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

Contradictions Part 8: The Crucifixion

The first post in this series can be found here.

The gospels are usually viewed as simply 4 equally true perspectives of the same events. But upon closer inspection, many of their differences are not just differences in perspective; often, they are contradictory. We’ve discussed a some of these issues already, but there are a few in relation to Jesus’s crucifixion that really stand out.

The Inscription
We’re told that when Jesus was crucified, he was mocked by a sign that hung above him, proclaiming him to be the “King of the Jews.” But the four gospels tell us that it said four different things: Mark 15:26 says, “The King of the Jews.” Matthew 27:37 says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Luke 23:38 says, “This is the King of the Jews.” And John 19:19 says, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

Granted, all four of these versions mean the same thing. But if there was just one sign, then it only said one thing. Why are there four different versions of what it says? If these were accounts just written by men, then it would be understandable for them to remember them slightly differently. But Christians believe that the Bible is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit. Why would he give four different versions of the same sign?

Time of Death
Another discrepancy that might be surprising concerns the time of day that Jesus was crucified. John 19:14 shows us that Jesus was standing before Pilate when he was given the sentence of crucifixion, and the writer tells us that it was “about the sixth hour.” Of course, Jewish day started at sundown (or 6pm). They had twelve hours of night and twelve hours of daylight. So, when John 19 says it was “about the sixth hour,” Jews would have understood this to mean around noon.

Mark 15:25 says, “And it was the third hour when they crucified him.” Of course, this would have been at 9am. Verse 33 says, “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

The problem is apparent. Mark says they started crucifying Jesus at 9am, darkness fell across the land at noon, and at 3pm the darkness lifted and Jesus died. But John has Jesus standing before Pilate at noon. How can both accounts be true?

The common answer is that John is using Roman time, so that when he says “about the sixth hour,” he actually means 6am. This would certainly take care of the issue. However, there’s nothing in John to make us think that he’s using Roman time. Plus, John seems to use Jewish time in another place:

Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
– John 1:38-39

This passage really only makes sense when counting time in the Jewish format. The disciples deciding to stay with him indicates that it was getting late in the day. If we are using Roman time, then the time of day would only be 10am. Obviously, that doesn’t really fit the passage. We could say that it’s 10pm, but that seems highly unlikely for a culture without electricity (plus, it says they stayed with him that “day,” instead of specifying night). But 4pm, the Jewish 10th hour, fits the scenario very well. If he used Jewish time here, why would he change it in chapter 19 without telling us?

Day of Death
But even if we ignore the inconsistencies with the time of Jesus’ death, it’s harder to ignore the day of it. Mark 14:12 tells us that Jesus’ disciples went to prepare the upper room for him on the day that the Passover lamb was sacrificed. This would be the day before Passover. In verse 17, we’re told that Jesus met with his disciples that evening, which would have been Passover. They ate their meal, and Jesus was arrested that night. According to Mark 15, Jesus was tried before Pilate that morning, and his crucifixion was begun at 9am that day. He was dead by 3pm on the Passover (Mk 15:33-38).

But John tells it differently. John 18:28 says:

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

From this passage, it’s obvious that Passover had not arrived yet. In John 19 Jesus is receiving his sentence from Pilate, and verse 14 says, “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover. John says it was the day before. I recommend taking your time to go through the different accounts. The implications are pretty clear.

132 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 8: The Crucifixion”

  1. I think that what you’re describing is the fact that we’re all human. We have good qualities, and we have bad qualities. Most of us want (and try) to do good. If you think about it, when we talk about the most heinous things that are committed (New Town, 9/11, rape, etc), the perpetrators usually end up having something wrong with them. Either some kind of delusion, or a physical malady in their brains that short-circuits their normal function. If you dig into specific cases, you find that this is usually the case.

    Even if the Christian god is real, how do we explain these cases? Does God judge a mentally handicapped person the same way he judges you or me? And if some of the worst crimes are committed by those who are handicapped in some way, do we still think they deserve some kind of punishment? Rehabilitation, certainly, but typical punishment? I think these kinds of things are more nuanced than we usually think.

