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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.