samuel as Araunah and in I Chronicles as
Oman. The two names are variants only and refer to one individual:
but the first account concerns only the purchase of a threshing
floor, whereas the second account has to do with a far
2. Smith, H. P.: quoted by E. F. Harrison,
"The Phenomena of Scripture," in Revelation and
the Bible, edited by Carl F. H. Henry, Baker, Grand Rapids,
more extensive piece
of ground which in due course became the temple court.
One needs to be very careful in
reading parallel accounts to make sure that there is not in reality
a significant difference in the circumstances. Richard D. Wilson
said that he once asked a man how many people lived in a certain
Southern city. (3)
The man told him there were 40,000. Subsequently he felt the
figure must be in error when he saw the size of the place and
so he asked a second man who told him that there were 120,000.
In due course he found that the population consisted of 40,000
whites and 80,000 blacks.
At times the huge numbers given
in Scripture for the number of camels, for example, or other
animals possessed by a man like Abraham are so large as to be
almost incredible and have likewise been attributed to copyists'
errors. But as we show in Part IV of this volume, there are very
precise modern parallels which suggest that no exaggeration whatever
is involved. Sometimes the number of dead after a battle seems
equally unbelievable, (4) yet one has only to read the travels of Marco Polo
to discover that battle losses of this order are by no means
unknown from earlier times, and enormous herds are still
owned by wealthy ranchers.
Others have questioned the numbers
involved in the ages given for the pre-Flood patriarchs. (5) But here again, there is
good reason to reserve judgment in the light of modern knowledge
and the predictions being made with increasing frequency by authorities
in the life sciences.
In concluding this brief survey,
it is important therefore to note first of all that some copyists'
errors do exist. But it is equally important to note that merely
because some particular number seems greatly out of proportion
to our way of thinking, we should not on that account assume
it is a copyist's error unless we have the means of checking
it against some other parallel part of Scripture which strongly
suggests that such an error does exist.
2. Contradictions which are more
apparent than real.
this class of contradictions has steadily diminished as background
knowledge has increased, we do not need to spend much
3. Wilson, Richard D., Is the Higher Criticism
Scholarly? Sunday School Times Co., Philadelphia, 1922, p.53.
4. A brief but very useful article on this aspect of the problem
is found in Eerdmans' Handbook to the Bible, Eerdmans,
Grand Rapids, 1973, pp.191-92.
5. "Longevity in Antiquity and Its Bearing on Chronology," Part
I in The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, vol.5 of The
Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company.
time upon it. However,
one example will be useful as an illustration.
In the New Testament we may note
that according to Mark 10:46, the Lord restored sight to a blind
man by the wayside as He was leaving Jericho; but according to
Luke 18:35, the miracle actually occurred as He was approaching
Jericho. The fact is that there were two Jerichos -- the
ancient one which was destroyed by Joshua and which would occur
at once to every Jew's mind as the Jericho; and a second
one situated about one and a half miles from the first one which
had been rebuilt by Herod and turned into a kind of summer residence
for Roman officialdom and would therefore be in the Gentile mind
the Jericho. Somewhere between the two, a blind man received
his sight. As is well-known, and as we shall have occasion to
explore in a slightly different way, Matthew wrote his Gospel
for Jewish readers, whereas Luke wrote his for Gentile readers.
This kind of "disagreement" when observed between the
three Synoptic Gospels is vitally concerned with an aspect of
revelation that is the subject of the last chapter. These contradictions
are certainly more apparent than real.
3. Contradictions which appear
to have resulted where there may well be a case of translation
from one language to another, as for example, where the words
of Jesus, presumably spoken in Aramaic have come to us through
It seems to me highly improbable
that the Lord spoke in Greek although it is certain that many
Jewish people in Palestine at the time were quite able to do
so. On a number of occasions we know indeed that the Lord used
Aramaic, since here and there His actual words are recorded in
that language (e.g., Mark 5:41). There is also good reason to
believe that Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Aramaic,
although the text we are familiar with appears in Greek and is
presumably, therefore, a translation of an original in Aramaic.
This raises the question as to
whether a translation has the same inspired authority as an original.