    Also, what does this say about God? If people commit horrible crimes because they are mentally or chemically deficient, that’s not their fault — it gets down to the way they were made.

    So if we take those people out of the mix, that leaves the rest of us. Those of us who are “normal.” But again, when we make mistakes, that’s usually what they are — mistakes. We often feel bad about them afterward and try to make amends. My point is that I don’t think we should feel so bad about human nature. Should a dog feel bad for licking its own vomit? It might be disgusting, but it’s just a part of its nature.

    I’m not saying we can’t improve ourselves, or anything like that. I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be such a given that we need forgiveness simply for being human. And don’t forget that all the passages you quoted to illustrate why you think we need forgiveness come from a Bible that you admit has problem passages. How do you know the ones you just listed are actually true? Is it possible that Christianity is trying to sell us a cure for a sickness we don’t actually have?

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  2. @ Josh.
    The gospels ARE all made up. The innumerable contradictions are testimony of this. It is as if the compilers never really expected fully literate people other than those in the church would ever read them.

    Furthermore, the status of god was awarded Jesus by the church. He NEVER claimed it of himself, no matter what the church or christian apologists say. Never. Not once, not even an allusion.
    In fact, he expressly denied it, did he not? And I am sure you can recall the verse…..” why call me good…etc etc”

    The minute you accept that the bible is simply a book – even if you currently consider it to have some profound message – treat it to the same level of literary and historical criticism that you would any other ancient tome. Do this, and the ‘mystery’ that surrounds it falls away very quickly.

    Read it as a book and never let those who who tell you it is more than just a book nullify your commonsense.

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  3. Nate-
    “And don’t forget that all the passages you quoted to illustrate why you think we need forgiveness come from a Bible that you admit has problem passages. How do you know the ones you just listed are actually true?”

    I admit it has problem passages in the sense that I can’t explain them in a way that everyone would accept the explanation. A possible explanation still qualifies, in my book, remember. Don’t take my words too far! I have to say that, if you do not believe the scripture I quoted accurately describe human nature, then you and I disagree on what human nature is actually like. And, I think your view makes sense with what you believe. If you don’t see humans as needing forgiveness and salvation from brokenness, then Jesus really has nothing to offer you. I don’t agree with that, but I can see it makes sense from the way you view humanity. We may have to just disagree on this?

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  4. @ Josh.
    It truly is maddeningly frustrating and a little sad reading your latest comment.
    There is a stubbornness that you refuse to acknowledge the truth in what Nate is saying. It demonstrates more eloquently the damage caused by inculcation than anything else you have posted.

    You read and understand the bible as you have been brought up to read and understand. As you were told to understand. As we all were.

    We were not told to use the power of reason. We were NEVER encouraged to apply commonsense.

    Don’t you ever wonder why not?

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  5. Ark-
    Thank you for being more respectful with your posts. It is appreciated.

    You are making a lot of assumptions about me, what I’ve read, what my journey of faith has been. I daresay there is no way could possibly know about me the things you claim in your second paragraph above. If I have come to the wrong conclusion about scripture it is certainly not for lack of pursuing doubts, reading counter arguments, and serious thought. If knowing the right worldview to believe is purely about reason and logical arguments, then I can only attribute my failure to a lack of intelligence. I have looked at all the things Nate is discussing and, in my opinion, I have given reasonable responses. Because they do not convince your or Nate doesn’t mean I haven’t done homework and that I have simply bought what I’ve been sold without inspection.

    That said, I also want to caution what appears to be more than disagreement with people who believe similarly to what I do, but something akin to hatred. I don’t know if you’ve been hurt personally by people of faith, but I certainly acknowledge the evil that has been perpetrated in the name of faith. I guess I just want to caution you that you, and other atheists I’ve interacted with, seem as though you are on the verge of doing the very thing you criticise: arguing for the weeding out of a group of people you believe to be contaminating the world. I don’t believe it is religion that corrupts people, though I know you disagree with that. It is people who corrupt religion. It is people who corrupt anything that has the potential to wield power over others. There is evil in us all, even if it is as yet untapped. I’d hate to see you begin to advocate the very things you are criticising so harshly about people of faith.

