The Nail in the Coffin of Biblical Inerrancy

A couple of years ago I decided to read the New Testament from beginning to end.  As I read through the Gospels, I noticed that each time that the Resurrection story was told, alot of the details were different.  I shrugged it off as insignificant, and kept reading.  “The Bible is inerrant,” I said to myself.  “God doesn’t make mistakes.  Humans just don’t have all the details.”

But have you ever read the six Resurrection accounts in the New Testament, side by side so that you can compare them?  Well, here is your opportunity.  But be warned:  If you believe that it is impossible for the Bible to contain errors, you are in for the greatest shock of your Christian life!

Mark 16 (ESV)

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.]

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

[[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciples

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

The Great Commission

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

Summary of Mark’s account:

1.  Early Sunday morning (the sun has risen), Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome go to the tomb.
2.  They ask each other who will roll away the large stone from the entrance.
3.  They look up and see the stone rolled back.
4.  They enter the tomb.
5.  A young man, dressed in a white rob, is sitting in the tomb.
6.  The young man tells them not to be alarmed.
7.  He tells the women that Jesus of Nazareth has risen and that he is not there.
8.  He tells them to tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus is going “before you” to Galilee.
9.  He tells the women that they will see Jesus in Galilee, as Jesus had said.
10.  The women flee from the tomb in fear and tell no one anything.

Beginning in verse 9 we have a questionable addition to Scripture.  Was this section of Mark an addition by a later scribe, making it a non-inspired embellishment, or had all the oldest copies of the original, which had included these passages, been lost or destroyed?  We don’t know.  However, this addition dramatically changes the story! 

1.  Jesus appears to Mary.  (What?  There is no mention in the first part of the chapter about Jesus appearing to Mary.  All she saw was “a young man in a white robe.”  Was this Jesus??)
2.  Mary goes to tell “those who had been with him” as they are mourning and weeping.  (Wait!  I thought Mary and the other women told “no one”, at least according to the true author of Mark, as stated in the first eight verses of Mark chapter 16!)
3.  Whoever she told (the disciples, most likely) did not believe her.
4.  After this Jesus appears to two of them in the country.
5.  These two then tell “the rest” who did not believe them.
6.  Jesus then appears to the eleven while they are at dinner, chastises them for their disbelief, proclaims the Great Commission, gives them the power of the Keys (and the power to pick up snakes and to drink poison), and then ascends into heaven.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a doctorate degree in New Testament studies to see that whoever wrote the last half of Mark chapter 16, was not the same person who wrote the first half of that chapter!  The last part of Mark chapter 16 is a later non-inspired addition to the text; most likely added because someone wanted to “tidy up” Mark’s story!

28 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

The Report of the Guard

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

The Great Commission

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Summary of Matthew’s account:

1.  Toward dawn on Sunday, Mary Magdalene and Mary (what happened to Salome?) go to the tomb.
2.  There is a great earthquake (why didn’t Mark mention this “great” earthquake?).
3.  An angel (with an appearance of lightening) descends from heaven, rolls back the stone, and sits on the stone.  (Huh?  In Mark’s account the angel is in the tomb.)
4.  The guards are so fearful that they become like dead men.
5.  The angel tells the women not to be afraid and that he knows that they are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
6.  The angel tells the women that Jesus is not there, he has risen from the dead, and that he is going before them to Galilee, where they will see him.
7.  As they prepare to go and tell Jesus’ disciples the news, Jesus appears to them and says, “Greetings”.  (Why did the angel just tell them that Jesus would see them in Galilee, but in the next minute, Jesus appears to them?  Do angels get their “wires” crossed?)
8.  The women take hold of Jesus’s feet and worship them.
9.  Jesus tells the women to go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee and that Jesus will meet them there. (Wait.  Mark, at least in the first half of Mark chapter 16, says that the women kept their mouths shut and told no one.  If that is true, it means that these women had just touched and talked to a walking, talking corpse who they believed to be Jesus, but according to Mark, they are so afraid of this corpse, that they don’t tell anyone…anything!)
10.  The disciples obey Christ’s command to go to Galilee and there they meet him at the appointed place, on a mount, where Jesus gives them the Great Commission.

Luke 24  (ESV)

The Resurrection

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

On the Road to Emmaus

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus Appears to his Disciples

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,[b] 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for[c] the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Summary of Luke’s Account:

1.  At early dawn on Sunday, “they” went to the tomb.
2.  They found the stone rolled away.  (No earthquake.  No angel sitting on the stone.)
3.  They go into the tomb and do not find Jesus’s body.
4.  Suddenly two men are standing by them in dazzling apparel. (Mark said that there was one man and that he was seated.)
5.  The two men tell them that, “He is not here, he is risen”.
6.  “They” leave the tomb and tell the eleven (disciples). (No appearance by Jesus?  No holding his feet?  No command to go to Galilee??)
7.  Now we are told who it was that told the disciples the news of the resurrection: Mary Magdalene, the Joanna (we haven’t heard of her before), the other Mary the mother of James, and other women with them. (I guess Salome was in this group, but Luke chooses to mention Joanna, and not her.)
8.  The disciples do not believe the women’s story.
9.  But Peter runs to the tomb, stoops and looks in, sees the linen cloths by themselves, and goes home marveling at what had just happened.  (He goes home??  He doesn’t go and confirm the story to the other disciples who are weeping in anguish?  I guess Peter thought it could wait until the next day…)
10.  That same day, two “of them” see and talk to Jesus in Emmaus, although at first their eyes are “kept from recognizing him”.
11.  Cleopas, one of these two disciples, then gives a detailed account of the recent events in Jerusalem.  He includes the details of the women finding the empty tomb, that the women had a vision of angels (Plural angels.  Only one angel mentioned in Mark and Matthew), and that “some of us” went to the tomb and found it empty, as the women said (I thought that just Peter went to check out the tomb?).
12.  Jesus sits at a table with them, blesses the meal, and breaks the bread.
13.  The eyes of the two disciples are opened and they recognize Jesus.
14.  Jesus disappears.
15.  That same hour they go to Jerusalem, they find the eleven and those with the eleven.  They tell the disciples that Jesus is risen and has appeared to Simon.  (Simon??  Simon Peter??  The account above says nothing of Jesus appearing to “Simon”.)
16.  They tell the disciples what happened on the Emmaus Road.
17.  As they were talking, Jesus appears among them.  They are frightened because they think he is a ghost.
18.  Jesus shows them his hands and feet.
19.  Jesus asks for something to eat.
20.  Jesus eats a piece of broiled fish in front of them.
21.  Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures.
22.  Jesus tells them to stay in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with power from on high” (Pentecost?).
23.  Jesus then leads them to Bethany.
24.  Jesus is carried up into heaven.
25.  The disciples return to Jerusalem and are continually in the temple.

What happened with going to Galilee?? 

