Some Bible Difficulties Examined...
What follows is a conversation between two friends on the topic of Biblical
difficulties. To respect the privacy of these individuals, they are being
represented here only in the context of "question" and
Some Bible Difficulties
Below are my answers interspersed with portions of your
comments. First, let me [quote someone who said]: "other worldviews cannot
even attempt to pass these same tests that you are applying to the book. I
invite you to apply the same rigor to any other worldview."
Of course, the reason that relativists and humanists and
atheists, etc., go at the Bible so rigorously is because the Bible and
Christianity do in fact make claims that these worldviews do not: namely, that
it has the truth, and the exclusive truth, and that it has it written down
perfectly. So for other worldviews that lack that fundamental dogmatism, we
usually don’t feel the need to apply the same rigorous tests to them, because
they don’t make such gigantic claims. Am I right?
Now to those questions.
Question: "I gather from some remarks you've made that you
believe that the Bible is Totally Perfect, the unerring Word of a Perfect
Answer: Attaboy. Of course, that needs some clarification and
qualification. So I’ll do that for you below.
Question: "I once said to you the Bible was riddled with
inconsistencies. That got your dander up and you said "Where! Where!"
all excited like."
Answer: I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t make you think that I had
never been told that before. Or that I had never been in such discussions like
these before. My ‘dander’ was up because I was excited to discuss it. (Was I
by chance on a treadmill when you told me that?)
Question: "... it's a compendium of myths, nationalist
rhetoric, fables and arcana, written over hundreds of years by mere mortals, in
a very specific cultural, political and social time and place, open to
interpretation and relativism."
Answer: The nice thing about the Bible is that it was written
over hundreds of years by mere mortals, in a very specific cultural, political
and social time and place. It is, immediately speaking, the product of real men
in real places. Some of the cultural things in it are truly bizarre. But that’s
part of the rough humanness of it. It’s a human book, full of human experience
and human emotion and human stupidity (that is, it describes and gives endless
examples of human stupidity). It’s intended to give concrete legs and hands
and feet to theological realities, showing that God exists in a real world.
Now at the same time let me mention that the specific cultural
time and place that you speak of, upon further examination, was not necessarily
so specific. Its first writing took place in the 15th century B.C., and its last
writing in about A.D. 95. Parts were written in northern Israel; parts in
southern Israel (notable difference there); parts in Babylon; parts in Persia;
parts in Asia minor; parts in Greece; parts in Rome; parts possibly in northern
Africa; parts in Hebrew; parts in Aramaic; parts in common street Greek; parts
in more refined Greek; parts in prose; parts in poetry; parts by intellectuals;
parts by shepherds and fishermen; parts by doctors; parts by lawyers; parts by
kings; parts by poor men; parts by musicians; parts by soldiers; parts by
priests; parts by military generals.
So at least half the time (99% of the time, more like?) what
looks like a contradiction is just a difference of purpose and expression and
style by different authors in different times and places.
Question: "So, youngster, no falling back on cliches
Answer: I do hate cliches, and I hate these:
"It's not for us mere mortals to know"
... which is avoiding the issue,
"These are minor matters, Jesus Christ as our Lord and
Savior is what's important"
... but if you can’t trust the minors, can you trust the
"Well, that's Old Testament; we don't place much stock in
... but the New openly states that it depends entirely on the
integrity of the Old.
Question: "It's an error made in transcription"
Answer: Now you’re walking on shaky ground. No serious
scholar, including the most conservative (with the exception of some fairly
batty King-James-only advocates), would ever suggest that our English Bibles are
error-free, or that we’re 100% certain about every word in our Greek or Hebrew
texts. Of course there are transcription errors, and in every Greek and Hebrew
manuscript we know of there is one or two or more, in some cases hundreds.
The fundamental belief in inerrancy is this: that the original
autographs were inspired and inerrant. Beyond that, our confidence in God is,
not that EVERY manuscript copy ever made was error-free, or even that ANY
manuscript copy ever made was error-free, but rather that from the sum total of
all extant manuscripts, the original text can be correctly deduced through
continued discovery, careful examination and sensible study.
Hence the need for textual criticism, which can be a very
exacting, and very interesting, science. Hence the need for archaeologists with
integrity. Hence the need for translators with good sense.
Christians in Russia (for example) have for centuries been
confused on a lot of theological and practical issues, owing to the fact that
there is only one Russian translation in existence, and it is abominably
inaccurate in places. But better translations have existed in other languages.
On the other hand, scholars for centuries wondered how accurate the existing
Hebrew texts were, and if there weren’t glaring departures from the original
Old Testament texts--since the only good manuscripts that any scholars knew of
were from the 10th century A.D. or later. But the discovery of the Dead Sea
Scrolls in the 1940’s, which date back to well before 150 B.C., showed that
the existing Hebrew texts as scholars had known them were essentially
word-for-word identical to the DS scrolls in well over 90% of the texts.
