Trusting the Bible

The Gospel of Mark.

When it comes to the dating of the four Gospels, that of Mark, the briefest of the four, has traditionally been accepted as being the first written—in the fifties or early sixties.  Some, however, account Matthew as the first, putting his authorship in the early fifties.

In 1955, nineteen fragments of written papyrus material (in the Greek language) were recovered from a cave in the Qumran area on the western coast of the Dead Sea, and at that time were considered to be more fragments of the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament.  Little was done until 1962, when one fragment was identified from Exodus, and another one from the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah.  The remaining 17 fragments were dated ‘no later than 50AD’, and put aside, assuming them to be further fragments from the Septuagint.  But in 1972 the largest piece (now identified as 7Q5—ie., Cave 7, Qumrun, piece 5) was recog-nised as four separate lines coming from Mark 6:52-53.  Twelve separate words were recognisable.  Three more of those fragments were subsequently identified as coming from Mark’s Gospel. This finding, therefore, established that Mark’s Gospel was in existence by the year 50AD.  This puts the Gospel within twenty years of the date of the crucifixion of Jesus.  This means that Mark’s basic text was in the hands of the people in that area as early as 50AD, and had to meet the critical scrutiny and comment of eyewitnesses. The Romans were still there at that time, and, along with the Jews, had Mark’s report been anything but accurate, it would not have survived.  Christ’s first followers must have accepted it as trustworthy history.

And for this reason, so do I today.

But, even apart from the issue of when the Gospels were written, or the possibility of contrived records, how did the writer of Psalm 22 become aware of the Roman method of crucifixion?  The Roman Empire only began when the Greek empire was overthrown in BC63.  This was 200 years after the Septuagint was translated, the latest possible time for the writing of Psalm 22.  Yet that Psalm was already in the Hebrew Old Testament, which had been established about 200 years prior to the Septuagint.  How did the writer know about crucifixion as a future method of killing?

There is only one answer—God provided the information to the writer of Psalm 22.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  2 Timothy 3:16

For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:21

Bible Disharmony?

What about the discrepancies that are pointed out by those who attempt to discredit the authority of the Bible?  If the Bible message came through those who were ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’, how is it that some parts appear to contradict themselves?  For example, from consecutive verses in the book of Proverbs we have:“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Proverbs 26:4, 5

Although these statements are opposites, there is an obvious truth in each statement.  From the first, it is plain that we should not stoop to the fool’s level, but we recognise that sometimes folly must be plainly exposed and denounced.  So in real terms, there is no conflict—both sayings are true, though opposite.

Some specific details may vary between two accounts of the same event, but can be explained by the two writers having differing perception of, or angles on, the same event.  Take, for instance, the comment made in 1 Corinthians 10 concerning the occasion when the nation of Israel committed fornication in the wilderness.

We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.”  1 Corinthians 10:8

Now the record of the event is provided in Numbers 25:9.

Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000

Here there is a ‘discrepancy’ of 1000 people, which some critics love to highlight.  But the difference is accounted in the two records: the Numbers record clearly reads as the total number who perished, whereas the New Testament writer (who would have been familiar with the Old Testament account) specifically states the number that died within a 24-hour period.  Obviously, one thousand survived passed the first day, but died subsequently.  We see, therefore, that there is no real discrepancy between the accounts.

Another apparent discrepancy is claimed in the writing on the Cross—the Gospel records each provide different wording:

  • Matthew   “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”  (Matthew 27:37)
  • Mark          “The King of the Jews”  (Mark 15:26)
  • Luke           “This is the King of the Jews”  (Luke 23:38)
  • John           “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”  (John 19:19)

The record of John states,
Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.”  John 19:20

It is very likely that the above variants arise from the language (or language combination) selected by the Gospel writer.  What is more valuable than the apparent differences in this example, is the fact that each of the four writers states that there was a sign affixed to the cross, and that there was a message on it.  A real discrepancy would arise had one or more of the writers claimed that there was no message fixed to the cross!

It has been claimed that a discrepancy exists in the accounts of the number of angels that were in Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection.  Mary saw two angels (John 20:12),  ‘the women’ saw two  (Luke 23:55; 24:4), but in Mark 16:5 the named women saw only one angel.  But a check between these verses reveals that the inspections of the tomb were on three separate occasions, and there is nothing to say that two were present all the time, and that one may have been temporarily absent.

Obviously, to those who wish to denigrate the Bible, such ‘discrepancies’ can be found in many areas.  They do not, however, diminish the Bible account in any way, since they are not valid discrepancies in the first place.

What remains as an undeniable fact, is the extraordinary harmony that exists in a collaboration of so many writers over such a long period of time.  It is proof of its Divine authorship.

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    Phillip Alexander
    Phillip Alexander

    John 17:17 Jesus said
    sanctify them in Thy truth, Thy word is truth;