In a previous article entitled, Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy, I pointed out some reasons why I no longer believed that the Bible is without error. I expanded on an illustration popularized by biblical scholar, Bart Ehrman, showing how the accounts of the resurrection in the four gospels differed in their details. My conclusion then was that because of these discrepancies, it is difficult for me to think of the Bible as free from errors.
A reader, whom I shall call Kevin (not his real name), wrote in and said:
It seems that you easily find discrepancies on the MINUTEST details of their respective accounts, which is not the central message or truth that they want to record. They wrote to prove that there was such a thing as a RESURRECTION that happened. They or I are not interested on the number of women who were there.
Let me give you and illustration. Supposed I sent you to Zamboanga in September 2013 to cover the Zamboanga war with 3 other reporters and the 4 of you sent the following report of the same incident that happened at the same time and same location:
Reporter 1: An army from 8 IB fired his armalite rifle to the MNLF and killed 2 of them.
Report 2: A Soldier from the Philippine Marine fired his AK 47 and killed 3 MNLF rebels.
Report 4 : A Policeman from Zamboanga Police killed 4 MNLF rebels with his .45 pistol
Report 4: A government trooper by the name of Juan de La Cruz fired his guns and I am still verifying how many were dead.
Apparently, the 4 of you were giving me different versions of the report. BUT WILL THAT MAKE YOU DENY THAT THERE WAS REALLY A WAR IN ZAMBOANGA? I sent you to Zamboanga to tell us that there is a WAR going on there and how it happened. You do not have to be accurate on who fired , what gun and how many were hit.
In the case of these 4 GOSPELS, the CENTRAL ISSUE is the RESURRECTION which the 4 of them recorded.
You mean that because they do not corroborate with each other, then it is false or hoax? If 4 liars will corroborate to tell a lie, it is still A LIE. Even if what they wrote are perfectly the same. Equally correct is when these 4 gospel writers intended to write a hoax, they should have written it perfectly the same.
Here is my response: You seem to think that my opinion of the gospel is that it’s a DELIBERATE hoax. That is not my view at all.
The main point of my article was not to show that the resurrection story is untrue. The main point was to highlight the fact that the discrepancies make it impossible to claim that the Bible is inerrant.
Going back to your example of the 4 reporters, you may not be interested in who fired and how many were hit but surely, not all of us can be correct. If I say that the Philippine army fired first, and reporter 2 said that the MILF fired first, we cannot both be correct at the same time. One of us has to be wrong.
Now, if one of us is wrong, you cannot say that the 4 accounts that we have are without error — which is what Christians (at least, some factions) claim, not only for the 4 gospels but for the entire Bible.
Unlike your war example, the gospels are not firsthand accounts of the eyewitnesses themselves. It is generally accepted among reputable Bible scholars, Christian ones included, that the earliest gospel, Mark, was written more than 30 years after the event. Matthew and Luke followed 10 or 20 years later, and John followed another 10 years later.
So if we were to rewrite your example in these terms, it would go like this: It is now September 2043 (30 years after the 2013 Zamboanga War). A writer named Mark comes to interview me, knowing that I was an eyewitness. So I tell him about what happened to the best of my ability and memory.
Mark would possibly have other sources as well, and he uses all this material to piece together his story of the Zamboanga War. So now we have the Zamboanga War according to Mark.
Ten years later, two other writers named Matthew and Luke also hear stories about the Zamboanga War. They’ve read Mark’s book, but some parts do not exactly jive with the stories they have heard from other sources. So they want to set the record straight and write their own versions, but they copy heavily from Mark since he was the first to ever publish the complete story anyway. Needless to say, some details don’t match.
Ten or twenty years later, another writer from some other part of the world, named John, comes up with his own retelling of the Zamboanga war. He never saw the other 3 guys books but decided to write his own account based on his own sources, knowledge and interpretation of the events.
So there you have it — 4 books about the Zamboanga War which are not deliberate hoaxes, but not entirely accurate as well. You may say, well the point was, there WAS a war. And yes, I will grant you that. But that is an entirely different point from the one I’m trying to make.
I am not saying that because the details don’t match, then we ought to doubt that there was ever a war at all. I am saying that because the details don’t match, you cannot claim that the accounts are without error. I hope this, at least, is clear.
Regarding your claim that there was indeed a resurrection, let me tackle that next week.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.