A Quick Response to an Accusation of Contradiction in the Gospels

In my preparation for a message on Matthew 26:17-30, the text that includes the Lord’s Supper, I was reminded that there are those who would suggest that there is a discrepancy between John’s gospel and the synoptics—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—regarding exactly when Jesus ate the Last Supper and on what day Jesus died. The synoptics are clear that Jesus celebrated the Passover on Thursday and then died on Friday. John seems to indicate that the death of Jesus took place on the Passover, perhaps even at the very moment when the Passover lambs were being killed. And some would use this seeming discrepancy to suggest that the Bible contains an error, a contradiction. How, after all, could Jesus both eat the Passover meal one day and then die on the next day when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered?

All we need, however, to deal with this is a single, plausible, explanation for what we see in Matthew and John. I have read a few that would work. John tells us that the chief priests did not go into Pilate’s house because they wanted to be ceremonially clean so they could eat the Passover. Perhaps they were delayed in eating that meal on Thursday evening, but still planned to do so before sunset of Friday. Or, more likely in my opinion, they were not referencing the formal Passover meal only but the entirety of the sacred events of the combined Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. They wanted to be ceremonially clean for the week to follow with all its celebrations. Thus, when John calls the day of the crucifixion “the day of preparation of the Passover,” he could be telling us that, while Thursday evening was the Passover meal, Friday was the day of preparation for the special Sabbath observance that fell in the week that included Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Another explanation is that there was a bit of variation in how different Jews understood their yearly calendar. We are aware that the sect at Qumran used a calendar that was a day off from that used by the priests. So, if Matthew and John were speaking from different calendars, there would be no discrepancy.

A third explanation comes not from the calendar but from the reckoning of when a day began and ended. John MacArthur explains it this way:

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The answer lies in a difference among the Jews in the way they reckoned the beginning and ending of days. From Josephus, the Mishna, and other ancient Jewish sources we learn that the Jews in northern Palestine calculated days from sunrise to sunrise. That area included the region of Galilee, where Jesus and all the disciples except Judas had grown up. Apparently most, if not all, of the Pharisees used that system of reckoning. But Jews in the southern part, which centered in Jerusalem, calculated days from sunset to sunset. Because all the priests necessarily lived in or near Jerusalem, as did most of the Sadducees, those groups followed the southern scheme.

That variation doubtlessly caused confusion at times, but it also had some practical benefits. During Passover time, for instance, it allowed for the feast to be celebrated legitimately on two adjoining days, thereby permitting the Temple sacrifices to be made over a total period of four hours rather than two. That separation of days may also have had the effect of reducing both regional and religious clashes between the two groups.

On that basis the seeming contradictions in the gospel accounts are easily explained. Being Galileans, Jesus and the disciples considered Passover day to have started at sunrise on Thursday and to end at sunrise on Friday. The Jewish leaders who arrested and tried Jesus, being mostly priests and Sadducees, considered Passover day to begin at sunset on Thursday and end at sunset on Friday. By that variation, predetermined by God’s sovereign provision, Jesus could thereby legitimately celebrate the last Passover meal with His disciples and yet still be sacrificed on Passover day (MacArthur, Matthew 26:17-19).

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There are, of course, other potential explanations out there for how Matthew and John could both be speaking the truth and not actually contradicting each other. And a thorough argument regarding those points is well beyond the purpose of this post. I simply want to make you aware that, if you hear someone suggest that this is a contradiction in the Bible, you know that people have done the work and the thinking to show us how it is not. And I would guess that the right answer is either the first or last ones mentioned above.

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Where Wisdom Begins

I want you to imagine that you have a job to do. Perhaps it is Christmas time, and you must work your way through the assembly of some sort of child’s toy. This work is tedious, painful, and often the cause of a need for marital counseling.

Imagine that you have the supplies. Imagine that you have the tools. And imagine that you have the instructions. But, then, imagine that the one thing that you determine you will not do is to allow the instructions to influence you regarding the steps that you should take to assemble the toy. How well do you think you would really do?

