“Bible Contradictions”: Alleged Factual & Historical Discrepancies

“Bible Contradictions”: Alleged Factual & Historical Discrepancies December 1, 2023

Chapter 3 of my book (available for free online), Inspired!: 191 Supposed Biblical Contradictions Resolved. See the Introduction and ch. 1: How Do Atheists Define a “Biblical Contradiction”? All Bible passages RSV unless otherwise noted.

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  1. Did God create birds from “the waters” (Gen. 1:20) or the ground (2:19)?

Genesis 1:20 in KJV might be reasonably interpreted as saying that birds were created from or out of the water (“Let the waters bring forth . . .  fowl”) but it is an unfortunately imprecise and inaccurate translation. “Bring forth” in Hebrew (sharats) means, literally, “swarm” or “abound” or “breed” or “increase”; not “create.” Hence the same word is used in Exodus 8:3: “the Nile shall swarm with frogs” (RSV; cf. Ps. 105:30). Most of the important modern English Bible translations (RSV, NRSV, ASV, NKJV, NASB, NIV) reflect this understanding. These (and Hebrew lexicons) make it abundantly clear that Genesis 1:20 does not claim that God created birds from the water. This annihilates the alleged “contradiction.” The King James Version was produced in 1611. Sometimes (notwithstanding its magnificent style) it has mistakes from faulty manuscripts (not as old as ones we possess now), or poor translation. Its rendering of Genesis 1:20 is clearly an instance of one or the other.

  1. Were Adam and Eve allowed to eat from any tree in the garden of Eden (Gen. 1:29) or all but one (Gen. 2:16-17)?

Genesis 1:29 does not state that every tree could be eaten from, but rather, qualifies it to “every tree with seed in its fruit.” Therefore, the premise in the first portion of this objection is incorrect, and this spells doom for the alleged “contradiction.” All one has to say is that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (whether envisioned as literal or metaphorical: and I favor the latter) was simply not one of the trees that bears seed in its fruit. There are several “seedless” trees, or trees that don’t bear fruit at all, such as several varieties of ash, the “Autumn Gold” maidenhair tree, the “Swan Hill” European olive, and the Fraser photinia. There are even several seedless types of maple trees (no “helicopter” seeds littering lawns!). Someone might retort that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did indeed produce fruit, notoriously eaten by Eve and then Adam (Gen. 3:2-3, 6, 12-13) in disobedience to God’s commands. But this objection overlooks Genesis 1:29 referring to fruit that contains seed. There are many fruits or certain types of individual fruits that grow on trees which do not contain seed in them: such as bananas, oranges, lemons, and limes. Note also that the Bible never proclaims that the forbidden fruit was an apple. That is simply assumed, and has become a strong non-biblical “legend.” The Bible merely describes it as “fruit.” Therefore, it could have been a fruit without seed. Conclusion? No indisputable contradiction at all . . .

  1. How did Cain find a wife (Gen. 4:17) if the only woman in the world was his mother Eve?

This is one of the classic, garden-variety “skeptical” questions, designed to ridicule the Bible and/or the alleged gullibility and incredulity of Christians. But like all the others, it’s not very difficult to refute. Modern man usually thinks in rigidly literalistic, chronological, hyper-logical terms. Ancient Hebrew thought, however, was practical, pastoral, concrete, often non-chronological, and sometimes it compressed events hundreds of years apart, as in some prophecy. Adam and Eve also bore Seth (Gen. 4:25) and “other sons and daughters.” The Bible refers to “the course of time” (4:3) even before Abel was murdered. Then there are other textual indications that other people (probably quite a few) had populated the earth by that time. Obviously, close relatives had to mate in order to increase the population at first. When Cain was driven out of Eden (4:14), he casually assumed that there were other people where he was going (“whoever finds me will slay me”). If he hadn’t known of other people, he wouldn’t have feared for his life. And God himself makes note of these other people, by saying, “If any one slays Cain . . .” and “lest any who came upon him should kill him” (4:15). This proves that an undisclosed length of time had passed, enough for lots of people to be born and continue reproducing. Case solved!

  1. Did Noah take two pairs of every animal (Gen. 6:19-20; 7:8-9) onto the ark, or seven pairs (Gen. 7:2-3)?

Genesis 7:2 stated: “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals . . .” The Jews distinguished between clean and unclean food (the eventual basis of kosher laws and regulations for food). The reason, then, for taking seven pairs of clean animals (not all animals!), was for the purpose of sacrifice of the clean animals: which is the first thing Noah did when he got off of the ark after a year: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen. 8:20). Otherwise, if pairs of animals, or one of a single pair had been sacrificed, those animals would have become extinct in the local area. Nor is Genesis 7:8-9 a supposed additional contradiction. It’s simply saying that all the animals went into the ark by pairs, “male and female”; in other words, it was always pairs, with each gender, whether it was two pairs (unclean animals) or seven pairs (clean animals).

  1. Did Noah’s Flood last 40 days and nights (Gen. 7:4, 12, 17), or 150 (7:24; 8:3)?

Of course, the Flood and how many days it rained to create it are two different things. By trying to make both texts refer to “the flood” the atheist foolishly seeks to create a contradiction that is nonexistent. What the relevant texts actually state are the following notions: 1) 40 days of rain (Gen. 7:4, 12, 17); 2) Flood waters “receded” or “abated” after 150 days, which was the point of the “high water mark” or deepest water (8:3); 3) The ark rested on Mt. Ararat in the fifth month after the Flood began (8:4); 4) the waters “continued to abate” after eighth months (8:5); 5) the waters finally “dried” up twelve months after the rain began (8:13). None of this is “contradictory” in the least. If someone wants to say the Flood was 150 days long based on remaining waters (Gen. 8:3), this isn’t true, either, because the Bible still refers to water that “continued to abate” after eight months, and the final drying after twelve months from the onset of the rain. The only “absolute” numbers in this textual sequence are 40 days of rain and a year’s total time before the waters of the Flood dried up.

  1. When did the earth dry after the flood: on the first day of the first month (Gen. 8:13) or the 27th day of the second month (Gen 8:14)?

Three different Hebrew verbs were used in verses 11, 13, and 14, to denote a gradual process of drying up: “the waters had subsided from the earth” (8:11); “the waters were dried from off the earth; . . .  the face of the ground was dry” (8:13); “the earth was dry.” The last verse essentially means “thoroughly dry” or the dessication of the ground. It’s the same sort of distinction that ten-year-old boys who want to play baseball, make every March or April: determining if the ground is still wet and mushy after rain or is totally dry (no mud or mushiness). Isaiah 19:5-7 seems to offer a similar “three-stage” drying scenario.

