Have you ever heard atheists and religious skeptics talk about how the Bible is “full of contradictions”? Some time ago, while defending the Church’s traditional teaching on Christ’s mediatorship between God and man, an atheist shot back at me with a link to a website that claimed to point out 194 contradictions in the New Testament. I have been studying the Bible for nineteen years and have never found any legitimate contradictions, so I was really curious to see what these atheist critics were coming up with. The results were laughable, as you will see below, where I systematically go through each of these alleged “contradictions” and show how not one is a legitimate contradiction.
If you want to get an idea of what sorts of material we will be dealing with, you can take a look at the atheist website. Before we dive in, though, a few preliminary considerations on what we are looking for when we talk about proving or disproving biblical “contradictions”.
What is a Contradiction?
A contradiction occurs when two things are affirmed that are mutually exclusive. For it to be a true contradiction, they must be truly mutually exclusive; for example, consider the statements, “The painting is entirely blue” and “the painting is entirely red.” Presuming that we are talking about the same painting at the same time, these statements are in contradiction because they cannot both be true.
Not every apparent contradiction is a real contradiction. For example, remove the word “entirely” from the above statements, and the case for contradiction becomes fuzzier. What if the painting was half blue and half red? Then the statements “The painting is blue” and “the painting is red” would not necessarily be in contradiction. It is the presence of the word “entirely” that commits us to affirming that the painting is either blue or red, but not both. A contradiction is not the same as a difficulty. A contradiction is not the same as a complicated theological problem that the unstudied will probably not understand. A contradiction means that affirming Proposition A means Proposition B is necessarily denied; there is no possible way they can both be true. If there is a manner in which A and B can be shown to both be true, there is no contradiction.
None of the “contradictions” you will see below are real contradictions. Many are contradictions that are only apparent, such as the one above about the painting being blue or red, which could be a contradiction if in fact the painting was entirely one color or the other, but which we cannot tell with certainty absent the qualifier “entirely.” Examples of these apparent contradictions are situations where one Gospel says Jesus was with Peter, James and John and the other Gospel says Peter, Andrew and John. There is no contradiction unless the latter Gospel specifically says “James was not there.” Unless this qualifying statement is present, what we have is a situation where Peter, James, John and Andrew were all present, but different Gospels only mentioned certain disciples specifically without intentionally omitting any. Many of the “contradictions” are of this sort.
In addition to this, many are misunderstandings based on the presumption on a word having a uniform meaning throughout Scripture, which is clearly not the case. For example, the word “peace.” Our Lord clearly distinguishes between the peace that comes from God with worldly peace. He states, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you” (John 14:27). There are clearly two kinds of peace, both of which can be used in very different contexts. Now, a person assuming that the word “peace” has but a single, uniform meaning would find difficulty with our Lord’s words in Matt.10:34 and Luke 12:51 where He specifically denies that He has come to bring peace. If the “peace” of these verses and the “peace” of John 14 are exactly the same, we might have a problem. But as it is, these are two different forms of peace; in fact, sometimes they are opposed – having peace with God might necessitate worldly conflict. Many of the “contradictions” below are based on this sort of simplistic approach to the way words are used.
Still more errors are theological difficulties, not true contradictions. For example, “God is love” and the existence of Hell are not contradictions; there is no logical contradiction why the truth of one implies the falsity of the other. These are rather theological difficulties that need to be understood in light of the totality of Christian revelation. Their “difficulty” comes not so much from any inherent contradiction as much as from one’s own worldview. For example, reconciling “God is love” with homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9) is neither contradictory nor even problematic unless you approach the verses with a disposition against the Church’s teaching. For those who accept the traditional understanding of Christian morality and the consequences of immoral behavior, there is no problem. This is an issue with one’s worldview, not any contradiction in the text.
Finally, some of the “contradictions” are just ignorant. For example, “Peter was chosen by the Sea of Galilee” and “Peter was chosen by the Lake of Gennesaret.” The Lake of Gennesaret and the Sea of Galilee are the same body of water.
“Resolving” or “Explaining Away”?
I can foresee that some skeptics who will read this refutation will object, “You are not reconciling the contradictions! You are only explaining them away!” What is it to resolve a contradiction versus explaining it away? In fact, to resolve a contradiction is to show that what appeared to be a contradiction was in fact not – that two statements thought to be irreconcilable are in fact able to be reconciled. In other words, an explanation is offered that brings harmony to the two statements.
Consider a man accused of a crime: Suppose a man, call him Bill Jones, is accused of murdering a store clerk and Jones’ DNA is found on the crime scene. He insists that he has never been to the store in question and protests his innocence. We have an apparent contradiction: The statement “I have never been there” with the indisputable presence of Jones DNA in the store. If these two positions are shown to be not in contradiction, an explanation will need to be brought forward that will explain both the man’s protestation of innocence as well as the presence of his DNA.
