Answering Contradictions in the Gospels--Chronological Problems

A common objection to the inerrancy of Scripture, especially regarding the Gospels, is the "Synoptic Problem." The so-called "Synoptic Problem" is simply that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) contradict each other. The first thing that people usually bring up is the problem of chronology in the Gospels. Usually, this effects the placement of a story, such as the placement of the story of the healing of the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10) or statements Jesus made such as in Matthew 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29. A lot of these "chronological contradictions" are because of a misunderstanding of the intent of the writers. People are familiar with the notion that Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, while Luke wrote to a gentile audience. Few people, however, take the time to outline the Gospels themselves, but rather try to read them side-to-side and point out "A ha! They are contradictory." If they did, they would find out that Matthew wrote thematically and not chronologically, and Luke and Mark wrote far more chronologically than did Matthew. This is not some isolated fact. Rather, when looking at the problem of the healing of the centurion's slave Shaffer writes, "Every commentator consulted agreed that Matthew has not presented these stories in a strictly chronological order. Again, a look at any harmony will reveal this." [1]

So, if we outline Matthew it would look something like this in comparison to the other Gospels:

Ch 1 --> 2-->3-->14-->3-->4-->13-->4-->8-->4  [2]

This is easily explained when we outline Matthew's Gospel [3]:

1. The King's Advent (The prologue)
a. His Birth
b. His Entry into Public Ministry

2. The King's Authority
a. Discourse 1
b. Narrative 1

3. The King's Agenda
a. Discourse 2
b. Narrative 2

4. The King's Adversaries
a. Discourse 3
b. Narrative 3

5. The King's Administration
a. Discourse 4
b. Narrative 4

6. The King's Atonement
a. Discourse 5
b. Narrative 5

7. The King's Assignment (The Epilogue)
a. Matthew 28:16-20

By simply taking any class on literature, you learn that writers carefully plan out what their message is and how they want to deliver their message. It is apparent that Matthew's approach to the book was to alternate Christ's discourses with pertinent narrative. Now it is easy to see why Matthew sometimes places events in Jesus' life out of chronological order.



[1] Shaffer, J. TMSJ 17/1 (Spring 2006) 35-50.  Accessed from
[3] MacArthur Study Bible


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.