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BSR 5: The Bible Is Full of Contradictions

BSR 5: The Bible Is Full of Contradictions March 30, 2020

Let’s run through a few Bible contradictions and consider what real eyewitness testimony would look like.

(These Bite-Size Replies are responses to “Quick Shots,” brief Christian responses to atheist challenges. The introduction to this series is here.)

Challenge to the Christian: The Bible is full of contradictions.

Christian response #1: There’s a difference between a contradiction and a variation. Two reports about the same thing may not be identical, but that doesn’t mean they contradict.

The gospels all have women telling the disciples about the empty tomb, except for Mark. In that gospel, the women are told by a man in the tomb to report the resurrection to the disciples. But “trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And there Mark ends. That’s a contradiction.

Here’s another. The second Commandment against worshiping idols has this: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5). In a more sober frame of mind in a later book, God changed his mind: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16). That’s a contradiction.

There are thick books like The Big Book of Bible Difficulties that have rationalizations for hundreds of cases like these, but this shouldn’t give the Christian much solace. These books admit the apparent contradictions, which is precisely what a book inspired by the perfect Creator of the universe should not contain.

There are rationalizations for hundreds of Bible contradictions, but this shouldn’t give the Christian much solace. These rationalizations admit the APPARENT contradictions, which is precisely what a book inspired by God should not contain. [Click to tweet]

Christian response #2: “Why wouldn’t there appear to be contradictions in the gospels? This is the nature of all reliable eyewitness testimony.”

All reliable eyewitness testimony has contradictions? That’s doubtful. Contradiction seems to be the nature of legend and fiction much more than eyewitness testimony. Which of these two categories seems the better fit for the Bible?

Surely we should have higher standards for a book that claims to be inspired by God. At no stage was God’s divine hand apparent: not at the writing of the originals, not by preserving through copying, not through flawless translation. Every opportunity God has to show that he exists, he ignores. The Bible is error-prone at every step because it’s people all the way down.

Here’s what eyewitness testimony looks like: “I Simon Peter and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea” (from the Gospel of Peter). “I Thomas, an Israelite, write you this account” (the Infancy Gospel of Thomas). “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down” (the Gospel of Thomas). But this is apparently unconvincing because these books aren’t in the New Testament! And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have no clear, identified eyewitness claims like these.

At no stage of the Bible was God’s divine hand apparent: not at the writing of the originals, not the copying, not the translation. The Bible is error-prone at every step because it’s people all the way down. [Click to tweet]

(The Quick Shot I’m replying to is here.)

Continue to BSR 6: All Religions Lead to the Same Place

For further reading:

Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark
or the adult afraid of the light?
— Maurice Freehill

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Image from Federico Pitto, CC license
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