Are There Discrepancies in the Gospels?

Do the Gospel writers contradict one another? The first three Gospels are called the Synoptics. These writings, according to the thought contained in that Greek word, give us the same view of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is often a surprising agreement in the description of events.

Alongside of this agreement, however, even in the choice of words, there are also equally noteworthy differences. Precisely the latter are often adduced in discussions which call attention to so-called inaccuracies in God’s Word. How is it possible, one may ask, to present matters in a divergent manner and at the same time to write the Word of God infallibly, moved by God’s Spirit.

As far as these differences in recording are concerned, we must reckon especially with two factors. In the first place, Matthew, in contrast with Mark and Luke, was an eyewitness of many happenings and was able, from the treasure of his own recollections, to add to the preaching of Peter—which was doubtless the point of departure of his Gospel record—certain details which one will not find in the other synoptic gospels.

In the second place, one must keep in mind constantly the various purposes of the Gospel records. Matthew wrote primarily for the Jews, the inhabitants of the holy land. The Gospel according to Mark transfers us to an altogether different domain from the one in which the first Gospel must have originated. An old tradition points unanimously to Rome. Here Peter preached the gospel in the presence of Mark, and Mark saw to it, at the request of many, that a written record was made. Theophilus, to whom Luke addressed his writings, should also be thought of as being in Rome.

With this as a point of departure one can easily explain all kinds of differences in the synoptic records.

Matthew speaks of two demon-possessed persons in the land of the Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28–34) and of two blind men at Jericho (Matthew 20:29–34), while Mark and Luke mention only one demon-possessed person (Mark 5:1–20, Luke 8:26–39) and one blind man (Mark 10:46–52, Luke 18:35–43). Apparently Peter, in his preaching at Rome, wished to place all emphasis on Jesus’ power over evil spirits and over all sickness and disease, while Matthew, who was present, could write that actually two men were involved. Matthew, as a publican, was accustomed to making an accurate record of the tax system. He was constantly giving attention to numbers and registered them carefully.

Thus Mark explains that James and John came to Jesus to ask about being seated at his right hand and left hand in the Kingdom (Mark 10:35–45 ). Matthew makes this more precise by adding, as eyewitness, that the mother of the sons of Zebedee was prominent in this matter (Matthew 20:20–28). Mark relates, as Peter’s interpreter, that certain men testified falsely concerning Jesus at the trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:57, 58); but Matthew, who had a clear recollection of these events, declares that there were two (Matthew 26:61).



The differences in the description of the healing of those who were demon-possessed and blind suggest other questions. The evangelists give divergent indications as to place. As far as the blind men are concerned, Matthew and Mark say that the healing took place when Jesus and his disciples departed from Jericho as they traveled to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:29, Mark 10:46) while Luke writes that these men were healed before Jesus entered Jericho (Luke 18:35, compare 19:1).

Various explanations have been offered of this seeming conflict. Some think that more than one healing took place on that journey. It is said we may assume that there were many beggars on that road since those who were on the way to the feast from Galilee took this way. In that case Luke tells about a blind man who came in touch with Christ before the Lord entered Jericho while the other evangelists point to healings which took place after Jesus left the city. Others hold that a blind man joined the crowd and walked along with it until the Lord found a second blind person. Then both were healed, it is said, though the name of only one of them, Bartimeus, the son of Timeus, is mentioned.

It seems to me that the excavations in that region have given us the desired information.

It is known that Jericho suffered great disasters in the course of history. The old Jericho, which was conquered when Israel entered Canaan, fell because the Lord delivered this city, with its Icing and its inhabitants, into the hand of Israel. On six consecutive days the army of Israel marched around the city once every day while they marched around it seven times on the seventh day. Then the wall of the city toppled and the people entered it, every one over the rubble where he stood, and took it.

