The Bible is a flawed book.
It contains many absurdities, passages that are bizarre or that make no sense. On numerous occasions it depicts God as committing atrocities, acting in ways that are cruel, violent and unjust. And there are striking inconsistencies between its two major divisions, the Old and New Testaments, each one depicting a deity radically different in behavior and temperament.
And, of course, there are the contradictions – verses in different books, or even within the same book, that clash with each other and do not agree on key points of doctrine or history. (Possibly the most significant contradiction in the Bible, namely whether salvation is by faith or works, merits its own article. For more on this topic, see “Faith Alone“). Reading the Bible as a whole, the impression one gets is like a prism of fractured glass, reflecting back out what went into it, but in a distorted and disharmonious pattern.
I, an atheist, know these things because I have read the Bible. The statements above are my reasoned opinion of it. Of course, most Jews and Christians are likely to disagree with me. However, in the course of my debating believers and maintaining this website, I have observed a remarkable pattern that casts doubt on their counterarguments.
I have almost never met a believer in the Bible who has read the Bible all the way through.
This is not to say no such people are out there; I’m sure there are many. But in my experience, a significant majority of Jews and Christians, of all denominations, have never read the book they claim to be the word of God. Not all of it. Most of them are familiar with the most “famous” parts – the Garden of Eden, Noah’s flood, the Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the crucifixion of Jesus, and so on. But beyond that, the scriptural knowledge of the average believer abruptly ends.
Why is this, I wonder? Maybe it’s just me, but if I believed that a book, any book, was even partially the written word of the creator of the universe, I would make the time to read it.
I believe that the answer lies in the content of those sections of the Bible that most believers know so little about – the parts that they would react to with horror, revulsion or perplexity if they did know about, for reasons explained above. Most believers have been told by others what parts of the Bible are important, and so they read only those sections, or rely on other people to summarize them. In essence, a self-perpetuating industry has sprung up whose purpose is to shield laypeople from the more disreputable sections of their holy book. It is my firm belief that, if all Jews and Christians read the Bible, there would be a lot fewer Jews and Christians.
Liberal theists will insist that the Bible was not meant to be interpreted literally or taken as inerrant, and that we can safely ignore its bad parts and keep only the good teachings it contains. Fair enough, but then why do their Bibles still contain the entire canon, complete with its atrocities, absurdities and inconsistencies?
In any event, this essay is not directed at them. Rather, it is dedicated to countering the positions of fundamentalists and inerrantists who do claim that the Bible is inerrant and that everything in it deserves to be there. It is the purpose of this essay to illuminate some of the more significant flaws in this book, to show that it does not provide a consistent basis on which to build a religion, and to demonstrate that by any rational standard the Bible can only be regarded as defective.
A technical note before we begin: Numerical contradictions and contradictions in genealogies will not be considered here. While there are dozens of them scattered throughout the book, it would not accomplish much to cite them. As some have rightly noted, there are better reasons for rejecting the validity of the Bible than a contradiction regarding the number of baths in Solomon’s temple or the identity of the father of Kish. It is the purpose of this essay to show that the true errors in the Bible are more serious, and cannot merely be attributed to a slip of some scribe’s pen in copying a Hebrew character.
Verses that can be easily harmonized are also omitted here. The apologists, as a matter of necessity, are very good at rationalizing away some of the more obvious discrepancies, and while some might argue (rightly, in my opinion) that the Bible can hardly be considered inerrant if it can only be made to cohere by adding extra assumptions that are not mentioned in the text, it would again do little good to cite these. Only verses that plainly and drastically contradict each other and that resist harmonization will be considered, and it is the intent of this essay to show that there are many such.
The contradictions are divided into three classes: contradictions within each testament and contradictions between the two testaments. In each example, the contradictory verses are listed along with a short commentary that makes clear the discrepancy. Apologists have attempted to offer explanations for some of the contradictions listed below; these too will be listed and it will be demonstrated that they do not solve the problem. Also, note that I am not claiming this to be a comprehensive list; there are other many other, equally serious contradictions that are not discussed here for space reasons. All verses quoted are from the King James translation except where specifically noted otherwise.
Outline of the Contradictions
- Contradictions Within the Old Testament
- The two contradictory creation accounts
- Did Abraham know God’s name was Jehovah?
- Are we to make graven images?
- Does God repent?
- Are we punished for our parents’ sins?
- Does God accept human sacrifice?
- Did God command the Israelites to make him burnt offerings?
- Does God want animal sacrifices?
- Is there anything better than being happy?
- How did David kill Goliath?
