In the New Testament, there appear to be discrepancies in the accounts of several incidents in the lives of the apostles of Jesus Christ. For purposes of this discussion, Paul is regarded as an apostle, although he was not one of the twelve who were with Jesus throughout His approximately three years of public ministry. (Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:9 that he considers himself an apostle, albeit “the least of the apostles.”) Using the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, we will consider discrepancies pertaining to the following two incidents:
- Peter’s denials that he was a follower of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:33-34, 69-75; Mark 14:29-30, 66-72; Luke 22:34, 54-61; John 13:37-38; 18:17, 25-27)
- Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7; 22:6-9)
Peter’s Denials That He Was a Follower of Jesus Christ
The written accounts in all four Gospel books agree that, while Jesus Christ was on trial, Peter denied three times that he was one of Jesus’ followers, just as Jesus had predicted. However, there is disagreement as to who accused Peter of being a follower of Jesus each time. All four accounts do agree that a “servant girl” accused Peter the first time, but they do not agree as who accused Peter the other two times. The second accuser is said to be “another,” in both Matthew and Luke; the same “servant girl” who accused him the first time, in Mark; and “they,” in John. And, the third accuser is “those who stood by,” in both Matthew and Mark; a “man,” in Luke; and “one of the servants of the high priest,” in John.
Furthermore, there does not seem to be unanimous agreement as to the number of times that the rooster crowed after Peter’s denials. Mark specifically states that the rooster crowed twice, as predicted by Jesus. In contrast, the accounts in the three other gospel books appear to imply that the rooster crowed only once, although they don’t specifically state how many times the rooster actually crowed. Likewise, Jesus’ prediction in each of these three books regarding how many times the rooster would crow is not specific, but seems to imply that the rooster would crow only once.
Since all four Gospel writers agree as to whom the first person was to accuse Peter of being a follower of Jesus, it is necessary to reconcile only the accounts as to who made the second and third accusations. Apparently, there were several accusers the second time: the same “servant girl” who accused Peter the first time (according to Mark); “another” person, whom several translations suggest was another servant girl (according to Matthew and Luke); and other people (referred to as “they” by John). There may also have been several accusers the third time, since Matthew and Mark refer to “those who stood by;” Luke refers to a “man;” and John refers to a servant. (The possibility of several accusers the second and third time is supported by Norman Geisler, Ph.D., on page 66 of his book entitled Inerrancy.) However, it is also possible that the third accusation was made by a man, who was a servant, acting as spokesperson for a group of people who were there.
A real discrepancy does not exist with regard to the number of times that the rooster crowed, since Matthew, Luke, and John do not specifically state how many times the rooster will crow according to Jesus’ prediction, or how many times it actually did crow. It seems reasonable to assume that Mark was just more specific than the other writers.
Another explanation pertaining to the number of times the rooster crowed is suggested by Geisler and Thomas Howe, M.A. In their book entitled When Critics Ask, they say on page 360,
It is also possible that different accounts are due to an early copyist error in Mark, that resulted in the insertion of “two” in early manuscripts (at Mark 14:30 and 72). This would explain why some important manuscripts of Mark mention only one crowing. . . .
Paul’s Experience on the Road to Damascus
Acts 9:7 indicates that the men who were with Paul (whose name at that time was Saul) heard a voice but did not see anyone when Jesus spoke to him on his journey to Damascus. In contrast, when Paul tells in Acts 22:9 what happened on his trip to Damascus, he says that those who were with him did not hear a voice when Jesus spoke to him.
John W. Haley, M.A., on page 359 of his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, explains that the Greek word that is translated as “hear” has “two distinct meanings, to perceive sound, and to understand. The men who were with Saul of Tarsus heard the sound, but did not understand what was said to him.”
This perspective is supported by Gleason L. Archer, who on page 382 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, says,
In the original Greek . . ., there is no real contradiction between these two statements [in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9]. Greek makes a distinction between hearing a sound as a noise . . . and hearing a voice as a thought-conveying message. . . . Therefore, as we put the two statements together, we find that Paul’s companions heard the Voice as a sound . . .; but they did not . . . hear the message that it articulated. Paul alone heard it intelligibly. . . .
Likewise, Allen Bowman, Ph.D., on page 135 of his book entitled Is the Bible True?, states, “In Acts 9:7 the meaning of the word “hear” is merely to perceive a sound. In Acts 22:9, on the other hand, the meaning is to perceive the message which the sound conveyed.” In other words, Acts 9:7 indicates that the men were aware that something was being said, whereas Acts 22:9 indicates that the men were not able to understand what was being said.
The preceding perspectives provide plausible, albeit indefinite, explanations of the differences in the accounts of both Peter’s denials and Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus.