© R. Paul Buchman 2010




Apologists sometimes use the following methods to validate their arguments. The skeptic must be aware of these tactics, and be alert as s/he reads apologists' attempted conflict resolutions.



One of the most common tactics that apologists use is the "just so" or ad hoc explanation. This type of explanation is simply made up out the apologist's imagination, for no reason other than to resolve a contradiction or discrepancy. The usual rationale for it is that the explanation is "possible," or events "could have" happened a certain way. Yes, as we all know, anything is possible. However, in the absence of corroborating evidence, "possible" or "could have" by itself is not sufficient to resolve a problem. To serve as a plausible explanation, there must be some reason to think that an explanation is true. In many cases, such an explanation cannot be verified or falsified. Therefore it is a fallacy and has no value.



The Gospel authors did not necessarily record all events in chronological order. So, conflicts between two Gospels based upon differing sequences of events may not be conflicts at all. It's also the case that verses which relate a person's offspring don't always list them in their birth order. That can be confusing, but it happens.

Consider the following:

GEN 6:10  And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

GEN 10:21  Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.

GEN 6:10 lists Shem first among Noah's three sons, but GEN 10:21 refers to Japheth as Shem's elder brother. In this case it's obvious that GEN 6:10 does not list Noah's sons in birth order. If an apologist uses the "out of order" explanation to resolve a discrepancy, the skeptic should look at the context to try to verify that explanation. If evidence in the context is lacking, sometimes a Bible search can help. There should be something in the text, or in the historical context, to support such a claim. Sometimes an apologist will refer to the earlier of out of sequence verses as "anticipation," which to me sounds like bs.



Bible authors did not necessarily record every event that occurred. An apparent error of omission does not automatically constitute a conflict with one or more other verses in which an event does appear. I agree with this, as far as it goes. Consider the following example (an apologist's explanation follows the Bible verses).

"69. The infant Christ was taken into Egypt [Matt 2:14,15,19,21,23]
The infant Christ was not taken into Egypt [Luke 2:22, 39]

"Since the Gospels are not comprehensive accounts (intended to omit no detail whatsoever) we should not be surprised that stuff is mentioned in one Gospel that is not in another, and even that in different versions of the same story characters are mentioned in one version that are not mentioned in another and event B is mentioned as intervening between A and C in one account but not in another. Each Gospel is an incomplete picture of the facts and the truth is found by pooling the input of all of them.
"So if Mark does not mention the flight into Egypt and the flight really happened, then Mark is incomplete but not necessarily in error or contradictory.
"The reasons why the evangelists highlighted some events and not others (redaction criticism) is of course a legitimate area of research and compatible with a belief in biblical inerrancy." [from: http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/DefendingTheGospels.htm ]

"Luke does not say that the infant was not taken into Egypt, as neither account is exhaustive (those who look for contradictions often overlook the fact that Biblical accounts are rarely exhaustive in their scope). We can easily harmonize the accounts as follows:
"Journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem; birth of the child; presentation in the Temple; return to Bethlehem; visit of the Magi; flight into Egypt; return to settle in Nazareth." [from: http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/bible.htm ]

As it happens, the Bible shows that the second apologist is wrong in this case. If you read further in Luke, you learn that Joseph took his family to Galilee right after the temple ritual:

LUK 2:21-22, And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, who was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; ... 39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

Luke doesn't mention the flight into Egypt because in his version of events Joseph went directly from the temple to Galilee. So this really is a contradiction. This is an excellent example of a case in which saying that events could have taken place in such-and-such a way is insufficient to resolve the contradiction.

Another apologist, anticipating the counter-argument based on LUK 21:39, goes even farther. He says that, yes, Joseph took his family to Nazareth after the temple ceremony. Then they went to Egypt! To that I would say (besides "You have a vivid imagination!"), there is still good reason to doubt the apologist's interpretation.

