When approaching the arguments of those who insist that there are “contradictions in Scripture,” we must start to develop an idea of the pattern we should follow in defusing these claims. Often the real error is a failure on the part of the one claiming to have found a contradiction. This failure can come in several forms, however. One might be a failure to consider the original language behind the translation. At times two statements that seem to conflict might become clearer if we knew that they used different words in the original language, for example. Another problem might be failure to consider the overall context of the passage. Sometimes an author who appears to contradict himself in two different passages might merely be speaking of two entirely different situations. A third failure might be caused by tradition. Many times earnest students of the Bible come to the pages of Scripture with preconceived ideas of what it teaches. Because they think they already know what It says on a subject, they are blinded to what It actually teaches about that subject. Then, upon someone pointing out a contradiction with what they believe and a certain passage, they are confused and upset. But this is not the Scripture contradicting itself, but rather the Scripture contradicting the false ideas of the reader. Nevertheless the Word of God is often blamed for the problem rather than the error on the part of the reader.
In many of these messages on “Contradictions in Scripture,” we have focused on discrepancies between the gospels, and we have started to see that there is a pattern of error that causes these to appear. Often the error stems from making two or more different events to be the same event. One clear example of this may be found in the healing of the blind men of Jericho, given in the three synoptic gospels. Let us examine each of these occurrences in turn and see what we can learn from them. First we will consider Matthew 20:29-34.
29. Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. 30. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”
31. Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”
32. So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
33. They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” 34. So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.
Next is the account in Mark 10:46-52.
46. Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. 47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48. Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49. So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called.
Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”
50. And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.
51. So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”
52. Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
Finally, we consider Luke 18:35-43.
35. Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. 36. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. 37. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39. Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40. So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, 41. saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
42. Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Let us consider the details of the various events in these three gospels, comparing the details in each gospel.
1.) In Matthew, we read of a healing that took place when Jesus was on His way out of Jericho. In Mark, the healing took place when Jesus was departing from Jericho. In Luke, the healing occurred as Jesus was coming near to Jericho.
2.) In Matthew, we read that there were two blind men sitting by the road, in Mark, there was one man on the road out of Jericho named blind Bartimaeus, and in Luke, there was a certain, unnamed blind man.
3.) In Matthew, when they heard that Jesus was coming, they cried, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” In Mark, when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was coming, he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” In Luke, the blind man asked and heard that Jesus was coming, and then cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
4.) In Matthew, the multitude warned them to be quiet, but they only cried out all the more, repeating the exact same phrase. In Mark, many warned Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried all the more, using the same phrase minus the first “Jesus.” In Luke, we read that “those who went before” warned the blind man to be quiet, but he cried out all the more, repeating the same phrase minus the first “Jesus.”
5.) In Matthew, we read that Jesus stood still and called them. In Mark, we read that Jesus commands him to be called, whereupon the crowd (not Jesus) calls Bartimaeus, encouraging him by saying, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.” In Luke, we read that Jesus commands him to be brought to Him. We read of no encouragement on the part of the crowd, but only that the man drew near.
6.) In Matthew, the blind men came to Him, and He asked them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind men replied, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” In Mark, Bartimaeus throws aside his garments and comes to Jesus, at which point He asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” In Luke, we read that Jesus asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
7.) In Matthew at this point, no words of Jesus are recorded. Rather we read that He touched their eyes, and they received sight and followed Him. In Mark, Jesus replied, “Go your way; your faith has made you whole.” Bartimaeus was instantly healed and followed Jesus down the road. In Luke, Jesus again speaks, saying, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” We read that he immediately received his sight and followed the Lord, praising God, along with the people, who praised God as well upon seeing this miracle.