Psalm 111:10

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!

The flaw in my above illustration is that, if you are mechanically inclined, you might actually succeed at assembling the toy. But give me a moment of thought. In general, you know it would be crazy talk to eliminate from your mind the actual instructions that tell you how to properly get the job done.

Consider with me how sad it is, then, when people think they can accomplish something of much greater difficulty, living the human life, without consulting genuine wisdom? How crazy is it for us to think that we have, in ourselves, what we need to make it through this world.

The word of God tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If this is the beginning of wisdom, we must also see that the word of God is telling us that there is not wisdom that does not begin with fearing God. If you do not fear God, you are rejecting wisdom out of hand. You cannot come across wisdom that does not begin with you fearing God. You cannot get down the path of wisdom without starting at its entry point, the word of God.

If you do not know the Lord, understand that he tells you that fearing him is the starting point for wisdom. You will not, you cannot, figure out life without him. You must come to him in humble repentance and faith.

And, Christians, we should believe Scripture enough to agree with this Psalm. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. We should not try to make people think that we believe there is wisdom out there that does not have the fear of God as its starting point. And you and I can mislead people if we choose to make arguments or offer pieces of life advice that do not start with the fear of God and the word of God. Let’s be careful to see to it that we show, by our thinking, by our apologetics, by our counsel, and all else that we do that we know that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Why Are You Happy about the Rescue of the Soccer Team in Thailand?

How sweet it is to have good new celebrated all over the Internet? From every angle, left, right, center, whatever, people are showing gratitude for the rescue of those kids and their coach trapped in the cave. And I totally agree.

But, just to be that guy, let me ask you a question: why? Why are you celebrating that these 13 people have been rescued? Don’t write me off here. Stop and really address it. Why?

I’m happy because… What do you say? I’m happy because they are alive. Great, why? It’s good that they did not die in the cave. I agree; why? Does your worldview actually have an answer to why this good thing, this thing that everybody who is not a moral degenerate agrees is good, is in fact good?

If your worldview is one of naturalism, I think you will be harder pressed than you think to tell me why the rescue of these people is good. Maybe you can argue that one of those 13 could possibly go on to do something for humanity. Maybe you will argue that giving the globe a psychological boost is positive. Maybe you will argue that this pattern of giving, if imitated, will improve human flourishing. But in truth, are any of those reasons satisfactory? Do any of those get down to the heart of why this is an actual moral good?

In truth, only a worldview that sees human life as valuable, valuable for a valid reason, has a real reason to celebrate. If all that human beings are is a collection of fluids, cells, random atoms bouncing around the universe, then there is no real, moral reason why it is good for this team to be alive. Their random atoms could have stayed in the cave and it would have been all the same to the universe.

But, and here is the truth, if indeed those 13 lives matter for the simple reason that human lives matter, then this is a great cause for celebration. And I argue that those lives matter, regardless of whether or not any of the 13 ever does one single thing to benefit society. Their lives matter because of the existence and revelation of God.

In Genesis 1:27, God declares that he created humanity in his image. That, my dear friends, is the reason that the rescue of those 13 from a flooded cave in Thailand is good news. Thirteen people who bear upon their very souls a reminder of the existence and glory of God are preserved. Thirteen people who are told by the word of God that their value is in the imprint of God on them have been spared. Thirteen reflections of the truth that God is the glorious Ruler over the universe are still living and breathing. This is ultimately good.

Good is good because good is what God declares is good. Saving these lives is good because it matches the purpose for the existence of the universe—to glorify God.

If you are a God-doubter, if you are an atheist, if you are a naturalist, why not stop and ask yourself what reason you have, what real reason you have, to celebrate the rescue of the team in Thailand. We all agree it is a good thing. But I say it is good because it matches the revelation of God and it preserves people made in his image. Why do you say it is good?

