We’re critiquing the post “Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions” from Jim Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity blog. Wallace is certain that his rules will wipe that atheist smirk from our faces once we correctly evaluate Bible verses. (Principles 1–4 are critiqued here.)
Principle #5: Old Testament Quotes Aren’t Meant to be “Verbatim.”
The New Testament often quotes the Old Testament, but these quotes aren’t always perfect. Don’t worry about that—they weren’t meant to be.
The example given is a trivial one. John 19:37 gives the phrase “They will look on the one they have pierced” as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy from Zechariah 12:10, but there the phrase is slightly different: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced.” Wallace says that John never intended a verbatim quote but was simply observing that the prophecy was fulfilled.
Rather surprisingly, Wallace has no problem dropping the claim of biblical inerrancy. It’s good that we agree that God didn’t guide anyone’s hand—either that of the original author or a copyist.
But let’s pursue this. We need to follow principle #2, “Examine the Text in Its Context.” So Zechariah is referring to Jesus as “the one they have pierced”? Continue reading beyond that verse and you see that “on that day” all the inhabitants of Jerusalem will greatly lament this injury. But in the gospels, only the tiny band of Jesus followers even noticed the death of Jesus. No, Zechariah is obviously not a prophecy of the gospel story.
And is that the best example of sloppy quoting from the Old Testament? Here’s a fun one: Matthew says that the resolution of what to do with the 30 pieces of silver, the “blood money” that Judas threw at the priests, was foretold: “Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled” (Matthew 27:9–10). But the 30 pieces of silver wasn’t a reference to Jeremiah but Zechariah 11:12–13.
Worse, the Zechariah passage is no prophecy. Say that Matthew was inspired by Zechariah if you want, but it certainly gives no fulfilled prophecy. I wonder how Wallace tap dances away from this one.
Principle #6: Perspectives Are Different Than Contradictions.
The Bible sometimes documents the same event more than once, and these descriptions don’t always match up. But real witnesses don’t describe an event the same way, and you don’t want collusion. Don’t confuse a different perspective with an error.
Wallace tackles a difficult contradiction, the two versions of the death of Judas. Acts 1:18–19 says that (1) Judas bought a field with his 30 pieces of silver. There, (2) he died from a fall. (3) The field was called “Field of Blood” because of this death.
But Matthew 27:4–8 has a very different story. Let’s enumerate the differences. Judas (1) returned the money to the priests. Then (2) he hanged himself. Next, (1) the priests declared the money tainted as (3) blood money, and they used it to buy a field. (3) The field was called “Field of Blood” because of the tainted money.
The stories differ in (1) who spent the money on the field, (2) how Judas died, and (3) the origin of the name “Field of Blood.”(And don’t get me started about what Papias said about how Judas died.)
Wallace wants to realign the facts so that both accounts are accurate. He makes clear his bias by stating that if the facts can be reinterpreted to preserve the claim of Bible accuracy, they should be.
Here’s his amalgam story. First, Judas returned the money. The priests took it and bought the field—that is, they bought the field with his money. Later, Judas hanged himself, and (whaddya know?) it was in that very field. After he was dead, he fell “and all his intestines spilled out.”
Let’s catch our breath after that impressive bit of gymnastics. It covers most of the bases, though Acts makes clear that the field belonged to Judas and that the fall killed him. There is also no resolution of the source of the name for the field. Most important, though, it’s hard to imagine two writers agreeing on Wallace’s version of the story but then going off and writing such contradictory accounts.
I’ll grant that Wallace has done a fair job in making a composite account from which the Matthew and Acts accounts could come, but it’s still special pleading. The more plausible explanation is two separate, incompatible accounts.
Principle #7: Consider the Viewpoint of “Earthbound” People.
Sure, the Bible sometimes has primitive language to explain natural phenomena, but this isn’t because it was written by primitive people but because it was written for primitive people.
Isaiah 11:12 refers to the “four quarters [or corners] of the earth.” Does this show that the Bible authors thought that the earth is flat? No, Wallace says that this is just an expression—indeed, an expression that we still use. Even today, we say that the sun “comes up,” even though that would demand a geocentric solar system if it were literally true.
I’ll grant that the Bible’s primitive view of science doesn’t prove that an omniscient God didn’t inspire the book—but that’s sure where the clues point. We would expect people 3000 years ago to think that the earth was flat, and every clue in the Bible relevant to this question supports this assumption. There are no hints in the Bible that its ancient authors knew any more about science than their neighbors.
All Wallace is left with is, “Well, you haven’t proven the Bible wrong.” That’s true but irrelevant. It’s his job to show evidence that the Bible is right.
Concluded in part 3.
Harry Potter had too much science in it.
— Stephen Colbert
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/10/15.)
Image from Cindy See, CC license