Now, suppose it is brought forward by the defense that the man has six brothers who also live in the area, and being that members of a family share the same DNA, the DNA found at the crime scene could just as easily belong to one of the brothers as to the accused man. Now we have an explanation that reconciles the contradictory statements; now we see how the man could be telling the truth, and the prosecutor could also have legitimate DNA belonging to Jones, or to someone in the Jones family. What seemed to be a damning indictment was explained away by the defense.
Does this mean Jones is innocent? No. Does it mean the story is not still suspect, or that there are no other difficulties or problems that need to be thought out? No. All it means is that Jones’ claims that he had never been in the store are not inconsistent with the fact that DNA belonging to Jones or one of his brothers was found at the crime scene, since the DNA could have belonged to a biological brother and not to Bill Jones.
In short, yes, it can be said that we are “explaining away” the contradictions, but I would also say that this is what we do all the time when comparing evidence, examining testimony, and attempting to evaluate conflicting accounts. If an accused person’s alibi is under question, the defense must show that there is another factor, an explanation, that does not make the alibi as questionable as once seemed; the prosecution must prove that there is no possible explanation. If there is an explanation, then there is reasonable doubt.
As you will see below, in not a single case does the skeptic “prosecutor” succeed in poking an irreconcilable hole in the “defense” position. The real problem is most of these skeptics who gloat in finding contradictions in the Bible have never bothered to really dig into the verses in question; many of the “contradictions” below evidence a glaring ignorance of not only the Bible itself, but even geography and literary method. They do not care what the Bible really says; they care only about attacking Faith. Yes, I am proceeding from a view of defending the Bible, but at least my explanations actually dig into what the Bible and Christian theology really say, and as such, are more intelligent than the ignorant attacks of the critics.
One last thing: if you find this article valuable, it is taken from a book called The Book of Non-Contradiction, by Phillip Campbell (Cruachan Hill Press, 2017), which is highly recommended.
RECONCILING BIBLICAL CONTRADICTIONS
1. Jesus’ lineage was traced through David’s son Solomon. Mt.1:6.
Jesus’ lineage was traced through David’s son Nathan. Lk.3:31.
This is an ancient objection that has been answered satisfactorily by St. Augustine and others based on the concept of the Levirate marriage as found in Deut. 25. whereby the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow, and the widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband’s brother. In the case of Jesus’ genealogy, one is traced through Heli, one through Jacob, one Joseph’s biological father, one his legal father. Some have also contested that one is a genealogy of the Blessed Virgin. At any rate, the important thing is that Christians have been able to reconcile these accounts at least from the 3rd century, so it hardly constitutes a true contradiction.
2. The announcement of the special birth came before conception. Lk.1:26-31.
The announcement of the special birth came after conception. Mt.1:18-21.
The announcement in Luke was made to Mary prior to conception. The announcement in Matthew was made to St. Joseph after the conception. These are two different announcements. Mary was told beforehand, Joseph after the fact.
3. Jesus’ parents were told of their son’s future greatness. Mt.1:18-21; Lk.1:28-35
Jesus’ parents knew nothing of their son’s potential. Lk.2:48-50.
The former quotes indicate that his parents knew that Jesus would be the Savior; the latter quote is from the episode of the finding in the Temple where they do not understand that He calls God His Father and leaves them for three days. To know your son is the Savior is not the same as to know He would leave and go to the Temple for three days. In the latter account, Joseph and Mary are mystified by Jesus’ behavior, but there is no indication that the fact that their Son went missing for three days without their knowledge means they “knew nothing of their son’s potential.”
4. The angel told Joseph. Mt.1:20
The angel told Mary. Lk.1:28.
The angel told both of them, Mary before the conception, Joseph after the fact. See number 2.
5. There were 28 generations from David to Jesus. Mt.1:17
There were 43 generations from David to Jesus. Lk.3:23-31.
Well, these are two different genealogies so we would not expect them to be exactly the same. That being said, many have suggested that the genealogy of Matthew does not include every single ancestor but mentions only certain important heads of families. A similar argument has been made with regards to the Patriarchs of Genesis 11.
6. Jacob was Joseph’s father. Mt.1:16
Heli was Joseph’s father. Lk.3:23
The most common explanation is that Jacob and Heli were uterine brothers and that we have an example here of a Jewish levirate marriage. See number 2.
7. He was to be called Emmanuel. Mt.1:23.
He was called Jesus. Mt.1:25.
Emmanuel was never understood to be a proper name. It is a prophetic title originating with the prophet Isaiah and denotes the Messiah as a manifestation of God’s presence among His people. No one, either Jewish or Christian, ever understood “Emmanuel” to be a proper name. This is just ignorance.
8. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt while Herod slaughters all males under 2 years old. Mt.2:13-16. (Note: Jesus’ cousin, John, was also under 2 and survived without having to flee.)
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus did not flee to Egypt, but remained for temple rituals. No slaughter of infants is mentioned! Lk.2:21-39.
Herod did not order the slaughter of “all males under 2 years old”, but of all males in Bethlehem under two, and according to Scripture, John the Baptist was not from Bethlehem. The Temple ritual mentioned occurred on the eighth day after Christ’s birth. The flight to Egypt happened after this, possibly sometime after, which is why Herod commanded children under two to be killed. Had these events all occurred immediately, Herod would not have had to kill everyone under two. He gave the two-year leeway because such a span of time had passed since the birth.
9. Jesus was tempted during the 40 days in the wilderness. Mk.1:13
Jesus was tempted after the 40 days in the wilderness. Mt.4:2,3
Matthew mentions He was tempted at the end of the 40 day period; Mark is not specific when the temptation happened. It only says Jesus was in the desert 40 days and that He was tempted. Matthew is simply more specific than Mark in saying that this happened at the end of the 40 day period. It’s like if I say, “I went to the store with my wife and we saw Bob,” while my wife says, “While we were coming out of the store, we saw Bob.” Both are accurate, but one is more specific.
10. The devil first took Jesus to the pinnacle, then to the mountain top. Mt.4:5-8.
The devil first took Jesus to the mountain top, then to the pinnacle. Lk.4:5-9.
In neither Gospel does the language suggest any succession. It just states “again, the devil took him to a high mountain…again, the devil took him to the pinnacle of the Temple.” In neither case is a strict chronology asserted. The Gospels are merely recording that these events happened without commenting on their chronology.
11. Satan tempted Jesus. Mt.4:1-10; Mk.1:13; Lk.4:1,2
Satan had no interest in Jesus. Jn.14:30.
This is one of the stupider “contradictions.” In this one, the temptation of Christ in the wilderness is contrasted with Jesus’ statement in John 14:30 that “the prince of this world cometh, and he has nothing in me.” The traditional understanding and interpretation of this latter clause is that “he has no power over me,” as is translated in the Vulgate. Aquinas notes that the devil only has power over those who commit sin, and as Christ was free from sin, the devil, strictly speaking, had no power over Christ: “But he has no power over me, for he has no power over us except because of sin: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (8:34). Now in Christ there was no sin: not in his soul, “He committed no sin” (1 Pet 2:22), nor in his flesh, because he was conceived of the Virgin without original sin through the Holy Spirit” (Commentary of John, 1975). Satan wanted to tempt and destroy Jesus, as we see in the Gospels, but because Jesus was pure, the devil had no power over Him, as Aquinas states.
12. The baptism of Jesus was with the “Holy Ghost”. Mk.1:8; Jn.1:33.
Fire was also added to the baptism. Mt.3:11; Lk.3:16.
The baptism with fire is the baptism with the Holy Ghost, as fire is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit. See Catechism of the Catholic Church #696.
13. John knew of Jesus before he baptized him. Mt.3:11-13; Jn.1:28,29.
John knew nothing of Jesus at all. Mt.11:1-3.
Matthew 11 does not suggest that John knew “nothing of Jesus at all”, only that he was uncertain what the arrival of the Messiah was supposed to look like. John clearly had a revelation from God that Christ was the Messiah, but he was not sure what the coming of the Messiah would look like, and in his imprisonment may have questioned Jesus’ timing in inaugurating the kingdom. This is why Jesus reassures Him in Matthew 11 by pointing out all the messianic signs He is fulfilling. John does not ask Jesus who He is, as if He never knew Him, but rather asks, “Hey, what is taking so long in inaugurating the kingdom?”
14. Jesus begins his ministry after John’s arrest. Mk.1:13,14.
Jesus begins his ministry before John’s arrest. Jn.3:22-24.
Jesus began His ministry in Judea prior to John’s arrest (John 3:22-24) but did not begin in Galilee until after (Mark 1:13-14). Remember, Judea and Galilee are two different territories.
15. It is recorded that Jesus saw the spirit descending. Mt.3:16; Mk.1:10.
It is recorded that John saw the spirit descending. Jn.1:32.
Then…that would mean they both saw the Spirit descend, right?
16. The heavenly voice addressed the gathering. Mt.3:17.
The heavenly voice addressed Jesus. Mk.1:11; Lk.3:22.
In none of the Synoptic Gospels does it say to whom the voice was addressed; neither Jesus nor the crowds are mentioned one way or another.
17. Immediately after the baptism, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. Mt.4:1,2; Mk.1:12,13.
Three days after the baptism, Jesus was at the wedding in Cana. Jn.2:1.
