02 Oct 2011

One Bible Contradiction Cleared Up

Religious 28 Comments

I know my frequent critics here won’t believe this, but I do think that it is rational to believe in the Bible and Jesus. I haven’t spelled out the full story of my conversion from atheism here, but it’s accurate to say that I eventually concluded that the hypothesis of Jesus’ divinity was the best explanation for the facts.

Since I actually think religion should “make sense,” I want the Bible to be historically accurate and logically consistent. For those reasons, one thing that has long troubled me was that Jesus (in three of the gospels) says (e.g. Luke 9: 27), “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”

I am pretty sure (though not positive) that this statement (and perhaps there were others) prompted some of the early Church to think that Jesus’ return was imminent. Up until today, I had never seen a good explanation of this, and it bothered me a lot more than some of the other “contradictions” in the Bible that atheists tout. It clearly sounds as if Jesus is saying, “Just hold on for a few more decades at most, and this world will end.” I couldn’t see any way to get around the plain meaning of His words. Sure we could say He was being metaphorical, or that He meant “believers are born again” and in that sense the sting of death is removed, but in that case maybe we’re totally misunderstanding all of His other promises too?

Well today in church the assistant pastor covered this and cleared it up to my satisfaction. In retrospect this seems pretty obvious to Biblical scholars but for whatever reason, I had never heard it before.

If you read the context (Luke 9: 27-36) we see that Jesus wasn’t being metaphorical at all. He was presumably referring to this:

27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”
28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son.[a] Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

This placement–where Jesus says some who are hearing His words will live to see the kingdom of God, and then the very next event is the transfiguration on the mount–occurs in all three gospels (Mark 9: 1-13 and Matthew 16-17 are the other two spots). So it seems the gospel writers themselves interpreted this event as fulfilling Jesus’ prediction.

28 Responses to “One Bible Contradiction Cleared Up”

  1. Jarrett Cooper says:

    Here is some additional information to further drive-in the claim above:

    “In the midst of this warning Jesus offers a promise [Lk 9:27] : some will not see death until they see the kingdom of God. Contextually this is a reference to the preview of glory some of the disciples get in the transfiguration, an event recorded in verses 28-36. Seen in light of Luke’s development in the book, the arrival of the kingdom also is made visible in Jesus’ current ministry (Lk 11:20; Lk 17:20-21). In fact, the benefits of promise are distributed in Acts 2 (Lk 24:49 with Acts 2:30-36). So Jesus has in view both the preview of total glory and the initial arrival of promise as a result of his ministry. Those disciples who were present at the transfiguration, as well as those who shared in Pentecost, shared in the sneak preview of the kingdom’s arrival before they ‘saw death.'” – Darrell L. Bock ‘Commentary on the Gospel of Luke.’ Excerpt found here: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Christological-Confession-Road

    I hope that might add some more clarity.

  2. David says:

    I checked out my commentary, and they said that there are several possible events that Jesus could have been referring to: the transfiguration, his death, resurrection and ascension, Pentecost, the spread of the gospel, the destruction of Jerusalem. He could also be referring to all of these events taken together. Take a look at Matthew 16:28.

  3. Kyle says:

    The Church is the kingdom of God here on Earth which the apostles, most especially Peter, have taken part in instituting Christ’s Church.

    Luke 22:28-30 “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

  4. Beefcake the Mighty says:

    Christianity is only useful insofar as it supports Western Civilization.

    • Driganx says:

      What was the point of this comment? To generate anger? To generate disgust? Neither is a worthy goal. If you have a reasoned disapproval of Christianity, you could give logical reasons; if you have an emotional rejection, do some introspection to understand why you have that emotional reaction.

  5. K Sralla says:

    Most of the apparent “discrepencies” are cleared up with good hermeneutics. Here is a really hard one.

    The toughest issue to reconcile (IMO) concerns the differing locations that the gospel writers place the disciples following the resurrection. Mark, Matthew and John all have the followers of Jesus returning to Galilee (as instructed) and seeing the resurrected Jesus there. Interestingly, the narrative in Luke-Acts reads as if the disciples and women stayed in the vicinity of Jerusaleum, and never returned to Galilee. Much different from the other gospel accounts, the point is made by Luke that the disciples were ordered (Acts 1:4) to stay in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit.

    The problem arises since Galilee is at least a week-long journey by foot from Jerusalem. If we are looking for tough problems, let’s at least focus on a tough one. This is the toughest.

    If we can get past this one, the others are a piece of cake.

