Refuting Bart Ehrman’s “Passion Contradictions” Muslims Parrot

[This article was not written by me but I wanted to upload it to my blog as the original article was taken down when Keith Thompson closed his website and I saved it before he did so as it is an excellent article refuting Bart Ehrman.]

By Keith Thompson

Introduction

Muslims claim there are irreconcilable contradictions in the New Testament documents which allegedly prove the Bible to be false.

However, such Muslims are inconsistent since they use arguments on this issue from unbelieving naturalist, materialist scholars who do not believe in the supernatural or for the possibility of harmonization. Yet, these same Muslims nevertheless believe in trying to harmonize Koranic texts non-Muslims allege to be contradictory. This is hypocritical. Also, the Koran, Sunnah and Sira literature claim the Bible is uncorrupted and in pristine form, so Muslims are running a fool’s errand on this issue (e.g. Koran 4:136; 5:46-47; 5:68; Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, Number 4434; Ibn Isaq, The Life of Muhammad, [Oxford University Press, 2014], pp. 102-104, 268).

Moreover, rarely do Muslims study the bulk of scholarly Christian works which address the so-called contradictions unbelievers bring up. For example Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Geisler’s and Howe’s Big Book of Bible Difficulties, Haley’s Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, Arndt’s, Hoerber’s and Roehrs’s Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions, etc. In depth, conservative exegetical commentary sets also do a good job at addressing alleged contradictions (e.g. PNTC, NICNT, BECNT, EBC, etc.)

The Alleged Passion Contradictions Examined

One of the lists of alleged contradictions Muslims like to parrot comes from Bart Ehrman. He often offers the following bunch:

“Did he die on the day before the Passover meal was eaten, as John explicitly says, or did he die after it was eaten, as Mark explicitly says? Did he die at noon, as in John, or at 9 a.m., as in Mark? Did Jesus carry his cross the entire way himself or did Simon of Cyrene carry his cross? It depends which Gospel you read. Did both robbers mock Jesus on the cross or did only one of them mock him and the other come to his defense? It depends which Gospel you read. Did the curtain in the temple rip in half before Jesus died or after he died? It depends which Gospel you read. Or take the accounts of the resurrection. Who went to the tomb on the third day? Was it Mary alone or was it Mary with other women? If it was Mary with other women, how many other women were there, which ones were they, and what were their names? Was the stone rolled away before they got there or not? What did they see in the tomb? Did they see a man, did they see two men, or did they see an angel? It depends which account you read. What were they told to tell the disciples? Were the disciples supposed to stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus there or were they to go to Galilee and see Jesus there? Did the women tell anyone or not? It depends which Gospel you read. Did the disciples never leave Jerusalem or did they immediately leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee? All of these depend on which account you read” (Bart Ehrman vs. William Lane Craig Debate, Is there Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?, debate transcript http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman).

Quickly listing these off with slight anger and lots of authority in your voice can sound convincing. But examining each one carefully yields different results. We will cover each one.

Did Jesus die the day before the Passover meal was eaten, as John explicitly says, or did he die after it was eaten, as Mark explicitly says?

Well, John does not explicitly say Jesus died the day before Passover meal was eaten. He says Jesus died on the “day of preparation of the Passover” (John 19:14) which refers not to the day of preparation for the Passover meal which was one Thursday. The phrase is paraskeue tou pascha and it instead refers to the “day of preparation of Passover week” which was indeed on Friday (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991], pp. 603-604). Carson proves this with the following ancient references (Josephus, Ant. xvi. 163; xiv. 21; xvii. 213; Bel. Ii. 10; Lk. 22:1; Didache, viii. 1; Martyrdom of Polycarp, vii. 1). So, when Mark says Jesus died the day after Passover meal (Mark 14:21; 15:1), which was Friday, there is no contradiction because John is saying he died on the day of preparation of Passover week which was also Friday. Both agree.

Did Jesus die at noon, as in John, or at 9 a.m., as in Mark?

