Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Contradictions Part 3: Brief Examples

Continuing the series on Bible contradictions, which was begun here, I’d like to look at several brief examples that are easy to spot.

The creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 seem to have a few differences. For instance, in the first chapter, we’re told that God made all plants and trees on the third day and made man on the sixth day. But in 2:5-9, we’re told that man was created before there were any plants or trees in the land. In the first chapter, animals were created before man. But the second chapter seems to imply that man was created before the animals. These differences have long led scholars to view Genesis 1 and 2 as a compilation of two different creation myths.

The 10 Plagues
In Exodus 9:1-7 we read about the plague against Egypt’s livestock. Moses tells Pharaoh that the plague would affect “horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.” And in verse 6 we’re told that all of Egypt’s livestock died (horses, donkeys, camels, etc). But then in verse 10, we’re told that the plague of boils affected both man and beast. The same chapter also tells us that the plague of hail affected beasts also. There couldn’t have been many beasts left after all Egypt’s livestock died, but I admit that just because beasts are mentioned it doesn’t necessarily mean livestock.

But Exodus 11:5 explicitly tells us that the death of the firstborn would also affect Egypt’s cattle. Then Exodus 14 says that Pharaoh’s army pursued the Israelites, including their horses, horsemen, and chariots. Where did all these cattle and horses come from if they had all been killed by the fifth plague? In a legend, this kind of discrepancy is not that important. But when we try to view this as literal history, we begin to run into some problems.

In the genealogy given in Genesis 11:10-12, we see that Noah fathered Shem and Shem fathered Arphaxad. At the age of 35, Arphaxad fathered Shelah. This information is confirmed in 1 Chron 1:18. But Luke 3:35-36 tells us that Arphaxad’s son was Cainan, and he was the father of Shelah.

Where does Luke get this information? It disagrees with the Old Testament, so who should we believe? Some have suggested that Genesis and 1 Chronicles simply left out Cainan for some reason. But why would they do that? To further complicate it, how could Cainan have fit in there? Genesis tells us that Arphaxad was 35 when he fathered Shelah. Does it really seem likely that Arphaxad became a grandfather by 35, especially when you consider the extreme old ages that people lived to at that time?

Another explanation is that some copyist made a mistake when copying Luke and Cainan is just a mistake. But this is not much better. First of all, the error would have needed to occur early for it to be in all our copies of Luke. Secondly, are we really comfortable saying that we have the inspired word of our creator, but it got messed up by some guy who wasn’t paying close attention? To me, that doesn’t lend a lot of credence to the idea of inspiration or inerrancy.

Instead, the most likely explanation is that Luke made a mistake. This, of course, would indicate that he was not inspired.

Jairus’s Daughter
Jairus was a ruler of one of the synagogues in Galilee, and his daughter was sick to the point of death. So he finds Jesus and asks him to come heal her, which he does. But we have two accounts of this story, and there’s a difference between the two.

In Mark 5:23, Jairus finds Jesus and says that his daughter is at the point of death. While they’re on their way to the house, some of his servants find them on the way and say that she has died and there’s no point in troubling Jesus further.

Matthew 9:18 says that Jairus tells Jesus that his daughter has just died, but that if Jesus lays his hands on her, she’ll live. This may seem like a minor difference, but honestly, there’s only one scenario that could be true. Either the girl was already dead, or she wasn’t. And if Jairus already knew she was dead, then there was no point in his servants coming to tell him that (so of course, they don’t appear in Matthew’s account).

I don’t know of a way to answer this one, unless someone simply says that it’s too minor of a detail to matter. But I fail to see why God wouldn’t get even minor details correct. Isn’t he all-knowing and all-powerful?

The Centurion
This is similar to the previous issue. Matthew and Luke both record a centurion who asks Jesus to heal his sick servant. Matthew 8:5-13 says that the centurion himself comes before Jesus to ask for help. Luke 7:1-10 says that the Jewish elders went on his behalf, and then he sent servants to follow up. In Luke, Jesus never speaks to, or even sees, the centurion at all.

Hight Priest
In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus talks about the occasion from the Old Testament when David ate the showbread, which Jesus said was in the days of Abiathar the high priest. However, in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, it appears that Ahimelech was the high priest.

