Is the Bible Thematically Consistent?

by VorJack

One of the worst apologetic arguments for the authority of the bible is that the bible is unique in its continuity. That is, although the books in our modern bible were written over a stretch of centuries, they all speak as if from the same voice. Clearly, that is the voice of God.

This argument hinges on the notion that the books are “thematically consistent;” that they are all in agreement as to their major themes of morality and theology. This is pure bunk, and the argument fails. The books of the Bible are in conflict, pure and simple.

For example, one of the themes of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is that the Israelites should remain ethnically pure and not intermarry with foreign women:

“And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the LORD the God of your fathers, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (Ezra 10:10-11)

Now, compare that with with book of Ruth, where the Moabite Ruth becomes the ancestress of line of Jesse, David and Jesus. Does this story square with Nehemiah 13:1, “On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God”?

This is likely not an accident; the book of Ruth may have been intentionally written as an argument against the ethnic purity themes of the earlier works.

Consider also the fact that Moses, the greatest hero in the OT, marries into a Midianite family. Of course, in the book of Numbers, Moses wages war against the Midianites, kills the men and captures the women and children. I suppose that’s one way to deal with your in-laws.

This is just an example; just one of the ways that the OT is in tension with itself. But now consider the NT and all the ways that the gospels conflict. Let’s take a subtle one: compare the eschatologies of Mark and John.

Mark famously has a straight-forward apocalyptic tone: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” In contrast, John has a more complex “revealed eschatology,” in which Jesus’s ministry is part of the end times: “Truly, truly, I say to you he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life”

In Mark, the second coming is something that will take place in the near future. In John, it’s something that is here now, and yet is still to come. It’s not a pure conflict, but it is one of the ways that the Gospels are inconsistent with each other.

Of course, the apologists have another card up their sleeve: they know what each of these passages really means. They’ve already decided that the books are thematically consistent, and they’re prepared to strap any straying passage into Procrustes’s bed and make it fit.

  • Custador

    Plus inconsistencies in details – Matthew versus Acts accounts of the death of Judas being the obvious example.

  • mikespeir

    What’s amazing to me is that the canon is so inconsistent, considering how carefully believers picked and chose what went into it.

  • Len

    One size fits all.

  • Nox

    Is the bible thematically consistent? Let us read.

    Luke 6:31
    And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

    Numbers 31:17-18
    17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
    18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

    One could make an argument that god the father is just as evil in Revelation as Genesis. That might qualify as some sort of thematic consistency. The rest is a mess, with prophets constantly issuing competing prophecies that often have god blessing and cursing the same king for something that one prophet says god commanded him to do and another prophet says god commanded him not to do.

    Another major area where the bible loses thematic consistency is when the new testament authors misquote the old testament. Matthew does this the most but all 4 gospels have at least one passage where some detail of Jesus’ life is said to be a fulfillment of a prophecy in the old testament. To give one quick example, there is the “prophecy” of the virgin birth in Matthew 1. After opening his book with a genealogy which contradicts 1st Chronicles 10 (and for some unexplained reason is a genealogy of Jesus’ step-dad Joseph, who according to the story passed 0% of David’s DNA on to Jesus) the anonymous author of Matthew goes on to tell us, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (1:22-23). Obviously “the prophet” in question is Isaiah, who’s book contains the only thing close to a match. If you look at Isaiah 7:14 out of context it does say something sort of like Matthew 1:23 (“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”). But a brief read through the entire chapter containing this quote proves the “virgin” in question is not Mary, and the child is not Jesus. This child’s birth was to be a sign to Ahaz, the king of Judah that he would be successful in an upcoming battle against Israel and Syria (2nd Chronicles 28 tells us that Isaiah was lying. Judah loses big time and Ahaz is killed in the aftermath of the battle). The following chapter of Isaiah even rules out Jesus further when Isaiah tells us in 8:3 that he fathered this child himself “And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son”. Almost every incident in the book of Matthew starts or ends with ” happened so that could be fulfilled as was predicted by . In almost every case the original passage cannot possibly be applied to Jesus.

    Also on the topic of “thematic consistency”, has anyone else noticed that the book of Acts switches between 3rd and 1st person numerous times with no explanation?

    • Michael

      The example of Mt 1:23 is famous, but perhaps the most significant part is the misinterpretation of the word ha’almah in Isa 7:14, which probably meant not “virgin” but “young woman.”

      As for Acts, I think it is supposed to be the same author as Luke, if that helps you interpret the first person.

