A complainer's potpourri 2

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(A note to the reader: I usually receive these lists-of-complaints about the Bible from Muslims or atheists. But this one is from an earnest seeker — a young Asian male who is new to the faith — and he wants answers to them. That being said, this is still a “complainer's potpourri" — an omnibus Q & A, a list of complaints, etc. So, although I used a shotgun to answer some of it, I've covered some issues [Like language-logic] more extensively. I also had to tweak the question and index it to better manage the parts. Enjoy. EP)

Question: I saw in a documentary that people only knew that Jesus was nailed to the cross from the 4th Century, and prior to that, they only thought that he was tied on the cross. So is Jesus being nailed to the cross a fabricated work [01]? And Muslims say Jesus was not crucified, but that it just appeared like that is it what to believe [02]? And how do we know that Bible is a true eyewitness testimony when there are many contradictions like 3 gospels say that Jesus was helped by Simon whereas John states that Jesus himself carried the cross [03]? And in the cursing of the fig tree, Matthew says that Jesus cursed and immediately the tree withered whereas Mark says it happened a day later [04]? And in Matthew and Luke why are the genealogies of Jesus different [05]? And in Matthew, it says that roman soldier met Jesus to cure his servant whereas in Mark it says that he sent his servant; which is true [06]? Why are the Resurrection accounts different from each other and in all 4 gospels [07]? And Peter's denial of Jesus is different in all 4 gospels [08], so with all these contradictions, how do we know Bible is right and which Gospel writer is telling the truth [09]? How can these contradictions be answered and how to believe that Bible is eyewitness testimony [10]? How do we make non-believers believe with these contradictions [11]?

Answer: According to your profile you are a “New Christian” — and this is wonderful… but it is wonderful for both of us: for you, this is the gateway to a fulfilling life which will lead to eternal glory; for me, this question could have been a list of challenges from a Muslim (or an atheist). But instead, these are valid questions from a new believer who is trying to understand some of the standard challenges to the biblical testimony… and to that I say, praise God! But you’ve asked me eleven separate questions… any one of which could take days to answer. So, here’s what I’ll do.

Since you have some misunderstandings about how Scripture’s narratives should work, and since this can affect how you understand all the challenges you mentioned, addressing these overarching problems will be my priority. So, I will answer a few of your questions directly — but emphasizing the reasoning that applies more broadly.

I will also address each of the more stand-alone questions… but not in great detail. Instead, I will address these questions generally, not expansively, and I’ll suggest links for your further study. But sharing these links has a secondary purpose: by sampling the answers from a range of ministries, you should get a sense of how common these objections are — and how easy they are to diffuse. This shows how insubstantial they are. But to accomplish all this I had to index your question. So I scrubbed the language a bit, then I assigned numbers at the end of each discrete segment; this way I can reference the individual concerns by number… but I’d like to address your last comments ([10] and [11]) first.

How do we make non-believers believe in the face of these many alleged contradictions? We don’t. That’s not salvation’s focus… I mean, you became a believer without having them resolved in your mind (hence your question). How did that happen? Non-believers do not have to know the Bible (let alone resolve alleged contradictions) before they are saved. .. I mean, that would be silly — the Bible is such a long and complex book… and where would they even start — in Genesis? No. A person’s salvation stands or falls on their response to the Holy Spirit’s testimony about Jesus Christ (John 15:26; 6:29; Mark 3:29).

Now, don’t get me wrong: gaining confidence in God’s word should be a major part of every Christian’s life. But no one’s salvation hinges on what they know about the Bible. It hinges on what they’ve done with Jesus Christ — because he is himself the gateway to salvation (Jn. 10:7). So, while having comfort with the Scripture may be the hallmark of a mature Christian, it is not a requirement for salvation… and beware of methodologies that have you arm-wrestle people until they submit to the truth of some Bible passages before they “get saved.” The Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and testifies of the hope that is in Jesus Christ. Once converted, then these “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17) will be spiritually equipped to grow in grace and knowledge (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 3:16).