  1. Who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah: angels (Gen. 19:13) or God (19:24)?

As the angels themselves stated in 19:13: “the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” Both things are true: primary cause and secondary agents to carry out the will of God, just as the American President may send an ambassador to a particular country, to make his will known. We could say both that the ambassador delivered the message, and that the President did, but the latter is the primary idea. As another analogy, say a grandmother couldn’t attend a birthday party for her grandson, and sent a present, do we say that she didn’t give him a present? No; we say that she gave the present, not the mother who passed it along. We say that generals won a battle, even though they don’t fight, and the soldiers did all the fighting. They followed his will. The same dynamic appears in the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, where God dramatically talked to Moses (which is brought forth as another alleged contradiction by the same person). Exodus 3:4, 6 and Mark 12:26 inform us that God spoke from the burning bush, but Exodus 3:2 states: “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” So who was it? We don’t have to choose. It’s the same dynamic (“both/and”), and Acts 7:35 explains it: “This Moses . . . God sent as both ruler and deliverer by the hand of the angel that appeared to him in the bush.”

  1. Who made the statement that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?: God himself (Exod. 3:6) or Moses (Luke 20:37)?

Now we’re to believe that if two say the same thing (the second saying what the first told him to say), it is somehow a “contradiction”? Luke tells us that Moses used this phrase, and that he did because God used it of himself (Ex 3:6; cf. 4:5). How is this contradictory? Nine verses later we see the solution to this bogus alleged “contradiction”:

Exodus 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (cf. 3:16)

Both God and Moses said it. Moses learned of it from God himself. Others learned of it from Moses, conveying God’s name for himself: Elijah (1 Kings 18:36), King David (1 Chron. 29:18), couriers in Israel and Judah (2 Chron. 30:6), Jesus (Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:26), Peter (Acts 3:13), and Stephen (Acts 7:32). If I say to someone, “I am Dave, the father of Paul, Michael, and Matthew” and that person says to someone else, “I know Dave, the father of Paul, Michael, and Matthew: that weird apologist guy” it’s not a contradiction. It’s simply using the name that any given person chooses to use for himself or herself.

  1. Did Moses stretch his hand over the Red Sea to part it (Exod. 14:21) or did he hit it with a stick to do so (Exod. 17:5)?

First of all, what Exodus 14:21 described did involve a rod, since Exodus 14:16 (context) stated: “Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it.” 14:21 simply mentions that he raised his hand, without mentioning the rod again (because this was done five verses before), like saying: “The reporter at the press conference raised his hand to ask a question” compared with, “The reporter at the press conference raised his hand (with a pen in it) to ask a question.” This makes a key premise incorrect in the above scenario. But that’s not even the alleged “contradiction.” Exodus 17:5 is cited as supposedly referring back to the Red Sea parting. God, in talking to Moses, makes reference to “the rod with which you struck the Nile” (“river” in the KJV which was used by this atheist; he didn’t even notice that). Now we’re to believe that a “river” or, specifically, the Nile River, is the same thing as the Red Sea? Basic geography and landscape details (as well as rudimentary contextual considerations) are apparently up for grabs, too, in the rush to make fools of Christians and Jews and the writers of the Bible. What Exodus 17:5 was in fact referring to was the Nile turning to blood: one of the famous ten plagues (Exod. 7:19-21), where the passage states: “Moses . . . lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile . . .” (7:20).

  1. When were the Israelites to begin observing the Passover: In the second year after they left Egypt (Num. 9:1-5) or when they arrived in Israel (Exod. 12:25-27)?

The answer is: when they were in Egypt, at the time that Moses declared that “all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die” (Exod. 11:5); shortly before the exodus out of Egypt. The Exodus 12 passage above is right after that. Moses states:

Exodus 12:2, 6, 14 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. . . .  and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, . . .  “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.”

That was both the beginning of the observance of it, and also the beginning of the command to perpetually observe it every year. Numbers 9 is simply Moses reiterating what he had taught (repetition being a great teaching tool). The atheist claim in this instance is that Exodus 12 teaches that the holy day would be observed when they got to the promised land Israel), which was forty years later. But that makes no sense because earlier in the chapter he implemented it while they were still in Egypt. All Exodus 12:25 is saying is that they should continue to observe the holy day when they get to Israel / Canaan. The word for “keep” in Hebrew is shamar. It has a wide latitude of meaning, including “guard, protect, attend to, observe, preserve, retain, protect, and reserve”: many of which are perfectly harmonious with what I just explained: a continued observance of Passover in Israel: not the beginning of it.

  1. Were “strangers” (foreigners) allowed to eat the Passover (Num. 9:14) or not (Exod. 12:43)?

Context is the solution and key. It’s quite clear that the overall thought on this issue is: “a stranger who does not abide by our laws may not partake of the Passover, which is specifically our Hebrew / Jewish ritual. But any stranger who decides to join us and abide by our laws and requirements (including circumcision for males), is welcome to partake.” Exodus 12:48-49 (part of the context of one passage above) makes this very clear. Those who are essentially converts to the Jewish faith will be treated no differently. This is utterly evident in the texts. So why, I wonder, are these passages (with seemingly no consideration of context whatsoever) illogically forced into a trumped-up supposed “contradiction”?

  1. Did David kill Goliath with a sling and stone (1 Sam. 17:50) or with a sword (1 Sam. 17:51)?

The words “kill” or “slew” in these two verses are used in different ways. In Hebrew grammar, the Hiphil form denotes primary causation, while the Polel form (here related to “kill”) had the meaning of “finishing off someone who was already mortally wounded.” With this understanding, we see that David’s slingshot killed Goliath in the first sense (as the primary cause), while his sword did in the second sense; hence, no logical contradiction exists. One can find parallel verses. 2 Samuel 1:9-10 is about the death of King Saul, who was mortally wounded in battle and then asked a soldier to kill him, to put him out of his misery. The two instances of “kill” in the passage use the Polel form. Further verses that utilize the Polel form with regard to killing are 1 Samuel 14:13 (“And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him;”) and Judges 9:54. In the latter instance, a man’s skull was crushed with a big millstone (9:53), but someone thrust a sword into him to kill him (see also 1 Sam. 4:13; 17:51; 2 Sam. 1:9-10, 16).

