Biblical contradictions

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A thorough knowledge of the Bible is the groundwork of heresy. Many who think they read their Bibles never read them at all. They go through a chapter a day as a matter of duty, and forget what is said in Matthew before they read what is said is John; hence they never mark the contradictions and never see the discrepancies.
—Annie Wood Besant, My Path to Atheism (1885)[1]

Biblical contradictions occur when two or more verses, approached from a literalist perspective, state two or more things that cannot simultaneously be true. Biblical contradictions are internal errors (errors in relating the Bible to itself), not external errors.

Biblical contradictions are often called "Biblical difficulties" by those defending the Bible.


[edit] Creation Week

The first example of this occurring in Scripture is Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2. Any account of these contradictions is dutifully met with denial, slippery slope allegations and/or ignorance of the topic. When asked to provide a step-by-step "scientific" account of creationism the fundamentalist generally launches into the account in Genesis 1 — but when asked about why Genesis 2 has the order of creation irreconcilably different, they appear to suddenly have an epiphany that the minor details that matter so much in discrediting science don't matter in cases where their factually accurate God happens to write down two very different accounts of the same story.

[edit] Inconsistent genealogies

The two genealogies of Jesus presented in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are inconsistent, both with each other and with another genealogical record in Genesis 11.

Although explanations can resolve the contradiction, they present problems for literalists who speak of the "clarity of Scripture."

[edit] Jesus' paternal grandfather

But it is very clear that not one of these sayings relates to Jesus; for he is not even from Judah. How could he be when according to you he was not born of Joseph but of the Holy Spirit? For though in your genealogies you trace Joseph back to Judah, you could not invent even this plausibly. For Matthew and Luke are refuted by the fact that they disagree concerning his genealogy.
—Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julian, c. 361–363 CE[2]

Who is the father of Joseph, Jesus' father? Even though this could only be one person, the Bible has two genealogies of Jesus[wp] each with a different answer:[3]

Jacob: Matthew 1:15-16:
And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Matthew's Genealogy:

  1. Jesus
  2. Joseph
  3. Jacob
  4. Matthan
  5. Eleazar
  6. Eliud
Heli: Luke 3:23-24:
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

Luke's Genealogy:

  1. Jesus
  2. Joseph
  3. Heli
  4. Matthat
  5. Levi
  6. Melchi

Matthew's genealogy has Joseph descended from King David through King Solomon, and from thence to a man named Jacob. On the other hand Luke's has Joseph descended from David along a radically different line, through another son, Nathan, from thence to a man named Eli.

Not to mention, of course, the contradiction with his supposedly being born of a virgin—in that case, surely he would not have a biological father, and listing a genealogy is pointless.

Apologists have responded in various ways.

See also:

[edit] Legalism

The first is the "Spaceballs" defense.

John Piper:[4] RationalWiki:

Suppose that Eleazar, the legal heir of David's throne, died without widow or son. Customarily a more or less close relative would be counted as his legal descendent and be said to have been "begotten" by him. Suppose also that Matthan is that relative and is the same person as Matthat (in Luke) with an alternative spelling. That would mean that Jacob and Heli are brothers. Then suppose that Jacob dies before he has sons. According to the custom of Levirate marriage (see Matthew 22:25) the brother of the deceased man is to marry and raise descendants for the sake of the name of the dead brother. Thus Heli marries Jacob's wife and they give birth to Joseph, Jesus' father. In this way Joseph is the legal heir through Jacob's line, but the actual physical son of Heli. This scenario would avoid the Biblical contradiction. But if a double hypothetical (a relative becomes a legal son; a man remarries his brother's widow) and a hypothetical error (the Bible misspells Matthat/Matthan) are necessary to defend the Bible's noncontradiction, then the Bible is no longer inerrant and is supremely unclear.

It should also be noted that there is no textual support for any of these claims; they are purely hypothetical.

See also the "First Difficulty" (b) section of the Old Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on the "Genealogy of Christ", which argues that Joseph was the adopted son of either Jacob or Heli.

[edit] Luke used Mary's genealogy

The second response is to claim that Luke was actually writing about the ancestry of Mary, not Joseph.

