Are the gospels contradictory?
The gospels may tell stories a little differently, but they don’t have contradictions . . .
There may be a few inconsistencies in the Gospels, but there certainly aren’t any outright contradictions. Passages that seem to be saying different things? There are some, but they can be harmonized — that is, they can be read together to make a sensible account.
Consider the incident in which Jesus heals two blind men outside Jericho. In Matthew, the men are unnamed and are healed as Jesus leaves the city. In Mark, only one blind man, Bartimaeus, is mentioned, and he is also healed as Jesus leaves the city. In Luke, only one blind man is mentioned, but he is not named, and he seems to be healed as Jesus enters the city, not as he leaves it.
Certainly all these passages refer to the same incident, so how can the two apparent inconsistencies (one man versus two, entering the city versus leaving it) be reconciled? Here is one way: Bartimaeus called out to Jesus as he and the crowd entered Jericho, but in the commotion Bartimaeus was not heard. By the time Jesus left the city, Bartimaeus had been joined by another blind man. Bartimaeus calls out again and this time is heard because the crowd is now subdued. Jesus cures him and the other man.
Here is another apparent inconsistency. In Matthew, the mother of James and John approached Jesus and asked that her sons might sit at his right and left when he came into his kingdom. In Mark, James and John themselves made the request.
Which evangelist are we to believe? Both. There is no inconsistency. The mother of James and John first approached Jesus, paving the way for her sons to make the second request. We see something similar in Kings. Nathan first had Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, approach the aged King David with the news that Adonijah was seizing power. Then Nathan himself went to the king with the same information.
Now consider you’re taking a vacation. You go to Hawaii and on the way home stop at the Grand Canyon. You tell one friend, “On my vacation I went to Hawaii.” You tell another, “On my vacation I visited the Grand Canyon.” If the friends compare notes, they’ll find an apparent inconsistency. Surely they’ll conclude, “Well, he must have gone to both places. After all, going to one doesn’t exclude going to the other.” So it is with the gospel stories. We find what appear to be inconsistencies, but they appear such only because the Gospels are themselves fragmentary accounts of Christ’s life, each account including different fragments.
Karl Keating is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith,” pages 34-35 (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1995).