Time Travel and Biblical Contradictions

Pete Enns recently mentioned time travel in connection with a tension between stories about how David and Saul first met:

It’s possible that Saul is simply a moron, like the boss who can’t seem to remember the name of the mailroom guy—but that explanation just doesn’t feel right. In chapter 17, David came out of nowhere, slayed the giant, and neither Commander Abner nor King Saul knew him, and so David introduced himself to the king.

David doesn’t answer, “Uh . . . dear king . . . I’m the one who follows you around all day with a lyre to calm your nerves. I’m also your armor bearer. I’m sort of a big deal in your life.”

There is some other interesting stuff happening in this story, which we’ll get to soon enough. But what about this double introduction of David? How do we account for it? Time travel? Probably not…

As you may recall, I blogged some years ago about the potential for time travel to provide solutions to biblical contradictions. This is what I proposed as a way for Doctor Who to be utilized to reconcile the accounts of Judas’ death in Matthew and Acts:

Judas sold the information about where Jesus would be on Passover night to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. He then went without remorse and bought a field. While inspecting it, he tripped and fatally injured himself. While he was lying there in pain, he hears a wooshing noise, and a blue box appears in the field. A man in strange clothing comes out and introduces himself as the Doctor. He administers first aid, and when Judas gets a good look at him, he realizes that he is the man from whom he bought the field!

The Doctor explains to Judas that his actions will make history, but also cause much suffering. He gives Judas back the money he paid for the field, takes him in the TARDIS, and shows him the crucifixion. Judas is disturbed, and when the Doctor returns him to his own time, Judas runs off, heading straight for the temple. Judas throws the money into it and runs off to hang himself in the field that he had earlier purchased. Later, the priests will decide to buy a field with the money Judas threw into the temple, and will purchase a field whose previous owner just committed suicide and who had no heirs to inherit it.

The Doctor, meanwhile, tells half the details of what happened to a man named Matthew, and the other half to a man named Luke.

Please share your suggestions of other examples of how time travel could be used to creatively harmonize biblical contradictions!

Also at the intersection of the Bible and time travel, see Lewis Glinert on the question of whether Moses, if he were brought through time to present-day Tel Aviv, would be able to understand the language

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  • John MacDonald

    They’re not really contradictions, but some of the gospel stories lack historical verisimilitude, like the disciples dropping everything after a few words by Jesus and following him, or the temple tantrum pericope, even though there would have been soldiers there to prevent such disturbances. I would want to go back and see what the historical cores were that lay behind such stories.

    • summers-lad

      Jesus and the disciples had lived in the same community. Jesus, as a carpenter, may have built boats for the fishermen among them. So when he said “follow me” it wasn’t as if he was a stranger to them.
      I’d like to go back and see it too though!

      • John MacDonald

        I’m not sure that Jesus’ followers were fishermen just because the gospels say so. This portrayal may just have been based on the “I will make you fishers of men” idea. It seems to go along with the “last will be first, and the first will be last” idea that Jesus, a nobody preacher from backwater Nazareth and his band of peasants succeed in reconciling man to God.

        • summers-lad

          When four of them are clearly said to be fishermen, I see no reason to believe that they weren’t. And the “fishers of men” saying is more apt if they were.

          • John MacDonald

            Who knows? lol

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not saying that theological theme is dictating the facts of the story, but it seems like this. It’s like a play on the rags to riches theme where a fallible prophet like Jesus whose family thinks he’s crazy and who can’t perform miracles in his home town ends up becoming God’s specially chosen first fruits of the general resurrection of souls at the end of days.

          • Realist1234

            Or it could be the other way round.

    • Leigh Sutherland

      If there is a historical core.

      • John MacDonald

        The general rule of thumb seems to be that if something in the text appears to be theologically motivated (such as Matthew presenting Jesus as the new and greater Moses), this text can be “bracketed” as to whether it actually happened (it may or may not have), since the author would have had reason to invent it.

  • Realist1234

    I wouldnt presume everything in the books of the OT, particularly those with a strong prophetic element, are in chronological order. Hence no need for time travel. E. W. Bullinger suggested that the text here was rearranged in order to bring together certain facts, especially those about the Spirit of God and His departation. He argues the narration alternates between David and Saul, creating a didactic contrast between the Spirit of God and the evil spirit that tormented Saul. The focus is thus on the spiritual state of the two men, not the historical order of events. I think he is onto something there.

    It reminds me of early church father Papias’ apparent view of Mark’s Gospel – accurate but not necessarily written in chronological order.