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 in John; hence they never mark the contradictions and never see the discrepancies.
Annie 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 exemplify internal errors (something that contradicts the Bible's own message) as opposed to external errors (something that the Bible gets wrong about the external world).

Apologists often call Biblical contradictions Biblical difficulties.

Creation Week[edit]

See the main article on this topic: 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.

Inconsistent genealogies[edit]

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".

Jesus' genealogy[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Genealogy of Jesus

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. Indeed, everything after this inconsistency is different between the two accounts. In addition, after the man named Hezron, Matthew lists the next in line as a man named Ram, but Luke claims it was Arni, who fathered Admin, who fathered the next person the two accounts agree upon.

This isn't even to mention, of course, the contradiction in the fact that these geneaologies connect Jesus to figures like David and Solomon through Joseph, who the Bible claims was not even related to Jesus by blood, making his geneaology completely irrelevant.

Cainan, son of Arphaxad[edit]

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.[2]

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.[3] However, the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, written a century later, maintains that the error was in the Septuagint in Luke's time.[2]

Textual contradictions[edit]

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 π=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.


Genesis 1 and 2 are two versions of the same story, and neither one makes any sense. It's bad history, it's bad science, it's bad cosmology, it's bad storytelling. You couldn't even grow a Christian Cinematic Universe from all this because no-one can seem to agree on an origin story!
Hemant Mehta[4]

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,Wikipedia which tried to trace how the Bible formed, Genesis 1 came from the "priestly source" (an Aaronic priest writing ca. 500 BCE), while Genesis 2 came from the "Yahwist source" (scriptures concerning a precursor to the Jewish God from the land of Judah, written ca. 900 BCE).

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.

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

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,[5] 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.

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

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.

Grammatical quibbling[edit]

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:[5] 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."

Faith vs. works[edit]

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.[6]

"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 2:20-21Rest 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 2:12Utterances of St. Paul calling the Mosaic Law one of slavery (Galatians 3:23), wrath (Romans 4:15), death (Romans 8:2), and sin (ibid.).

Women allowed to prophesy, or not?[edit]

There is an inconsistency of sorts called out by John Calvin in a commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:[7]

"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 head-covering on.

Calvin acknowledges this implication, but says it is unintentional and that "the Apostle, by here condemning [prophesying without a head-covering], does not commend [prophesying with a head-covering]." 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.

Numeric contradictions[edit]

It's easy to find long lists of biblical contradictions,[8][9] and just as easy for believers to completely dismiss them,[10] 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.[11] Inerrancy apologists still jump through hoops trying to explain these away,[12][13] 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?

Jehoiachin's Age at Royal Ascension[edit]

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.[14]

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.[15]

Ahaziah's Age at Royal Ascension[edit]

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.[16]

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.[17]

How many horsemen did David capture?[edit]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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

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.[20]

And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.[21]

How many animals were on the ark?[edit]

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.

(Never mind that the concept of "clean" and "unclean" was not revealed until hundreds of years later.)


See Fatal Numerical Discrepancies in the Bible

Other examples[edit]

Seeing God:

  • John 1: No man hath seen God at any time.
  • Exodus 33: The Lord spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.

The explanation is quite simple: see 1 Corinthians 2:13

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.[22] Hebrews 2:9 and Philippians 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.

What is being cursed here?

  • Genesis 3:14: "And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life"
  • Job 1:7: And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
  • Zechariah 3:1: And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.

This is at least kind of OK in the Jewish scripture where the Serpent is just a snake, but the Christian interpretation renders the Serpent as Satan, a fallen angel and enemy of God (rather than the Jewish tradition of Satan as a servant of God who tests the faithful, and not the same being). Why then, if the creature in the Garden was not a snake, did God place a curse on snakes? Moreover, if the devil is cursed to go in his belly "all the days of his life," how is he able to "walk up and down" upon the earth in Job 1:7, or stand by Joshua's right hand in Zechariah 3:1? Did he get better?

Does fearing God make you wise?

  • Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the LORD is the begin of all wisdom. Knowing the holy one is insight. "
  • Ecclesiastes 7:16-Ecclesiastes 7:18: "Don't be too just and don't be too wise. You could end up being betrayed. But don't live bad and don't act like a fool. You could be death before your time has come. The best is to maintain the one while not losing the other. Who fears God maintains the middle ground between the two."

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

A List of Biblical Inconsistencies


  1. Besant, Annie Wood (1885). My Path to Atheism (3 ed.). London: Freethought Publishing Company. p. vi. Retrieved 4 June 2019. "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 in John; hence they never mark the contradictions and never see the discrepancies." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Old Catholic Encyclopedia: "Biblical Chronology"
  3. Answers in Genesis: "Contradictions: An Extra Cainan?"
  4. Everything Wrong With Genesis 2 in the Bible, The Friendly Atheist
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tekton Ministry: "Two Creation Accounts?"
  6. "Luther's Antilegomena"
  7. John Calvin. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16."
  8. Skeptic's Annotated Bible: 473 Contradictions in the Bible
  9. Evil Bible: 143 Biblical Contradictions
  10. 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."
  11. Fatal Numerical Discrepancies in the Bible
  12. 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!
  13. 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."
  14. II Kings 24:8 (KJV)
  15. II Chronicles 36:9 (KJV)
  16. II Kings 8:26 (KJV)
  17. II Chronicles 22:2 (KJV)
  18. 2 Samuel 8:4
  19. 1 Chronicles 18:4
  20. 2 Chronicles 9:25
  21. 1 Kings 4:26