- What were David’s sins?
- Does God’s anger last forever?
- Contradictions Within the New Testament
- If Jesus bears witness of himself, is his witness true?
- Who is for or against Jesus?
- How soon after Jesus cursed the fig tree did it wither?
- Should we obey God’s laws or men’s laws?
- Who is master?
- What will happen to the Jews?
- How did Jesus respond when asked by the high priest if he was the son of God?
- Did Jesus’ disciples know he was to be resurrected ahead of time?
- Are divorce and remarriage ever allowed?
- Should we let others see our good works?
- Will Jesus’ generation get any signs?
- On what day did the crucifixion take place?
- Where was Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples?
- Contradictions Between the Old and New Testaments
- Does God ever tempt anyone?
- Has there ever been a perfect, sinless or righteous person?
- Does God respect anyone?
- Will the godly be persecuted?
- Has anyone besides Jesus ever ascended to Heaven?
- Will there be a resurrection from the dead?
- What was in the Ark of the Covenant?
- Is God love or is God jealous?
- Is God the author of confusion?
The two contradictory creation accounts
Genesis chapter 1: First plants, then animals, then Adam and Eve
“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so…. And the evening and the morning were the third day…. And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven…. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so…. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them…. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”
Genesis chapter 2: First Adam, then plants, then animals, then Eve
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil…. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof…. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”
Commentary: Perhaps no contradiction in the Bible is more well-known and obvious than this. The very first two chapters of the very first book, Genesis, give two different accounts of the same event, with creation occurring in a different order in each one.
Attempted Defense: The most common apologetic response to this contradiction is to suggest that chapter 2 is merely a more detailed account of the events on the sixth day of chapter 1, and that the creations of animals and plants described there are meant to describe God recreating “samples” from an already-finished creation, placing them in a formerly bare “garden” along with Adam and Eve for their naming and use.
This explanation cannot stand, however. Genesis 2 refutes it by saying explicitly that no plants of the field existed yet at the start of humanity’s creation day (“the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up” –Genesis 2:4-5, RSV). These plants are created on the same day as human beings after not previously existing, disproving the harmonization proposed above. Note that some apologists have claimed that “plants of the field” refers only to varieties useful for agriculture, not plants in general – however, this makes no difference, as Genesis 1:11 says that these same types of plants (“the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit”, which encompasses all agricultural crops) were created on the third day, well before humans. Either way, the contradiction stands – Genesis 2 says that these plants were created on the same day as humans, Genesis 1 says that they were created earlier.
Did Abraham know God’s name was Jehovah?
Yes: Genesis 22:14
“And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.”
No: Exodus 6:3
“And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them.”
Commentary: After the incident on Mount Moriah in which God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test of faith, then stayed his hand at the last possible moment, Abraham in gratitude renamed the mountain Jehovahjireh – translated, “the Lord will provide”. However, when later speaking to Moses, God flatly contradicts this story by stating that he never even told Abraham his name was Jehovah. Plainly both these verses cannot be true, unless we are to believe that Abraham simply made a very lucky guess.
Are we to make graven images?
No: Exodus 20:4
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
Yes: Exodus 25:18
“And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.”
Yes: Numbers 21:8
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole….”
Commentary: Though in the Ten Commandments God specifically enjoins his people not to make any graven image of anything in Heaven or on Earth, he later changes his mind and instructs that graven images be made on at least two occasions – once as decoration for the Ark of the Covenant, again to end a plague of serpents he sent against the Israelites.
Attempted Defense: Numerous apologetics sources, for example this one, have claimed that the commandment in Exodus 20:4 is only intended to prevent the worship of idols, and that images not made for worship are acceptable. This claim is flatly against both the letter and the spirit of the Ten Commandments. The text does not approve the making of graven images or likenesses so long as they are not worshipped – it says make no images or likenesses, period.
Does God repent?
No: Numbers 23:19
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent.”
No: 1 Samuel 15:29
“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.”
Yes: Genesis 6:6
“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
Yes: 1 Samuel 15:35
“…the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.”
Commentary: The naive reader would no doubt assume that an all-knowing and all-powerful god, who never fails to accomplish what he wills and knows in advance the exact consequences of his every action, would have no reason to repent or regret anything he had done, and the former two verses support this. However, the latter two, along with many others (Exodus 32:14, 2 Samuel 14:16, Jeremiah 18:8, and Jonah 3:10, to give just a few more examples) contain examples of God repenting his actions.