Well, Mark does not say Jesus died at 9 a.m. Mark 15:25 says Jesus was crucified at 9 a.m., big difference. However, Mark goes on to say in Mark 15:34-37 that at the ninth hour (or 3 p.m.) Jesus “uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” So Jesus died at 3 p.m. according to Mark. Ehrman must not have read this text. John 19:14 says Jesus was carried away to be crucified at “about the sixth hour.” This is going by Roman time since John wrote in Ephesus, the Roman province of Asia (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1.; Eusebius, Church History, 3.1.1.; and note Montanists in Phrygia close to Ephesus used John’s Gospel). This means Jesus was carried away to be crucified at about 6 a.m. according to John, and was actually crucified at 9 a.m. according to Mark. And again he died later that day at 3:00 p.m. according to Mark 15:34-37. Hence, the times of crucifixion in the two accounts are tight together and there is no contradiction.

Did Jesus carry his cross the entire way himself or did Simon of Cyrene carry his cross?

Well, John 19:17 does say Jesus bore his own cross to Golgotha. And the synoptics say Simon of Cyrene helped part of the way (Mark 15:21; Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26). This is because of Jesus’ weakened state from being flogged. However, John does not say only Jesus carried the cross the whole way, or that Simon of Cyrene did not help him. That is read into the text. John just chose to omit this part of the journey to Golgotha because it was distracting from the themes of his gospel, such as God’s sovereign plan, the Son’s voluntarism, etc. (J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010], p. 498; D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991], p. 609). But, as we have said, John does not deny Jesus had help. He just chose not to mention the part of the journey where he received the help. That’s not a contradiction.

Did both robbers mock Jesus on the cross or did only one of them mock him and the other come to his defense?

Well, Matthew 27:44 does say the robbers mocked Jesus. And Luke 23:39-43 says one of the robbers rebuked the other and defended Christ. However, the answer is obviously one of the robbers on his increasingly hard cross repented after reviling Jesus and then defended Him due to fearing God (Luke 23:40) and being impressed by the way Jesus bore the situation (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 1992], p. 719; Leon Morris, Luke, [InterVarsity Press, 1988], p. 346). Matthew records the reviling and Luke records the repentance. Luke’s early “L” material or eyewitness sources (Luke 1:1-3) he possessed likely provided him with this part of the story Matthew did not include. That is not a contradiction.

Did the curtain in the temple rip in half before Jesus died or after he died?

Well, Mark 15:37-38 and Matthew 27:50-51 affirm the veil of the temple tore at the same time Jesus died. Luke 23:45-46 appears to say the veil ripped before he died in some translations since they will say, “45. . . And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:45-46). However, when in certain translations v. 46 starts with the word “then” and proceeds to mentions Jesus’ death, although it appears to mean Jesus’ death happened after the ripping of the veil, this is false. The word for “then” here is kai in the original Greek and it’s a particle that can also mean “and” which allows for the veil ripping at the same time as Jesus’ death. Instead of “then” connecting the sentences, “and” would be. Luke would simply be mentioning different events here, not giving a chronological order to them. Such translations which use “and” here instead of “then” include the NASB, KJV, HCSB, ABPE, DRB, DBT, ERV, WBT, and YLT. Moreover, Matthew, Mark and Luke all affirm the temple was torn on the ninth hour (i.e., 3 p.m.) – (see Mark 15:34, 37-39; Matthew 27:46, 51; Luke 23:44-46). Thus, they all agree on the time the veil tore.

Who went to the tomb on the third day? Was it Mary alone or was it Mary with other women? If it was Mary with other women, how many other women were there, which ones were they, and what were their names?

The answer is Mark 16:1 shows three women went there (the two Mary’s and Salome). Luke 23:55-56 and 24:1 just say it was a group of women who entered it without naming them. No contradiction there. And Matthew chose to mention only the two Mary’s (Matthew 28:1) because it was inconvenient to mention Salome who was not essential to the story (Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, [InterVarsity Press, 2007], p. 194). Matthew does not say Salome was not present, he just emphasises the two Mary’s for his own purpose. So, there is no contradiction here. Also, none of the gospels say Mary was alone, contra Ehrman. However, because John 20:1 says Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, this is why Ehrman claims John has her going alone. But, the text does not say only Mary went to it, just that she did in fact go to it. Moreover, the very next verse, John 20:2, shows Mary was not alone according to John. It says, “So she  [Mary Magdalene] 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” (John 20:2). Who is the “we” here? They are Mary and the other women whom Mark and Matthew mention, of course. So, John does not teach Mary went alone and there is no contradiction.  

Was the stone rolled away before they got there or not?

