INTRODUCTION—THE NEW TESTAMENT IS THE MOST
HISTORICALLY ACCURATE BOOK
Dismissing the miracles documented in the New Testament is a favorite pastime of many skeptics,
and even some religious leaders. However, this “dismissal” game gets extremely
complicated, because the miracles are so closely blended with historical facts that separating the
two soon becomes like trying to separate two different colors of modeling clay. Take, for
instance, the plight of Sir William Ramsay. His extensive education had engrained within him the
keenest sense of scholarship. Along with that sense of scholarship came a built-in prejudice about
the supposed inaccuracy of the Bible (especially the book of Acts). Ramsay noted: “... [A]bout
1880 to 1890 the book of the Acts was regarded as the weakest part of the New Testament. No one
that had any regard for his reputation as a scholar cared to say a word in its defence. The most
conservative of theological scholars, as a rule, thought the wisest plan of defence for the New
Testament as a whole was to say as little as possible about the Acts” (1915, p. 38).
As might be expected of a person trained by such “scholars,” Ramsay held the same
view—for a little while. He held the view for only a brief time, because he decided to do
what few people of his time dared to do. He decided to explore the actual Bible lands with an open
Bible—with the intention of proving the inaccuracy of Luke’s history in the book of
Acts. However, much to his surprise, the book of Acts passed every test that any historical
narrative could be asked to pass. After his investigation of the Bible lands, he was forced to
The more I have studied the narrative of the Acts, and the more I have learned year
after year about Graeco-Roman society and thoughts and fashions, and organization in those
provinces, the more I admire and the better I understand. I set out to look for truth on the
borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it here [in the Book of Acts—KB]. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and
they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment, provided always that the critic knows
the subject and does not go beyond the limits of science and of justice (1915, p. 89).
Renowned archaeologist Nelson Glueck put it like this: “It may be stated categorically
that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of
archaeological findings have been made which conform in clear outline or exact detail historical
statements in the Bible” (1959, p. 31).
Considering the fact that the land of Palestine in the days of the New Testament writers tossed
and turned on a sea of political, economical, and social unrest, I would say that its historical
accuracy is pretty amazing. But please remember, this argument is not being used in this
discussion to claim that the New Testament is inspired (although some have used it in this way
quite effectively). It is inserted at this point in the discussion to show that the books that
discuss the Resurrection the most have proven to be true when confronted with any checkable fact.
Travel to the Holy Lands and see for yourself if you doubt New Testament accuracy. Carry with you
an honest, open mind and a New Testament, and I assure you that you will respect the New Testament
writers as accurate historians.
ON SUPPOSED CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN THE GOSPELS
So, maybe the New Testament documents are accurate when they discuss historical and
geographical information. But what about all the alleged contradictions between the Gospel
accounts of the Resurrection? Charles Templeton, in his book Farewell to God, devoted
several pages to comparisons among the statements from the four Gospels, at the end of which he
stated: “The entire resurrection story is not credible” (1996, p. 122). Another well-known preacher-turned-skeptic, Dan Barker, delights in attempting to find contradictions in the
different accounts of the resurrection. In his book Loosing Faith in Faith, he filled seven
pages with a list of “contradictions” that he found among the narratives. Eventually he
stated: “Christians, either tell me exactly what happened on Easter Sunday, or let’s
leave the Jesus myth buried...” (1992, p. 181) Interestingly, it should be noted that the
fact that Barker asks for “exact” details about a day in ancient history that happened
almost 2,000 years ago speaks loudly of the legitimacy of the resurrection story. Since no other
day in ancient history could ever be examined with such scrutiny. Historians today cannot tell
“exactly” what happened on July 4, 1776 or April 12, 1861, but Christians are asked to
give the “exact” details of Christ’s resurrection? Furthermore, these requested
details can be (and have been) supplied by the Gospel writers—without contradiction.
Let’s examine the evidence.