(My numbers may be inaccurate, but the essential point is
Now to the alleged contradictions:
I. Contradictions in the Resurrection accounts
A. At what time in the morning did the women visit the tomb? At
the rising of the sun (Mark 16:2) vs. when it was yet dark (John 20:1)?
B. Who came? Mary Magdalene alone (John 20:1) vs. Mary Magdalene
and the other Mary (Matt. 28:1) vs. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and
Salome (Mark 16:1) vs. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and
other women (Luke 24:10)?
Answer: Mary Magdalene likely came first, before sunrise, as
John says. All of the others joined her, arriving at sunrise. Mary Magdalene
becomes the focus of John’s account when Jesus appears to her and calls her by
name. However, it is not uncommon or inaccurate in such ancient literature for a
person recording an event not to mention all the people who were present.
Matthew 28:9 indicates that others were there with her when Jesus met her later.
Mary Magdalene was apparently the doubter among the women when
they brought back a happy report to the disciples (Luke 24:6-7), she was not
convinced and returned to the tomb soon afterwards, where she became the first
to meet Jesus (John 20:11).
C. Was the tomb opened or closed when they arrived? Open (Luke
24:2) vs. closed (Matt 28:1-2).
Answer: The verb tenses in the Matthew 28 Greek text could go
either way, namely, that (1) the angel descended and rolled away the stone as
soon as the women got there, or (2) that it had happened just prior. If you take
the first view, then you must believe that Matthew is saying that they saw the
angel descend, they saw the guards pass out, they saw Jesus leave, and then they
decided that his body had been stolen. I think a person would take that view
only if he had already made up his mind that there had to be a contradiction
On the other hand, it makes much more sense to assume that all
the accounts are harmonious: the stone was rolled away before they arrived.
According to the Greek verb tenses in Matthew 28 this is perfectly allowable.
D. Whom did they see at the tomb? The angel (Matt. 28:2) vs. a
young man (Mark 16:5) vs. two men (Luke 24:4) vs. two angels (John 20:11-12).
Answer: Again, to focus on one individual (which to our western
eyes looks as though there was only one individual actually there) is not
inaccuracy in the minds of these oriental writers. And whether they were men or
angels is a matter of context, not words. The Greek word for angel is ‘aggelos,’
which simply means ‘messenger.’ So there were two messengers there, who
looked like young men. But in addition to looking like young men, the text makes
it clear that they had a supernatural brightness about them, from which we
deduce that they were in fact supernatural beings, who had the appearance of
bright young men (no pun intended).
E. Were these men or angels inside or outside the tomb? Outside
(Matt. 28.2) vs. inside (Mark 16:5, Luke 24:3-4, John 20:11-12).
Answer: We know for sure that the one angel was outside when the
guards saw him. Whether or not he was in fact outside when the women arrived is
a detail that Matthew doesn’t clarify. Matthew also doesn’t mention that the
women ever entered the tomb; this doesn’t mean that they didn’t enter the
tomb, it just means that Matthew didn’t record it.
F. Were they standing or sitting? Standing (Luke 24:4) vs.
sitting (Matt. 28:2, Mark 16:5, John 20:12).
The man sitting in Matthew’s account was an angel sitting atop
the stone, outside the tomb. The two angels sitting down in John’s account
were there at a different time.
So the question centers around the difference between Luke’s
account and Mark’s. The Greek term ‘stand’ in Luke has relatively little
to do with their posture and more to do with the fact that their appearance was
sudden. With the language here it is allowable to say that they first appeared
in a sitting position. Mark refers to only one of the two men.
G. Did Mary Magdalene know Jesus when he first appeared to her?
Yes, she did (Matt. 28:9) vs. no she did not (John 20:14).
Here Matthew’s description of the women running up and
greeting Jesus is a rough-brush summary, not intended to be a vivid, detailed
description. John focuses in detail upon Jesus’ encounter with only one of
those women, and doesn’t tell how the others reacted when they met Jesus
there. Writers are free to fill in or leave out whatever details they please.
Now there are a number of details here that I didn’t cover. If
you’d like me to spend more time on this and tell you more, then No Problemo.
II. Jesus’ Teaching
In Matthew 5:22 he said: "...but whosoever shall say, Thou
fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Yet, Jesus repeatedly called people
fools: Matt. 23:17,19 "Ye fools and blind..." Luke 11:40 "Ye
Answer: Of all the men who ought to have known that his work was
going to be scrutinized word-for-word by hostile, pedantic scholars (namely,
Jewish religious leaders who read his gospel, whom it so feverishly condemns),
Matthew should have known better than to fill his gospel with such blatant
contradictions, right? And anyone who has worked with good editors knows that
apparent contradictions like this could never pass their scrutiny.