It's not just the flight into Egypt that is mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke. The reason for the flight into Egypt was to avoid Herod's wrath, which in Matthew included killing all the children in Bethlehem two years old and younger. However, neither the flight into Egypt nor Herod's killing of the babies is mentioned in Mark, Luke, or John. Matthew is the only Gospel which mentions either event. Moreover, after Herod's death Joseph decided to avoid his hometown of Bethlehem* and reestablish himself in Galilee, because one of Herod's sons ruled in Bethlehem. So, the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt cause Jesus to grow up in Galilee rather than in Judea.

Some events are more critical to a story than others. The events under consideration here are, I submit, very important parts of Jesus' life and not just incidental. If they occurred, I think it's reasonable to believe that they would have been mentioned in any story of Jesus' life. On this basis, I would conclude that the story in Luke does indeed conflict with the other Gospels on this point. The skeptic should not stop critiquing an apologist's explanation just because the first place s/he looked did not settle the issue.

*Matthew gives no reason for Joseph and his family being in Bethlehem, so it's reasonable to assume that they lived there. Furthermore, Matthew writes the following:

MAT 2:21  And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22  But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

The words of Matthew 2:23 do not read as if Joseph were returning to his home. Luke 2:39 (quoted above) says that "they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth." This is another contradiction between Matthew and Luke within the same story.



This is used by inerrantists who are not also literalists, and is often applied to conflicts involving numbers of things. "Rounding" is also used to explain cases of numeric discrepancies. Even if the apologist is correct about the source of the difference, the received text does in fact contain a conflict. It is not known (and cannot now be known) whether the original text also contained that conflict.



According to certain apologists, leaving out generations in a genealogy can be due to "telescoping" in order to make a group of generations conform to a preferred number, such as fourteen. Another tactic is to claim that, in a particular case, "son of" refers to any previous male ancestor.

"30. Was Joram (Matthew 1:8) or Amaziah (2 Chronicles 26:1) the father of Uzziah?
"(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

"This answer is of a similar nature to that in #24. Just as the Hebrew bat (daughter) can be used to denote a more distant descendant, so can the Hebrew ben (son). Jesus is referred to in Matthew 1:1 as the son of David, the son of Abraham. Both the genealogies trace Jesus' ancestry through both these men, illustrating the usage of 'son'. Although no Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew's gospel are extant today, it is clear that he was a Jew writing from a Hebrew perspective and therefore completely at home with the Hebrew concept of son ship.

"With this in mind, it can easily be shown that Amaziah was the immediate father of Uzziah (also called Azariah). Joram/Jehoram, on the other hand, was Uzziah's great-great-grandfather and a direct ascendant. The line goes Joram/Jehoram - Ahaziah - Joash - Amaziah - Azariah/Uzziah (2 Chronicles 21:4-26:1).

"Matthew's telescoping of Joseph's genealogy is quite acceptable, as his purpose is simply to show the route of descent. He comments in 1:17 that there were three sets of fourteen generations. This reveals his fondness for numbers and links in directly with the designation of Jesus as the son of David. In the Hebrew language, each letter is given a value. The total value of the name David is fourteen and this is probably the reason why Matthew only records fourteen generations in each section, to underline Jesus' position as the son of David." [from: http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm ]

It is true that there are instances in the Bible where the usage of "son of" refers to someone much further back than the immediate father, but how is the reader supposed to decide which meaning of "son of" the author intended? Sometimes you can infer the meaning from the context, but not always.

Looking at MAT 1:11 ("And Josias begat Jechonias") we see that it was Jehoiakim who was "telescoped" out of the genealogy. The correct lineage is Josias > Jehoiakim > Jechonias. The apologist admits that this is the case. He then goes on to say, "This is quite acceptable and results from Matthew's aesthetic telescoping of the genealogy, not from any error."

