We include our response to each letter in this type-style. We have selected a title for each letter for easy reference. If writers supply their own title, we will be happy to use it.
Letter: September 16, 1998:
Dear Mr. Edwards,
At one time I thought I learned that Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament. If that is true, I would like to know where it is located. I cannot seem to find it. Others in our Sabbath Bible study would like to know, too. Thank you for your help.
We really like Servants’ News.
— Homer Frazier,
Response: Thank you for your letter. There are many questions on this topic at this time. We hope to have an article on it in the next few months.
Letter: September 2, 1998
Dear Servants’ News,
Thank you for the research paper on government. Please send me a copy of your paper on tithing.
I’ve been a member of the Body of Christ for 30 years (Dec. 1968) now, and feel like I’ve recaptured the first love! I’ve been doing much research and study on my own and have learned more than the WCG was either unable or unwilling to teach on many subjects. Maybe I should say I’ve gone into more depth. My mother let me read her copy of the tithing paper, and I just have to have my own copy to study and mark! Enclosed is a small gift.
— Jan Grounds, Ohio
Response: We receive many letters and phone calls expressing similar feelings!
Letter: Aug 26, 1998
It has been awhile since we last wrote you. Thank you for sending us the Servants’ News. We need to be truly informed.
We still attend the UCG; we are frustrated with it. We need the fellowship of the brethren. Other brethren feel the same as we do—no place else to go except to God and the Bible. We need to build more unity in the body of Christ, not disunity.
Enclosed is a donation to help spread the news.
— RS, Illinois
Response: We agree with the need for unity in Christ. It will come from individuals looking to Him, not from human plans.
Letter: May 26, 1998
I really enjoy the Servants’ News. I’m still amazed though at people who ask why are there so many spin-offs from the WCG. Isn’t it obvious? It’s because the majority of people who make up these groups and organizations are by nature contentious and have a spirit that is not from God. From my 20 plus years in a few of the COG’s and attending many feasts I’ve seen personally how the "brethren" love talking splits and arguing over doctrine. Serious discussion and study of scripture take a back seat to the more titilating subjects. If you don’t believe me just look at the "feeding frenzy" that’s followed the UCG since its inception. In fact, if the Servants’ News didn’t carry news of splits and infighting, I doubt you’d have anywhere near the readership you presently have.
— D.C., New York
Response: We agree that there are some people who seem to be interested only in groups and their politics—usually trying to convince themselves that they are in the "right group". This is probably a mistake. On the other hand, there is a need for people to know whom they should fellowship with, and whom they should not. The New Testament contains dozens of references to individual and "church" problems—some talking about "who" is fellowshipping with "whom". Sometimes, there is a need to write or talk about groups and splits.
Letter: June 21, 1998
Thank you and all your staff for their hard work in producing Servants’ News.
On Page 6 of the May 1998 edition, you have listed various subjects you would like material on.
While I do not want to be a writer, I would like to share some observations with you as I would appreciate your input on some thoughts about, "What is the church?"
We were always taught by Herbert Armstrong that Worldwide was God’s one true church. Christ gave a clear statement of intent in Matt 16:18: "And upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." So we can be absolutely sure and confident that Christ is keeping His word.
Christ also told us in Mark 3:25: "and if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." That is also a true statement.
Sadly Worldwide Church of God as we knew it, has become exactly that, divided many times over against itself. The division has not come from outside, but within the church. The conclusion if we are to believe Christ, is that it cannot stand (ie Strong’s "abide" or "continue").
So we have to ask the question is it really God’s true church?
I myself, and I know many others have come to see that God’s Church is a spiritual organism, not a physical organization. Hence it is spiritual and cannot be seen.
I have come to the conclusion that none of the man-made organizations constitute the true church that Christ promised He would build. But I do believe many if not all of these groups or churches, may have spirit-led Christians within them. Those individuals constitute part of God’s true church, not the organization they may be a part of.
Romans 8:14-16 shows that if a person has been given God’s Spirit, they are a child of God. That is the defining factor.
I ask the question could God the Father and Jesus Christ also be working with people who are a part of his true Spiritual Church but who have never had any contact with the "church of God", as we have known it?
I’m beginning to see this could be possible, although we were always taught it wasn’t.
I don’t think we should limit God, because in the light of what has happened to Worldwide, we should consider that God will decide with who and what He builds His church, not men. Thank God for that.
— Mike Hurst, England
Response: Most people in the WCG believed it was the "one true church" because it 1) had the "right doctrines", 2) was "preaching the Gospel to the world", and 3) was "led by God’s apostle, Herbert Armstrong". However, all of these points prove that the WCG was not what Christ was talking about in Matt 16:18. Why? The WCG defined doctrine very narrowly. For example, if a member believed that Pentecost should be kept on a day different than the one taught by the organization, that member could not openly practice or talk about his Biblical conviction—he would have been put out as a heretic. Unfortunately, the WCG itself changed doctrine during its limited existence, and we certainly cannot find any church with doctrine that would be acceptable to the WCG during the 1900 years befort the WCG. Even the Apostle Paul would have been ejected as a minister from the WCG for publicly teaching that members were not required to tithe or contribute to his ministry (1Cor 9:11-12; 2Cor 11:9; 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:8). Similarly, we cannot find Sabbatarian churches throughout history that preached the Gospel in the way that the WCG did, nor can we find a continuous line of groups each of which was led by "an apostle".
In short, if the above 3 claims are the proof that the WCG was "God’s Church", then Matthew 16:18 is not true, because their have not been churches throughout history that matched these WCG "proofs".
Indeed, we find that throughout most of history, most people were lucky to hear the Bible in their own language—few owned a Bible. Only in the last two centuries have the common people had access to original language study materials. The signs of true believers were not doctrine, but love for others and the fruits of the spirit (John 13:34-35; Gal 5:22-23). Scattered throughout history, people can be found who followed these verses. Christ certainly knows exactly which ones were part of his body.
Most ex-WCG members are unaware that there are about 200,000 members of the Church of God, Seventh day. There are over ten million Seventh Day Adventists. Some of these people have studied the Bible and rejected non-biblical doctrines of their organization, but they do not want to stop attending with their friends. (Does that sound familiar?) Also, we have no way of knowing how many independent Bible readers there are—who have learned that the Church is a spiritual body, who do not belong to a church organization—yet hold doctrines very similar to ours. We have no sure way to know what percentage of people in any group—including our own—have the Holy Spirit.
Christ has built and is running His Church. We can be content with knowing that.
Letter: August 27, 1998:
In my 20 yrs of Keeping the FOT I have noticed that some brethren have had to borrow money to keep the Feast. This has always troubled me because it just didn’t seem right to have to borrow money when times are bad.
God’s love and mercy for us would cover our inability to attend. Many of us have always been taught that we had to keep the FOT where God put His Name, and that is true. However there is a provision in the Bible for those among the brethren who can’t go the the FOT to keep it at home.
Deut 12:21 (NIV): "If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want."
By all means if we do have the capacity to attend please let us do so. The point here is to remove a guilt and or burden that has been placed on the brethren from sincere yet mistaken understanding.
— Robert Pinto, Newman, California
Response: Thank you for shedding new light on this verse for me. The entire chapter of Deuteronomy 12 is about not offering sacrifice or other worship to false gods. Since people with other beliefs sacrifice animals to their gods. The Eternal very clearly states that he does not want His people involved in any of these false sacrifices, but only where the Eternal designates (v 13-14). However, they were allowed simply to kill meat for personal consumption (v 15).
Now, verses 17-18 indicate that things that were specially set apart (tithes, firstlings, vowed items, freewill offerings, heave offerings) must be eaten "before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God chooses". This was to make sure that worship of the Eternal was carried out at the right place, not just in any place were people may have been offering sacrifice to false gods.
As far as I can tell, verses 20-28 provide an exception condition to the verses above. "When the Lord your God enlarges your border..." and "If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you..." are the conditions of exception. No matter how one looks at it, the borders have been enlarged: Jews, Israelites and the Church are scattered throughout the world. The second condition, "if the way be too far from you" is a matter of economics. If a person can afford their own private jet, they are only a day’s travel from almost anywhere in the world. But believers with little money may find a 50-mile journey "too far". Somewhere in the middle, are most modern-day believers who can probably afford to go as far as they can drive in one or two days. But there are certainly some who, due to loss of a job or other factors, cannot travel to Feasts at all.
