“Extra, Extra, Read all about it”
One of the most commonly neglected rules of interpretation that Bible critics overlook when attacking Scripture is that extra information is not necessarily contradictory information. When one Bible writer offers more details than another on a particular subject, it is inappropriate to assume that one of the writers is mistaken. When a journalist in the 21st century writes about a man on the side of the road who has just escaped death following a particular catastrophe, while another journalist writes how this same man and his wife (standing next to him) are suffering survivors of the devastating disaster, it does not mean that the first journalist was dishonest in his representation of truth. Similarly, countless times throughout Scripture, and especially within the gospel accounts, extra information is given that critics cannot justifiably prove to be contradictory.
Consider how Matthew, Mark, and Luke all wrote about how a man named Joseph took the body of Jesus following His crucifixion, “wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock” (Luke 23:53; cf. Matthew 27:59-60; Mark 15:46). The apostle John, however, noted that Joseph actually had help in burying Jesus. He wrote: “Joseph of Arimathea...took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (19:38-40, emp. added). Are the accounts of Jesus’ burial contradictory? Such could never be proven by skeptics. This simply is an example of extra information being given by one of the Bible writers. Had Matthew, Mark, and Luke stated that Joseph was the only person involved in Jesus’ burial, then skeptics would have a valid point to argue. But as it stands, John simply added facts to the story.
When Mark and Luke recorded how the Jews petitioned Pilate for the release of Barabbas, they both called him a murderer (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19; Acts 3:14). Yet when John wrote about Barabbas, he omitted all discussion about his homicidal past and simply indicated that “Barabbas was a robber” (John 18:40). Is it possible that Barabbas was both a murderer and a thief? Of course. How many prisons around the world today house individuals who have committed both murder and burglary?
The Bible writers may not have worded things exactly the way some may think they should have, but such personal (or cultural) preferences do not invalidate their writings. Throughout the gospel accounts, statements are supplemented. Extra evidence frequently is given. And, the truth is, such supplementation should be expected from inspired, independent writers who did not have to participate in collusion in order to convey accurately the Good News of Jesus Christ. When one recognizes that supplementation cannot inherently be equated with a contradiction, many of the so-called “Bible contradictions” are easily (and logically!) explained away.