According to Luke, the very same day that the women find the empty tomb, Jesus appears to two disciples on the Emmaus Road, and then later that same day, he appears to all the disciples in Jerusalem, and “then” (the same day?) he leads them out to Bethany and ascends into heaven!  I thought he spent forty days with them??  I thought he appeared to some of these very same eleven in Galilee while they were fishing??

John 20 (ESV)

The Resurrection

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,[c] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus and the Disciples

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin,[d] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of this Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 21 (ESV)

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards[a] off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers[b] that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Summary of John’s account:

1.  Mary Magdalene (is she alone?) arrives at the tomb early Sunday morning.
2.  She sees that the stone has been rolled away.
3.  She runs to Peter and John and tells them that someone has taken the Lord.
4.  Peter and John run to the tomb.  (This is the first time that anyone mentions the “beloved disciple” going to the tomb.)
5.  They look into the tomb and see the linens but no body.
6.  The disciples go to their homes.
7.  Mary stands weeping outside the tomb.
8.  She looks into the tomb and sees two angels, one sitting at the head and one at the feet.  (Luke said that the two angels stood among the women, as the women were inside the tomb…??
9.  The angels ask Mary why she is weeping.
10.  Mary turns around and sees Jesus.
11.  Mary assumes that Jesus is the Gardener and asks what has happened to the body.
12  Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. (Didn’t Luke say that the women held onto Jesus’s feet??)
13.  Mary goes to tell the disciples that she has seen the Lord.
14.  That same evening, Sunday, the disciples have locked themselves in a room.  Jesus comes and stands in the middle of them.  He shows them his hands and his side.
15.  Jesus breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.
16.  He gives them the power to forgive sins. 
17.  Eight days later Jesus reappears to the disciples, this time Thomas is with them.  (Wait, didn’t Luke say that Jesus appeared to the “eleven” on the same day as the resurrection?  In this Gospel, Jesus appears to the “ten” on the same day as the resurrection and then eight days later to the “eleven”…??)
18.  Then chapter 20 ends by telling us that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.
14.  In chapter 21 Jesus makes his third appearance to his disciples, this time in Galilee, on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias.
15.  The disciples are fishing.
16.  Jesus calls out to them and prepares breakfast for them on the shore.
17.  Jesus has a chat with Peter and John.
18.  No mention of the Ascension.

Summary of the Four Gospels:

What do the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection have in common?

1.  Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early Sunday morning.
2.  She sees the stone rolled away.
3.  An angel/angels tell her that Jesus is gone; that he is risen.
4.  At some point in time later, Jesus meets with the eleven.

Other than that, the facts vary considerably between the four accounts.

Acts 1 (ESV)

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying[a] with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Summary of the account in Acts:

1.  Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples after his “suffering”.
2.  He appeared to them for forty days.
3.  He ordered his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait there for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  (I thought he told them to go to Galilee??)
4.  When the disciples had “come together” Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.
5.  Two men in white robes then appear and tell the disciples that Jesus will come back in the same manner.  (That is pretty important information to know for people who are seeing their leader float away into the clouds, never to be seen again for thousands of years, don’t you think?  Why did Luke mention it here, but not in his Gospel, and why didn’t the other Gospel authors mention a word about it??)

1 Corinthians 15 (ESV)

The Resurrection of Christ

15 Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Summary of Paul’s account in I Corinthians 15:

1.  Christ died for our sins.
2.  He was buried.
3.  He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
4.  He appeared to Cephas.
5.  He then appeared to the “twelve”.
6.  He then appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time.
7.  He then appeared to James.
8.  He then appeared to “all the apostles”.
9.  Lastly, he appeared to Paul.


Paul either doesn’t know that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (at least he appeared to her in some of the accounts) or he doesn’t feel it is important to mention her.  Mark doesn’t say that Jesus appeared first to Cephas (Peter) before any of the other male disciples.  Matthew never says that Jesus appeared first to Peter.  Luke says that the first men that Jesus appeared to were the two on the Emmaus Road, who then come to Jerusalem and tell the “eleven” that Jesus has appeared to “Simon”.  If these two are telling the “eleven” that Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter…that means that Peter wasn’t with the “eleven” which means that there weren’t eleven present…Peter was missing!  Huh??  John never says that Jesus appeared first to Peter, and neither does Luke in the first chapter of Acts!

Paul has his facts wrong!

Concluding Comments:

So if we are to believe fundamentalist, evangelical, and even some orthodox Christians, that every word in the Bible came directly out of the mouth of God,…except for the translation errors…and except for the blatant scribe alterations and additions… what do we do with all these discrepancies in the retelling of the most important event in the Christian Faith (and if true, the history of the world!)?

I don’t see how any Christian can look at these six different accounts of the Resurrection, as recorded in the New Testament, and hold onto that belief.

Bottom line:  someone, or several “someones”, made mistakes…a lot of mistakes!

There is no evidence that these discrepancies are due to scribe alterations except for the last half of Mark chapter 16, as mentioned above.  And since I don’t believe that God is responsible for these mistakes…because that would mean that God is incapable of keeping his facts straight…it is clear to me that the many mistakes present in the Bible are really and truly errors, and not “apparent discrepancies”, as we have been so repeatedly and so soothingly assured by our fundamentalist, inerrantist pastors and theologians!

I still believe the overall story and message of the Bible, but I cannot believe that the Bible is inerrant, when anyone with a brain and an education can see from the passages above that it definitely is not!  I’m sorry to have to be that blunt.  Biblical inerrancy is false!

And here is more troubling news for the “inerrantists”:  The discrepancies of which women came to the tomb; if the disciples themselves even went to the tomb; how many angels were present at or in the tomb; whether the angels were sitting or standing; whether there were eleven present the first time in the Upper Room or ten or nine,…can probably be explained away by some slick explanation of Dr. Craig Lane or another inerrantist.  But what cannot be explained away, and what is deeply troubling to me, is that the authors of the Gospels can’t even agree on the “when” of Jesus’s ascension (same day or the 40th day?) , and worse, the “where” of his ascension!

Just where did Jesus lift off from the face of the earth and disappear into the clouds in full view of the eleven apostles?  Was it in Bethany?  Was it in the Upper Room in Jerusalem?  Or was it somewhere in Galilee?

Very disturbing, my friends.  Very disturbing, indeed.






End of post.

65 thoughts on “The Nail in the Coffin of Biblical Inerrancy

  1. Gary,

    I think you make a mistake in calling them “errors”. Which doesn't meant that I think the stories are factually correct. These “errors” are not necessarily mistakes or someone accidentally getting things wrong. I think what you are seeing is the purposeful shaping of the story by individual authors for varying reasons. If you think of the gospels as documentaries meant to record history, as most believers do, then these seem like errors.

    However, if you think of the gospels as something akin to a movie script “based on” true events you might be closer to understanding their purpose. They have an agenda,. They are purposely shaped to reach a particular audience, They are meant to be dramatic, They are meant to persuade. They are meant to overcome common objections. They are meant to hang together well as a story.