Ultimately, what makes human life matter? See, o please see, that life matters because of our Creator. Random chance, cellular mutations, and survival of the fittest just cannot make life matter for the sake of life.

Stop Asking Dishonest Questions

We have all heard people ask questions we know they do not really want to have answered. They like to make demands of us. They like to ask for explanations. But there are certainly people who will ask us things that, no matter how we answer, they will be unsatisfied.

This also happens when people say that they have questions about God and his ways. Often people will say that there is something they are bothered by concerning the Lord, the Bible, and theology. They act as though, if this one question was answered, they would be willing to follow the Lord. But Scripture and real life experience show us differently.

In Luke 20, Jesus was approached by religious teachers with a question. They wanted to know by whose authority he was teaching. Of course, their goal was to trap Jesus and make him look bad. So Jesus put a question in front of them. If they answered it honestly, he would answer them honestly. They refused.

Luke 20:7-8 – 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Notice that, when they refused to be honest with Jesus, the Lord refused to answer their question. I think we need to recognize that this indicates to us that God is not at all interested in our dishonest questions.

So, as people raise questions about God and his ways, perhaps you might ask them to seriously consider if they actually want the answer. Will the answer to this question satisfy you? Is there any possible answer that you think would help you? Help them to see that their questions are not often as real as they think. Instead, go ahead and help people to see that what they package as a question may be simple rebellion.

And be careful if this is you. God is not in any way obligated to answer even an honest question. He is God and we are not. How much less is he obligated to answer our questions when our questions are not even honest? Let us yield to God first. Sure, ask questions, but ask the Lord from a heart already submitted to him, and you will find the answers you receive far more satisfying.

They Need Scripture, Not Miraculous Evidence

When we have friends, neighbors, or family members we want to see saved, we may find ourselves wishing for a supernatural occurrence to help them to believe. I’m not here talking about the work of the sovereign God on a heart to draw someone to Christ. Rather, I am thinking about something that is considered amazing, miraculous, and somehow a proof of the truth of the gospel. We want our family members to see a healing, to have a dramatic impression of the presence of God, or be miraculously preserved from a car accident. Then we think that they will let that evidence lead them to faith.

But such a belief is not in accord with the very words of Jesus. Our Savior did not say that the lost need a dramatic experience of evidence. Nor did he say that they need a really good argument. Jesus said that the lost, if they are to be saved, need Scripture.

In Luke 16, Jesus gives us the story of the lost rich man and the beggar, Lazarus. The rich man is in hell and Lazarus in paradise. The rich man has a conversation with Abraham, and that conversation represents the teaching point. First the rich man asked for relief from his torment, but that was not possible or proper. Then the rich man asked for Abraham to send Lazarus to be a miraculous witness to his brothers so they could avoid hell.

Luke 16:2931 – 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

Note what is said here. The rich man wants something miraculous, something dramatic, something that feels like irrefutable evidence. Abraham says they have Scripture. The rich man does not think Scripture is enough. Who would ever expect that just continuing to quote the Bible, continuing to preach verse after verse, would somehow have an impact.

But what does Jesus tell us through the mouth of Abraham in this account? If they will not hear the word of God in Scripture, nothing will make them believe. They will not believe, even if a person rises from the dead. Of course, Jesus knows a thing or two about people rising from the dead in front of the lost.

Christians, may we see that the word of God taught by the Son of God here tells us that what the lost need is not a sign. The lost do not need to talk with the dead. The Lost do not need an irrefutable argument. After all, you and I have all seen people ignore irrefutable arguments. What the lost need is the clear presentation of the word of God. Because, if they will not believe the word of god, they would not believe if they saw a dead person resurrected before their eyes. That is what Jesus said, and it is still true today.

No, this does not make me anti-apologetics. What it makes me is one who recognizes what apologetics can and cannot do. Apologetics might make someone stop yelling at you long enough to listen to you. Apologetics might make a person think you less of an idiot than they originally thought you to be. Apologetics might gain you a hearing in a person’s mind. But, friends, at the end of the day, the only thing that will bring a person to salvation is the word of God spoken and the power of God sovereignly bringing a dead heart to life.