Some have tried to answer this problem by saying that Abiathar was alive during that particular episode, so Jesus’ statement is still true. But that’s obviously not the intent of the passage. After all, if someone said that the tragedy of 9/11 occurred during the days of President Barack Obama, wouldn’t you correct them? He may have been alive at the time, but that event did not happen while he was President.

Limited Commission
When Jesus sent the apostles out on the limited commission, he gave them several instructions. In Mark 6:8, he tells them to take nothing but a staff. In Matthew 10:10, he tells them not to take a staff.

Final Thoughts
To some people, examining issues like this is a waste of time. They view them as minor details that don’t really have anything to do with the ultimate truth of the Bible. But I wonder if they would feel that way if they found these issues in the Koran or the Book of Mormon. And there are those on the other side who think that Christianity is too ridiculous to even need this kind of detailed approach. But I would disagree with that as well. I grew up believing — no, I knew the Bible was inspired, inerrant, and the only avenue for salvation. When you hold to it that firmly, logical and philosophical arguments against Christianity (or religion in general) are just not strong enough to sway you. Instead, it requires discovering that the Bible actually isn’t what you’ve always thought it to be.

It took me a while to finally realize that the Bible just wasn’t from God, even after I had been staring at discrepancies. It’s normal for the back of your mind to wonder “oh, but what if it’s really true?!” But when you clear your head and examine the evidence objectively, there’s just no way the Bible could have mistakes like this if it was really inspired by a perfect deity. If he cared about us at all, he would give us something clearer than this.

Our study on contradictions isn’t over. There are several more to look at, and we’ll continue in the next post.

15 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 3: Brief Examples”

  1. There is something else interesting in Genesis Chapter 1 that I believe is worthy of note. Verse 7 says that God divided the waters by a firmament, the sky. In other words, the water in the lakes, oceans, rivers, etc are down here under the sky, and above the sky is more water. I have heard several explanations about that like the water above the sky is simply referring to the water vapor in our atmosphere or where others will claim that it was a water barrier that was dropped at the time of Noah’s Flood. Either could be true or untrue, but that is not what caught my eye.

    Verse 17 of Chapter 1 says that God put two lights in the Firmament, the sun and the moon in the sky. Taking this verse along with verse 7 the reader can see that the the picture being painted is one where the Bible God has put the sun and the moon in our sky, where there is water above the two (the atmosphere?) and below them (lakes, rivers, etc).

    I can’t help but imagine ancient people trying their best to explain things, not realizing that there is a place called outer space, outside of this planet, and therefore assume that the sun and moon are under the blue sky that we see. Why is the sky blue, because there’s water up there, of course. That’s where rain comes from, the water in the sky above the sun and moon. Genesis 1:7 and 17 seem to point out in the first chapter of the bible that it is the product of man.


  2. Excellent point. Genesis 8:2 seems to back up what you’re saying, since the rain obviously came out of the “windows in the sky.”

    Thanks for commenting!


  3. Also from Genesis:
    in Genesis 1, God creates “mankind.” it says he creates men and women and tells them to populate the earth. Then, in Genesis 2, he creates Adam and Eve. Genesis 3 says all living come from Eve which is contradictory to Genesis 1. Did God create them, or did they come from Eve? In Genesis 4, Cain is sent away by god and takes a wife in Nod. Where did she come from?


  4. I think your faith was on a book all the time and that is why it shattered because there was only intellectual reasoning and no experience of God.

    If you come from a YEC conservative background then I can imagine how difficult it would have been for you. It was really hard for me to explain some of the concepts, like evolution and biblical hermeneutics other than employed by my family and church to come to differing conclusions.

    For example, you wrote “I always thought” that bible was inerrant, and yet I am going to assume that by this you mean you were always taught that they Bible was inerrant and thus divine. And when you studied it of course put a major block in your understanding and reconciliation of it.

    I can understand what you went through in your mind, I went through it too when I was an atheist, but I never came out fully.

    I have a lot of questions, doubts, yet I believe. In-fact most of the contradictions you posted are easy to answer (not all) but I doubt that is what would really satisfy you.


