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April 6, 2021

I am responding to many portions of the article, “New Testament Contradictions” by Paul Carlson (The Secular Web, 1995). His words will be in blue. The numbers in red are my own (for numbering the alleged “contradictions” that I reply to).

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Editor’s note: As with all lists of alleged biblical contradictions, there will be disagreement in at least some specific cases as to whether a given “contradiction” is a genuine contradiction. It is therefore up to the reader to decide for him/herself whether to accept that a listed “contradiction” is, in fact, a genuine contradiction.

I agree that sometimes reasonable folks can disagree about the presence of a contradiction in some complex cases. But reasonable folks ought also never bring up an alleged “contradiction” that is clearly not a contradiction by any stretch of the imagination, according to the well-established rules of logic. Many such faux– / pseudo-“contradictions” are present in any atheist “laundry list” of proposed biblical contradictions that I have ever seen, including this present one. Shame on those who promulgate them. It’s weak, shoddy thinking, period.

1) I. THE BIRTH OF JESUS

A. THE GENEALOGIES OF JOSEPH

Matthew and Luke disagree

Matthew and Luke give two contradictory genealogies for Joseph (Matthew 1:2-17 and Luke 3:23-38). They cannot even agree on who the father of Joseph was. Church apologists try to eliminate this discrepancy by suggesting that the genealogy in Luke is actually Mary’s, even though Luke says explicitly that it is Joseph’s genealogy (Luke 3:23). Christians have had problems reconciling the two genealogies since at least the early fourth century.

See:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Contradictory” Genealogies of Christ? [7-27-17]

Are the Two Genealogies of Christ Contradictory? [National Catholic Register, 1-5-19]

2) Why do only Matthew and Luke know of the virgin birth?

Of all the writers of the New Testament, only Matthew and Luke mention the virgin birth. Had something as miraculous as the virgin birth actually occurred, one would expect that Mark and John would have at least mentioned it in their efforts to convince the world that Jesus was who they were claiming him to be.

Arguments from “expectation” or plausibility are not, strictly speaking, the same as establishing a logical contradiction. This is the argument from silence, too, which is always weak in and of itself. Two Gospels mentioning it is more than enough. The other two didn’t. But who cares? Why must all four mention any particular thing? They all have to do with Jesus and His life. That is what anyone should “expect” to see in them. Details and absences and inclusions can differ in innumerable ways.

3) The apostle Paul never mentions the virgin birth, even though it would have strengthened his arguments in several places. Instead, where Paul does refer to Jesus’ birth, he says that Jesus “was born of the seed of David” (Romans 1:3) and was “born of a woman,” not a virgin (Galatians 4:4).

J. Warner Wallace answers:

We need to be very careful about drawing conclusions from silence. Paul may not have mentioned the virgin conception simply because it was widely understood or assumed. Paul may also have been silent because it was not the focus or purpose of his letters (which are often devoted to issues related to the Church). Remember that Paul was a contemporary of Luke (who was one of the two authors who wrote extensively about the conception of Jesus). Paul appears to be very familiar with Luke’s’ gospel (he quotes Luke in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). (“Why Didn’t Paul Mention The Virgin Conception?”, Cold-Case Christianity, 12-14-18)

As to the two Pauline passages mentioned, see this same excellent article for a reply.

4) Why did Matthew include four women in Joseph’s genealogy?

Matthew mentions four women in the Joseph’s genealogy.

a. Tamar – disguised herself as a harlot to seduce Judah, her father-in-law (Genesis 38:12-19).

b. Rahab – was a harlot who lived in the city of Jericho in Canaan (Joshua 2:1).

c. Ruth – at her mother-in-law Naomi’s request, she came secretly to where Boaz was sleeping and spent the night with him. Later Ruth and Boaz were married (Ruth 3:1-14).

d. Bathsheba – became pregnant by King David while she was still married to Uriah (2 Samuel 11:2-5). . . . 

That all four of the women mentioned are guilty of some sort of sexual impropriety cannot be a coincidence. Why would Matthew mention these, and only these, women? The only reason that makes any sense is that Joseph, rather than the Holy Spirit, impregnated Mary prior to their getting married, and that this was known by others who argued that because of this Jesus could not be the Messiah. By mentioning these women in the genealogy Matthew is in effect saying, “The Messiah, who must be a descendant of King David, will have at least four “loose women” in his genealogy, so what difference does one more make?”

Taylor Halverson replies:

Because of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary was an unusual mother. Found to be pregnant before she was married, she could have easily been outcast, thrown into slavery, or executed. She could have lived her life with terrible accusations thrown against her, and according to some ancient traditions, many people did think she was nothing more than an immoral harlot. And if so, such ancient critics reasoned, how could God ever do any good through someone so fallen, so morally compromised?

