The first post in this series can be found here.
For those of us who were raised to believe that the Bible is God’s inerrant word, trying to consider the possibility that the Bible could be false is very difficult. We approach any other religion with the attitude that it should be proven to us if we’re going to believe it. That’s why we don’t feel any twinge of fear or anxiety when we see one or two problems in the Koran or the Book of Mormon and decide that those texts are uninspired. We’re very confident in that conclusion because we’ve never believed those religions anyway.
But we treat the Bible as though it has to be proven false to us in order for us not to believe it. It’s natural for us to feel that way, but it’s very inconsistent. Nonetheless, it’s how we feel. And that’s why the internal contradictions that we’ve been looking at are so important. As you can see, there are not just one or two inconsistencies. In fact, this is far from a complete list. But hopefully it’s enough to demonstrate the depth of the problem and cause us to reexamine our complete trust in the Bible.
People sometimes complain that skeptics have no trouble accepting Homer’s Iliad, but won’t give the Bible the same credit. This is actually a bogus statement. Do you know anyone that believes that Achilles was invincible except for his heel, or any of the other fantastic things in Homer’s poem? Ancient histories often contain the miraculous, but we don’t believe those parts of their accounts. We believe the events that could have naturally happened like wars, names of rulers, natural disasters, famines, etc. And we disregard the rest of it as myth or hyperbole.
Honestly, Christians don’t want the Bible to be treated just like any other ancient work. They want it to be given much more credit than any other work that has ever been written, because they not only want the history to be taken as fact, but they want the miraculous to be taken as fact as well. Would we treat any other document that way? There are many ancient writers who seem to factually record historical events. Should we also accept their accounts of miracles just because their history is correct? That may sound a little ridiculous, but it’s the same rationale Christians use for the Bible.
Perhaps seeing the sheer volume of the issues within the Bible will encourage some to dig deeper on their own to determine whether or not it could really be inspired. The Bible teaches us that God loves us as children. If you had information that your children needed for survival, would you allow there to be any confusion in your message to them? This is why the contradictions are so important. Even if you find an answer or two that satisfies you, would God allow even seeming contradictions? Many people have lost their faith over these things. And we can’t say that they just aren’t interested in truth or that they’re just looking for reasons to discount it, because most of these things are only found in very deep study. Someone who simply wants to discount a religion won’t spend that much time with it.
And even if you find a “convincing” answer to some of the issues, did you find it in the Bible? If we have to create explanations that the Bible doesn’t provide, then it doesn’t change the fact that the Bible contradicts itself. If Stephen King in his Dark Tower series had suddenly started referring to Jake as “Bob,” he would have created a contradiction. Now it’s possible that there’s a very good reason for that name change, but if we’re never told what it is, then it’s just a contradiction. The purpose of any written work is to inform. When an author makes such an egregious mistake and doesn’t correct it, it’s just poor writing. Would God use poor writing?
Some have tried to deal with these contradictions by saying that God allowed seeming inconsistencies so that those who didn’t really want to know the truth could believe a lie. And it’s true that 2 Thessalonians 2 seems to say that. But this assertion implies that if anyone knows the truth, he’s unable to deviate from it, and that is completely untrue. All of us have done things in the past that we’ve known were wrong. And there are plenty of people that continually do things they know are wrong. So even if God had beamed precise instructions into every person’s brain, that wouldn’t undermine our free will.
In fact, if God wanted us to make a conscious decision that we would obey him, then obscuring the truth seems the wrong way to go about it. After all, if the truth isn’t clear there would undoubtedly be people who want to serve him that would get tangled up along the way in all those “seeming” contradictions. But if he were to give us clear, complete truth, all of those who choose him would know exactly what to do. And all of those who did not choose him would be those who had no interest in doing what he says. In other words, there would be no room for error – we wouldn’t have to wonder about sincere people who are simply ignorant.
Actually, if he only wanted those who were determined to serve him no matter what, then he could take away Heaven and Hell as incentives. That way, his only servants would be true servants who wanted to serve him because of his goodness and magnificence and not to gain a reward or avoid a punishment.
Others have tried to dismiss these problems by saying that they all concern minor details. But what else would they expect? Most people are aware that the Bible was not handed down from on high all at once, but different letters were chosen based on their content. We’ll talk more about that later, but the main point to take away is that there would not be major differences within the Bible. Any gospels or epistles that gave a strikingly different view were not put into the canon. So we will not find major disagreements within the Bible, just like a Beatles anthology will not include any songs by Hank Williams. There’s nothing miraculous about that – it’s simply the way humans select things.
Therefore, if the Bible really is just a product of men, the only evidence will be in the details. When two people are being tried as accomplices in a murder, their stories are going to be very similar. Prosecutors look for inconsistencies in the details because those are harder to fake. That is exactly why the problems in the Bible are so significant. It doesn’t matter if they only concern details or minor issues because the claim is that the Bible was ultimately written by God – he doesn’t make minor mistakes!
Finally, a common response to these issues is that some things are a mystery that only God knows. He didn’t have to tell us everything, and his ways are higher than our ways. But there are also problems with this argument.
First of all, if God exists, he gave us reason – in fact, you could argue that he invented reason. Everything in our universe operates in a logical fashion. So why would God reward those who abandon reason?
Secondly, this argument fails because God does expect us to examine the issues and make note of contradictions. Otherwise, how could anyone ever find truth? How could Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Hindus, etc ever realize their beliefs are wrong if they have to ignore every contradiction they encounter because “God’s ways are higher than our ways”? If we can’t use the Bible’s contradictions to discount it, then no religion can use contradictions to discount their own religions. Yet if God still judges them as unrighteous and sends them to Hell over it, is he really just?
Let me illustrate this point further. Let’s suppose that right now there’s a young man in the Middle East who has studied the Koran to the point that he’s found problems with it and no longer believes it was inspired by God. If his family can’t answer the issues he brings up but tells him that those problems are minor and don’t change anything needed to know for salvation, are they justified in hanging on to their faith? Will God reward them for remaining firm in the face of adversity? How can a Christian expect others to throw out their entire belief system when they find discrepancies if he’s not willing to do the same thing?
The argument that we can’t know and don’t need to know the answers to these problems is ridiculous. God, if he exists, expects us to investigate and make sound decisions. If our only defense is to throw our hands up and exclaim that we can’t understand the mysteries of God, then no one can know anything. That makes the whole exercise of religion a farce and pointless.