HEAD ON COLLUSION
Collusion: “A secret agreement between two or more parties for a fraudulent, illegal, or
deceitful purpose” (page 363, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language, fourth edition, 2000, p. 363). Even if we have not heard the word before, most of us
understand the situation it describes. Suppose four bank robbers don their nylon-hose masks, rob
the city bank, stash the cash away in a nearby cave, and each go back to his own house until the
police search blows over. The first robber hears a knock on his door. He opens it to find a
policeman who “just wants to ask him a few questions.” The officer asks, “Where
were you and what where you doing on the night of June 1, 2001?” The thief promptly answers,
“I was at Joe Smith’s house watching television with three other friends.” The
policeman gets the three friends’ names and addresses and visits each one of their homes.
Every robber tells the exact same story. Was it true? Absolutely not! But did the stories all
sound exactly the same, with seemingly no contradictions? Yes.
Now, let’s fit this principle into our discussion of the resurrection narratives. If every
single narrative describing the resurrection sounded exactly the same, what do you think would be
said about the narratives? “They must have copied each other.” In fact, in other areas
of Christ’s life besides the resurrection story, when the books of Matthew and Luke give the
same information as the book of Mark, many people today claim that they must have copied Mark,
because it is thought to be the earliest of the three books. Another raging question in
today’s upper echelons of biblical scholarship is whether Peter copied Jude in 2 Peter
2:4-17, or whether Jude copied Peter, because the two segments of scripture sound so similar.
Amazingly, however, the Bible has not left the prospect of collusion open to the resurrection
narratives. Indeed, legitimately it cannot be denied that the resurrection accounts come to us
from various independent sources. Tad S. Clements, in his book Science Versus Religion
, vigorously denied that there is enough evidence to believe in the resurrection. However, he
acknowledged: “There isn’t merely one account of Christ’s resurrection but rather
an embarrassing multitude of stories that disagree in significant respects” (1990, p. 193).
And he makes it clear that the Gospels are separate accounts of the same story. Dan Barker
admitted the same when he boldly stated: “Since Easter [the resurrection story—KB] is told by five different writers, it gives one of the best chances to
confirm or disconfirm the account. Christians should welcome the opportunity” (1992, p. 179).
One door, which everyone involved in the resurrection discussion admits has been locked forever by
the resurrection accounts, is the dead-bolted door of collusion.
DEALING WITH “DISCREPANCIES”
Of course it will not be possible, in these few paragraphs, to deal with every alleged
discrepancy between the resurrection accounts. But some helpful principles will be set forth that
can be used to show that no genuine contradiction between the resurrection narratives has been
Addition Does Not a Contradiction Make
Suppose a man is telling a story about the time he and his wife went shopping at the mall. The
man mentions all the great places in the mall to buy hunting supplies and cinnamon rolls. But the
wife tells about the same shopping trip, yet mentions only the places to buy clothes. Is there a
contradiction just because the wife mentions clothing stores while the husband mentions only
cinnamon rolls and hunting supplies? No. They are simply adding to (or supplementing) each
other’s story to make it more complete. That happens in the resurrection accounts quite
For example, the Gospel of Matthew names “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” as women
who visited the tomb early on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1). Mark cites Mary Magdalene,
Mary the mother of James, and Salome as the callers (Mark 16:1). Luke mentions Mary Magdalene,
Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the other women” (Luke 24:10). Yet John mentions
Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb early on Sunday (John 20:1). (Dan Barker cites these different
names as discrepancies and contradictions on page 182 of his book.) Do these different lists
contradict one another? No, not in any way. They are supplementary, adding names to make the list
more complete. But they are not contradictory. If John had said “only Mary Magdalene
visited the tomb,” or if Matthew stated, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the
only women to visit the tomb,” then there would be a contradiction. As it stands, no
contradiction occurs. To further illustrate this point, suppose that you have 10 one-dollar bills
in your pocket. Someone comes up to you and asks, “Do you have a dollar bill in your
pocket?” Naturally, you respond in the affirmative. Suppose another person asks, “Do you
have five dollars in your pocket?,” and again you say yes. Finally, another person asks,
“Do you have ten dollars in your pocket?” and you say yes for the third time. Did you
tell the truth every time? Yes. Were any of your answers contradictory? No. Were all three
statements about the contents of your pockets different? Yes—supplementation not
Also fitting into this supplementation discussion are the angels, men, and young man described
in the different resurrection accounts. Two “problems” arise with the entrance of the
“holy heralds” at the empty tomb of Christ. First, how many were there? Second, were
they angels or men? Since the former question deals with supplementation, we will discuss it
first. The account in Matthew cites “an angel of the Lord who descended from heaven” and
whose “appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (28:2-5). Mark’s
account presents a slightly different picture of “a young man sitting on the ride side,
arrayed in a white robe” (16:5). But Luke mentions that “two men stood by them [the
women—KB] in dazzling apparel” (24:4). And, finally, John
writes about “two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the
body of Jesus had lain” (20:12). Do any of these accounts contradict any of the others as to
the number of men or angels at the tomb? Factoring in the supplementation rule, we must
answer, “No.” Although the accounts are quite different, they are not contradictory as
to the number of messengers. Mark does not mention “only a young man,” nor does
Luke say there were “exactly two angels, no less or no more.” Was there one
messenger at the tomb? Yes. Were two there as well, Yes. No contradiction here.