Attempted Defense: http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm#092 argues that God cannot repent or change his mind, since he knows the future, and that the Hebrew word nacham translated as “repent” in the KJV should actually be understood to mean “regret” or “grieve”. Perhaps, but both Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29 use the exact same word; both say that nacham is what God will not do. Therefore, the contradiction stands; and this answer does not seem to clear up much in any case. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing god do something he knew he would regret later? Why wouldn’t he choose a better course of action from the start? Furthermore, there are several Bible verses which clearly show God “repenting” in exactly the sense it is used in English – verses in which God does something or plans to do something, then changes his mind (Exodus 32:9-14, for example). Leaving aside the absurdity of this, it is plain that the biblical god can and does repent.
Are we punished for our parents’ sins?
Yes: Exodus 20:5
“I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”
Yes: Exodus 34:6-7
“And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
No: Ezekiel 18:19-20
“When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
No: Deuteronomy 24:16
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Commentary: The contradiction here could not be more plain. While the first two verses from Exodus state that children will suffer for the sins of their fathers down to the fourth generation, the verses from Ezekiel and Deuteronomy state exactly the opposite, namely that every man is punished for his own sins and nothing else.
Attempted Defense: http://www.carm.org/diff/Deut5_9.htm, along with others, claims that the first two verses deal with the natural consequences of sin ordained by God, while the second two are in the context of human justice systems. However, the text draws no such distinction – in fact, the context of Ezekiel 18 is divine justice, not human justice. Vacillating over who deals out the punishment does not resolve this contradiction. This can be clearly seen in the CARM page, which says that “If a father rejects the covenant of God and takes his family into sin and rejects God, the children will suffer the consequences, often for several generations.” And yet, the verse from Ezekiel falsifies this: righteous children do not bear the iniquity of their fathers.
Does God accept human sacrifice?
No: Deuteronomy 12:31
“Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.”
Yes: Judges 11:30-39
“And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering…. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands…. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child…. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that… her father did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.”
Commentary: The story of Jephthah’s daughter is one of the most bizarre in the Bible. Jephthah promises God that, if he is given victory over the Ammonites, when he returns home he will sacrifice the first living thing he sees as a burnt offering to God. No explicit reply is given in the text, but the next verse goes on to tell us that God does indeed deliver the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands, which can only be taken to mean that he approves of the bargain. Jephthah returns home and the first thing he sees is his daughter. Trapped by his oath, he sacrifices her to God.
Remember, as the apologists themselves insist, God is omniscient and knows the future. At the time Jepthah made the offer, God knew that Jepthah’s daughter would be the sacrifice, and he still accepted Jephthah’s bargain and granted him exactly what he asked for. This means that God, contradicting his intructions in Deuteronomy, accepts and even approves of human sacrifice.
Did God command the Israelites to make him burnt offerings?
Yes: Exodus 29:16-18
“And thou shalt slay the ram, and thou shalt take his blood, and sprinkle it round about upon the altar. And thou shalt cut the ram in pieces, and wash the inwards of him, and his legs, and put them unto his pieces, and unto his head. And thou shalt burn the whole ram upon the altar: it is a burnt offering unto the Lord: it is a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the Lord.”
No: Jeremiah 7:22
“For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.”
Commentary: In Exodus 29, God spends an entire chapter describing in precise detail how the Israelites are to kill, butcher and burn animals as a sacrificial offering to him. But later in the Bible, God issues a denial through the prophet Jeremiah that he ever gave any such instructions.
Does God want animal sacrifices?
No: Psalms 51:16-17
“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Yes: Leviticus 1-9
“But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.” (1:13)
“And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.” (6:6-7)
Commentary: Not only did God deny giving instructions for animal sacrifices in the contradiction discussed above, he now goes on to say he doesn’t want sacrifices at all. According to the psalmist, a “broken spirit” and a “contrite heart”, not burnt offerings, are the sacrifices God truly wants. This makes considerably more sense than the absurd notion of butchering cattle to take away one’s sins with their blood, but it fails to explain why nine entire chapters of Leviticus give detailed instructions on how to do just that, repeatedly stating that such sacrifices are a “sweet savor” to God. If God does not want sacrifice, why does he claim the smell of it is sweet to him? Are we to believe God gives us lengthy instructions on how to do things he doesn’t want us to do?
Is there anything better than being happy?
Yes: Ecclesiastes 7:3-4
“Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
No: Ecclesiastes 8:15
“Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.”
Commentary: We now find a contradiction within the same book, in the space of two chapters. A verse in chapter 8 of Ecclesiastes says that nothing is better than to eat, drink and be merry, while another verse just one chapter previous says that sorrow is better and only fools are merry.
