Bible ‘Contradictions’ and the Goldilocks Principle

by David Vogel

One of my first dates with Leah was a rafting trip on the Nolichucky River back in the summer of 2012. If you ran into me at church today and I was feeling talkative, I might tell you about how I enjoyed guiding our raft down the river, showing her the sights and hoping she was impressed that I kept us above water through the dangerous whitewater of Quarter-Mile rapid. Then I might talk about how I enjoyed the drive home with her afterward, talking about everything and nothing in particular.

But supposing you had rafting on your mind after talking with me and mentioned it to one of my friends from church, you might be puzzled. My friend would tell you that our whole church went on that rafting trip on the Nolichucky in summer 2012. He might casually mention that the Nolichucky is such a challenging river that we had to have professional guides; no self-guided boats allowed. And he might mention feeling sorry for me and Leah when he noticed that we ended up in different vehicles for the drive home.

Now you’d be confused, so you might ask another of my friends. He would say he remembers that trip vividly, because he enjoyed driving back home with me, Leah, and Leah’s sister, whom he ended up marrying a few years later. He might also mention how skilled his raft’s professional river guide was and how he had wished he could direct the boat, even though it wasn’t allowed.

At this point, you would have no idea what had actually happened on that trip, but you’d be pretty sure my friends and I are all either painfully confused or pathologically dishonest. Except everything we told you was actually true. We did have a church trip, but I was really only interested in one (slender, blonde) participant on that trip, so my brief account only mentioned her. And it’s true that only professional guides are allowed on the Nolichucky, but at the time I worked as a river guide in the summers so I had the necessary certification. And Leah and I did leave the outpost in different vehicles, but only until we all stopped for dinner, at which point we piled her and three other friends into my car for the rest of the ride home. Nothing in those three stories was false or contradictory, but it certainly sounded so—because you made up in assumptions for what you lacked in information, as we all tend to do.

Your difficulty fitting together the three different stories of our rafting trip is not uncommon when it comes to eyewitness testimony, and it’s worth considering because Christians base our faith on four collections of eyewitness testimony. You and I call them the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…

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