    They are hagiography….not uncoated, factual history.

    If you realize that, it will be much more disturbing than thinking that the Bible contains errors. You must realize that the individual books have been purposely shaped to give the answer the authors want you to have… the same way that Church leaders decided on which books were to be included in the Bible. Believers look at the Bible and are amazed at how it all “fits together”, how the OT and NT affirm each other. What they need to realize is that it fits because church fathers made it fit. There were tons of writings from the same time period that were excluded because they did't fit the portrait church leaders were trying to paint, or present Jesus the way they wanted him presented.

    It's like taking a box of legos and building something with them. You pick the pieces you want and make a house, maybe using half the legos and throwing out the rest of them….and then you declare that the sole purpose of legos is to build a house just like the one you made…..because look at how well it fits together.

    Never mind all the legos you didn't use, or all the other ways you could have fit things together.



  2. Here's the problem I have with your theory, Liza. If they were intentionally contriving a deception, I would think that they would at least get the very basic facts straight: WHEN did Jesus ascend into heaven, and from WHERE did he do so?

    However, unless someone can prove to me why these two HUGE discrepancies are NOT errors, my faith is hanging by a thread.

    I can buy excuses for the other discrepancies in the Resurrection and Ascension stories, but I don't see how these two discrepancies can be explained away.

    I am sending emails to several orthodox Lutheran pastors to see if they can convince me that these discrepancies are not errors. Let's see what they have to say.


  3. I wouldn't describe them as “deceptions”. Meaning…..I think the authors believed they were simply conveying their beliefs through story and narrative. I think the authors were simply doing what people in every century do, giving their views the best possible portrayal.

    You don't have to think of Paul, the gospel writers, or church fathers as evil, or liars. They are simply human beings with huge emotional investments in what they believe. They were credulous and reiterating what they had been taught and seemed right to them…just as people today do.

    Losing my faith didn't make me angry about these things. It simply made me realize that people are people in all eras. You can see the same tendencies in religious and political groups today….the same tendency to circulate not necessarily factual stories.

    I can already tell you what orthodox Lutheran pastors will tell you. They will tell you that these aren't errors. They will say that these things can be harmonized and that most all of it happened but individual authors picked and chose what to focus on. They will have a speculative answer for everything because these issues are not new and people have been trying to make explain these differences throughout church history.

    You are beginning to see things that you never saw before. You have probably read these stories hundreds of times before and had never even noticed these issues, or wondered about them. When we believe things fit together before we even read them…then they do. Our assumptions and presuppositions are very powerful forces and they can prevent us from really seeing things sometimes.

    I think what is happening is that you are losing some of those presuppositions and starting to notice that familiar stories aren't quite as familiar anymore and that is troubling.


  4. Dear Bro. Gary: Concerning the accounts being mere “hagiography”. A “hagiogrpahy” would tend towards embellishment, euphemism and enhancement of the protoganists of the narrative. That is to say – the disciples would not be shown as doubting, weak or unbelieving. In the second and third century apocryphal and pseudapigraphical works (such as Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Phillip, Acts fo Paul, etc), we see such Hagiography that is meant to promote a specific Gnostic agenda.

    We don't see such hagiographic tendencies in the four Gospels. The genre of Gospel is a composite of genres: narrative, parables, quotations, speeches, doxology and poetic sections – all designed to persuade and convince.

    If we were to use the analogy proposed above of the legos, we know that legos are different from duplos. Legos fit together because of the pegs and holes. The Canonical Gospels do represent different theological and historical agendas, attempting to weave together the strands of thought from the Torah, Writings and Prophets to the Incarnation and accomplishment of Jesus Christ. The “bricks” which the Gospel writers used were from those Old Testament sources, Jesus' life and mission and the preaching of the early church.

    Any other narratives outside of those sources are like duplos, different pegs, different holes and being incapable of constructing as accurate and complete picture of the Messiah.


  5. Can you explain, Pastor Mahlon, why one Gospel says that Jesus ascended into heaven the same day as his resurrection from somewhere in or near Jerusalem, and another Gospel says that he ascended forty days later in Galilee?

    I could care less about “hagiography”.

    this is what I care about: If Christianity can't get the story of the Resurrection and the Ascension straight…we have some serious problems.


  6. Concerning the answers to your two questions: “when did Jesus ascend into Heaven” and “where”, here is how I understand the accounts of the Synoptics, John, Acts 1 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-6.

    First – the “where” of the ascension. Acts 1 tells us He made appearances over a period of 40 days. Thus his words in Matthew 28:18-20 constitutes an appearance. The catalogue list of Mark 16:9-20 (however you view it) is more appearances. Mark 16:9-20, even if not taken as canonical, represents a textual tradition going back well into the mid-second century, if not earlier. Over 90% of the material in Luke 16:9-20 represent vignettes from the Synoptics.

    Luke's Gospel gives us the place – Bethany. John's Gospel does not record an ascension, only another important set of appearances. Acts 1, being the sequel to Luke, does not repeat the place of ascension – Bethany. Jesus' speech in Acts 1:1-8 took place in Jerusalem, and then from thereon Jesus ascended into heaven from Bethany, as Luke records in his Gospel in Luke 24:50.

    Second, the “when”. Again, Acts 1:3 gives us the time frame (40 days). Appearance number 1 would had been to Mary Magdalene per Matthew 28 and John 20. Paul's listing in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 represent a public record. Notice – no women. Why? Women's testimony were not counted in public courts of law. If anything, their inclusion in the “inhouse” documents of the four canonical Gospels lends credibility to the authenticity of the accounts.

    I think Bro. Gary you have to view the resurrection and ascension reports as a cinematic plotline, rather than a straight linear a,b,c,d plotline. The differences do not demonstrate errors, rather we are seeing the history as it unfolded. There is a “layering” and “winding staircase” pattern to ancient Lewish literature that scholars refer to as “recapitulation”. Simply put, the author will tell you a little bit, recap, tell a little bit more, recap, and keep going until he recaps all he or she has written.

    The Book of Revelation is a prime example of this manner of unfolding of information. Though being Apocalyptic literature, John's Jewish mind lays out the revelatory material in a recaptitulation of events. We see this moreso in the Hebrew Narratives of the Old Testament – with Genesis being an excellent example. I believe this same phenomenon characterizes Matthew, Mark and John. Luke of course takes on more of the Graeco-Roman linear style, which is why it may “feel different” than the other more “Jewish” Gospels, being that Luke was a Gentile.

    Such observations can help us see that what upon first glance seems to be “errors” are actually nothing more than traits of the genre that is Gospel literature. Resources such as “Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels” and “NIV Harmony of the Gospels” demonstrate how well the four Gospels weave in between one another.

    I hope some of those thoughts help and were clear.