Brent MacDonald:[5] RationalWiki:

His [Luke's] emphasis was on the real physical lineage behind Jesus. While still given in the paternal format common to the Jewish people, from male to male, it really ends with Mary or quite specifically Jesus' maternal grandfather Heli. Mary is not directly mentioned here, which would be out of character with a paternal genealogy. Jesus['] maternal grandfather would be the last direct relative in the list. It would be quite legitimate to use "son of" in a general form to reference his grandfather, even as father could be used in a general sense (i.e. Matthew's usage examined earlier). Joseph was then included merely as a placeholder and acknowledgement for Mary's generation. There is no textual support for this idea. Both texts are quite clear that they focus on the genealogy of Joseph. Luke could very easily have mentioned Mary's name, even just calling her the "wife of Joseph", like Matthew did; Luke did not.

Further, if this interpretation is true, then the Bible again becomes fundamentally unclear. What else did the Bible "forget" to mention?

See also the "First Difficulty" (a) section of the Old Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on the "Genealogy of Christ".

[edit] Matthew used Mary's genealogy

If Luke can't be Mary's genealogy, could Matthew be her genealogy? Not if Matthew wanted to fulfill his prophecy that Jesus would be a descendant of David.

The prophet Jeremiah recorded God's statement that no ruler would come via a descendant of Jeconiah.

Jeremiah 22:28-30 (NASU):

Is this man [Jec]oniah a despised, shattered jar? Or is he an undesirable vessel? Why have he and his descendants been hurled out And cast into a land that they had not known? O land, land, land, Hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord, 'Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David, or ruling again in Judah.'

Shortly after, Jeremiah reconfirms that the Messiah would still come from David. Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NASU):

Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.'

But Matthew 1:11-12 mentions Jeconiah in Jesus' genealogy:

And Josaias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel, and Salathiel begat Zorobabel.

This means that Matthew says that Jesus can't fulfill the prophecies that Matthew says Jesus fulfilled. In fact, if we take Matthew's genealogy as solid, then Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

[edit] Matthew used poetic license

R. P. Nettelhorst offers an explanation:[6]

I believe that one traces the lineage back through Joseph's father, and that the other traces back through Joseph's mother. However, the maternal genealogy drops the name of Joseph's mother, and instead skips back to her father. Which is which? I believe that the genealogy in Luke is through Joseph's father. I believe the one in Matthew is through Joseph's maternal grandfather.
Matthew's Genealogy Luke's Genealogy  
JACOB (maternal grandfather) MATTHAT (paternal grandfather)  
(mother--unlisted) HELI (father)  

That Matthew should skip Joseph's mother in the genealogical listing is not peculiar since it is readily apparent that Matthew skips a number of people in his genealogy. For instance, in Matt 1:8 he writes: "Joram the father of Uzziah". But when his statement is compared with 1 Chr 3:10-12, the reader sees that three people have been left out of Matthew's genealogy: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Why did Matthew leave names out? So he could get the structural symmetry he desired. In Matt 1:17 he records:

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Christ.

Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that Matthew might leave out the name of Joseph's mother so he could get the structural format he desired. Furthermore, this genealogy does list four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, which lends, I think, some support to the idea that this might be a woman's genealogy. I believe this explanation for the two genealogies has the advantage of simplicity, and that this explanation also has the textual support which the other common theories lack.

This theory, unlike the others, has textual support: Matthew was a fan of editing genealogies to fit semantic purposes, as shown by the removals of other names to fit the 14;14;14 pattern. It doesn't leave a Biblial literalist much room to work with, though; again, it must be accepted that the Bible purposefully excluded data necessary to see reality. What else did the Bible not include for semantic reasons?

[edit] Cainan, son of Arphaxad

There is an inconsistency between Luke's genealogy and the Genesis account three generations below Noah. The Genesis account has it (Genesis 11:12) that Noah's grandson, Arphaxad, had a son named Shelah. However, Luke's genealogy has it that Shelah is the grandson of Arphaxad and the son of Cainan.