Here there is too much emphasis on the word “immediately” in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was in Cana three days after the Baptism, per the Gospel of John, but we have no way of knowing how soon He went into the desert – how soon is “immediately” or “straightaway”, as Mark says? The Greek word, eutheos, simply means “forthwith” or “soon thereafter”, and the word is imprecise in Greek even as it is in English. For example, suppose I say, “Immediately after college he went to work for IBM”, while at the same time saying, “Immediately after his college graduation he went out to eat at Applebees.” Both statements can be true, and immediately is appropriate in both cases but can denote differing periods based on context. I think we can say that three days after the Baptism He was in Cana and then shortly thereafter in the wilderness to be tempted.
18. Jesus went to Bethphage and the Mt. of Olives, then left for Bethany. Mt.21:1,17.
Jesus went to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mt. of Olives. Mk.11:1; Lk.19:29
Jesus went to Bethany and then Jerusalem. Jn.12:1,12.
These verses all say the same thing; the confusion arises from confusing Bethphage and the Mount of Olives as distinct places. The villages are in such close proximity to one another, and both at the base of the mountain, that they are often referred to collectively. But no Gospel denies this fundamental chronology: Jesus paused at Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, then sent His disciples to Bethany before entering Jerusalem. Mark’s Gospel simply omits the name of the city of Bethphage, where Jesus paused.
19. Jesus and his disciples taught in Capernaum. Mk.1:20,21.
Only Jesus taught in Capernaum. Lk.4:30,31.
Mark is a more condensed version of the events of Christ’s life. Christ was in Capernaum many times, and the episode in the synagogue related in Luke 4 is not necessarily the same visit mentioned in Mark 1. Even if they were the same, Luke does not deny that any disciples were present, so there is no contradiction in the strict sense. If one verse says “Jesus came to Jerusalem” and another says “Jesus and the disciples came to Jerusalem”, nothing is being contradicted; one is merely more descriptive.
20 . Peter was chosen, with Andrew, by the Sea of Galilee. Mt.4:18-20; Mk.1:16-18.
Peter was chosen, with James and John, by the lake of Gennesaret. Lk.5:2-11.
Andrew chose Jesus and then got Peter to join. Jn.1:35-42.
For one thing, Lake Gennesaret and the Sea of Galilee are the same body of water. The Synoptic accounts are not problematic; all of this group of disciples were fishermen of Galilee, we simply have a more expansive list of who was present in Luke’s Gospel. The real question is reconciling John with the Synoptics, since this is the only Gospel that mentions that Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist. The probably explanation is that Jesus had multiple meetings with Peter before Peter officially joined the band. Andrew most likely told him about Jesus, so Peter was more disposed to follow later when Christ came to the Sea of Galilee. The chronology of these episodes as presented in the film Jesus of Nazareth seems to be a fair representation of this.
21. Peter was to preach to the Jews. Mt.10:2,5,6; Gal.2:7.
Peter was to preach to the Gentiles. Acts 15:7.
Peter’s ministry was to the Jews. The “preaching to the Gentiles” Peter relates in Acts 15:7 refers not to his specific ministry, but to the fact that God chose Peter to deliver the message that salvation was now open to the Gentiles. This revelation came through the mouth of Peter (Acts 10).
22. Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law after he cleansed the leper. Mt.8:1-15.
Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law before he cleansed the leper. Mk.1:30-42; Lk.4:38 to 5:13.
This is an example of confusing the order of narration in the Gospel for a strict chronology when none is intended. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles are, by and large, compilations of different episodes clustered together broadly as occurring in the same general vicinity and the same general time, but not necessarily in any particular order, save when the Gospel specifically mentions an order (e.g., that Jesus was touched by the woman with the issue of blood after He had spoken with Jairus). As the Gospel writers recount the miracles of Jesus, it is as if they are saying, “There was that one time Jesus cured the leper. Oh, then there was that other time he healed Peter’s mom. Oh, and remember that other time he healed the sick?” The purpose is to recount everything Jesus did, not necessarily present a chronological order. That’s not to say that chronology isn’t ever specified, but it is to say that unless it is specifically specified, the relating of sayings or deeds in sequence is not meant to be a chronology. Rather than a contradiction, we have an ignorance of the writing style of the Gospels.
23. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed before Peter was called to be a disciple. Lu.4:38,39; 5:10.
Peter’s mother-in-law was healed after Peter was called to be a disciple. Mt.4:18,19; 8:14,15; Mk.1:16,17,30,31.
See number 22.
24. James and John were with Jesus when he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Mk.1:29-31.
James and John were not with Jesus when he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Lu.4:38,39; 5:10,11.
The account in Luke does not deny James and John were there; it simply omits them. The fact that the calling of the disciples occurs in chapter 5 does not mean that it happened chronologically after the events in chapter 4. Besides, it is not established that Luke 5 was the first time James and John had ever been with Jesus; it merely recounts that they were there and that Jesus called them.