Rather than telescoping the generations "aesthetically" in order to hit the number fourteen, I think it's more likely that Matthew was trying to hide Jeohoiakim's place in Jesus' lineage. That's because God cursed Jehoiakim, saying that no descendant of his would ever sit upon the throne of David (JER 36:30). Because Jehoiakim's son Jeconiah did sit on the throne of Judah, God's prophecy turned out to be false. No wonder Matthew "telescoped" Jehoiakim out of Jesus' family tree!

Telescoping may explain an omission, but for a literalist, it does not eliminate the discrepancy. Besides, genealogies are supposed to be factual.



Sometimes an apologist will justify an interpretation for a certain reason. In another case, which looks as if the same reason should apply, the apologist reverses himself.

Example 1. Switching the responsibility

135. The chief priests / Judas bought the potter's field. [B, 80]
MAT 27:6-8, "...
the chief priests took the silver pieces, ... and bought with them the potter's field."
ACT 1:16-19, "...
Judas, ... purchased a field with the reward of iniquity;"

  "Perhaps here, the following maxim holds: 'He who does a thing by another, does it himself.'" [from: http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/bible.htm ]

So this apologist holds that "perhaps" the correct reading of both verses is that Judas bought the field indirectly in the first case and directly in the second, so there is no contradiction. 

Now consider this one:

506. God does / does not lie or approve of lying. [B, 20; H, 98, 290]
NUM 23:19,
God is not a man, that he should lie;
1KIN 22:21-22, And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And
he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.

This time the apologist says, "Here, of course, God does not lie directly nor approve of lying." In 1KIN 22:22 God "does a thing by another," the same as in the previous example of Judas indirectly buying the potter's field. But this time the apologist insists that God did not approve lying, because he did not do it directly. It's obvious that he is using a double standard. It's also obvious from the text that God did in fact approve the lie.

Example 2. Burden of proof

"Was the Evangelist Luke the same one who knew Paul? According to parsimony the burden of proof is on those who postulate two Lukes instead of one." [from: http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/DefendingTheGospels.htm ]

In a different place, the same apologist wrote,

"Josephus relates that Theudas of Galilee came after Judas the Galilean not before him as Acts 5 suggests. There may have been two Theudases."

Again, the apologist applies a double standard. In the second instance, the apologist violates the parsimony he advocated in the previous one. He reverses himself to make the interpretations "come out right." Which standard applies is determined by which one helps the apologist's case, rather than plausibility or probability.



In some cases an apologist will say that the original Greek or (Hebrew) word(s) supports their interpretation, and that trumps the translation. I am not competent to have an opinion about that. But, when modern translations by Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish translators all agree with the KJV (as in this case), I tend to discount the apologist's interpretation. Sometimes the skeptic can also use Strong's Concordance to advantage, as in the following example.

54. Keturah was Abraham's wife / concubine. [B, 94]
GEN 25:1, Then again Abraham took a
wife, and her name was Keturah.
1CHR 1:32, Now the sons of Keturah, Abraham's

One apologist wrote: "The word translated as 'wife' in the KJV is 'ishshah', which means 'woman'. So Keturah was both a woman and a concubine. Not a contradiction." [from kingdavid8.com]

I looked up the word translated "wife" in Strong's Concordance. It said that it means "woman" when in relation to "man," and it means "wife" when in relation to "husband." Husband is not mentioned in this example, but note that Genesis 25:1 says " Then again Abraham took a wife...." I think the word "again" is important here, because earlier in Genesis 23:1-2 we are told that Sarah, Abraham's wife, died. So "again" taking a wife makes perfect sense here. I still think this is a contradiction.


ONE PERSON, TWO NAMES (or Two People, One Name)

When names for the same person differ in two descriptions of the same event, the apologist will often say that the person in question probably used both names, even when there is nothing in the text to support that.