This is where the four women of Matthew’s genealogy answer the critics: Tamar (daughter-in-law to Judah), Rachab (the Jericho prostitute), Ruth (the non-Israelite Moabite), and Bathsheba (the woman unlawfully taken by David). Not only are each of these women ancestresses to Jesus, but each of them came from unusual, unexpected circumstances or were involved in what appears to be sexually improper situations. (“Why Are Four Women Mentioned in the Genealogy of Matthew 1?”, 1-10-19)

5) To have women mentioned in a genealogy is very unusual.

Not really. Bible scholar Dr. Funlola Olojede comments:

In an essay entitled Observations on women in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9, [1] Ben Zvi (2006:174-184) already noted that the genealogical section of the book of Chronicles refers to more than fifty different women, whether named or unnamed. [2] The study classifies the women into two categories based on their roles. The first category includes women involved “in lineage roles often associated with female members of an ancient household”. These include the roles of mother-wife (e.g., the daughter of Machir who married Hezron and gave birth to Segub in 1 Chron 2:1); mother-concubine (e.g., Ephah, Caleb’s concubine and the mother of his sons in 1 Chron 2:46); mother-divorcee (e.g., 1 Chron 8:8-11); daughter-in-law-mother (e.g., 1 Chron 2:4), and identity as daughter or sister (e.g., 1 Chron 3:2, 5; 4:18).

The second group consists of “women in roles that were commonly assigned to mature males in the society” (Ben Zvi 2006:184-186). These include women who were heads of families (e.g., Zeruiah and Abigail in 1 Chron 2:16-17), and women who built cities (the only instance in this category was Sheerah). (“Chronicler’s women – a holistic appraisal”, Acta Theologica, January 2013)

6) B. THE ANGEL’S MESSAGE

In Matthew, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that Mary’s child will save his people from their sins. In Luke, the angel tells Mary that her son will be great, he will be called the Son of the Most High and will rule on David’s throne forever. A short time later Mary tells Elizabeth that all generations will consider her (Mary) blessed because of the child that will be born to her.

It’s simply two different messages, to two people for two different reasons. There is no “requirement” that they be exactly the same.

7) If this were true, Mary and Joseph should have had the highest regard for their son. Instead, we read in Mark 3:20-21 that Jesus’ family tried to take custody of him because they thought he had lost his mind.

This is untrue. As I have pointed out, the family was trying to rescue Jesus from the people claiming that he had lost his mind. See:

Mark 3:21-22 (RSV, as throughout) And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.” [22] And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (cf. Jn 10:20-21)

For further reading, see:

Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers”? (Jason also claims that “Mary believed in Jesus,” but wavered, and had a “sort of inconsistent faith”) (vs. Jason Engwer) [5-27-20]

Dialogue on Whether Jesus’ Kinfolk Were “Unbelievers” (vs. Dr. Lydia McGrew) [5-28-20]

Did the Blessed Virgin Mary Think Jesus Was Nuts? [7-2-20]

Seidensticker Folly #50: Mary Thought Jesus Was Crazy? (And Does the Gospel of Mark Radically Differ from the Other Gospels in the “Family vs. Following Jesus” Aspect?) [9-8-20]

Jason Engwer and a Supposedly Sinful Mary (Doubting Jesus’ Sanity? / Inconsiderate (?) Young Jesus in the Temple / “Woman” and the Wedding at Cana) [11-16-20]

8) And later, in Mark 6:4-6 Jesus complained that he received no honor among his own relatives and his own household.

Mark 6:4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”

The context is Jesus visiting His hometown of Nazareth, where He was mistreated and disbelieved. Jesus is not merely talking about Himself, nor is it either a complaint or pique at not being honored. Rather, he was offering a proverbial observation, with a long sad history of fulfillment in Jewish history (which now included His own rejection):

Matthew 23:34-35 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, [35] that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (cf. Lk 11:49-51)

Acts 7:51-52 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. [52] Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,” [St. Stephen speaking, just before he himself was martyred] (cf. 1 Kgs 18:13; Neh 9:26)

Hebrews 11:36-38 Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. [37] They were stoned, they were sawn in two [thought to be the fate of the prophet Isaiah], they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — [38] of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

He taught (or predicted) the same thing to His own disciples: generalizing about all Christians:

Matthew 10:21 Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; (cf. Mk 13:12)

Matthew 10:36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.

Luke 12:52-53 for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; [53] they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

9) C. THE DATE

According to Matthew, Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1). According to Luke, Jesus was born during the first census in Israel, while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). This is impossible because Herod died in March of 4 BC and the census took place in 6 and 7 AD, about 10 years after Herod’s death.

