Biblical Discrepancies? Bibical Discrepancies?

   Question 1. Dear Mr. Miller, an atheist friend of mine told me that he had read from some anti-Christian publication that in the Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 2:26, it is recorded that Christ referred to “Abi’athar” as the high priest during King David’s time. But in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel 21 [1 Kings in the Catholic Douay Rheims -DR], a man named “Ahimelech” (or Achimelech) is named as high priest during that time. He says that this error would prove that the Bible cannot be inerrant. Is this an actual contradiction? What answer can I take back to my friend?

  Answer to Question 1. No, this is not a contradiction. It is merely an apparent one. One thing to consider is to first explain that in the ancient Semitic culture a son always carried his father's first name as his (the son's) surname (i.e. last name). Scripture gives witness to this in numerous places: Mk.10:46 for Bartimaeus (“bar”=son of, thus “Bartimaeus means “Son of Timaeus); Mat.16:17 for Simon Bar-Jona (Simon, son of Jonah); Acts 4:36 for Joses Barnabas (Joses, son of Nabus or Nabas); Acts 15:22 actually reads: "Judas surnamed Barsabas" (i.e. Judas son of Sabas). There are numerous examples and there were different variations done with these son and father connections.

   After explaining the above then make the point that sometimes a man was called by his first name in one place and by his surname in other places. For instance, the apostle Nathaniel Bartholomew is only mentioned by his first name, “Nathaniel,” in St. John's Gospel (see Jn. 1:45-49, 21:2), while in the synoptic Gospels he is mentioned only by his surname, “Bartholomew,” i.e., Son of Tholomew (see Mat.10:3; Mk.3: 18; Lk.6:14, etc.). This establishes the point that in practice and in fact men were sometimes called by two different names. The verse from St. Mark 2:26, then, does not NECESSARILY reveal a discrepancy. Thus the anti-Christian publication has offered nothing of proof against the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.

   Now, since we have established the principle, let’s get to the specifics. As mentioned above, St. Mark's reference is to 1 Sam. [1 Kgs. DR] 21, where the name “Ahimelech” is given. “Abiathar,” mentioned in St. Mark chapter 2, was Ahimelech's father; AND THIS IS mentioned elsewhere (see 1 Chronicles [Paralipomenon, DR].18:16; 24:6 and 2 Sam. [2 Kgs].8:17). Therefore, with the above points about sons being called by their father’s names kept in mind, it is not at all hard to see that one in the same person, Ahimelch bar Abiathar (son of Abiathar), is being mentioned here. Sometimes he is called by his first name, Ahimelch -as in 1 Sam.[1 Kgs] 21 and 22- other times by his surname, Abiathar -as in Mark 2- but he is one and the same man as 1 Chron. [Par. DR] 18:16; 24:6 and 2 Sam. [2 Kgs] 8:17) make clear.

   Question 2. I have read works which point out contradictions pertaining to the order of events in Christ's life as recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). How does one explain the apparant contradictions found in the synoptic Gospels concerning the order of events in Christ's life? It is a fact they are not the same.

   Answer to Question 2. Point number 1: Those who doubt, and thus attack, the veracity of the Gospel accounts concerning the order of events in Our Lord's life more often than not work entirely on the (false) presumption that the Gospels are simply historical works which claim to report what happened in strict historical-chronological order, and that the authors intended them to be this way. But, none of the holy evangelists make such a claim! At least two, as I will show, make clear that they are doing something other than this.
Since such attacks depend entirely upon these two erroneous claims, it necessarily follows, therefore, that non-believers who use this attack have set up their own straw-men (i.e. "straw man" = to falsely represent a position) in order to knock it down. Since not one of the Gospels claims to be presenting a strict chronological order of Christ's life, no one can hold them bound to such a scenario, nor judge them accordingly. This fundamental principle of argumentation is taught in high school debate class. In other words, one can NOT judge a work (or position) according to something that work does not claim to do!

    Point number 2: This attack works also on the erroneous presumption that the word "then" -used over 300 times in the Gospels- (as in "then Jesus did this... or said that") is to be strictly understood according to the notion of time-sequence. On the contrary, both grammatically and logically speaking, the word "then" does not NECESSARILY indicate what is subsequent in TIME. The word "then" is often used to indicate what follows in order of IMPORTANCE. For example: St. Peter is always listed first when the Apostles are listed (see Matt.10:2, Mk.3:16, Lk.6:14, Acts 1:13), not because he was called first, St. Andrew has that distinction(see John 1:40-41), but because of his primacy as the head of the apostolic college. Therefore, the listing of St. Peter as first does not represent a chronological order, but an order of importance.

    The evangelists were proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and thus there is a didactic purpose to each Gospel. This means that typological themes were always at the forefront. Therefore the word "then" can be an indication of what the inspired author was emphasizing in the order, NOT of time, but of importance.

    The typological (or thematic) order has priority over the strict chronological order. Again, this is so, precisely because the Gospels are proclamations. Yes, all of the events portrayed about Our Lord happened, but they were recorded and arranged for specific purposes, with certain themes in mind.
   Now, just what are the themes of each gospel?

     A) St. Matthew always had in mind the Jewish converts to whom he was writing -and potential Jewish converts. His gospel was not oriented towards the Gentile population. This is why St. Matthew was concerned with proving how Christ fulfilled Old Testament (OT) prophesies. These include:

      -His birth and infancy(1:22f; 2:5f,15,17f, & 23);
      -His precursor (John the Baptist:3:3; 11:10);
      -His Galilean ministr (4:14f);
      -His use of parables(13:14f,35);
      -His miracles(8:17; 12:18f);
      -His entrance into Jerusalem(21:4f);
      -His rejection by the Jews(21:14);
      -the flight of the Apostles(26:31);
      -the blood money of Judas(27:9f); and many others.

    There is an obvious intention by St. Matthew (and the Holy Spirit!) for this concern of Jews in getting them to see how Christ is the fulfillment of OT prophesies. This THEME is the priority, and each event is described in light of this theme: that Christ is the fulfillment of all OT prophesies concerning the Messiah. (Gentiles of that time would not have necessarily had this concern.)

     B) St. Lukes explicitly states that the words he is putting down are for the reader's "instruction" (see 1:4). Thus, the didactic purposes of this Gospel is made clear for anyone to see. In fact, St. Luke makes it clear that he is not following a strict chronological order: he describes the holy child Jesus growing up immediately before he depicts Our Lord's birth!(see 1:80ff). He also depicts St. John the Baptist's imprisonment before St. John baptized Our Lord (3:19), even though the former event occured after. These are like when a speaker speaks ahead of himself to make a certain related point and then comes back to continue his "main" theme. These facts prove that St. Luke was not presenting a strict chronological history.

    What, then is St. Lukes primary theme? As a Gentile convert, St. Luke is used by the Holy Spirit to emphasize the theme of salvation -that the Lord Jesus is the Savior, that salvation is accessable to all men, not just to the Jews. This theme of salvation in Christ is present at the very beginning of Our Lord's life: His Birth (2:14), the Presentation in the temple (2:32); at the beginning (3:6) as well as at the end of His public life (19:10). This theme has primacy throughout St. Luke's gospel, and each event is described in light of this theme: salvation is offered to all who accept Christ. One could say that St. Luke's gospel is "framed" within this theme from beginning to end. Thus, with two different primary themes, it should not be expected that the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke would have the exact same ordering of events in Our Lord's life.

    What about the other two Gospels? The major theme (or purpose) of St. Mark's Gospel is to demonstrate the divinity of Christ. Hence the emphasis on Our Lord's deeds and miracles to demonstrate such. This is why this Gospel has the least words of Christ. St. Mark's ordering of events would thus be along the lines of this theme.
    St. John makes clear in his Gospel that his purpose is "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have eternal life" (20:31). Thus, one of the primary themes of the fourth gospel is faith. St. John also is concerned with making clear the truth that Our Lord possesed a real human nature while remaining the eternal Son of God.

    One can only conclude, then, that the attacks against the inerrancy and veracity of the Holy Gospels concerning the presentation of the order of Our Lord's life have no basis in fact. A strict Chronological order was not the intention of any of the inspired authors of the Holy Gospels. Rather, it was to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Life in light of:

   1. Fulfillment of OT prophesies concerning the Messiah (St. Matthew)
   2. Salvation offered to all -both Jew and Gentile (St. Luke)
   3. Miracles demonstrating the divinity of Christ (St. Mark)
   4. Necessity of Faith in Christ/ His Incarnation (St. John).
       I hope this helps.

    Adam S. Miller

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