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  6. By saying it is people that corrupt religion and not other way around assumes that religion is not corrupt in the first place. This is simply not true, Josh, I’m afraid. The basic tenets of all religion whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam or the Stripy Poisonous Tree Frog Cult of the Brazilian Rain Forest ALL, at some point, require humans to suspend commonsense and natural order.
    In the case of the Stripy Poisonous Tree Frog Cult ,suspension of commonsense is usually fatal, hence the cult doesn’t attract too many enthusiastic members. Well, not for long anyway.

    Part of this suspension of commonsense involves accepting the word of a holy man or his ‘descendants’ or appointed disciples /and of curse, the words in a holy book.

    You will note that the tone of the comment is veering toward satire and soon it becomes impossible not to smile..even if just a little.
    Yet while both of us would laugh and shake out heads at the South American Religious Society of Poisonous Stripy Tree Frog Worshipers, and if we had any shred of common decency we would send people there toot sweet to discourage this silly religion ASAP while doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to stop people recruiting among our children for a religion that teaches Hell, in one form of another, damnation for unbelief, has a book about murders rapes and all manner of horrors including genocide, includes a tale of Virgin Birth, dead people coming to life, and has spent a large part of its inglorious history at war over differences of opinion about THE SAME GOD.

    That Poisonous Stripy Tree Frog seems pretty normal all of a sudden, doesn’t it?

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  7. @
    Josh
    I was going to try to show why it is cultural pressure that often makes us arrive at these conclusions but I see The Far King has offered a better explanation.

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  8. Far King-
    I assume, by common sense, you mean our natural understanding of the world, and only naturalistic explanations. I’m OK with having to suspend common sense. Any belief in the supernatural would, by default, require suspending common sense, no? Also, I don’t follow your argument that, because common sense must be suspended, that is why religion corrupts people. That doesn’t make sense to me. People corrupt all kinds of things: religion, politics, businesses. I think it’s much more sound to conclude that people corrupt things, not the other way around.

    Ark-
    Are you arguing that cultural pressure always dictates our beliefs? I would wonder, then, why cultural pressure does not dictate your beliefs as well as mine. It seems that would cut both ways. And, if it only dictates belief sometimes, how do we determine when that’s the case?

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  9. Cultural pressure influences our beliefs. That’s why the majority of religious westerners are some type of christian and why the majority of religious middle easterners are some type of muslim. It’s also why the majority of football fans from georgia are bull dog fans while those from ohio are buckeye fans.

    the culture, the family, all the people, images, stories, etc strongly influence a persons growth and beliefs. Like a bonsai tree. Nothing the gardener can do will transform an oak into a pine, but the gardener can greatly and drastically change nearly everything else about it.

    This isnt to say that people are powerless against these forces. people can and do change, however it typically takes a strong will, and may necessitate the courage to rely on commonsense, logic a rational… at least to make the best decision. It can be a lonely and rigorous up hill battle.

    Just reread isaiah 7’s virgin birth prophecy, and continue reading through chapter 8. Then tell me
    1. why the hebrew word that only means “virgin” wasnt used, but the hebrew word that means “maiden” was.
    2. how could that be a sign to the king, that god would protect him from his attackers, when the “sign” wouldnt come till hundreds of years later, according to the gospels?
    3. When reading chapters 7 and 8 through, trying not to assume jesus is the fulfillment, see if it doesnt make more sense that the child born to a maiden in chapter 8 is the fulfillment of that “prophecy.”

    4. Are you looking at the bible with the preconceived notion that it is from God, making everything fit into that starting point; or are you looking at the bible to see if its claims are trustworthy?
    5. and are you using commonsense and logic, or are you abandoning them while making your evaluation?
    6. when you evaluate other religions, do you use commonsense and logic, or do you also start with the premise that muhammad is god’s one true prophet, making everything fit into that preconceived notion?