Verse 21 certainly appears to allow people who cannot afford to go to Feasts to consume tithes and possibly firstlings "within your gates as much as your heart desires". However, there are "exceptions to the exception": "But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose" (v 26, NIV). Things specifically dedicated or vowed to the Eternal had to be taken to the "place the Lord will choose"—a person ought not to vow or dedicate things unless he is sure he can take them to that place to pay the vow (Eccl 5:5). But it appears that tithe for the festival could certainly be consumed at home if the place "is too far from you". I will admit that this passage is difficult—it seems to say nearly the same thing three times in slightly different ways.
If this understanding is correct, does it mean we can simply stop saving for the Feasts and that we need not plan to go? If our spiritual goal is "to do as little as possible", then the answer may be, "Yes!" We can probably always find an excuse not to go to the Feast. But, what kind of Servant of Jesus do we want to be? Are we trying to do as little as possible or as much as possible? "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do" (Luke 17:9). If our physical circumstances prevent us from keeping the Feasts, our Father in Heaven knows. However, if we are simply more interested in our job, school, or simply "appearing normal" than we are in the Feast, our Father also knows. The apostle Paul said: "I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem..." (Acts 18:21).
Letter: September 9, 1998
This FOT in Gatlinburg will be our third. My Question is: "Shouldn’t the Shofar be blown at the beginning of the Feast and at the times of gathering?" I am wondering based on the scriptures in:
Num 10:8-10: And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance for ever throughout your generations. And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.
Num 29:1: And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you.
Inquiring minds want to know. J
A humble servant,
— Don Berkey, Pennsylvania
Response: Thank you for your good question. I believe the answer is in the first few words of the scripture that you quote. It is the Sons of Aaron who were commanded to blow the trumpets. This was a commandment given to the Aaronic Priesthood—along with sacrifices and other rituals. The Aaronic Priesthood has been replaced by the Melchizedek Priesthood, with Christ as High Priest (Heb 7), and all of the brethren are the priests (1Pet 2:5,9). I do not believe that the command for the Aaronic Priests to blow trumpets on the Feast days is in any more force than the command for them to offer sacrifices.
However, Christ is the head of the Church (Eph 5:23) now, and He has promised that He will do things that we ask in His name. If He shows you that you should blow trumpets on the Feast days, then I think you should do it. I would not recommend that you blow trumpets in the presence of those who do not want to hear trumpets, unless Christ specifically commands you to do that. When a person believes he has discovered a truth in the Bible, there is a great tendency to try to get others to accept the idea, even before he begins to practice it. I suppose that if enough people believe something, the person who discovered it will feel more comfortable doing it. But, this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. If we are convicted of a truth from the Bible, we should first put it into practice in our own lives, and then begin to teach it to others. If you feel trumpets should be blown on the Feast days, you might want to do it in your own home for a while and see if you and your family learn from it.
One final note on the "Feast of Trumpets". The first article of our August 1997 issue was entitled "The Feast of Loudness". There is no Hebrew word for "trumpet" in the two verses that identify the "Feast of Trumpets" (Lev 23:24; Num 29:1). The word means "loud sound" and is translated "shout" in many places. We believe the message of trumpets is a warning, a time to wake up. A "Feast of Trumpets" service is certainly a time for loud music and rousing messages, it is not a time to be lulled to sleep.
Letter: September 3, 1998:
I really appreciated the letters about feast observance in the last issue of SN. For the past few years my family has stayed home for the feast. I have been unable to find any basis in the New Testament for the manner of observance of the feast that HWA instituted. None of the first century Christians are recorded to have kept it in a remote location. My opinion is the Feast observance as it evolved in WCG was in reality a mechanism for controlling the membership. It was the WCG’s major marketing tool. I remember watching the video showing the passing of the baton from one church era to the next. Not Biblical, but very powerful propaganda.
