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.

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