Some Christians try to manipulate the text to mean this was the first census while Quirinius was governor and that the first census of Israel recorded by historians took place later. However, the literal meaning is “this was the first census taken, while Quirinius was governor …” In any event, Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until well after Herod’s death.

See:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History [2-3-11]

“The Lukan Census” (Glenn Miller, A Christian Thinktank, Sep. 2014)

“Miller vs Carrier on the Lukan Census” (J. P. Holding, Tekton Apologetics)

“Some Neglected Evidence Relevant To The Census Of Luke 2” (+ Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6) (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 12-12-07)

“Is Luke’s Census Historical?” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 8-19-10)

10) D. THE PLACE

Both Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew quotes Micah 5:2 to show that this was in fulfillment of prophecy. Actually, Matthew misquotes Micah (compare Micah 5:2 to Matthew 2:6). Although this misquote is rather insignificant, Matthew’s poor understanding of Hebrew will have great significance later in his gospel.

Luke has Mary and Joseph travelling from their home in Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea for the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:4). Matthew, in contradiction to Luke, says that it was only after the birth of Jesus that Mary and Joseph resided in Nazareth, and then only because they were afraid to return to Judea (Matthew 2:21-23).

In order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem, Luke says that everyone had to go to the city of their birth to register for the census. This is absurd, and would have caused a bureaucratic nightmare. The purpose of the Roman census was for taxation, and the Romans were interested in where the people lived and worked, not where they were born (which they could have found out by simply asking rather than causing thousands of people to travel).

For the reply, see the last-mentioned paper of mine and also:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Bethlehem & Nazareth “Contradictions” (Including Extensive Exegetical Analysis of Micah 5:2) [7-28-17]

“Do the ‘Infancy Narratives’ of Matthew and Luke Contradict Each Other?” (Tim Staples, Catholic Answers Magazine, 11-21-14)

“Do the Infancy Narratives Contradict?” (Steven O’Keefe,  ACTS Apologist Blog, 11-21-14)

“Are the Infancy Narratives Historically Reliable?” (Joe Heschmeyer, Shameless Popery, 11-17-11)

“How the accounts of Jesus’ childhood fit together: 6 things to know and share” (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 2-20-14)

“Why Are The Infancy Narratives So Different?” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 11-19-06)

“The Nativity Stories Harmonized” (J. P. Holding, Tekton Apologetics)

“Miller vs Carrier on the Lukan Census” (J. P. Holding, Tekton Apologetics)

“Jesus’ Birthplace (Part 1): Early Interest And Potential Sources” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 12-15-06)

“Sources For The Infancy Narratives” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 11-12-06)

“Were The Infancy Narratives Meant To Convey History?” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 11-11-06)

“Agreement Between Matthew And Luke About Jesus’ Childhood” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 11-30-13)

“Jesus’ Childhood Outside The Infancy Narratives” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 12-9-13)

“Evidence For The Bethlehem Birthplace” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 12-5-12)

11) E. THE PROPHECIES

Matthew says that the birth of Jesus and the events following it fulfilled several Old Testament prophecies. These prophecies include:

1. The virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14)

This verse is part of a prophecy that Isaiah relates to King Ahaz regarding the fate of the two kings threatening Judah at that time and the fate of Judah itself. In the original Hebrew, the verse says that a “young woman” will give birth, not a “virgin” which is an entirely different Hebrew word. The young woman became a virgin only when the Hebrew word was mistranslated into Greek.

This passage obviously has nothing to do with Jesus (who, if this prophecy did apply to him, should have been named Immanuel instead of Jesus).

See:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Mistranslation” of “Virgin”? (Isaiah 7:14) (with Glenn Miller) [7-26-17]

Dual Fulfillment of Prophecy & the Virgin Birth (vs. JMS Pearce) [12-18-20]

12) 2. The “slaughter of the innocents” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Matthew says that Herod, in an attempt to kill the newborn Messiah, had all the male children two years old and under put to death in Bethlehem and its environs, and that this was in fulfillment of prophecy.

This is a pure invention on Matthew’s part. Herod was guilty of many monstrous crimes, including the murder of several members of his own family. However, ancient historians such as Josephus, who delighted in listing Herod’s crimes, do not mention what would have been Herod’s greatest crime by far. It simply didn’t happen.