There is a very simple explanation for this, viz., that Luke derived his genealogy from the Septuagint, the contemporary Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint also contains the name of Cainan in Genesis 11, which is believed to have been slipped into the text to try and make the Deluge seem to have occurred earlier than it did.[7]

However, this also poses a problem for Biblical literalists. If the Septuagint was dodgy, that was no problem, since it was not an original manuscript. But since the Gospel of Luke contains the Septuagint's error in its original manuscript, it cannot be hand-waved away.

Answers in Genesis is rather desperate about it, apparently, as they searched all the way back to 1809 to find a source that tries to pin the inconsistency on an unlikely "copyist error" that was later concealed by historical revisionism on the Septuagint, thus absolving the original manuscript from error.[8] However, the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, written a century later, maintains that the error was in the Septuagint in Luke's time.[7]

[edit] Textual contradictions

In the Chicago Statement, as can be seen, the literalists repudiate a hyper-literalism that would have the Bible be errant because a word in it is spelled wrong or the writers do not have the attention to detail seen among archaeologists, lawyers, etc.

They also go on to state that the Bible contains some "hyperbole and round numbers," perhaps taking a swipe at people who cite 1 Kings 7:23-26 as saying that \pi = 3. However, this obviously does not apply to temporal measurements (passage of years, people's ages), since they also claim that Genesis records a creation of exactly six days of exactly 24 hours. And, as it happens, there are inconsistencies in some temporal measurements, which are discussed further below.

But beyond such piddling errors, there are a number of real or perceived textual contradictions in the Bible, especially if one is trying to interpret it literally. Although those who read the Bible with no knowledge of it often find more contradictions than are actually in the text, there are many contradictions that are openly acknowledged as such by knowledgeable Bible scholars. In this section we discuss a selection of these contradictions.

[edit] Creation

There are two separate accounts of creation, one in the first chapter of Genesis and one in the second chapter. Many Bible scholars (in particular those applying the historical-critical exegetical method) freely accept that these two accounts of creation, if read literally, are inconsistent with each other because they were written by different people. According to the documentary hypothesis, which tried to trace how the Bible formed, Genesis 1 came from the "priestly source" (an Aaronic priest writing ca. 500 B.C.), while Genesis 2 came from the "Yahwist source" (scriptures concerning a precursor to the Jewish God from the land of Judah, written ca. 900 B.C.).

On the other hand, according to Biblical literalists, both chapters were written by Moses on instructions from God. Since they are both held to be literally true, they must be consistent in all particulars, though they are not.

[edit] Which came first: Adam or the vegetation?

The vegetation! Genesis 1:11-27:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so [...] And the evening and the morning were the third day [...] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them [...] And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Adam! Genesis 2:5-9:
And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground [...] And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food

Creationists, such as Tekton Ministry,[9] have responded with some rather extreme quibbling, saying that God made all non-agricultural plants on the third day and the agricultural ones later, "and that makes sense of the verses following, where God specifically plants the garden of Eden and places man to tend to it." However, this falls somewhat on its face, for reasons shown below.

[edit] Which came first: the animals or Adam?

The animals! Genesis 1:25-27:
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good [...] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Adam! Genesis 2:7-19:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [...] And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Unfortunately, cattle are beasts of the field, as are many other beasts of the earth. This sets their creation both before and after that of Adam.

[edit] Grammatical quibbling

Attempts have been made to reconcile the inconsistency involving the animals through the use of grammatical quibbling (so much for not worrying about "irregularities of grammar"!).

This can be done because the inconsistency is dependent on wording that does not appear in all versions of the Bible. Most versions render Genesis 2:8 and 2:19 in a simple past tense, indicating that the vegetation and animals came after Adam:[9] the King James Version gives verse 8 as "And the LORD God planted a garden..." and verse 19 as "And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast..."

The New International Version does not follow this convention, however, instead using the pluperfect tense, indicating that the vegetation and animals came before Adam: verse 8 is "Now the LORD God had planted a garden..." and verse 19 is "Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground..."

But while switching to the pluperfect tense eliminates the inconsistency involving the animals, it also eliminates the possibility of the "agricultural" distinction resolving the inconsistency involving the vegetation.

So this particular grammatical argument cannot produce a consistent creation account in either case, and it is the only argument that Tekton was able to come up with. This is probably why the Tekton refutation includes an escape hatch, saying that any contradiction "is intentional -- serving a rhetorical or polemical purpose -- and therefore, of no consequence for any supposition of inerrancy."