One Person, Two names

"67. Was the tenth disciple of Jesus in the list of twelve Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19) or Judas, son of James (Luke 6:12-16)?
"(Category: misunderstood the historical context)
"Both can be correct. It was not unusual for people of this time to use more than one name. Simon, or Cephas was also called Peter (Mark 3:16), and Saul was also called Paul (Acts 13:9). In neither case is there a suggestion that either was used exclusively before changing to the other. Their two names were interchangeable." [from:
http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm ]

Obviously, it is true that both can be correct. But is such an interpretation justified? Here are the verses in question:

MAT 10:2-4, Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
LUK 6:13  And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; 14 Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, 15 Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, 16 And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.

The Judas referred to in Luke 6:16 was always referred to as "the brother of James" in the New Testament. There is no verse which refers to him as Judas Thaddeus, or Judas the brother of Lebbaeus. Nor is James ever referred to as James Thaddeus or brother of Lebbaeus. Why should we think that the apologist's interpretation is correct? Just because sometimes biblical characters are called by two names? I don't think so.

Two People, One Name

585. The Zechariah stoned at the temple was the son of Jehoiada / Barachias.
2CHR 24:2, And
Joash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest.... 20, And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah* the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. 21 And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD.
ZEC 1:1, In the eighth month,
in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah,** the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying....
MAT 23:35, That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of
Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

"... there is an assumption by the questioner that the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 is the same Zechariah as mentioned in Matthew 23:35. Both were put to death in the temple, which perhaps gives credence to the thought that they are the same man, but it certainly is not conclusive proof. It is certainly possible that more than one person by the name of Zechariah was put to death in the temple by the Jews. Some have supposed that the Zechariah listed in Matthew 23 is the prophet, though no account is given in Scripture of his death. Whether it is one of these explanations or perhaps another, the contradiction is answerable. There is no contradiction." [from: Answering The Atheist, September 26, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 39 at http://lookinguntojesus.net/answering.htm ] [Emphasis mine. - p.b.]

*The stoning of this Zechariah occurred during the reign of Joash, King of Judah, many years before the Babylonian exile.
**This Zechariah lived when the Persian Darius ruled, which was after the exile.

Yes, there are two different priests named Zechariah in the 2CHR and ZEC verses cited above. The problem is that Matthew confuses them by fusing facts about both in a verse about one. According to 2CHR, the Zechariah of Joash's time (son of Jehoiada) was killed in the temple. There is no mention in the Bible of the death of the post-exilic Zechariah (son of Barachias). So there is no textual basis to support the possibility that both Zechariahs in question were killed in the temple. (Note: There are many other Zechariahs mentioned in the Bible also.)

[SEE ALSO: EZR 5:1,5 & ZEC 1:1,7 & NEH 12:12.]



Sometimes when two or more descriptions of an event conflict, an apologist will claim that they refer to different events. The following example includes an apologist's explanation following the Bible verses

"8. Did the chief of the mighty men of David lift up his spear and kill 800 men (2 Samuel 23:8) or only 300 men (1 Chronicles 11:11)?
"(Category: misunderstood the historical context or misunderstood the author's intent)
"It is quite possible that both authors may have described
two different incidents, though by the same man, or one author may have only mentioned in part what the other author mentions in full. (Light of Life II 1992:187)" [from: http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm ] [Emphasis mine. - p.b.]

Yes, it's possible, but is there any reason to think so? It bears repeating that "possible" and "may have" by themselves are insufficient to resolve a contradiction. Often an apologist will offer a possibility, then confidently conclude that "there is no contradiction." That is not a good argument. Sometimes the apologist is correct, other times not. The skeptic should check the context of both to try to determine the truth of the matter.



Yet another tactic is to play off Jesus' supposed "dual nature" to resolve scriptural differences. When Jesus apparently has not the power to do something, then the Bible verse is referring to his human nature. When he performs miracles, the Bible is of course referring to Jesus' divine nature. This dual nature residing in one bodily form is very convenient for apologists, for it allows them to reconcile the otherwise irreconcilable. Unfortunately for everyone, this dual nature is an inexplicable mystery. Here is an example.

