Some years ago, I received a letter from a pastor out in western Canada who was asking a number of questions about what he perceived to be contradictions in the pages of the Word of God. I could not tell from his letter whether this was a genuine question or whether he was one of those people who already have their mind made up and was just giving, in the form of questions, the reason why he would not believe that the Bible is the Word of God. But I took his questions seriously and I answered them at some length.
One of his questions had to do with the time that elapsed between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his ascension into heaven. This pastor pointed out that two of the gospels, Matthew and John, do not even mention the ascension. That is true. He thought that was a problem, but I cannot see why, as there are a lot of things they do not mention. He then pointed out that, in his opinion, there was a contradiction between Mark and Luke, on the one hand, and the book of Acts on the other, because as he said, Mark and Luke seemed to imply that Jesus ascended to heaven immediately after his resurrection, within one or two days, while Acts says quite clearly that it was forty days later that Jesus ascended into heaven. He said, “There is a great contradiction. You cannot get around that no matter what you do.”
Well, I looked at the passages, studied them, and wrote back to him. I said, “You know, if you just read these passages with the assumption that the writers really did know what they were talking about and read them carefully, you will find that there is no real contradiction there. For example, at the end of Mark’s gospel, he does not spell out days the same way that the author of Acts does, but there are three indications in the very last chapter that there is a certain passage of time. Mark says, “after these things,” “after this,” “after a little while” – three times in just that one chapter. That is obviously a greater passage of time than two days. Why shouldn’t we assume that Mark knows what he is talking about? He is just not being as detailed in his presentation as Luke is in the book of Acts. Moreover, it would be a very strange thing, would it not, if Luke, who wrote the gospel, and Luke, who wrote the book of Acts – being the same person – contradicted himself from one book to the other? If we read a human author we would give him the benefit of the doubt in a situation like that. You have to do the same sort of thing here.”
Another question he had, had to do with the thieves that were crucified along with the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the gospels says that there were two thieves and that they were both cursing him. Another gospel says one thief was cursing and the other thief believed and called on Christ to save him. I said, “Well, that really isn’t terribly difficult to understand. Most of the commentators down through the history of the Christian church assume that both thieves began by cursing. One, during the crucifixion, was won over by the patient endurance of Jesus Christ, was converted on the spot, had a change of nature, and turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It did not seem to be any kind of difficulty to me at all. He wrote back saying he found my answers unacceptable. So, I just put it down as an exercise in futility and went on to answer several hundred other letters of that same nature that have come in over the years.