      But how about the inconsistencies within Job (admittedly, some scholars do claim Job is thematically consistent)? Or between Job and Proverbs? Or between Ecclesiastes and everything (including Ecc 12:13b-14)?

      Or just the famous contradiction between Gen 1 and Gen 2?

      • Nox

        True, if Isaiah had meant “virgin” it is more likely he would have used “betheulah” as opposed to “almah”. The way jews read this verse is something more like “behold the young woman is with child”. Just decided to leave that out to illustrate that no matter how one translates “ha’almah”, the almah in question can not be Mary.

        Let’s say I were to tell you that god had told me the Packers would win the 2011 Super Bowl. And that I could prove it was the word of god, because the lord himself was going to give you a sign that the Packers were his chosen people. And the sign god would give you to prove that the Packers would indeed win the 2011 Super Bowl is that 700 years in the future a child will be born with two heads. It does not matter how miraculous the sign is if you never get to see it.

  • Roxanna Gambill

    My husband’s answer (he is Jehovah’s Witness) would be, “The Israelites weren’t supposed to marry or have anything to do with Midianites, but Jehovah was merciful with Ruth and Moses.” My response would be that he wasn’t so merciful to the guy who broke the rules about picking up sticks on the Sabbath or the guy who was killed for touching the Ark of the Covenant when all he was trying to do was keep it from falling to the ground. Jehovah sure is inconsistent in his “mercy.”

    Christians are just deluded. Deep down they probably know it doesn’t make sense, but they can’t let themselves dwell on it, and they’ll think of any excuse to excuse god.

    I did the same thing. The reason I did it was because it was just too hard to accept that there is no afterlife. I won’t be able to see my mother or father or child again. It’s hard to accept. But finally, for me, it was time to grow up.

    I kept wanting the bible to make sense. I felt like there should be some explanatioin, but I just wasn’t getting it. Then finally I felt that I should just become more “spiritual.” Forget about the bible and just pray often and hard. I’ll bet you can guess how that worked out. I thought it would be awful not to be a believer, but the relief from “cognitive dissonance” is amazing. I’m much happier not trying to make everything fit. Because it just doesn’t.

  • John C

    So the Author of the same ‘book’ warns that nothing will make any sense to you unless you see it in His Light (Ps 36:9) which He kindly offers to you but you refuse His Assistance. Then after His words are proven true (you don’t understand, it makes no sense) you then cry foul and so take another lap around the proverbial mountain (of self-opposition, of unbelief) and continue to wander in the desert of human reasoning all the while murmuring and mocking the ‘book’ for its ‘inconsistency’? You merely prove Him, its futile, vain and perfectly epitomizes mankind’s condition.

    Israel’s taking of ‘foreign wives’ and the ‘Ammonites and Moabites’ that can’t stand in the assembly of God’s people? Elemental, basic Spirit 101. Because I’m special? No, my own light is just as dim as yours. But years ago I traded in my light for His, have walked wholly dependent on the Light of Another for a quarter century now and that’s the ONLY ‘reason’ I can now ‘see’. I’m a nobody, He is All. But in your world (the blue pill) its just the opposite, you are your own gods and so suffer the (severe) limitations thereof, the impairment of sight (spiritually speaking).

    What lap are you on? How many years have you been ‘out there’? God said ‘you’ve been wandering in this desert (wilderness of self) long enough, now turn northward. (Duet 2:3).

    True North, the ‘northern lights’, the aurora borealis, the dawning of light in the ‘night sky’, as a light ‘shines in darkness’, in the northern sky.

    Won’t you turn northward? Only if you want to see, that is.

    • JohnMWhite

      Northern Lights was a great book with far greater themes and consistency than the bible.

      • Atticus

        Am I allowed to make an evolution pun about how John C’s ideas are always changing?

    • trj

      Actually, the Bible makes a lot of sense once you realize it is not the word of God but an invention of man. All the scriptural inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and absurdities resolve themselves in one extremely simple explanation.

      And as a bonus one no longer has to agonize over existential questions such as why God allows so much evil to happen. The answer to that is perfectly simple.

    • Michael

      “So the Author of the same ‘book’ warns that nothing will make any sense to you unless you see it in His Light.”

      Translation: The book only seems true if you already know it’s true.

      How profound.

      • trj

        Funny how many religious books use this technique. You’d think the best approach would be to make the content understandable to everybody. Apparently not.

        • JohnMWhite

          It’s a bit like creating a map to somewhere that can only be read once you reach your destination. You have to know where you’re going in order to be told how to get there.

          • Ty

            Love this illustration. I plan to steal it.