Let us now look at question [03] — but particularly your challenge that, in the Gospels, having different accounts of the same event means that the eyewitness testimony is not true. This challenge fails on at least four points — and the first is just common sense: logically speaking, what should follow? Here’s the issue: even if there were a genuine logical contradiction in the Gospels (and always note that this is mere postulation for purposes of the question. I refute the idea that contradictions exist) it would not necessarily follow that the eyewitnesses were not true. There could have been earnest eye-witnesses who made reports that contained contradictions… I mean, people do this all the time… but it does not follow from that that the observers were not there — and it does not follow from that that their records would have no value. In fact, it would be illogical to categorically dismiss information from proven credible witnesses because of an occasional and very rare error.

Second, if the requirement for truth was that all four Gospels said the same things, why didn’t God have the authors write the exact same thing four times? I mean, under inspiration the Gospel writers could have done that easily. But such a product would have been the ancient equivalent of our printing one document four times… and then assigning different authorship and title to each copy. What would that accomplish? Redundancy… and that’s what you’re asking for when you place a premium on sameness and a debit on variance — that four word-for-word copies of the Gospel narratives would tell God’s highest truth better than four distinct voices giving variously detailed accounts. But we know that presenting duplicate accounts would be a waste of Scriptural resources, and with that in view, would you even want the narratives to be the same? Or do you think that God used four distinct points of view and four distinct literary voices to communicate different aspects of Jesus’ life? The latter sounds reasonable to me… and repeating the same thing four times under four different titles does not.

Third, it amazes me that people call the “differences” in the gospel narratives contradictions. “Contradiction” is a technical term in logic and it has certain requirements. For instance, if I insisted that A was non-A, that would be a contradiction. But if I said that A equals B, C, or D, that is not a contradiction — that is me defining how discrete entities are the same. An entity has a right to be equal (in part or in full) to other entities — but while still being its own entity. For example, two building blocks of equal dimensions are the same… but they are not the same block. Please note, however, that architects may require that dissimilar blocks (which meet the structural requirements) be used to build their single structure. These differences are purposeful; they contribute to the whole building. They do not corrupt the structure because they are not the same. In like manner, God is building a “picture” of Jesus with the gospel narratives. Different materials contribute to the greater whole.

Fourth, why do people consider John’s report that Jesus carried his own cross a contradiction? Did Jesus not carry the cross… and wasn’t that his own cross — the one he’d be hung upon — that he carried? Certainly — that’s how the crucifixion process worked! Now, Matthew, Mark and Luke report a detail that John omitted — that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross for part of the way. But does that change the fact that Jesus also carried his cross… unless the fact that Simon also carried it somehow canceled the historical fact that Jesus carried it… but that would be ridiculous… because John recorded that Jesus did indeed carry his own cross.

Now, we understand from the other authors that Jesus only carried it part of the way… because Simon carried it part of the way. But since John had no requirement to mention any details that he felt were unnecessary to tell Jesus’ story (and Simon of Cyrene’s involvement with the cross is an interesting detail, but it is not a necessary one… he was not crucified for our sins), his role was not mentioned — and this statement still stands as true: Jesus carried his own cross… even though Simon carried it too.

Assigning contradictions to different accounts just because they vary shows poverty in logic and language. Is there a rule in writing that requires an author to include every detail of time, place and people in a narrative — and I mean 100% of them? Or are the biblical authors free, like all other authors are free, to include or exclude the details in the way that best suits their purposes? Certainly the latter… and John chose not to include Simon in the narrative — what’s the problem! Omitting Simon in the narrative did not preclude him from carrying the cross in reality. Furthermore, excluding him is not the same as saying that he was not there or that he did not carry Jesus’ cross. I am amazed that people still present this as contradictory.

