Essay:Problems with "Problems with biblical inerrancy"

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It is often the case that atheists do not know beans about theology or Biblical exegesis. Prima facie, this is appropriate, since theology would be regarded by atheists as the study of an imaginary being, while the entire field of Biblical exegesis would be regarded as a textbook example of GIGO.

However, when those same atheists then, in their laughable ignorance, pursuing an agenda of making the Bible seem so obviously self-contradictory that only a conspiracy of theologians could have kept these blinding facts from the people, make attempts to interpret the old tome, the said ignorance becomes unconscionable. Furthermore, the results of said attempts are usually roundly laughed at by more educated people: firstly, because they read like a geology paper written by a creationist; secondly, because not only do they tend not to address more fundamental non-obvious contradictions that have been addressed again and again by theologians, but their authors do not even notice that said contradictions exist.

An example of such a stupid exegetical article is (or was) to be found on this Wiki. It is entitled "Problems with biblical inerrancy," and enumerates, in a manner that is not even wrong, a number of so-called "contradictions" in the Bible; these enumerations remain despite the protests of just about every theist (from literalist to non-Christian) who has ever edited the Wiki in volume. Even I, whose knowledge of Christian theology is very sketchy, can see that.

In this side-by-side essay, I address this article piece by piece.


The stupid Reply


Biblical literalism or "inerrancy" is a Fundamentalist Christian belief based upon the principle that the Bible is the word of God, and that every word of the Bible is true and without error.[1] Beliefs such as Young Earth Creationism are based on this principle. However, the Bible is a large and complex work, written over thousands of years, and full of contradictory statements. It is not clear how Literalists reconcile the contradictions of their beliefs. If every word is inerrant, yet Biblical statements clearly contradict each other, how can the Bible be literally true? What follows are a collection of examples of quotes from the Bible that appear to contradict each other if taken literally.When the article says "every word is inerrant," it appears to mean "if you pluck a verse out of the Bible and stick it in some random context, that verse is true in that context." For example, Exodus 4:26 says, "Then she said, 'A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.'" Now obviously if every word of the Bible is inerrant, this verse was true when Jesus was shooting the breeze with Mary Magdalene. Therefore The Da Vinci Code is quite clearly onto something.

Contradictory quotes (NASB)[edit]

Some people are confused when juxtaposing old Testament passages with new Testament passages . For example:
  • "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." -- Exodus 21:23-25
  • "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." -- Matthew 5:39
The latter verse occurs in the context of the Expounding of the Law, a section within the Sermon on the Mount. In that section, Jesus is making a radical reinterpretation of the Mosaic Law, explicitly abrogating several points within it. Matthew 5:38 directly cites the Exodus verse. This is not a contradiction, since the Exodus is reporting on God giving the old law, and Matthew is reporting on Jesus abrogating or reinterpreting it. To state that this is a contradiction is just as ridiculous as stating that two volumes of minutes from Congress are contradictory.

*"When a cloud vanishes, it is gone, So he who goes down to Sheol does not come up." -- Job 7:9
  • "'Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." -- John 5:28-29
Firstly, Job 7 is part of a speech recited by Job in the context of a debate. The literalist would go no further than to say that the Bible reported this speech of Job's accurately. Secondly, Job 7:10 makes clear that the reference is to the fact that once dead, one will not return again to his home on earth.


*"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone." -- James 1:13
  • "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" -- Genesis 22:1
There is a difference between tempting and testing. One who is tempted is made to see a bad thing in a good light. God did not do this to Abraham, instead simply commanding him to do something and seeing whether he would do it.

*(Isaiah 45:7, KJV) - "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."
  • (Amos 3:6) - "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?"
  • 2 Kings 6:33 Behold, this evil is of the Lord.
  • (Job)1:12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
Satan could not have done what he later did, had God not given him permission to do it.

*Exodus 33:20-23 Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put theein a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
  • Exodus 33:11 And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.
  • Deuteronomy 34:10 And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.
The cynic would suggest that one was being over-literal here; one meaning of "face-to-face" is "within each other's presence," which does not imply that the people involved are actually looking at each other. This also fits with Moses's role as a fellow who spoke to God when no one else was allowed to. But one can never tell with these literalists, and according to the documentary hypothesis, the two parts of Exodus 33 came from different sources.

*"...The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity..." -- Ezekiel 18:20
  • "...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me," -- Exodus 20:5

Mental Gymnastics[edit]

Typically fundamentalist Christians will excrete a number of well-worn "arguments" to explain away the apparent contradiction.These arguments are not so much "excretions" as one might wish.

  • Context
Ol' Faithful, this argument is generally followed by hand-waving and cross referencing to try to cloud the issue to create the idea that perhaps the two verses have nothing to do with each other. For instance, one might note the cognitive dissonance caused by contrasting the Bible's demand for "an eye for an eye"[2] with Jesus' call for us to "turn the other cheek"[3]. This is particularly found amongst the "tough on crime" conservatives who struggle with the surprisingly liberal views that Jesus might have held. It is verses like these that one might suspect Schlafly will quickly excise in his Conservative Bible Project. Regardless, an argument one might use in this case is that God was talking about two different things (punishment for crimes vs. everyday annoyances), or that you're not reading with enough faith, or that you're simply not open minded enough.As noted above, context does matter! One cannot just yank a verse from anywhere in the Bible and then say that literalists hold this to be a morsel of undeniable truth from God. It could be a verse where Satan is speaking.

  • Old v. New Testament
Used when two apparently-conflicting verses are from different Testaments in the Bible. Similar to the 9/11 Changed Everything argument, a user of this argument will often claim that certain cherry-picked rules, while viciously clear (i.e. can't be explained away with the Context argument), don't apply anymore. For instance, one might note that most Christians generally have no objections to a fine shrimp dinner when the Bible clearly states that the eating of shrimp is an abomination[4]. In this conundrum, a Fundie would use the "Old v. New Testament" argument to try to claim that he is under "Grace" now, that the "Law" no longer applies (except to Homosexuals!).Here is where not even wrong can be brought up; this nugget completely ignores the debate, as old as Christianity itself, about what happened to the Mosaic Law. The position taken by the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem was that the law did not apply to non-Jewish converts; since then the question has been constantly debated and literalists have contributed much to this debate. Most of them take the mainstream position: that the shrimp law was removed by the New Covenant (Colossians 2:16, etc.) but that the law against homosexuality stays in effect, most notably because it was re-condemned several times in the New Testament.

  • Lifelines
These are generally used when the Christian is asked a tricky question such as why the person so vehemently opposes Homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22) but has no apparent reservations about enjoying a fine shrimp dinner. Clearly the Bible deems the eating of shrimp (Leviticus 11:9-12) as being as vile as homosexuality and labels both "abominations". A fundie will typically cite Romans 14:14 in such a case, which states that "no food is unclean in itself". This argument is often used in conjunction with "Old v. New Testament" to say that "we're not under the Law anymore, we're under Grace". Or something.See the above remark about not even wrong.


  1. Some wacko's webpage
  2. Leviticus 24:19-21
  3. Matthew 5:39
  4. Leviticus 11:9-12