Of miracle stories and logical consistency

The question I want to focus on is whether the texts in the New Testament-feeding of four thousand and five thousand- are compatible on their own, then whether the texts are compatible with each other. By compatible on their own, I mean whether any of the Gospels contradict each other on said text. When I ask whether the texts are compatible with each other, I am asking whether both of the stories themselves-feeding of the four thousand and feeding of the five thousand- contradict the other story.

In each of the stories, I don’t see how they contradict in reality. I see various differences in the accounts; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the stories “contradict”. I can claim that it seems to me that 1=1, and Jones can claim that it seems to him that 1=2. First off, there is no strict logical impossibility (self-contradiction) in suggesting that 1=2, even though for all we know it is impossible in another sense. Secondly, we’re both not necessarily making claims about the way things actually have to be in reality; rather, we are expounding on the way things seem to us. I don’t see how seemings can be “wrong” in this sense. “It seems that I’m typing now” is different from claiming, “I am typing right now.” The former can’t be wrong, while the latter could be wrong.

One supposed contradiction is in the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:44 NIV); (Matt 14:15-21). Mark says that five thousand men ate; Matthew says five thousand men ate, not including women and children. This supposed contradiction can be resolved by saying Mark isn’t excluding that women and children ate just by saying that men ate. There would be a contradiction if men eat and don’t eat at the same time/same manner (M(e) & ~M(e)); that’s not what is happening in the Gospels.

But the more important thing is that differing accounts seem to increase the credibility of a/an story/eye witness account (1). I’ve always been told that if every eye witness of X event has the same account, we should be very suspicious. Why? Because that’s exactly what we would expect if all the eye witlessness got together to make sure their stories are in harmony, and we wouldn’t expect all the eyewitnesses to have gotten together if there are difference in their accounts. So far from hindering the credibility of the Gospel accounts, let’s now take the skeptic’s so called evidence against the Gospels’ credibility, and add it as evidence in favor of the Gospels being credible.

Now let’s look at whether the feeding of the four thousand and five thousand are compatible. The easiest answer to resolve the apparent inconsistency, that immediately comes to mind, is that the stories are different stories (2). In other words, the feeding of the four thousand was a different historical event than the feeding of the five thousand, which was another historical event. But of course consistency doesn’t automatically mean the explanation is a plausible one. For example, I can give a consistent story of how Jesus is still roaming the earth right now, but most of us recognize that this wouldn’t make the story true or likely to be true. The question now becomes which is the best explanation: The feeding of the five thousand evolved from the feeding of the four thousand (perhaps vice versa), or the stories describe two different stories? It seems to me that the answer to that question is going to rely largely on one’s prior beliefs. In other words, an atheist’s prior beliefs will influence him seeing that the best explanation is that one account evolved from the other. On the other hand, an evangelical Christian is likely to view the accounts as two separate historical event. And of course, someone who doesn’t hold to Biblical inerrancy could plausibly agree with the evolution hypothesis, which is to say that one story evolved from the other.


1. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2015/why-we-should-expect-witnesses-to-disagree/ 2. http://restlesspilgrim.net/blog/2014/08/05/whats-the-difference-between-the-feeding-of-the-4000-and-the-5000/

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