Where does the comma go?
Consider the vastly different meaning of these 2 versions of Luke 23:43, the only difference being the placement of the comma:
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
"I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise."
Those who believe that Christians go to heaven at the instant of their death use the first version as their proof. Those who believe that the dead are dead (see What Happens When You Die?), awaiting a later resurrection (see Resurrections), use the second version. Both sides are absolutely convinced that their reading is correct, and that the other is wrong.
A Contradiction, or good advice?
From Proverbs 26:4-5:
"Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself."
"Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes."
Does this first say not to answer a fool according to his folly, and in the very next verse to answer a fool according to his folly? Or do these two verses simply well illustrate why Christians should always avoid acting like, and associating with, those who speak and behave foolishly? Does it not simply boil down to don't be a fool?
When did the fig tree wither?
Matthew 21:1-22 states that:
- Jesus made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem v.7-9
- Jesus drove out the money changers from the Temple v.12-13
- Jesus spent the night in Bethany v.17
- the next morning, Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree that withered v.18-20
Mark 11:1-22 states that:
- Jesus made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem v.7-10
- Jesus returned to Bethany because it was late v.11
- the next morning, Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree that withered v.12-14
- Jesus drove out the money changers from the Temple v.15-17
- Jesus spent the night in Bethany v.19
- the next morning, they talked of the fruitless fig tree that had withered v.20-21
There seems to be a problem here. Did Jesus curse the fig tree before, or after He drove the money changers out of the Temple? Did Jesus spend one, or two, nights in Bethany? And another question, does it matter?
Firstly, it is very important to note that the events themselves are not disputed. Both Matthew and Mark testify that Jesus drove out the money changers, spent nights in Bethany and cursed a fruitless fig tree that withered. There is no problem with what happened, but only in the order in which it is described. It's not a matter of one saying that something did happen, while the other says that it didn't. Both writers agree perfectly on the events themselves.
But what about the timing? Keeping in mind that the Gospel accounts were written well after the events, not as they were happening, the apparent, not actual difference in timing is due to a combination of the different writing styles of the two men (the older and more experienced former tax collector and record-keeper, Matthew, and the much younger and less experienced Mark), and the accepted grammatical methods of ancient times (which are still quite evident sometimes today).
Matthew apparently didn't consider it important to record the first night in Bethany specifically, while Mark did. Mark began writing about the fig tree in verse 12, then included the money changers incident, and then finished the fig tree account from verse 20 - his "next day" and "in the morning" are, in all likelihood, actually the same day.
One of the greatest proofs of the truth and dependability of the Gospel writer's accounts is that there are slight differences in their manner of reporting. It shows that they each saw it all for themselves, and they all wrote it as independent witnesses.
If you were a teacher marking the exam papers of 4 students who were sitting adjacent to one another in class, which of these would make you very suspicious?
Fact Finder: What did the apostle Paul, a man who wrote much of the New Testament, say about perfect understanding?
See Paul's Mirror