Matthew, Mark, and Luke are often labeled synoptic Gospels due to their striking similarities; in fact, this is the basic meaning of the word synoptic, a compound word (syn, together + optic, to see) suggesting that they may be read together. It is a fascinating study to see the gospel narrative as revealed in the three fold view of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Notwithstanding their similarities, we must acknowledge that each inspired author composed a biography of Jesus’ ministry with a specific audience in mind. In other words, in keeping with the purposes and goals of each volume, single events are approached from different vantage points.
Frequently, Matthew and Mark will speak of the same event, or use similar language; meanwhile, Luke may not mention the event or have different word choices. Likewise, Luke and Mark may do the same on certain places, while Matthew selects another approach. At no point does the order of the basic events change.
From time to time, however, unbelievers challenge the harmonious nature of these works calling attention to different language, or even geographical “contradictions”. The criticisms prove to be quick grasps at the air, and the texts reflect literary harmony indicative of the Divine source behind their production.
To or From Jericho?
Case in point, in Matthew 18.29-34, Mark 10.46-52, and Luke 18.35-43 the healing of the two blind men is recorded; however, certain aspects of the text appear contradictory on the surface. Jesus is on his way out of Jericho as he comes upon two blind men sitting on the roadside (Matthew and Mark), but Luke records Jesus traveling towards Jericho.
So which is it? Was Jesus traveling away from Jericho or towards the famous city? The answer is found in the archaeological record and history of the region; however, let us first reflect upon the nature of a contradiction before we consider the evidence from archaeology.
First, what may be styled the “law of contradiction” goes as follows:
That the same thing should at the same time both be and not be for the same person and in the same respect is impossible. (Aristotle)
However, should there be any reasonable harmony made of the sense, language, person or thing involved a contradiction does not exist.
Second, it must be understood that there “were two Jericho’s in Jesus’ day. D. James Kennedy, who has visited this location, writes:
[T]he Roman Jericho that was built a mile away from the original site, and which is closer to the Roman road that leads up to Jerusalem. There is the old Israelite Jericho, the site Joshua marched around. The Roman road goes right between the two.
Matthew and Mark chronicle the miracle from the vantage point of Jesus leaving Joshua’s Jericho, Luke focuses upon Jesus moving towards the Roman Jericho; meanwhile, the healed were on the road stretched between the cities.
It is important for Bible students to observe how even at the most minute language the biblical record is precisely accurate. Consequently charges levelled at the biblical record of being a problematic source of contradicting passages are as foolish as they are ignorant. May we embrace a healthy and strong confidence in the harmonious fabric of the biblical revelation, for it is God’s inspired book (2 Tim. 3.16-17).
- On this point, one should read Wayne Jackson’s article, “Examining the Four Gospels”, ChristianCourier.com.
- D. A. Carson, Douglas J.. Moo, and Leon Morris, 1992, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan), 30.
- Aristotle qtd in Wayne Jackson’s article, “Does the Bible Contain Contradictions”, ChristianCourier.com.
- D. James Kennedy, 2011, “Archaeology and the Bible,” Bible and Spade 24.2: 36 (emphasis added JP).
- Jason Jackson, 1997-2011, “Myth or History: Did Jericho’s Walls Come Down?”, ChristianCourier.com. Accessed: 15 Oct. 2011.
- Wayne Jackson, 1997-2011, “The Saga of Ancient Jericho”, ChristianCourier.com. Accessed: 15 Oct. 2011.
- Eric Lyons, 2004, “Controversial Jericho”, ApologeticsPress.org. Accessed: 15 Oct. 2011.
- Bryant Wood, 1999, “The Walls of Jericho”, BibleArchaeology.com. Accessed: 13 Dec. 2011.