I remember my Christian days as if they were yesterday. I honestly believed that the Bible I went to for wisdom and guidance was the inspired word of God. And as such, I (like most Christians) believed that the Bible contained a complete unity, with no contradictions whatsoever. If anyone claimed that there were, clearly they weren’t reading it right, or were looking to find contradictions.
This, I now admit, was foolishness. Because as I began to re-evaluate my faith, it became clear that some of these contradictions weren’t so easy to dismiss. Some of them were pretty clear-cut inconsistencies and discontinuities. And some were from very important places in the Bible, such that a lot of “truth” rode on those passages.
The reason I write this is that some Christians, in their attempts to make me “see the light,” as it were, try to present to me the idea that the Bible, having been written by dozens of authors over a long period of time and from different corners of the earth, still maintains complete consistency and is totally free of any contradictions. Knowing better, this is a bold statement to say the least. I contend that anyone who says that either hasn’t read the whole Bible, or has been trained to ignore or gloss over any contradictions they come accross.
Last I checked, there are at least 200 significant contradictions in the Bible. Clearly I won’t have time to go into all of them, but I want to present a few of the ones that, to me, are the most glaring and/or irrefutable. (And I’m not even going to go into the inconsistencies between Kings and Chronicles)
I am more than willing to listen to any refutations or challenges, but do so with the following rule in mind: no mental gymnastics allowed. If you or I wouldn’t accept the same type of reasoning from a member of a different faith, there is no reason why I should accept that same brand of reasoning in defense of your holy book, and I will therefore assume that you are not approaching the subject rationally.
Who was Jesus’ paternal grandfather? Heli (Luke 3:23-38) or Jacob (Matthew 1:1-17)?
This is a big deal, because if you believe that Jesus was the Messiah, then his genealogy is important. The writers of Matthew and Luke (who were almost certainly not Matthew and Luke) knew this, and they knew that anything they wrote to try to convince people of the Christhood of Jesus would have to address his lineage. So the result is two different attempts to link Jesus to King David. Not only does Joseph’s father differ in these two accounts, but even the names and number of the earlier descendants also disagree.
Some apologists attempt to reconcile this difference by claiming one genealogy as valid and the other invalid (though how they manage to make this distinction, I cannot fathom), while others claim that Heli is actually Mary’s father. Okay, but that isn’t in the text, so it’s still a contradiction. The text quite clearly says “Joseph, the son of Heli,” in all the Greek manuscripts, so to claim that the author of Luke must have meant Mary instead of Joseph, and daughter instead of son, is to deliberately add words that aren’t there.
Also, don’t forget that before the canonization of the Bible, different Gospels were being used in different regions by different communities; some churches would read from Matthew and others would read from Luke ( and some would even read from Gospels like Thomas or Peter that ultimately didn’t make it into the bible, but that’s a story for another day). Are you really ready to claim that those early churches, having only read Luke, somehow knew that when the scripture said “Joseph, son of Heli,” it actually meant, “Mary, daughter of Heli”? Let’s also recall that we’re dealing with patriarchal Jewish societies here. All genealogies up to and during that time were centered around the males. The women were merely vessels for the man’s “seed,” so a matriarchal genealogy would have been completely insignificant. Why should we believe that it was any different for those writers trying to explain the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth?
If you’re not with Jesus, are you for him (Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50), or against him (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23)?
This is a logical contradiction that so far has not been properly explained by apologists. They’ve tried, of course. But the fact is, if I came out and said “if you’re not with me you’re against me” and then, twenty minutes later, when talking about another person who is not one of my group, said “if you’re not against me, you’re for me,” anyone with a brain would point out that I’m contradicting myself. So if you’re going to claim that this somehow isn’t a contradiction, you have to explain why this would be a contradiction for anyone else but Jesus.
What happened to Judas, and why is it called The Field of Blood? (Compare Matthew 27:3-8 with Acts 1:18)
The writer(s) of Matthew claim that Judas, overcome with guilt, returned the money to the high priests and then went and hanged himself. After this, the priests purchased the potter’s field using the blood-money and used it to bury dead strangers, which is why it’s called The Field of Blood. However the writer(s) of Acts claim that Judas purchased the field himself and then fell headfirst into it when his stomach burst open and his intestines spilled out… and that’s why it’s called The Field of Blood.
Who purchased the field? How exactly did Judas die? Did Judas return the money or not? The details of this story are completely irreconcilable. And as is with the case of the other contradictions, it makes sense if we’re dealing with different authors trying to describe the local legends surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. But not if we’re dealing with a divine author. How does a divine author fuck up the details of his own story?
Was Jesus born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1), who died in 4 BCE, or during the governorship of Cyrenius (Luke 2:2), who became governor of Syria in 6 CE?
I’ve mentioned this contradiction in a previous post, but it’s worth repeating, because this is a big one. That’s a ten year difference, folks. They can’t both be right. Every reliable historical account we have tells us that Herod did not reign simultaneously with Cyrenius. So when was it?
You wouldn’t believe the sad ways some apologists try to get out of this one. My favorite is when they get into asserting that the word “first” in the Greek is mistranslated, and should be “before.” Never mind the fact that the gospel writers had much better words for “before” that could have easily been used to clear up the confusion, and that no where else does the author of Luke use the word for “first” to mean “before.” What matters is that you see that any so-called contradiction can be ignored, simply by using alternate translations, or by claiming that the word was translated improperly. Right?
Is God omnipotent (Jeremiah 32:27, Matthew 19:26), or not (Judges 1:19, Hebrews 6:18)?