  1. Is dancing perfectly fine (Ps 149:3; 150:4) or is it a sin (Exod. 32:19-28; Matt. 14:6-8; Gal. 5:19-21)?

Dancing, according to the Bible, is permissible and morally neutral in and of itself, though like anything else (alcohol being a prime example), it can be perverted and warped, and become a conduit to sinful behavior (such as a striptease, or otherwise overtly sexual, vulgar dancing, deliberately intended to incite lust or immoral sexual activity). And that’s what happened in the three counter-examples above. The first had to do with rebellious Israelites dancing around the golden calf, which was a forbidden idol, that they worshiped over against the true God. Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and “saw the calf and the dancing” and his “anger burned hot” (Exod. 32:19). But this is no proof that dancing itself is wrong. They were dancing around an idol that they offered worship and sacrifice to: that was what was wrong: idolatry: not merely moving bodies. The second example is Salome’s dance, that brought about John the Baptist being killed. It “pleased Herod”: with the implication that he was lusting after her (and the dance likely encouraged such lust, and is always portrayed as such in movies about Jesus). Again, this is the wrong kind of dance, which doesn’t prove that all dancing is wrong. The third example is really a stretch. Paul condemns a long list of behaviors, none of which is dancing. The atheist who came up with this simply concluded without adequate reason that Paul had dancing in his head, as if he can read his mind. The Bible is quite blunt about behaviors that it condemns. If dancing in and of itself was always sinful, certainly this would have been made clear in the Bible, beyond dispute. But it never is, and instead, we have several passages presenting it in a good light, and even some that virtually command us to dance in praise of God (Ps. 150:4). Hence, our atheist skeptic has to come up with three desperate, pathetic, special pleading attempts to create a pseudo-“contradiction.” 

  1. Did Mary and Joseph know Jesus was the Messiah (Matt. 1:18-21; Luke 1:28-35) or know nothing about it (Luke 2:48-50)? 

The notion of Mary and Joseph knowing “nothing” is reading into the text (Luke 2:48-50) what isn’t there. They were simply bewildered about one particular thing that he said. They were likely taken aback by Jesus’ use of “my father” with regard to God, since this was terminology used only once in the entire Old Testament. It is true that “thou art our Father” and “thou, O Lord, art our Father” (Isa. 63:16), and “O Lord, thou art our Father” (Isa. 64:8) appear (collective use), but “Thou art my Father, my God” occurs (interestingly) only with regard to the Messiah (Ps. 89:26) — Jesus, of course, being the Messiah. They were probably startled that he used the word in a different sense: for God the Father. It could very well have been merely a momentary confusion, followed by a realization of “ah, of course; we knew that!”: without it necessarily following that they forget all that God through angels had revealed to them.

  1. Did the God the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism address the gathering (Matt. 3:17) or Jesus (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)?

I think this can be classified as a trifling difference, based on expected differential memory in finer details of eyewitnesses, or in oral traditions originating from witnesses. There is no essential difference; it’s simply the distinction between second person address (“Thou” / “You”) and a third person statement. It’s also true that the Gospel writers do not always necessarily intend to produce exact citations. Sometimes (in a time long before videos and tape recorders or even inexpensive writing capacity) they are knowingly paraphrasing: like a person in court saying, “to the best of my memory, I remember him saying something like . . .” The essence of the words in all three accounts is that God the Father is speaking from heaven, saying that Jesus was his “beloved Son.” To quibble about difference in type of address is to not see the forest for the trees.

  1. Did Jesus begin a forty day fast in the wilderness immediately after his baptism (Matt. 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13) or was he at the wedding in Cana (John 1:29-35, 43; 2:1) three days later?

John the Baptist spoke in the past tense when referring to Jesus’ baptism (John 1:29-34). Therefore, since that entire account was John talking about a past event, it’s not contradictory to the Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ baptism and the wilderness temptations. John never says that Jesus was at the wedding three days after His baptism. Rather, he says that he was there three days after John the Baptist is recorded as speaking of Jesus’ baptism in the past tense. Skeptics — in their zeal to trash the Bible — too often “see” what they want to or wish to see in biblical texts: not what is actually present.

  1. Was Peter chosen with Andrew by the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18) or was he chosen with James and John by the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:2-11), or did
    Andrew persuade Peter to join (John 1:35-42)?

The account in Luke seems to assume that Jesus already knew Simon: “he . . . entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever . . .” (Luke 4:38); “Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, . . .” (5:3). Simon (Peter) calls Him “Master” (5:5) and “Lord” (5:8): also strongly implying that he was already his disciple. When Jesus told Peter, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (5:10), it could simply have been a reiteration of what he said before (repetition being a great teacher), when he called Peter and Andrew: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). This time (in Luke’s report), he said it within earshot of James and John, Peter’s “partners” (Luke 5:10), who were “with” him in the boat (5:9). Consequently, their response according to the narrative was: “they left everything and followed him” (5:11). All indications are that this was a later event, after the calling of Peter and Andrew. Luke 5 is not referring to the calling of Peter, but to that of James and John. John is referring to  an entirely different third event. Jesus never says in this separate incident, “follow Me” or “I will make you fishers of men.” This took place in Judea (cf. John 1:19, 28), whereas the other three accounts were in Galilee (the Lake of Gennesaret is simply an alternate name for the Sea of Galilee). John records the first time Peter and Andrew met Jesus; they were called to follow him later. The critics try to turn these things into “contradictions”: but if it’s three different events in the first place, and not one, then it’s not contradictory.

  1. Did the Sermon on the Mount take place on a mountain (Matt. 5:1) or on a plain (Luke 6:17)?

Before I visited Israel in 2014, I used to say that Jesus preached from a mountain that had a flat top. Now that I have been to the place where the sermon was preached, I can report that both things are true (but in a different manner). Note that Matthew 5:1 doesn’t state “on the top of the mountain.” A little ways up from the water and base of the hill, there is a flat area. He preached from this plain or “level place” (Luke 6:17). But it’s also “on the mount” as well (since if one is part of the way up a mountainside, we still say he is “on the mountain”). Jesus didn’t preach this sermon on top of a mountain. He preached it from halfway down the mountain, with his hearers above Him, in a “natural amphitheater.” Now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes, it makes perfect sense. Sound projects upwards and is “caught” by the amphitheater shape (precisely why the ancient Greeks and others used that shape). Our guide in Israel said that he has visited the Church of the Beatitudes at night with no one around, and could clearly hear fishermen talking down by the sea. This is confirmed also by textual evidence in the New Testament. Jesus is described at least once as being in the water and teaching from the boat (Luke 5:3). I think it’s fairly clear that he was utilizing the same acoustic principle when he did that. The Sea of Galilee is ringed by pretty high hills all the way around. My tour group later tested the theory in a similar “amphitheater” location where Jesus fed the 4,000 (across the Sea of Galilee; on its east shore). It was absolutely correct: we could hear each other — talking fairly softly, to test it — perfectly from bottom-to-top and vice versa.