Response: We agree that some big church organizations used the Feast partly as a marketing tool to control members. There is no scripture that dogmatically states that the Feasts were kept outside of Jerusalem by the New Testament Church, but there are many strong hints that they were. First, realize that the Jews dispersed abroad did observe the Feasts locally, without sacrifices or temple rituals. Therefore, if the early New Testament believers stopped observing the Feasts at all, they would be an exception to the Jewish community with which they were intermingled for a number of years. In the scripture, we get the "continued as usual" feeling about the Holy Days, as well as the Sabbath. In Acts 27:9, Paul uses only the term "fast"—the Day of Atonement—to indicate that it was a dangerous time of year to sail from Crete to Rome. This is probably 20 to 30 years after the death of Christ. If the Church was no longer fasting on the Day of Atonement, why would Luke use this term, especially when writing to a Gentile (Theophilus) about events that took place far from Jerusalem? Also, Paul tells the Corinthians they are "unleavened" in connection with Passover (1Cor 5:7) and that he must "keep this coming feast in Jerusalem" (Acts 18:21). If the only place where Feasts were kept was Jerusalem, why not just say "keep this coming feast"? The Hebrew and Roman calendars were not any better synchronized with each other back then than they are today. Just as the average "Christian" today has no idea when these feasts are, neither would the Gentile New Testament believers unless they were keeping the Feasts regularly.
Letter: I was struck with one of those rare "Moments of Clarity" while sitting in "services" at my first UCG-AIA feast after the breakup. It was a Tuesday, not a High Day. Everyone was dressed in their Sabbath best listening to the sermon. Then it hit me: "We think we are in a church service." HWA had convinced us that we needed to attend at least one "solemn assembly" each day during the fall festival. He had commanded this assembly, not God. We were all there observing a man-ordained service! As I have said many times since then, "It ain’t in the Book!!"
Response: You are right and some brethren today realize it. I have attended Feasts that have had free days, scheduled tours, seminars, and other things—they did not have a service at all on those days. We are not bound to follow HWA’s decisions that he made about the Feast.
Letter: There are two High Days during the Feast of Tabernacles and usually a weekly Sabbath. Only God can designate a Sabbath Day. But through our observance of eight days during the Feast we treated each day as a Commanded Assembly—Sabbath. I know the children at the services thought they were at a Church service. But a service commanded by man is not a church service. We have created a great deal of confusion by our observances on days not commanded by God!
I am not saying that there is anything wrong with gathering on the non-High Days during the feast for a bible study. However it should be made clear that they are not Commanded Assemblies. Self-deception is the most difficult type of deception to overcome.
Response: This is all true. There is a lot that we can learn at the Feast. Praising the Eternal and studying should always be a part of it, but we should not deceive ourselves and say there is a commanded assembly each day.
Letter: All of the corporate "Churches" have held onto WCG’s best marketing tool and revenue generator—The Feast as observed by the old WCG! From a financial stand point they must, in order to appeal to their audience. HWA used Levitical models to demand first, second and third tithes out of his people. At Christ’s death God the Father made it plain to all that the Levitical priesthood was dissolved by ripping the veil to the Holy of Holies from top to bottom. Men have been trying to repair that torn veil ever since! Always for their own benefit. They will answer to God for this! Levitical models are not fit for Christians.
Response: You make an interesting point. "New Testament ministers" often try to tie themselves to Old Testament Priests in order to exert authority and to collect tithes. I know of people who had thousands of dollars of leftover "second tithe" at the Feast and were told that they "had to turn it all in to headquarters" . The church organizations tell people that they could not spend it for non-festival purposes, yet the organization would usually take this "excess second tithe" and place it in their own general fundit for whatever they wanted to. There was little scriptural example involved in any of this.
You bring up an interesting method of analyzing the Old Testament Law. For years Sabbatarian Christians have disputed exactly how much we should strive to obey (not that law obedience saves us, but how much is really good for us?). Much of the law for how to get along with our neighbor still applies, but very few Sabbatarians offer sacrifices or participate in the Old Testament cleanliness rituals. The Eternal certainly brought an end to the Levitical priesthood in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the temple. It may be possible that all of the various rituals for which a Levitical priest was needed were also ended at that time. The Sabbath, Holy Days, 10 commandments, and many other laws can all be kept without a Levitical priest. The temple has been replaced by the believers—we can assemble wherever there are other believers. This is an interesting concept that we may explore in a future article.
Letter: I am grateful to God for showing me the error of my former observance of the feast. I would appreciate some input from SN and your readers, of ways the feast could be kept in the local area. Thanks.