A Great Logical Argument from Jesus

Most Christians remember the story of the man whose friends carried him to Jesus. The Savior was teaching in a house, and these men actually removed some of the roof tiles over Jesus so as to be able to lower their friend down before him. They could not get through the crowd, but they found a way to help their buddy.

What we sometimes miss is the logical claim that Jesus makes in this healing. When the man is lowered before him, Jesus first tells him, not that he is healed, but that his sins are forgiven. That, of course, sparks a response. That is what Jesus wanted to do.

Luke 5:21-25 – 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

The religious leaders, hearing Jesus’ words, accuse him of blasphemy. They see that Jesus has claimed to forgive sins. And they know that only God has the right to forgive a man his sins against God.

Jesus responds to the thoughts of these men with a simple, Hebrew-logical argument. Jesus asks which is more difficult to do. Is it more difficult to claim to forgive or to heal a man we know is really in need? The assumed answer is that it is more difficult to do the healing. Why? The claim to heal can be proved or disproved immediately. But a claim that a man’s sins are forgiven cannot be proved or disproved on earth.

Then Jesus heals the man. With a word, the Savior commands a man who had to be carried to him to get up and carry his own bed home. And the man does. The crowd sees that Jesus has supernatural power. Jesus has the ability to do what only God can do. And Jesus just did so in a verifiable way.

And the point that Jesus was making with his argument is significantly made. If Jesus has the power to do what only God can do with the healing, Jesus also has the power to do what only God can do by forgiving a man of his sins. Jesus did what the teachers would have seen as more difficult in order to prove that he has the ability to do what is eternally more significant. And in doing so, Jesus stakes one more clear claim to deity, because he claims and does what only God can do.

We Fail When We Start from the Wrong Place

I was recently listening to a podcast that discussed issues related to apologetics, and in an interesting combination, the issue of addiction and counseling. The speaker shared with us a reminder that is tremendously significant for Christians who want to help others either with the gospel or with counsel. If our conversation does not begin with a biblical understanding of humanity and the human condition, or if our conversation does not begin with a biblical understanding of the reality of the world we live in, our conversation will not lead where we want it to go. Or, if our conversation does get us where we want to go, it will be in spite of and not because of our strategy.

That thought came again to me as I was reading through Psalm 89. Verse 11 says, “The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.” In the middle of the psalmist discussing what was going on with the world around Judea and the throne of King David, he lays down this glorious truth that has to be our starting point for genuinely helpful thinking. The world belongs to God. God made it. God owns it.

Consider how different your thinking is when you start from that point. God created the universe. The earth and all that is in it belong to him. Consider the moral issues that people want to debate. They ask why this is not OK or how we can dare say that another thing is the only way. While we can argue back and forth for a long time, the answer is bound up in two truths. First, God owns us all. WE are made by him and for him. We owe him our allegiance. And second, God has revealed his ways to us in his word.

So, why is Jesus the only way? God made us and that is what God chose to do. Why are certain actions sin, even if the world around us says differently? God made us, and his word tells us that he calls such things sin.

I’m not here suggesting that we be nasty to people as we have these conversations. Nor am I suggesting that we will do well to refuse to engage in discussions that go further than these points. But I am suggesting that, for you and me as believers, if we start from a different place, if we start from a worldview that is other than the claim that God is our Creator who has spoken to us in his word, we will have a hard time ending up in a place of truth.

And for you and me as Christians, even outside of evangelism, apologetics, and counseling, we need to remember that those starting points are big for us too. Why worship? Why sing if we do not enjoy singing? Why read the Bible if we do not enjoy reading? Why attend church if we are not feeling up for it? The answer begins with the fact that God created the universe, God is our Lord, God owns everything. The answer continues through the fact that God has revealed how he will be worshipped in his word. And we submit to our God who has spoken in his word. That is our source of joy and life.