How did David kill Goliath?
With a sling: 1 Samuel 17:49-50
“And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.”
With a sword: 1 Samuel 17:51
“Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith.”
Commentary: In one of the most amusing contradictions in the Bible, two consecutive verses contradict each other regarding how David killed the Philistine champion Goliath. Verses 49-50 give the story everyone knows, of the young shepherd killing the fearsome Canaanite giant with a stone from his sling. But the very next verse says David killed him with a sword. How is this possible? Did David kill him twice? Verse 51 cannot be taken as clarifying the meaning of the preceding verses, because verse 50 specifically says Goliath was dead, “but there was no sword in the hand of David” – in other words, he was dead before David drew his sword. However, verse 51 seems to be saying the stone only stunned Goliath, and David then completed the job by killing Goliath with his sword. But that cannot be the case, because the exact same word – muwth, to kill, to slay – is used in both passages for “slew”. It does not have the meaning of “wound” or “stun” or anything similar.
What were David’s sins?
David’s only sin was in the matter of Uriah: 1 Kings 15:5
“David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”
David sinned by taking a census: 2 Samuel 24:10
“And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done.”
Commentary: According to the first verse, the only sin David ever committed was in the matter of Uriah – the husband of a married woman he loved, whom he deliberately sent into battle in the (successful) hope of getting him killed, so that David could marry his widow. But contrary to the 1 Kings verse, David’s sins did not end there. 2 Samuel describes how he sinned by taking a census of the people of Israel. Why this should offend God is not explained, especially since God himself tempted David into doing it, but it does, and so God gives David three options to choose from as punishment: seven years of famine, three months of military defeat, or three days of pestilence. David refuses to choose, so God chooses pestilence, and 70,000 innocent people die. Clearly this is intended to count as a sin.
Does God’s anger last forever?
No: Jeremiah 3:12
“Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.”
Yes: Jeremiah 17:4
“I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.”
Commentary: Here we find another contradiction within the pages of the same book. In Jeremiah 3:12 God says he does not keep anger forever. But in 17:4 he promises to do exactly that.
If Jesus bears witness of himself, is his witness true?
No: John 5:31
“If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”
Yes: John 8:14
“Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true.”
Commentary: Jesus warns in John 5:31 that if he testifies in favor of himself, his testimony should not be regarded as true. Yet he contradicts these words in John 8:14 by saying that even though he is testifying in favor of himself, his testimony should be regarded as true, because, he claims, it is true (“for I know whence I came, and whither I go”). Note that the same Greek word, marturia, is used in both verses, although translated as “witness” in one and “record” in the other.
Attempted Defense: http://www.carm.org/diff/John8_14.htm explains this by saying that Jesus is not bearing witness for himself alone because God the Father also bears witness for him. But the contradiction is not resolved. When Jesus bears witness of himself in chapter 8, is that witness true or not? If it is true, then he has contradicted himself; it is false, he has also contradicted himself.
Who is for or against Jesus?
Those who are not with Jesus are against him: Matthew 12:30
“He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”
Those who are not with Jesus are against him: Luke 11:23
“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”
Those who are not against Jesus are for him: Mark 9:40
“For he that is not against us is on our part.”
Those who are not against Jesus are for him: Luke 9:50
“And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
Commentary: What is the middle ground? If you are neither actively supporting nor actively opposing Jesus, then which side are you on as far as he’s concerned? The gospels offer both possible answers with no way to choose.
Attempted Defense: http://www.tektonics.org/af/foror.html claims that there is no middle ground with Jesus. This is a non-answer that does nothing to clear up this contradiction. What about people who lived and died before Jesus came to earth, or who lived in regions distant from the Middle East and never heard of him during their lives? What about people who are alive today who genuinely have not made up their minds whether Jesus is God or not? Are these people for or against him? To claim, as many Christians would claim, that anyone who does not explicitly worship Jesus is damned, makes Jesus’ statements in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50 meaningless tautologies. For those verses to have any meaning, Jesus must be saying that anyone who has not explicitly declared opposition to him is on his side. And yet the opposite holds true in the first two verses. The contradiction stands.
How soon after Jesus cursed the fig tree did it wither?
Immediately: Matthew 21:19-20
“And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!”
Not until the next morning: Mark 11:13-14,20-21
“And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it…. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.”
