Bible Study | Contradictions in the Gospels
Have you ever been told that the four gospels in the Bible contradict each other? Or that there are stories in each that the others don't have? If you casually look at the gospels you may tend to agree. I think we have the expectation that the words and accounting would be identical.
The four individual gospels of the Bible…Matthew, Mark, Luke and John… do share similar accounts of the life of Christ, but each one also gives a vantage point, or “unique aspect” of Christ from the material chosen by the author much like we would get from any accounting of events from different witnesses.
Here I will share with you some of the different material chosen (specifically some of the miracles) and look at what is similar between them in the gospel of Mark and John. By doing so, it will help us gain a more comprehensive appreciation of who Christ is, and what he taught, and did during his life here on earth.
In comparing some of the miracles mentioned in each gospel, we can gain a particular appreciation for the “harmony of the gospels”…we can see that there is agreement between the different accounts, rather than contradiction. But where do we begin? It is often best to begin…at the beginning.
“In the beginning was the Word” (John, 2004). John starts his gospel in chapter one by taking us to the beginning of Christ, not from his life as he was introduced on earth as Christ the Savior, but further back in time, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John, 2004). John makes it clear to us that what he is going to tell us about started long before Christ took human form, and “made his dwelling among us” (John, 2004). Mark on the other hand has a different starting point in chapter one. He takes us straight to, “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God” (Mark, 2004). Mark begins from the time that Jesus starts his public ministry.
With Mark’s proclamation of Jesus’ Public ministry, and John’s teaching of Jesus’ we have the assurance that the man Jesus Christ is also more than “just a man”. If we were only left with Mark’s statement in 1:9 that “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mark, 2004), we may misunderstand who this Jesus was. However, with the declaration of John, we are assured that Jesus isn’t just another prophet or teacher…but God himself coming down in the flesh to live among us.
This gives a great deal of significance to the accounting of each gospel writer from this point on. Mark is telling us that God is now with us as a man, and John is declaring that this man, who is with us, is Jesus the Christ, and he is God who has been here from the beginning of time. ..Pay attention to his life and teachings for they are the teachings…not of man…but God. The one who let us know that God was with us was John the Baptist.
Both gospels give us an accounting of John the Baptist (John’s accounting is more detailed than Mark’s) announcing the coming of the Christ. Both make reference to Isaiah 40:3, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark, 2004). While Mark‘s audience was probably Roman, and John’s was a broader, more diverse audience, quoting the scripture gives both audiences a point of reference. It tells them that what they are about to learn is from the teachings of the Jews from the Holy Scriptures- the Old Testament.
This man, John the Baptist, was written about in the Old Testament as the one who would announce the arrival of Christ onto the scene. Both audiences would not be as familiar to the scriptures as a pure Jewish audience would be, but they would, however, be familiar with the legal concept of two witnesses giving credibility to an event. The two witnesses were the Scriptures and the testimony of John. It was important to give validity and a back drop for the audience as to what was happening by the coming and baptizing of John. It would lay the foundation for the ministry, works, and teachings of Christ.
The teachings of Christ in Mark begin early on in chapter one when “Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. ‘ The time has come, he said. The kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark, 2004). Mark gets right to the point of why Jesus is here.
John, on the other hand, spends more time explaining the testimony, he goes into detail about Jesus choosing the first of his disciples, tells of his cleansing the temple of those who had turned it into a marketplace, and makes reference to his first miracle: changing water into wine at the wedding of Cana. It isn’t until chapter three of John that we actually hear Jesus give his first teaching about the kingdom of God. He tells a man named Nicodemus how to “see the kingdom of God” (John, 2004). Both Mark and John give insight into why Jesus is here. He is declaring a new kingdom…and teaching how to enter into it. The differences, however, give us more insight into special aspects of Christ.
John focuses on the validity, deity, and authority of Christ. He spends a good amount of time explaining who he is. He shows us the details of John’s testimony, and how God revealed to John the Baptist how he would know who the Christ was when he saw the dove land on him when he was baptized. God did this in order that John the Baptist could announce Christ as the “Lamb of God’ with assurance.
He tells us of Jesus ability to supernaturally know things (revealed in his statement to Nathanael that he knew him before they met). He gives us a glimpse into the miracles that Jesus would do (turning water to wine). He then explains Jesus passion and authority over his Father’s house by turning out the marketers.