— Steve Burleson, Birmingham, Alabama
Response: Some of the fruit of the WCG Feast observance was very good. People made friends with other believers in a way that they could not during most of the year. Many people met the person whom they would eventually marry at the Feast. In these times when congregations are very small, it makes even more sense to try to get together with a larger group of people at the Feast. This can be done on a regional basis, however, not with just a few sites across the country. For example, Darrell West and others who attend with us regularly near Lansing, Michigan did not want to go to Gatlinburg, Tennessee this year, so they are sponsoring a Feast in Michigan. Over 70 people, mostly from Michigan, plan to attend there. I see no need to fly or drive half-way across the country to attend the Feast, nor do I see any reason to stay at expensive accommodations. But it seems that the fruit of getting together in somewhat larger groups for the Feast has been good. Nevertheless, if you believe the Holy Spirit is leading you to observe the Feast in your local area where only "two or three are gathered together", I cannot find a scripture to refute you.
Letter: September 10, 1998
I would like to bring an interesting theory to your attention. Turn to 3 John 9-11 and now turn to Rev 2:6. I’m not sure where you stand on the doctrine of Nicolaitans, but I believe Diotrephes practiced the doctrine of Nicolaitans and those practices were a part of WCG and I believe they are still being practiced by the WCG clones.
If truly Nicolaitans means "lord over" then truly it is a practice of all hierarchy churches. Jesus says, we should hate their deeds.
In Rev 2:15 the Pergamos church held to the doctrine of Nicolaitans and Jesus told them He hates the practice of the doctrine of Nicolaitans and to repent of their deeds . I just wonder, in the previous verse, if the Pergamos church is into idolatry and sexual immorality because they practice the Nicolaitans doctrine. Do you think Jesus is telling us to avoid hierarchical churches because it seems to me hierarchical churches "lord over" the brethren? He commends the church at Ephesus for resisting the Nicolaitans doctrine which I believe was started by Diotrephes.
This brings to mind what has just taken place in Big Sandy with Dave Havir.
—Will Blair, Ohio
Response: Most Bible dictionaries that I read say the Nicolaitans were a sect, possibly led by someone named Nicolas. However, there is never any historical evidence cited for this, and the Bible does not give any definition for the doctrines of the Nicolaitans. Since the book of Revelation is a revealing by Christ, since people are blessed for reading the book (1:3), and since everyone is told to listen to every message to every church, I believe that we must be able to figure out what the doctrine oft he Nicolaitans are from the name. The name means "conquering of the people" or "destruction of the people" as one dictionary had it. The second half of the word, "laitan", is the same root that we get our word "laity" from. The most fitting explanation I can find is that the doctrines of the Nicolaitans are those of some people ("clergy") who rule over the "laity". Indeed, most Bibles do not contain the words "clergy" and "laity" at all, unless you count "Nicolaitan."
I understand why you tie 3Jn 9-11 into this. Diotrephes clearly did love the preeminence over others, and cast out those who disagreed with him. I cannot say for sure whether Diotrephes was the first "Nicolaitans", or if he was part of what Revelation was talking about or not. But we can see many good examples of people being cast out of a congregation in the Bible that involved the whole congregation (Matt 18:17; 1Cor 5:4; etc.). Even in the case of 3 John that you quoted, the Apostle John does not take it upon himself to disfellowship Diotrephes by letter, but says that if he comes, he will call to mind his evil deeds. Diotrephes was undoubtedly a "smooth talker" who had convinced many local brethren that he was righteous. John would have to spell out all of his problems to the congregation to convince them that it was Diotrephes who should be cast out.
The Bible encourages us to fellowship with other brethren, and to leave those where the doctrines are so bad that we cannot accomplish much. One congregation of a hierarchical group may have wonderful local leaders who really serve their people and encourage them to use their gifts. On the other hand, a congregation of a "democratic church" may be run by a "local dictator" of a pastor. The Bible does not give us rules for "finding a church organization", but commands us to have a personal relationship with Christ, to follow his direction in our lives, and to be effective Christians. Some of the first century members were slaves; some were free. Some were rich; some were poor. Some were highly educated; some were not.
Today, some of us may serve best by remaining in hierarchical groups and helping others to see more truth. Others may need to leave them to serve in some other way. We cannot tell you the Eternal’s will for your life. The Eternal knew what He was doing when He called each one of us. It us up to us to seek His will and do it.
Letter: September 2, 1998
Years ago (20+) I used to listen to the leaders of the WCG on radio and TV, as well as in church congregations quote from Matthew 24:42, "Watch…!" and then ask rhetorically, "Watch what?" and then answer their own rhetorical question, thunderously, "Watch world events!"