  5. @ John David

    “I think your faith was on a book all the time…”

    for me at least, this was half true. The half of my faith was based on what people told me about that book or about God. I realized on day that my faith had never been based on god or Christ, since I had never heard anything directly from them, i had not ever seen them directly – it was always on what other people had claimed about them or said about them.

    This leads me to my question for you; if you believe, what is your believe based on? What you have seen, or have heard directly from what God has shown you or told you, or is based on what the bible says, what others have told you, and what you think?


  6. What are the answers, John David? Don’t think nobody will be satisfied–put them out!

    I came from a similar background to Nate (biblical literalist, conservative christian type). I was taught the same–contradictions are only APPARENT contradictions based on a lack of understanding and thoroughly studying the bible, coupled with Prayer and Faith.

    I hadn’t noticed most of these before reading this post, as my focus has been on Prophecy (like Tyre), or the inconsistency of the Genealogy of Christ in the NT.

    But if there are good explanations why these are apparent, and not actual, inconsistencies, then pray, continue. I no longer believe, but only b/c of what I see as a lack of evidence. If there is evidence and good explanations, then I’ll have no choice but to believe. Right?


  7. I have stumbled upon your site and am reading your posts on contradictions with interest and pleasure. Some of the things you mention may not be as contradictory as you think, but others clearly are contradictions.

    I will write more once I have finished what you have written and have time.


  8. The Crown is amused.

    I very much want to have a lengthy discussion with you. I am now reading your “Losing my Religion” thread. It is good, but I want to engage you point by point.

    Not argue.

    What is the point of argument? You have clearly thought out a great number of things. You need to be congratulated point by point, where you are right, and given some things to think about where you’ve been drawn away into the swamp by the will-o-the-wisps.

    I sent your something long to your e-mail address. Do not be offended! My compliments are sometimes hard to take.


  9. Thank you. I don’t have a copy of what I sent you (if the website saves it, I don’t see where) so I won’t be able to comment directly on what I said verbatim (unless you forward it back to me, of course).

    If you’re willing, I’d like to discuss things privately for a bit. If eventually you decide that there is fruit there you would like to present for wider consideration, you can summarize.

    If I know that other people are reading as I write, I will be shy and I’ll always write with an eye on the crowd. One-on-one is better to start.

    I do not seek an argument. I do not seek to change your mind. I seek to give you perspective, so that you will understand the blind sides and weaknesses in some things, and so that you will ponder them.


  10. Sounds great to me! I completely agree that some conversations work better privately. Thanks again for reaching out, and I’ll definitely forward your initial email back with my reply.


  11. Nate, so much in one post. Just to keep us busy?
    First, the difference in Genesis 1 and 2 is rather obvious from the text. The first chapter is obviously giving groups in a sequence of six. The second chapter is giving a theme, more of a theological account, and does not give a sequence. Hence the use of “day” in chapter two being different than chapter one. You can tell this from the context.

    Regarding the livestock, I don’t recall thinking about this one other than the text does not tell us how far apart the plagues were. It could have been a long time.

    As to the genealogies in Luke………c’mon, Nate, you know Luke was so accurate with everything else. See my posts on the last half of Acts. Even if this were a mistake, it would not disprove inspiration, only inerrancy. But the genealogies do not line up person-for-person, you know that. When it says one person begat another, or one person was the father of another, it does not always mean the immediate next generation. You know this, Nate. So the conclusion that Luke made a mistake is not obvious as you claim.
    I have dealt with this and other attacks on Luke in this post:

    As to Jairus daughter, the answer is here:

    I don’t recall ever thinking about your comment on the high priests.

    As to the “limited commission” an obvious possibility is that he sent people out twice.


  12. Hi humblesmith,

    I just don’t agree with you on Luke’s genealogy. I think the discrepancies between his and Matthew’s (not to mention the discrepancies in their birth narratives) are pretty big. Agree to disagree on that, I guess.

    The Jairus explanation is interesting. I could probably buy that. I’m always a little skeptical when an explanation has to rely on a variant reading of the Greek, because it makes me wonder why more translations don’t just go with that variant reading. But I could probably look past that in this instance. Thanks for teaching me something new. 🙂


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