The Bible really contains quite a number of contradictions. This is very surprising to many people (it was to me) who grow up hearing that the Bible is inspired by God and completely free of errors. And perhaps what’s more surprising, is how easily these inconsistencies can be found when you start to look for them. In the last post I talked about why I think it’s important to study the contradictions in the Bible, and in this post we’ll begin looking at specific examples. There’s no way that we could cover them all in this series of blog posts, so I will concentrate on the ones that made the most impact to me.
A Body Prepared
The first consistency issue I’d like to look at might strike you as a minor one, but I still think it’s worth consideration. Hebrews 10:5-7 quotes an Old Testament passage that is supposed to refer to Jesus:
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”
We don’t have a record of Christ saying this, though it’s possible that he did. And the OT passage that was quoted here would obviously be talking about Christ since it says that God didn’t require sacrifices and offerings, “but a body you have prepared for me.” However, when we look at the passage this is taken from, it reads a little differently (note the underlined section):
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
– Psalm 40:6-8
As you can see, the primary section of the quote in Hebrews that was supposed to reference Christ says something completely different in the original passage. When we read Psalm 40, there’s really nothing that would stand out to us as it being a Messianic prophecy – it’s simply stating that God wants full devotion. So that leads me to two questions. Was Psalm 40 really ever intended as a prophecy of the Messiah? And if so, why did the writer of Hebrews feel the need to change it?
Now, we could say that since both writers were inspired, then the Holy Spirit had every right to change what he said the first time. But why would a perfect, omniscient, omnipotent being need to do that? Why wouldn’t he have wanted this passage in Psalm 40 to more obviously reference Christ? Instead, this seems to be willful editing by someone trying to make a point.
*** Update: A commenter has since pointed out to me that the version of Psalm 40 in the Septuagint matches the version that is quoted in Hebrews, so the Hebrew writer is not guilty of changing the passage.
Galatians 3:16-17 says this:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.
Here, Paul says that the law came 430 years after the promises were made to Abraham. But in Exodus 12:40-41, we see:
Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.
If the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years, then there could not have been 430 years between Abraham’s promises and the law.
For those unfamiliar with the story, God made this promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and as we read on through Genesis, we see that Abraham had no children at this time. Later, he had a son named Isaac. When Isaac was 60 years old, he had Jacob (Gen 25:24-26), and Jacob had 12 sons that produced the 12 tribes of Israel. Already, we can see that some time has passed since Abraham received the promise. Once Jacob’s sons were all grown with families of their own, they finally settled in Egypt. Jacob was 130 years old at this time (Gen 47:9), and this marks the beginning of that 430 year period that the Israelites spent in Egypt.
That means that the time between the promise to Abraham and the giving of the law was actually over 600 years. So why did Paul say 430 years? I think it’s obvious that this was a simple mistake. He remembered the 430 year figure because that’s how much time the Israelites spent in Egypt, and so he simply misspoke. It’s not a big deal… except that he’s supposed to be inspired by God.
We’ll look at some other examples in the next post.
9 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 2: Two Examples”
Nice job. There’s some good stuff in there. Time is a huge inconsistency throughout the bible. In Genesis, god says man’s years will be numbered at 120 years, then people continue to live for 400 or 500 years. Moses is the first man who dies at the age of 120.
Thanks for the comment! And nice job on your blog… I really like it so far.
Excellent. And you make the point so very well: There is no shame to make a mistake, which is clearly what happened in this case. (I agree with you as to you theory as to how the mistake was made. It seems reasonable that a well versed Pharisee such as Paul might in a moment of overconfidence recall a figure “430 years” and utilize it in all sincerity without fact checking himself. Understandable indeed) Yet, as you so well point out, the issue is that if the Bible is the “perfectly, inspired, God breathed, infallible” word of God, then even one single mistake; no matter how seemingly insignificant or sincere, simply blows the theory away. And your article on this one single point alone is sufficient to establish the case that the Bible is NOT infallible, thus bringing into open question everything from its overall validity to even the existence of God itself. Great job.
Thanks, humanist! I completely agree that this one issue is enough to jeopardize the doctrine of inerrancy. It’s such a seemingly small passage, yet it’s impossible to get around.
Yes, a perfect, divinely inspired book would not have Quotation mistakes–there would not be a quote of Ps. 40 that was an obvious misrepresentation of what the verse said. Of course, in the days of low literacy rates, and no Printing Press, well, it would be easy to say whatever and who could gainsay it?
Hi Nate. I have enjoyed reading some of the things you have written about. it has given me a different perspective. However with the examples above, they are readily explained…
Hebrews and Psalms…the Hebrew author was quoting from the Greek Septuagint which does indeed refer to the body as opposed to ears etc. The Septuagint was widely used around the region at the time. The Greek translators for the LXX (Septuagint) took the phrase to be a figure of speech. In this regard, a part of something signified also the whole. For example, the hollowing out of ears was part of the total work of fashioning a human body. Perhaps the ears were selected due to them being symbols of obedience – ie hearing the Word and obeying it.
In regards to the Galatians issue. Indeed the Law was given about 645 years after the incident with Abraham. However, if you notice in v16, it says: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to HIS SEED”. The 430 years refers to the time between when the promise was reiterated to Jacob (one of Abraham’s seed) in Gen 46:2-4. This was just before he went to Egypt and 430 years before the Law was given.
I had no idea that the Septuagint had the same translation that Hebrews has, but after doing a bit of research this morning I see that you’re absolutely right. Thanks for pointing that out!
I also appreciate your take on Galatians, though I have to say that I’m not as convinced on that one. Paul goes to great lengths in this passage to say that “seed” only refers to Christ. I don’t think that’s what the original promises meant, but it’s definitely the point Paul is making here. So for your explanation to fit, it seems to me that Paul would have to simultaneously think of “seed” as only applying to Christ but also applying to all of Abraham’s descendants. I just don’t think that’s his argument.
Plus, while it’s true that the promises were reiterated at different points in the OT, they were still originally given to Abraham. And it seems to me that this is the moment Paul is referring to, since that’s when the “contract” was originated. In fact, though I only quoted through verse 17 above, verse 18 says this:
I believe that further shows his focus on Abraham. His point seems to be that even though God delivered the Law of Moses after the Israelites left Egypt, that law did not nullify the original promises that had been given to Abraham. Paul is arguing that those promises always remained in effect and are finally fulfilled in Christ. So when Paul talks about the time between the law and the promises, I think it only fits that he’s speaking about the moment those promises became binding — the moment they were given to Abraham.
Thanks for your comment!
Well, Nate, I’m flattered. You were reading me all along. The first one has an answer, here:
As to the 430 years, honestly I forget why I didn’t write about this one. But at the very most, all you have done is denied inerrancy, which not all Christians hold. Many liberal Christians will tell you that this does not mean God does not exist nor that the Bible is bereft of spiritual truth.
It just makes it harder to maintain