    • Ben Kennedy says:

      Another of the “hard” ones are the different accounts of the fate of Judas. The attempts I have seen to harmonize them are pretty dismal

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Ben, yeah, Thomas Paine thought that issue was particularly silly. Apparently some apologists said Judas went out into a field, hanged himself, and then his guts spilled out (to reconcile the two different accounts). Back when I was an atheist, I thought this was a smoking gun too.

  6. Scott says:

    Another possible explanation:

    That John the Beloved and possibly others actually didn’t die but live in a state such as Enoch but here on earth.

    John 21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not adie: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

    Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

    Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery, at Harmony, Pennsylvania, April 1829, when they inquired through the Urim and Thummim as to whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried in the flesh or had died. The revelation is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself. HC 1: 35–36.
    1–3, John the Beloved shall live until the Lord comes; 4–8, Peter, James, and John hold gospel keys.
    1 And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.
    2 And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.
    3 And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.
    4 And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom.
    5 I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.
    6 Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.
    7 And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.
    8 Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.


    And for something similar happening when Jesus visited the Americas:

    1 And it came to pass when Jesus had said these words, he spake unto his disciples, one by one, saying unto them: What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?
    2 And they all spake, save it were three, saying: We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
    3 And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.
    4 And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?
    5 And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.
    6 And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.
    7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
    8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.
    9 And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.
    10 And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one;

  7. Gene Callahan says:

    OK, here is a different perspective, for what it is worth. There are three propositions involved here:

    1) Scripture is divinely inspired;
    2) Scripture is historically inerrant; and
    3) All of scripture is meant to be taken as literally true.

    The point I wish to make here is that one can accept 1) while rejecting 2) and 3).

    3) is something no one really believes anyway. The most fundamental of fundamentalists does not think the world has four corners. An early Church father — Tertullian — gave an example from Genesis: God is not the sort of being that strolls around in gardens in the evening, so to take that passage literally is to take the text unseriously!

    But one can believe 1) without believing 2) as well. This divine inspiration was channeled through fallible human beings. The New Testament Gospels were written between 30 and 60 years after Christ’s crucifixion. Why should it destroy belief in 1) to think that sometimes, that much later, the writers were a little murky about the details? What does it matter that John places the incident with the money lenders in the temple much earlier than do the Synoptic Gospels? This tremendous, world-shattering event occurred, divinely inspiring those who witnessed it, and the inspiration moved those who later went to write down what had happened. These were not journalists trying to meticulously get their facts straight — they were people moved by the Holy Spirit who were trying to communicate the spiritual force flowing through them. So what if one of them thought the disciples stayed in Jerusalem after the crucifixion, while others thought they had left? Does some matter of faith turn on this point? So, the details had gotten fuzzy — how does that refute the inspiration being real?

    I just don’t get this quibbling or fretting over literal, historical truth — surely it is the spiritual message that matters, and not, say, the exact sequence in which events in the life of Christ occurred, right?

    • Tim Miller says:

      I will have to respectfully disagree with your opinion that one can accept premise 1 while rejecting premise 2. 1 points out that all scripture is literally breathed out by God. This means that what is written down in the bible can be taken as God’s literal word from Himself. But also, to reject 2, is to concede that parts of the bible are incorrect. This would leave force us into uncertainty as to ANY part of scripture. If there is a single verse that is wrong, I cannot trust any of the verses in faith. If the apostles were murky about some details, how do we know if they were correct on any? Do you see my dilema?

      I agree with premise 3. Literal passages are to be taken literally, poetical passages as poetry, prophetic passages are sometimes filled with non-literal imagery. Etc…

      • Gene Callahan says:

        “1 points out that all scripture is literally breathed out by God. This means that what is written down in the bible can be taken as God’s literal word from Himself.”

        That’s not what *I* meant by 1.

        • Tim Miller says:

          Fair enough 🙂

  8. Gene Callahan says:

    Ooh, I meant to write “Tertullian?” cause I wasn’t sure which Church father it was!

  9. Charlie says:

    I love your blog Bob. Just curious, have you ever read anything by John Loftus?

  10. Brad D says:

    It’s refreshing to learn of another libertarian’s eyes being opened to the truth. If there has been one thing so disconcerting about libertarianism, it’s the (seemingly) common thread of atheism and unbelief.

  11. Driganx says:

    @Gene, I’m right with you, although I’ve never seen it laid out quite so clearly. I really appreciate your 3 point argument. 🙂

  12. K Sralla says:

    My internet friend Gene,

    A more sophisticated conservative view holds that the gospels (and other biblical material) were generally never meant by the authors to be chronological histories (EXCEPT WHERE EXPRESSLY SPECIFIED), but rather theological narrative using historical events. It’s sort of like when an economist writes history seeking to make sense of seemingly random events in light of economic theory.