See:

“The Slaughter of the Innocents: Historical or Not?” (J. P. Holding, Tekton Apologetics)

“Is The Slaughter Of The Innocents Historical?” (Jason Engwer, Trialblogue, 8-18-10)

“Herod’s Slaughter of the Children / The Return from Egypt” (Glenn Miller, A Christian Thinktank)

13) The context of Jeremiah 31:15 makes it clear that the weeping is for the Israelites about to be taken into exile in Babylon, and has nothing to do with slaughtered children hundreds of years later.

Carlson doesn’t understand frequent dual application of prophecies in Scripture.

14) 3. Called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1)

Matthew has Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod, and says that the return of Jesus from Egypt was in fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:15). However, Matthew quotes only the second half of Hosea 11:1. The first half of the verse makes it very clear that the verse refers to God calling the Israelites out of Egypt in the exodus led by Moses, and has nothing to do with Jesus.

Dual application of prophecies in Scripture again . . . If an atheist or other sort of skeptic doesn’t grasp this aspect of the Bible, they will continue to make the same dumbfounded mistake over and over.

As further proof that the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt never happened, one need only compare the Matthew and Luke accounts of what happened between the time of Jesus’ birth and the family’s arrival in Nazareth. According to Luke, forty days (the purification period) after Jesus was born, his parents brought him to the temple, made the prescribed sacrifice, and returned to Nazareth. Into this same time period Matthew somehow manages to squeeze: the visit of the Magi to Herod, the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt, the sojourn in Egypt, and the return from Egypt. All of this action must occur in the forty day period because Matthew has the Magi visit Jesus in Bethlehem before the slaughter of the innocents.

See the many related articles under #10 above.

15)  Matthew made a colossal blunder later in his gospel which leaves no doubt at all as to which of the above possibilities is true. His blunder involves what is known as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey (if you believe Mark, Luke or John) or riding on two donkeys (if you believe Matthew). In Matthew 21:1-7, two animals are mentioned in three of the verses, so this cannot be explained away as a copying error. And Matthew has Jesus riding on both animals at the same time, for verse 7 literally says, “on them he sat.”

Why does Matthew have Jesus riding on two donkeys at the same time? Because he misread Zechariah 9:9 which reads in part, “mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Anyone familiar with Old Testament Hebrew would know that the word translated “and” in this passage does not indicate another animal but is used in the sense of “even” (which is used in many translations) for emphasis. The Old Testament often uses parallel phrases which refer to the same thing for emphasis, but Matthew was evidently not familiar with this usage. Although the result is rather humorous, it is also very revealing. It demonstrates conclusively that Matthew created events in Jesus’ life to fulfill Old Testament prophecies, even if it meant creating an absurd event. Matthew’s gospel is full of fulfilled prophecies. Working the way Matthew did, and believing as the church does in “future contexts,” any phrase in the Bible could be turned into a fulfilled prophecy!

See:

David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #10: Chapter 11 (Two Donkeys? / Fig Tree / Moneychangers) [8-20-19]

16) A. WHAT DID JOHN THE BAPTIST KNOW ABOUT JESUS AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?

John’s first encounter with Jesus was while both of them were still in their mothers’ wombs, at which time John, apparently recognizing his Saviour, leaped for joy (Luke 1:44). Much later, while John is baptizing, he refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and “the Son of God” (John 1:29,36). Later still, John is thrown in prison from which he does not return alive. John’s definite knowledge of Jesus as the son of God and saviour of the world is explicitly contradicted by Luke 7:18-23 in which the imprisoned John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is coming, or do we look for someone else?”

See:

Seidensticker Folly #27: Confusion Re John the Baptist [10-9-18]

17) B. WHY DID JOHN BAPTIZE JESUS?

John baptized for repentance (Matthew 3:11). Since Jesus was supposedly without sin, he had nothing to repent of. The fact that he was baptized by John has always been an embarrassment to the church. The gospels offer no explanation for Jesus’ baptism, apart from the meaningless explanation given in Matthew 3:14-15 “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Catholic writer Kirsten Andersen explains:

Since Jesus didn’t have any sins that needed forgiving (original or otherwise), was already fully himself and fully God’s son and had no need of salvation, baptism would seem redundant . . .

So what’s the deal? Why did Jesus insist on receiving baptism from John, even though John himself flat-out objected, arguing that it was Jesus who should baptize him?

The easy answer is that Jesus was simply setting the example for his followers. “WWJD” bracelets may be out-of-fashion and clichéd, but they do express the rather profound truth that as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, and do what he showed us how to do in both word and deed, salvation can be ours. . . .

[T]he baptism Jesus received from John wasn’t the same sacrament we celebrate today. How could it have been? Jesus had not yet established his Church, so the sacraments didn’t exist yet. The “baptisms” John performed were actually ritual washings (mikveh/pl. mikvaot) given to converting and reverting Jews, symbolizing the death of one’s old, sinful self, and rebirth as a ritually clean Jew.

