I recently stumbled on an article over at the theAtheist that needed to be addressed. The article was written in 2010 in response to a Washington Post story, Discrepancies don’t shake Christians’ faith in the Bible, which covered a Christian college student who was (and hopefully still is) not bothered by charges that the Bible is full of errors.The Washington Post article quotes Dr. Craig Evans (professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia) who rightly believes that the Bible can have discrepancies and still remain inerrant. Dr Evans states:
“the discrepant witnesses [in the Gospels] are allowed to stand side by side, and I think that’s a strength in the end, not a weakness. But the naive reader — the person beguiled by the notion that discrepancies somehow cast doubt on the truth of the entire report — might not know that”
The author of theAtheist article considers Dr. Evans delusional since he believes discrepancies in the Gospels are good. The author gets especially irritated over Dr. Evan’s statement that naive readers might not understand that discrepancies are good in eye witness testimony because he says:
“The implication that those who demand consistency and unambiguity are “naive” seems particularly irrational and disingenuous.”
Those that demand consistency and unambiguity presumably include the author, so let’s take a little closer look at his words and see what we can find. Immediately after referencing the quote above, the author makes this statement:
“Craig Evans seems to think that having a book with inconsistencies in it is a strength, rather than a weakness.”
The first thing we’ll notice is the author has inconsistently changed Dr. Evans word from “discrepancy” to “inconsistency.” He wants us to believe that the two words are interchangeable but they are not.
Dr Evans chose the word discrepant intentionally to avoid the concept of error. If he wanted to imply the Gospels were inconsistent or in error, he would have used a much strong word than discrepant. He might have even used the word inconsistent himself, but he didn’t. He said discrepant, and discrepancies are not necessarily errors.
As an example, let’s image that the following two statements are made by two different individuals, who are not attempting to lie, to a third person:
- Person 1: “I saw one dog at Suzy’s birthday party.”
- Person 2: “I saw three dogs at Suzy’s birthday party.”
Quite clearly there is a discrepancy between these two statements. Were there three dogs at Suzy’s birthday party or was their just one? In truth, it’s impossible to say. Because there is a discrepancy from two witnesses, our confidence in the dog count goes way down. At best we can conclude there were at least 3 dogs present at the party, but if Person 1 missed some dogs, it’s conceivable that they both missed some dogs. Maybe there were 20 dogs present.
(Note 1, there are certainly times when a discrepancy can indicate an error. If we were to look at two different answers to the math problem, “what does 4 + 5 equal”, and one answer was 9 and the other was 8, the discrepancy in answers would indicate and error.)
When Dr Evans said it was good that the gospels were discrepant, a situation similar to the example above is what he had in mind. There are other situations where one witness might state an event and another witness might not even mention it. Does it mean the event didn’t happen because there’s a discrepancy? Of course not. In fact, if all witnesses agreed on every detail and every event, it would suggest they colluded. This is not what honest scholars want to see when they study documents. Discrepancies suggest independence and honesty.
Our atheist author friend has either failed to understand Dr Evan’s use of the word discrepant or he has intentionally tried to twist his meaning in order deceive us. Either way, his analysis is incorrect.