Is This Really an Example of a Contradiction in the Bible?

Peter Guirguis Apologetics 24 Comments

Do you want to know if the Bible is reliable?

Maybe you’re having doubts about the Bible being written by God.

Maybe you’ve heard about people pointing out a supposed contradiction in the Bible.

Or maybe you think it’s just a book written by human authors just like other religious books.

I understand if you feel that way.

After all, I thought those things too about the Bible for at least 8 years of my life when I was an atheist.

I even continued to believe some of these things after I became a Christian until I changed my mind at a later time.

Here’s What You’ll Get From This Blog Post

I did a Google search for some contradictions that people think the Bible has.

I then chose one of the top ones and am writing about it in this blog post.

After you read this blog post, you’ll understand that this supposed contradiction is no contradiction at all.

It’s just a misinterpretation.

This blog post may be able to help you in 6 possible ways:

1.  Increase your faith in the Bible
2.  Eliminate some doubts about God and the Bible
3.  Understand the Bible better
4.  Look at the Bible in a new way
5.  Give Christianity another chance if you’ve lost your faith
6.  Protect you from falling for an attack from the enemy

Ready?

Let’s dig in.

 

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Supposed Contradiction: How Many Angels Were At Jesus’s Tomb?

One of the most popular supposed contradictions that skeptics and critics like to throw at the Bible has the do with the number of angels at Jesus’s tomb after His resurrection.

At first glance, it looks like Mathew says there was one angel, but John writes that there were two.

Here, let’s take a look a little deeper.

Mathew writes in Mathew 28:1-7 that there was one angel at Jesus’s tomb:

“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came 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 from the door, and sat on it.

His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel [singular] answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

“And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

However, if you turn to John’s gospel, you’ll see that John writes that there were two angels by Jesus’s tomb.

Here’s the passage from John 20:11-12:

“But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.”

So which is it? Was there one angel or two?

Is this a contradiction?

Not at all.

There are two possible explanations that are both related to each other.

Possible Explanation #1

The first potential explanation to this supposed contradiction is that these are two different incidents that happened on the same day.

The incident written in Mathew 28 is the one that happens first.

Check out the time of day that it is in the first verse of Mathew 28:

“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”

What time of the day is it?

It’s dawn. That means that there is a little light in the sky before sunrise.

It looks something like this.

sea-dawn

This is a picture of dawn which shows the sun beginning to break through.

But if you read John 20:10, it reveals that Mary’s interaction with the two angels are at a later time.

“Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.”

Verse 10 reveals that John’s account of Mary interacting with the two angels occurs later that morning after the disciples had left the tomb.

So when you piece both Mathew and John’s accounts together, you get this:

1. An angel rolls away the stone at Jesus’s tomb

2. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary show up at the tomb and the first angel speaks to them

3. Mary leaves the tomb to go tell Peter and John

4. Peter, John, and Mary arrive at the tomb at different times

5. Mary has a conversation with the other two angels

So does that make sense?

That ‘s the first reason why it’s reasonable to believe that these are two separate incidents.

Were There Different Angels at Jesus’s Tomb?

The second reason that supports this explanation is that there were different angels present at the tomb.

First up, we know from different passages of Scripture that angels can reveal themselves in different ways.

1.  Angels can appear in a glorified form. When they do, the people who see them react with fear, like the guards who were at Jesus’s tomb.
2.  Angels can reveal themselves in human form. When they do, people who see them react with respect.

In Mathew 28:2-4, we see the first type of angels that I just mentioned:

“And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.”

In John’s gospel, we see the second kind of angels in verses 11-13:

“But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Did Mary react with fear to these 2 angels the way the guards responded to the other 1 angel?

No.

Mary was completely calm.

She was so calm, that she was able to have a conversation with the two angels.

Does that make sense?

Can you see how seeing the events about Jesus’s resurrection from this point of view reveals that there is no contradiction in the first place?

Possible Explanation #2

The other plausible explanation is that John is giving a different side of the story than Mathew of what happened at Jesus’s tomb.

Here, let me explain.

Imagine you are sitting in a lecture hall at a university with some of your friends listening to a professor teaching his students.

After you’re done, you go out to the cafeteria with your friends where you run into an acquaintance who didn’t attend the lecture.

Your acquaintance asks you and your group of friends, “What were you guys up to today?”

So you answer, “We were just listening to a lecture in the Anderson Hall. Professor Johnson sure knows how to captivate your attention.”

A friend of yours also answers and says, “Professor Smith was also there.”

So now, let’s ask a few questions:

1.  Is your report that Pastor Johnson was at the lecture correct? Yes.
2.  Is your friend’s report that Pastor Smith was also there correct? Yes
3.  Do both you and your friend’s side of the story only report a partial account of what happened at the lecture hall? Yes

That could be what happened in these two accounts of Mathew and John about the angels at Jesus’s tomb.

Mathew tells the story of the first angel who was first to arrive on the scene, but John reports the story of the two angels who arrived later that morning.

So you see, there is no contradiction.

These two accounts of the same story are merely reporting different facts of what happened at the resurrection of Jesus.

Does that make sense?

Over To You

I would love to hear your feedback.

What do you think about these explanations?

Do you think that the Bible has contradictions in it?

 

About the Author

Peter Guirguis

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I'm the Technology and Social Media Manager of Calvary Chapel South Bay, a church in Gardena, California. My passion is to see people give their life to Christ both online and offline. I've created the free guide to getting thousands of Twitter followers to show ordinary people how to get extraordinary results on Twitter.

 

Comments 24

  1. On the topic of contradictions in the bible, have you written a blog tackling the birth of Jesus according to Luke? If not, I recommend you check it out especially if (like me) you’re a history nerd.

