A common defense to the claim of contradictions within the Bible is to provide a possible resolution. As long as it is logically feasible, it is felt that this is a defeater for a claim that a contradiction exists.
However, the method itself is flawed, and must be abandoned. See, even when there are actual contradictions, application of this method provides the same results as if there isn’t any contradiction. The test provides false-positives.
What if we came up with a method to determine whether a person has alcohol in their blood? But when we implemented the test, we found it was positive for alcohol the vast majority of the time, even when we knew there was no alcohol present! The test is insufficient to make a determination. So, too, the method of “any possible explanation.”
Imagine my wife and I had the following conversation:
Me: I met Bob’s wife, Sue at the party tonight.
Wife: No. Bob’s wife’s name is Ellen.
Unbeknownst to us, I was completely wrong. Yet, with just those two statements, an inerrantist could propose any number of “possible solutions” (“Her name was ‘Sue Ellen,’” or “There were two ‘Bob’s’”) which provides us with a “False – positive.” A method that when implemented provides an answer of “No contradiction.”
Regardless of whether there was a contradiction or not, use of this system provides the same answer!
My question is this: if there WAS a contradiction within the Bible-- how would you know? How would this method ever provide any new information that would demonstrate that to us?
ExWhat were the names of the Twelve disciples?
Although there were a number of disciples that followed Jesus, tradition holds to a select few; twelve of special designation. We first learn of them in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 15:5, where he refers to Jesus, post-resurrection, being seen by “the Twelve.” According to Christian tradition, this would not be the actual number (as Judas’ death reduced the number to 11), but rather a Title. A Designation.
Like saying, “The twelve tribes of Israel” regardless of the make-up of the people, or “The Twelve signs of the Zodiac.”
Unfortunately, none of the Gospels agree with each other as to the names of these individuals.
According to Mark, Jesus meets Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew fishing, and calls them to follow him. (Typical Markan theme, they “immediately” follow Jesus) (Mark 1:16.) A little further on, Jesus meets the fishermen James and John, sons of Zebedee; they leave their father to join Jesus. (Mark 1:19.) Matthew follows this same tale. (Matt. 4:18-22)
Luke provides a much different picture about Jesus’ first meeting with his first disciples. (Luke 5:1-10) Here Jesus was pressed by the crowd, so he commandeers Peter’s boat, in order to perform a Sermon from the Sea. After preaching, Jesus tells Peter to do some more fishing, in which a miracle occurs as to the amount of Fish. Peter asks for help loading the fish from James and John, who have now been elevated to partners with Peter!
Andrew is conspicuous by his complete absence in this tale, and does not appear until Luke gives the list of disciples. (Luke 6:14) If the basis of the Gospel of Mark was Peter, one must wonder how Peter missed this tale of his first meeting with Jesus. One is equally curious how Peter’s “partner” John would have missed it as well.
See, the author of the Gospel of John veers even more dramatically. In John, Jesus is pursued by two (2) disciples of John the Baptist, one of whom turns out to be Andrew. Andrew then brings Jesus to Peter. John 1:37-42. No boats. No fish. No James and John.
O.K., back to Mark. If you can recall, we have Peter, Andrew, James and John. Mark then introduces us to, “Levi, son of Alphaeus.” A tax collector. (Mark 2:14-15) In a parallel telling, Jesus asks Levi to follow him and he “immediately” does so.
Mark later lists the remaining disciples: Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. (Mark 3:16-19) Whoops! If you have been counting correctly (and I am sure you have) we add these eight to the previous five we end up with thirteen! All well and good, but the author had just indicated there were “twelve.” (Mark 3:14)
Perhaps one of the previous five named, is named differently in this second list? One thing we notice is that the second “James” received a qualifier “son of Alphaeus.” Levi the tax collector was also qualified as “son of Alphaeus.” Jesus has a penchant for changing names—the simplest resolution is that he must have changed Levi’s name to “James” bringing us back to the correct 12. Problem solved.
Or is it?
See, Matthew also has a tax collector. Who invited Jesus to eat at the tax collector’s house. Only Matthew doesn’t name this taxman “Levi” but rather calls him “Matthew.” (Matthew 9:9) Apparently in Mark’s list of Mark 3:16-19, the author of Matthew chose the name “Matthew” as being the one Jesus changed “Levi” to.