          • claidheamh mor

            And a map that’s written in secret code, with no decoding legend at the bottom, and no landmarks – and no way to check it against reality* — as one gullible xian posted on this site, “God didn’t leave us any artifacts”! Bwaaaaaahahahahahaha!

            *except that when you do, reality wins

          • Jabster

            You forgot to add that depending on who the map reader is you can end up in a totally different place but you’re sure you’re the one in the right place.

    • Janet Greene

      I was wandering in the dark desert of christianity until about age 32. However, I decided to seek, and ultimately found, truth and consistency in life. Lo, after reading many books, a light went on, and I realized that it had all been a terrible hoax. At that moment, I felt like the Truman Show, where he realizes that his whole life was a reality show. Well, I realized that my whole life had been based upon a LIE. I’ll admit, there was some shock. But I now no longer have the burden of having to explain the inconsistencies, stupidities, and atrocities in the bible. Yeah, though I walk through the shadow of christian culture, I will fear no insanity, for my intelligence is with me. My logic and common sense shall be with me all the days of my life. Ramen.

      And I’m aware that this comment is about as thematically consistent as, well, the bible.

  • claidheamh mor

    Yay! A followup to my own calling bible apologetics a Procrustean bed! How much backpedaling can they do to pretend it’s believable? “Well, the bible books don’t agree, actually; they’re just thematically consistent. Well, er, except for the the time of the second coming being figurative or allegorical, and, um, a day is like a thousand years, and the two accounts of creation in of Genesis, and we don’t stone our children for disobeying anymore, and…”

  • Brian

    Didn’t Moses marry the midianite woman before the Law was formulated and written down?

  • Lee

    John C: Really?

    Psalm 36:9 simply says “..in your light do we see light (ESV).” Do you really interpret this to mean that God is saying that nothing in the bible will make sense unless we are inhabited by his spirit? I’m sorry, but even as a former christian and student of the bible, I think that’s quite a stretch. There’s nothing in the psalm indicating that he is referring to being able to understand “god’s” word.

    But even so, are you really saying that obvious contradictions within the bible, whether they be historical or doctrinal or whatever, somehow supernaturally cease to be contradictions when you are filled with the spirit? Are you really going to insult our intelligence like that? Are you saying that elemental logic doesn’t apply in God’s kingdom? You simply assert and don’t even try to show how the example given isn’t a contradiction, because you seem to believe that we couldn’t possibly understand with our “unenlightened” minds.

    You assert that only when a person becomes a christian are they able to understand the bible. I assert that christians either ignore the contradictions in the bible or try to come up with nonsensical spiritual sounding explanations or evasions (as you did) in order to protect what they want to be true, because they cannot be open to questioning the “word of god” on which they’re faith is based.

    • John C

      Lee,

      My ‘faith’ is not based on the bible at all, but rather in a resurrected, indwelling Lord, Christ within who is my life (Col 3:3). I’ve questioned everything along the Way friend, that’s natural, especially in a youthful state in Christ but found the further I journeyed and trusted the Father the more well-lit and easily navigable the path became. It’s His life in us, not our reasoning capacities (though they be extensive and often mis-used) that is my life, my ‘faith’, in fact, its no longer ‘I’ that lives, that’s doing the living in me (surely you remember Paul’s words in Gal 2:20?).

      I’ve reached a crescendo of sorts in the spirit (not that I’ve fully arrived by any means, nevertheless I press on) having waded through the lower tiers, the realm of self and doubts and elemental things, have paid too high a price to turn back now, besides I love Him. We must pierce the veil from flesh to spirit if we are ever going to truly experience this ‘God’ who is spirit. Yes, we need most to see in his light, not our own. But that same light is our original, pre-fall light, so in a sense I am only reclaiming that which was integral to man’s original construct, design.

      Sure, you can read and even understand some basic, literal, textual connotations, but God will not empower the prideful, there is no light of scripture shed on the minds of unbelievers, it will never be ‘reasonable’ to them, its impossible. The word ‘morphs’, has varying degrees of meaning as a pool has various depths, I have seen at least three, but one must be in that deeper place himself to see the change from one to the next.

      All the best…

      • trj

        So in other words, the special insight your faith has brought you is that you should just give up on understanding what you don’t understand. That may seem profound to you, but to most others it’s useless (although it’s not exactly uncommon to hear such a claim from Christians when they don’t have any actual explanations).