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  2. No, I do not believe that there are any contradictions in the Bible. Most of these are simply the reader misunderstanding the context of the passages listed. The Bible was not written in contemporary English, it was written to the people of the ANE period. Modern day Americans read differently than do ancients.

    While I believe explanation #2 is the correct one there are good resources online to look up each of these. Thanks for the post.

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  3. Hi Peter,
    Could you do an article in the future about Judas. Did he hang himself (Matt 27:5) or did he fall headlong and his bowels burst out (Acts 1: 18). Thank you for your blog.
    Geoff.

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  4. I don’t believe there are contradictions in the Bible either, but readers misunderstanding scripture. My understanding follows explanation #2.

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  5. Someone pointed out to me that the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery was actually added hundreds of years after his lifetime–it simply isn’t in the earliest texts. He said that modern printed Bible’s have a note in John saying that it’s an interpolation. I’m stunned.

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      Sandra, people can say all that they want but ask that person to prove it using reliable sources. That’s a different story. This person is probably just repeating something he heard somewhere.

      I’ve heard professors make mistakes about the Bible who have been proven wrong by Biblical Scholars who actually study and know this stuff inside out.

      1. I have heard the same sort of thing Peter, ” the Bible is full of errors, or its a load of make believe” etc. Then I ask them what part of the Bible has errors the reply is “all of it ” usually. When you get down to specifics you find that 99% of these people have never even read it. They are parroting what someone else has said. Hope this helps.

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  6. I usually believe that those who says that the bible is full of errors or had contradictions are people who doesn’t really study the bible or not even read it…i find it funny with just small things they make an argument with it..it is not even the main topic of the bible

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  7. 2 Kings 8:26 – KJV
    Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.

    2 Chronicles 22:2 – KJV
    Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.
    That would make Ahaziah older than his father,
    HOWEVER, it is spiritually irrelevant
    Because
    There are ZERO Spiritual contradictions in Scripture.
    The King James Version Translation began before 1611 but was published in that year. There were about 40 different translators who translated the King James Version, one of them being Shakespeare himself. For example, in 1611, Shakespeare was 46 years old. Many scholars believe that he translated part of Psalms or even all of it because he left a clue.
    In Psalms 46 (KJV & omitting the “Selah” which is nothing more than a pause anyway) Start at the top and count down 46 words and you get “shake”. Go to the end of the chapter and count up 46 words and you get spear. The belief is that he signed his name! He was 46 years old that year!
    Besides that being interesting trivia, the point is that there are no spiritual contradictions, only some historical ones in the translation, but since the Bible is here as a guide for our spiritual progression, the spiritual information that it does contain within it’s pages doesn’t contradict itself. The original text itself? As penned by the Prophets of old for the first time? The Hebrew, Greek, and a small amount of Aramaic, inspired by God and written by His prophets, of course didn’t have any contradictions whatsoever.
    Next, anyone who wants to nit-pick and say the Bible isn’t God’s word because of contradictions merely uses that as an excuse anyway. If they don’t want to believe it, why spend so much time on it, talking and writing about it? Hmm? The more they do it, the more they actually prove that the Bible IS God’s word since scripture actually refers to those types of people within it’s pages! Those “hecklers” are actually fulfilling God’s word by their actions because they are described in every way within the Bible! Oh yes. God’s word is truly amazing!
    Christian followers of the Savior know about the little insignificant historical inaccuracies and it doesn’t phase us because we know that Jesus Christ exists, regardless of what the world does to try and disprove Him, and we know that the Bible IS the word of God, Period. They won’t talk us out of it. Name calling, insults, etc shows nothing but immaturity and we choose to follow the Master rather than the hecklers. Read some of the parables about how the Savior shut up the lawyers who thought they were so smart when they asked about the greatest commandment or whether they should pay taxes or not. The hecklers are nowhere near that wise—-are they? Of course not!

    Back to Shakespeare, here is Psalms 46 KJV (The only version I read, except the original Hebrew and Greek, or maybe the Geneva Bible, or the Matthew Bible, maybe the Luther Bible if I knew German-etc)

    Psalms 46
    1-God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
    2-Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
    3-Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains SHAKE

    Up 46 words (Omit Selah):
    SPEAR in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
    10-Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
    11-The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

  8. Someone pointed out to me that the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery was actually added hundreds of years after his lifetime–it simply isn’t in the earliest texts. He said that modern printed Bible’s have a note in John saying that it’s an interpolation. I’m stunned.<<

    No need to be stunned. Some skeptics often overstate their case and leave out critical facts.

    Wikipedia has an article on that which details are rather lengthy but the takeaway is that
    yes,
    it seems early documents do not have the story of the woman taken in adultery.
    HOWEVER the story appears to have been referred to in commentary at least twice around AD110 and in the mid 200’s.

    This means the story existed in written around at least the time the Gospel of John was written, AD90-110 if not earlier.

    Among the possible reasons the story is not found in the earliest documents is that
    1–all the earliest documents have not been discovered yet or have since deteriorated.
    2–of those that are found their purpose was primarily liturgical use, intended to simplify things by presenting material for major feast-days as one uninterrupted segment of text, leaving out the story as inappropriate for the tone of the presentations.

    When the more formal arrangement of inclusion was later desired for a complete canon as the church grew, the story, as part of the Gospel of John, was part of that whole.

    Huge numbers of manuscripts exist across different languages from different regions and the consistency of what is conveyed is remarkable for all the criticism skeptics level at it. If the so called contradictions of the Bible are REALLY examined, they are generally easily resolvable.

    –Witness accounts, disagreeing on some details but the overall story itself is intact (such as the story of the angel(s) at the Tomb.
    –copyist errors (typically with numerical values)
    –misunderstanding of the text,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_and_the_woman_taken_in_adultery

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