Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | September 14, 2016

Reader Asks: Do Mark & John Contradict?

(2 Minute Read)
Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
(By Harry Anderson)

Are there contradictions in the Bible?

I believe there are not. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, the Almighty Creator of the universe. Hence it speaks truth — historically, geographically, logically, chronologically, and scientifically. It is without error on everything about which it speaks, and it speaks either directly or indirectly about everything.

Hence when presented with a seeming discrepancy like the one below, my approach is to look for a way in which the apparent contradiction can be harmoniously understood. Biblical accounts of the same event by different authors sometimes appear contradictory, but careful reading and contemplation will show they are complementary rather than contradictory.

Greg, a reader from the state of Washington, sent in the following question via the blog’s Contact Page. He wonders how to resolve a seeming time discrepancy between reports by Mark and John about the Triumphal Entry and Mary’s anointing of Jesus:

“I stumbled on your article Is This A Contradiction? about Mary’s anointing of Jesus. You easily dealt with the obvious concerns. In addition, you expressed unlimited confidence regarding trust in the historical accuracy of the Bible.

“I am therefore following up with an issue that I remain troubled over – the timing difference between the Feast/Anointing and the Triumphal Entry between Mark and John. In Mark, Jesus Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11) occurs BEFORE the Feast/Anointing (Mark 14:1-9). In John, the Feast/Anointing precedes Jesus’ Triumphal Entry (John 12:1-18). In fact John formally states that the Triumphal Entry was precipitated by the guests to the Feast/Anointing (John 12:12). I do not see how this can be reconciled.”

Bible accounts from different witnesses
may vary in which details they choose
to record, but all are true. None contradict.

Now upon an initial reading of the Mark and John passages, it appears as if there may be a discrepancy between the timing Mark reports and the timing John reports. But the Bible is written as true literal history. The events reported in Scripture aren’t just concocted fables intended to teach moral principles like Aesop’s fables. Bible events really happened to the flesh-and-blood people that Scripture identifies, at the times that Scripture indicates, and in the earthly places that Scripture specifies. I trust both Mark’s and John’s accounts as accurate, true reports of actual events in the life of Jesus.

So how should this seeming discrepancy between Mark and John be understood? There must be a way to harmoniously understand the two accounts.

Resolution

First, I would understand the Feast and the Anointing as separate events. Mary’s anointing occurred at a dinner at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. The Feast mentioned in the Gospels refers to the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, not Simon’s dinner.

John gives explicit chronological information. He says Jesus came to Bethany six days before the Passover. The dinner at Simon’s house where Mary anointed Jesus occurred some time after His arrival in Bethany, but not necessarily right away. According to John, the Triumphal Entry occurred the day following the anointing dinner. I believe this is the correct chronological sequence: anointing dinner followed the next day by the Triumphal Entry.

Neither Mark nor John say exactly when the anointing dinner occurred. For John, the anointing dinner occurred between Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and the Passover six days later on the day preceding the Triumphal Entry. All that Mark says regarding the timing of the anointing dinner is that it occurred “while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper.” Mark does not sequentially connect it with any of the other events as John does. In particular, Mark does not say it occurred two days before the Passover.

Mark says the Passover was two days off when the chief priests and scribes were seeking to seize and kill Jesus “by stealth” so as not to cause a riot among the people (Mark 14:1-2). I think this prompted Mark’s flashback account of Simon’s dinner at this point, because the anointing at the dinner initiated Judas’ clandestine approach to the chief priests to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11). The money Judas was to receive for the betrayal likely also reminded Mark of the disciples’ indignation (probably led by Judas) over the financial waste of the perfume Mary poured over Jesus; this indignation was a major feature of Mark’s report of the dinner. The antipathy of the chief priests and scribes toward Jesus may also have reminded Mark of the contrasting worship of Jesus by Mary at Simon’s dinner. These three factors contributed to Mark’s decision to relate a previous event at this point in his account.

Thus Mark’s account of the anointing dinner is a flashback. He does not give it in chronological sequence as John does. The anointing dinner at Simon’s house in Bethany occurred the day before the Triumphal Entry. John reports the events in chronological order. Mark reports the dinner as a flashback, in subject matter order.

Questions to Ponder
  1. How do you handle it when something in the Bible sounds inconsistent?
  2. Do you know of any proven contradiction in Scripture?
  3. Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday September 14, 2016 A.D.

