Being the nerd that I am, I must confess that sometimes random things bother me. This week, it’s Bart Ehrman claiming that the Bible is full of contradictions. Bart Ehrman is probably the most popular Bible critic in the world right now. He’s written a few best-sellers about how Jesus isn’t really God and, among other things, that the gospels are full of contradictions. First off, I find his attacks on the gospels genuinely hilarious. He wavers back and forth, claiming both that the gospels are suspiciously cohesive and that they’re far too contradictory. One week, they’re so similar they just obviously are the result of conspiracy. The next, so different that they couldn’t possibly be reliable. It’s confusing, I know.
So let’s end this contradictions nonsense. Imagine you (yes, dear reader, you) and I are walking out of a crowded restaurant and witness a car accident. A week later, we are both called in for questioning regarding the incident. When asked, you recall the accident like so: “I walked out of the restaurant and saw Derek on my immediate left. Directly in front of me, I saw a church with a huge white steeple. To my right I remember seeing an elderly man on a jog. Then I watched a head-on collision between two cars.”
Then they call me in for questioning. I remember the event like so: “I walked out of the restaurant and saw a faithful reader of the Campus Christianity website. Then I saw an ice-cream shop across the street. To my left I saw a basketball court. Then I saw the wreck, a head-on collision between two cars.” Now, we’ve just witnessed an event. But, as is human nature, we remember different details about the event. Same event. Different details. Are our stories contradictory? Of course not. Approaching the gospels, we see something similar. Each of the four writers tell the story of Jesus from four different perspectives. The stories don’t perfectly match up, but why should they? If they did—and included each detail exactly the same—we would have good grounds for believing in collaboration and conspiracy, that the Christian faith was just an intricate invention of the disciples. So the fact that there are four different stories actually gives us a good indication that these are, indeed, four accounts of an actual event.
Now, let’s say for a moment that there are contradictions. Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend. While I do hold that the Bible is divinely inspired (and therefore true) because I’m a Christian, the non-believer has no such commitment. Still, they can’t throw the gospels out just yet. They are still historical documents recounting a historical event. Let’s look at them as such and assume, for a moment, there are contradictions. Back to the car wreck. Let’s imagine I report that the wreck involved two blue cars and you report that the wreck involved one blue car and one white car. Does that mean the event didn’t happen? Very likely, a wreck still happened—that central piece of the story a person is unlikely to forget or confuse—and one of us has just missed a minor (and largely irrelevant) detail. Someone not at the scene asking us about the event is still very likely to walk away believing that a head-on collision has happened, even if our stories don’t perfectly line-up.
On the other hand, it’s very unlikely that, as eye-witnesses, you and I would report contradictory information on major details. In other words, it’s unlikely one of us reports a fender-bender while the other reports a 50 car pileup, if we are both being honest. The main details of the story remain the same. The gospels report an event much more significant—and far more unforgettable—than a car wreck. While the gospel writers may have recorded different details about the event of Jesus’ life and resurrection, that doesn’t make the stories “contradictory.” And even if you can’t buy that, at least understand that the main details are exactly the same: a man was crucified, put into a grave, then showed up a few days later. It’s simple investigative work: don’t let the color of the cars distract you from wreck.