The usual answer to this is no. But in the present instance there
may be a rather special circumstance involved since Matthew himself
may in fact have been responsible for both the Aramaic and
the Greek versions. Was he inspired in the writing of both
of them? Some people believe that there is a numerical structure
to Scripture of a kind which they feel cannot be accounted for
except by assuming verbal inspiration; these persons hold that
this applies equally to Matthew's Gospel in the Greek Version
as it does to the rest of the New Testament. On this basis,
therefore, one must assume
that the Greek text of Matthew is equally inspired. On the other
hand, an Aramaic Version also exists,
(6) which may well have been the first
New Testament Scripture, an inspired account written expressly
for the dispersed Jews in the East who embraced the Christian
faith after the great gathering in at the Feast of Pentecost
Eusebius tell us in his History
of the Church (3:39) that one of the very early writers,
Papias, held that Matthew wrote or arranged the current sayings
of the Lord which had gradually accumulated by word of mouth
from those who had heard them firsthand, and set them forth "in
the Hebrew dialect", i.e., Aramaic. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer.
3:1) says that Matthew wrote an account of the gospel among
the Jews in their own dialect. Origen, according to Eusebius,
held the same view also. Jerome (see Catal. 3) says that
"Matthew composed the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew [i.e.,
Aramaic] letters and words, but it is not made out who it was
who afterwards translated it into Greek"; he adds, however,
that this text was preserved in his time in the Caesarean Library.
In the 1883 edition of the Schaff Herzog Religious Encyclopedia
under the heading "Matthew," the writer, after
discussing the relationship between this original Aramaic Gospel
of Matthew and the Greek edition, observes:
We prefer to hold to the opinion
that a Hebrew [i.e., Aramaic] Gospel of Matthew did exist and
that our canonical Gospel [i.e., the Greek one] is a reproduction
and enlargement of it by his own hand [emphasis mine].
It may seem
as though we are stretching a point unduly to suggest that Matthew
wrote his Gospel in Aramaic and then in Greek and that he was
equally inspired in both. Yet we have interesting examples of
both ancient and modern authors who wrote first in one language
and then translated their own works into another language. Inspiration
was lacking in these examples, of course, but the circumstances
are much the same and show that such a thing is possible. Josephus
wrote his Wars of the Jews in Aramaic and then rewrote
it in Greek. (7)
More recently, a Hebrew scholar, A. S. Yahuda, wrote a learned
work on the Old Testament first in German
6. Matthew's Gospel in Aramaic: see an interesting
discussion of this matter by Asahel Grant, The Nestorians,
Murray, London, 1841, pp.168f. The author believes that these
people were remnants of the tribes taken into captivity who did
not go back to Palestine. See also J. E. H. Thomson, "The
Readers for Whom Matthew wrote his Hebrew Gospel," Trans.
Vict. Instit. 54 (1922):178-99. Thomson believes that the
Aramaic Gospel of Matthew is not merely a translation of the
Greek but an independent version.
7. Josephus' Wars of the Jews in two languages: see J.
E. H. Thomson, ref. 6, p.179.
and then in English.
The latter admits freely that he
found it difficult merely to translate his own work, and the
result was that he set forth exactly the same information but
recast in a more appropriate form for the second language. Thus
some of the reports which Matthew gives us of the Lord's words
spoken originally in Aramaic have, still under divine inspiration,
been preserved for us in Greek--and presumably, therefore, in
a form which is not precisely their original one. What we have
is not the kind of transcript of the Lord's words which a tape
recorder would have left us, but rather that kind of record which
the Holy Spirit was pleased to give us through the instrument
of a man's mind translating as he wrote. There is no need to
abandon verbal inspiration even though the actual words that
appear in the Greek text were probably not the actual words spoken
by the Lord. By avoiding a slavish insistence upon the recording
of His precise words, the text we have provides us rather with
an enlarged insight into what the Lord was telling us.
