Sunday, April 28, 2013

Christian Origins: 5. Internal Inconsistencies

5. Internal Inconsistencies


In addition to the historical inconsistencies that we discussed in part 3, the Bible and the Gospel narratives have internal inconsistencies.

The Gospels of Mark and John do not describe the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph. Luke and Matthew do. They both recount Mary's conception of Jesus. Mary is a virgin and conceives by the power of the Holy Ghost. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The birth narratives end with Jesus in Nazareth. The similarities pretty much end there.

The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus born during the reign of Herod the Great; The Gospel of Luke says it was during the governorship of Quirinius. Herod's reign ended in 4 BC. Roman control of Judaea began in the year 6 AD and so did Quirinius's governorship. This places the birth at very different times   - before 4 BC according to Matthew; after 6 AD according to Luke. That is not to say that people have not tried to reconcile the two accounts. Richard Carrier, a historian (and an atheist) has a long and exhaustive article at the Errancy Wiki showing why none of the reconciliation attempts work.[1] None of them do.

Let's take another example. When was Jesus crucified? Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus eat the Passover meal on first day of the Passover or Nisan 14 and is crucified the next day or Nisan 15. (cf. Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7). John on the other hand portrays Jesus as a perfect pascal offering and has Jesus dying on the day of Preparation of the Passover – a day earlier on Nisan 14. (cf. John 19:14).

Matthew and Luke both have Jesus resurrecting after his crucifixion but have the details all different – the angels at the empty tomb, where Jesus and the disciples headed to, who saw the resurrected Jesus and so on.

We have many many more inconsistencies. Who was Jesus' father Joseph's father? (cf. Matthew 1:16, Luke 3:23) What was Jesus' last words? (cf. Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 23:46, John 19:30). How did Judas the betrayer die? (cf, Matthew 27:5, Acts 1:18). What was Jesus' and his parents' home town? Bethlehem? (cf. Matthew 1:18-2:2) Nazareth? (cf. Luke 2:4) or Capharnaum? (cf. Mark 2:1, Matthew 9:1). How many times did the cock crow?

This list is but a tiny sample. A good question to ask is, do these details matter. If the claim being made is that the Bible is inerrant, then, yes they do. It clearly is not inerrant. Sure, at least, some of these can be resolved if one is inventive enough. But certainly not all!

As the synoptic problem suggests, if Matthew and Luke had Mark right before them and John too possibly was aware of the synoptics, then one has to ask why we see so many inconsistencies. The answer scholars have come up is that the gospel writers were intentionally redacting or modifying the versions they had before them to make it better suite their theological agenda.

For instance, when Matthew drops Mark's story that Joseph of Arimathea bought a linen cloth to wrap Jesus's body (c.f Mark 15:46, Matthew 27:59) the change can be assumed to be quite intentional. A Jew buying cloth on the day of Sabbath is quite unlikely and Mark seems to have missed this problem in his narrative. When Mark misquotes the ten commandments (Mark 10:19) Matthew corrects it. This is one of many such corrections Matthew made.

So, it is not four independent accounts but three or four textually related accounts and the contradictions and differences show the theological and other differences of the writers.

[To be continued... Next Chapter - Prophesy Fulfilled or Midrash]

References:

[1] Richard Carrier, "Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ's Birth", (2006)

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