25. Thaddaeus was the name of an apostle – but not Judas, brother of James. Mt. 10:3.
Judas, the brother of James, was an apostle, but not Thaddaeus. Lk.6:16; Acts 1:13.
Thaddeus is Jude. That is why he is known in tradition as Jude Thaddeus.
26. The centurion’s servant was healed in between the cleansing of the leper and the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Mt.8:2-15.
The centurion’s servant was healed after the cleansing of the leper and the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Lu.4:38,39; 5:12,13; 7:1-10.
See number 22.
27. The people were not impressed with the feeding of the multitude. Mk.6:52.
The people were very impressed with the feeding of the multitude. Jn.6:14.
The citation from Mark refers not to the people but to the disciples, and it does not say that they were not impressed but that they did not understand.
28. After the feeding of the multitude, Jesus went to Gennesaret. Mk.6:53.
After the feeding of the multitude, Jesus went to Capernaum. Jn.6:14-17.
Capernaum is on Lake Gennesaret. To go to Capernaum is to go to Lake Gennesaret.
29. A demon cries out that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Mk.1:23,24.
Everyone who confesses that Jesus came in the flesh is of God. 1 Jn.4:2.
To confess that the Word of God has become incarnate in flesh is different than to confess that Jesus is “the Holy One of God”; even Muslims confess the latter while denying the former, so these are two different confessions. But even if they were the same confession, there is a difference between a confession made in faith and submission and one of simple fact. This is why even the demons believe intellectually in God, but it does them no good, as St. James points out (Jas. 2:19).
30. Jesus cursed the fig tree so that it would not bear fruit. Mt.21:19; Mk.11:14.
It wasn’t time for the fig tree to bear fruit. Mk.11:13.
Jesus did not curse the fig tree so that it would not bear fruit; He found no fruit on it and therefore cursed it that it would never bear fruit again. But why did Jesus curse the fig tree if it was not the right season for figs? The answer to this question can be determined by studying the characteristics of fig trees. The fruit of the fig tree generally appears before the leaves, and, because the fruit is green it blends in with the leaves right up until it is almost ripe. Therefore, when Jesus and His disciples saw from a distance that the tree had leaves, they would have expected it to also have fruit on it even though it was earlier in the season than what would be normal for a fig tree to be bearing fruit. Also, each tree would often produce two to three crops of figs each season. There would be an early crop in the spring followed by one or two later crops. In some parts of Israel, depending on climate and conditions, it was also possible that a tree might produce fruit ten out of twelve months. This also explains why Jesus and His disciples would be looking for fruit on the fig tree even if it was not in the main growing season. The fact that the tree already had leaves on it even though it was at a higher elevation around Jerusalem, and therefore would have been outside the normal season for figs, would have seemed to be a good indication that there would also be fruit on it. The act was also prophetic; in the prophets, the fig tree is a symbol for Israel (Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; and Micah 7:1-6). Furthermore, the prophets speak of the destruction of the fig tree as a metaphor for judgment upon Israel (Hosea 2:12; Isaiah 34:4), so this action had a prophetic significance relating to the rejection of Christ by the people of Israel and their subsequent judgment by God.
31. The fig tree withers immediately, and the disciples are amazed. Mt.21:19,20.
The disciples first notice the withered tree the next day. Mk.11:20,21.
See number 17 on the word “immediately.” Matthew offers a more condensed account; in any case, the tree withering the next day would certainly qualify as immediate since the withering of a tree would normally take many weeks.
32. Jesus is the mediator of the “Father”. 1 Tim.2:5; 1 Jn.2:1.
Jesus sits on “his” right hand. Mk. 16:19.
Jesus and the “Father” are one in the same. Jn.10:30.
It is precisely because Jesus sits “at the right hand of the Father” that He is the perfect mediator. Jesus’ oneness with the Father in substance while preserving a personal distinction is not a contradiction – it is the doctrine that Christians call the Trinity, whereby God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being, one substance but three distinct hypostases, persons. It is a mystery, not a contradiction; it goes beyond reason, but is itself reasonable, and though it cannot be fully comprehended it is in no way a contradiction.
33. There is one “God”. 1 Tim.2:5; Jms.2:19.
There are three. 1 Jn.5:7.
1 John 5:7 does not say there are three “gods” but that there are three who bear witness. This is just sloppy argumentation by people who didn’t bother to read the passage.
34. Jesus said to honor your father and mother. Mt.15:4; Mt.19:19; Mk.7:10; Mk.10:19; Lk.18:20.
Jesus said that he came to set people against their parents. Mt.10:35-37; Lk.12:51-53; Lk.14:26.
Jesus said to call no man father. Mt.23:9.