Matthew's Aramaic Gospel was written
for dispersed eastern Hebrew Christians to whom Aramaic
was most familiar. Presumably his Greek version was written for
western Hebrew Christians dispersed around the Mediterranean,
to whom Greek was more familiar. As a matter of fact, the existence
of the Aramaic version seems to have been almost unknown to the
latter. As a consequence, Matthew occasionally reports sayings
which incorporate some of the original words (assuming that even
Greek-speaking Jews would be familiar with them). For example,
when our Lord rode triumphantly into Jerusalem the people said,
"Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna
in the highest" (21:9). In reporting this same incident,
Luke tells us that the people said, "Blessed be the King
that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory
in the highest" (19:38). Of course, it is possible
that some said one thing and some another; but it seems to me
equally likely that Matthew, well aware of his readers' Jewish
background, could afford to use the word Hosanna, whereas
Luke, who was similarly aware of the background of his Gentile
readers, would avoid an Aramaism and use a word equally appropriate
but much more intelligible to them. Luke was still divinely overruled
in his choice of the equivalent word, and plenary inspiration
is just as necessary to ensure this.
In his introduction
to The Gospels from the Aramaic, George M.
8. Yahuda, A. S.: referred to by D. M. McIntyre,
"The Synoptic Gospels and Their Relation to One Another,"
Trans. Vict. Instit. 65 (1933):123.
Lamsa (9) suggests that there are a few places where a statement
is made by the Lord according to our Greek texts which would
be more meaningful if we assume that the original Aramaic was
misunderstood by some transcriber into Greek. It seems possible
that a number of the Lord's sayings were preserved orally by
the disciples in their original form, and that people like Luke
sought out these personal recollections and incorporated them
into his manuscript. There is no reason why this should not have
been true in the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament,
whence a number of then-existing documents were quoted to form
part of Scripture, which documents have long since disappeared.
The Book of Jasher, for example, is referred to in connection
with Joshua's long day. Luke may have made use of some of many
well-known sayings of the Lord. Lamsa suggests that the word
camel is rather like the Aramaic word meaning heavy
rope, and that it was this to which the Lord made reference
as being "difficult" to thread through the eye of a
needle (Luke 18:25). I am aware there are some who believe that
one of the small gates in the wall of the city was referred to
as "the eye of a needle," imposing a similar problem
for the camel driver.
Another example may possibly be
found in connection with the Aramaic word for "talent."
By a very small slip of the pen, this could be mistaken for the
Aramaic word which means "a province." Thus in Luke
19:13, 17, and 24 it is conceivable that what the Lord really
said to the man who had invested his talent successfully was
that he would be made responsible, not for more "cities,"
but for more "talent." According to Lamsa the two words
may be so written that only the placing of a single dot distinguishes
between them. I'm not sure how true this surmise really is, but
it is worth noting. Yet I must confess that this kind of explanation
makes me uneasy because, rightly or wrongly, I feel that it challenges
the rather necessary assumption that our Greek text has been
preserved faithfully. It is true that we do have some
cases where variants occur, and alternative readings do exist.
But in these two cases there is no such textual evidence. It
is simply human surmise with no documentary evidence to support
Furthermore, there are a
number of cases in the Gospels where a conversation is reported
by two different authors. The wording is often not precisely
the same in the two reports. The change can be in word order
and sentence structure or in vocabulary. Simple omissions
9. Lamsa, George M., The Four Gospels According
to the Eastern Version, Holman, Philadelphia, 1933: camel
vs. cable, p. xi; talent vs. province, pp.xif.
of words in one report
need not trouble us. But when different words or sentence structure
are used, we have a problem. Does verbal inspiration mean that
a particular statement made by the Lord must always be set forth
identically as a tape recorder would reproduce it? Or is it sufficient
that we have the sense of what the Lord intended? If this
is allowable, could it not be that verbal inspiration relates
rather to the inspired purpose of each evangelist in presenting
his record? The choice of actual words would then be subservient
to the plan of his Gospel and the background of his readers,
but still divinely inspired. The multifaceted meaning and significance
of the Lord's recorded conversations would be faithfully preserved.
The Holy Spirit therefore overruled
the choice of words which each Gospel writer employed so that
exactly that message would be conveyed which was required to
communicate the truth to each group of readers. Thus we have
to free ourselves of the idea that a tape-recording of the actual
words used by a man is of greater importance than what he is
seeking to communicate. I am persuaded that every word which
Jesus uttered was in fact so pregnant with meaning that it was
simply impossible to set it forth as a simple verbal transcript.