  1. Did Jesus state that the law would last until heaven and earth ended (Matt. 5:17-19), or that it was only in place until the time of John the Baptist (Luke16:16)?

Luke 16:17 states: “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void.” Where’s the contradiction? This is a classic case of the skeptic not even reading the very next verse in order to grasp the proper context.

  1. Did Jesus heal “all” in one particular mass healing (Matt. 8:16; Luke 4:40), or “many” but not all (Mark 1:34)?

Mark 1:34 records that “he healed many”. There could be several reasons for this qualification, but the most likely — in context –, is because of the sheer numbers of people: “And the whole city was gathered together about the door” (Mark 1:33). This was in Capernaum (Mark 1:21), which had an estimated population of 1,500 at that time. Let’s assume that 10% of all these people, or 150 needed to be healed, and let’s assume Jesus spent five minutes with each one. That would add up to twelve-and-a-half hours. It’s not physically possible that he could heal all of them (because he generally touched those whom he healed). Furthermore, Mark 1:28 states that “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” There were two towns fairly close by. Bethsaida was six miles away and Chorazin was only two miles. We also know from Mark 1:32 that “at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.” Let’s say that sundown was 6 PM. Jesus would be healing them until 6:30 the next morning and get no sleep at all. That’s just not feasible. And so he healed “many” but not all. Even if we say he spent two minutes with each person, that would take five hours. Sunset could have been three hours later, too, depending on the season. All three accounts described lots of people, and healings taking place after sunset.

In Matthew 8:16, where it says he “healed all who were sick” it depends on what one means by “all.” I say that because two verses later we learn that that “when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee]” (8:18). We can be quite sure that in this crowd of people that he deliberately avoided by crossing the sea, there would have been many more asking to be healed (since they observed healing taking place). So he didn’t heal absolutely all in this instance. “All” is necessarily limited in scope. In fact, he healed all who asked and were able in a crowd to get to him before He departed to the other side of the sea. Luke 4:40 states: “he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” but that, too, could simply have meant “all” until such time as he left and went across the sea (as in Matthew): which simply wasn’t mentioned. Luke implies that there were “never-ending” crowds, too, in noting that “reports of him went out into every place in the surrounding region” (4:37) and (the next day) “the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them” (4:42), so “every one” has to have a limit at some point. In effect, then, all three passages are saying the same thing: he healed as many as he possibly could (who were able to get access to him) before having to leave. It’s not likely that Jesus healed “absolutely every person” in such a great crowd, in one evening before the usual bedtime. Language always has to be understood in context. Even in Mark’s account, where it is more literal and reads “he healed many” it states three verses later that his disciples told him: “Every one is searching for you” (Mark 1:37): which is non-literal language, meaning, “a great number; a lot.” We talk the same way today in saying things like, “everyone likes ice cream” or “everyone loves a good story”, etc.

  1. Did Jesus’ twelve disciples include Thaddaeus but not Judas, son of James (Matt. 10:3), or the latter and not the former (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13)?

This is a clear (though not immediately obvious) case of multiple names for one person. Judas, son of James— not Iscariot! — was also known as Thaddeus, according to various translations (see Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18). The RSV I use calls him Thaddeus in Matthew and Mark, and Judas in Luke. So it’s much ado about nothing, as so often in these matters. One person had two names, and this is obvious (by a logical process of elimination) once the lists of disciples are all set side-by-side. Different names for a single person are not “contradictory.”

  1. Why do the Gospels provide contradictory names for one of Jesus’ disciples: Simon the Cananaean (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18) and Simon who was called the Zealot (Luke 6:15)?

Cananaean (from the Greek Kananaios; in turn from Hebrew quannai or Aramaic quanan) is simply the equivalent term for zealot (Gk., Zelotes). Note: this is a different word than Canaanite (Kananites) which is derived from the Hebrew Kenaan.

  1. All three other gospels refer to Peter (Matt. 16:17-20; Luke 22:28-32; John 21:15-17) and give him authority, whereas Mark doesn’t.

Mark mentions “Peter” 19 times. Matthew mentions him 23 times, with 12 more chapters to do so. So, proportionately, Mark has more emphasis on Peter. Luke mentions him 18 times, with eight more chapters than Mark. But then we have to add the use also of “Simon”: his earlier name. That’s ten more times in Mark for a total of references to Peter of 29 times. Matthew adds five more references with “Simon” for 28 total. Luke adds 14, for a total of 32. Mark mentions Peter an average of 1.9 times per chapter, compared to Matthew’s rate of 1.0 and Luke’s of 1.3. That hardly suggests an underemphasis on Peter in the Gospel of Mark. Moreover, Mark shows him as preeminent, just as the others do, by mentioning him more than any other disciple. Peter’s name invariably occurs first in all lists of apostles, including in Mark (3:16). Mark implies that he is the leader, in citing an angel stating, “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (16:7). Singling him out in such a way, over against the rest of the disciples, is clearly expressing his leadership. This occurs again in Mark 1:36 (“And Simon and those who were with him pursued him,”). He’s a spokesman for the other disciples (Mark 8:29). He’s listed first of the “inner circle” of disciples: Peter, James, and John (Mark 5:37; 14:37). And he’s the central figure in dramatic stories: for instance, Jesus walking on the water (Mark 10:28).

  1. Did the moneychangers incident occur at the end of Jesus’ ministry (Matt. 21:11-12) or the beginning (John 2:11-15)?

This is another example of a skeptical claim virtually answering its own charge. The eager inquisitor seems to have figured out that there were similar incidents at the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly sojourn. And that is the answer. The logical conclusion is that two “cleansing” incidents were described. Apart from context suggesting the time-period, this is highly suggested by the factors exclusive to the account in the Gospel of John. Only he mentions oxen and sheep, the “whip of cords,” the overturning of tables, and Jesus’ statement, “Take these things away.” Moreover, John did not include Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 56:7 (“my house shall be called a house of prayer”), which the Synoptic Gospels all include as a central aspect of their reports.

  1. Did Jesus accurately claim that that Zacharias was the son of Barachias, though that name never appears in the Old Testament (Matt. 23:35), or was Zacharias was the son of Jehoida, the priest (2 Chron. 24:20)?