Commentary: The cursing of the fig tree is one of the more bizarre stories of the New Testament. Jesus comes across a fig tree with no figs on it, which is to be expected since it is not fig season. Nevertheless, the lack of figs seems to annoy him, and he pronounces a curse on the tree, which withers away and dies. But how soon did it die? The gospels that recount this story do not agree: Mark says its withering was not noticed until the next morning, while Matthew says that the tree died “presently” (Greek parachrema, meaning “immediately” or “instantly”).
Should we obey God’s laws or men’s laws?
God only: Acts 5:29
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Men also: 1 Peter 2:13
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”
Commentary: When the apostles are accused by the Jewish high priest of illegally preaching about Jesus, the author of Acts puts defiance in Peter’s mouth, along with the phrase, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Yet one of the epistles supposedly penned by Peter himself says differently, instructing Christians to obey all laws made by men.
Attempted Defense: http://www.carm.org/diff/Acts5_29.htm claims that the answer is that Christians are to obey men’s laws except when they conflict with God’s laws. But the verse from 1 Peter says to obey every ordinance of man. It makes no such exception. This is supported by verses such as Romans 13:2-4, which say that all earthly authorities are set up only by God’s will and whoever resists them resists the ordinance of God.
Who is master?
Only Jesus Christ is master: Matthew 23:10
“Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even Christ.”
Some humans are masters: Ephesians 6:5
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters.”
Some humans are masters: Colossians 3:22
“Servants, obey in all things your masters….”
Some humans are masters: 1 Peter 2:18
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.”
Commentary: As in other places, seemingly showing no consciousness of the gospels, several epistle writers contradict an injunction by Jesus himself to call no man master (and a warning in Luke 16:13 that no man can faithfully serve two masters) by instructing servants (Greek doulos, slave, bondman) to obey their masters. Peter adds that servants should obey even unkind or hostile masters.
What will happen to the Jews?
They will go to Hell: Matthew 8:12
“But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
They will go to Heaven: Romans 11:26
“All Israel shall be saved.”
Commentary: The context of Matthew chapter 8 is Jesus marvelling at the Gentiles’ faith in him and contrasting it with the stubborn disbelief of the Jews. (Compare verse 10: “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”) While many Gentiles will go to Heaven, Jesus says, the “children of the kingdom” will be cast into “outer darkness”. But this conflicts with Paul’s confident declaration in Romans 11 that, despite their resistance to his preaching, “all Israel” will eventually be saved. Again, this verse, like many others, seems to show that the epistle writers did not know of the gospel story or any pronouncements of a human Jesus.
How did Jesus respond when asked by the high priest if he was the son of God?
“You have said it”: Matthew 26:63-64
“But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said.”
“I am”: Mark 14:62
“But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am.”
Commentary: A simple and obvious contradiction. Mark and Matthew cannot agree on how Jesus answered when questioned by the high priest, which perhaps is not surprising since neither of them claimed to actually be present to witness the questioning. But then, how did they come by this information at all?
Did Jesus’ disciples know he was to be resurrected ahead of time?
Yes: Mark 8:31-32
“And [Jesus] began to teach [his disciples], that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly.”
Yes: Matthew 20:17-19
“And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.”
Yes: Luke 18:31-33
“Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.”
No: John 20:9
“For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.”
Commentary: Despite the three Synoptic gospels portraying Jesus as forewarning his disciples of his death and resurrection, according to the Gospel of John none of them had any idea of the significance of the empty tomb and merely thought Jesus’ body had been moved.
Are divorce and remarriage ever allowed?
No, never: Mark 10:11
“And [Jesus] saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”
No, never: Luke 16:18
“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery….”
Only when the wife commits adultery: Matthew 5:32
“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery….”
Only when the wife commits adultery: Matthew 19:9
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery….”
Only when the unbelieving partner wants it: 1 Corinthians 7:13-15
“And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him….. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.”
Commentary: In 1 Corinthians, Paul directly contradicts Jesus’ words in Mark and Luke, which say divorce and remarriage are never allowable under any circumstances, by saying divorce is permissible if a non-Christian married to a Christian wants to get one. But you can’t blame him – Jesus himself was apparently confused about this, as in Matthew he contradicts himself by adding a qualification that is not present in Mark or Luke: divorce is acceptable only when the wife commits adultery. (Women, apparently, have no right to seek divorce from adulterous husbands.)
Should we let others see our good works?
Yes: Matthew 5:16
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
No: Matthew 6:1-4
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven…. when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
Commentary: Jesus, it seems, cannot make up his mind – during the Sermon on the Mount he contradicts himself in two successive chapters, first saying we should let other men see our good works, then saying we should not.
