MISTAKES AND CONTRADICTIONS
A. Introduction: For the past four weeks we have been working on a series about the important of becoming a
regular, systematic Bible reader—especially the New Testament. We have more to say tonight.
1. To read regularly means to read every day if possible, for at least 15-20. To read systematically means
to read each New Testament book from start to finish.
a. The purpose of this type of reading is to become familiar with the text. Understanding comes with
familiarity, and familiarity comes with regular repeated reading.
b. This type of reading also helps you begin to see context, which helps you accurately interpret
specific verses. Remember, the Bible is not a collection of independent verses. It is a collection of
books that are meant to be read from beginning to end.
1. The New Testament was written by eyewitnesses of Jesus (or close associates of eyewitnesses),
men who saw Jesus die, then saw Him alive again. What they witnessed changed their lives.
2. These men wrote to communicate important information about Jesus—who He is, why He
came, the salvation He has provided, and how a true follower of Jesus is supposed to live.
2. Jesus is God become man without ceasing to be God. Jesus is the clearest revelation of God to
humanity. Jesus is called the Living Word of God, and He is revealed to us in and through the written
Word of God, the Bible. John 1:1; John 1:14; John 5:39; John 14:21; Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:44; etc.
a. We get to know Jesus through the only fully reliable source of information about Him—what the
eyewitnesses wrote. As we get to know Him, our trust (or faith and confidence) in Him also grows.
1. As we learn to trust what He says over and above every other source of information, it produces
a stability in us that enables us to stay faithful to Him in the midst of life’s challenges.
2. If your relationship with the Lord is based on your circumstances or your emotions, you will be
up and down as your emotions and circumstances change.
b. Consider an incident from the New Testament record. Mark 4:35-40—Jesus and His apostles got
into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. A severe storm blew in, producing waves that almost
completely filled their boat. Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat.
1. His apostles woke Him, shouting: Don’t you care that we’re about to drown! Jesus rebuked
the wind and told the sea to be still. Then He asked His men, “Why are you so afraid? Do
you still not have faith in me” (Mark 4:39-40, NLT).
2. In this situation Jesus expected them to trust Him despite what they saw and felt. He was with
them and would get them through the storm. Over a period of three years, through continued
interaction with Jesus, the apostles’ trust in Him gradually increased to the point where they
were willing to give up all to follow Jesus, including their own lives.
3. As we interact with Jesus through His written Word, we will develop that same kind of trust in
Him. Faith (or trust in God) incomes (increases in us) through the Word of God. Rom 10:17
3. We’ve been making the point that it is difficult to develop and maintain trust in Jesus if you don’t have
full confidence in the primary way that He reveals Himself to us—through His written Word, the Bible.
a. Thus far, we’ve talked about why we can trust the writers’ motives for writing. Last week we
talked about why we can be confident that what they wrote has been accurately handed down to us.
1. We said that accuracy was important to the writers, not only to the writers, the recipients
wanted to be certain that documents were genuine. These first Christians accepted a document
as inspired Scripture only if it could be directly connected to an apostolic eyewitness.
2. No one picked the New Testament books. They were recognized as authoritative because they
were directly traceable to an original apostle. These authoritative documents were then
collected, preserved, copied, and sent to other believers.
b. No original manuscripts of the Bible (or any other ancient book) exist today. What we have are
copies. Critical to determining the reliability of the copies is: How many copies exist, and how
close to the original writings were the copies made.
1. The New Testament stands head and shoulders above any other document from antiquity.
More than 24,000 New Testament manuscripts (full or partial) have been discovered. The
earliest is a fragment from John’s gospel that dates to within 50 years of the original writing.
2. There are textual variants or differences in copies (about 8% in the New Testament). The large
majority of differences are spelling or grammar errors and words left out, reversed, or copied
twice. These errors are easy to recognize and don’t affect the meaning of the text.
A. Here’s an important point. If the Bible is inspired by God (God-breathed) as it claims to
be (II Tim 3:16), then it must be error free because God cannot lie or make a mistake.
B. The Bible is infallible and inerrant. Infallible means incapable of being wrong and unable
to deceive. Inerrant means free from error. Inerrancy and infallibility apply only to the
originals God-inspired documents, not to the copies.
B. It’s not unusual to hear critics claim that the Bible is filled with contradictions and mistakes. We’re going to
look at several so-called contractions in the Gospels to help us see how these “mistakes” can be resolved,
when we understand context, culture, and peculiarities of ancient literature.
