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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 4). I have a new level of enthusiasm in this video.
Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.
Click HERE for Part 2 of this blog series.
Click HERE for Part 3 of this blog series.
This blog will focus on the last, and possibly the most important, of our internal contradiction possibility type. Certainly many have been troubled by conflicting chronological ordering in such renderings of the creation story or the gospel accounts. We’ll quickly deal with the creation account from Genesis 1 and 2 and then move on to a broader discussion on the Gospels.
Genesis 1 gives a creation account where the animals are created and then humans. Genesis 2, it is sometimes asserted, gives an account where humans are created before animals. Josh McDowell, in his work More Evidence That Demands A Verdict, shows us that much of this can be attributed to poor translation. (1) The word in Genesis 2:19 in the Hebrew is va-yeetsehr which McDowell shows should be translated in English in the pluperfect form which would then be “had formed” rather than formed, like it is in the King James Version, for example. (2) So, God, having already formed animals, will now create a helper for Adam. The result then would be a creation order that matches in both chapters with the animals being created before mankind.
McDowell goes on to show a few more things about ancient Hebraic writing. First of all, recent archaeology has shown that other ancient writings exist using a style that initially covers a grand story and then circles back to one central section in more detail, much like Genesis 1 and 2 do. (3) Chapter two is not about another version of the creation story. Instead it’s following an ancient Near Eastern pattern that is circling back to the central figure of man and expounding on that part of the creation story. (4) In this way, the aside on God’s creation functions a bit like a dream sequence in a movie reminding us of how God creates as He is about to create once again.
How about the Gospels? Much of what we see is similar to what we’ve already seen in Genesis. Mark L. Strauss, in his work Four Portraits, One Jesus tells us that there is both a unity and a diversity in them due to the different perspectives each author had as well as their different points of emphasis. (5) In his opinion, part of the problem many readers have when it comes to chronological order in the Gospels is what we expect to see when we read these works. Too often readers think they are simply reading history when they are really reading a mixture of history, narrative, and theology. (6) Aside from that, each author is addressing different concerns. For example, John is writing to show the divinity of the Son while Mark is writing to highlight the suffering Son. (7)
Finally, there were some different stylistic ways of writing that the gospel writers employed that are not very frequent today. We are familiar with hyperbole and sarcasm but we are not as familiar with the intercalation, inclusio, and chiasm that was used by writers of the Bible. (8) It was these methods that resulted in a thematic construction in their writing, especially in John, rather than a sequential order that modern readers are accustomed to. (9)
So, due to their differences in sequence, someone might ask whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal as suggested by the Synoptics, or a regular meal as suggested by John. According to Strauss, if we are allowing each author to tell their own story according to the accepted customs of their day, there is no contradiction between the two. The Synoptics are highlighting the Last Supper as a Passover meal while “John can portray Jesus as the Lamb of God crucified on the eve of Passover, precisely when the Passover lambs were sacrificed in Jerusalem.” (10) If this sounds too “loose” for some, Strauss educates us on the attitude of the ancients. For them, when events were reordered for emphasis of topic or theology, there was no diminishing of historicity. (11) We dare not impose our standards, which didn’t yet exist, on their writing.
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1 McDowell p. 138
2 McDowell p. 138
3 McDowell p. 138-139
4 McDowell p. 138-139
5 Strauss p. 24-24
6 Strauss p. 27
7 Strauss p. 24
8 Strauss p. 76-77
9 Strauss p. 393
10 Strauss p. 393
11 Strauss p. 390