Mark 11:12  And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry,: 13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. 14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

In Mark 11:12-14 Jesus was hungry, and yet could not feed himself. But previously, in Mark 6:41, Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. (These incidents are repeated in Matthew 14:18-21 and 21:18-19.) How can this be reconciled?

"The account of the fig tree in Mark 11 is a clear illustration of the nature of Jesus. Jesus was hungry and he was able to see a fig tree in the distance. He perceived it had leaves and He went to see "if perhaps He would find something on it." If Jesus was all deity he would not have been hungry nor would he have had to go over to the fig tree to determine if it had any fruit on it or not. His humanity demanded he be fed and he walk to the tree to examine it. His deity or power is shown when He found no fruit on the tree he cursed the tree and it withered. Man could not do that by mere words." [from: http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-mark-11-12-21.htm ] [Emphasis mine. - p.b.]

It seems to me that if Jesus could switch back and forth between his two natures so quickly and easily, he could have produced some fruit on the spot.

Editorial: One nature, or two? The notion that Jesus had two natures in one body is not easy to understand. What's harder to understand is why so many people fought to the death over this issue. For centuries after the first Council of Nicaea in 325, proponents of one nature ("Monophysites") fought those who said that Jesus had two natures. Sometimes even the emperor would take sides, and when a different emperor took the throne there was often a reversal. Today's orthodoxy is an accident of history and easily could have been one nature rather than two. For a good history of this issue, read Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins. To maintain that you know the nature of an infinite God is vain and laughable. That so many people were killed over differences about the true nature of an imaginary being is tragic.

* * * * *


As mentioned in the Introduction, apologists sometimes disagree with each other about how to resolve a conflict or discrepancy.

Example 1.

Was Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:23) or in Pilate's court (John 19:14) at the sixth hour on the day of the crucifixion?

Two apologists agree that the gospels in question used different systems of time measurement, but they disagree about what those systems were.

Apologist #1:
"The simple answer to this is that the synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) employed a different system of numbering the hours of day to that used by John. The synoptics use the traditional Hebrew system, where the hours were numbered from sunrise (approximately 6:00am in modern reckoning), making the crucifixion about 9:00am, the third hour by this system.
"John, on the other hand, uses the Roman civil day. This reckoned the day from midnight to midnight, as we do today. Pliny the Elder (Natural History 2.77) and Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.3) both tell us as much. Thus, by the Roman system employed by John, Jesus' trial by night was in its end stages by the sixth hour (6:00am), which was the first hour of the Hebrew reckoning used in the synoptics. Between this point and the crucifixion, Jesus underwent a brutal flogging and was repeatedly mocked and beaten by the soldiers in the Praetorium (Mark 15:16-20). The crucifixion itself occurred at the third hour in the Hebrew reckoning, which is the ninth in the Roman, or 9:00am by our modern thinking." [from: http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm ; citing Archer 1994:363-364]
Apologist #2:
"Jesus was affixed to the Cross (crucified) shortly before the sixth hour or 12 noon. When Mark describes him as being crucified at the third hour, the third hour is a reference to the QUARTER that starts with the third hour (9-12 am). This 'quarter' system is reflected in the monastic system of 'hours' of prayer at three-hour intervals: Prime, Terce, Sext and None. Jesus died at the ninth hour or 3 pm." [By John McClymont, from: http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/DefendingTheGospels.htm ]


Example 2.

This example is from John W. Haley, An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, p. 167.]

Is man justified by faith (Romans 3:20, 4:2; Galatians 2:16, 3:11-12) or works (James 2:24)?
Haley says: "There is no collision between Paul and James. They merely present different aspects or relations of the same great truth. Paul is arguing self-righteous religionists, who rely for salvation upon external morality, upon mere works; James addresses those who maintain that, provided a man's belief is correct, it matters little what his conduct is." [I don't think that this is what James is saying here. - p.b.]
Haley then quotes other apologists.

Is everything all clear now?