Another big one. God is supposed to be all-powerful, right? So then why does the bible say, in Judges 1:19, that he’s unable to help Judah drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots? Is this another “mistranslation”? Before you go and claim that the “he” is referring to Judah, and not Yahweh, keep in mind that this is Hebrew, and it’s pretty hard to confuse the subject with the object in Hebrew. The adjective “unable” is clearly being applied to Yahweh in this context. Not Judah.
And why is it “impossible for God to lie” in Hebrews 6:18? Even if you back out of this by claiming that it’s not in Yahweh’s nature to lie, you’re still admitting that there is something he can’t do. He has limits. He is bound by some moral code. If what he can do is limited, then it’s not true that “all things are possible” for him. This is a contradiction.
Who was the high priest when David ate the hallowed bread, Abiathar (Mark 2:26) or Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21:1-6)? And which one of them was the dad (compare 1 Samuel 22:20 with 2 Samuel 8:17)?
Jesus is the one that screws up here. In 1 Samuel 21 we learn that Ahimelech, the high priest, gave David hallowed shewbread to eat. But when Jesus later alludes to this story, he names Abiathar as the high priest of that time. Did Mr. Fully-Human-and-Fully-God forget? Or is this an error on the part of Samuel’s authors?
Many apologists cite a copyist error here. But a copyist error is still–durrr–an error. You can’t claim that a book is free of mistakes… except for the mistakes. If this book really has a divine author, or at the very least was divinely inspired, then wouldn’t you have expected this divine being to catch mistakes like these and nip them in the bud?
Which were created first, animals (Genesis 1:25-27) or humans (Genesis 2:18-19)? And were man and woman created simultaneously (1:27), or was there a delay (2:18-22)?
One thing anyone should notice about the Pentateuch (that’s the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Torah), is that there’s a lot of needless repetition, and these repetitions of certain stories often contradict each other in their details. This is because Old Testament mythology was likely to have been assembled using various myths that had been previously passed on via oral tradition, and the authors of the Torah (there were at least four [pdf]) included different stories for different reasons. This contradictory repetition is apparent in the biblical creation stories.
This explanation, apart from being well-supported, makes perfect sense. Which cannot be said for all the apologistic attempts to reconcile these discrepancies. The former is substantiated and requires no mental gymnastics whatsoever. The latter would put the Chinese women’s Olympic gymnastics team to shame with the contorting and bending and twisting you’d have to do to accept it. So you tell me… which is more likely to be correct.
Did the people with Paul when he had his vision on the road to Damascus hear a voice (Acts 9:7) or not (Acts 22:9)?
These two passages happen in the same friggin book. In one version, those with Paul at the time of his conversion “stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” In the other version, they “heard not the voice of him that spake to [Paul].” Wanna guess the BS route apologists use to squirm out of this one (hint: it’s the one they use when nothing else works)? Yep… translation, translation, translation. Even though the words for “hear” and “voice” are the same in both verses, they actually claim that “hear” should be translated as “understand” in 22:9, and that “voice” should be “sound” in 9:7. Just like that.
Go ahead. Google it. Every single apologist response to this contradiction merely claims that just because a word can be interpreted a certain way in rare circumstances, that you can just shove in that rare instance anywhere you see a blatant contradiction. With no grammatical context or justification whatsoever. It’s seriously pathetic.
Jesus was the only one to ascend into heaven and not die (John 3:13). Oh, wait… (2 Kings 2:11, Genesis 5:24)
Another Jesus-related fuck-up. John 3:13 says quite clearly that “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Enoch and Elijah are not listed as exceptions. Looks like whoever wrote John (who was almost certainly not John) forgot to brush up on his Old Testament before picking up the quill that day. The sad part here is that this is in a chapter that’s meant to convince the audience of the uniqueness of Jesus. Which is completely misguided anyway, but that’s a story for another day.
The Resurrection Story (Mark 15:42-16:20, Matthew 27:62-28:20, Luke 23:50-24:12, and John 19:38-20:18)
Here’s a challenge I often pose to people who actually try to claim that the bible contains no contradictions or inconsistencies. If you’re one of these people, play along at home.
The challenge is very simple: Using the four resurrection accounts in the bible (listed above), give me a detailed account of the events in Jesus’ life after his burial in the tomb. Here’s the catch, you can’t throw away or ignore any verses. All the details must be used. If one verse says something, it has to be kept and cannot be glossed over or discarded.
This task is impossible. Waste your time if you want, but you’ll find out sooner or later that the resurrection accounts in the Gospels are hopelessly irreconcilable.
Just try to answer these questions:
- Who visited the tomb with Mary Magdalene? (All accounts differ)
- Had the stone already been rolled away? (Matthew differs from Mark, Luke and John)
- Who did they find at the tomb? (All accounts differ)
- Was it the Day of Preparation or not? (Matthew differs from Mark, Luke and John)
- Did the disciples believe the woman/women? (Matthew and John differ from Luke; Mark claims the women didn’t tell anyone)
- To whom did Jesus first appear? (All accounts differ)
- Where, geographically, did Jesus first appear? (All accounts differ)
Even if you discard Mark 16:9-20, which even Bible Gateway admits is absent from the earliest and best copies of the Gospel manuscripts (and you thought the “Word of God” never changes), the efforts to reconcile these passages are futile, and one can’t help but suspect that the details of these stories were put together long after they are purported to have happened, based on general rumors floating about during the times they happened to be written.
And there’s more…
But I honestly don’t have enough time to go into them all. Look over them, and look over the apologist responses (which The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is kind enough to include with each one, just to show you how pathetic the responses really are). It’s completely dishonest (not to mention hilarious) to claim that the bible contains no inconsistencies or contradictions. But then again, dishonesty with the facts is pretty much a staple of the bible.
Let the mental gymnastics begin!