Well, Mark 16:3-4, Luke 24:1-2, and John 20:1 all clearly agree the stone was moved before they got there. It’s just that a sloppy, liberal reading of Matthew 28:1-2 confused Ehrman to think it teaches the stone was rolled after they got there. The text says, “1Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And 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” (Matthew 28:1-2). However, there’s nothing actually in the text indicating the stone was rolled after they got there (Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, [Regency, 1982], p. 348). All we’re told is they went to see the tomb (v. 1) and also that the stone was rolled away (v. 2). It doesn’t say after they got there it was rolled away. Ehrman has to read that into the text.

Did they see a man, did they see two men, or did they see an angel?

Well, Mark 16:5 says the women saw a young man with a white robe. Matthew 28:2-3 and John 20:12 correctly interpret this to be an angelic visitation. That Matthew and John were correct to infer Mark spoke of an angelic visitation is evidenced by the fact that, as in Mark, angels often appeared in human form in the Old Testament, and the white apparel and revelatory message in Mark indicates it was angelic as well. Moreover, the early Jewish historian Josephus shows first century Jews believed angels did appear in beautiful human form (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 5.8.2). So there is no contradiction. The evidence proves in all gospels this was an angelic visitation. How many angels did they see? The answer is Mark and Matthew mention one (Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:2), and Luke and John mention two (Luke 24:2; John 20:12). But that doesn’t mean Mark and Matthew believed only one was there. Where there are two angels there is at least one, and Mark and Matthew simply chose to mention one of them. Why? Well Blomberg notes, “It is more natural to suggest that there really were two characters present in each case, but that one . . . dominated the scene in a way that left the other easily ignored in narratives that so regularly omitted non-essential details (Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, [InterVarsity Press, 2007], p. 194). Thus, there is no contradiction.

What were they told to tell the disciples?

Well in Mark 16:6-7 and Matthew 28:5-7 they’re told Jesus rose and that they must go to Galilee to tell the others. In Luke 24:5-7 they’re told Jesus rose but Luke simply omits the command to go to Galilee because he doesn’t plan on narrating any Galilean appearances in his gospel. Luke doesn’t say they were not told to go to Galilee. Thus, there is no contradiction.  

Were the disciples supposed to stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus there or were they to go to Galilee and see Jesus there?

Yes, they were to go to Galilee (Mark 16:6-7; Matthew 28:5-7) as noted before. It’s just that, again, Luke simply omits the command to go to Galilee because he doesn’t plan on narrating any Galilean appearances in his gospel. No contradiction.

Did the women tell anyone or not?

Yes, Mark 16:7, Matthew 28:7-8, Luke 24:9, and John 20:18 indicate the women told the disciples. It’s just that when Mark 16:8 says “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” Ehrman takes this to mean they did not tell the disciples even though they were told to tell the disciples in Mark 16:7. However, all v. 8 means is that as they ran back to the disciples they did not tell anyone due to fear. As Robert Gundry aptly observes, “We wouldn’t know this episode if the women hadn’t told about it. . . ” (Robert Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament, [Hendrickson], 2010], p. 220).

Did the disciples never leave Jerusalem or did they immediately leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee?

Yes, again, they went to Galilee (Mark 16:6-7; Matthew 28:5-7). Luke simply omits the command to go to Galilee because he doesn’t plan on narrating any Galilean appearances in his gospel.

As one can see, it is easy to make mountains out of mole hills and convince an audience there are Bible contradictions as long as you speak with authority and slight anger in your voice. But when the texts are closely examined we see there are no real contradictions.

Sunday Meditation – Holy Joy

Sunday Meditation – Holy Joy

You have heard the story of the Savior who came from heaven to earth to die for his enemies. Do believe that he came on to make us miserable? Can you look into the face of that Man who bled for sinners that they might live, and believe that he came here with the malevolent design of making men wretched? You know better; in your heart you know better. There must be joy in that which such a man works out: so gracious a Redeemer must intend our best happiness. Listen to his teachings, and I will ask you then whether they tend to make any one miserable? Point me to a precept where the Savior bids us cease to rejoice. I invite you to find in the word a commandment against sober solid pure, holy joy. I will find you words like these, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” “Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy.” What day? A bright day? No. “When they shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” He began his first sermon with the word “blessed,” and he repeated the word many times; and as he was at first, so he was at the last, for he was blessing his disciples when he ascended into heaven. He came into the world that his teaching might make men blessed, both here and hereafter.