But which of these stories is correct? For we can clearly see that, although all three of these accounts are similar, they are not the same. If there were no claim of divine inspiration, of course, we should quickly accept these minor discrepancies as resulting from the bias of the authors or their poor memories. However, since this is the Holy Scriptures, we know that the very fact of inspiration is at stake here. If these verses contain errors, even the smallest of errors, then we must admit that the words are not the perfect words of God and therefore are not entirely trustworthy. But if they are not trustworthy, then what good are they for bringing salvation? How can we trust the word of God in regards to our salvation, which we cannot check, if we cannot even trust the Bible to get the story straight about one of the Lord’s miracles, which we can check?
But this difficulty will disappear if we will employ the method used in earlier messages to clear away discrepancies in the gospels. If we do this, we will see that not one but three miraculous healings of blind men took place in the vicinity of Jericho that day. Not one or two but four blind men were healed. That there was more than one blind man in a city the size of Jericho is logical and seemingly obvious. Blindness was common in Israel at the time, and some have speculated that up to 10% of the population might eventually have gone blind. That more than one such blind man would be healed during Christ’s journey through the city is not a baseless assumption, but is rather a sensible thing. The Lord Jesus did not have a limited amount of power that He could only heal one blind man a day. No doubt there were many healings of blind men very similar to these three that we do not have recorded in Scripture.
Let us consider each detail outlined above and how it lends itself to this explanation.
1.) The story in Luke took place on the way into Jericho, whereas the other two were on the way out. This alone is enough to show us that the account in Luke must be different from that in Matthew and Mark.
2.) The account in Matthew involved two blind men, whereas the others involved only one. This shows us that the story in Matthew must be different from the story in Mark. From these two items, therefore, we can conclude that all three stories are different, and record the details of a different occasion of healing.
3.) They all asked for mercy, and called upon the Lord Jesus as the Son of David. How could it be that, if these blind men were all different, they all used such similar words in calling for healing from Him? This can easily be explained by the stories of Jesus Christ that were told throughout the land at that time. If you were a crippled person living in that day and you heard of a man who could heal any illness, you would most certainly have listened to any stories that were told about him very closely. The crippled in Israel were often poor, miserable beggars. The economy of the land was so bad that anyone who was not physically fit was almost doomed to a life of poverty. To be blind meant it was impossible to get a job, and beggarhood was the only way to get any income for most afflicted with this infirmity. To hear of a healer who could cure this condition must have shone a ray of hope into the desperate lives of these individuals. No doubt they would have asked eagerly to hear the story of the Lord Jesus healing a blind man, and there was a story widely circulated that they might well have heard. This is the story of the Lord healing two blind men, as we read it in Matthew 9:27-32.
27. When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”
28. And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”
They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”
29. Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” 30. And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it.” 31. But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.
Here is a story that took place long before Christ entered Jericho in Matthew 20 that fits the criteria for a story the blind men of Jericho might have heard perfectly. First of all, the two blind men appealed to Him as the “Son of David,” and asked Him to “have mercy on us.” After appealing to Him this way, they both received their sight. We can well imagine the blind men of Jericho enquiring closely what exactly these blind men had said, and thinking to themselves, “If this Jesus ever comes to my town, I will call out to Him the same way. Perhaps then He will heal my blindness as well!” Thus this story would have been imprinted on the minds of any blind man in Israel who heard it, and no response would have been more immediate on the part of any one of them than to start crying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Moreover, we read in Matthew 9 that, though the Lord commanded them to keep quiet about what had happened, the blind men disobeyed Him, and the story spread in all that country. It might well, then, have gotten around to Jericho, and these blind men all would then have heard it. In the light of such a story going around, it should not surprise us at all that all these blind men would appeal to the Lord the same way as the blind men in the story did. Probably many other blind men did the same thing, based on this same story, when they happened to come into contact with the Lord, though we do not have the stories of their healings recorded in the Scriptures.