Attempted Defense: Several sources make the claim that the commandment in chapter 6 is only intended to warn against doing good works in public for the express purpose of being seen, to show everyone else how great you are. But the following verses instruct us to do all alms in secret, while the verse from chapter 5 says to let others see them.
Will Jesus’ generation get any signs?
Yes: Mark 16:20
“And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”
Yes: John 20:30
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples….”
Yes: Acts 2:22
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.”
No: Mark 8:12
“And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.”
Only the sign of Jonah: Luke 11:29
“And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.”
Commentary: A three-way contradiction. Mark 8:12 has Jesus say that no sign of any kind will be given to his generation. Yet later on in Mark, as well as in John and Acts, it is claimed that both Jesus and his disciples did many miracles and gave many wonders and signs. Luke contradicts both of these by having Jesus say that his generation will be given only one sign – the sign of Jonah the prophet (a reference to his resurrection; see Matthew 12:40). So which is it? No signs, one sign, or many signs?
Attempted Defense: J.P. Holding’s response is truly droll. He points out that, just several verses before Mark 8:12, Jesus did perform a sign – the loaves and fishes miracle. This only makes the contradiction more plain, and I thank him for it. Essentially, he is saying that this contradiction is so obvious it couldn’t possibly be a contradiction, because the writer would have noticed it; therefore, we’re justified in concluding that this is not a contradiction, even if he isn’t quite sure why it’s not. He tries to suggest that there is a difference between signs “from heaven” and ordinary signs, a distinction which never appears in the text. Mark 8:12 plainly says no sign will be given, Luke 11:29 plainly says only one sign will be given, and the other verses plainly say there will be many.
On what day did the crucifixion take place?
On Passover Eve: John 13:1, 18:28, 19:14-15
“Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”
“Then (the Jewish priests) led… Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.”
“And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him.”
On the first day of Passover: Mark 14:12-17
“And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, [Jesus'] disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? … And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.”
Commentary: One of the most serious inconsistencies in the Gospels is this: they cannot agree on what day Jesus’ crucifixion occurred, despite having a conspicuous event such as Passover occur very near that time to use as a marker for setting dates.
All three Synoptic gospels agree that Jesus’ crucifixion occurred on the first day of Passover. Matthew (26:17-20) and Luke (22:7-14) follow Mark’s lead in making the Last Supper the Passover feast, which occurs on Passover Eve. At dinner that night, Jesus dramatically informs his disciples that one of them will betray him. He then goes to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he is arrested by Judas, and the next day the Jewish leaders take him to Pilate, accuse him, and succeed in getting him convicted of rebellion and sentenced to death by crucifixion. This all occurs on the same day, the first day of Passover.
But this is not how John schedules events. The fourth gospel specifically states that the Last Supper was not the Passover meal. Instead, John has Jesus arrested, tried and convicted all on Passover Eve, before the feast occurs – because he has symbolically equated Jesus with the Paschal lambs, and thus this new timeline allows him to have Jesus led out to be crucified while those lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. Jesus dies the same day.
One of these two timelines must be wrong. If John is correct, then Jesus was already dead by the time the Synoptics portray the Last Supper as occurring. There are only two options: either Christian writings have not preserved an accurate memory of when the crucifixion occurred, or else at least one of the gospel writers has reworked history to conform to his own theological outlook. In either case, we have reason to distrust their historical reliability in other areas if they cannot agree on such a simple and important fact.
Where was Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples?
In Galilee: Matthew 28:5-7, Mark 16:5-7
“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him.”
“And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”
In Jerusalem: Luke 24:33-36,49, Acts 1:4
“And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon…. And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you…. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”
“And, being assembled together with them, [Jesus] commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.”
Commentary: In the last chapter of Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see Jesus’ tomb, only to meet an angel who tells them that Jesus is risen and instructs them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see him. (As the women hurry back, they encounter the resurrected Jesus [28:9-10], and for some reason he gives them the same exact instruction again.) Though the gospel of Mark has no actual post-resurrection appearances (verses 16:9 and onward being a later addition), it confirms this instruction: the women enter the tomb and meet a strange young man who instructs them to tell his disciples to go to Galilee, for that is where they will see him.
However, Luke and Acts tell a different story. According to these books, the risen Jesus first appears to his disciples in the city of Jerusalem, not Galilee. Even more so, these books state that when Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, he instructed them to stay there until they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which did not happen until well after the ascension. There is no room anywhere in this scenario to slip in a visit to Galilee.