In order to avoid confusion, Matthew leaves off “son of Alphaes” when referring to Matthew. Humorously, in case we were so thick to miss the connection, when listing the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4, the author calls him “Matthew the tax collector,” just to make sure we knew which one was the one referred to as “Levi” in Mark.
One could almost hear the emphasis.
So, according to Matthew, we have the five—Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew (“the TAX COLLECTOR”) to which we add the remaining seven (same as Mark) being Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. This is the closest we get to a match.
Luke goes back to the name of “Levi” (still dropping “son of Alphaeus,” though) for the tax collector. (Luke 5:27) To the four (remember Luke had skipped Andrew, so we only had Peter, James, John and Levi) Luke adds Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus) Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas (son of James), and Judas Iscariot. Luke 6:14-16. Whoops! Four plus nine puts us at 13 again, and Luke had said there were only 12. (Luke 6:13) Only now we don’t have the father of Levi anymore, so it might not be James, (son of Alphaeus), nor does Luke subscribe to Matthew’s insistence that Matthew must be the tax collector.
It would appear that “Levi” could be anybody’s name! Further, we pick up a second “Judas.” This fellow that is a son of James. And we lose the Thaddeus from Matthew and Mark.
It would seem we must smash “Levi” back to “Matthew” and “Thaddeus” back to “Judas” and we have a match.
Or do we?
Good old Gospel of John throws a wrench in the works. Remember, in John we have Andrew, who gets Peter. We gain Philip (Jn. 1:43), Judas Iscariot (Jn. 6:71) Thomas (John 14:5) and the Sons of Zebedee (John 21:1) all of which agree with the other three Gospels. We also have “another Judas” which would appear to agree with Luke. John 14:22
But who is Nathanael? (John 1:49, 21:1) Here is a disciple that does not correlate with anyone in any other Gospel! You could plug his name in with anybody—may I recommend Bartholomew? His name is apparently open for some “double-naming.” The author of John leaves the other three (3) disciples unnamed, although he agrees there were 12 in total. (John 6:70)
(A side note: Matthew, Mark and Luke say Jesus chose his disciples after John the Baptist was thrown in prison, (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20) whereas the Gospel of John makes a point to say he started choosing before. (John 3:20) Just another point of contention.)
Eventually this is sorted out as Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Philip, Thomas, and Judas Iscariot are in all four Gospels. Within the synoptic Gospels, we have additional agreement of Bartholomew, Matthew, James (Son of Alphaeus) and Simon the Zealot. We have a Thaddeus in just Matthew and Mark, and a Judas (son of James) in just Luke and John. And then Nathanael solely in John
Using the method of “any possible explanation” we have two readily available resolutions:
1) Either individuals had different names, and one author called them by one name, another author by their other name, OR
2) Different individuals were part of the Twelve, and depending on the moment, a different set was listed. (Remember, apparently members of the Twelve were replaceable Acts 1:26).
Either answer removes any contradiction, correct?
Assume, for a moment, there really was a contradiction. That the author of the Gospel of John was completely incorrect that Nathanael was ever a disciple. By using this method, 1900 years later, we obtain the result: “No contradiction.”
Assume, for a moment, there was not a contradiction. That the author of the Gospel of John utilized Bartholomew’s middle name of “Nathanael.” By using this method, 1900 years later, we obtain the result: “No contradiction.”
Can you see how the method, with or without an actual contradiction, provides the exact same test results? That is why this system is ineffective for determination of a contradiction and must be abandoned.
On a final note—we often discuss the claim that Christians are morally different. That they are a “new creation.” That they should be better, morally, than non-Christians. When we address it, though, we are informed that despite the Christian’s intense desire to not sin, despite the Christian’s request from the God who created the Universe to not sin, and despite the fact that this God hates sin—they still sin.
How is a non-moral error any different? If the authors of the canonical works had an intense desire to not make error, requested God to not make an error, and God hates errors—could they still perform the human propensity to commit an error?
It is slightly humorous that proponents of inerrancy claim the authors could make moral lapses of judgment. Just not historical ones. They would sin—but not write anything incorrectly.