Mikvaot were commonly performed to cleanse Jews of any sins and ritual impurities before presenting themselves at the temple, . . . (“If Jesus Was Sinless, Why Did He Need to Be Baptized?,” Aleteia, 1-8-16)

For more on this question, see the appropriate section in:

David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #2: Chapter 1 (Why Did Mark Omit Jesus’ Baptism? / Why Was Jesus Baptized? / “Suffering Servant” & Messiah in Isaiah / Spiritual “Kingdom of God” / Archaeological Support) [8-14-19]

18) Other passages, which indicate that Jesus did not consider himself sinless, are also an embarrassment to the church (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19)

Right. We’re all embarrassed to death. [sarcasm] but I certainly am embarrassed about how ridiculous atheists arguments about “contradictions” are. I would know, having dealt with them hundreds of times by now. Let’s take a look at this nonsense:

Mark 10:18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (cf. Lk 18:19)

This was merely a rhetorical retort by Jesus: employing socratic method, as He often did. It has no implication that He Himself was sinful. Besides, He’s saying that God is uniquely good (knowing that this person didn’t think or believe that He was God), while massively asserting many other times that He Himself is God: and this includes many instances in the synoptic Gospels, too. Jesus states in John 8:46: “Which of you convicts me of sin?”

19) Luke, who claims to be chronological (Luke 1:3), tries to give the impression that John did not baptize Jesus. Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism occurs after the account of John’s imprisonment (Luke 3:20-21).

He does no such thing.

Luke 3:21-22 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, [22] and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

Exact, literal chronology was viewed very differently by the Jews than it is by Greek-dominated western thought. So the order here means little. I deal with this issue at length in #79 of my paper, Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions” [3-12-21] and in these two articles:

Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time: Refutation of a Clueless Atheist “Biblical Contradiction” [5-11-17]

The Genesis Creation Accounts and Hebrew Time [National Catholic Register, 7-2-17]

Luke is clearly reflecting other accounts of Jesus’ baptism by referring to the Holy Spirit symbolized as a dove, and God the Father saying He was pleased. Yet Carlson ludicrously claims: Luke . . . tries to give the impression that John did not baptize Jesus.” Will this folly ever end? It is humorous to observe but also sad and tragic, because many people are taken in by this sort of ignorant nonsense and even lose their faith over it.

20) C. WHY DIDN’T JOHN THE BAPTIST BECOME A FOLLOWER OF JESUS?

If John knew that Jesus was the son of God, why didn’t he become a disciple of Jesus? And why didn’t all, or even most, of John’s disciples become Jesus’ disciples? 

John did indeed become Jesus’ follower:

John 3:28-30 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. [29] He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. [30] He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Matthew 3:11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (cf. Mk 1:7-8)

John’s role was as a prototype of Elijah: the one who came before Christ:

Dialogue w Agnostic on Elijah and John the Baptist [9-24-06]

The gospel writers were forced to include Jesus’ baptism in their gospels so that they could play it down. They could not ignore it because John’s followers and other Jews who knew of Jesus’ baptism were using the fact of his baptism to challenge the idea that Jesus was the sinless son of God. The gospel writers went to great pains to invent events that showed John as being subordinate to Jesus.

Most of John’s disciples remained loyal to him, even after his death, and a sect of his followers persisted for centuries.

There could be such a thing as devotees of John, just as their are various orders in the Catholic Church. But it would be understood that it was a brand of Christianity, and that Jesus was Lord and Messiah, and John the forerunner who announced him, but was much lesser than him (as he himself said), and the last prophet in the Old Testament sense. No problem.

21) III. THE LAST SUPPER

A. WHEN – BEFORE OR DURING PASSOVER?

In Matthew, Mark and Luke the last supper takes place on the first day of the Passover (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7). In John’s gospel it takes place a day earlier and Jesus is crucified on the first day of the Passover (John 19:14).

See an article by Fr. William P. Saunders on the Catholic Straight Answers site, and Jimmy Akin: “Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal?”

22) C. JUDAS ISCARIOT

It is very unclear in the gospels just what Judas Iscariot’s betrayal consisted of, probably because there was absolutely no need for a betrayal. Jesus could have been arrested any number of times without the general populace knowing about it. It would have been simple to keep tabs on his whereabouts. The religious authorities did not need a betrayal – only the gospel writers needed a betrayal, so that a few more “prophecies” could be fulfilled. The whole episode is pure fiction – and, as might be expected, it is riddled with contradictions.

