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Alleged Discrepancies

Addition Does Not a Contradiction Make

by Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Suppose a man is telling a story about the time he and his wife went shopping at the mall. The man mentions all the great places in the mall to buy hunting supplies and cinnamon rolls. The wife tells about the same shopping trip, yet mentions only the places to buy clothes. Is there a contradiction between the stories just because the wife mentions clothing stores but the husband mentions only cinnamon rolls and hunting supplies? No. They are simple adding to (or supplementing) each other’s story to make it more complete. That happens quite often in the resurrection accounts in the Gospels.

For example, the Gospel of Matthew names “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” as women who visited the tomb early on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1). Mark cites Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as the callers (Mark 16:1). Luke mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the other women” (Luke 24:10). Yet John talks only about Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb early on Sunday (John 20:1). Do these different lists contradict one another? No, not in any way. They are supplementary, adding names to make the list more complete. But they are not contradictory. If John had said “only Mary Magdalene visited the tomb,” or if Matthew stated, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the only women to visit the tomb,” then there would be a contradiction. As it stands, no contradiction occurs. To further illustrate this point, suppose that you have 10 one-dollar bills in your pocket. Suppose further that someone comes up to you and asks, “Do you have a dollar bill in your pocket?” Naturally, you respond in the affirmative. Suppose another person asks, “Do you have five dollars in your pocket?,” and again you say yes. Finally, another person asks, “Do you have ten dollars in your pocket?” and you say yes for the third time. Did you tell the truth every time? Yes. Were any of your answers contradictory? No. Were all three statements about the contents of your pockets different? Yes—supplementation not contradiction.

Under this heading falls many an alleged discrepancy. Take, for instance, the situation between 1 Corinthians 10:8 and Numbers 25:9.

“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (1 Corinthians 10:8).

“And those that died by the plague were twenty and four thousand” (Numbers 25:9).

We must remember that we are not asking whether these two verses say different things. We are asking whether the different things that they say can be reconciled without violating any logical boundaries. The answer is a resounding “yes.” If 24,000 died, is it not the case that 23,000 died as well? Once again, applying the principle of supplementation dissolves the problem immediately.

The supposed contradiction between these two verses is further repudiated when it is realized that 1 Corinthians 10:8 mentions a specific time—“one day”—while in Numbers 25:9 the time is not limited to a single day. The fact is, 23,000 could have died in one day and 1,000 could have died the day after. Once again, after looking closely at the verses under discussion, it becomes evident that no discrepancy exists.

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