The unfolding of Thy words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.
The sum of Thy word is truth, and every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting.

(Psalm 119:130,160 NASB)


Responses

  1. Bill

    Certainly you have made quite an effort – and I recognize that. As to the “flashback” theory – well, hmmm, maybe or maybe not – right now it is just an assumption that you have made to fulfill a pre-set agenda (you assumed the conclusion and worked backward a la deductive rather than inductive reasoning). I will re-read these sections again with your theory in mind to determine whether it really fits with the sense of the text (since I don’t recall such a sense in my original reading).

    Regardless, I appreciate you taking my question seriously and making a fine effort in responding!

    Blessings,

    Greg Logan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok Bill – I went back through here to see if there was any possible way your theory could work. Sadly, there is simply no way – it complete avoids the plain historical, time sequenced elements in the context. Mk14:1 provides a clear time marker – the exact same time marker as is in Mt 26:1 which is likewise following by the anointing (was Mt giving a “flashback” too???). Mt makes clear that Judas THEN went to the priests with what is very clearly implied to be the result of such an indignation from the anointing which was the exact event that ignited the arrest of Jesus in a very clearly historically presented sequence. Mk14:12 likewise demonstrates that this entire contextual sequence is a historical presentation as it moves forward to the very day of the Passover. There is absolutely ZERO sense of any sort of flashback in the text itself.

    The careful reader, while appreciating your creativity and ingenuity, finds the current “resolution” painfully strained and actually throws the whole sense of the sequence and text right of of the window. In fact, the anointing MUST have happened just before the Passover as the key event that ignited the arrest of Jesus per the account in Mark (not so in John since no such implication is given).

    Lk completely omits the anointing at this point – and provides a very different account way before this time – perhaps referencing the same or not – that is unclear.

    To be clear – I am much more interested in integrity and truth – than in fulfilling a preset agenda. I am happy to identify and publicly acknowledge any defect in the Bible – and, as such, I gain great credibility with any other competent reader. They thus can much more easily hear the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ when they see they I don’t avoid but rather acknowledge what is evident.

    Regardless of this, I do appreciate your efforts in digging into scripture. I know I find the Bible fascinating and appreciate it a great deal – though I find it is merely a reference tool to the real call of God in Christ – which is to walk with Him with a sold out heart in total unqualified integrity.

    Blessings

    Greg Logan

    Like

    • Greg, you are assuming that Mark reports chronologically in this passage. But Mark makes no such claim. There are multiple ways to organize a report: chronologically, logically, categorically, etc. I think Mark gives this report using a categorical order by subject matter.

      Recall that church fathers (Origen and Papias) say that Mark’s Gospel actually came from Peter. Peter, as we know from the New Testament, tended to be impetuous, so it’s not surprising that as he related his memories to Mark, one memory would prompt another which was out of time sequence but logically connected. This is what I think happened in the passage about which you asked.

      Likewise Matthew frequently does not report chronologically. It’s generally acknowledged by New Testament scholars that Matthew organizes his Gospel by subject matter and not chronologically.

      I agree with your interest in integrity and truth. Jesus Christ Himself, who is the standard for truth (John 14:6), said “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19). Therefore I am certain that Jesus would not endorse your claim of defects in the Bible.

      I stand behind what I wrote above and believe it’s a solid, God-honoring explanation of an apparent discrepancy.

      Like

  3. Bill

    Despite your wonderful ideal of a Book from God – the Bible simply cannot fulfill this in the manner you wish. While much blessing is contained therein – certain – perhaps many errors also are very evident. The above is simply one. The contradiction between Mt and Mk re timing of cleansing of temple relative to the triumphal entry is another – but there are many texts which demonstrate that we simply have coddled together ancient literature – not unlike other ancient literature….

    We would do better to stand up to the call of integrity and truth of Jesus Christ – and simply acknowledge the reality of these errors and problematic texts in the Bible – while simultaneously acknowledge that many people find the contents a great blessing.

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Greg Logan

    Like

    • Thank you for reading and commenting and for your Thanksgiving wishes. May you and all my readers have a blessed Thanksgiving as well.

      You and I disagree about the nature of the Bible. I believe it is the Word of the Almighty Creator, perfectly delivered through divinely chosen men, and hence it is error-free in the original documents. The Bible is without error on everything about which it teaches, and it teaches either directly or indirectly about everything. Blessings to you and keep thinking and studying.

      Like


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