    The gospels were constructed from various accounts of the ministry of Jesus, and patched together from various sources, in a specific order that satisfies the theological point being stressed by its author. This does not mean the gospel writers err, but rather we err by reading the narratives as they are not intended to be read. A literary work might be judged to be “chronologically inerrant” if it is intended as a strict chronology of events, and this chronology is completely accurate. However, we should not place this demand on scripture, unless it purports to be giving events in a strict chronological series. Phrases such as “immediately after, the disciples went directly to…” are a signal of this.

    Luke does this in several places, almost as if he wishes to specify the chronology of events that is misunderstood by many in his contemporary audience, possibly based on the incompletness or inaccuracies of other popular accounts of Jesus resurrection and the gathering of the early church. It almost as if he is aware that other accounts emphasise the post-resurrection stories of Jesus in Galilee, and Luke is saying “wait a minute”, just for the record, my sources say that a specific chronological sequence of events happened in Jerusalem immediately after the resurrection.

    Maybe this sounds like Gene and I are saying the same thing. The views are subtly different though, since the view that I have outlined seeks to save “inerrancy”. We would not say God inspires inerrant spiritual truth, but can’t seem to get the chronology correct. When God chooses to reveal a chronological narrative, he reveals it just as he intends.

  13. Bob Murphy says:

    Gene, I need to study this stuff a lot more. I am but a babe when it comes to Christianity. There are a few places where I am prepared to say, “Yeah, sometimes eyewitness accounts differ–even in modern trials–so that doesn’t mean this is all a bunch of hooey.” (For example, there are two versions of the centurion sending out people to have Jesus heal his servant [when Jesus says “Not in all of Israel have I seen faith such as this.”]. The two stories are different in minor details, so it looks like one account just got a little detail wrong.)

    But where I part ways from you, is that I think you come close to saying, “It doesn’t even matter if this guy ‘Jesus’ actually existed. We have a body of teachings reputedly given by him, and now we need to use our wisdom, judgment, moral sense, etc. to see which parts we should adopt. The story of his sacrifice etc. is what’s important, not whether it really happened.”

    If that is indeed what you are saying–and correct me if it’s not–then I have to strongly object. If there really wasn’t a guy who walked around curing people, and then was crucified and came back from the dead, and who told people that belief in Him was the path to salvation…well then I am in trouble.

    • Daniel Hewitt says:

      Bob, “The Case For Christ” by Lee Strobel is a fairly quick read, full of great resources.

  14. K Sralla says:

    I can’t believe I will take up for Gene, but I would be surprised if Gene goes this far Bob. I strongly suspect Gene views Jesus as a real person who actually lived in history.

    Hopefully Gene will reappear and clear this up.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      I indeed do, K Sralla.

  15. Tim Miller says:

    Matthew 24:34 is another hang-up for some people. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (refering to the events of chapter 24) I believe Jay E. Adams in “The Time Is at Hand ” and R.C. Sprould in his book: “The Last Days according to Jesus” do a tremendous job of expalaining these verses. I mention these books because they are also what helped me understand Luke 9: 27 as you do. Thanks for the post!

  16. Jarrett Cooper says:

    A few months I stumbled across this audio (the link is below). It’s by Timothy J. McGrew–a philosopher at Western Michigan University–whom specializes in epistemology and confirmation theory.

    The audio deals with what’s known as “undesigned coincidences.” To quote McGrew, “Undesigned coincidences is when two work written by two Biblical authors incidentally touch on the same point in a manner that can not be written off as copying or having both been copied from some other source.” The point of undesigned coincidences is to give internal evidence for the validity of the Bible.

    In the speech McGrew further defines and gives examples of such cases. I recommend giving it a listen. It’s less than 40:00 minutes long. Here: http://www.fbckenner.org/audio/jan2011/010911A%20.mp3

  17. Grabrich says:

    Hi Bob,

    Since you’ve indicated that you are new to Christianity, you may be unaware of preterist commentaries on prophetical passages. Wikipedia gives a quick overview of preterism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preterism

    I won’t go into the controversies held by some regarding partial vs full vs hyper preterism, but suffice to say, preterist Christians interpret Luke 9 (& related passages) differently than your asst pastor. Of course, either interpretation may be correct, or neither, or both maybe(!), but may I humbly suggest reading up on preterism? Here is but one article mentioning Luke 9: http://planetpreterist.com/content/who-would-see-christ-return BTW, the author is a voluntaryist.

    As an added bonus, do know that there are many preterist Christians who are libertarians/voluntaryists/anarchists!

    Richard G.