It wasn’t until years later that I noticed that world events wasn’t what Christ was telling us to watch. Rather, it was our own spiritual condition and that of our fellow brethren that we were to be watching (v 43-51 and all of chapter 25). I made a study at one point of all the places we are exhorted to watch by Christ or Paul, and that is the context every time.
We need to be aware of local and world events only to gain wisdom through the spirit of what this present world is like and, with common sense and prudence, to see danger coming and flee, if necessary, as it is written in the proverbs. Until the erection of the third temple, the prophesying of the two witnesses, and the abomination that makes desolate, our own mortality is more imminent than the Second Coming.
Although I am in substantial agreement with your editorial position on most areas, what makes SN most valuable, in my opinion, is allowing me to read and meditate on the state of God’s people beyond my local church assembly, as I don’t travel much. I can’t say it’s always a very heartening view, as so many of us are divisive, confused doctrinally, and lukewarm (and I don’t entirely exclude myself). It is, however, a vital component of "watch!"
Thanks for providing this service.
— Glen Fleming, Tennessee
Response: Thanks! We agree with you. There are five Greek words translated "watch" in the New Testament and none of them specifically means "to watch world events". When we look at the verses where all of those words are used, none of them specifically tells us to watch world events. But we also agree that the overall wisdom of the Bible is that we should look where we are going and avoid future evil if possible. If we are short of time, however, we are better off to watch ourselves rather than world events—we will be judged for what we do; not what the world does.
Letter: August 31, 1998
I would like to share with you some of my personal opinions concerning the gospel accounts, especially Luke. It might change altogether the way you previously looked at the gospel’s account. Please continue!
It is generally thought the gospel according to Luke is the most reliable chronological account, given the fact that much of the content is shared with Matthew and Mark. It is also generally agreed Mark was one of Luke’s major sources. Almost all Mark is included in Luke but it has been rewritten in Luke’s more developed literary style. "The beloved physician" (Col. 4:14) also includes much of Jesus’ teaching which is in Matthew but not in Mark, and it is generally assumed this came from a common source or collection of sources, rather than one of the gospels being dependent on the other.
The date of composition depends on the date assigned to Mark and whether the "fellow worker" (Phm.24) was writing before or after the fall of Jerusalem which Jesus had prophesied. As Acts finishes before Paul’s death and has no interest in Jerusalem’s fall, Luke was probably written before AD 70.
I have found major chronological inconsistencies in the gospel. This is based upon careful study and examination.
Response: Before considering these historical questions it is important to realize several facts about the Gospels:
1) All of the Gospel accounts are only a summary of what the writers believed to be important. Jesus’ ministry lasted several years. A diligent reader can read all four Gospel accounts in one day. When the Son of God was on earth, everything He did was righteous and important. But we only have four summaries of His actions and teachings. Even though the Eternal inspired these writings, He allowed each writer to tell the story as he understood it. Writing was a slow and expensive process. These writers were focusing on what was necessary to understand the truth of Christ’s life and teaching, not on writing a historical account that would cover every possible detail.
2) When the gospels were written, there were certainly many oral traditions about Jesus in existence at the time of their writings. To the extent that these oral traditions were accurate, the Gospel writers may have treated these subjects sparsely—because people already understood them. However, in areas where false stories were circulating, the Gospel writers may have written more extensively to "clear up" the errors. Today, we have lost all of those oral traditions, and are left to wonder why the Gospel writers give great detail on some seemingly less important areas, and give very little information on some very important areas.
3) There was no printed or electronic media in the first century. Christ’s teachings were not printed in the local paper, tape recorded by synagogue attendants, or broadcast on the national news. As He traveled to different places, He had to repeat many of His teachings. Some of His teachings came in the form of object lessons—a certain person did a certain thing, and Christ responded with a certain miracle or teaching. While it would be beyond human capability to cause a paralyzed man to be brought to you when it was time to teach a certain lesson, it is easy for the Father in heaven to do. The scripture indicates that some people were born with the very purpose of being healed by Christ (John 9:3). Even though much of the recorded teaching was to the apostles, He had to repeat things to them because they did not understand it the first time. This fact should help us understand why very similar incidents and teachings seem to happen at different times and places in the Gospels. If a Gospel writer describes one such incident well, why should he need to describe other similar incidents?
