If you have ever compared Matthews account of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness with
Lukes account, you quickly will notice that there is a difference in the sequence of the
recorded events (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Both Matthew and Luke agree that Satan first tested
Jesus by challenging Him to turn stones to bread. However, while the two disciples of Jesus agree
on the content of the next two tests, the second and third temptations recorded by Matthew are
flip-flopped in Lukes account. Matthew recorded that Satans second
temptation involved him trying to persuade Jesus to throw Himself down off the pinnacle of the
temple. The third temptation listed by Matthew was Satans attempt to get Jesus to worship
him. Even though Luke mentioned the same two events, he listed them in the reverse order
Satan first desired adoration from Jesus, and then he challenged Him to throw Himself down off the
pinnacle of the temple. Based upon this difference, skeptics claim we have a clear-cut
The problem with this allegation is that it is based upon an assumption. Those who claim that
the disorder of temptations is a contradiction, presuppose that history always is
written (or spoken) chronologically. However, common sense tells us otherwise. Open almost any
world history textbook and you will see that even though most events are recorded chronologically,
some are arranged topically. For example, in one chapter you may read about the European
civilization in the late Middle Ages (A.D. 1000-1300). Yet, in the very
next chapter you might learn about Medieval India (150 B.C.-A.D. 1400).
Authors arrange textbooks thematically in order to reduce the confusion that would arise if every
event in world history textbooks were arranged chronologically. Even when we rehearse life
experiences to friends and family, oftentimes we speak climactically rather than chronologically.
A teenager may return home from an amusement park and tell his father about all of the roller
coasters he rode at Six Flags. Likely, rather than mentioning all of them in the order he rode
them, he will start with the most exciting ones and end with the boring ones (if there is such
thing as a boring roller coaster).
Had Matthew and Luke claimed to arrange the temptations of Jesus chronologically, skeptics
would have a legitimate case. But, the fact of the matter is, neither Matthew nor Luke ever
claimed such. Either one of the two gospel writers recorded these events in the order they
happened, or both of them wrote topically. Most biblical scholars believe that Matthew was
concerned more with the order of events in this story because of his use of words like
then (4:5, Greek tote) and again (4:8, Greek palin). These
two adverbs seem to indicate a more sequential order of the temptations. Luke simply links the
events by using the Greek words kai and de (4:2, 5-6, translated and).
[The NKJVs translation of kai as then in Luke
4:5 is incorrect. It should be translated simply and (cf. KJV, ASV, NASV, and RSV)]. Similar to the English word and not having specific chronological implications,
neither do the Greek words kai and de (Richards, 1993, p. 230). In short, Luke
s account of the temptations of Jesus is arranged topically (or possibly climactically), whereas
Matthews account seems to be arranged chronologically.
This is just one more example of an alleged Bible contradiction that has been refuted rather
easily by a proper use of both reason and revelation.
Richards, Larry (1993), 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered (Grand Rapids, MI:
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