Liam, thanks again, good thoughts… i think what guards me against such concerns this is that i had a friend (more of a schoolmate/acquaintance) who was annoyingly pedantic… and would try to find a contradiction or fault with everything i said by taking everything i said in the most woodenly literal sense, and never gave any normal sense of the use of language. For example, I might have shared with one friend that i had started studying Greek in grad school, and then on another occasion mentioned that I had begun learning basics of Greek while in undergrad… and he would claim i had contradicted myself. I learned to give benefit of the doubt to people’s general explanations especially if they weren’t intending to give an exactingly precise and painstakingly detailed account.
Obviously none of the gospel writers were trying to outline with exacting or precise detail every thing and leave no omissions (Luke even fails to describe Jesus’s appearance to peter that he makes a passing reference to), and thus i give the benefit of the doubt to them the same way i would want people to do for me in my normal use of language. And it is just indisputable that the term “disciples” in this context means many things… sometimes the eleven, sometimes more. The “eleven” may also mean a general term for them, not necessarily meaning every single one of the eleven… ( John still uses the term “twelve” to refer to the disciples post resurrection even though we know there were no longer twelve, after all.)
For instance, consider: even in the book of Luke just by itself… if i were to ask without further clarification or qualification, “Did Jesus’s disciples first meet him on the road to Emmaus some distance from Jerusalem, or did they first meet him in Jerusalem?” the answer is… “yes.” “disciples” is simply too broad a term to yield one single answer.
Or, again, just in Luke’s gospel alone, we have another “apparent” contradiction from Luke that appears in just one breath:
And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them…
So… in just one breath… Did Jesus want them to “stay in the city”… or did Jesus want them leave the city and go to Bethany?? if we don’t allow basic common sense in the way people talk in general terms and give some benefit of the doubt, we would see a contradiction there, one at which Luke would probably roll his eyes. but I find it the same kind of pedantic contradiction someone would see, say, if i claimed, “I lived in Japan from 2000 until 2006,” and then later said “I spent 6 months in the middle east in 2003.”
I myself don’t live or die by the need to have a precise reconciliation of every possible discrepancy, but at the same time i just understand how language works, how people make general statements based in their intent, how they will omit various items that just aren’t important to their purpose, and how differing accounts in various contexts often don’t seem to line up even when both are true. And thus i am very hesitant to claim a contradiction when i know i simply don’t have all the facts… a habit i try to extend to any ancient or modern historical literature, testimony, or account, not just regarding biblical literature. i do the same for supposed “errors” people claim about Herodotus, for instance.
And thus i find myself supremely annoyed with folks like Bart Ehrman or Peter Enns when they insist on using only the most pendantic or woodenly literal interpretations (the very kind they chide evangelicals for exercising) in order to find (or invent?) contradictions in the Bible that wouldn’t be there if we just read the text with more natural or common sense use of language.
(OK, i’ll try tog rt off this particular soap box now…!)