1. First, a few words about the structure of the New Testament. The New Testament books aren’t in
chronological order. We don’t know who arranged them as they are, but the arrangement makes sense.
a. The Gospels are first. They are historical biographies of Jesus—from His birth to His ministry,
crucifixion, resurrection, and return to Heaven.
1. I Cor 15:1-4—Gospel is from a Greek word meaning good news. In the New Testament it
refers to the good news of salvation from sin through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
2. The men who wrote the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) did not call their books
gospels. The title gospel was added to these books in the second half of the 2nd century AD.
b. The Book of Acts (written by Luke) follows the Gospels. It is a historical account of the activities
of the apostles as they went out to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection after He returned to Heaven.
c. Acts is followed by the epistles (or letters), most of which were written in the time period covered by
the Book of Acts (AD 30-AD 62). The authors include Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude.
d. The final document in the New Testament is the Book of Revelation. It is primarily an account of
visions given to John the apostle, and depicts events leading up to the second coming of Jesus.
2. The four Gospels all cover the same basic story line, so there is a lot of repetition. However, each book
was written to emphasize a different aspect of Jesus’ person and work. But, consider one example.
a. Matthew’s gospel is placed at the beginning, not because it was the first to be written, but because
his gospel is geared toward a Jewish audience to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah promised in
the Old Testament. Therefore it is a good bridge between the Old and New Testament.
b. Matthew took great care to show that Jesus was and is the promised Messiah who fulfilled all the
Old Testament prophecies about Him.
1. Matthew opens his biography with Jesus’ genealogy, showing that as a descendant of Abraham
and David, Jesus has the correct lineage to be the Messiah—just as the prophets predicted.
2. Matthew uses more quotes from and allusions to the Old Testament than any other New
Testament book (almost 130). He uses the phrase “that what was spoken through the prophets
might be fulfilled” nine times. This phrase is not found in any of the other gospels.
3. Biographies in the ancient world were different than those of today. They didn’t give equal time to
every part of an individual’s life. Their purpose in recording history was to learn from the person’s
achievements. Therefore, the writing was devoted to the most important part of an individual’s life.
a. The gospels say very little about Jesus’ life before He began His public ministry at age thirty. This
makes sense since Jesus came into this world to die as a sacrifice for the sins of men.
b. When the gospels are harmonized (put together with all the events recorded in order, nothing
repeated or left out) only about fifty days of Jesus’ three and a half year ministry are covered, with
great emphasis on the weeks leading up to the crucifixion.
c. Ancient writers were not as precise as historians are today. We know this from secular writings.
1. The writers weren’t that concerned with putting events in chronological order or quoting people
word for word, as long as the essence of what happened and what was said was preserved.
2. Two events were sometimes combined into one. Single events were simplified. Authors
often paraphrased. Quotation symbol didn’t exist yet. They did not use capital letters and
there were no spaces between words, or punctuation between sentences.
4. I point this out because it helps us realize that certain so-called contradictions in the Bible are not
contradictions at all, but rather a examples of how ancient biographers wrote.
a. In Matt 8:28-34 Matthew reports that Jesus freed two men from demon possession. Mark and Luke
describe the same event but mention only one demoniac (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-40).
1. Mark and Luke’s accounts are less complete, but not contradictory. If you have two men, then
you also clearly have one man. An incomplete report is not a false report.
2. The fact that an account isn’t explained down to the last detail doesn’t make it false. Ancient
biographers were mainly concerned with preserving the essence of what was said and done.
The main point of this account is that Jesus had the power to set demon possessed people free.
b. Matt 20:29-34 reports that Jesus healed two blind men. Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43 report
that one man was healed. Where there are two, there is always one. Perhaps Mark and Luke
mentioned only the more prominent or better known of the two. Note, Mark gave the man’s name.
1. Mark and Matthew say the healing occurred as Jesus left Jericho. Luke says it happened when
Jesus was near the city. How can this be reconciled? Possibly three were healed—one when
Jesus entered the city and two when He left, or one was healed when Jesus came to the city and
one when He left. And Matthew condensed it as if both occurred when Jesus left the city.
2. The fact that an account isn’t explained down to the last detail doesn’t make it false. Ancient
writers weren’t that concerned with putting events in chronological order as long as the essence
of what happened and what was said was preserved. The point is Jesus had the power to heal.
3. The fact that the gospels are not exactly the same adds to their credibility. When people make
up a story, they’re often careful to all say the same thing so they don’t get caught in a lie.
c. Matt 27:3-8 says Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver he received to betray Jesus, and hanged
himself. Acts 1:16-19 says he bought a field with the money, then fell, burst open, and his bowels
gushed out. Is this a contradiction? Closer examination shows that both statements are accurate.