Of course there is no way to prove any of this nonsense. If there were, surely atheists like Carlson would make their arguments along those lines, but they usually don’t. They merely assert fanciful scenarios out of their own over-abundant imaginations. As I’ve noted many times, bald assertion is not argument. It assumes what it’s trying to prove (which is circular reasoning).

23) 1. The prophecy

Matthew says that Judas’ payment and death were prophesied by Jeremiah, and then he quotes Zechariah 11:12-13 as proof!

See:

Seidensticker Folly #53: Matthew Cited the Wrong Prophet? [9-11-20]

24) 2. Thirty pieces of silver

According to Matthew 26:15, the chief priests “weighed out thirty pieces of silver” to give to Judas. There are two things wrong with this:

a. There were no “pieces of silver” used as currency in Jesus’ time – they had gone out of circulation about 300 years before.

Really? The Roman denarius was, according to the Wikipedia article it was “the standard Roman silver coin from its introduction in the Second Punic War c. 211 BC[1] to the reign of Gordian III (AD 238–244), . . .” It was in use in Israel. The same article states:

In the New Testament, the gospels refer to the denarius as a day’s wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:2,[21] John 12:5).[22] . . . The denarius is also mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). The Render unto Caesar passage in Matthew 22:15–22 and Mark 12:13–17 uses the word (δηνάριον) to describe the coin held up by Jesus, translated in the King James Bible as “tribute penny“. It is commonly thought to be a denarius with the head of Tiberius.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Coins”) adds:

The coins of Tyre and Sidon, both silver and copper, must have circulated largely in Palestine on account of the intimate commercial relations between the Jews and Phoenicians (for examples, see under MONEY). After the advent of the Romans the local coinage was restricted chiefly to the series of copper coins, such as the mites mentioned in the New Testament, the silver denarii being struck mostly at Rome, but circulating wherever the Romans went.

But Bible commentators appear to usually hold that silver shekels were being referred to:

15covenanted with him] Rather, weighed out for him; either literally or= “paid him.”

thirty pieces of silver] i. e. thirty silver shekels. St Matthew alone names the sum, which= 120 denarii. The shekel is sometimes reckoned at three shillings, but for the real equivalent in English money see note on Matthew 26:7. Thirty shekels was the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32); a fact which gives force to our Lord’s words, Matthew 20:28, “The Son of man came … to minister (to be a slave), and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

Matthew refers to Zechariah 11:12. These pieces were shekels of the sanctuary, of standard weight, and therefore heavier than the ordinary shekel. See on Matthew 17:24. Reckoning the Jerusalem shekel at seventy-two cents, the sum would be twenty-one dollars and sixty cents. (Vincent’s Word Studies)

So there definitely were silver coins in ancient Israel during Jesus’ time. They may have been in the minority of all coinage, but all we need is to show that they existed, for this biblical assertion to be historical. And the above documentation certainly does that. To claim thatthey had gone out of circulation about 300 years before” is an unwarranted falsehood.

25) b. In Jesus’ time, minted coins were used – currency was not “weighed out.”

By using phrases that made sense in Zechariah’s time but not in Jesus’ time Matthew once again gives away the fact that he creates events in his gospel to match “prophecies” he finds in the Old Testament.

Coined money was in use, but the shekels may have been weighed out in antique fashion by men careful to do an iniquitous thing in the most orthodox way. Or there may have been no weighing in the case, but only the use of an ancient form of speech after the practice had become obsolete . . . (Expositor’s Greek Testament)

As to the latter practice, we do that today in English in many ways. The article, “12 Old Words That Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms” (Arika Okrent, Mental Floss.com, 11-4-15; updated 7-5-19) provides four examples:

EKE

If we see eke at all these days, it’s when we “eke out” a living, but it comes from an old verb meaning to add, supplement, or grow. It’s the same word that gave us eke-name for “additional name,” which later, through misanalysis of “an eke-name” became nickname. . . .

ROUGHSHOD

Nowadays we see this word in the expression “to run/ride roughshod” over somebody or something, meaning to tyrannize or treat harshly. It came about as a way to describe the 17th century version of snow tires. A “rough-shod” horse had its shoes attached with protruding nail heads in order to get a better grip on slippery roads. It was great for keeping the horse on its feet, but not so great for anyone the horse might step on. . . .

FRO

The fro in “to and fro” is a fossilized remnant of a Northern English or Scottish way of pronouncing from. It was also part of other expressions that didn’t stick around, like “fro and till,” “to do fro” (to remove), and “of or fro” (for or against). . . .

