When Did the Temple Veil Tear?
A few years ago, a journal dedicated to revealing (alleged) Bible errors petitioned its readers to submit their “best” biblical questions and arguments that “they have found through actual experience to be exceptionally effective vis-à-vis biblicists…and they will probably be published for all to see and use” (McKinsey, 1988a, p. 6). The first response printed in this journal (two months later) was from a man who listed among his top five “Bible contradictions” a question of whether or not the veil of the Temple was torn in two “before” (Luke 23:44-46) or “after” (Matthew 27:50-51) Jesus died on the cross? The skeptic stated that this question was one of his favorites to ask because it elicits “such ludicrous rebuttals from Christian apologists” (McKinsey, 1988b, p. 6).
Before taking the skeptic’s word at face value as to what these scriptures actually say (or do not say), compare the passages for yourself.
And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom (Matthew 27:50-51, ASV; cf. Mark 15:37-38).
And it was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing: and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”: and having said this, he gave up the ghost (Luke 23:44-46).
Do you read anything in either Matthew or Luke’s account that says the veil was torn “before” or “after” Jesus died (to use the skeptic’s own words)? Granted, Luke did mention the rending of the veil before he recorded that Jesus died, and Matthew mentioned it after recording His death, but neither made any direct statements that would indicate exactly when the rending took place. Simply because one Bible writer recorded something before, or after, another writer does not mean that either writer is attempting to establish a chronological timeline. Unless the skeptic can point to a verse by both writers that says these events occurred in the precise order in which they are recorded, then no case can be made for these two passages being incompatible.
Consider for a moment that “to do list” which many of us make either daily or weekly? If someone peeked at your list and saw where you crossed off the first four things, but the things that you had marked off were not in the same order in which you accomplished them, would you be guilty of lying (to yourself or to a colleague)? No. Imagine also that you returned home after work one day and told your children some of the things you had accomplished at the office. Then, you told your spouse the same things you told your children, only in a somewhat different order. Would your children have any right to call you a liar if they overheard this second conversion between you and your spouse? Of course not. The only way your children would be justified in calling you a liar is if you had told both them and your spouse that every event you rehearsed happened in the precise order in which you mentioned them.
The only way a skeptic could prove that Matthew 27:50-51 and Luke 23:44-46 are contradictory is if he or she could establish that both writers claimed to be writing all of these events in precisely the same order in which they occurred. Since, however, the critic cannot prove such intended chronology, he is left with another alleged and unproven “contradiction.” Interesting, is it not, that this fairly simple “problem” was listed as a “top-five” question with which to “stump” a Christian? Truly, using a little common sense proves helpful when studying the Bible.
McKinsey, Dennis (1988a), “Editor’s Note,” Biblical Errancy, p. 6, March.
McKinsey, Dennis (1988b), “Letter 263,” Biblical Errancy, p. 6, May.