Biblical contradictions

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Atheist Debates video on A primer on contradictions in scripture.

One counter-argument to the doctrine of the Bible's divine inspiration is to point out the many logical inconsistencies within the text. Examining contradictions is also a useful tool to argue against Biblical literalism and the belief that every word of the Bible is equally true. When the Bible can be shown to be in contradiction with itself, it casts doubt upon the idea that it is entirely true.

"Why are we even concerned about contradictions in scripture? Isn't that something we would expect? [...] Contradictions in scripture only matter if we are talking about a scenario where there's a perfect being, who is perfectly conveying a message that is intended to be understood by the reader. Is that the case? [...] not everyone who, for example, adheres to the Bible thinks that it is a perfect book or even that its supposed to be a perfect book. [...] The problem is when we say there is a God who is perfect, who was inspiring [the Bible]. If one portion of scripture contradicts another portion, it means that the scripture that we have is not trustworthy.[1]"

It is often easier to argue based on scientific and historic inaccuracies in the Bible, rather than contradictions.

There are many different interpretations of the Bible. If God intended one interpretation to be transmitted to humans, he seems to be a very poor communicator. Any reasonable deity would provide a clear way to avoid ambiguity and confusion. For this reason, we can conclude that there is no single correct interpretation (and that Biblical literalism is false) or that God is an incompetent communicator.

Contents

Doctrinal contradictions

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Potential doctrinal contradictions are potentially persuasive for Christians because they are part of their core belief system.

Salvation

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There are many contradictory instructions about what salvation requires and the significance of atonement. Various Christian denominations have long argued over whether faith Ephesians 2:8-9 Bible-icon.png, works 2 Corinthians 5:10 Bible-icon.png or both James 2:24 Bible-icon.png are required for salvation. One website lists 174 requirements for salvation, with many of them being contradictory. [2]

Apologists argue that many of these requirements are not mutually exclusive but can be taken together (all 174 of them).[3]

God's character

Main Article: God's character changes in the Bible
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

The God of the Old Testament seems to be very different from the God of the New Testament. The Old Testament God is wrathful, bellicose and ordered various atrocities, but the New Testament God promotes love and peace at least sometimes.

For example, God tells the Israelites, “Of the cities of these people which the Lord gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive.” Deuteronomy 20:16 Bible-icon.png God commands the complete destruction of thousands of people because they were sitting on Israel’s promised land. Moreover, Joshua tells the Israelites that God, “is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm.” Joshua 24:19-20 Bible-icon.png This God is jealous and threatens punishment, even extreme curses Deuteronomy 28:15 Bible-icon.png, for those followers who disobey him. He also forces a pharaoh of Egypt to reject Moses’ offering of peace, causing thousands of Egyptians to be ravaged by plagues and killed by an angel of death. Exodus 4:21, 9:12 Bible-icon.png

However, the God of the New Testament preaches peace. Jesus says, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:39 Bible-icon.png And he later says, “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Matthew 5:40 Bible-icon.png. Clearly Jesus promotes peace over war in these passages. He is not threatening or jealous, but loving and full of mercy.

Clearly, these two testaments present a God with a conflicting character, or even two completely different gods altogether. Apologists argue the Bible presents a view of different aspects of the same unchanging God.

"[...] the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one and the same. God’s character does not change. He is loving, faithful, long-suffering, merciful and just.[4]"

An everlasting covenant

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

The Old Testament claims that the Old Covenant is everlasting Genesis 17:13 Bible-icon.png and many of its laws are unchanging, but the New Covenant is introduced in the New Testament which abrogates some of the original laws Gal 3:17 Bible-icon.pngRom 4:9-12 Bible-icon.png.[5]

Apologists argue that the Old Covenant applies only to the Jews, while only some parts of the Old Testament apply to Christians.[6] Jesus says both to follow Old Testament law to the letter Matthew 5:18 Bible-icon.png, as well as to modify some parts of it Mark 2:23 Bible-icon.png Matthew 19:7-9 Bible-icon.png. Apologists dance around this by claiming the "law was fulfilled" or Jesus kept the true laws.[7]

Jesus

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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Jesus claimed he was only interested in reforming Judaism and therefore he was not interested in non-Jewish (gentile) believers, who he compared to "dogs". Matthew 15:21-28 Bible-icon.png Matthew 10:5-6 Bible-icon.png. Later gospels say that he atoned for the sins of the whole world 1 John 2:2 Bible-icon.png. Apologists claim that this refers to two different time periods.[8]

Biblical events

There are many contradictions in Biblical events but are possibly less troubling to literalist Christians as they are easier to ignore. However, they do show the Bible is not a reliable historical source.

Apologists sometimes argue that because the Bible contains some historically verified facts, it must be generally trustworthy.

Creation Account

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According to Genesis 1:24-26 Bible-icon.png, God creates the animals of the land, then creates man in his own image. There is a clear order here where God “made the wild animals according to their kinds…and God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our own image…so that they may rule…over all the creatures that move along the ground.” God makes mankind in his own image, creating them male and female (v.27).

However, in Genesis 2 Bible-icon.png God forms man out of dust, puts him in the Garden of Eden and says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (v.18). The following verse says that “now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals,” which is ambiguous at face value in terms of whether these animals were created prior to Adam’s creation in concordance with chapter one, or if the animals were created in response to God’s recognition of Adam’s need. Regardless, as it turns out, no suitable helper was found for Adam amongst the animals (v. 20). “So the LORD God caused the man to fall asleep, and while he was sleeping he took one of the man’s ribs…then God made a woman from the rib” (v.21-22). Eve then becomes the “suitable helper” for Adam.

