One argument that many non-believers like to use against the Bible is as follows: “How can anyone trust the accounts of the life of Jesus when they all contradict each other?” Now, to most people, this is a very valid question, however, is entirely flawed. The Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus…… and they do not contradict each other in any way at all! Do I have your attention? Good! Let’s break this down.
To understand why I claim that the Gospels do not contradict each other, we must understand not only the historical context of each book, but also the author’s purpose of writing each book. I’ll break down each book and discuss them separately, then I’ll bring everything back together, so bear with me!
I begin with the Book of Mark because the earliest manuscripts that we have found of the New Testament came from Mark. Mark was written around the year 70 A.D., following the events of what is known as the Jewish War. The Jewish War lasted from about 66 – 70 (sometimes noted as 73) A.D. The Jewish War was started by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and ended by his son, Titus, with the climax of the war being the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Which leads to my discussion of the Gospel of Mark itself.
By studying the earliest manuscripts and even our modern translations of Mark, we notice that Mark is stylistically different from the other Gospels. It’s written in plain, simple language. It is easy to understand and is the shortest out of all the Gospels. By implementing this style of writing, Mark had the perfect medium to convey his theological message about Jesus: Jesus is the Secret and Suffering Messiah.
Although the Gospels share many of the same stories and is worded similarly, each Gospel has a different perspective of Jesus and His life and ministry. Mark wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus was not only the Messiah, but that He had to come here to suffer and die for our sins. Mark emphasized this by showing that Jesus did not want people to know that He was the Son of God. Jesus would cast out demons in His name and He would tell them to be silent, because He did not want the public to know who He was or why He was here. Mark emphasized that Jesus came here to suffer by the hands of Man and to die for the sins of mankind and to not be acknowledged for it. He came here to do His divine duty and grant Salvation to mankind in peace.
Matthew is dated to have been written between the years 80 and 85 A.D. Following the events of the Jewish War, tensions between the Romans and the Jewish peoples were not the best in the world. There were issues within Matthew’s community about the Jewish leaders, Sadducees and Pharisees, and how the Law should be interpreted. (Note: I am referring to the Torah.) During this time of tension, Matthew wrote his Gospel to show his perspective of Jesus: He was the JEWISH Messiah,
Matthew was concerned about showing that Jesus had Jewish roots. Remember that long genealogy in the beginning of Matthew that most people skip? If you notice closely, Matthew traced Jesus all the way back to Abraham! yes, THAT Abraham! Now, some people criticize the historicity of this genealogy because Matthew says that significant events occurred every 14 generations for the nation of Israel. (i.e. the founding of Israel, to David, to Babylonian Exile, etc.) We know that Matthew had to skip a few generations to do this, however, Matthew was not trying to restate facts. Matthew was using this genealogy to show that the coming of Christ was another significant event in the history of Israel and His coming was divinely ordained!
Remember all of the Old Testament verses that Matthew cites too? He used those to show that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament, Now, the original context of some of those verses say otherwise. However, Matthew was showing that Jesus gave Scripture MEANING for all mankind! The original verses applied to Israel, but with Jesus, Scripture is being fulfilled for everyone.
Luke is dated to around 85 and 90 A.D. Luke is particularly interesting because it is stylistically the most complex of the Gospels. His sentences are long, thoughtful, and thorough in detail. What also makes Luke unique is his theological perspective of Jesus: Jesus came to bring Salvation to ALL of mankind, not just the Jewish people.
To emphasize this idea, think back to the two stories of the Baptism of Jesus in Mark and Luke. In Mark, after Jesus is baptized, God tells Jesus that He is His Son (You are My Son). Whereas in Luke, God says He is My Son, as if declaring to another person. Therefore, in Mark, God is speaking JUST to Jesus, whereas in Luke, God is speaking to all of the witnesses at Jesus’ Baptism, declaring that Jesus is HIS Son! Now, let’s compare another concept that Luke shares with Matthew, the genealogy of Jesus.
In Matthew, Jesus’ lineage is traced all the way back to Abraham, showing that He had Jewish roots. In Luke, however, Jesus’ lineage is traced ALL the way back to ADAM HIMSELF! Luke did this to show that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but the Son of Man as well. Jesus came not just to for the nation of Israel, but for the rest of mankind as well!
John is dated to around 90-95 A.D., making it the latest Gospel out of the Canonical Gospel group. The Gospel of John is the “oddball” of the Gospels. I say this because it shares almost no similarities with the Synoptic Gospels and makes the absolute boldest statement about Jesus: He is equal to God.
Now, to modern day Christians, this idea almost requires a “duh?” response. However, careful inspection of the other three Gospels proves otherwise. Neither Mark, Matthew, or Luke explicitly mentions that Jesus is One with God. They mention miracles, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. However, none of these Gospels mention that Jesus is equal and at the same level as God Himself. John implements this idea immediately in the first few chapters of his Gospel, in a section that’s known as the Hymn of the Logos (Logos is the Greek word for “Word”). In this Hymn, John explains that Jesus was not only in the beginning with God, before time even began, but He was also important in the act of Creation itself!
Now, I could’ve went into a lot more detail about each Gospel, but I felt it would be unnecessary.
The main point of this post is to show that each Gospel has a different message and shows a different aspect of Jesus: Mark showed that Jesus came here to die for our sins. Matthew showed that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish Scripture. Luke showed that Jesus brought Salvation to all of mankind. John showed that Jesus is Divine and equal to God. That being said, each Gospel does not always line up with each other as far as stories go. Matthew has a Sermon on the Mount, while Luke has a Sermon on the Plain. Matthew says that Peter denied Jesus three times before a rooster crowed once, while a rooster crowed twice in Mark. None of these minor details matter in the bigger picture. The Gospels were written to show the many sides of Jesus and that He was so important, more than one account of His life and ministry were required to tell it all! So to any non believer reading this, the Gospels are not contradictory in any way, but rather, they each show the life of Christ in various manners. Have a good day everyone!