You’ve probably seen lists of Bible contradictions. Here are my favorites. Play along at home and see which of these are your list, too.
My focus here is just on contradictions in the Bible. These are mostly clashes between two sets of verses in the Bible, but some are the Bible clashing with reality. (I’ve written about the Bible clashing with science here.)
There are lots of contradictions that I find fairly trivial. For example, that Ahaziah was 22 (or 42) years old when he became king (2 Kings 8:26 vs. 2 Chronicles 22:2). Or that Solomon had made a basin that was ten cubits in diameter and thirty in circumference (1 Kings 7:23). The contradictions on this list are much more fundamental attacks on the Christian message.
1. Christians sin, just like everyone else (or do they?)
Everyone knows that no human except Jesus lived a sinless life. The Bible says:
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
This is standard Christian dogma, but things get confusing when you read the opening verse of Job, which says of Job, “This man was blameless and upright.” Even as his life was going to hell because of Satan and God’s little experiment, Job was vindicated in his belief that he had nothing to apologize for.
We see another example in Noah, who was also “blameless” (Genesis 6:9).
But the sinless net goes a lot wider than that, because (plot twist!) ordinary Christians don’t sin.
No one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him (1 John 5:18; see also 1 John 3:6, 3:9).
So which is it—are all people sinners, or are Christians the exception?
Addendum: But why worry about sin? Every one of us is already saved.
Paul draws a parallel between the man who got us into this mess (Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit and gave mankind Original Sin) and the one who got us out (Jesus, whose perfect sacrifice saved us all).
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).
We didn’t opt in to get the sin of Adam, and we needn’t opt in to get the salvation of Jesus. No belief is necessary. Paul assures us we’re good.
2. The women spread the word of the empty tomb (or did they?)
Women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus and returned to tell the others.
The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:8).
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others (Luke 24:9).
Or did they? Mark has a different ending.
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
And that’s how the original version of the gospel of Mark ended.
3. All Christians are united in what they believe about Jesus (right?)
That’s a nice thought, but has any prayer failed more spectacularly? Christianity is more than just Roman Catholics and Baptists and Methodists and maybe a few more—there are now 45,000 denominations, and Christianity is fragmenting at a rate of two new denominations per day. (h/t commenter Greg G.)
[Jesus said,] I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one. . . . I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (John 17:20–23)
I appeal to you . . . that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
4. No one can see God (or can they?)
No one has ever seen God (1 John 4:12).
No man has seen or can see [God] (1 Timothy 6:16).
But Adam and Eve saw God. So did Abraham and Moses:
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1).
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).
5. God’s rules keep changing
The New Testament continues the confusion. It can’t decide whether to look backwards and honor existing law or to tear it up yet again, because it says both. First, Jesus commits to existing law:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17–18)
But then the book of Hebrews weaves a legal case that argues that Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek, which ought to take priority over the existing priesthood in the line of Aaron. Here it quotes an Old Testament declaration of God to justify a new covenant.
The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. (see Hebrews 8:6–13)
Jesus is a dramatic change to Judaism, and there must be some logic to justify Christians changing their worship day, dropping the sacrifices, worshiping a new guy in addition to Yahweh, and so on. That rationalizes away one problem, but the overall problem—the various substories don’t fit together in the overall plot—remains. (More: “The Bible Story Reboots. Have You Noticed?”)
Continued in part 2.
longest-running, most widespread,
and least deservedly respected Rorschach Test.
You can look at it and see whatever you want.
And everybody does.
— Richard S. Russell
Image via Adrian Scottow, CC license