Jesus was referring to the prophet Zechariah, in saying, “that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” It was a sort of “beginning and end / A to Z” saying, seeing as Zechariah was perhaps the last prophet of Old Testament times. How he was murdered is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but it could have been a Jewish extrabiblical tradition, or simply known by Jesus in his omniscience (being God). There are many Zechariahs mentioned in the Bible (The New Bible Dictionary states that the total number is “some twenty-eight”). Jesus narrowed in on the specific one he meant by giving his (presumed) father. Our beloved skeptic claims that the father’s name never appears in the Old Testament. This is untrue (sometimes spellings of names can slightly change, for various reasons). Zechariah 1:1 refers to “Zechariah the son of Berechiah, . . .” Zechariah, son of Jehoiada lived some 400 years before Zechariah son of Berechiah.

  1. How do Christians explain the contradiction between Matthew 27:3-4 and Acts 1:16-20, regarding Judas’ “repentance”?

In Matthew 27:3-4, it states in RSV that Judas “repented” and said, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Acts 1:16-20, in mentioning Judas’ suicide, simply doesn’t indicate one way or the other whether he repented or not. Thus, it’s an argument from silence, from which nothing can be determined, as to alleged contradiction. But there is also a linguistic consideration. The Greek word in Matthew, for “repented” (metamelitheís) is not the same as the one commonly used in the New Testament (metanoia) and means, merely, “regret” or “remorse” or a “simple change of feeling,” whereas metanoia means “a change of mind and heart and life”: a complete change in direction, with the intent to reform one’s moral behavior. In other words, the text doesn’t indicate that Judas had repented in the biblically required way, leading to received forgiveness and grace, and possible eventual salvation.

  1. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells the eleven disciples to baptize with a trinitarian formula. This is obviously a later addition to the gospel, since it took over two hundred years before this baptismal formula came into use.

This is another bald assertion that a particular passage was added later to the Bible. No proof or evidence is offered. Assertions minus rational argument carry no force or weight whatsoever. Trinitarianism is massively present in the New Testament, but it’s beyond our present purpose to provide the literally scores and scores of biblical proofs for that. The Didache was a very early Christian document (as early as 70 AD), and it states: “Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. . . . If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (7:1).

  1. Was Jesus tempted by the devil during (Mark 1:13) or after (Matt. 4:2-3) forty days in the wilderness?

Matthew 4 clearly refers to the same incident in the wilderness, parallel to the other Gospel accounts. The confusion comes from the word “afterward” in Matthew 4:2. But the passage following goes right back to his time in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1 makes it clear where the devil’s attempt to tempt Jesus took place: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Language must be interpreted in context, and so many alleged “biblical contradictions” utterly ignore context: thus rendering themselves silly and irrational.

  1. Did Jesus and his disciples teach in Capernaum (Mark 1:20-21) or only Jesus (Luke 4:30-31)?

Mark never states that the disciples taught. He records, rather: “And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught” (Mark 1:21). Luke says that Jesus was in Capernaum and that “he was teaching them on the sabbath” (Luke 4:31), “in the synagogue” (4:33): precisely as Mark reported. Where’s the beef?

  1. There is no evidence for synagogues (Mark 1:30; 3:1-5) in Galilee in Jesus’ time.

Capernaum — located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee — had a synagogue (Mark 3:1-5). I visited it myself in 2014, and our guide noted that the preserved marble synagogue was built on top of an older structure, whose foundation could still be seen at the bottom of the structure (much darker basalt rocks). Archaeological digs in 1981 discovered the remains of the older synagogue four feet lower in the ground. First century artifacts were found under the basalt floor. It was, in other words, one of the synagogues where Jesus taught. And there are remains of many other synagogues in Galilee. Archaeologists in 2016 discovered one at Tel Rekhesh near Mount Tabor (where the Transfiguration of Jesus took place), ten miles east of Nazareth (see Mark 6:1, 6). It was dated 20-40 A.D. and estimated to have been in use for a hundred years.

  1. Did Jesus have his own house (Mark 2:15) or not (Luke 9:58)?

The first verse is a bit ambiguous as to whose house is referred to. Cross-reference Luke 5:29, however, in the midst of reporting the same story, asserts that it was definitely Levi‘s (i.e., Matthew’s) house. On the other hand, Mark 2:1 states about Jesus: “And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home” (cf. Matt. 9:1: “his own city.”). And Matthew 4:13 adds: “he went and dwelt in Capernaum.” Thus, we know that Jesus lived in Capernaum for some undetermined length of time, either in his own house or in Peter’s home. Jesus’ statement, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58) is indicative of the many travels of Jesus and his disciples, whether he had a house in one place or not. He was responding to man who said, “I will follow you wherever you go” (9:57) and pointing out the sorts of hardships that would be expected. The context was: “they went on to another village. . . . they were going along the road” (9:56-57). Sometimes, no doubt, they had to sleep outside, like most travelers have had to do, when no lodging was to be had. I think this is what the passage refers to, without reference to whether he also had a house somewhere to stay. It doesn’t deny that he may have a house somewhere. Therefore, no contradiction necessarily exists here.

  1. Did Jairus plead with Jesus to heal his dying daughter (Mark 5:22-23; Luke 8:41-42) or to raise his dead daughter (Matt. 9:18)?

It’s untrue that every Gospel “must” give every detail of every incident or someone’s words. According to whom? Where is this “requirement” written in stone? As in real life, people report different things; some highlight or concentrate exclusively on one element, another does differently. The person who passed on this challenge conceded that Mark and Luke were substantially the same. Matthew was possibly — but not necessarily — using the well-known and established ancient literary technique of compression (abbreviating accounts and skipping over some aspects) in recording only the daughter’s death. He uses about 176 words in writing about this event, whereas Mark utilizes around 481 words. All three accounts have Jairus — and Jesus — being aware of his daughter’s death (Matt. 9:18; Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49), before Jesus goes to heal her (Matt. 9:23; Mark 5:37-38; Luke 8:50-51). Matthew merely didn’t mention the part where Jairus told Jesus that his daughter was dying. He gets right to the point and has him telling Jesus (after being informed by a person of his house) that she was already dead (just as Mark and Luke also reported). After becoming aware of all this, only a person relentlessly, irrationally, and obstinately hostile to the Bible and/or Christianity could possibly still think a “contradiction” was present.

  1. Mark 6:14-27 repeatedly refers to Herod Antipas as a “king.” Matthew also commits this error (14:9). The correct title ‘tetrarch’ appears in Matthew 14:1, Luke 3:19; 9:7; and Acts 13:1.

Mark and Matthew (14:9) were following the preference of the locals, who called him “king,” according to historians. Matthew also used “tetrarch” in 14:1. Such a use of multiple titles for rulers also occurred with regard to John Hyrcanus II (d. 30 B.C.), who was King of Judea in 67-66 B.C. and only the “ethnarch” from about 47-40 BC; yet he was still referred to as “king” by the people in the region.