1. According to the Law of Moses, the silver couldn’t be returned to the Temple treasury because
it was blood money (Deut 23:18). So the priests used it to buy a potter’s field (a place to bury
Jews not from Jerusalem). It was a common figure of speech to attribute an act to man that he
had done either directly or indirectly. Judas’ return of the money made the purchase possible.
2. The field was at the east end of the Hinnom Valley (SW of Jerusalem). It is a deep, narrow
ravine with steep, almost perpendicular rocky sides (25 feet to 40 feet in height). The valley
floor is also rocky. Trees still grow out of these steep slopes.
3. Judas hanged himself from a tree over one of these cliffs and, either before or after he died, the
rope broke and he fell. If he struck a pointed rock on the way down or at the bottom, his
bowels would have come out.
5. Often the so-called contradictions or inaccuracies in the New Testament are nothing more than the
reader not understanding or misunderstanding the culture of 1st century Israel.
a. Matt 13:31-32—Jesus called mustard seeds the smallest seed of all, but said that it can grow into a
tree big enough to house birds. However, mustard seeds are not the smallest seeds in existence.
1. Jesus wasn’t talking about every seed in the world. He was speaking to Jewish people living in
1st century Israel about a seed that they were familiar with. Mustard seed was the smallest seed
known to them and cultivated in their fields.
2. Two species grow wild in Israel, and one was grown for a condiment. It can in fact grow big
enough to house birds. Some mustard seeds grow into trees about ten feet tall.
b. Luke 14:26—Jesus said that if you want to be my follower you must hate your mother and father,
wife and children, brothers and sisters. He also said that His followers must love their enemies.
1. The Greek word translated hate has the idea of to love less. Matthew’s gospel says: He who
loves his mother and father (etc.) more than me is not worthy to be my follower (Matt10:37).
2. Jesus was not contracting Himself. He was making the point that obeying and pleasing Him
must be the supreme desire of His followers’ hearts.
c. Matt 8:21-22—In the context of following Jesus, a disciple said, first let me bury my father, to
which Jesus replied: Let the dead bury the dead. Jesus wasn’t being mean.
1. The way this phrase was used in the Middle East didn’t mean the man’s father had just died.
It meant that the son had to fulfill his duties to his parents and could not leave home until they
were dead. Jesus was stating the cost of following Him—I, your Lord and Master, come first.
2. A second explanation: At death, bodies were placed in tombs. The following year, relatives
returned, gathered the bones, and placed them in an ossuary (bone box) to make room in the
tomb. Jesus may have been telling the man: Let someone else gather your father’s bones.
C. Conclusion: Possibly you are thinking: There’s no hope for me. If I read the New Testament for two hour
from now till Jesus comes, I could never figure all this stuff out. Consider these thoughts as we close.
1. Everything in the Bible was written by someone to someone about something. Knowing who wrote to
who about what helps us see the context which helps us accurately interpret the Scriptures.
a. How can we possibly know those things? Sometimes the text itself makes it clear when you read
the entire passage, not just one or two verses.
1. This is why getting teaching from a good Bible teacher is critical. Philip (sometimes called the
evangelist, Acts 6:5-6) encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the Book of Isaiah,
specifically a prophecy about Jesus (Isa 53). Acts 8:26-40
2. Philip asked the man: Do you understand what you are reading? The man replied, “How can
I, when there is no one to instruct me” (Acts 8:30-31, NLT). Philip explained the passage to
the man, and he believed on Jesus and was baptized.
b. Be aware that much popular preaching today is nothing more than proof texting. The speaker uses
a verse that fits the point he’s trying to make, rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself.
1. For example, the verse “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, and running over (Luke 6:38)” is often quoted at offering time in church
services to encourage people to give generously.
2. Jesus wasn’t talking about money. No one who heard Him speak would have thought: If I
give money, I’ll get money. Jesus was talking about we are how to treat others. Luke 6:27-38
2. It does take time and effort to become familiar with the New Testament. But this doesn’t mean that God
can’t help you through His Word until you are proficient in it.
a. When I was a new Christian I got great comfort from Gal 3:28 because it assured me that God sees
me as an individual—even though that isn’t the point that the writer (Paul was making..
b. Regular, systematic reading gradually changes your perspective, your view of reality or the way you
see things. You learn to assess everything in terms of what God says about it. His Word becomes
the standard by which you judge everything, and that’s a good place to be. More next week!