While Jesus urges us to honor our parents, our duties to God are superior to those to our parents. We must obey and honor them, but if this obedience would stand in between a man and his duty to honor God, God must be honored above parents, and so the call to follow Christ will frequently put believing children at odd with non-believing parents and vice versa. The Catechism says: “Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (CCC 2232).
The statement “call no man father” is not meant in a literal sense; it is a warning against those Jews who believe they are righteous in God’s sight because they claim Abraham as their ancestor. Christ warns that God will not be pleased with someone just because they are a son of Abraham.
35. Jesus/God said, “You fool…”. Lk.12:20; Mt.23:17.
Paul calls people fools. 1 Cor.15:36.
Call someone a fool and you go to hell. Mt.5:22.
Jesus is using hyperbole (literary exaggeration) in the Sermon on the Mount, just as he does when He says “pluck out your eyes” or “cut off your hands”. He does not mean that you go to hell if you utter the words “you fool”; sometimes it is good to tell a person they are behaving foolishly, provided it is done in charity, as St. Paul does to the Corinthians. The foolishness of the man in the parable is that he put all his hope in his earthly goods, which Jesus rightfully describes as a foolish act. The prohibition in the Sermon on the Mount is against slanderous and malicious behavior towards our neighbor, and clearly telling a person he is acting like a fool is not always a malicious act.
36. Anger by itself is a sin. Mt.5:22.
But not necessarily. Eph.4:26.
The implication is that the angry person mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount is angered without just cause. Some biblical translations will even add the gloss “without cause” to this verse because this is clearly what is implied; if anger itself was always sinful, Jesus could not have gotten angry at the moneychangers in the Temple. Anger becomes sinful when it comes from motives other than righteous indignation or when it gives way to wrath.
37. Ask and it shall be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you. Mt.7:7,8; Lk.11:9,10.
Ask and you shall be refused. Seek and you won’t find. Knock and you will be refused entrance. Lk.13:24-27.
Whether we are answered or whether the door is opened depends upon the disposition with which we seek. In the former verses, Christ is speaking to the faithful, in the latter He is speaking to those whose commitment is lukewarm or who are lax in their obligations to God. For more on this, see here.
38. Do not judge. Mt.7:1,2.
Unless it is necessary, of course. 1 Jn.4:1-3.
Totally different contexts. Matthew refers to the faithful not being judgmental and condemnatory towards other people, 1 John refers to the necessity of Christians understanding the difference between good and evil spirits, or what has been called “discernment of spirits.”
39. Jesus is thankful that some things are hidden. Mt.11:25; Mk.4:11,12.
Jesus said that all things should be made known. Mk.4:22.
The first verse refers to the fact that the truths of the Gospel are incomprehensible to the prideful and those who are wise in their own sight; the latter refers to the fact that at the Last Judgement every secret, both the good and the bad, will be revealed. The former refers to the manner in which the Gospel is received in this life, the latter to God’s judgment at the end of time. Two totally different situations.
40. Jesus said that no sign would be given. Mk.8:12.
Jesus said that no sign would be given except for that of Jonas. Mt.12:39; Lk.11:29.
Jesus showed many signs. Jn.20:30; Acts 2:22.
The verses in Matthew and Luke are more specific explanations of what was summarized in Mark. The “many signs” given were given to those who believed; those who did not believe did not receive signs, such as Chorazin and Bethsaida (Luke 10:13), and King Herod (Luke 23:8)
41. Jesus stated that the law was until heaven and earth ended. Mt. 5:17-19.
Jesus stated that the law was only until the time of John. Lk.16:16.
The moral teachings of the law are always valid always and everywhere, but the ceremonial aspect of the law passed away with the coming of the New Covenant.
42. The “Sermon on the Mount” took place on the mountain. Mt.5:1.
The “Sermon on the Mount” took place on a plain. Lu.6:17.
Both Matthew and Luke agree that Jesus was on the mountain, except Luke mentions that Jesus came down and stood on a level place while He delivered His sermon; it does not say He was on a plain. Jesus had spent the night in prayer on the mountain (Luke 6:12); presumably when it was time to preach He came down the mountain somewhat to find a level spot to speak from.
43. The “Lord’s Prayer” was taught to many during the “Sermon on the Mount”. Mt.6:9.
The “Lord’s Prayer” was taught only to the disciples at another time. Lu.11:1.
Presumably our Lord gave this instruction more than just one single occasion.
44. Jesus had his own house. Mk.2:15.
Jesus did not have his own house. Lk.9:58.
The house referred to in Mark 2:15 is the house of Levi the tax collector, not the house of Jesus.
45. Good works should be seen. Mt.5:16.
Good works should not be seen. Mt.6:1-4.
It is a praiseworthy thing if good works are witnessed and men praise God because of them; good deeds done in public are condemned only when they are done “to be seen by men” (Matt. 6:1); i.e., for the purpose of winning the praise of men. See here.
