In this article, we will first consider several apparent New Testament misquotations of Old Testament Scriptures, and then several differences in quotations between New Testament books.
[Note: When quoting Scripture, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
Apparent New Testament Misquotations of Old Testament Scriptures
Example #1: Matthew 2:6 seems to misquote Micah 5:2. The Matthew quotation reads: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.” However, Micah 5:2 says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel. . . .”
One apparently significant difference in the wording of these two passages is that Matthew substitutes “in the land of Judah” for “Ephrathah.” Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., on page 327 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, address this apparent discrepancy, as follows:
There is no difference between the land of Judah and Ephrathah, except one is more specific than the other. In fact, Ephrathah refers to Bethlehem in the Micah passage, and Bethlehem is located in the land of Judah. However, this does not change the basic meaning of this verse. He is speaking of the same area of land.
Another significant difference in the two passages is that Bethlehem is described by Micah as “little,” whereas Matthew describes the town as “by no means least.” On page 327 of their book, Geisler and Howe provide the following explanation:
The phrase in Micah only says that Bethlehem is . . . little or small, as compared to the other areas of land in Judah. The verse does not say it is the least among them, only very little. Matthew is saying the same thing in different words, namely, that Bethlehem is little in size, but by no means the least in significance, since the Messiah was born there.
With regard to the differences in the two passages, Gleason L. Archer provides another perspective that seems worthy of consideration. On page 318 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, he suggests that Matthew may have used a “paraphrastic version [of the Bible], or perhaps injected a bit of interpretation as he dealt directly with the Hebrew original, endeavoring to bring out implications rather than giving a merely literal rendering.”
In this regard, Geisler and Howe state on page 20 of their book,
Critics often point to variations in the NT’s use of the OT Scriptures as a proof of error. However, they forget that every citation need not be an exact quotation. It was then (and still is today) a perfectly acceptable literary style to give the essence of a statement without using precisely the same words. The same meaning can be conveyed without using the same verbal expressions.
With reference to another passage in Matthew, but applicable to this passage as well, Geisler and Howe declare on page 329 of their book, “It is not necessary to quote a passage verbatim to cite it accurately. Matthew does not distort the meaning. . . . He simply condenses or summarizes it. To paraphrase accurately is not to distort.”
Example #2: Matthew 27:9-10 attributes an Old Testament quotation to the book of Jeremiah, whereas it was actually recorded in Zechariah 11:12-13.
In attempting to resolve this discrepancy, the explanation that seems to be the most plausible and does not compromise the integrity of the Bible is that the name of the book being quoted in Matthew may have been abridged (i.e., shortened) when it was written. In this regard, John W. Haley, M.A., on page 153 of his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, says, “In the Greek, Jeremiah, instead of being written in full, might stand thus, ‘Iriou;’ Zechariah thus, ‘Zriou.’ By the mere change of Z into I, the mistake would be made.”
Example #3: Luke 4:18-19 does not seem to accurately quote Isaiah 61:1-2. In the Luke passage, Jesus quotes only the first phrase of Isaiah 61:2, which says, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus does not quote the last phrase of that verse, which states, “and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.”
In response to this apparent discrepancy, Geisler and Howe declare on page 387 of their book,
Jesus did quote the passage accurately, but He didn’t quote it completely. That is neither uncommon nor unacceptable. It is still done by authors today. . . . Furthermore, Jesus had a very good reason for not quoting the rest of the verse – it would have been wrong. Jesus told His audience that the quotation was limited to what “is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). But the only part of the verse that was fulfilled in His first coming was exactly the part He cited. Had He continued and read “And the day of vengeance of our God” (which refers to His second coming . . .), then what He said would not have been true.
Differences in Quotations Between New Testament Books
Example #1: The account of what God said immediately after Jesus was baptized differs somewhat between what is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Matthew 3:17: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:11: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:22: “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
Example #2: None of these same three gospel books agree as to what Jesus said when He and His apostles were confronted by a severe storm while they were in a boat.
