Do Inconsistencies in the Gospels Undermine Scripture’s Inerrancy?

by Robert Plummer

We know the words of Scripture were written or recited by human prophets or apostles, but were they also the exact words God wanted written down?

Yes. If you look at the book of Hebrews, the author will refer to Psalm 95, for example, and apply two authors to the psalm. We first read “David said,” then later “the Holy Spirit said.” Both are true. Hebrews accents the dual authorship, or concurrent authorship, of Scripture.

Because God is the perfect truth-teller, he cannot lie. Everything Scripture affirms is completely true. While Christians acknowledge this truth, we also understand that if you were to put the four Gospels side-by-side, you would find some surface-level incongruities. A perceptive reader might ask, “Well, what’s going on here? Did this happen this way or that way?”

But this seeming incongruity is what we’d expect of any historical retelling of an event by different eyewitnesses. Every eyewitness account will involve summarizing, partial reporting, paraphrasing, or rearranging of the material chronologically. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we find exactly this type of eyewitness testimony.

Don’t the Gospels Contain Contradictions?

First-century church figure Papias of Hierapolis provides insight into the origins of the Gospels. He recounts, for example, that Mark wrote in his Gospel what he heard Peter preach. Mark was not a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry; however, Papias said Mark recorded everything Peter preached, just not in chronological order. The notable lack of chronological order is significant: the earliest generation of Christians recognized that the Gospels weren’t intended to be strictly chronological. Therefore, when modern readers assume the Gospels are strictly chronological, they perceive “mistakes” in the Gospel accounts. But these readers are asking something of the Gospels the inspired authors never intended to give.

Compare, for example…

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Do Inconsistencies in the Gospels Undermine Scripture’s Inerrancy?