Unreliable details suggest reliable truth

April 19, 2007 at 4:35 pm Leave a comment

Are the New Testament stories about Jesus reliable? Based on the inconsistencies in the gospel accounts of his life, many think not.

Chris Blake, who teaches communications at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, has a brilliantly witty way of illustrating the fact that the inconsistencies in the gospel accounts are an indication of the truth, not the unreliability, of the New Testament. Here’s a wonderful excerpt from his book Searching for a God to Love:


blake-book.gifEvery semester an experiment takes place in one of my classes. The experiment is scripted and acted by a variety of characters. This past semester the experiment involved our Humanities Division secretary, Janya Mekelburg, who is also a convincing actress. Twelve minutes into College Writing II, she throws open the classroom door as I’m talking and drops a stack of papers in front of me on my desk. She is barefoot, holding a light bulb, and along with her other bizarre attire sports a ruler sticking out of her blouse pocket.

“Here are the papers you wanted,” she sneers.

“Just leave them there,” I reply coldly.

“Excuse me,” Janya says, “a thank you would be nice.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I place my face in my hands, partly so I don’t smile as I see the shocked, embarrassed expressions on students’ faces.

“Hello?” she thunders. “You didn’t have to stand in line behind five or six grumpy people waiting to make fifteen copies, stapled, on blue paper, and the stapler breaks and the staple lady with the little green key chain around her wrist wasn’t there so everything had to be stapled by hand!”

“Remember Philippians 4:11,” I say with an air of superiority. “In whatever state I am, I am content.”

Janya is livid. “Oh, save your scriptures for church!”

“You sniveling, ungrateful wretch!” I snap.

“Hey, peon wasn’t in the job description!” she roars. “Find someone else to do your last-minute copying. I quit!” She slams the door behind her. I turn to the class and grin.

“Okay, take out a piece of paper,” I announce.

“Was that for real? Who was that?”

“Now,” I continue, “I want you to write down exactly what happened, what was said, and what she was wearing, from head to toe. I’ll give you five minutes. All twenty-one of you were eyewitnesses. Specifics are important. Go.”

The students begin writing. After five minutes they hand in their accounts. Some students are uncertain, some are as confident as though they are depositing hard cash. After all, they had seen it with their own eyes, heard it with their own ears. When the papers are in, I begin writing discrepancies on the board. She was standing in line behind five, fifteen, and twenty people. She made six, fifteen, and five hundred copies. She was wearing shoes, boots, and was barefoot. I quoted Philippians 4:8, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 18. I called her a “filthy wrench,” a “sniveling snit,” and “a retch.” Only one person mentions the light bulb. Few noticed the ruler or the bare feet. Nobody saw the bandage on her hand.

[Excerpted from Searching for a God to Love, pp. 62-63]


Applying this annual experiment to the question of the reliability of the gospels, Blake (who is no theological liberal, mind you) acknowledges the fact that the Bible “is not a smoothly woven fabric. There are knots and tears and omissions.” Sometimes, in fact, it just doesn’t seem like the Bible’s writers have their stories straight.

But far from seeing this as a weakness, Blake maintains that the gospels’ “inconsistencies” are one of the best reasons for belief:

The differences in the four Gospel accounts are mind-boggling and faith-building. What we find in the Bible are accounts of real people who are stunned so often by a person (as my students were with Janya’s behavior) that the details don’t always fit. The differing accounts provide yet more evidence toward one awe-inspiring conclusion. It happened.


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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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