Matthew 8:26: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”
Mark 4:40: “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”
Luke 8:25: “Where is your faith?”
With regard to apparent discrepancies such as these, Haley asserts on page 154 of his book, “[I]t is beyond question that . . . the fundamental idea is preserved under all the various forms. And this, we think, is all, and precisely what, the sacred writers intended.” Likewise, Geisler and Howe assert on page 329 of their book, “To paraphrase accurately is not to distort.” In other words, it is not necessary for the biblical accounts to give exact quotations, provided that the paraphrases correctly state the essence of what was said.
Example #3: Jesus’ sermon that begins with the Beatitudes is considerably different in the account recorded in Matthew 5:1 – 7:27 than in the version presented in Luke 6:17-49. Not only do the two accounts differ as to their wording of specific concepts, but also the length of the sermon that is reported in Matthew is much longer than what is mentioned in Luke.
If the account in Luke pertains to a different sermon than the account in Matthew, there is no need to reconcile the differences in the two accounts, but if the two accounts pertain to the same sermon, there is a need to explain why they differ to such a great extent.
Archer believes that the accounts reflect two different sermons. On page 366 of his book, he states,
These are two different speeches, given on two different occasions, in two different settings.
As the term “Sermon on the Mount” implies, Matthew 5-7 was delivered on a mountainside in Galilee. It was addressed primarily to Jesus’ disciples rather than to the multitude as a whole. . . . The setting for the somewhat condensed version of the Beatitudes as recorded in Luke was not on any mountain but on a plain . . . . It was not addressed to the limited circle of disciples but to a large multitude of disciples and a great throng of people . . . – hence a far different audience.
Most versions of the Bible state with regard to Luke 6:17 that Jesus was on “the plain” or “a level place,” whereas with regard to Matthew 5:1, they state that Jesus went up on “a mountain” or “a mountainside.” Thus, they support Archer’s position that the sermon mentioned in chapter six of Luke was not just a different account of the sermon that is recorded in chapters 5-7 of Matthew, but instead it was a separate sermon that was presented on a different occasion.
Geisler and Howe note on pages 388-389 of their book that, although some scholars agree that the teachings recorded in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 are from the same sermon, others believe the two accounts of Jesus’ sermon record the same event, not two different events. Geisler and Howe go on to say that one of the ways to explain the difference in the accounts is that “Jesus may have said much more on this occasion than either writer recorded. So each writer is selecting from a larger body of material that which suited their theme.”
And on page 20 of their book, they state,
Critics often jump to the conclusion that a partial report is false. However, this is not so. If it were, most of what has ever been said would be false, since seldom does time or space permit an absolutely complete report. Occasionally, the Bible expresses the same thing in different ways, or at least from different viewpoints . . . . Hence, inspiration does not exclude a diversity of expression.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary is one of the sources that disagree with Archer. In reference to the sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7, Wycliffe says,
This is the same discourse as that recorded in Lk 6:20-49, for the differences can be harmonized or accounted for, and the similarity of the beginnings, endings, and subject matter makes the identification most probable. Furthermore, both accounts record the healing of the centurion’s servant as the next event.
With regard to the account in Matthew 5-7, a footnote in the New International Version of the Bible offers the following additional possibility:
Opinion differs as to whether the Sermon is a summary of what Jesus taught on one occasion or a compilation of teachings presented on numerous occasions. Matthew possibly took a single sermon and expanded it with other relevant teachings of Jesus. Thirty-four of the verses in Matthew’s [account of the] Sermon occur in different contexts in Luke than the apparently parallel Sermon on the Plain (Lk. 6:17-49).
Regardless of whether or not the accounts in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 pertain to the same sermon, there do not seem to be any inconsistencies that cannot be satisfactorily reconciled by one or more of the preceding explanations.
We believe the explanations provided with regard to the aforementioned quotation discrepancies in the Bible satisfactorily reconcile those discrepancies and, therefore, the credibility of the Bible is not blemished by those discrepancies.