4.) Those who were going before, leading the procession for the Lord Jesus, no doubt felt themselves of some importance, leading the parade of such a notable Teacher, and so believed it was their duty to keep order in the crowd and quiet anyone who got out of line. Since they probably continued to travel in front of the crowd, they would not have been aware of what happened when the Lord actually got to the blind men, or that He did not want them to be hushed, so that they would have continued to hush subsequent blind men as they met them seems quite natural. That men who are blind and seeking healing would not give up just because they are shushed is also natural, and hardly needs to be explained to anyone with any empathy at all for what it must have been like to suffer from such an infirmity. That these details would be the same is therefore not at all surprising.
5.) The difference in these details is easily explained by the fact that these are three different stories. The blind men and the crowd do not have to react exactly the same way in each such case, though the situations being similar, similar actions are not surprising. Why would the crowd offer comfort to Bartimaeus but not the man healed in the book of Luke? We can imagine many reasons. Bartimaeus may have been more popular than the other blind man. Maybe those in the crowd who comforted him were his friends, or friends of his family. The unnamed blind man, however, may not have been as popular or as well known (thus our not having his name recorded for us.) Or he may just not have had any friends in the crowd. It could be that those who were in front telling the blind men to be quiet actually got a little closer to the Lord in the case of the healing of Bartimaeus, and heard Him call for him. Therefore, having told him to be quiet initially, they now felt it necessary to comfort him that he was being called by the Lord. In Luke, perhaps they had already passed on by the time He called for the blind man. In Matthew, we have no actions of the crowd recorded at this point, as the Lord apparently drew near enough to call the blind man Himself without the help of the crowd.
6.) The question the Lord Jesus asks in each case is exactly the same. This is obvious, for whereas the blind men were different individuals, our Lord remained the same, and nothing seems more likely than that the same words of God would have been called for in very similar situations. But what of the very similar appeals of the blind men? Of course, they all wanted the same thing, so of course their answers would be similar. Even then, the blind men in Matthew did not word it the same way as those in Mark and Luke.
7.) The method the Lord used to heal was different in Matthew, wherein He touched their eyes, from Mark and Luke, wherein He simply spoke the word and they were healed. Thus His initial question was the same, but His response to their request was slightly different, though in all cases their healing was the result. Why might this be? I think we must realize that every individual is different, and with some blind men Christ might choose to touch them to heal them as in Matthew, whereas with others He might choose to merely speak to them to heal them as in Mark and Luke. This is the sovereign choice of the Lord and His care and concern for each individual and his specific needs. The reason for this difference might not be obvious to us, but no doubt the Lord had some reason for it unknown to us. This should not bother us in the least, for surely His knowledge is greater than ours.
Why do we only read of the crowd praising God in the case of the blind man in Luke? It could always be, of course, that Matthew and Mark simply do not bother to record their reaction. Yet there could be another, simple explanation. Remember, the Lord was entering Jericho in Luke, whereas in the other two gospels He was leaving Jericho. This miracle in Luke was the first healing of a blind man the crowd had seen that day. Therefore it would be a new and fantastic experience for them to see this man healed. By the second or third such healing of the day, however, the crowd would be less amazed, as the wonderful began to morph into the commonplace. If Christ healed one blind man He certainly might heal more, and the sensation would diminish with each successive healing. Thus in the other two occurrences we read of the responses of the healed men as being significant rather than that of the crowd, who were starting to expect the event and be less amazed at it.
So you see that all we have to do is realize that these are three similar yet different events, and then a multitude of explanations for each similarity and each difference can readily come to our minds. Any one of our explanations may not be correct, but certainly some such thing was true. Thus we see that inspiration is not threatened by such “contradictions.” Only to those who have already decided that the Bible is not inspired do such discrepancies appear insurmountable and without explanation. To those, however, who accept these as the very words of God, the explanations are there and readily attained. The crucial ingredient of the argument is not accuracy but faith. Do we choose to take God at His word and believe accordingly, or do we choose to doubt Him and cast His words aside? This is the real question that confronts us every time we come upon such a passage. And when we come out of our study of it our faith will either have grown or have failed. This is our opportunity to “grow in faith,” as the Scripture admonishes us. Let each of us grow in our faith in our daily studies of His holy Word.