After this conquest Joshua, at this gate of entrance into Canaan, pronounced a curse upon the man who would scek to rebuild this city. At the cost of the life of his first-born he would lay anew it .. foundations and he would restore the gates at the cost of the life of his youngest son. In the days of Ahab, Hiel the Bethelite challenged that curse and in consequence saw his sons Abiram and Segub die, according to the word of the Lord (I Kings 16:34).

That city lies under a hill of rubble and sand. In recent years English archeologists have made excavations there as a result of which all lcinds of particulars about this .ancient stronghold have come to light.

At a later time King Herod, at some distance from the old site, built a beautiful city in Roman style with palaces, .n water system, a theater, etc., to which he also gave the name of Jericho. That city, which Jesus and his disciples

often passed through, was one of the wonders of that day. Now, the healing of the two blind men took place between these two Jerichos. The ruins of the old Jericho and the city of King Herod, which was founded on the threshold of the New Testament period with the help of Homan architects, lie about a good mile apart. Tn this narrative, Matthew and Mark, both of Jewish blood, have the old Jericho in mind. Jesus had already passed the old city when the blind men were healed at the word of Christ. However, Luke, the Greek, who “from the beginning had traced all things accurately” (Luke 1:3) and sought to inform Theophilus fully of the course of events, tells this man of excellence, who must have heard a good deal in Home about Herod’s passion for building and about the mighty productions of the Roman architects in Jericho, that the healing of the blind occurred as the procession approached Herod’s city. Thus the conflict, which at first blush seems to exist between the narratives of the evangelists, disappears. Something similar may be said of the difference in the indication of the place at which the demon-possessed were cured. Matthew speaks of “the country of the Gadarenes,” while Mark and Luke declare that these unfortunates were found in “the country of the Gerasenes” (Matthew 8:28; compare Mark 5:1, Luke 8:26).

Gadara was one of the cities of Decapolis. It was located some distance southeast of the sea of Tiberias, but the sphere of influence of this city doubtless extended to this sea. But the situation is different in the case of Gerasa, also a city of Decapolis. Gerasa was on the great highway that led from Damascus to Arabia. This place, however, was much farther distant from the sea of Galilee than Gadara. For that reason some feel that Mark and Luke could not have had this city in mind. They judge that these two evangelists were speaking of a place much closer to the sea of Galilee. Origen already mentioned Gergesa, right by the sea, and accordingly he spoke of “the country of the Gergasenes.” This expression is found in a number of the translations. As a matter of fact, in the former century certain ruins were discovered which have been connected with an old locality called Gergesa.

Others reject this correction made by Origen inasmuch as the best manuscripts speak of “the country of the Gerasenes.” They conjecture that Mark and Luke through a certain ignorance confused two cities in the region of the Decapolis. However, a solution should not be sought in this direction. We must think of the first readers of the gospel narrative. Gerasa must have enjoyed a special publicity at Rome precisely in the first century A.D. That appears from the ruins of this city which have been discovered. They are impressive. Being located in a valley about six tenths of a mile from Aman, the capital city of Jordan, the visitor finds in these ruins a splendid example of a provincial capital in the florescence of the Roman empire. The city was founded by Alexander the Great or one of his successors. After the conquest by the Roman general Pompei us in 63 B.C., the country of the Gerasenes was incorporated in the province of Syria. From that moment Gerasa attained to great prosperity. A magnificent temple was created in honor of Zeus and an amphitheater was built. A forum was also established, a large number of whose columns are still in place. This forum is unique in the history of the architecture of the Romans, who always built right-angled forums while the one at Gerasa was oval.

Now, Mark, who recorded the preaching of Peter at Rome, and Luke, who wrote to the excellent Theophilus in the same city, could not do better than to refer to that city in the incident under consideration. There must have been a busy traffic between Rome and Gerasa. The city was familiar to business men and state officials. In this way Mark and Luke could make plain that the healings had not occurred in the proper domain of the Jews. Notice that the words used in the narratives: “in the country of are a very general designation.

It seems to me that against this background the difficulties which present themselves in this explanation disappear altogether.