  7. Atheists clearly have trouble with the word “faith.” For whatever reason that they choose to not believe.

    To the Jews who would not believe: “That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” Romans 11:20

    Following an atheist is like following a false prophet:

    “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 2 Peter 2:1-3

    I will stick with the holy, Catholic church who has kept the message of Christ intact since the beginning. This Church distributes Christ's forgiveness through Word and Sacraments. The documents of belief are all 3 Creeds and Holy Scripture. Paradox and variations mean nothing to me. In fact, it gets very old and tiring to listen to someone trying to disprove God by whatever means. No one can do that. It is not possible to disprove the supernatural.

    I know that I can do nothing to instill faith into anyone. But I love them and will pray for them.

    Love and peace in Christ,


  8. I guess I am having trouble seeing where there are contradictions. There is only one account that references the “when” of Christ's ascension and that is Acts 1. Likewise there is only one account that talks about the “where” of Christ's ascension and that is Acts 1 also. All the other accounts just give general statements that the ascension happened but they say nothing about when or where. Mark for instance, just says Jesus was taken up into heaven. But there is nothing in the text indicating it is the same day as the resurrection (in fact, since the next sentence speaks of the disciples preaching everywhere, we kind of have to assume that Mark is NOT referring to a single day.) Matthew, John, Paul and the Gospel of Luke don't even mention the ascension. (Luke does compress 40 days into a few verse at the end of his Gospel but then he himself expands on those 40 days when he writes Acts – and, fact, Acts would seem to indicate that His order to remain in Jerusalem was at the end of the 40 days, giving plenty of time for a trip to Galilee and back to Jerusalem again – so it's pretty obvious he was not saying everything happened on a single day)

    In any case, you have to have two statements to compare before you can say there is a contradiction and we only have one statement about the when and where of the ascension so it is logically impossible to have a contradiction.

    unless of course you are reading stuff into the text that just isn't there.

    You kind of have to have at least 2 statements to compare to each other to say there is a contraction.


  9. That is a complicated answer to a simple question, Pastor Mahlon.

    Here is what Mark says after telling us that Jesus has just appeared to the eleven who are reclining eating a meal:

    19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

    So wherever they were reclining, Jesus ascended into heaven, and then they went “out”. Where were they reclining and then going out from? Bethany? Galilee? Or Jerusalem in the upper room?

    Sounds an awful lot like Jerusalem in the Upper Room to me.


  10. And here is what Matthew has to say:

    16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    Now if the “eleven” had already seen and touched Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the same day as his Resurrection, including Doubting Thomas, and had “reclined” to eat a meal with him…why on earth would any of the eleven still be doubting??


  11. I'm not an atheist, Abby. I am one of the Baptized. I very much WANT to believe. I continue to OBEY God.

    But these discrepancies in the Resurrection and Ascension stories cannot just be swept under the rug, either with appeals to faith or with complicated theological theories.


  12. Whoops I was looking at too many things at once – I meant to point out that the Luke account compresses 40 days into a few sentences as evidenced from Acts 1 and instead said Luke does not mention the ascension and that Acts gives the place – gah too much editing on my part


  13. Gary, I'm sorry if you misunderstood me to say that you are an atheist. I wasn't saying that.

    For one thing, these things cannot be discovered using only the English Bibles. No one here that I've seen is an expert in Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. I don't know how many times my pastor has said that a word in a passage was not really translated properly. And then he would give the word and explain its meaning. How come all the Greek, Hebrew, and Latin scholars down through the ages have never had this much trouble with the text of Scripture? This Christian faith would have ended a long time ago if all this “evidence” was so strong in the original languages. In fact, what IS the reason this faith has not died before now? Martin Luther was a genius. How in the heck did he never come across all these “problems?” He knew every word in the Bible backwards and forwards. And thousands others like him. Luther was a lawyer, DagoodS is a lawyer. Let's put them both together in a room. I haven't seen DagoodS' credentials regarding his capability to dismantle Scripture — nor all the others who run the atheist blogs. That's the kind of expertise to listen to?

    Atheists want to say, “I don't believe, therefore it doesn't exist.” Ok. Wow. Good luck with that.

    Consider this woman in the news today:

    “Meriam Ibrahim, 26, was sentenced Thursday after being convicted of apostasy. The court in Khartoum ruled that Ibrahim must give birth and nurse her baby before being executed, but must receive 100 lashes immediately after having her baby for adultery — for having relations with her Christian husband. Ibrahim, a physician and the daughter of a Christian mother and a Muslim father who abandoned the family as a child, could have spared herself death by hanging simply by renouncing her faith.

    “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam,” Judge Abbas Khalifa told Ibrahim, according to AFP. “I sentence you to be hanged to death.”

    “I was never a Muslim,” she answered. “I was raised a Christian from the start.” Ibrahim was raised in the Christian faith by her mother, an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia. She is married to Daniel Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan who has U.S. citizenship, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

    That's what it is all about. I would bet that this woman doesn't even read the Bible. How can she have this kind of faith to die for? It is only by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

    And, yes, I do believe it boils down to faith. Don't have this faith if one is not willing to die for it. We can't even conceive of that yet in this country. But I would not bet too much that it won't come someday.

    Sorry, Gary. I disagree with you. But I still love you. And am praying. Also for the sake of your children.



  14. In Luke, Jesus appears to the eleven on the same day as his resurrection, which is the same day that he appears to the two on the Emmaus Road. “In the same hour” the two return to Jerusalem and are with the eleven talking when Jesus appears among them.

    After eating broiled fish, Jesus gives them a mini-version of the Great Commission:

    “and that repentance and[c] forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

    So how do the eleven meet Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, and on the “mount” in Galilee…if Jesus has just told them, on the very same day as his resurrection, to “stay in the city” until they receive the Holy Spirit??


  15. On faith, by an atheist:

    “Believing is a different story. Based on my trust of evidence and probabilities I am an atheist. That is I believe, but don't know for sure, that there is no such supernatural, especially one who micromanages the lives of zillions of people. It takes faith, belief without evidence to believe in that.”



  16. Matt and others:

    Let me present the above information in a more condensed form and then tell me if you think that there is a problem. I'm going to start this time with Luke's account:

    Luke: The appearance to the two on the Emmaus Road happens “that very day” as the Resurrection. After Jesus reveals himself to these two and disappears, “they rose that hour and returned to Jerusalem” to tell the eleven. “As they are talking” to the disciples that same day, Jesus appears in their midst. He shows them his injuries. He eats fish.

    “Then he said to them”: Jesus gives a truncated version of the Great Commission and tells them “stay in the city”. He then leads them out as far as Bethany and is carried into heaven.

    Only if you refuse to believe that this all happened on the same day, would you say that it DIDN'T all happen on the same day!

    It is very clear to any unbiased reader, that there was no 40 day interval after the Resurrection in Luke's account. Jesus is resurrected and ascends into heaven from Bethany on the very same day!