        • John C

          TRJ, when you speak of ‘explanations’, this assumes I am seeking answers for some ‘thing’, have an interest in knowing some philosophy, beliefs etc. But truthfully, I seek Him alone, want to know Him in spirit and in truth. This is the route that JC said would be most profitable, ie ‘seek first the kingdom of God…’ and all else would naturally follow.

          I don’t need any ‘thing’ explained to me to believe, to justify my belief, that is not the manner in which the invitation was made, nor the basis for its acceptance on my part. I foolishly believe and childishly trust, this is the spirit-led life which of course makes no sense to the adult mind, is utter nonsense. JC warned us that He, the kingdom pursuit, this alternative lifestyle, etc would be ‘offensive’ to us, to our natural minds, to natural man and of course that is true, but the liberty on the other side, that’s what I have come to ‘know’ and experience, its a delightful journey/adventure in faith, it assumes we are not abandoned as spiritual orphans, that my Father cares and takes care of me in the same way a little child simply trusts that Daddy will not forsake him, will care for him, its very simple, light, care-free living.

          If you imagine God at all, you probably imagine some mysterious, impersonal ‘deity’ of sorts, but what if God is actually ‘Abba Father’ as JC described, is love Himself, wouldn’t that change your perspective a little? I only need to know, trust and believe Him, I don’t need answers or explanations to everything I don’t understand. Now having said that, in my many posts there is ample ‘explanations’ etc, maybe not to your satisfaction, but I a contented, well satisfied just to know Him. He is faithful.

          • trj

            Yes, I already know that where others give up explaining you don’t even try asking.

            To you, it appears to be a fantasticly giving experience to trust and revere some ultimate father figure unquestioningly. To me, it smacks of defeatism and a lack of willingness to take responsibility. You see it as a glorious journey. I see it as a refusal to move into the real world, where you might, you know, actually learn something new rather than gaze at your own navel.

            To each his own.

      • Lee

        But your faith is based upon what the bible (at least in some places) claims about christ right? Can you know christ apart from what scripture (supposedly) reveals about him? You’re not saying the bible is secondary or optional are you? Or will you claim to have received some kind of direct revelation from christ himself? Within christianity in general the bible is considered the very word of god and indeed the only authoritative divine revelation that christians have to go by. Sure there are sects within christianity which will allow for claims of personal divine revelation outside of scripture, but this is mostly seen as heretical and dangerous within christianity as a whole.

        And so if it is indeed the case that the christian “faith” is based upon the bible which is supposed to be the very word of god, and that word is found to be faulty in many ways, then does this not knock out the foundation upon which faith in christ is founded? Or are you going to claim that it is not necessary for the bible to be congruent and faultless? Or will you continue to assert that the problems that are obvious to anyone who will lay down their pride and their fear of being wrong will supernaturally cease to be problems if only one will believe that they are not really the obvious problems that they seem to be, but rather a problem of our supposedly fallen intellect? You’ve asserted that before, and though you may truly think that it is a humble and spiritual position, it comes off as arrogant and insulting to those of us who are truly open to questioning our beliefs or lack thereof.

    • Cindy Mulvey

      As a former Christian every thing the Bible made sense to me , untill I realized that is the faiths belief.

      After sseeking the Founding Fathers I came to understand Deism.
      This made more sense to me.

      GOD is Common Sense & Reason, not scriptures.

  • http://scotteriology.wordpress.com/ Scott Bailey

    How can you say, “We are wise,
    and the law of the LORD is with us,”
    when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
    has made it into a lie?

    Jer 8:8

  • Sam

    Proof-texting can be abusive, and you’ve proven it here.

    First, your Ezra and Nehemiah passages, compared with Ruth, ultimately makes NO point. How does the prohibition for Moabite women to “enter the assembly” conflict with Ruth being in David’s ancestry? It doesn’t. And the fact that the Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women is not praised in the book of Ruth. It is just stated. So, once again, no conflict with the Ezra passage. And your hypothesis that “Ruth may have been intentionally written as an argument against the ethnic purity themes of the earlier works” is absurd. This wasn’t about ethnic bigotry. The command forbidding the Ammonites or Moabites from entering the assembly of God was “because they did not meet the Israelites with food and water. Instead they hired Balaam against them to curse them…” (Nehemiah 13:2 – the very next verse!).

    Second, Jesus’ statement that, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” This is not inconsistent with John’s eschatology. This could be referring to the transfiguration, the resurrection, and/or Pentecost. When understood that way (with the rest of the gospel in mind), Jesus’ statements in Mark’s and John’s gospels are perfectly coherent.

    Some people who follow this website might swallow what you give them…but others are checking your facts.


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