  1. After the feeding of the multitude, did Jesus go to Gennesaret (Mark 6:53) or Capernaum (John 6:14-17)?

Gennesaret is a plain on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum to the north and Magdala to the south. In Mark’s account, Jesus and the disciples “moored to the shore” (Mark 6:53) at Gennesaret. John 6:14-17 states that the “disciples . . . started across the sea to Capernaum” (6:16-17). Jesus was walking on the water (6:19), got into the boat with them (6:21), and “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (6:21). But it doesn’t specify exactly where they landed, as in Mark. I think it’s plausible to hold that the strong winds and their being “beaten by waves” (Matt. 14:24; cf. Mark 6:48; John 6:18) blew them off course a bit, so that they landed at Gennesaret, some three miles south of Capernaum (consistent with Mark’s report).  In any event, John 6 doesn’t inform us that “Jesus went to Capernaum”. It says that the crowds sought Jesus in Capernaum (6:24) but that he wasn’t there. He was “on the other side of the sea” (6:25). Of course, he could have gone from Gennesaret to Capernaum at some undisclosed later point in time after they landed in the former plain, and John 6:59 says he was there, at the synagogue. The parallel account in Matthew (14:22-34) verifies Mark’s specific report of the boat landing. It was windy, Jesus walked on the water (so did Peter, for a short time), they both got into the boat, which “came to land at Gennesaret” (14:34). If two sources agree on all these details and both say “the boat landed at location X” and a third agrees with them about almost all details, but doesn’t indicate the exact landing location, it’s perfectly sensible to assume that the boat did indeed land at location X. To deny it based on the third “agnostic” or silent source is merely the ineffectual and weak “argument from silence” once again.

  1. When asked if he was the Messiah, did Jesus say “I am” (Mark 14:62) or “You have said so” (Matt. 26:64; Luke 22:70)?

When Jesus said, “You have said so” (Matt. 26:64), it was the same thing as replying “yes” and he proves this by what he said next: “But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” That was a claim to be the Messiah, based on Daniel 7, which he applied to himself (hence answering the question). This resulted in the high priest and others there accusing him of blasphemy (26:65-66). Therefore, to claim that this scenario somehow “contradicts” the “I am” of Mark is absurd. Luke is the same, since Jesus cited Daniel 7 in that account, too (without saying, “I am”), and his enemies knew exactly what he meant, since they said: “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips” (Luke 22:71). No “difficulty” or “problem” here, then!

  1. Luke, who claims to be chronological (Luke 1:3), insinuates that John the Baptist did not baptize Jesus, since his account of Jesus’ baptism occurs after the account of John’s imprisonment (Luke 3:20-21). How does this not contradict the other three Gospels?

He does no such thing. Exact, literal chronology was viewed very differently by the Jews than it is by Greek-dominated western thought, so the order here means little. In Luke 1:3, Luke states his desire to write an “orderly account.” That’s not the same as “chronological.” “Orderly” is usually defined in English dictionaries as something like “arranged in a neat or methodical manner.” Luke also clearly and deliberately reflects the other three accounts of Jesus’ baptism by referring (Luke 3:22) to the Holy Spirit symbolized as a dove, and God the Father saying he was pleased (both things present in all three of those accounts). That was hardly designed to give readers an impression that he thought John didn’t baptize Jesus.

  1. Did Peter and Andrew live in Bethsaida (John 1:44) or Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29)?

John 1:44 states that “Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” In English, usually noting that a person is “from” a particular city, means the one they were born and/or raised in. In my case, I am “Dave from Detroit, Michigan” (born and raised there till age 17), so that I can say I am a “native Detroiter” or that Detroit is the “city of Dave”. But I don’t live there now. If someone asks me where I live, that’s a different question, referring to my current residence. John 1:29 refers to “the house of Simon and Andrew” (see 1:21, showing that it was in Capernaum). That’s where they lived at the time that Jesus called them to be his disciples. Jesus lived in Capernaum for a time, but he was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” because that’s where he was raised; his hometown. “Saul / Paul of Tarsus” indicates the city of his upbringing as well. Mary Magdalene, meant that Mary was from Magdala, a town on the Sea of Galilee, etc. Bethsaida was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, about six miles northeast of Capernaum: also on the shore.

  1. Acts 1:16-18 implies that Judas died by an act of God; contrary to Matthew 27:5

Acts 1:18 reads: “Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” The claim that this was an “act of God” is falsely derived from Acts 1:16: “Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus.” The error here is that the fulfillment of a prophecy is not the same thing as God directly causing something. God merely knew what would happen, in his omniscience and foreknowledge. If Luke had intended to imply that Judas’ death was an “act of God”, he would have made it very clear, as with other passages that make such a claim very explicit (Gen. 19:24-25; Num. 16:25-35, 46; 33:4; 1 Sam. 25:38; 2 Chron. 13:20; 21:18-19; 24:18; 32:25; Acts 5:1-6; 12:21-23). Nothing like that is remotely present in Acts 1 with regard to Judas’ death (I even provided two other passages in Acts where God does directly judge and smite). Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament make it very clear if and when God is exercising wrath and judging someone unto death.

  1. Acts 1:18 directly contradicts Matthew 27:5, since it has no indication that Judas committed suicide by hanging, or that this was his cause of death.

Acts 1:18 doesn’t deny that it was a suicide by hanging. It simply provides some of the gruesome details of what happened to Judas. The account is perfectly harmonious with Judas having hanged himself, with the “bowel” incident occurring after he died, to his corpse. The New Testament is always internally harmonious: as we would expect of an inspired revelation. Nor does Acts claim that Judas died by virtue of his “bowels” gushing “out.” One perfectly plausible scenario would be that Judas hanged himself, perhaps on a tree at the edge of a cliff. It’s widely thought that his suicide occurred in the Valley of Hinnom (also known as Gehenna: a metaphor for “hell” in the New Testament), near the Kidron Valley, where – by definition — there are many cliffs (and rocky ones). His body could have dangled from the tree for quite a while, which would have resulted in post-mortem bloating: most visibly affecting the abdomen. In due course, the branch broke and his body fell, perhaps quite far, resulting in his bowels gushing out.

  1. Judas committed suicide by hanging; therefore, his head and upper torso would have been closest to the tree limb that he was hanging from and his feet nearest to the ground. Consequently, from a hanging position, Judas would have fallen feet first. Yet Acts 1:18 reports that Judas fell “headlong.”

