Alleged Discrepancies Among the Gospels

by Paul Chamberlain

Whatever one thinks of the alleged discrepancies within the four gospels, it is clear from these discrepancies that agreement was not a condition of acceptance when deciding which books should be part of the New Testament.  Ample evidence of this is provided by the very existence of what scholars often refer to as “the synoptic problem.”   This term refers to the fact that certain parallel passages within the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and sometimes in the fourth gospel (John) as well which report the same events sometimes describe them differently.  Often the differences are insignificant but sometimes they are not.  In certain cases, it has led some scholars to argue that there are serious discrepancies, maybe even outright contradictions, between the gospels.

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Having said that, many New Testament scholars maintain that plausible harmonizations can be found for all alleged discrepancies among the four gospels.[i]  However, that is precisely the point.  Alleged discrepancies do exist, and scholars have found it necessary to work at ways of finding harmonizations with some finding them more plausible than others.  Clearly, if simple agreement had been the deciding condition, we would more likely have one gospel, and not four, thus nipping the problem of alleged discrepancies in the bud. In other words, in spite of these differences, however great they are, these gospel records were all included by the earliest Christians as authoritative documents because they were early eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.  Agreement was not the criteria; apostolic connection was.

In fact, the more one looks into the process, the more evident this fact becomes.  Other documents were considered for acceptance even when some of them contained some very different, even odd-sounding, teaching.  One such document, called The Acts of Paul, showed up around A.D. 200 and was appealed to by some Christians because of its assumed authorship by Paul.  Among other things, this document advocated total abstinence from sexual relations even for married people, and included the rather bizarre story of Paul baptizing an eighteen-foot tall lion.  In the end, it was rejected and the early church leader, Tertullian of Carthage, tells why.  Its origins were examined and it was discovered that the author was neither the apostle Paul, nor anyone acquainted with the original disciples.  The actual author was a church elder forty years or more after St. Paul was martyred.  In the end this particular document was rejected because it became clear that it was not written by Paul, nor by any other apostle

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