His sayings have come to us through several minds, each of which,
receiving the same original utterance, filtered and distilled
it under divine inspiration so that more of its depth has come
through to us by reason of apparent contradictions (and
not in spite of them) than could possibly have been communicated
in any other way.
In the section that follows, and
indeed in the rest of this paper this important truth is first
of all illustrated from Scripture and then explored in the light
of what we now know about the means by which we communicate to
one another the truths we perceive.
4. Contradictions occurring in
reports by individuals who are independently setting forth what
was said or what was done, and whose disagreement does not
arise because of the use of a different language but for
some other reason which appears to render the contradiction
in no way accidental but entirely by design.
From what has been said thus far,
the reader will gather that I'm not greatly in favor of so-called
harmonies of the Gospels. To my mind, it is analogous to taking
three or four photographs of one individual from slightly different
angles and attempting by superimposing the negatives over one
another to print a single picture. Unless they are all precisely
the same, the final portrait would be far less clear and meaningful
than any one of the originals taken singly.
Yet the originals are
all genuine portraits of the same person and cumulatively add
up to a total view. There is, of course, a difference in the
present context between a visual portrait and a "portrait"
drawn in words. To this extent, the analogy is quite unfair,
because we assume that if someone said something, there is only
one way of "accurately" recording what he said -- no
matter from what angle we approach the speaker. That is, we make
a faithful transcript of his words.
This is a reflection of Western
man's peculiarly developed sense of truth, which stems rather
largely from our tremendous dependence upon a written text. Whether
a man means what he says doesn't seem to us as important as the
actual words he uses. So you often hear someone in an argument
complain, "But you said..." To which the reply generally
is, "But that's not what I meant...." Thus, while we
give lip service to the principle that what we mean is more important
than the words we use, we are still persuaded that a man's actual
words must at all costs be transcribed rather than his intended
This places us in an embarrassing
position. If we argue strongly for verbal inspiration (I'm thinking
of the Gospels at the present moment), we are at the same time
being forced to acknowledge that the Lord's statements are often
differently reported by different writers. Some must therefore
have reported incorrectly? If we impose upon God our own
insistence that truthful reporting is limited to the recording
of a man's actual words, then we are forced logically to admit
that in many places the Gospel records were not verbally
inspired--because the fact is that the Gospel writers often do
not agree upon the words He actually used. But if we once recognize
the fact that it is the Lord's meaning that is of fundamental
importance, then we are free to allow the Holy Spirit to put
into any Gospel writer's mind just those words which will preserve
for us intelligibly exactly what the Lord intended by them. And
since His meaning was always so much more far-reaching than any
single mind could comprehend, what He was communicating in His
conversation had to be set forth in several different ways. And
to be absolutely certain that in this transcription no error
in meaning would be introduced, the Holy Spirit inspired the
words that were to be used by each Gospel writer in his report.
So it has come about that what to our superficial way of thinking
may appear as very loose or even contradictory reporting is actually
an essential part of the inspiration of Scripture. In this sense,
contradictions are a necessary part of revelation.
It may be argued that
in some instances we must not suppose contradictory reporting,
but rather that the statements of each of the Gospel writers
are to be put together in order for us to recover the whole truth.
An analogy is to be observed in the inscription on the cross,
where the total wording may be recovered by combining what each
writer has recorded. In Matthew 27:37 the inscription is stated
as follows: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
In Mark 15:26 it appears as "The King of the Jews."
Luke 23:38 has it, "This is the King of the Jews."
And in John 19:19 it is given, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King
of the Jews."
There are two ways in which one
can deal with these four accounts. The first is to say simply
that each writer was led to pick upon only part of the total
inscription, the part he recorded being appropriate to the purpose
of his Gospel. Putting them all together produces the following:
"This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Out of this total inscription one can extract any one of the
four Gospel accounts. They are, therefore, in this light assumed
to be additive. The second alternative is that since the title
was written, as we are told specifically, in Greek and Latin
and Hebrew, the wording adopted by each Gospel writer was that
which appeared in the language most familiar to him. Matthew
recorded what was written in Hebrew, Mark in Latin, and Luke
in Greek. It is also possible that the total inscription was
in all three languages, but this seems to me a tattle less likely.