Mark’s focus early on gives a brief accounting of calling the first disciples (which he will later expand on), but then quickly goes into Jesus authority over demons and sickness. Within the first chapter, Mark mentions two physical healings, and an exorcism. Because Mark has been considered the earliest gospel by many experts, it is possible that Mark was trying to encourage the new Roman converts that Christ has the ability to help them in spiritual and physical afflictions. Mark’s gospel shows the compassionate side of his authority. With this focus, it may help those who are feeling persecuted to be reminded and encouraged of the hope they have in Christ by the gospel of Mark and the security of his authority by the gospel of John.
The three miracles shared by the Gospels of John and Mark are as follows:
· Demon cast out - Mark 6:30-44 and John 6:1-14
· Feeding of 5000 people - Mark 6:45-52, and John 6:15-21
· Christ walking on the water- Mark 11:1-11 and John 12:12-19:
From these three shared miracles, we again are reminded of Christ authority in the spiritual realm as we see him cast out a demon; his compassion for people’s physical needs as seen in the feeding of the 5000; and his authority transcending the physical world as seen in his walking on water. Both gospels touch on three of his most important aspects of who Christ is. In each gospel there are other miracles and stories unique to each, but not contradictory.
In John it is interesting that there are dual examplesof certain teachings and miracles. We see Jesus teaching a Pharisee (who would consider himself clean and spiritual) about the way to be “born again”. And then we see him teaching a Samaritan woman (considered unclean and less than a dog in that culture) about the way to have the true water of life. Afterward, he heals a nobleman’s son, and then, a lame man, and a blind man, of no social standing recorded.
In Mark we see the miraculous healing Jesus performed as similar in nature as John’s in that there are a variety of people. There is: Peter’s Mother-in-law; a leper; a man with an unclean spirit; a woman in the crowd bleeding for 12 years; Gennesaret towns-people; a Syrophoenician Woman’s daughter; a deaf mute; Healing of a Blind Man at Bethsaida; a boy with an evil spirit; an epileptic; and, blind Bartimaeus a roadside beggar. All of these examples expand on the contrast that we see in John. Jesus was there for all mankind, not just the righteous, wealthy and noble, but the common man and woman, and the outcasts…he made no distinction. Both gospels answer the question, “but what about someone like me?”
What if John was the only record and we didn’t have Mark? Would someone wonder if they were left out? Perhaps one could say, “Sure Jesus will heal a lame man and a blind man, but what about someone deaf?” “Or what about a person who is considered unclean like the Samaritan woman in John. We knew she had the opportunity for eternal life, but, would she be healed?” With Mark, we have the Syrophoenician Woman’s daughter as an example that would answer that question with a “yes”. Jesus helped boys, girls, men, women, unrighteous, self-righteous, noble, common, living in palaces, and living on the streets. In the compilation of Mark and John, we are given a comprehensive list of examples that prove no one is left out.
Another miracle shared by John and Mark was that of raisingthe dead. In John we see a son raised, and in Mark, a daughter. They are two separate events, but by having them both mentioned, it again will address the question of being left out.
After all, in those days, boys were much more revered than girls. It would therefore be more of a cultural norm for Jesus to raise a son back to life, but by also raising a daughter, we are able to see that Jesus had compassion on both. Jesus made no distinction of worth as both were of equal value to him. It tapped into the bias of the culture against women in that time (and for our time too).
The miracles of Jesus were not the only notable aspects to compare in these two gospels, but for our sake here, they are one aspect of material that each gospel writer chose to write about that, indeed stands alone in its accounting. Yet, as we have seen, by taking the different testimonies from both gospels, we are afforded a more thorough understanding of who Christ is.
Here I have not mentioned other material from each gospel that would help support our theme, it nevertheless does not make those stories any less significant or important, just as each of these gospels has done likewise. What they don’t mention and what they do, together give us an in-depth insight into Christ.
As we read through the gospels then, it is important to keep in mind how to read them. Rather than seeing different accounts as discrepancies or contradictions, we see them as different vantage points of the author. In the four gospels, each author shared what God had inspired them to write about the accounts and experiences of Christ, from their perspective, in order for us to have a more comprehensive picture of who Christ is.
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