The Gospels must (and do) have some of the same information between accounts… after all, they tell the same story. But it is neither necessary or sensible to have different authors using different viewpoints to articulate the same thing in the same way and with the same details. (This section also answers [06], [07], [08], and [09].)

To see just how common this accusation is… but to see how easy it is to resolve… visit John Ankerberg’s site4. This article covers the alleged contradictions of the cross carrying and the resurrection (answering [07], [09] and [10]). Also, see Answers in Genesis5 for another look at the cross carrying contradiction. (This answers question [03] but addresses issues involved in [04] through [11]).

These same issues show up in question [05] concerning the difference in the genealogies. We have two different authors with two different emphases who used two different starting points to arrive at two different targets… and you would require sameness with that? Because that’s the complaint… that these two lists in different books with different purposes and different genealogical flows are not the same. Again… I just don’t understand the complaint! Are the critics looking for copies?... because sameness does not add to information — but having different details does. And since the purpose of God’s word is to communicate with his people, narratives containing distinct information are better than those containing redundant information, given the same space.

Furthermore, there is no requirement to include every member in a genealogy unless you are being purposefully comprehensive for genealogical purposes — and the Gospel authors were not doing this. Matthew had a Jewish perspective and a Jewish purpose — highlighting Jesus as satisfying the legal requirements for the Messiah. But Luke, who was neither an apostle nor a Jew, was more focused on Jesus the man — and his biological (rather than his legal) lineage.

Again, it would be silly to require that all genealogies be equal… or else why didn’t God just list the comprehensive and official genealogies in an index and refer to them instead of including segments in the document. But that’s not what he did. You see, being comprehensive or redundant would have defeated the communicative purposes of these lists: to show that different roads led to the same prophesied Jesus… and again, the fact that the accounts are not the same is an advantage, not a defect.

Let me use CARM6 ministry’s more detailed explanation of the differences. I’ve inserted an excerpt below, but visit their site, too, for more details.

Notice that Luke starts with Mary and goes backwards to Adam. Matthew starts with Abraham and goes forward to Joseph. The intents of the genealogies were obviously different which is clearly seen in their styles. Luke was not written to the Jews, Matthew was. Therefore, Matthew would carry the legal line (from Abraham through David) and Luke the biological one (from Adam through David). Also, notice that Luke's first three chapters mention Mary eleven times, hence, the genealogy from her. Fourth, notice Luke 3:23, "And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Eli." This designation "supposedly" seems to signify the Marian genealogy since it seems to indicate that Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph.


Let’s talk about question [01] now — whether Jesus was nailed to or tied to the cross… because the Bible doesn’t say one way or the other — but it is a strong Christian tradition that he was nailed. We know that Jesus suffered wounds (Isa. 53:5; 1 Pet.2:24), and we know that he died on the cross… which is the important thing (because he died for our sins!) But the method of his bodily suspension is a detail that is not necessary to the atoning moment. And since none of the crucifixion accounts tell us that he was nailed to the cross, there is no great controversy when the world debates an alternative method. You see, nailing would not have caused Jesus’ death anyway… it was just a method to keep him upright so he could die by exhaustion or asphyxiation.

But if the crucifixion accounts are not specific, why is the Christian tradition so strong that Jesus was nailed to the cross? Jesus — now the resurrected Christ — showed Thomas the wounds in his hands and his side (Jn. 20:25-27). This is strong evidence for nailing… but it is a secondary proof. As such, it is not as strong as if it were accounted at his crucifixion… and there is enough space in that gap to write a novel like The Da Vinci Code — which sold its false underpinnings as truth — and made its author a fortune in the process.

As to your methodology, beware of documentaries. These are entertainment wearing the mask of scholarship. Legitimate scholarship is boring… and our public will have none of that! So, the best a documentary can do is to pique your interest with factoids which may or may not be true — but which they present in a positive light. Now, a documentary should indeed highlight some interesting aspects of its topic — and perhaps the Synoptics’ silence about the fastening methodology or the ambiguity in the word wounds fits that bill. But I believe that Jesus’ revelation to Thomas shows that he was nailed to the cross… although this does not preclude him from being tied also. We just do not know.

