Contradictions Part 10: Conclusion

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.

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13 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 10: Conclusion

  1. Hmm…you address many issues in this post. I’ll reply to one: “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?”

    So, anyone with religious faith abandons reason?? That is a rather sweeping insinuation and insulting too. You win more coverts with honey than vinegar. The majority of the world has religious faith – whether Christian, Islam, Judaism (the big 3 monotheistic) and many other polytheistic and smaller faiths. So the vast majority of the world has abandoned reason?? And only the much smaller minority of the world that is atheistic or irreligious has reason?? Wow.

    There is validity in your point about God wanting us to use our reason, which He gave us. I agree wholeheartedly! But…I believe that there is a difference between us and God. God is creator, we are creature. God is infinite, we are finite. A big problem I see today is that people either want to elevate themselves to “god like status” or bring God down to their status as a human. They either want to deify man or humanize God.

    If there is a God (and I believe there is)…He should be omniscient and omnipotent (among other things). If we were able to completely understand everything about God and the world…then we would be omniscient too! We would be God! (deification of man. man should be able to figure everything out.) Or…If our finite, creaturely minds should be able to understand everything about the infinite Creator…then this is a pretty low God that we have brought down to our level (humanizing of God).

    I have no desire to worship or believe in a God that is so exactly like me that I can understand everything about Him. That would be a God that is not very great, not very powerful, not very wise. No thanks.

    “God, if he exists, expects us to investigate and make sound decisions.” – I agree.

    “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.” – I disagree.
    Our “only” defense”? I do agree that the “God is far above us” defense can be used in a lame or lazy way. Some who use this defense are indeed abandoning reason or are too lazy to think. BUT others have not abandoned reason, and have well thought out beliefs. Gifted, educated, Christian apologists can offer many thoughtful explanations. But yes, the explanations reach a limit. God is God and we are not, as I’ve already belabored. And by the way, I think there are gifted, educated, atheistic apologists too. But don’t their explanations reach a limit too? There are certainly things in the world, in science, etc….that we have not figured out. An atheist can’t explain everything or PROVE there is no God, anymore than a theist can explain everything or PROVE there is a God. Both sides reach a limit where certain things can not be proved or known.

    “That makes the whole exercise of religion a farce and pointless.”
    So there is nothing good about religion at all? I know religion can be mis-used. I know that evil has been done in the name of religion. But much good has been done in the name of religion too. Religion often gives people stability, hope and positive direction in life.

    The only options you give or insinuate are: 1)have reason and be atheistic or 2)abandon reason and be religious. -OR-
    1) we can know everything or 2) we can know nothing.

    Hmmm…I think there are options besides this. A lot of baby is being thrown out with the bathwater.

    Sorry if I am too blunt in this post. You do make some valid points and have some valid concerns, but I feel you take them too far and give little credibility to the other side…in this post at least. I have not read them all. Thanks for letting me share a dissenting view.

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  2. Hey LLM,

    Thanks for the comment. You cover a lot of ground in it, so I may not have time to address it all right now, but there are some things I’d like to point out.

    First of all, there are a few places in the post where I specify that I’m talking about the contradictions that I’ve been laying out over the previous 9 posts. I do think trying to attribute those things to the “mysteries of God” is a cop out. So I’m not saying that all religious people lack reason. I know plenty who are very reasonable. BUT, if they’re presented with contradictions like the ones I’ve been laying out, and their defense is that “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” then yes, they are abandoning reason at that point.

    Let me see if I can explain that a little more. If God exists, then he certainly knows things that we don’t. I’m not trying to put him on our level, or vise versa. But Christians believe that the Bible is his message to us. That means he expects us to understand at least most of it. The issues I’ve brought up aren’t about spiritual things — they’re about mundane things like whether or not Jesus and his parents ever went to Egypt. There’s nothing grand, spiritual, or mysterious to understand about that. When Matthew says that Jeremiah prophesied something when it was really Zechariah, there’s no complicated theological message involved in that. What’s being communicated is very simple… yet it doesn’t work out. Those things create conflicts and discrepancies. To answer those issues by saying “God’s ways are higher than our ways” is a bit ridiculous (and I truly mean no offense by that). After all, does God have a higher degree of understanding in regards to physical location (as in the case of going to Egypt) or relating prophecies (as in the case of Jeremiah/Zechariah)?

    My overall point is that while many Christians may be reasonable people, it’s unreasonable to take simple contradictions of this kind and attribute them to the mysteries of God. It just doesn’t fit.

    And that’s why I said: “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.” Because if simple things like whether someone visited a different country or what day someone died are up for grabs, then we really can’t know anything. I might currently be in Zimbabwe right now even though I seem to be in Birmingham, AL. Everything becomes meaningless. In fact, this also applies to doctrine. We can’t have meaningful discussions about grace, baptism, life, death, forgiveness, etc, if the Bible can say certain things but mean something else. That’s why religion becomes pointless with this outlook.

    I hope that helps a bit. I’m not trying to be insulting, but I do think people aren’t really using their brains when they use the “God’s mysteries” excuse. That just doesn’t apply to the mundane details I’m talking about. And your comment didn’t bother me at all. I appreciate your willingness to contribute to the conversation.

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  3. Hey Nate! Thanks for your gracious reply. I have only read your post 9, and this conclusion post…so it was not quite fair for me to make such strong points without having read posts 1-8 as well. I plan to peruse them by the way.

    I think what it comes down to is this: you’d like specific, logical explanations for every possible difference/challenge in the Bible. Only then would you believe. Right? I appreciate how in post 9, that you diplomatically note that some of the resurrection account issues do have possible and plausible explanations.

    For me, I think every difference/challenge in the Bible has 3 possible answers:
    1)There is indeed a plausible explanation that should be accepted by ALL.
    2)There is an explanation that is plausible to some but not to others.
    3)There is not a plausible explanation for anyone.

    For those problems that fall under #3. The honest and best answer is: “I don’t know”, instead of “God’s mysteries” excuse. I agree that the “God’s mysteries” defense does not work for some/many of the #3 issues. You are right, and I get your point much better now! Thanks for clarifying. (However, I do think there are some issues where “God’s mysteries” defense is indeed valid!) Christians need to get better at just admitting when there is no easy answer, instead of stonewalling.

    So…”I don’t know” is the answer. But does that mean we will never know? Sometimes archeology, research, and new discoveries can shed new light on a problem.

    And I know these are general remarks and you are looking for specific answers to specific issues…So I honestly don’t mean to stonewall!:) But…If a person must have complete evidence and answers to every question before they will believe, well, then belief is impossible. Faith by its very nature requires less than 100% certainty. Faith and the empirical, the natural and supernatural…are two different realms.

    Ultimately I think everyone is placing their “faith” in something…in religion, in God, in humanity, in fate, in science. Although science may seem a contradiction to the point…even science reaches dead ends and scientists must make “educated guesses” about some things.

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  4. Hey LLM,
    Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your willingness to just say “I don’t know.” It’s not an easy thing to do, and few people are willing (with almost any issue).

    I really just have one question for you: do you think people in other religions are “okay” with God?

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  5. Major, major question! I consider myself an “optimistic exclusivist.” Jesus Christ proclaimed Himself the only way to the Father. So, Jesus is the only way. Yet, I, as a finite human with a limited perspective, am not going to limit God’s ways of working. The Creator is not dependent on His creation. Although it seems clear that Jesus is the only way (and I try to live my life with this perspective), I don’t want to be adamant or arrogant about it…because I am not God, and perhaps God could bring people to salvation in ways I don’t know about.

    I think I will be blogging on this…it is a major issue. Not one for brief comments. : )

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  6. That’s cool. I’ll be interested in reading that post. It’s something I really struggled with as a Christian. I also believed that Jesus was the only way, and that made it hard for me to see how people born into Muslim, Hindu, etc cultures weren’t at an inherent disadvantage. In other words, it made God seem preferential.

    I think the other issue goes back to the difficulties (I would say contradictions) that I’ve been posting about. Because if we can’t have complete evidence, as you said, then what would cause most Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, etc to come to Christ?

    I think that’s the issue that comes from an errant word and an exclusive condition. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on that.

    Thanks 🙂

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  7. 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.

    I’ve heard the bolded claim several times, but I’m not aware of instances of it. Can you cite any examples? For instances, are the Iliad and the Odyssey considered historically reliable sources? (At least the non-miraculous parts.)

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  8. Gah, the blockquote apparently won’t preserve either bold or italics. The last three sentences were supposed to be bolded, beginning with, “Ancient histories often contain the miraculous…”

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  9. It’s a great question. I don’t have tons of sources at the ready, but I do know that Tacitus claimed the emperor Vespasian worked miracles:
    http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/tacitusc/histries/chap17.htm

    I also know that oral histories of Native Americans claimed that some of their cheifs and medicine men could work miracles. Tecumseh, in particular, was widely proclaimed to have predicted events like earthquakes. I’ve actually written about that here:
    https://findingtruth.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/tecumseh-the-prophet/

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