I became a Christian when I was seventeen, and it was a powerful experience for me. I am not sure that I ever doubted the existence of a God, but I certainly doubted that if he did exist then he was a God of love. Well at seventeen I encountered the God of love written about in the Bible and I was smitten. I wanted to live the rest of my life for him!
I had already been reading the Bible. Being a very logical person, I had decided that if God existed then I would be stupid to ignore him, so I had begun reading the Bible in an effort to find out more about him. The family Bible was in very old-fashioned language, so when the friends who had introduced me to Jesus gave me a more modern translation I was thrilled. And instead of continuing in the Old Testament, which is where my logical thinking had caused me to start, they encouraged me to read the gospels. Wow, they were great!
Someone probably told me that as a Christian I had to believe that the Bible was without fault, it was infallible, everything written in it was true. That was how I interpreted what they said anyway. That worked well until I started to get to know what was written a little better. Like the fourth or fifth time through the gospels, I began to see some things which I struggled to understand.
My first difficulty was reading about the man who had a whole group of demons cast out of him when he encountered Jesus. They went into a herd of pigs, who then stampeded down a steep slope and fell into some water and drowned. The problem was when I read this story in Matthew there were two demon possessed men, and in Luke and Mark there was only one. I first wondered if there were actually two incidents, one with two demon possessed men and another with just one. But the stories were just too similar for that.
The stories do not bother me now – clearly the oral tradition that Matthew was referring to remembered two men, whilst the other gospels had an oral tradition where there was just one man. Perhaps one of the men was more significant than the other. Whatever the reason it did not interfere with the impact of the story. Yet to a young Christian trying desperately to consider that there were no mistakes in the Bible, this was quite disconcerting. And what was worse was the fact that as I read the gospels through again and again I found more discrepancies. For example, how many women went to the tomb after Jesus had been crucified? How many men or angels did they meet there? Did the disciples meet Jesus in Jerusalem or Galilee or both? Was it the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain. So many gospel stories did not fit together as nicely as I would have liked them to.
Apparently it is not unusual when a group of people watch an accident, or perhaps an attack on an individual, that they remember things differently. A lawyer once informed me that if two testimonies are identical then they seriously consider the people to have colluded. And that clearly is not what we have here with the gospels. The writers did not get together and come up with a story – they reported what they remembered, or what other witnesses remembered. Consequently, the stories are slightly different. The important facts are the same, however. Jesus was tortured and beaten, crucified on a cross, and on the third day he was resurrected. The gospel writers all agree on those facts.
The story around the resurrection has a few discrepancies, however. John’s gospel has Mary Magdalene on her own at the tomb that first Easter Sunday. Matthew has Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Mark includes Salome in the group of women; whilst Luke speaks of a larger group of women. Maybe they were all there, but John, and to a certain extent Mark and Matthew, are more interested in certain people. It does not matter at this point, but I just wanted to make clear that in all probability some of the gospel writers were not one hundred percent accurate in their details. They did not have a video recording of the events that took place. And that is not a problem. They shared what was remembered
We do not need to defend the Bible and make it into something that it is not. It is not a completely accurate historical record, although it contains historical truth. It is not a science textbook, although it contains scientific truth. It is a powerful book, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that shares truth about God and his dealings with people. As Christians we need to be reading it more, studying it, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to us through it.
I love the Bible. I read it every day. I will often read several chapters, and then spend time on one short passage. The Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, so I ask the Holy Spirit to speak life to me as I read. I cannot say that I understand everything that I read, but I do know that as I read it, study it, pray with it, I come closer to the Lord. I would encourage you to read it more too, allowing it to speak into your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the words that you read. If you really believe it is the Word of God then surely you should be reading it more!