Ward Ricker is an atheist who (as so often) was formerly a self-described “fundamentalist”. He likes to poke holes in the Bible and “prove” that it is a terrible and “evil” book, not inspired, hopelessly contradictory, etc. He put together a 222-page book called Unholy Bible (2019): available for free as a pdf file. It contains 421 couplets of passages that he considers literally contradictory, and 256 more couplets of not technically contradictory but “problem” passages (according to him). Ward wrote in his book: “I . . . am including here only what I consider to be the more firm examples of contradictions. . . . I do not want to include examples that are ‘weak’ and will be easily refuted. I have made my best judgment.” Ward also wrote to me:
[M]any Bible critics (“atheists” or otherwise) will use some pretty ridiculous arguments . . . I have screened out those bogus claims that some critics make and have published my own book . . . of contradictions that I and others have found in the Bible that are clearly contradictions. (letter to National Catholic Register about one of my articles there; reproduced in my first reply)
He issued a challenge for anyone to take on his alleged contradictions. After my first reply, he wrote a 5 1/2 page article suggesting in-depth dialogue. I responded, explaining in depth why I thought dialogue between us would be unfruitful, for many reasons. He then accused me (among other things in his two replies) of “hypocrisy” that “knows no bounds.” This is, of course, against my discussion rules, which forbids such rank insults, so he was promptly banned from my blog, and I replied: “I was exactly right in my judgment that no dialogue was possible. It never takes long for the fangs to come out if they are there.”
But I had already stated: “I may still take on several of your proposed contradictions, just so I can have opportunity to show how very wrong atheist contentions are (which is one thing Christian apologists do).” This series represents that effort. Mr. Ricker can respond on his page as he sees fit. He can still see my posts. His words will be in blue. To search any of this series on my blog, paste “Ward’s Whoppers #” in the search bar on the top right of my blog page. He uses the King James Version for his Bible verses. I will use RSV in my replies.
Exodus 20: 13 Thou shalt not kill.
Exodus 32: 27 And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
Deuteronomy 7: 1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; 2 and when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them
Q: Did god forbid killing?
This is my nomination for the most unfortunate Bible translation of one verse of all time: when the King James Version decided to translate the Hebrew ratsach (Strong’s word #7523) as “kill” rather than “murder” in Exodus 20:13. Thus, I give atheists and others a lot more slack with regard to this charge. Even the KJV in other places translates this word as “murderer” or “murder” 17 times out of its 47 appearances in the OT (36% of the time). When a word can have different meanings, it has to be determined by context which one is more accurate. Almost all modern Bible translations have “murder” in this passage (Young’s Literal Translation, ESV, NCV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV, NIV, etc.).
The killing described in the other passages is simply judgment, which is God’s prerogative to command and to do. It always seems to be poorly understood by atheists, but is perfectly sensible, compared to human analogies (ones that they themselves fully accept). Hence, I wrote in my first long response to Ward:
It’s not difficult to find many human analogies to judging and punishing: human judges passing sentences on criminals, the Allies “judging” and defeating the Nazis in World War II, our superiority over animals; parents’ chastising and punishing of children (an analogy to God that the Bible itself makes), police exercising lethal force as the situation warrants. Failing this understanding leads you to conclude that God is engaged in evil, wicked acts of “violence” when He is justly judging. It’s like saying we were “evil” and “ruthless” and “bloodthirsty” when we wiped out the Nazis.
See many more papers on God’s judgment on the Trinitarianism and Christology web page on my blog (word-search “God as Judge” for the section).
Exodus 34: 1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.
Deuteronomy 10: 1 At that time the LORD said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, …. 4 And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments,
Exodus 34: 27 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. 28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.Q: Who inscribed the tablets? (Does god lie?)
God wrote on both sets of tablets, according to the Bible: after the relevant considerations are taken into account. Apologist Eric Lyons (“Who Wrote on the Second Pair of Tablets?”, Apologetics Press, 2004), provides the solution:
The words that God instructed Moses to write were “these words,” which He spoke in the preceding verses (i.e., 34:10-26—the ceremonial and judicial injunctions, not the ten “words” of Exodus 20:2-17). The rewriting of the Ten Commandments on the newly prepared slabs was done by God’s own hand. God specifically stated in the first verse of Exodus 34 that He (not Moses) would write the same words that had been written on the first tablets of stone that Moses broke. In verse 28 of that chapter, we have it on record that God did what He said He would do in verse one (cf. Deuteronomy 10:2-4). The only thing verse 27 teaches is that Moses wrote the list of regulations given in verses 10-26.
It seems rather obvious that it is the portion before Exodus 34:27 (instructions from God) that God is referring to, in saying “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” He’s talking about the covenant, which involves a lot more than just the Ten Commandments. Hence, He started off in verse 10 saying, “Behold, I make a covenant.” Then after detailing many rules and laws, He ends by saying, “write these words” and mentioning the covenant: details of which He had just given.
The only remaining question, then, is who is referenced in the final clause of Exodus 34:28: “And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” It does seem in context to refer to Moses, since the earlier part of the passage was about him. This is at least a plausible Bible difficulty (unlike most I have been examining in this series). But pronouns in the Bible (as in literature generally) sometimes refer to persons a bit earlier in the text:
He wrote, not Moses, but the Lord, as appears from Exodus 24:1, and from Deu[teronomy] 10, the relative pronoun being here referred to the remoter antecedent, of which there are many instances, as Genesis 10:12 1 Samuel 21:14 27:8 Psalm 99:6. (Matthew Poole’s Commentary; see an old Greek lexicon also making mention of this)
Here are two other examples of pronouns or nouns referencing a non-immediate antecedent in Scripture:
Acts 4:10-11 be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well.  This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. [“This is the stone” refers to Christ, not the healed man who was mentioned right before it]
Acts 7:37-38 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, `God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.’  This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us. [“This is he” refers to Moses, not Christ, Who was alluded to right before it]
Doug Ward wrote a article about this very thing (“Watch Your Antecedents!”). He wrote:
Keeping track of possible antecedents of pronouns can shed new light on some puzzling passages from the book of Genesis.
Handbooks of English composition admonish aspiring writers to be very careful in using pronouns. In particular, a writer should make sure that there is no possibility of mistaking the identity of a pronoun’s intended antecedent. As an example of what to avoid, consider this sentence:
“He told his father he would soon get a letter.”
Here it is not clear which of the two-the son or the father-will be the recipient of a letter. The sentence should be rewritten to remove this ambiguity. . . .
Modern writers of English are not the only ones whose use of pronouns has resulted in questions and controversy. The ancient writers of the Hebrew scriptures have left us with a few ambiguities in the biblical text as well. When we encounter one of them, it is instructive to look at all the options and consider their possible interpretations in order to maximize our chances of grasping the intended meaning. In this article I will discuss three examples, all taken from the book of Genesis.
He proceeded to analyze Genesis 9:27; 35:4; and 37:28. That gives us nine total biblical passages in which reference to a remote antecedent occurs: precisely as I am claiming is the case with Exodus 34:28. By understanding that this sort of linguistic device is used in the Bible, we can understand some passages that are wrongly set forth as examples of contradictions. And our interpretation in this instance is bolstered by the clear cross-references of Exodus 34:1 and Deuteronomy 10:1.
Photo credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]