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A-Week: Testimony of the Evangelists: Contradictory Gospels: Part 2

Continuing my posts about The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf...

He writes very long sentences with many subclauses, as lawyers do, so quoting him succinctly is difficult. In order to make things more readable, I will omit some of the subclauses by using ellipsis but not change the content or intention of the statement.

Regarding the authenticity and authority of the copies of the gospels passed down throughout time, he has this to say:

The persons ... who multiplied these copies, may be regarded ... as the agents of the Christian public ...; and on the ground of the credit due to such agents ... the copies thus made are entitled to an extraordinary degree of confidence, and ... it is not neccessary that they should be confirmed and sanctioned by the ordinary tests of truth. pg 17 (emphasis mine)

Sorry, no. I can't speak to whether or not modern law would accept such a claim, but any claim of "it is not neccessary that they should be confirmed and sanctioned by the ordinary tests of truth" should be immediately rejected. No claim is above the need for confirmation. If you demand that the truth of your claims should not be submitted to "ordinary tests of truth" then I'm going to assume you're lying. If your claims CAN stand up to "ordinary claims of truth" then you should have no problems with them being tested. Evidence is something subjected to tests of truth. Just because an item or account can be admitted into a court case does not make it true. All evidence submitted to the court is, and should be, evaluated for its truth-value by the judge, jury, etc.

Greenleaf goes on to say...

... it is quite erroneous to suppose that the Christian is bound to offer any further proof of their genuineness or authenticity. It is for the objector to show them spurious; for on him, by plainest rules of law, lies the burden of proof. pg 18

Ok, if you say so. I can provide others, but here's a good example, Luke 2:1-7:

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Everyone knows this story, right? Couple of problems...

First, Quirinius didn't become the Governor of Syria until 6/7 AD which is when the so-named Census of Quirinius was performed. So, this means either Jesus was 6/7 years old at the time of the census that supposedly preceeded his birth... or the year numbering on the calendar is wrong. For a moment, let's assume the year numbering is wrong.

The "Anno Domini" year numbering that we use today was based on the words of Dionysius in what is now known as 525 AD. How he came to that number we really don't know, so the most likely explanation is that he simply guessed or did the math wrong and should have put 1 AD a few years later so that it lined up properly with the census.

Problem not resolved...

Let's review a few more points of history and of Bible Story:

As we all know from the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus was born, King Herod found out that a new King had been born among the Jews and ordered the deaths of all of the children in and around Bethlehem under 2 years of age.

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."


16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.


19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

To recap:
- Jesus was born.
- King Herod slaughtered all the infants in Bethlehem.
- King Herod dies.
- Archelaus, Herod's son, reigns over Judea.
- Archelaus is banished when Rome takes over direct rule and places Quirinius in charge.
- Quirinius institutes a census in Judea, etc.

The numbering on our calendar may have shifted incorrectly one way or the other (maybe 1 AD should be 7 AD), but these events are all able to be compared by their relative times. Regardless of which number we put on the year, we still know that some things happened before other things.

The problem:

The Gospel of Matthew says Jesus was born in the time of King Herod who died in 4 BC (according to our current numbering).
The Gospel of Luke says Jesus was born in the time of Quirinius' reign as Governor which took place in 6/7 AD according to our current numbering).

Regardless of what numbers you place on what years, Herod came before Archelaus who came before Quirinius. Both stories cannot be true.

It is for the objector to show them spurious; for on him, by plainest rules of law, lies the burden of proof. pg 18


Continue to Part 3...

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