Charles Spurgeon

Sunday Meditation – There Is Sure to Be Purity

Sunday Meditation – There Is Sure to Be Purity

“In my early days in the country, I was horribly shocked when I heard of a man standing on a publichouse table, and saying, though at the time he was almost drunk, ‘I can say what none of you fellows can say, that I am one of God’s elect.’ All of us who knew anything of the man used to shudder at the thought of his blasphemy in pretending to be one of the elect. Why, if the grace of God does not make a man holy, what is it worth? My dear friend, if you are determined to be damned, leave religion alone altogether; but do not pretend to be a child of God, and yet live in sin. To profess to be an heir of heaven, and then to live as an heir of hell, is such detestable hypocrisy that I pray God that all of you may be preserved from ever falling into it. Where the Spirit of God dwells, there is sure to be purity.”

Charles Spurgeon

Sunday Meditation – His Countenance

Sunday Meditation – His Countenance

“That, though honest good people may be run down and trampled upon, yet God does and will own them, and favour them, and smile upon them, and that is the reason why God will severely reckon with persecutors and oppressors, because those whom they oppress and persecute are dear to him; so that whosoever toucheth them toucheth the apple of his eye, v. 7. 1. He loves them and the work of his own grace in them. He is himself a righteous God, and therefore loves righteousness wherever he finds it and pleads the cause of the righteous that are injured and oppressed; he delights to execute judgment for them, Ps. 103:6. We must herein be followers of God, must love righteousness as he does, that we may keep ourselves always in his love. He looks graciously upon them: His countenance doth behold the upright; he is not only at peace with them, and puts gladness into their hearts, by letting them know that he is so. He, like a tender father, looks upon them with pleasure, and they, like dutiful children, are pleased and abundantly satisfied with his smiles. They walk in the light of the Lord. In singing this psalm we must encourage and engage ourselves to trust in God at all times, must depend upon him to protect our innocence and make us happy, must dread his frowns as worse than death and desire his favour as better than life.”

Matthew Henry

Sunday Meditation – The Greatness of Jesus

Sunday Meditation – The Greatness of Jesus

“His life and death cover all believers head to foot with a perfect obedience to the law. With royal Gesture are they clad: Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of those. His blood has washed believers white as the driven snow, and his righteousness has made them to be ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ He has such merit with God that he deserves of the Most High whatsoever he wills to ask; and he asks for his people that they shall have every blessing needful for eternal life and perfection. He is great, indeed, my brethren, when we think that he has clothed us all in his righteousness, and washed us all in his blood. Nor us alone, but ten thousand times ten thousand of his redeemed stand to-day in the wedding-dress of his eternal merit, and plead before God a claim that never can be denied — the claim of a perfect obedience which must always please the Father’s heart. Oh, what mercy is that which has turned our hell to heaven, transformed our disease into health, and lifted us from the dunghill, and set us among the princes of his people! In infinite power to remove sin, to perfume with acceptance, to clothe with righteousness, to win blessings, to preserve saints, and to save to the uttermost, the Lord Jesus is great beyond all greatness.”

Charles Spurgeon

Sunday Meditation – A Picture of Christ

Sunday Meditation – A Picture of Christ

“We commence, first of all with the victim – the lamb. How fine a picture of Christ. No other creature could so well have typified him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Being also the emblem of sacrifice, it most sweetly portrayed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Search natural history through, and though you will find other emblems which set forth different characteristics of his nature, and admirably display him to our souls, yet there is none which seems so appropriate to the person of our beloved Lord as that of the Lamb. A child would at once perceive the likeness between a lamb and Jesus Christ, so gentle and innocent, so mild and harmless, neither hurting others, nor seeming to have the power to resent an injury. What tortures the sheepish race have received from us! how are they, though innocent, continually slaughtered for our food! Their skin is dragged from their backs, their wool is shorn to give us a garment; and so the Lord Jesus Christ, our glorious Master, doth give us his garments that we may be clothed with them; he is rent in sunder for us; his very blood is poured out for our sins; harmless and holy, a glorious sacrifice for the sins of all his children. Thus the Paschal Lamb might well convey to the pious Hebrew the person of a suffering, silent, patient, harmless Messiah.”