(1) There are instances in which Luke omits parts of Jesus’ ministry, whether intentional or unintentional. E.g., Jesus’ changing water into wine (Jn. 2:1-11) and John the Baptist’s death (9:7).
Response: Luke had to omit most of Jesus’ ministry! There was too much to record in such a short book. After the resurrection, we can ask him why he did not include these stories.
Letter: (2) Luke decides to disperse throughout his gospel portions of Jesus’ teachings that would otherwise be intact. See 6: 20-49; 11: 2-4; 12: 22-31, 33-34.
Response: These are foundational teachings that Christ probably repeated often. These teachings make sense as a whole, but they also fit nicely into the context where Luke presents them. There is no real need for Luke to present them twice.
Letter: (3) Luke deliberately shows chronological inconsistency. Compare 4:23 with v. 31.
Response: I do not see any inconsistency here. Luke 4:14-15 says that Jesus returned to Galilee and "taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all." Galilee is a region in Northern Israel, but these verses do not say exactly where He was teaching. Verse 16 shows that He went to Nazareth, and verse 23 mentions that he been to Capernaum before Nazareth. Since Capernaum is in Galilee, it makes sense that that must be one of the places referred to by verses 14-15. Verse 29 says that the people "thrust Him [Jesus] out of the city." It should be no surprise that He went back to Capernaum (verse 31) where he was well-received. The distance is about 25 miles and could be covered in a long day.
Letter: (4) The most egregious difference is when the gospel writer places Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman not in Bethany, but in Galilee, and in the middle of the Messiah’s ministry (7:36ff); not at the end, where Matthew, Mark and John show irrefutable agreement (Mt 26:6-13; Mk.14:3-9; Jn. 12: 1-3). This positioning of the sinful woman’s anointing is of paramount importance, since we usually use John 12:1ff in order to acquire a clear and thorough chronological account of Jesus’ "Passion Week". If Luke’s version is the "orderly account" (1:3), then all of the gospel writers are wrong and, we could no longer use Jn. 12 as a cornerstone for the Messiah’s last week. Either Luke is wrong or Matthew, Mark and John are right!
Response: I am a little puzzled at why you believe that these are the same incident at all. As you note, the time is different and the place is different. Also, the message that Christ gives after the incident is completely different. They both occurred in the house of someone named Simon, but Simon was a common name at that time. Luke clearly says its Simon a Pharisee whereas Matthew and Mark say "Simon the Leper". Finally, the lesson given by Christ is totally different. In Luke, the woman is an unknown sinner and Christ explains how those who have sinned much are more thankful because they have been forgiven much. In Matthew, Mark and John, the woman was Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Christ had to explain that it was all right to use expensive ointment to anoint him for His burial—that they would always have the poor with them.
Letter: Accordingly, there are several explanations. (1) "An orderly account" (1:3) might portray a different meaning in first century koine Greek that we are not aware of. (2) Luke might have conferred all of the available sources for his recollection, but some of them being incomplete in order. Therefore, for him, it would be "in complete chronological order," but in reality it was not. It is imperative to understand that the gospel accounts were written by imperfect men, susceptible to error, and that the accounts only supplement and complement each other.
— Angel Oyola, Puerto Rico
Response: Before going further in your studies of the New Testament, I highly recommend that you look into the scholarly works on these subjects. A.T. Robinson’s A Harmony of the Gospels covers most of the questions that you raised. Other books have been written that deal with "bible contradictions". While I would not say that any one of these books is perfect, they will certainly help you clear up many problems. You must ask for understanding from the Holy Spirit to guide you in all of your study.
It is obvious that the Eternal has allowed some error to creep into Bible translations, and into the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Many righteous people lived their entire lives not knowing about the errors that they were reading in their Bible. However, the proportion of error is very small and the basic message of the Bible is still clear in nearly every translation or version. If the Eternal has allowed a little error in Bible manuscripts and translations, is it also possible that he allowed a little error into the original writings? Maybe. We will not know until we see Christ in His Kingdom. You can learn what you need to do to be in that Kingdom from almost any Bible!
If there are contradictions in the Bible, they are very few and on matters of little importance. We are called to preach the Truth of the Bible to others, not to endlessly debate its historical merits. While there is much value in digging deep in the scriptures to understand as much as possible, we must be careful that we do not overthrow the faith of some by raising numerous questions about contradictions—especially when they are not contradictions at all.