LURCH

When you leave someone “in the lurch,” you leave them in a jam, in a difficult position. But while getting left in the lurch may leave you staggering around and feeling off-balance, the lurch in this expression has a different origin than the staggery one. The balance-related lurch comes from nautical vocabulary, while the lurch you get left in comes from an old French backgammon-style game called lourche. Lurch became a general term for the situation of beating your opponent by a huge score. By extension, it came to stand for the state of getting the better of someone or cheating them.

Likewise, with the payment to Judas, it may be a case where for centuries coinage based on weight of silver, gold, or copper was weighed out, so that in order to ascertain or measure an exact amount, the coins were weighed. This saying of “weighing out” would then have remained after coins had a definite numerical amount, and was simply synonymous with “counting” except that the older method was still referred to by habit.

26) 3. Who bought the Field of Blood?

a. In Matthew 27:7 the chief priests buy the field.

b. In Acts 1:18 Judas buys the field.

E. W. Bullinger adequately explained seeming but not actual contradiction this in his Companion Bible.

27) 4. How did Judas die?

a. In Matthew 27:5 Judas hangs himself.

b. In Acts 1:18 he bursts open and his insides spill out.

See:

Death of Judas: Alleged Bible Contradictions Debunked (vs. Dave Van Allen and Dr. Jim Arvo) [9-27-07]

28) c. According to the apostle Paul, neither of the above is true. Paul says Jesus appeared to “the twelve” after his resurrection. Mark 14:20 makes it clear that Judas was one of the twelve.

In Matthew 19:28, Jesus tells the twelve disciples, including Judas, that when Jesus rules from his throne, they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Protestant apologist Eric Lyons provides the rebuttal:

Numerous alleged Bible discrepancies arise because skeptics frequently interpret figurative language in a literal fashion. They treat God’s Word as if it were a dissertation on the Pythagorean theorem rather than a book written using ordinary language. . . . The simple solution to this numbering “problem” is that “the twelve” to which Paul referred was not a literal number, but the designation of an office. This term is used merely “to point out the society of the apostles, who, though at this time they were only eleven, were still called the twelve, because this was their original number, and a number which was afterward filled up” (Clarke, 1996). Gordon Fee stated that Paul’s use of the term “twelve” in 1 Corinthians 15:5 “is a clear indication that in the early going this was a title given to the special group of twelve whom Jesus called to ‘be with him’ (Mark 3:14).

This figurative use of numbers is just as common in English vernacular as it was in the ancient languages. In certain collegiate sports, one can refer to the Big Ten conference, which consists of 14 teams, or the Atlantic Ten conference, which is also made up of 14 teams. At one time, these conferences only had ten teams, but when they exceeded that number, they kept their original conference “names.” Their names are a designation for a particular conference, not a literal number.

In 1884, the term “two-by-four” was coined to refer to a piece of lumber two-by-four inches. Interestingly, a two-by-four still is called a two-by-four, even though today it is trimmed to slightly smaller dimensions (1 5/8 by 3 5/8). Again, the numbers are more of a designation than a literal number.

Biblical use of “the twelve” as a designation for the original disciples is strongly indicated in many Gospel passages. Jesus Himself did this: “Did I not choose you, the twelve . . .?” (Jn 6:70). He didn’t say, “did I not choose you twelve men.” By saying, “the twelve” in the way He did, it’s proven that it was a [not always literal] title for the group. Hence, John refers to “Thomas, one of the twelve” after Judas departed, and before he was replaced by Matthias (Jn 20:24). Paul simply continues the same practice. It was also used because “twelve” was an important number in biblical thinking (40 and 70 are two other such numbers). For a plain and undeniable example of this, see Revelation 21:12, 14, 21.

29) 5. How did the Field of Blood get its name?

a. Matthew says because it was purchased with blood money (Matthew 27:6-8).

b. Acts says because of the bloody mess caused by Judas’ bursting open (Acts 1:18-19).

It’s not one field, but two being referred to, as E. W. Bullinger explained, adding:

In addition to all the above, the two pieces of land were respectively called “agros of blood” (Matthew 27:8) and “chorion of blood” (Acts 1:19) for different reasons. Indeed, the “agros of blood” that the chief priests bought was called like this because it was bought with the “price of blood” (Matthew 27:7, 9) i.e. with the thirty pieces of silver paid for the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the “chorion of blood” that Judas bought was called like this because Judas committed suicide there (Acts 1:19).

30) 1. Where was Jesus taken immediately after his arrest?

a. Matthew, Mark and Luke say that Jesus was taken directly to the high priest (Matthew 26:57, Mark 14:53 and Luke 22:54).

b. John says that Jesus was taken first to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest (John 18:13) who, after an indeterminate period of time, sent Jesus to the high priest (John 18:24). . . . 

d. John mentions only the high priest – no other priests or scribes play a role in questioning Jesus.