John, writing somewhat later in time, comes nearest to putting
down the total inscription.
One further point in the same connection
is worth noting. Matthew, seeing the situation through the eyes
of a Jew and writing for Jewish people, refers to the inscription
as an "accusation." Luke writing for those who would
hardly see the significance of the inscription in these terms,
simply refers to it as a superscription. Mark, who wrote for
the Romans, notes that it was both a superscription and an
accusation. John, who saw perhaps more clearly with the passage
of time, looked upon these words as having much greater significance
than merely standing as an accusation or a superscription. He
refers to it as a "title."
I believe that this principle of
adding together cannot be applied in more than a few cases except
by some rather artificial reconstructions. However, one or two
further examples may be worth observing. For instance, Matthew
15:28 reads "Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman,
great is thy faith: Let it be unto thee even as thou wilt...."
At this point we may add Mark 7:29 which reads, "For this
saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy
the record is then completed by Matthew: "And her daughter
was made whole from that very hour." Additively, Matthew
and Mark give us a complete picture.
Another case is found at the time
of Jesus' trial, in the following way:
Matthew 20:19: "mocked..."
Luke 18:32: "...and spitefully entreated and spitted on."
Matthew 20:19: "...and scourged."
is no contradiction of fact here, so this is not what I mean
when I speak of contradictions. What I do mean is illustrated
in the following. In speaking to the Pharisees and other religious
authorities, Jesus said, according to Matthew 26:55, "Ye
laid no hold on Me." According to Mark 14:49, His words
were, "Ye took Me not." According to Luke 22:53, He
said, "Ye stretched forth no hands against Me." It
is clear that if any one of these is reporting accurately, as
we commonly define accurate reporting, then the other two are
reporting inaccurately. That each of these sentences has fundamentally
the same meaning is quite evident, however, and since I personally
believe in verbal inspiration, I am convinced that each writer
was inspired to record the Lord's words as he did. I think we
must assume in that case that in some way which may not be immediately
apparent, the difference in wording was deliberately chosen by
the Holy Spirit to preserve the unique character of each of the
Gospel portraits as a whole. In some cases, which we shall return
to in the last chapter, we can see why there were differences:
in this particular case the reason is not clear to me at the
moment, but I am certain that there is a perfectly good reason.
Here is another example.
In Matthew 21:2, which has to do with the Lord's commission to
certain of the disciples to go and bring the ass upon which He
was to ride into Jerusalem, Matthew records His words as having
been "straightway ye shall find..."; Mark (11:2) "as
soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find...; and Luke (19:30):
"at your entering ye shall find..." Clearly these are
the same statements in intent, and equally clearly they cannot
be merely added together to evade what appears, superficially,
as contradiction. The Greek text is not precisely the same in
each case. If these purport to record the identical conversation,
we must assume that the strict recording of words has
been replaced by a reporting of intention because this
was of greater importance.
We have another such example in
Matthew 19:26, where the Lord's words are given as "With
God all things are possible." Luke
18:27 records this same
statement in the form, "The things which are impossible
with men are possible with God."
The next illustration shows precisely what
I mean. In Mark 5:41 (in the Authorized Version), Jesus is said to have
raised Jairus' little daughter with the Aramaic words, "Talitha
cumi." Luke 8:54 gives the Lord's words on the same occasion
as having been "he pais egeire" (in the Greek ). No person could possibly use these two
entirely different speech patterns at the same time, although they both
mean the same thing--"Maiden, arise"--the first is Aramaic
() whereas the
second is Greek. It is reasonably certain that Jesus used the former words,
since He spoke Aramaic. The Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of both
Mark's and Luke's accounts clearly intended us to know the meaning
of Jesus' words rather than the sound of them.
There are many occasions upon which
the general intent is the same, though the way the intention
is expressed is deliberately different. In Matthew 18:8 the Lord
is reported as saying, "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee,
cut them off." But Mark 9:43 reports these words
as "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off." The quotation
from Mark includes no reference to the feet. The rest of each
of these two sentences makes it clear that the omission is intentional:
Matthew continues, "It is better for thee to enter into
life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet
to be cast into everlasting fire"; Mark finishes the verse,
"It is better for thee to enter into life maimed than having
two hands to go into hell."