As to the archaeology and logic, evidence that some ancient people might have been tied to a cross does not mean that other people were not nailed also (and we do have an artifact to that effect2). But historical evidence of tying does nothing to squelch Jesus’ revelation to Thomas — a powerful and plain narrative.

Let’s talk about question [06] for a moment — the apparent contradictions with the Centurion… and here, I’m going to dish you out to Answers in Genesis3. But even though I’ll have them explain the solutions to this contradiction, I need to emphasize the bigger issue. You see, AIG has two plausible solutions to this apparent contradiction! But even if there were only one plausible solution there would still be no contradiction. Why not? Simple ethics: it is a properly basic understanding in the author/reader relationship that authors have something to say, that they have the skills to say it — and that the reader can know their intent. What this means is that people who use their primary reading energies to seek out logical contradictions in a purported and apparent sea of reasonable communication are violating the most basic rule of all — the reader/writer contract. They violate synergy by looking first for trouble, not for truth.

Every communication is said to be in synergy because its parts work together to make the greater whole — and synergy is native to every communication. As such, we readers have an ethical responsibility to work with the authors to understand their intended meanings. But also, we should never go out of our way to misunderstand an author… and this is the common denominator for every logical false-alarm that I’ve ever analyzed: the critic is picking a fight instead of working with the author.

Concerning your question [02], I am not sure that I understand what you are asking. But in case you are referencing the common objections that Jesus did not really exist or that he did not actually die, let me give you two links — one to Got Questions Ministries7 that talks about the “Swoon Theory” — and one to Mainsail Ministries8 which gives some extra-biblical corroboration of Jesus’ historical existence.

Concerning your question [04] where Jesus curses the fig tree, I will defer to an article by the Christian Courier9 — and I will remind you of my general advice when attacking alleged contradictions: do not look for trouble — look for solutions. After all, you are on God’s side… right? If this is true, you should be looking for the answer more vigorously than you are postulating the problem.

Concerning your question [08] — the differing accounts of Peter’s denial — this is a good model of how the simple act of harmonizing the accounts will cause the contradictions to melt away — and I will defer to The Gospel Coalition10 to explain the details.

As I said in my introduction, one of the reasons that I gave you so many links is to show you how matter-of-fact many of these solutions are — and that speaks to the low value of the alleged contradictions themselves. This answers your question [09] — all Gospel writers are telling the truth. These common challenges are the academic equivalent of children throwing rocks through the church windows to get attention (the lower church windows, that is). You see, with just a little thought, and with just a little time, these children could have disarmed themselves… and we adults would not have to run around behind them, sweeping up the glass.

Come soon, Lord Jesus!


  1. You should review "The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978)" to understand what it means for the Bible to be inerrant… but perhaps more importantly — what is not necessarily included in the definition. Go to the following link:
  2. See a crucifixion artifact at Biblical Archaeology.
  3. Find solutions to the Centurion “contradiction” at Answers in Genesis.
  4. John Ankerberg discusses the alleged contradictions surrounding the carrying of the cross and the resurrection accounts.
  5. Answers in Genesis explains the alleged contradictions surrounding the carrying of the cross.
  6. CARM ministries looks at the difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies.
  7. Got Questions Ministries weighs-in concerning the “Swoon Theory.”
  8. Mainsail Ministries details the extra-biblical corroboration of Jesus’ historical existence.
  9. The Christian Courier unscrambles the difficulties comparing Matthews and Mark’s accounts of Jesus cursing the fig tree.
  10. The Gospel Coalition shows us how to harmonize the varying accounts of Peter’s denial.
  11. For a good overview of Bible-reading technique, I recommend Michael Eschelbach's article in the Christian Research Journal (Vol. 39 / No. 02 / 2016) entitled "How to Read Historical Narrative."

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