Seventh-Day Adventist Church
Concerning Biblical numbers, genealogies, and dates it would be wise if both the casual and the analytical reader would consider them interesting, even fascinating events rather than crucial events requiring a higher level of precision than is evident in the Scriptures themselves. Leaving it at that, they could live at peace with their respective conclusions.
Yes, there are variations in scripture such as in specific numbers, in facts within stories, and in the words of Jesus. Let's take a look at those.
Many question the number variations listed in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. There is a slight difference in what was supposed to be two identical lists. Nehemiah's list was used nearly a century later to guide him in the resettlement of Jerusalem. Of the 42 numbers given by Ezra (v. 3-60), 18 differ from the corresponding numbers in Nehemiah 7. The differences are small, and can be explained by assuming that the lists were drawn up at different times, and that during the interval the population figures varied, owing to deaths and births, or for other reasons. There are also varying forms between the two lists that refer to certain individuals but that occurs throughout the Bible. This is particularly true in the New Testament when there are references to names in the Old Testament.
The question of the 2 demon possessed men of Matthew 8:28-34 versus the one man in Mark 5:1-20 is often disturbing to people. One Bible commentary tries to explain it in this fashion: "Matthew speaks of two men. Apparently, however, one was outstandingly fierce. Similarly, Matthew speaks of two blind men at Jericho (ch. 20:30), where Mark (ch. 10:46) and Luke (ch. 18:35) speak of but one, probably for some similar reason. It is worthy of note that Matthew, no doubt an eyewitness to both events, mentions two men in each instance."
In various places in the Gospels the writers report differently the words of Christ. They also give different accounts of certain matters, for example, the inscription on the cross. These variations have been seized upon by skeptics as proof that the Gospel writers are unreliable, even false, and thus certainly not inspired. A careful examination proves the opposite. Those who wrote the Gospels, along with the other followers of Christ, considered themselves witnesses of the events of our Lord's life. They staked everything on truthfulness of their witness.
In a court today, if witnesses all testify precisely the same regarding an incident, the conclusion is, not that they are truthful, but that they are perjurers. Why? Because experience teaches us that no two people see an event exactly alike. One point impresses one witness; another point impresses another. Again, they may all have heard exactly the same words spoken in connection with the event, but each reports the words a little differently. One witness may even report certain parts of a conversation that the other witnesses do not report. But so long as there is no clear contradiction in the thought or meaning of the variant statements, the witnesses may be considered to have told the truth. Indeed, apparently contradictory statements may often prove to be not contradictory at all, but actually complementary.
All experience, and especially the experience of the courts through the long years, leads to the conclusion that truthful witnessing need not be - indeed, should not be - equated with carbon-copy identity of testimony of the different witnesses to an event, including their testimony as to what was said at the particular event.