The Bible (as well as the Constitution, Art 3, sec. 3) requires two witnesses to substantiate that an event has taken place (Deut. 17:6). The two-witness requirement is a safeguard for those accused of a crime. When an accusation is made and there is not a second witness, the single witness is investigated to see if he or she is telling the truth (Deut. 19:16-20). What’s true in cases related to criminal actions is also true in cases related to factuality. The Bible applies its own two-witness standard to itself. This can be seen when the issue of harmonizing seemingly contradictory events is raised by skeptics. Here’s an email I received:
“I am struggling with a few things and would greatly appreciate your input. I have read the book by Mr. DeMar and am so grateful for his courage and insight. I still have questions though. One in particular. You state that the gospel had been preached to the entire world before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 [Matt. 24:14]. The Scripture says that Paul, in Romans 15:20, had expressed wishes to the Romans “to come to you whenever I journey to Spain.” This was after the temple had been destroyed so how is it possible for your assumption to be correct if the gospel had not been preached in Spain after the temples demise? Please help me understand.”
Actually, it’s Paul who says that the gospel had been preached “in all the world” (Col. 1:6), “in all creation under heaven” (1:23). In Romans, he wrote that the faith of the Roman Christians “is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). Later he quotes from the OT stating that “their voice has gone out into all the earth and their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:18). Luke writes, at Pentecost, that “there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Certainly some of these took the gospel back to their homeland, to the “world.”
According to Paul, he was planning to go to Spain (Rom. 15:24, 28) on his way through Rome. There is nothing in these texts that says that the Gospel had not been preached in Spain but only that Paul did not want to “build upon another man’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20). The book of Romans was written around A.D. 57, 13 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul was martyred at least six years before the temple was destroyed. Writing of Paul’s missionary work before A.D. 70, Clement of Rome wrote (A.D. 30–70): “Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.”
Many supposed contradictions are explained by harmonizing different accounts of the same event. Two eyewitnesses most likely will describe the same event in different ways leaving out details that the other will include. Liberals have always complained that the gospel accounts were late-date compilations designed to give theological meaning to the story of a wise man who called himself Jesus whose followers considered Him to be the promised Messiah. If this is the case, then why don’t the four gospel accounts tell the same story in the same way? Why circulate four different versions of the same story with apparent contradictions?
Otto Scott, a journalist, editor, historian, and author of ten books, who coined the phrase “the silent majority,” was attracted to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life because they didn’t agree on every point. Scott recounts how he became a Christian after reading the gospels. Here’s how he tells it:
Well, my wife was Christian and took our daughter to church all the time. I would attend out of courtesy. One night I was reading late and my little girl came out of the bedroom and wanted to know about this business of turning the other cheek. I had no idea where that idea came from but I thought it might be the Bible. I had a Bible in the house, of course, and I picked it up and read the Gospels—all four in one swoop.
It was the contradictions in the testimony of these four different men that convinced me. As a reporter I had interviewed a lot of men, and I was on the crime beat at one point. I knew that if you get four men who tell you the same story they probably are colluding because no four men see the same thing the same way. One sees one significant element; one sees another. Although there was a close resemblance in the reporting of certain incidents in the Gospels, they were not identical. I was instantly convinced. I don’t think a person could have convinced me, but those varying contemporary histories did.1
What some people see as a literary liability, a historian and investigative reporter sees as the mark of authenticity. For example, Matthew and Luke tell different accounts of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Is this a contradiction? Not at all. By harmonizing the two accounts, the reader gets a more complete picture even though each account is true on its own. A liberal would claim that in order for each account to be trustworthy, it must be complete and in a way that’s identical to other accounts. If that’s the case, then why are there so many biographies of Abraham Lincoln? Can a single biography tell us everything about Lincoln? The Apostle John writes, “This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written” (John 21:24–25).
Luke’s historical approach is stated in the first chapter of his gospel, “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3–4). Any reader should expect a different and in some ways a more complete account from Luke, especially when we consider that he also wrote Acts in which he describes his gospel as “the first account [he] composed” (Acts 1:1).
Consider the written legend that appeared above Jesus’ head as He hung on the cross.
• “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37).
• “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26).
• “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38).
• “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews (John 19:19).
John’s account is most complete and includes all the elements of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It’s also possible that all three accounts appeared because, as John tells us, “and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek” (John 19:20).
The Olivet Discourse is another example of how harmonization works. Futurists want to argue that in Matthew 24, Jesus is describing events that refer to a yet future Great Tribulation, while Luke is mostly describing prophetic events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70. This is impossible since both accounts begin with a prophetic description of the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:2; Luke 21:6; 19:44) and concludes with “this generation will not pass away until all things take place” (Luke 21:32 and Matt. 24:34), an obvious reference to the signs described by Jesus previous to these verses.
- Quoted in James P. Lucier, “Otto Scott Steers by the Compass,” Insight (1999). In the same interview, Scott comments: “On the historical side, each time you look into the background of a certain line of activity, it looks different. The first historical background I did was for the Ashland Oil book. It was an attempt to put the history of the company against the contemporary events of the period through which the company had grown. But my attempt was sort of a tour of the surface—what you get from looking at ordinary accounts of the times beginning in 1918. But the next time I looked at the period, when I was writing the history of Raytheon, the background looked different. I began to go into history in a more serious way.” [↩]