Consider: Luke 24:37 has the disciples “terrified” when Jesus first appears to them in Jerusalem, believing he is a ghost. Yet Matthew 28:17 says that the disciples worshipped Jesus when they saw him on a mountaintop in Galilee. If the Galilee visit came first, then why did the disciples worship Jesus when they saw him for the first time, only to be terrified when they saw him the second time?
Does God ever tempt anyone?
Yes: Genesis 22:1
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham….”
No: James 1:13
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”
Commentary: The primary meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words used for “tempt”, nacah and peirazo respectively in these two verses, are exactly the same – “to test, to prove” – and as well, they also both have the the same secondary meaning of “to tempt” exactly as it is used in English. This contradiction cannot be resolved by claiming translation difficulties.
Attempted Defense: http://www.carm.org/diff/James1_13.htm tries to evade this contradiction by arguing that nacah means “to test”, completely ignoring, as stated above, that peirazo means exactly the same.
Has there ever been a perfect, sinless or righteous person?
Yes: Job 1:1
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”
Yes: Genesis 7:1
“And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.”
Yes: Luke 1:6
“And they [Zacharias and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
Yes: 2 Peter 2:7-8
“And [God] delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.”
No: Romans 3:10
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.”
No: Romans 3:23
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
No: Psalms 14:3
“They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
No: Ecclesiastes 7:20
“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
Commentary: The verses from Romans are being used to support Paul’s theology – since we are all sinners and none of us are righteous, we all need Jesus Christ’s redemption. However, if Paul had paid more attention to the Old Testament, or even if he had read Luke’s Gospel, he would have learned that this is not true. There have been many sinless, righteous people, such as Job, Lot and Noah in OT times, or Elizabeth and Zacharias in his own.
Does God respect anyone?
Yes: Exodus 2:25
“And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.”
Yes: Leviticus 26:9
“For I [God] will have respect unto you [the Israelites], and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.”
No: Acts 10:34
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”
No: Romans 2:11
“For there is no respect of persons with God.”
Commentary: The word that the KJV translators render as “respect” in the OT passages cited above has many alternative meanings, so it might be possible to challenge its translation. However, the general theme of the NT verses, which is that God does not have the quality expressed by the Greek word prosopolepsia – respect, partiality, favoritism – is clearly untrue. There are many OT verses (Deuteronomy 28:1, for example) and even some NT verses (Matthew 15:24) which make the claim that God likes or favors a specific class of people, namely the Jews, better than everyone else.
Will the godly be persecuted?
No: Proverbs 16:7
“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Yes: 2 Timothy 3:12
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Commentary: This contradiction illuminates one of the many differences between the Old and New Testament gods, as detailed in “Shadow of Turning“. In the OT, when God’s people are righteous and keep his laws, he rewards them with peace, prosperity, and victory over their enemies; only when they sin, usually by idolatry, does he allow the Israelites’ foes to overcome and defeat them. However, in the NT, persecution of the followers of Jesus is not only allowed, it is expected, and is a sign of their faithfulness.
Has anyone besides Jesus ever ascended to Heaven?
Yes: 2 Kings 2:11
“And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”
No: John 3:13
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
Commentary: Despite Jesus’ confident assertion in John chapter 3 that no one has ever ascended to Heaven other than him, 2 Kings 2:11 clearly details Elijah’s ascension to Heaven by a miraculous whirlwind.
Attempted Defense: http://www.tektonics.org/af/firstascent.html makes the claim that this is not a contradiction because Elijah actually did not ascend to Heaven – the Hebrew word used in the 2 Kings verse, shamiyim, means “sky” and not “Heaven” in the sense of a place for the righteous dead, while the Greek word Jesus used in John 3:13, ouranos, does mean “Heaven”. However, a simple lookup proves that “Heaven” is a valid translation of shamiyim – the OT simply did not have the well-developed view of the afterlife that the NT does, and so this is the closest equivalent it has for that concept. (J.P. Holding admits this himself in the article, but nevertheless tries to equivocate his way out of the problem.) And besides, what other possibilities are there? Holding can only offer the weak dodge that “We do not know what [Elijah's] current state is”. And yet, by reading the context in verses 16-17 of the same chapter, the implication is clearly that Elijah is no longer on the Earth. Where else could he possibly be? There is only one reasonable explanation here, which is that Elijah was indeed carried up into Heaven, and that this is indeed a blatant contradiction.
Will there be a resurrection from the dead?
Yes: 1 Corinthians 15:52
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
No: Job 7:9
“As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.”
