Speaking the Truth in Love

A Characteristic of Credible Testimony

The four Gospels are full of apparent inconsistencies. For example, Mark says that “as Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside” (10:46). But Luke says that as Jesus “drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging” (18:35). Which is it? Was Jesus leaving or approaching Jericho when he met blind Bartimaeus?

There are always reasonable explanations for the apparent discrepancies in the Gospels, but the average reader is often unfamiliar with them. So here’s an important thing to remember: Credible testimony is characterized by apparent inconsistencies. In 2009, Carolyn and I and some friends hiked up the trail to Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Several times hikers coming down from the 80-foot waterfall gave us warnings like these: “A bear is sleeping on the trail.” “A mother bear and two cubs are up there.” “I don’t see the mother bear, and that’s what bothers me.” “A bear is coming down the trail toward you.”

These warnings were apparently contradictory. Was there one bear, two bears, or three bears? Was the bear sleeping on the trail, hiding in the underbrush, or lumbering down the path toward us? It never crossed our minds that these somewhat inconsistent reports might be fictional. And they weren’t. Our little party of four eventually spotted the bears. The details varied a bit because of the different perspectives of the witnesses. But the main thing was firmly established: An adult bear was in the vicinity, and we needed to be careful.

The witnesses of Jesus’ miracles also establish the main thing. Whether the Lord was coming to or going from Jericho is a minor detail that can be clarified through investigation. The main thing is that Jesus healed blind people. This point is especially important in the testimony about the resurrection of Christ, the supreme miracle upon which the Christian faith depends. The details in the stories are all a little different (which is to be expected in credible testimony), but every witness agrees on the main thing: Jesus rose from the dead!

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