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  10. @ Josh.
    So’s I don’t end up repeating everything, once you have read William’s comment, go back to the beginning and substitute my Gravatar.
    You are a product of your upbringing and surrounding influences.This can be changed.If you want to

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  11. Ark-
    How is it that I am a product of my upbringing and surrounding influences, and you are not?
    Also, since you seem to know what my upbringing and surrounding influences were/are, would you please outline those aspects of my life for me?
    -Josh

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  12. Hey William-
    “Cultural pressure influences our beliefs…”, and the following paragraphs. See my response to Ark above.

    Just reread isaiah 7′s virgin birth prophecy, and continue reading through chapter 8. Then tell me
    1. why the hebrew word that only means “virgin” wasnt used, but the hebrew word that means “maiden” was.
    2. how could that be a sign to the king, that god would protect him from his attackers, when the “sign” wouldnt come till hundreds of years later, according to the gospels?
    3. When reading chapters 7 and 8 through, trying not to assume jesus is the fulfillment, see if it doesnt make more sense that the child born to a maiden in chapter 8 is the fulfillment of that “prophecy.”

    Here’s a link to, what I believe, is a reasonable explanation of the ways in which this prophecy could be interpreted: http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=10&article=811

    It’s clear in the way NT writers used prophecies of the OT that they believed those prophecies often held more than one meaning. So, a double or triple fulfillment is not troubling to me. I know Nate is unconvinced by this, and I’m sure you will be as well. One other point is that I remain unconvinced that our ability to reach back in time and determine the exact nature and fulfillment of these prophecies should have any impact on my belief that Jesus is who he said he was. As I was pointing out to Nate, the NT documents stand up very well to historical scrutiny. He believes they must meet a higher standard, I do not. So, from my perspective I start with the NT documents, and can then work back to the OT documents.

    4. Are you looking at the bible with the preconceived notion that it is from God, making everything fit into that starting point; or are you looking at the bible to see if its claims are trustworthy?

    I try to look at the information objectively, but I guess I don’t think that’s really possible. I am comforted to know that there are atheists who have converted to theists and Christians, and also Christians and theists who have done the opposite. This tells me there is some ability to reasonably examine the evidence. I believe I started and continue to look at the information as objectively as I can, but I’m sure it is not completely objective and I can’t quantify what amount of my examination is objective, and what is not. Either way, as I said to Nate, I think looking at the evidence and coming to the conclusion that God exists is reasonable. I also think it’s reasonable to come to the conclusion that God does not exist. I wouldn’t agree with someone who said they could prove it one way or the other. Obviously, I believe the evidence tips in favor of God, but that is only one person’s assessment.

    5. and are you using commonsense and logic, or are you abandoning them while making your evaluation?

    I believe I am using common sense and logic. Once I am convinced there is a supernatural being such as God I am comfortable with the idea that he will defy my common sense. I think that is a completely justified conclusion, if God exists.

    6. when you evaluate other religions, do you use commonsense and logic, or do you also start with the premise that muhammad is god’s one true prophet, making everything fit into that preconceived notion?

    I think the evidence for Jesus’ existence and deity is convincing. I know you disagree, that’s fine. But, once I come to that conclusion it would take a lot more to convince me that Muhammad supersedes the Son of God. Because I am convinced of the evidence regarding Jesus I feel I am justified in asking that evidence for Muhammad’s claims must be significantly more convincing. They are, just on basis of historical evidence, much less solid. So, I don’t feel I have to start from the premise that Muhammad is god’s one true prophet.

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  13. I did not say I was NOT a product. Of course I am. The difference is you believe in a supernatural deity and like it or not would prefer it if everyone else did to.
    Furthermore, I have no objection to you believing in this stuff. Truly I don’t..
    I may think that all religious people are completely batshit crazy but then you might think the same of me.
    But the difference is….I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have a non-god or non-god inspired books that I claim were inspired by a non god .
    And doesn’t that sound oh so silly, just reading it? Of course it does!
    In fact it is just as silly as saying I have a holy book inspired by a god, called God.