No: Ecclesiastes 9:5
“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”
Commentary: In his dramatic description of the Rapture, Paul says a trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be miraculously raised and given new, immortal bodies of spirit. A powerful image, to be sure. Too bad it’s flatly contradicted by the Book of Job, which says plainly that the dead shall never be raised from their graves, and the Book of Ecclesiastes, which agrees and states that the dead know nothing and have no reward.
What was in the Ark of the Covenant?
Only the two tables of Moses: 1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chronicles 5:10
“There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.”
The tables, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna: Hebrews 9:4
“[The Jewish tabernacle] had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.”
Commentary: When examining the gospel accounts of the resurrection, apologists are prone to say that verses like Mark 16:5, which says the women found one young man inside the tomb, and John 20:12, which say they found two angels, are not contradictory because neither verse specifically excludes the people in the other. Such an explanation will not work for contradictions such as this one, where the OT verses of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles specifically say that there was nothing in the Ark of the Covenant except the stone tablets of the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. But the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews seems not to have heard of this, as he says there were other things in the ark.
Is God love or is God jealous?
God is jealous: Exodus 20:5
“I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me….”
God is love, and love is not jealous: 1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4
1 John 4:8: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love [Greek agape].”
1 Corinthians 13:4 (RSV): “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful…”
1 Corinthians 13:4 (KJV): “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity [agape] envieth not…”
Commentary: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God,” the draconian and wrathful Jehovah thunders in Exodus 20:5. However, by New Testament times, he seems to have had a change of heart, as evidenced by 1 John 4:8 which states that God is love, and 1 Corinthians 13:4 which states that love is not jealous. (The same Greek word, agape, is used to describe “love” in both verses. The KJV translates it as “love” in the first verse and “charity” in the second, so I have added another translation that better brings out the contradiction.) But the deductive conclusion from these two verses is that God is not jealous, flatly contradicting the verse from Exodus.
Is God the author of confusion?
Yes: Genesis 11:6-7
“And the Lord said…. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
No: 1 Corinthians 14:33
“For God is not the author of confusion….”
Commentary: “God is not the author of confusion,” Paul says. Someone had better remind him of the story of the Tower of Babel where God was precisely that, “confounding” (i.e., confusing) the people by splitting their one language into many so they could not understand each other.
Indeed, considering how many contradictions the Bible contains, if God truly did produce it, then he is certainly the “author of confusion”. Even if one does not accept any of the contradictions outlined in this article, there is simple, undeniable proof of the Bible’s incoherence: the vast diversity of beliefs and practices it has spawned throughout history. It has been used to support both sides in pitched Catholic vs. Protestant exegetical battles. It was once put forward as proof that slavery was a right and proper institution, and then when slavery was abolished, the Bible was offered with equal vehemence as proof that it was wrong and evil all along. From the farthest right of the religious right wing all the way through radical liberals on the left, the Bible provides support and inspiration for the entire spectrum of political beliefs. Search this book thoroughly enough, and one will find an interpretation backing virtually any position one cares to name.
A unified, coherent book, written by one God with one aim in mind, could not possibly give rise to such drastically clashing divergences of opinion. If, as many inerrantists insist, scripture is the unchanging measuring stick, we must ask why it has been and is still being used to defend such a broad range of beliefs, and why its interpretations have changed so greatly over time. The atheist’s answer is that the Bible is a book like any other, no more, no less. It may have some value as a historical document, once the truth is mined from its pages and accretions of heroic legend and myth sifted out. It may possess some worth as a guide to moral behavior, once its many injustices, violences and cruelties are acknowledged and rejected. It may even be worth studying as an illuminating insight into the nature of the human race that created, preserved and venerated it. But in the end, it is only a book, the product of human minds and human hands. Given the number of differing viewpoints that went into its making, it is not surprising how many differing viewpoints take root in it today.
Unfortunately, there will always be those who construct their entire lives around this ancient book and its edicts, rather than on the simple truths of reason and our shared humanity. Such people are missing out indeed. They have locked themselves into a dark, musty confessional box, a self-imposed prison of thought, and there they may live out their lives while we freethinkers live outside in the light. They may never even realize how much they have missed.
What is the solution? There is no easy one. Unfortunately, some people will never allow themselves to be persuaded no matter the evidence arrayed against them. It seems that the only choice for skeptics of religion is to do as we have always done, to present our position at every opportunity and gradually make inroads thereby. In this way, we may slowly win the world over, hastening the day when humankind casts aside the burdensome dogmas of ancient superstition at last.
• A Reply to J.P. Holding: Christian apologist J.P. Holding has written a lengthy response to the above article. This essay shows how he has failed to resolve the contradictions posed in it.