    Unless Jesus flew the disciples to the Sea of Tiberius and the “mountain” in Galilee in a private jet, there is no time for Jesus to cook breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius as John says in his Gospel, or go to the mountain in Galilee and be worshiped as Matthew says in his Gospel.


  17. The problem with Mark's account is that we have two very different stories from two different writers. It certainly looks as if someone in the Church realized that the story couldn't end with Mary Magdalene and the other women not telling anyone of the Resurrection, so they used the endings from the other Gospels to add to Mark.

    Only someone sticking his head in the sand and refusing to look at the facts can say otherwise.


  18. Abby,
    Translation is not the issue in these passages. Sure there are times when people can disagree about the translation of particular words or phrases, but that is not what is at hand here.

    And these aren't new problems. These issue and many, many more have been discussed throughout history….but you would only be aware of that if you actually read the opposing viewpoints. It's the same with Luther or any figure you look up to. If you are convinced that someone is an authority on the subject and take what they say at face value without looking into whether his critics have anything valuable to say, you won't even be aware that there are issues out there.

    You ask why the faith has never died. It may not have died….but it has changed frequently through the years. No after how much you want to talk about the Holy Catholic Church….there is not agreement on many theological issues even among the most “orthodox” versions of it.

    As a Lutheran do you believe in Annulments? Do you believe that christians should pray to saints and venerate Mary? Do you believe that Mary was perpetually a virgin and never had sex with Joseph, her husband, for the rest of her life? Do you believe in Purgatory? Do you believe that Priests must remain celibate and unmarried?

    There are major rifts between the “orthodox” versions.

    Pretending that it's all the same is just an illusion.



  19. And what is up with Matthew's account?? Not one word of meeting the disciples in Jerusalem or Bethany. All he talks about is Galilee.

    Is it possible that the reason that Matthew seems to know nothing about appearances in Jerusalem and Bethany is because Matthew's main source of information, the Gospel of Mark, at that point in time had not been “embellished” with the later scribe addition beginning in verse 9 of chapter 16, in which Jesus instructs the women to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee…but ignoring Mark's statement that the women told NO ONE anything??

    The reason that Matthew doesn't mention the Upper Room and Bethany…is because he has never heard of these events…and he is one of the “eleven”!

    And where did Jesus give the Great Commission? Was it on a mountain in Galilee or was it in Bethany…or Jerusalem… right before he ascended into heaven?


  20. Why does Jesus allow the women to hold onto his feet in Matthew, but he forbids Mary to do so in John's account because “I have not ascended yet to my Father”?

    If it was a bad thing for anyone to touch Jesus prior to his Ascension, why did he command Thomas to touch him? Was it just something about Mary? Was it something about being touched by a woman??


  21. If I would wait until I'm 70 years old to sit down and write a biography of my husband, I could write a very accurate one. I remember a lot of details. Exact words and conversations? Some, but of course, not all. Might I make a mistake in some recollection or another? Probably. MOST of the account would be true. Because, after all, I was married to him, lived with him until death, and did everything together with him. My husband did indeed exist and I knew him better than anyone on earth.

    So, 7 generations later, my family could pick up that book and read it. Maybe this member of my family lives in South America now. They have a different language and cultural context. Maybe they've heard other stories passed down through the family. If they find a discrepancy in my book (or think they have found one) — maybe they are going to say — “well now I don't even believe this person ever existed. And I am not going to believe a word that is in this book.”

    That is a bad analogy I know.

    With regards to Jesus and Scripture, my head is buried firmly in the sand. The discrepancies do not bother me. I do not think about them or worry about them. I'm sorry if that bothers you.



  22. Luke, in both his Gospel and in the Book of Acts, states that Jesus told the disciples to stay in the city, and as I have shown, only a biased reader would say that in the Gospel, Jesus does not ascend on the same day as his resurrection. So why in the Book of Acts does Luke tell us that Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples?

    And even IF we are misreading the Gospel, that Jesus did ascend from Bethany 40 days later, what do we do with the Galilee stories in Matthew and John since Jesus very specifically orders the disciples not to leave the city?

    Do the disciples ignore Jesus's command and take off to Galilee to fish, and Jesus, unperturbed by their disobedience, shows up on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius and cooks breakfast for them?


  23. And no one has addressed Paul's mistake in the order of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus as stated in I Corinthians. No where does it state that Jesus first appeared to “Cephas”.

    This is an error. And if this is an error, then the Bible is NOT infallible. If this is an error it demonstrates that the Bible contains the Words of God, but not every word, phrase, paragraph, or statement of fact came right out of the mouth of God.

    If I am told that the truthfulness of the Christian Faith rises or falls on the strict, fundamentalist definition of Biblical Inerrancy…then my faith is done for!

    The Bible is NOT inerrant. The plethora of discrepancies and outright contradictions in the Resurrection and Ascension stories prove this.

    The Church may have been able to sustain this false concept with congregations full of uneducated, ignorant peasants during the last almost two thousand years of Christianity, but in this educated, internet age, such a blatantly false teaching is not going to hold up.


  24. “As a Lutheran do you believe in Annulments? Do you believe that christians should pray to saints and venerate Mary? Do you believe that Mary was perpetually a virgin and never had sex with Joseph, her husband, for the rest of her life? Do you believe in Purgatory? Do you believe that Priests must remain celibate and unmarried?”

    Not in Scripture. Lutherans are Sola Scriptura.



  25. Also, I am listening to the atheists — and debates with them — all the time. I have not heard one thing from them to sway me to their “side.” I consider them very dishonest in their assessments. They are just mad at God. It is not that they don't believe He exists. So, I would say they actually do have “faith” in Him. “If it weren't for God there would be no atheists.” One cannot be antagonistic toward something that does not even exist. Where would the conversation start? There would be no perception of God. None of us would even be talking about this.



  26. Funny, in all these 500 years since the Reformation, I've never heard of a “Bart Ehrman” like figure that rose up to dispute Luther. I've never heard of anyone like that who was Luther's critic. Of course, except the RCC. But even they are liking us more and more. We're talking. One of the Pope's pronounced Luther as “forgiven.”



  27. There is a very big difference between you making a mistake in your diaries and the authors of the “inerrant” Bible making mistakes. I can let YOU “off the hook” for your mistakes because we all make mistakes. But I cannot make excuses for authors who are supposed to be writing down the inerrant Words of God.

    The Word of God that is contained IN the Bible is inerrant, but not all the words in your printed Bible are inerrant. The discrepancies and contradictions in the Resurrection story are absolute proof of that.

    The message in the Bible is inerrant, but the messengers (authors) were not. They made ALOT of mistakes.


  28. “There are major rifts between the “orthodox” versions.
    Pretending that it's all the same is just an illusion”

    I didn't hear myself saying there are “no differences” in the Christian church. Those are irrelevant to the basic tenets that are held among us. The common set of beliefs that make one Christian or not. The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanasian Creed, the Word and Sacraments. Those are the binding factors.