    Now, if you were living in Saudia Arabia. you would likely be Muslim and that religion would feel oh so right to you.
    Or maybe India…and perhaps you would be Hindu.

    Now you can believe whatever you like. JI mean this with all my heart.
    Just do me a favour. Begin a campaign to ensure your religion disentangles itself from every single aspect of general society. Campaign that your religion has nothing to do or say about issues concerning sex, general education, laws, or even shopping hours.
    Campaign that every single registered religious organisation PAY TAXES. That the term God is removed from every National Anthem.
    That infant genital mutilation is banned…by LAW.

    Start with that – or at least agree to it up front on Nate’s blog and you will have my undying respect and I will champion your cause to believe what ever batshit crazy nonsense you want to and I trust you will allow me to do the same. And ne’er our paths shall cross on this issue.

    The ball is in your court.

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  14. Ark-
    Ha! Thanks for your consent to my believing whatever I want!
    I agree that I would not be able to prove God’s existence. And, to be totally honest, I don’t believe I have to prove it. It is, I think, the questions of atheists that drive Christians to feel the need to defend Christianity. All I’m really trying to show by discussing these things is that there are reasonable people who believe these things (even if the ideas are ones you consider bat-shit crazy), and I do think there is reasonable evidence to suggest that we don’t have to be relieved of our faculties to believe it.
    I am in agreement with your assessment that religious people have way overstepped their bounds in politics and overall society. I think some of it is well intentioned, but a lot of it seems to be power grabs. I’d be in support of strict religious reasoning staying out of those conversations. I don’t know if I’ll start a campaign, though. We’ll see.
    And, yes, I will champion your cause to believe whatever bat-shit crazy stuff you want to believe as well 🙂

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  15. Ah…that is what I call the theological two step. Almost a non answer. Unklee is a champion of this as is the likes of William Lane Craig.

    You DON’T have to prove your god’s existence. Just don’t try to inculcate others with the belief that it is FACT. Let them go nuts in their own time.
    Of course there are reasonable people who believe in religion…well, sort of reasonable.
    But I don’t want this brand of reasonableness on my TV screen, in my kids schools, in my National Anthem etc….I don’t want some celibate old man in a dress telling me about sex and that I should not put a condom on my willy. Do you want this old man in a dress telling YOU? Well, do you?

    Now , think how I feel having to suffer all the other religious crap…I mean stuff.

    Imagine if I were to stand outside your office playing Beyonce Music claiming she was the New God.
    Right….

    So, I reiterate. I don’t agree with ANYTHING pertaining to Christianity..or any religion and their Companion Holy Book. But you can, by all means. You can read it until the next global flood, or until the release of Police Academy 97, or Rocky 14, or Jason and the Argonauts come back or until Yashua returns to take you away to sit with Him and his dad in Heaven or even…. the USA (men’s) soccer team win the World Cup.
    I DON’T MIND AT ALL.
    Just don’t proselytize in any form. UNLESS ( and here I am being MISTER REASONABLE), unless you can deliver the goods that you claim are true, and factual.
    Show me solid evidence that a man in a long nightshirt from 2000 years ago actually walked on water and I’ll be a believer.
    Then you can have access to my kids, my National Anthem, my shopping hours. Dammit,you can even have the tax breaks.

    But until then…..

    As they say in the library…Quiet please.

    So…you going to begin a mini Josh campaign, or are you going to wimp out?

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  16. Is the “mini Josh” campaign the one where I try to convince religious folks to keep religious talk out of politics. Or, convincing people I’m the Messiah?

    So, if I want to discuss theological questions and don’t believe I’ll end up proving anything I should not discuss theological questions? I’d gather nearly 100% of us discussing on these blogs never end up proving anything to anyone else. At least, that’s my observation. Should we all just quit discussing?

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  17. Discussing what?
    I am pretty sure there is enough info out there that an awareness campaign for your god is not really necessary any more.

    The rise in atheism is as a direct result of theism.
    If theism was not pushed for one or two generations it would begin to die a natural death.
    It will anyway, that’s a given, no matter what the likes of unklee would like the fence sitters to believe.

