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.”
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.
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
- How do you handle it when something in the Bible sounds inconsistent?
- Do you know of any proven contradiction in Scripture?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Subscribe – Don’t miss future blog posts!
Click the sidebar’s “SUBSCRIBE” button to follow the
Bible-Science Guy Blog. You’ll automatically receive
new posts free by email. Click SUBSCRIBE NOW!
©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)