  29. A few resources in case anyone is interested (these might have been discussed already, I'm not sure):

    How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman by Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon Gathercole , Charles E. Hill, Chris Tilling

    Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels Paperback
    by Craig A. Evans

    Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture
    by Darrell L. Bock



  30. Gary,
    I understand that what you're trying to do is to show that the Spirit-inspired Resurrection accounts do not align perfectly with each other, although they were written with absolutely no intent to lie or deceive. And thus, the uber-Biblicist view of Scriptural inerrancy may be an improper kind of inerrancy.

    But I've gotta tell you, even in my previous liberal mainline Protestant background, the doctrine of the Resurrection was never denied, and I held to at least a New Testament inerrancy of the Bible. To question the Resurrection was just not done.

    Please, Gary, is the possibility of a Christian brother falling from the Faith by reading what you've presented in this post worth the point of proving that the Holy Scriptures' inerrancy may be limited to doctrinal inerrancy? I know you put a strong warning in bold italics at the beginning of your post, but who knows what could happen if someone weak in the Faith may read on.

    My sign of relief does come when I realize that there is no possibility of the Gospel writers and Paul being in collusion by their writings. Nobody in the early Patristic Church wrote of mass panic due to the Gospels differing in details…


  31. It is also a matter of trust. I trust the disciples/Apostles, and St. Paul. Their word and testimony is good enough for me, in spite of variances in writing/copying that may have come down to us today. No one can tell me that 100% of the Bible is false information.

    Current American statistic: 78% Christians, 16% Atheists.
    Worldwide: “Atheists comprised an estimated 2.01%, and non-religious a further 9.66% of the world population.”



  32. Gary

    it is not, in fact, at all clear that all of that happened on the same day in Luke. Words like “then,” and “and” do not specify a short time or a long time, especially in the Greek NT, and are often used merely to move from one account to another which may follow shortly after, may be months after or, in the case of “and” might actually have been before the first account. You are insisting these words can only mean “immediately” or “shortly after” which doesn't make a lot of sense.

    Keep in mind, also, that the only references that give specifics about the place and time of the ascension were both written by Luke, even using similar language. It is pretty obvious that he took Luke 24:46 ff and expanded them with more detail in Acts 1:1-11 (which make sense if he was planning both books from the beginning – the end of Luke functioned as a transition from Luke to Acts with a very brief mention of the important events)

    In fact, even in Luke there is an indication that he is not intending to say everything took place in rapid succession. It says he opened their minds to understand Scripture. It is not unreasonable at all to assume that such exposition of the OT took quite some time and verses 46-48 are summary of what he taught over a course of 40 days.

    In fact, if we take a look at all the resurrection appearances of Christ, it is obvious that He is emphasizing the very same message over and over in a variety of ways. The focus of every single appearance is the conveying of the authority of the office of the keys to the Church – every single one of them refers to teaching, spiritual feeding or administering the sacraments. This is a significant addition to what they had heard from Christ prior to His death. Prior to his death Christ had talked about the growth of the kingdom and praying for workers in the harvest field. But now the focus is “YOU (the apostles and the Church) are to have authority to administer what the blessings I have given you.”

    The great commission is not just a one time publicity slogan that was given just before Jesus bopped off to heaven. It is extremely unreasonable to assume that any Gospel writer would intentionally imply it took place in only 1 day.


  33. “Translation is not the issue in these passages. Sure there are times when people can disagree about the translation of particular words or phrases, but that is not what is at hand here.”

    What are your credentials for knowing that?



  34. If weaving the four gospels together in a way that merely makes it possible that they are consistent is sufficient, then you have chosen only one of many possible options. The problem is feasibility. You have to add a lot of reasoning (all of which is external to the bible) in order to make everything come together.

    I could say, for example, that Jesus appeared simultaneously to Mary Madgeline and Simon – he just appeared to them in different places. The bible places no time stamps on the passages, and I don't imagine that being in more than one place at the same time would pose much of a problem for Jesus. Doesn't that solve the whole problem, as well?


  35. Here is a link to Christian apologists who state that there is no discrepancy regarding Paul's chronology of who appeared to Jesus first and in then the others and in what order. Problem is, although Peter may have gone into the tomb first (of all the male disciples, the women were there first. I guess that they do not count.), there is no mention of Jesus appearing to Peter (Cephas). I don't think they prove their point at all.


  36. Now check out this article. DISTURBING is an understatement. I will post the beginning and then post the link to the rest of the article below it:

    Following is an attempt to explain the mixed messages given the role of Peter in the post-resurrection narratives of the canonical gospels. It argues that Peter first met the resurrected Jesus, as per 1 Corinthians 15:5, some time after the writing of the gospels of Mark and Matthew but just prior to Luke’s gospel — or more likely as late as that redaction of Luke by the author of Acts (Tyson) and around the time of the Pastorals.

    Let’s start with the widely held scholarly views that (1) the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel to be written; and that (2) the epistles of Paul were written before the Gospel of Mark.

    Let’s also assume for now that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains evidence that some of the earliest Christian communities believed that the resurrected Christ first appeared to Peter.

    Christ . . . rose again . . . and that he was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve . . . . (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

    Paul’s resurrection appearances catalogue in Corinthians

    It seems odd that the same author who wrote Galatians should also give Peter (Cephas) this place of honour here, even to the point of declaring himself far behind Peter’s status with:

    For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle . . . . (15:9)

    Contrast the attitude of the author of Galatians who speaks of Peter as one who:

    “seemed to be something — whatever [he was] it makes no difference to me . . . . for [he who] seemed to be something added nothing to me . . . . who seemed to be [a pillar]. . . .” (Gal. 2:6-9)

    and who then goes on to effectively declare James and Peter as being false apostles:

    But when Peter had come to Antioch I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed . . . . when [certain men came from James] he withdrew and separated himself [from the gentiles], fearing those who were of the circumcision . . . . But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “. . . . Why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Gal. 2:11-14)

    That passage, when read with the author’s earlier discussion about false brethren, places Peter squarely among those false brethren according to Paul:

    “false brethren secretly brought in . . . . that they might bring us into bondage . . . . to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour” (Gal. 2:3-5)

    The evidence of Galatians supports the argument that the catalogue of resurrection appearances in 1 Cor.15:3-11 is not original to that letter. If, as other evidence indicates, Paul was from early times accounted as an apostle “to the heretics”, and if his letters were first known as a collection among the Marcionite Christians, then this catalogue of resurrection appearances in 1 Cor.15:3-11 has a simple explanation: it was an attempt by “orthodox” Christians to demonstrate Paul’s compatibility with and support for “orthodoxy”. “Orthodoxy” traced its foundation to Peter and the Twelve and James and that is what the catalogue of appearances supports.