    I tell you what, let’s strike a compromise. You agree never to speak of your god/religion or bible etc to your children/any children. Starting from right now.
    I can live with this. You agree to that – I’ll take your word for it – no proof or swearing on the bible- and you can espouse whatever you like to adults and for we can forgo all the other stuff…

    Say yes, and you will have earned more respect from me than I have ever afforded any other religious person.
    Not that this should necessarily be considered such an accolade!

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  18. just quickly, how cool would it be it God posted something here right now 😉 that would mix things up a bit. God has to have a sense of humour doesn’t He?

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  19. Josh,
    The article you linked seemed to only discuss the issue regarding the translation of “virgin.” Did I miss where it talked about the rest of the issues with that “prophecy”? The child being born in the very next chapter? The fact that something happening hundreds of years down the road doesn’t serve as a good sign, while something happening in the next chapter would?
    I do agree with you, in that it is likely impossible to be perfectly objective, although we try. For me, I realized that I wasn’t treating the bible with fairness when I was younger. I gave it an edge. I trusted all those around me and I unquestioningly trusted the bible. It didn’t even dawn on me to ask if the bible was actually inspired by god.
    Falling out of faith in the bible doesn’t necessarily mean that you become atheist. Those aren’t the only two options, and the option of “I may not what it is, but I know what it’s not” is always on the table as well.
    You say that the NT is well supported by history. Which parts? I hear this claim often, but am not really sure what is meant by it. What is so well supported by history? Places and ruling governments? That’s hardly supporting evidence for the supernatural claims, for the miracles. Otherwise, we’d have to take the position that the Iliad was divinely inspired, with all of its mythology being true because the Iliad is supported by history. But I’m sure you’re aware of parts that seem to be refuted by history…
    And how is the bible’s history more compelling that of the Koran? Especially when we consider that we cant know all of god’s ways; we cant rely on our own reasoning. Who’s to say that both the Koran and the bible are not from god? We may not understand why that would be the case, but I’m sure if we try hard enough we could come up with a possible solution, especially since nothing is impossible for god, and since we shouldn’t question god, and since we’re probably not capable of understanding all of what he tells us anyways since he so much wiser, bigger, better than we are, right?
    I also realized that I was going about things a little backward when I was younger. I was using the bible to validate science, history and reason, instead of the other way around. Once I realized that, and tried to look at the evidence, and treat the bible on the same playing field as the Koran, etc, I quickly realized it was no more the product of a perfect being than the book of mormon or the unintelligible memoirs of a retired chimpanzee.
    There are many good aspects to the bible, but I’m afraid they just don’t erase the errors, contradictions, inconsistencies and moral horrors.
    You seem to already see many of the issues within the bible, but you are diligently holding on to your faith. Such stubbornness can be a good quality, but I wonder how long you can continue to ignore these glaring issues with hope that it all just works out somehow.
    Jesus appeared to Paul and Thomas, helping their faith; god sent angels and miracles to others proving his existence and power. For a god who isn’t a respecter of persons, he sure does pick favorites, as he has done none of those for me, for none of the people I know, and I would suspect he hasn’t done for you either. Either your faith is very great indeed, or you’ve been fooled by the “emperor’s new clothes.” It’s hard to tell where the line is…

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  20. He could even post something in such a way that we could understand his post through taste and his dot points could be articulated beams of pure awesomeness. that would be a evening to remember. Isint it strange to think that if god exists he is listening (or rather reading) this whole thread BEFORE we write it : 0

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  21. Either way, as I said to Nate, I think looking at the evidence and coming to the conclusion that God exists is reasonable. I also think it’s reasonable to come to the conclusion that God does not exist. I wouldn’t agree with someone who said they could prove it one way or the other. Obviously, I believe the evidence tips in favor of God, but that is only one person’s assessment.

    If it’s reasonable to fall on either side of this issue, what do you think of the Bible’s consistent claims that God will condemn those of us who fall on one side and reward those on the other. Does that also seem reasonable?

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