The obvious logical contradiction resides on when exactly, according the second account, the animals were created. It seems that the statement “but for Adam no suitable helper was found” suggests that the animals were created in order to meet Adam’s need for a companion, just as Eve was created after the animals failed to meet that need.

Perhaps a more nuanced contradiction resides in the roles of the animals which according to the first account are to be mere subjects to the man’s dominion, whereas in the second account they are possible candidates for companionship with Adam. Lastly there seems to be a sharp contradiction between God’s character in the two distinct accounts.

Apologists argue that Genesis 2 does not imply a chronological order for the creation of animals.[9]

King Manasseh

According to 2 Chronicles, King Manasseh ruled for 55 years over Jerusalem. Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles agree that Manasseh was an evil king who did wrong in the sight of God. However, the contradiction in his story lies in the fact in 2 Kings, Judah is destroyed because of Manasseh's sins which God did not pardon, while in 2 Chronicles, Manasseh asks the Lord for forgiveness and the Lord does grant him pardon.

"Surely at the commandment of the Lord this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed...which the Lord would not pardon.""

2 Kings 24: 3-4 NIV Bible-icon.png

In this quote we see that Judah is being attacked because of Manasseh's sins, and it is clear that the Lord did not pardon these sins. However, Chronicles tells a different story.

"Now when he [Manasseh] was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and he received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God."

2 Chronicles 33:12-13 NIV Bible-icon.png

Clearly there is a contradiction here. Either Manasseh asked for forgiveness and God granted it to him, or Manasseh was not pardoned for his sins. [10] Apologists argue that the accounts differ in emphasis but do not necessarily contradict each other:

"Apparently the author of 2 Kings did not record the repentance of Manasseh because of the lack of influence it had upon the steady decline of the nation.[11]"

Temple Cleansing

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In the gospels, Mark 11:15-19 Bible-icon.png, Matthew 21:12-17 Bible-icon.png and Luke 19:45-48 Bible-icon.png, Jesus, during the Passover, goes to the temple and clears out the merchants in the temple courtyard. this occurs at towards the end of his ministry, closer to the time of his death. However, in John 2:13-22 Bible-icon.png, Jesus does this "temple cleansing" at the beginning of his ministry. There is an obvious contradiction here regarding the time of this particular event.

John Calvin attempted to harmonize these contradictory accounts by claiming that these accounts demonstrate that there were in fact, two separate occasions where Jesus drove out the merchants. However, this view is inadequate to explain how the accounts are almost identical with similar details. Furthermore, most biblical scholars agree to the fact that certain gospel writers were aware of and most likely read previously written bibles. It is highly likely therefore, that one of the gospels should have both accounts if Calvin's claim is true, but this is not the case.

"In this case, the solution is actually quite simple. Jesus cleansed the temple on at least two occasions.[12]"

Death of Judas

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

The Bible records two different deaths for Judas: Acts 1:18 Bible-icon.png and Matthew 27:5 Bible-icon.png as well as contradictions in the surrounding events. This example was cited by C.S. Lewis when he claimed that not every statement in Scripture is historical truth.

Apologists argue that both accounts are true and no contradiction exists. [13] However, it is hard to believe that Judas could have burst open after falling from where he hung himself, not to mention accepting the other differences between the accounts can be reconciled in this way.

Counter arguments

The Bible should not be read literally

"The Bible, which [the new atheists] are so fond of attaching a incoherent, was never designed to be a coherent book. [...] In ancient libraries it was not a unified whole but a collection of scrolls places in cubbyholes. These scrolls, all read separately, contain wisdom literature, moral treatise, stories, rules, aphorisms, creation myths, letters, fables, polemics, histories and poems.[14]"

Scribal, translation errors

Contradictions could have been introduced by copiests or translators of scripture but the originals were supposedly perfect.

"If God is perfect, and if the Bible is the Word of God (which it claims to be, as the previous sections demonstrate), then it follows that, in its original form as it initially came from God, the Bible must be perfect.[15]"

The problem is the original form is not accessible now, so all available copies are imperfect.

Interpretation errors

Some supposed contradictions are potentially errors in interpretation. Particular idioms, nuance or terminology are different from what a modern reader might assume. The context and style of a passage can be significant in its interpretation.

Skeptics would do well to fully understand alleged contradictions and their potentially counter-arguments, rather than to simply quote them with no understanding of the underlying issues. Some theists are very knowledgeable about scripture and may have a legitimate explanation for an apparent contradiction.

See also

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5]
  6. [6]
  7. [7]
  8. [8]
  9. [9]
  10. God's Word in Human Words, p. 104, by Kenton Sparks
  11. [10]
  12. [11]
  13. [12]
  14. Chris Hedges, I Don't Believe in Atheists, 2008
  15. [13]

External links


v · d Arguments against the existence of god
Existential arguments   Argument from nonbelief · Problem of Evil (logical) . Who created God? · Turtles all the way down · Problem of non-God objects · Argument from incompatible attributes · No-reason argument · Santa Claus argument · Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? · Outsider test
Arguments from the Bible   Failed prophecy in the Bible · Biblical contradictions
Evidentiary arguments   Problem of evil (evidential) · Inefficacy of prayer
Reasonableness arguments   Occam's Razor · Outsider test · Argument from locality · Argument from inconsistent revelations
Other arguments   Emotional pleas
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