[edit] Faith vs. works

The following are Biblical contradictions cited by Martin Luther in his attempts to justify cutting four books of the New Testament out of the canon.[10]

"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" -- James 2:20-21 Rest of the New Testament, according to Luther; in particular Romans 4:1-2: "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God."

"So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty?" -- James 2:12 Utterances of St. Paul calling the Mosaic Law one of slavery (Galatians 3:23), wrath (Romans 4:15), death (Romans 8:2), and sin (ibid.).

[edit] Women allowed to prophesy, or not?

There is an inconsistency of sorts called out by John Calvin in a commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:[11]

"But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven." -- 1 Corinthians 11:5 "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man: but to be in silence." -- 1 Timothy 2:12

1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits women from any sort of religious teaching, but 1 Corinthians 11:5 implies that women are allowed to make prophecies -- and a prophet was counted among the highest religious teachers in those days -- although they cannot do it without a hat on.

Calvin acknowledges this implication, but says it is unintentional and that "the Apostle, by here condemning [prophesying without a hat], does not commend [prophesying with a hat]." This passes the strictest logical muster, but again conflicts with the literalists' idea of "clarity of scripture," especially since people's honor appears to hang in the balance.

[edit] Numeric contradictions

It's easy to find long lists of biblical contradictions,[12][13] and just as easy for believers to completely dismiss them,[14] since most are subjective or due to an intentionally ignorant reading of the Bible ("God was nice sometimes and mean other times! A contradiction!").

However, numbers are hard to argue with.[15] Inerrancy apologists still jump through hoops trying to explain these away,[16][17] but at some point you have to give up and admit that the most reasonable explanation is that they are simply errors; that the Bible was written and copied by humans who weren't guided by an invisible hand that prevented them from making mistakes. But then doubt sets in: If God allowed these numerical errors to creep in, what other errors might also be there? How would you even know they're there if the passages aren't duplicated in different places?

[edit] Jehoiachin's Age at Royal Ascension

In the books II Kings and II Chronicles we get two different ages for Jehoiachin when he ascended the throne of Jerusalem.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother's name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. [18]
Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.[19]

[edit] Ahaziah's Age at Royal Ascension

In the books II Kings and II Chronicles we get two different ages for Ahaziah when he began to reign in Jerusalem.

Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Athaliah the daughter of Omri king of Israel.[20]
Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.[21]

[edit] How many horsemen did David capture?

Between II Samuel and I Chronicles, the number of horsemen David takes changes tenfold.

And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen: and David houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them for an hundred chariots.[22]
And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen: David also houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them an hundred chariots.[23]

[edit] How many stalls did Solomon have for his horses?

From II Chronicles to I Kings, Solomon experiences a tenfold increase in stalls.

And Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen; whom he bestowed in the chariot cities, and with the king at Jerusalem.[24]
And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.[25]

[edit] How many animals were on the ark?

See the main article on this topic: Number of each "kind" on Noah's Ark

God can make seven equal two:

  • Genesis 6:19-20: 2 of each animal [clean or unclean] into the ark. 2 of each kind of bird.
  • Genesis 7:2-3: Actually, make that 7 of each clean animal into the ark, 7 of each kind of bird, and 2 of each unclean animal.

(Nevermind that the concept of "clean" and "unclean" was not revealed until hundreds of years later.)

[edit] etc.

See Fatal Numerical Discrepancies in the Bible

[edit] Other examples

Jesus vs God:

  • John 10: My Father and I [Jesus] are one.
  • John 14: My Father is greater than I [Jesus].

Some Christian apologetics argue that Jesus said that he was lower than his father because he was in a humbled state, with lowered authority, during his time on Earth. [26] Hebrews 2:9 and Phillippians 2:5-8 are cited as evidence.

Fate of the righteous:

  • Psalm 92: The righteous shall flourish.
  • Isaiah 57: The righteous shall perish from the earth.

Last words of Jesus:

  • Matthew 27: The last words of Christ: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?".
  • Luke 23: The last words of Christ: "Father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit".
  • John 19: The last words of Christ: "It is finished".