46. Jesus said that salvation was only for the Jews. Mt.15:24; Mt.10:5,6; Jn.4:22; Rom.11:26,27.
Paul said that salvation was also for the Gentiles. Acts 13:47,48.
None of the passages suggest salvation is only for Jews; the passages from the Gospel note that the ministry of Jesus was confined to the Jews (Matthew) and that salvation would come from the Jews (John). The passage from Romans mentions “all Israel will be saved” and says nothing about salvation belonging exclusively to the Jews. God willed Christ to preach at first only to the House of Israel, but after the Ascension, through the message granted to Peter and the ministry of Paul, the message was to spread to the Gentiles. We have not a contradiction but a chronology: God wanted the message announced to the Jews first, then afterward, to the Gentiles. Jesus Himself notes that many who are not of the House of Israel will inherit eternal life (Luke 13:29, John 10:16).
47. Repentance is necessary. Acts 3:19; Lu.3:3.
Repentance is not necessary. Rom.11:29.
The verse cited from Romans says, “the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance”, and refers not to the repentance by which man repents of his sins but to the fact that God does not go back on the good gifts He gives. It is said with reference to God, not man. Totally different context.
48. Non-believers obtain mercy. Rom.11:32.
Only believers obtain mercy. Jn. 3:36; Rom.14:23.
Only baptized believers obtain mercy. Mk.16:16.
Mercy cannot be predetermined. Rom.9:18.
Non-believers receive mercy by becoming believers and by accepting baptism (the “sacrament of faith”- CCC 1236); “believe and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Why some come to faith and some don’t is a mystery of God’s providence. Next.
49. All who call on the “Lord” will be saved. Rom.10:13; Acts 2:21.
Only those predestined will be saved. Acts 13:48; Eph.1:4,5; 2 Thes.2:13; Acts 2:47.
This is the mystery of predestination, something that, like the Trinity, cannot be fully comprehended. The Scriptures and the Church both teach that, while nobody can be saved apart from God positively enabling it, God also has given every man true freedom to reach out to call upon the Lord. Free will and predestination do not cancel each other out. They are reconciled in God’s omnipotence and in His Providence, which we cannot comprehend. Like the Trinity, it goes beyond our reason, but does not contradict it. But this is more of a theological problem, not a textual contradiction.
50. Jesus said he would not cast aside any that come to him. Jn.6:37.
Jesus said that many that come to him will be cast aside. Mt.7:21-23.
The former refers to those who have truly come to Christ and given their lives over to Him. The latter refers to those who claim His name but do not truly seek His face, those who “are in the Church in body only”, to use St. Augustine’s phrase. Those referred to in Matthew are basically non-believers who go through the motions of accepting Christianity but without actually doing so.
51. Salvation comes by faith and not works. Eph.2:8,9; Rom.11:6; Gal.2:16; Rom.3:28.
Salvation comes by faith and works. Jms.2:14,17,20.
The “works” referred to in St. Paul are the ceremonial “works of the law”, rituals of the Old Covenant no longer binding on Christians. The “works” referred to in St. James are good works, works done in charity, which are obligatory for Christians. Two different types of works. Read more on this here.
52. The righteous have eternal life. Mt.25:46.
The righteous are barely saved. 1 Pet.4:18.
There are no righteous. Rom.3:10.
The righteous enjoy eternal life, but no human merits the initial grace of justification, so the righteous are made so by God’s grace, and in that sense every one of us, even the saint, is “barely saved”. The quote from Romans is a quote of Psalm 14 and refers to the fools who deny God (see Ps. 14:1). No one is righteous apart from God’s grace.
53. Believe and be baptized to be saved. Mk.16:16.
Be baptized by water and the spirit to be saved. Jn.3:5.
Endure to the end to be saved. Mt.24:13.
Call on the name of the “Lord” to be saved. Acts 2:21; Rom.10:13.
Believe in Jesus to be saved. Acts 16:31.
Believe, then all your household will be saved. Acts 16:31.
Hope and you will be saved. Rom.8:24. Believe in the resurrection to be saved. Rom.10:9.
By grace you are saved. Eph.2:5
By grace and faith you are saved. Eph.2:8.
Have the love of truth to be saved. 2 Thes.2:10.
Mercy saves. Titus 3:5.
None of these are contradictions. These are all things that are necessary to be saved. The only way one could think these are contradictions is by interpreting them in a minimalist way; “Hope and nothing but hope saved,”; the Bible never speaks this way. There is no one simple thing to do to “get saved.” Being saved requires turning one’s whole life over to God, and all of these things are aspects of that. They are all necessary.
54. Backsliders are condemned. 2 Pet.2:20.
Backsliders are saved regardless. Jn.10:27-29.