    We have then Galatians informing us of a major rift between between predominantly gentile Christians led by Paul and mostly Jewish ones led by James and Peter.

    1 Corinthians tells us that Peter was certainly held in the highest esteem among many early Christians regardless of the authenticity of the passage to the original author.

    The Gospel of Mark’s lack of resurrection appearances

    Now come to the gospel of Mark. (I assume here that Mark’s ending is at 16:8 and that the following verses were a later attempt to give the gospel a more palatable ending for new audiences. See a brief discussion of the evidence here.)

    In this earliest of the canonical gospels Peter is treated with as little respect as the author of Galatians shown him.


  37. Be aware, I was not aware of the discrepancies in Paul's chronology in I Corinthians until I wrote this post and did the side by side comparison of the six Resurrection accounts. I am not the only person to see this discrepancy. Read this article:

    “Paul’s own list of appearances is irreconcilable with those of the four canonical Gospels. There is not one of Paul’s list of resurrection appearances that is identical with those listed by the several Gospel versions. Nowhere does Paul mention Mary Magdalene as the first person to allegedly see Jesus after his alleged resurrection. Paul also leaves out the other women witnesses that are mentioned in Matthew and Mark. The evangelists, in turn, say nothing about an appearance before James reported by Paul or the appearance to the crowd of five hundred people. Paul’s references to Cephas (1 Corinthians 15:5) and James (1 Corinthians 15:7) seeing Jesus could not be verified to the Corinthians. Does Cephas refer to Simon Peter, who at times was referred to as Cephas? Paul’s words indicate a chronological sequence of appearances after the resurrection, with first Cephas and then the surviving “twelve” meeting Jesus. However, at no time is the apostle Simon Peter, under any name, mentioned in the New Testament as seeing Jesus prior to the alleged appearance to the eleven apostles together. It may be that Paul was making use of a legend circulating in Christian circles, which Luke later incorporated into his Gospel, that someone named Simon saw Jesus (Luke 24:34). Paul, for unspecified reasons, may have claimed that this Simon referred to Simon Peter. However, it is evident from a study of Luke 24:34 that the Simon who allegedly met Jesus was not Simon Peter since the latter is one of “the eleven.” It is conceivable that Paul may have inserted the claim that Simon Peter saw Jesus as a device to enhance his own doctrinal teachings concerning the meaning of the resurrection. It must be remembered that Paul did not know that his letters would be preserved and eventually widely circulated. Considering the time and conditions under which he wrote, Paul had nothing to fear if his exaggerated statements were challenged. Those who denied his claims he simply accused of being false teachers. As the years went by it became a case of his word against theirs.”

    – See more at:


  38. I have emailed not less than SIX orthodox Lutheran pastors asking for their help addressing this issue. If you believe that this conversation is as damning to weak believers as you say in your comment, I suggest contacting an orthodox Lutheran pastor and asking him to come to this post to help us (rescue us??) out.


  39. Gary,

    In the Middle Ages, there were two figures that had very different approaches to theology. Anselm of Canterbury summarized his approach with the adage credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order that I may understand”). Peter Abelard’s approach was completely different: intellego ut credam (“I understand in order that I may believe”). St. Paul agrees with Anselm: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Gary, you have received the Spirit of God in Holy Baptism.

    I will address some of the difficulties you have with the Resurrection Account.

    Why does only Mark mention Salome? I don’t know. Why does only Matthew mention the earthquake? I don’t know. Why do only Luke and John mention two angels? I don’t know. I could give some possibilities for each of these, but ultimately, these questions are arguments from silence. Just because certain details are missing doesn’t necessarily mean anything; otherwise all four Gospels would be exactly the same (that would be suspicious.)

    Where was the angel? in the tomb or outside it on the stone? Don’t think of modern depictions of the tomb with a “hill-like cave” nestled sweetly on a grassy plain. There are examples of ancient tombs that have steps leading to a small entryway that led into the tomb proper. The whole thing would have been called the tomb (just like the courtyard of the Temple was called the Temple).

    Why did the angel tell the women that Jesus would see them in Galilee, then they saw him on the way? There are two possibilities here. 1) The construction of the Greek could be (Mt. 28:7) “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you (disciples) to Galilee…’ “ (The “hoti (Gk.) clause,” translated as “that” is often times a marker that a quotation follows.) In other words, the angel is giving them the exact message to give to the Eleven. 2) Another possibility is that Jesus did both. He appeared to the women on the way and to the whole group in Galilee. What’s the problem with that?

    As for the Ascension Account, you are being thrown by the English translation. In Luke 24:50, the word translated as “then” is simply the Greek word de, which can be translated dozens of ways including as a transitional conjunction. “This use involves the change to a new topic of discussion” (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics). In that case it would be simply translated as “now” or “and” saying nothing about how much time had transpired. And since Luke wrote both his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles, then we do know(Acts 1:3).

    Gary, I know this will not answer all your questions. But hopefully it’s a start. If you found this helpful, let me know what else I can do. As for your questions on the text, you might find the attached article to be of some interest.

    This Sunday receive our Lord’s body and blood in the blessed Sacrament, because that is where you will find our risen Lord. Schedule a time to talk with your pastor one on one.

    The Lord bless you and keep you.

    Pastor N


  40. Thank you, Pastor.

    It is my faith that is wavering, not my desire to believe, nor my willingness to submit to God's will.

    I will continue to obey God regardless of the certainty of my faith.

    However, my faith is extremely weak at this moment. I can no longer believe in strict Biblical Inerrancy, as taught to me in my childhood as a fundamentalist Baptist, then as an evangelical, and now even from a very vocal faction in orthodox Lutheranism, specifically the LCMS.


  41. An email from another orthodox Lutheran pastor:

    There's a great deal of good work that has been done on these issues. It sounds more like you're struggling with the implications of fundamentalism's approach to Scripture than the Scriptures themselves. See if these links don't help:

    Also helpful links – this one especially Kloha deals with this… but also speaks at times in the typical less than clear Kloha way.


  42. Dear Bro. Gary: You got some excellent pastoral counsel above and I think that last two comments were excellent suggestions by what sounds to be knowledgeable and wise friends.

    I listened through the last two sources from the other Orthodox Pastor. Tell him thanks. I think you got some great people and friends. Its this kind of stuff that causes the church of the living God to pull together and contend for the sake of the Gospel.


  43. Gary, this must be an incredible struggle for you. But you will not be able to reason or will your way out of it. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…” As St. Paul writes: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Right before that, he wrote, How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Gary, your pastor has been sent to you to preach Christ's word to you that you would believe. Your faith will not survive by reason or a determined will to be obedient. Christ will sustain your faith by the preaching of His Word and the giving of His Sacraments. So keep going to the Divine Service, for there is the risen Christ.
    Pastor N.
    p.s. I too believe the fundamentalist teaching on Scripture is deficient. The article that I had attached in the e-mail is by a seminary prof. that addresses this.


