There are a number of places in the Bible where apparently contradictory accounts are recorded. The crucifixion accounts in John (on Passover day when the lambs were sacrificed) and the Synoptics (the day after the Passover meal), the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, the withering fig tree in Matthew 21 and Mark 11, the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, Chronicles compared with Samuel-Kings, and this is only touches on the issues. In the face of these issues we are left with four choices (1) ignore them, (2) harmonize them, (3) dismiss the Bible as a merely human ancient book, or (4) face the differences, explore the ancient Near Eastern conventions at play in the text, and look for the intended message of the text.
It is better to face the differences. Many attempts at harmonization become rather convoluted and unpersuasive. The cock crowed six times … for example (The Battle for the Bible) … inventing a scenario not recorded in any Gospel to preserve a specific vision of the nature of Scripture.
Let the Bible be the Bible and study it for the intended message.
This extends to the way dates and times are used in the Gospels and throughout Scripture. Michael LeFebvre, The Liturgy of Creation, writes:
It is better to face the differences and consider why the authors used their descriptive latitude to record the events as they did. The journalistic way we expect timestamps to function today is not a reliable standard by which to assess timestamps in the Bible. Furthermore, imposing anachronistic expectations about calendars could hinder our full appreciation of a biblical author’s reason for drawing our particular date alignments. (p. 5)
Although not an internal inconsistency, many Christians today invent rather incredible scenarios unrecorded in Scripture or elsewhere to preserve a young earth view consistent with their understanding of Genesis. Observations of the natural world (creation) are harmonized with the favored interpretation of Scripture, (e.g. rapid post flood differentiation in a few hundred years to account for the present diversity of life). While these constructions are comforting to some, many of us find them decidedly unpersuasive. They can be a stumbling block to faith for those both outside and inside the church. If they are unnecessary (as I believe), this is rather unfortunate. But are they unnecessary?
Rather than fight to protect a particular vision of Scripture, in The Liturgy of Creation Michael LeFebvre focuses on the way dates and calendars are used in the Pentateuch. This leads, he argues, to a better understanding of the form and message of Genesis 1.
I want to propose in this book that the Genesis 1:1-2:3 creation week is most fruitfully read as a “calendar narrative.” It is a special kind of historical narrative in which historical events are given the dates of a festival observance (sabbath observance in the case of the creation week), without regard for the timing of the original occurrence. To establish this argument, it will be important to examine how the Pentateuch as a whole uses dates in other calendar narratives. (p. 6)
I want to show in this book that the creation week was designed as a guide for faithful work and sabbath worship, and that we rob the text of its intended force when we instead deploy it in disputes about physics, cosmology, and natural history. (p. 7)
We honor Scripture as the word of God when we seek to understand the intended message. This will become clearer when we understand the conventions behind the construction of the text. LeFebvre’s ideas are worth careful consideration – as we dig into them in the upcoming posts.
Is the date discrepancy between the crucifixion in John and the Synoptics a problem to be solved?
How should we approach such contradictions?
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We will dig into more of LeFebvre’s book over the coming months. Join us if you’d like.
(The links above are paid referrals – try this one if you prefer: The Liturgy of Creation.)