Charles Spurgeon

Sunday Meditation – Faith Gets to Know Christ

Sunday Meditation – Faith Gets to Know Christ

“It is such a blessing to get to know the Lord Jesus personally. I heard the other day of a famous infidel, an agnostic, — that is, an ignoramus, a person who knows nothing, — and he went to a certain house to meet an elderly lady of considerable literary renown. He was told that she believed in the Word of God, and was a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus, so he thought that he would have a word with her before he went away. ‘Madam,’ said he, ‘I have been astonished to hear one thing of you. I hear that you believe in the Bible.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ she said, ‘every word of it.’ ‘And pray, Madam,’ he said, ‘however came you to believe in that book?’ She replied, ‘One of the principal reasons that I have for believing in the Book is that I am intimately acquainted with the Author of it.’ That was a blessed answer. Faith gets to know Christ; and so, knowing Christ, and meeting him in the midst of his people, it becomes armed against all unbelief, and goes forth in its panoply conquering and to conquer. So will it be with you, beloved, if you meet the Well-beloved alone in your closets, and if you add to this a frequent attendance at the holy assembly. I pray you, do not let us have to complain that one of you is away. Come always. My heart will rejoice if our meetings are filled with men and women who there seek communion with Jesus. Come, for Jesus is with us. Come, for it would be most unseemly for him to be here and you away.”

Charles Spurgeon

Sunday Meditation – Drunkenness

Sunday Meditation – Drunkenness

“Drunkenness is one of the most debasing of sins, it lowers the whole tone of the person who is held in bondage by it. We sometimes talk of a man being ‘as drunk as a beast,’ but whoever heard of a beast being drunk? Why, it is more beastly than anything a beast ever does. I do not believe that the devil himself is ever guilty of anything like that. I never heard even him charged with being drunk. It is a sin which has no sort of excuse; those who fall into it generally fal1 into other deadly vices. It is the devil’s back-door to hell, and everything that is hellish; for he that once gives away his brains to drink, is ready to be caught by Satan for anything. Oh! but while the drunkard cannot have eternal life abiding in him while he is such, is it not a joy to think of the many drunkards who have born washed and saved? This night, there are, sitting here, those who have done with their cups, who have left; behind them their strong drink, and who have renounced the haunts of their debauchery. They are washed and cleansed, and when they think of the contrast between, where they used to spend their evenings, and where they now are, they give echo to the question, ‘Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’”

Charles Spurgeon

Sunday Meditation – You Who Are Unholy

Sunday Meditation – You Who Are Unholy

“Whatever you are, do seek to be holy. And if you will not be holy, if you have a mind to keep your sins, do us the favour to lay down your profession. If you will have your sins, and go to hell, you can do it so much better outside the church than you can inside. I cannot see why you must needs do Christ the double ill-turn to be his enemy, and yet profess to be his friend. Get out of the church, ye that are hypocrites! What profit can ye get? There are no loaves and fishes that I know of to be had here. If you want them, there are some places where you can have them in abundance. There is no particular honor that I know of in being associated with this church; we are generally held in little enough esteem by the world. Why should you come unless you intend to be true followers of the Crucified? Why, why, deacon, if thou lovest the world, dost thou pretend to love the church? Judas, Judas, go sell somebody else; what need to sell Christ, and to be a son of perdition? O you who are unholy, you who cheat in business, you who can lie in your daily lives, there is scope enough for you outside of God’s Church.”

Charles Spurgeon

The Dignity of a Christian

The Dignity of a Christian

“How unspeakably great is the dignity of a Christian, if we look at it in the light of these blessings! Before we understood it, how we thirsted after it! We thought, when under conviction of sin, could we dare he to be among God’s people, it would be enough joy for us if we never had an earthly joy besides. I am afraid that, since their blessings have become ours, we have not prized them as we should; perhaps, for this cause we are sometimes brought into the prison-house of doubt, and our faith faileth us. Just as we do not know the value of health till we are sick, so some of these blessed privileges are not valued by us until we have to walk in the dark, and sigh and cry after unbroken fellowship amidst intermittent snatches of sweet assurance. The Lord gives his people to know the value of these heavenly realities that, in an abiding see of their calling and their standing, they may act in a way that is worthy of such great dignities!”

Charles Spurgeon