  44. My brother,

    I hear your confusion and growing desperation to hold onto the reliability of the scriptures and Christianity. I fear you are falling into a pit in which you will soon join your atheist friends.

    I make this small contribution to hope to pull you back. I believe you are thinking of the scriptures wrong. You are approaching them as history books, things that just point to facts, dates, events, and times. You put on them a degree of accuracy that accords with that standard.

    Except that standard of “historic writings” did not exist in the first century. The Gospels are perhaps the first foray into that kind of writing, but they are not purely that kind of writing. Instead of thinking of them as historic texts as we define them, think of them as screenplays based on real events instead. Just like screen writers have a limited block of time (2 hours usually) to tell of events that took years and even decades to occur, the gospel writers faced the same limitations with paper. It was expensive, scribes were rare and expensive, so the scrolls you bought were of limited length. You had to tell a story, THE story, within a limited time.

    Nor was this just a story with facts and dates and times. It was a story that had meaning–ultimate meaning–that had to be brought across with the text or the dates and times were useless. In fact, meaning may have trumped timelines, dates, and even characters.

    Like a screenplay writer, sometimes characters are changed, combined, or even added in order to push the story forward in the limited time/space you have. The point is they push forward to the goal of getting the story down with the full meaning behind the texts. The gospel writers did much the same. Jesus as the crucified King of the World had to be presented (no easy task). The gospels pushed that to the end.

    Misrepresenting historical “facts.” Again, not a standard in the first century. Getting the story down with its meaning–a definite standard in the first century.

    So we have inerrant scriptures in that the facts as described to get to the meaning are exactly how God wanted them put down (barring the few scribal errors, etc..). They come to us, maybe with some texts messed up, but the full meaning intact and inerrant. Jesus came to save sinners, of which I am chief.

    If you want to pursue this further, I cannot recommend more highly the works by Bruce Metzger and the Context Group scholars. Their works “A Social Science Commentary on…” are invaluable in getting into the first century context and standards.

    Hope this helps. Hang on, if even by your fingernails.


  45. Very helpful information. Thank you, Joseph.

    I can handle the discrepancies of which women came to the tomb, how many angels were there, was there or was there not an earthquake, etc. As long as the main facts are told consistently, it would be fine with me. So what are the main facts:

    1. The tomb was found empty on Sunday.
    2. Jesus appears to his disciples SOMEWHERE and displays his crucifixion wounds.
    3. Jesus ascends into heaven SOMEWHERE and at some specific TIME.

    But we don't have consistency of these three basic facts in the six accounts. In original Mark the story ends with the women telling no one. No mention of the ascension. In the scribe addition to Mark, Jesus ascends while the disciples are reclining for a meal. Sounds like Jerusalem. In Matthew, no mention whatsoever of Jerusalem or Bethany. Again, no mention of an ascension.

    In Luke, the ascension occurs in Bethany. John mentions two Jerusalem appearances and then one in Galilee. No mention of the ascension. In Acts the disciples are specifically told not to leave Jerusalem. So why do some of the Gospels record the disciples in Galilee?

    S if you had just one piece of papyrus to write your story of Jesus, don't you think you would include the fact that he levitated above the earth and then was carried away by a cloud? And wouldn't you mention where that astounding miracle occurred? But we have three accounts with NO mention of the Ascension. None. Not one word. And two of those accounts who fail to mention anything about the Ascension come from two alleged eyewitnesses to the event: Matthew and John.

    Are we really to believe that the Apostle John has enough papyrus to write his very, very long and detailed Gospel of John but doesn't leave enough room on the papyrus to mention the Ascension? And if he did truly run out of papyrus, he could have mentioned it in his Book of Revelation. But he didn't. Very odd.

    And again, why does Paul say that Jesus appeared first to Peter? No other account makes this assertion. This is critical information. Did Peter and James tell Paul this false information while Paul was with them for 15 days, did Paul just get his facts messed up…or did he, God forbid, make up this account to validate his claim to be an apostle??


  46. Let's takes just take the Gospel of John issues. I again refer to the series “Social Science Commentary on the book of…” on some of these other issues. But the Gospel of John is probably the latest, and therefore the most “interpretive” of the Gospels. John is not even concerned out event order in order to present the story of Jesus as it needs to relate to his audience.

    Who was his audience. Probably late first century Jewish converts. They had lost their Temple, their city for the most part, and in the majority of cases, their families. Conversion to Christ had cost them a lot more the intellectual responsibility and questions. They were probably at their lowest in terms or moral. If the letters are any indication, heresy was afoot as well.

    So as the “screen writer” to a desperate audience, would you included the ascension part of the story, even if it were “historical” and part of the narrative? Would you want to tell them, to put it anachronistically, that Jesus is gone Calvinist like into heaven not to return until the end of time? Would that be helpful to their faith? Would that help them survive? Would that even be kind?

    Or would you emphasize, almost Luther-like, Jesus presence in the Word and in the Sacraments, as John certainly does? Would you be the most “realized eschatalogical” writing instead? Would you tell your audience the even more important truth to them that Jesus has not abandoned them, and is present with them?

    I think that is what I would do. It's not false or untrue to the narrative. It is a major emphasis needed for them (and probably for us as well).

    Just working with the analogy.


  47. Thank you, Pastor. Would you post the link here? I didn't see it with your email.

    Here is the thing, Pastor: Either our Faith is built solely on faith, which if that is the case, the above discrepancies are irrelevant, or our Faith is built on EVIDENCE and faith.

    If we Christians preach that the evidence for our faith is a warm, fuzzy feeling in our hearts, as evangelicals claim, or the evidence for our Faith is our Baptism, as we orthodox claim, in which we believe, by faith alone, that a supernatural event takes place, in which, although it cannot be proven by evidence, bestows salvation and eternal life, then I have no problem accepting either one of those belief systems.

    However, if we Christians assert that there is real, physical evidence for the Resurrection and the Ascension, then our evidence must conform to the accepted rules of establishing evidence not just by appeals to “faith” and the power of the Sacraments.

    For instance, if I claim that by a supernatural act of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary “appeared” to me in San Diego, Bob in London, and Jacob in Hamburg all within a 40 day period, I don't have to prove these appearances. A supernatural “appearance” to one person does not require proof, it only requires faith.

    However, if I, Bob, and Jacob all claim that we have physical proof that the Virgin Mother appeared to all of us at the same time, that the Virgin sat down with us and ate broiled fish in an upper room in Jerusalem, that she allowed us to touch her hands and feet to verify that she was a living, breathing, real being, that she cooked breakfast for us on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, that she met us on a mount in Galilee, AND that we all stood and watched her levitate from the ground and ascend into heaven…our stories and evidence had better stand up to scrutiny…or the entire world is going to label us a bunch of deranged idiots.


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