The second question concerning the messengers is their identity: Were they angels or were they
men? Most people who are familiar with the Old Testament have no problem answering this question.
Genesis chapters 18 and 19 mention three men who came to visit Abraham and Sarah. These men stay
for a short time, and then two of them continued on to visit the city of Sodom. Yet the Bible
tells us in the first verse of Genesis 19 that these “men” were actually angels. But
when the men of Sodom came to do violence to these angels, the city dwellers asked: “Where
are the men that came in to thee this night” (Genesis 19:5). Throughout the two chapters, the
messengers are referred to as men and as angels with equal accuracy. They looked like, talked
like, walked like, and sounded like men. Were they men? Yes. Were they angels? Yes.
To illustrate, suppose you saw a man sit down at a park bench and take off his right shoe. As
you watched, he began to pull out an antenna from the toe of the shoe and a number pad from the
heel. He proceeded to dial a number and began to talk to someone over his “shoe phone.”
If you were going to write down what you saw, could you accurately say that the man dialed a
number on his shoe? Yes. Could you say that he dialed a number on his phone? Indeed you could. The
shoe had a heel, a sole, a toe, and everything else germane to a shoe, but it was much more than a
shoe. In the same way, the messengers at the tomb would accurately be described as men—they
had a head held in place by a neck, perched on two shoulders, a body complete with arms and legs,
etc. Thus, they were men, but they were much more than men, so they were just as accurately
described as angels, holy messengers sent from God to deliver an announcement to certain people.
Taking into account the fact that the Old Testament often uses the term “men” to
describe angels, it is fairly easy to show that no contradiction exists concerning the identity of
Perspective Plays a Part
What we continue to see in the independent resurrection narratives is not contradiction, but
merely a difference in perspective. For instance, suppose a man had a 4x6-inch index card that was
solid red on one side and solid white on the other. Further suppose that he stood in front of a
large crowd, asked all the men to close their eyes, showed the women in the audience the red side
of the card, and then had them write down what they saw. Suppose, further, that he had all the
women close their eyes, showed the men the white side of the card, and had them write down what
they saw. One group saw a red card, and one group saw a white card. When their answers are
compared, it looks at first like they are contradictory, yet they are not. The reason the
descriptions look contradictory is because the two groups had a different perspective, each
looking at a different side of the card. The perspective phenomenon plays a big part in everyday
life. In the same way that no two witnesses ever see a car accident the exact same way, none of
the witnesses of the resurrected Jesus saw the activities from the same angle as the others.
I have not dealt with every alleged discrepancy in the resurrection accounts in this section.
However, I have discussed some of the major ones that can be shown to be supplementation or items
viewed from a difference of perspective. An honest study of the remaining “problems”
reveals that not a single legitimate contradiction exists among the narratives—they are
different, but they are not contradictory. Furthermore, the differences prove that no collusion
took place, and instead offer the diversity that would be expected from different individuals
relating the same event.
Barker, Dan (1992), Loosing Faith in Faith (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion
Clements, Tad S. (1990), Science vs. Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Glueck, Nelson (1959), Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (New York: Farrar,
Strauss, and Cudahy).
Ramsay, William (1915), The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New
Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975 reprint).
Templeton, Charles (1996), Farewell to God (Ontario, Canada: McClelland and Stewart).