Two deaths of Judas:

  • Matthew 27: Judas repents and accepts that Jesus was innocent, attempts to return the money to the priests but ultimately has to simply throw the thirty pieces of silver into the temple, and hangs himself (in an undisclosed location) out of shame. The priests, unable to put the "blood money" in the treasury, use it to buy a potter's field which is used to bury strangers. The field is named for Jesus' blood, because it was bought with the "blood money."
  • Acts 1: Judas is not said to repent, goes away and buys a field with his "ill-gotten gain," but manages to "fall headlong" in such a way that his body bursts open and his intestines spill out. The field is named for Judas' blood which was spilled on it.

While some inerrantists claim to "harmonise" this by stating that after his hanging, the rope snapped and Judas fell, this is not mentioned in Acts (which simply said he purchased the field and then fell and died in it) or in Matthew (which says he hanged himself and nothing else), and does not deal with the issue that the two accounts differ in almost every way (who bought the field, whether Judas died in the field, why it was called the field of blood, whether Judas was alive or dead when the field was bought, and whether or not Judas was repentant). In actuality there were four early accounts of Judas' death with the other two from Papias, the third where Judas died from swelling to such a size that he could not get through where a wagon could easily pass, and he died after much torment, in a place of his own, his insides pouring out over a wide area - which made the place uninhabitable because of the smell. In the fourth, Judas died from swelling to such a size that he could not get through where a wagon could easily pass, was crushed by a wagon, and his entrails poured out.

The reason for this is that neither Matthew not the author of Acts (presumed to be Luke) claim to have witnessed the death of Judas, and write a death appropriate for what they believe his crime was. Matthew treats Jesus as a Davidic king, and so as the killer of a king, Judas hangs himself in shame. Luke-Acts treats Judas' death as an accident (and therefore as divine punishment) and Judas as the betrayer of a righteous one, who deserves to die from being dashed on the ground, and as a speaker of untruths, hence his insides spill out. In Papias, Judas's betrayal is viewed as that of a traitor who makes false accusations; consequently, his fate is to swell up, to die miserably, and to have his entrails fall out.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Besant, Annie (1885). My Path to Atheism, 3rd Ed. Freethought Publishing Company: London.
  2. The Works of the Emperor Julian, volume III, 1923, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright
  3. Who was Jesus' paternal grandfather?, Skeptic's Annotated Bible
  7. 7.0 7.1 Old Catholic Encyclopedia: "Biblical Chronology"
  8. Answers in Genesis: "Contradictions: An Extra Cainan?"
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tekton Ministry: "Two Creation Accounts?"
  10. "Luther's Antilegomena"
  11. John Calvin. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16."
  12. Skeptic's Annotated Bible: 473 Contradictions in the Bible
  13. Evil Bible: 143 Biblical Contradictions
  14. Countering (143) Bible Contradictions "My first impression is to scan such lists, noticing claims which are obviously bogus, and others which are quite challenging. Because the lists are so long I tend to rationalize that any list which would include obviously bogus "contradictions" is suspect and that the more challenging ones could probably be resolved with some effort."
  15. Fatal Numerical Discrepancies in the Bible
  16. 2 Samuel 8:4 -- 700 horsemen Or, 1 Chronicles 18:4 -- 7000 horsemen? Maybe there were 10 horsemen in a company and one book reported horsemen while the other reported companies of horsemen! Or maybe there were 10 horsemen per chariot! Or maybe there were 700 horsemen captured at one time, and then 6,300 at another time! Or maybe 6,300 men were trained as both horsemen and footsoldiers! We don't know, but it's definitely not an error it can't be an error damn it!
  17. 700, 7000 or 1700 horsemen in 2 Samuel 8:4? "The designation, “horsemen” is a floating label because it attaches when a man is on a horse, and could detach when a man is no longer on a horse."
  18. II Kings 24:8 (KJV)
  19. II Chronicles 36:9 (KJV)
  20. II Kings 8:26 (KJV)
  21. II Chronicles 22:2 (KJV)
  22. 2 Samuel 8:4
  23. 1 Chronicles 18:4
  24. 2 Chronicles 9:25
  25. 1 Kings 4:26

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