No one can pluck the sheep out of our Lord’s hand; the sheep can wander away of their own accord.
55. Forgive seventy times seven. Mt.18:22.
Forgiveness is not possible for renewed sin. Heb.6:4-6.
The former verse refers to men forgiving other men; the latter refers to God’s forgiveness of man. They are two different contexts. Man is always called to forgive man, but in Hebrews the reference is to the sacrament of baptism (the word “enlightenment” is an ancient term for the sacrament) and the fact that one cannot be baptized for remission of sins more than once.
56. Divorce, except for unfaithfulness, is wrong. Mt.5:32.
Divorce for any reason is wrong. Mk.10:11,12.
Divorce is always wrong, but it is not divorce that makes one an adulterer, but rather divorce and remarriage. Our Lord teaches that divorce is always wrong, but allows that in the case of unfaithfulness, a man may “put away” his wife. This is not divorce in the strict sense, but “separation from bed-and-board” (divortium imperfectum), a situation in which the spouses physically separate but without formal divorce. Mark’s Gospel simply omits this.
57. Jesus approved of destroying enemies. Lk.19:27.
Jesus said to love your enemies. Mt.5:44.
Jesus orders men to love their enemies, but the reference in Luke is not to men but to God and his enemies. Men ought to love their enemies, but God will destroy the unrighteous at His coming, which is what the parable in Luke refers to.
58. God resides in heaven. Mt.5:45; Mt.6:9; Mt.7:21.
Angels reside in heaven. Mk.13:32.
Jesus is with God in heaven. Acts 7:55,56
Believers go to heaven. 1 Pet.1:3,4.
Heaven will pass away. Mt.24:35; Mk.13:31; Lk.21:33.
This is stupid. God, Jesus, the angels and the saints are all in heaven, but the heaven referred to in the final citation is not the heaven where God dwells but is a generic name for the physical sky (“the heavens”), which will indeed pass away at the end of time.
59. Pray that you don’t enter temptation. Mt.26:41.
Temptation is a joy. Jms.1:2.
The verse from James speaks of “trials”, not “temptations.” We are to count it all joy when we suffer because suffering refines our character and makes us more Christ-like if it is borne patiently. But Christ warns us against falling to temptation to sin. Temptation to sin and external trials are two different things.
60. God leads you into temptation. Mt.6:13.
God tempts no one. Jms.1:13.
God does not tempt anyone to sin. But the petition “lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer does not imply that God does. Our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to “lead” us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation.” In any case, it is a plea to God to give us grace to withstand temptation, not an implication that God Himself is the active agent of temptation.
61. Take no thought for tomorrow. God will take care of you. Mt.6:25-34; Lk.12:22-31.
A man who does not provide for his family is worse than an infidel. 1 Tim.5:8.
A man is to look to providing for those God has entrusted to His care, but he should not let worldly cares dominate his concerns and should remember that the present is the most important moment, because it is only now that we have the chance to say yes to God. Prudent, humble foresight in providing for your family is not opposed to placing your will into the hands of God’s holy Providence. Also, this teaching in Christian tradition is more strictly interpreted by those in religious life
62. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Acts 2:21; Rom.10:13.
Not everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Mt.7:21.
Only those whom the Lord chooses will be saved. Acts 2:39.
You cannot interpret “calling on the name of the Lord” in a minimalist sense, as if merely pronouncing the name of the Lord is sufficient. “Calling on the Lord” implies giving oneself to the Lord with all that entails. See number 53, 51, 49 and 29.
63. We are justified by works and not by faith. Mt.7:21; Rom.2:6,13; Jms.2:24.
We are justified by faith and not by works. Jn.3:16; Rom.3:27; Eph.2:8,9.; Gal.2:16.
Didn’t we tackle this one already? See number 51.
64. Do not take sandals (shoes) or staves. Mt.10:10.
Take only sandals (shoes) and staves. Mk.6:8,9.
In Matthew our Lord does not say to take no sandals, but to take no “extra sandals, or shirt or staff.” Jesus is not commanding them to go barefoot, but to take nothing extra; one pair of sandals, one staff, no more. Mark repeats the same command but phrases it differently.
65. Jesus said that in him there was peace. Jn.16:33.
Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace. Mt.10:34; Lk.12:51.
Jesus grants supernatural peace to the faithful, which is the fruit of communion with God. But He did not come to bring peace in the worldly sense. Sometimes, the choice to seek the peace that is from God will result in the breaking of worldly peace. He is speaking of two different kinds of peace.
That’s enough for now…there are much more to go through next time. We need to get all the way to 194! Click here for Part 2 in this series.
Phillip Campbell, “Contradictions in the New Testament: Part 1 of 3,” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, May 30, 2013. Available online at: www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com/contradictions-in-the-new-testament-part-1-of-3