Monday, February 15, 2010

Bible Contradictions

Bart Ehrman, agnostic and head of the religion department at the University of North Carolina, has just written a new book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. For his first alleged contradiction, he cites Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple:

“In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables”
(John 2:14-15; also Mat. 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45-46).

However, John’s account occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, while the last three record it as happening at the end. Some interpreters suggest that this “cleansing” occurred on two occasions. So where’s the contradiction? Ehrman charges:

“But that would mean that neither Mark [nor Matthew and Luke] nor John tells the ‘true’ story, since in both accounts, he cleanses the Temple only once.”

However, why would “true” reporting require that every occasion or detail be cited? No account can claim all the details regarding the people present, the clothing they wore, and their exact positions and movements.

Ehrman then objects, “If Jesus made a disruption of the Temple at the beginning of his ministry, why wasn’t he arrested by the authorities then?” Well, evidently, the sellers were doing something wrong, or Jesus wouldn’t have disrupted them. Perhaps, by arresting Him, the authorities perceived that this might place them in an unfavorable light among the people?

There are many things that we can’t say with certainty, but this doesn’t prove that there’s a contradiction. In fact, we should expect that difficult questions would arise, especially if the document is God-given. There is much about the physical world that remains uncertain. Some scientists argue that the questions are only growing. However, this should not invalidate the findings of science – nor should the uncertainties that arise from Scripture!

Let’s consider a competing option – there was only one “cleansing,” but John placed this same event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry instead of at the end. If this is the case, Ehrman concludes, “Historically speaking, then, the accounts are not reconcilable.”

However, perhaps it wasn’t John’s intention to give a chronological accounting? Does this place his account in error? No! If someone asks me to give account of the things I did Sunday, and I don’t give them in order, this doesn’t make my account incorrect.

Throughout his book, Ehrman gleefully makes many unwarranted assertions. Why? Perhaps because bold charges sell books? Perhaps, he has an ax to grind? Attached to the sub-title of his book, Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible, he parenthetically adds “and why we don’t know about them.” This addition obtusely hints at something sinister – a cover-up. In any event, we will examine more of his allegations.

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