It seems unlikely that these two
passages are intended by the Holy Spirit to be combined in the
way that we might combine Matthew 15:28 and Mark 7:29 (referred
to earlier). In the former case a combination adds to our total
understanding, whereas in this case nothing is added. On the
other hand, if--as I shall try to show in the last chapter--Mark
was laying emphasis upon the Lord as an exemplary Servant, then
it may well be that the stress is upon the servant's hands rather
than upon his feet. A lame servant could still be a good one;
but from the point of manual labor--that is, for service as we
ordinarily think of it--a servant without hands is virtually
useless. Thus, possibly the omission here is deliberate and is
in keeping with the special object and character of Mark's Gospel.
One further illustration of contradictory
reporting is to be found by comparing Mark 5:19, 20 with Luke
8:39. This is an account of the healing of the maniac of Gadara,
who desired immediately to become part of the Lord's entourage.
However, Jesus Suffered him not, but said to him, "Go home
to thy friends, and tell
them how great things
the Lord hath done for thee." Luke puts the Lord's
instructions as follows: "Return to thine own house,
and show how great things God hath done unto thee."
There is disagreement in the instructions, in the one case to
go home and tell his own friends, and in the other to tell his
own house. But even more important, there is this divergence
in wording by the use of the word Lord as opposed to God.
There is no contradiction in meaning: but there is in terms
of the actual words spoken. If we insist that the only truthful
reporting is what a tape recorder would provide, then which word
would the tape have recorded? I think it is also worthy of note
that the healed man, according to Mark, went home and began to
publish how great things Jesus had done for him. Mark makes no
attempt to excuse the man for his disobedience, for in point
of fact he was not being disobedient, since Jesus is indeed both
Lord and God (John 20:28).
I cannot refrain from referring
in this context to Luke 17:16, the story of the healing of the
ten lepers. One of them returned to say, "Thank you."
Luke records what happened: "When he saw that he was healed,
he turned back and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell
down on his face at His feet, giving thanks." It
seems to me that unless one makes the assumption that Jesus is
God, the writer would have been led to make it quite clear that
the feet were not God's feet. The fact is that they were the
feet of God.
It will be noted that these contradictions
in reporting chiefly concern words spoken by the Lord. I have
not made an exhaustive study of the evidence, but my impression
is that when Scripture reports the words of man (for example,
Matthew 11:3 and Luke 7:20: John the Baptist speaking), this
kind of free paraphrasing is not allowed. In short, the words
of men are reported consistently without contradiction because
such words never have the inexhaustible content of meaning as
the words of God have. Even when the Lord Himself is quoting
what man has said, He quotes the words precisely (cf. Matthew
11:19 and Luke 7:34).
As we shall
see, it is often quite as important to note what is omitted as
it is to observe what is included. Matthew frequently judges
the Jewish people very harshly and does not hesitate to set forth
the severest strictures which Jesus pronounced against His own
people. By contrast, the other writers are more gentle and omit
many of these strictures. Evidently it seemed proper to the Holy
Spirit that one who was not writing to the Jewish people specifically
should not be encouraged to emphasize their wrongdoing; but in
Gospel written for Jews
by a man who was himself one of their number, it was not appropriate.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Enough has therefore been said
to establish the fact that there are clearly contradictions in
reporting which the Holy Spirit has not merely allowed
to appear in the text, but has, to my mind, deliberately introduced
because by them something more has been revealed than would have
been impossible by slavishly repeating on every occasion the
same precise wording. Every attempt to remove these inconsistencies
by artificially combining them or by excusing as errors of transmission
inevitably robs us of part of the total revelation which God
intended. For this reason I believe harmonies of the gospels
can be dangerous. In fact, experience shows fortuitously that
they never have been successful in any case.
While we thus say that the meaning
is the important factor, it is still true that meaning cannot
be conveyed without words. Thus it needs to be underscored that
to give the true meaning according to the mind of the Holy Spirit,
inspiration of the wording was required. This is all the more
essential where the record is apparently contradictory.