He could have hanged himself from a tree by a cliff. There are at least three conceivable explanations for “headlong.” The corpse of Judas, in a hypothetical scenario where the rope broke, could have been intercepted by a lower branch, which could have resulted in his head being on the bottom as the corpse fell. Or it could have hit a rocky outcrop on the way down, resulting in the same thing, or tumbled all the way down a long cliff that wasn’t straight down, ending up head first in the last stretch: perhaps a drop-off. Any of these scenarios are entirely possible. Then the argument is that a “headlong” fall would entail landing on his head, not his belly. Once again, several explanatory hypotheses can be imagined. A head would bloat much less, since it has so much bone. Judas’ body could have landed on some pointed rock in the area of the belly on the way down (if the cliffside wasn’t “straight down”). Thus, to argue that “headlong” necessarily involves a contradiction is plain foolish and silly.

  1. Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) or Before (John 20:22)?

On the Day of Pentecost, a group of “about” 120 new Christians was involved (Acts 1:15). Acts 2:4 reports that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is perfectly compatible, logically, with a notion of “the disciples first received the Holy Spirit” and then about 108 more people — present with them — did on the day of Pentecost.” Or one could hold that the act of Jesus (to eleven disciples only) in John 20:22 (“he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”) was symbolic, meant to anticipate what was soon to come, or that they received a measure of the Holy Spirit then and a fuller measure on Pentecost (suggested by the word “filled”). Any of these possible explanations are non-contradictory and plausible.

  1. Were those present at Paul’s sudden conversion standing (Acts 9:7) or did they fall to the ground (Acts 26:14)?

Why couldn’t it be both things in sequence?: they initially fell to the ground, and then got up and stood there speechless. Perfectly possible . . .

  1. Did those present at Paul’s conversion hear a voice but see nothing (Acts 9:7) or did they see a light and hear nothing (Acts 22:9)?

First of all, the descriptions are inaccurate. They didn’t see “nothing”; rather, they saw “no one.” And they didn’t “hear nothing”; they didn’t “hear the voice of the one who was speaking” to Paul. The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Acts of the Apostles”) disposed of this objection way back in 1907, in observing that the accounts “contemplate the event at different moments of its course. All saw a great light; all heard a sound from Heaven. They fell on their faces in fear; and then, arising, stood still and speechless, while Paul conversed with Jesus, whose articulate voice he alone heard.”

  1. In Acts 9:10-12 and 22:10 Paul is told to go to Damascus to be instructed by a man named Ananias about what to do next.  In Acts 26:15-18 Paul is not told to go be instructed by Ananias, but instead Jesus himself instructs him. Well, which is it?

Much ado about nothing, again, as we see by simply reading the texts and applying logic (and not being hostile to and suspicious the texts without reason from the outset).

1) Acts 9: Paul learns (in a vision) that some stranger named Ananias would help him regain his sight after his dramatic conversion experience.

2) Acts 22: Paul is told to go to Damascus to be instructed, then he recounts how Ananias instructs and exhorts him.

3) Acts 26: Paul recalls some things that Jesus told him (having to do with his future mission) at the time of his conversion.

This (rather famous) atheist first misrepresents the stories of Acts 9 and 22 (I don’t say deliberately, but he should know better, being a scholar). It’s just plain sloppy analysis. Acts 9 says nothing about Paul being “told to go to Damascus to be instructed by a man named Ananias.” He simply saw a man identified as Ananias in a vision, who would, in effect, heal his temporary blindness. Nothing is here about either being sent to Damascus or being instructed by Ananias. The text talks about how Ananias was told by God in a vision to go visit Paul, but even so, it mentions nothing about “instruction.” So why are all these things projected onto the text that aren’t there? Who knows why? In Acts 22 Paul is indeed told by God to go to Damascus and that he would be instructed. But God didn’t tell him that Ananias would do so. The two texts are presented in an inaccurate way. They don’t contradict each other. The information is complementary and internally consistent. Our beloved anti-theist then tries to make out that Acts 26 contradicts chapters 9 and 22, simply because in that account, Paul recalled how Jesus had directly instructed him. But so what? Where is the supposed contradiction? The texts taken together never assert that “only Ananias would instruct him” or “only God would instruct him.” If that had been the case, it would have been contradictory. They teach us that he was instructed by both. The more the merrier! First God did, and then Ananias affirmed that God was so speaking (to help Paul avoid being skeptical of his vision), with the evidence of a miracle to establish his own “credentials” as a man verifying what God had said.

  1. Did Paul, shortly after his conversion, go to Damascus and then Jerusalem (Acts 9:18-26) or to Arabia, then Damascus, and three years later, to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17-18)?

This is clearly another instance of the literary device of compression, or telescoping (which we might also describe as “abbreviation”). Luke employs it in Acts 9, which is his narrative of Paul’s conversion and his meeting the apostles: just as he did in his Gospel, chapter 24, while Paul does not use it in Galatians 1. But in Acts 22:17, Paul does use the same technique of compression, during his trial. He recounts his conversion, then (desiring to condense the story for whatever reason) skips right over the three years in Arabia at Acts 22:17 and starts talking about being in Jerusalem, recalling the initial skepticism about his conversion, because he had persecuted Christians. Paul does it in one place and not in another (which is perfectly fine). This is how ancient literature, including the Bible (and sometimes contemporary literature) works.

  1. Which is true: Paul never mentions John the Baptist, or in fact, he does (Acts 13:24-25)?

The latter is the case. Paul mentions him in an evangelistic sermon delivered at Antioch of Pisidia:

Acts 13:24-25 Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, `What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’

  1. Does Paul never place Jesus within history; connecting him with historical figures like Pontius Pilate, or does he (Acts 13:27-29)?

Paul in fact mentions Pontius Pilate in connection with Jesus twice:

Acts 13:27-29 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him.  Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed.  And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb.

1 Timothy 6:13 In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,

  1. When Paul went to Athens, did he leave Timothy and Silas behind in Berea (Acts 17:10-15) and not meet up with them again until he went to Corinth (18:5), or did he arrive in Athens with Timothy (1 Thess. 3:1-2)?