So this is an example of where the sense of the words depends
entirely on context. Matthew 5 is describing people who thrive on hatred and
slander ... heart attitudes which culminate in murder.
But if calling someone foolish is enough by itself to get you
condemned by God, then God Himself is guilty (Psalm 14:1, Proverbs 27:22, Isaiah
32:5-6, etc.). Jesus objectively could in the same breath turn and call a man a
fool, if in fact the man was being foolish. And we can do the same today, if
people are genuinely being senseless. Certainly any scholar, no matter how
liberal, would affirm this.
It sounds suspiciously like the person who came up with this
supposed contradiction was attempting, not to actually understand Matthew in any
mature depth, but simply to find contradictions. If finding apparent
contradictions is all you’re after, then you’ll succeed 100% of the time, no
matter what piece of writing you’re examining.
III. Two creation accounts?
First Account: Humans were created after the other animals. Gen:
1:25-27 The first man and woman were created simultaneously. Gen: 1:27
Second Account: Humans were created before the other animals.
(2:18-19) The man was created first, then the animals, then the woman from the
man's rib. (2:18-22).
Answer: People who cite this as a biblical contradiction
generally have not studied Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature in any depth at
all. In that genre it is a common literary convention for a writer to make a
single summary statement and then go back and re-explore the details; or to give
a general account of something and then go back and redescribe one particular
specific in close detail. Genesis 1:1 is an excellent example of this, where the
writer makes the general statement that God created the universe. Then in the
second verse he goes back and starts from the beginning, describing in
systematic detail how exactly God did so. Some scholars, not understanding this,
have believed that in 1:1 God created the universe and then destroyed it, and
started again in 1:2 to make a new one.
The Hebrew grammar in 2:18-19 can properly be read like this:
"Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and
every bird of the sky. And so he brought them to the man ..."
To assume that the writer just chose to write down to completely
different creation accounts, and that subsequent editors never did anything to
correct it, is to assume that this and other biblical writers were pretty
IV. Cain’s Wife
"And Cain knew his wife." That's nice, but where did
she come from? (Gen 4:17)
Answer: Nice question. Adam and Eve’s son Seth (4:26) also had
a wife and children, and we can assume that his wife was in fact his own sister,
as was Cain’s wife. Though the record doesn’t mention any daughters of Adam
and Eve (which was probably typical in most ANE family reckoning), it’s a
sensible assumption. At that time marriage to your own sibling was not forbidden
by God; even Abraham’s wife was his half-sister.
(If God didn’t provide wives for these sons from among Adam
& Eve’s daughters, then He must have intended for them all to die out
after the second generation!)
V. Adam’s ‘Death’
God says that if Adam eats from the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil, then the day that he does so (Gen 2:17), he will die. But later
Adam eats the forbidden fruit (3:6) and yet lives for another 930 years (5:5)
Answer: Define ‘die.’ Their death was the perishing of their
innocence and the horrifying entrance of sin and guilt and shame into their
pristine world. The serpent himself knew of this distinction and tried to
convince them that God was lying by telling them that they’d die (Gen. 3:4).
VI. Jesus’ Ancestry
Joseph's father is Jacob in Matthew 1:16 but is Heli in Luke
Answer: And any good student of the four gospels would be
thrilled that you brought this up, because between these two genealogies there
is a fantastic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But alas, I’ll have to
save that for another time.
Matthew’s genealogy describes the royal line of all Israel’s
kings, showing that Jesus by his pedigree had all legal right to Israel’s
throne. Luke (in fashion not considered wrong or uncommon among historians of
his day) mentions Joseph as being the son of Mary’s father, Heli. The
genealogy is very different and shows Jesus’s pedigree through Mary’s
family. Luke’s point is to prove Him a true man (hence the fact that he traces
His line all the way to Adam); Matthew’s point is to prove Him a true Jewish
VII. Inconsistent Numbers
David slew the men of 700 chariots of the Syrians and 40,000
horsemen according to 2 Samuel 10:18, while 1 Chron. 19:18 says it was the men
of 7,000 chariots and 40,000 footmen.
Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots in 1 Kings
4:26, while 2 Chron. 9:25 says it was 4,000 stalls.
Answer: And again at this point any conservative scholar will
readily acknowledge that scribal errors are not uncommon. Here’s an evident
example. So I again state that over time the original true text can be deduced
by continued discovery, careful examination and sensible study. This one you
might say we’re still working on, though it’s not real hard just to guess
how many chariots and horsemen these kings dealt with.