As I noted in another section, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 indicates nothing at all about who went to Athens with Paul. The book of Acts doesn’t deny that Paul met with Timothy and Silas between the time they all were in Berea and another later time when all were in Corinth. That comes from fertile atheist imaginations only, and can’t be positively proven from the information we have in the Bible. Acts simply says that “Silas and Timothy arrived [in Corinth] from Macedonia” (18:5). Since it offers absolutely nothing about the in-between time in Athens (neither affirming nor denying either Timothy or Silas’ presence there), it’s perfectly consistent, logically, for Paul to say in 1 Thessalonians that Timothy was with him part of the time (not from the beginning). It looks likely (but not certain) that Silas never made it to Athens during Paul’s stay. Then in Acts 18, he arrived in Corinth from Macedonia, which makes perfect sense, seeing that Berea (where he was last mentioned as being) is in Macedonia. This is more evidence that he never left Macedonia previously (for whatever reason) to go to Athens and evangelize with Paul. Timothy was sent by Paul from Athens to Thessalonica, and was said to be traveling to Corinth to meet Paul from Macedonia. This is perfectly plausible and reasonable, too, since Thessalonica is also a region of Macedonia. All of this fits perfectly together with no contradiction. Foiled again!

  1. When Paul traveled to bring the gospel to Athens, did he go by himself (Acts 17:14-17) or with Timothy (1 Thess. 3:1-2)?

Paul came by himself to Athens, and gave instructions to the sailors who brought him there to inform Silas and Timothy (presumably through some sort of mail, or by going back to where they were) to meet him in Athens “as soon as possible.” 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 does not assert that Paul arrived in Athens with Timothy. It says nothing at all about who went there with him. It simply says that Paul was writing to the Thessalonians, about whom he was concerned (2:17-18), because of their suffering (2:13-14). He sent Timothy (who was at this time with him) to exhort and comfort the Thessalonians, to be able to withstand the “afflictions” that are the “lot” of Christians (3:2-7). We know Timothy was eventually with him in Athens, but we don’t know from this text that he went there with him. That comes solely from atheists’ zealous and overactive imaginations. Paul had asked that Timothy and Silas come as soon as possible. Timothy eventually arrived (perhaps Silas couldn’t make it for some reason), and Paul sent him off to comfort other suffering Christians.

  1. In Acts 17:22-31, when Paul is preaching to the pagans of Athens, he tells them that they worship idols out of ignorance. Because of that, God overlooks their mistake; but he now gives them a chance to recognize the truth and worship him alone.  In Romans 1:18-25, on the other hand, Paul’s stated views completely contradict what he preached to the Athenians. In Romans, Paul contends that pagans worship idols precisely because they did know that there was only one God who was to be worshiped, and they rejected that knowledge in full consciousness of what they were doing, thus bringing God’s wrath down upon them. Which of the two contrary accounts of Paul’s views should we believe?

In Athens, Paul noted and praised the Athenians worship of a “god”: albeit an “unknown” one. It was not a question of denying God’s existence altogether, but rather, of worship that lacks particulars as to the nature and identity of the one they are worshiping. Paul then used the opportunity of their lack of knowledge and simultaneous sincere and pious religiosity, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and the nature of the one true God. He uses what they know and builds upon it, up to and including the Christian message. In Athens, Paul is addressing a situation where the Athenians had an “altar” with the inscription, “To an unknown god” whom they worshiped (Acts 17:23). This he perceived as their being pious and “very religious” (17:22). That’s not atheism: not a deliberate rejection of any god or God (nor even agnosticism), but ignorant religiosity; religion minus knowledge and particulars. Paul in effect praises it and expressly categorizes it as “ignorance” that “God overlooked” (17:30). In Romans 1 he is addressing something utterly different than that: “men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18); people who “knew God” but “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (1:21) and “did not see fit to acknowledge God” (1:28). This is a vastly different approach from the Athenians (or at least those who worshiped the “unknown god”). Paul isn’t addressing all pagans whatever, but specifically, people with these characteristics. Having stated this, he goes right into a very ecumenical, welcoming message in the next chapter (and the original New Testament didn’t contain chapters): one of salvation made possible for every human being who accepts it (“glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”: Rom. 2:10-11). He teaches that abiding by a good conscience could very well bring salvation to anyone: Jew or Gentile alike (2:14-16). Obviously, then, he is not condemning all pagans and non-Jews with the wave of a hand. In Romans 1 he specifically condemned those who know there is a God and who deliberately reject him, knowing that he exists. As usual, then, no contradiction exists here, either.

  1. How could Paul be assured that he would not be hurt (Acts 18:9-10), in light of the fact that he was often physically abused (2 Cor. 11:23-27)?

The Acts passage is about how Paul wouldn’t be harmed in Corinth only. God told him: “no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city” (18:9).

  1. How can Paul teach that circumcision is nothing (1 Cor. 7:19), but also assert that it’s profitable (Rom. 2:25; Rom. 3:1-2)?

In Romans 2:25 he qualifies his statement by saying “if you obey the law,” so he’s simply expressing the notion, “those who keep the law get circumcised as part of that law.” 3:1-2 is a variation of that: referring to Jews and Judaism, and the requirement of circumcision. Thus, “apples and oranges” and no contradiction . . .

  1. If everyone who confesses that Jesus came in the flesh is of God (1 John 4:2), and a demon cried out that Jesus is the Holy One of God (Mark 1:23-24), is the demon, therefore, also “of God”?

This is at least a clever and understandable claim, that is worthy of an explanation. What 1 John says is generally true. He speaks mostly proverbially: meaning that it expresses general truths, that sometimes have exceptions (just as we see in the book of Proverbs). For example, he states that “No one who abides in him sins” (1 John 3:6). But this is a proverbial and idealistic truth: a “textbook” example. What he means is that “the good, serious Christian is typified or characterized by the absence of sin, and this is the high goal of the Christian life.” But we can’t possibly interpret all of these passages absolutely literally, because we know that even very good Christians are imperfect and sin, and it doesn’t follow that it makes them automatically “of the devil” (3:8). John knows this, too (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1-2). Moreover, and directly to the present point, Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. . . . Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:15, 21). And so, in light of this, even a demon can and does state, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). It doesn’t follow, however, that it is a follower of Jesus. Words alone (even if true) mean little unless they are backed up by action, and demons do nothing good. It’s for this reason that Jesus rebuked the demon who said these things, by saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25).

  1. How can an army of locusts be instructed not to harm the grass (Rev. 9:4), when it has been burned up already (Rev. 8:7)?

There is an undisclosed timespan between the two verses. It’s entirely possible and plausible that the burnt grass simply grew back, since horticulturalists inform us that the roots of perennial grass are unaffected by fire, and that grass can quickly recover from a fire: often thriving even more than it did before.

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Photo Credit: jim373 (12-6-22) [Deviant Art / Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License]

Summary: Ch. 3 of Dave Armstrong’s book, “Inspired!”: in which he examines 191 examples of alleged biblical contradictions & disproves all of these patently false claims.

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