John reports that Jesus was first questioned by Annas: “the father-in-law of Ca’iaphas, who was high priest that year” (Jn 18:13), who “questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching ” (Jn 18:19). “Annas then sent him bound to Ca’iaphas the high priest” (18:24). Then “they [implied: the Sanhedrin] led Jesus from the house of Ca’iaphas to the praetorium [where Pilate was]” (18:28). And “They answered him, “If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over” (18:30). Note that Caiaphas was present at the judgment and “monkey trial” of the Sanhedrin, as indicated by Matthew 26:57, 62, Mark (not named, but mentioned as the “high priest”: 14:53-54, 60, 63, 66), and Luke (“high priest”: 22:54).

So it’s all the same overall story, told by four storytellers, with the expected differences in detail and emphases that we would expect in any four different accounts of the same incident. Matthew and John refer directly to Caiphas the high priest as being involved (Matthew mentions also the assembly, whereas John doesn’t (directly), but still indicates their presence by the two uses of “they” in describing the Jewish leaders leading Jesus to Pilate. Mark and Luke don’t name him, but note that the “high priest” was involved, which is no contradiction.

31) b. Pilate’s “custom” of releasing a prisoner at Passover.

This is pure invention – the only authority given by Rome to a Roman governor in situations like this was postponement of execution until after the religious festival. Release was out of the question. It is included in the gospels for the sole purpose of further removing blame for Jesus’ death from Pilate and placing it on the Jews.

According to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, c. 1984, Vol. 8, page 773f: “The custom referred to of releasing a prisoner at the Passover Feast is unknown outside the Gospels. It was, however, a Roman custom and could well have been a custom in Palestine. An example of a Roman official releasing a prisoner on the demands of the people occurs in the Papyrus Florentinus 61:59ff. There the Roman governor of Egypt, G. Septimus Vegetus, says to Phibion, the accused: ‘Thou has been worthy of scourging, but I will give thee to the people’.” (Release Barabbas! Did the Gospel Writers Make That Up”, Sam Harris, The John Ankerberg Show, 8-9-00)

32) Who put the robe on Jesus?

a. Matthew 27:28, Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 say that after Pilate had Jesus scourged and turned over to his soldiers to be crucified, the soldiers placed a scarlet or purple robe on Jesus as well as a crown of thorns.

b. Luke 23:11, in contradiction to Matthew, Mark and John, says that the robe was placed on Jesus much earlier by Herod and his soldiers. Luke mentions no crown of thorns.

See:

“Bible Contradiction? Who put the robe on Jesus?” (The Domain for Truth, 2-16-17)

33) Crucified between two robbers

Matthew 27:38 and Mark 15:27 say that Jesus was crucified between two robbers (Luke just calls them criminals; John simply calls them men). It is a historical fact that the Romans did not crucify robbers. Crucifixion was reserved for insurrectionists and rebellious slaves.

The following crimes entailed this penalty: piracy, highway robbery, assassination, forgery, false testimony, mutiny, high treason, rebellion (see Pauly-Wissowa, “Real-Encyc.” s.v. “Crux”; Josephus, “B. J.” v. 11, § 1). Soldiers that deserted to the enemy and slaves who denounced their masters (“delatio domini”)were also punished by death on the cross. (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, “Crucifixion”)

The crucifixion of robbers by the Romans is also verified with many ancient sources on pages 46-50 of the book, Crucifixion, by Martin Hengel, Fortress Press, 1977. But Carlson gives us no documentation. He simply asserts demonstrable falsehood. Atheists often do this, apparently thinking it is impressive. It ain’t.

34) Peter and Mary near the cross

When the gospel writers mention Jesus talking to his mother and to Peter from the cross, they run afoul of another historical fact – the Roman soldiers closely guarded the places of execution, and nobody was allowed near (least of all friends and family who might attempt to help the condemned person).

[C]rucifixion as a public means of execution served as an emphatic warning to onlookers. A quote ascribed to Quintillian explains that “when we [Romans] crucify criminals the most frequented roads are chosen, where the greatest number of people can look and be seized by this fear. For every punishment has less to do with the offense than with the example” (Decl., 274) (in The Governor and the KingIrony, Hidden Transcripts, and Negotiating Empire in the Fourth Gospel, by Arthur M. Wright, Jr., Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2019, see the quotation at Google Books)

Many movies about Jesus show Mary His mother and others including the apostle John right at the foot of the cross. If the tradition is to believed, where they actually stood was at least half a football field in distance away. I myself stood at the traditional spot in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 2o14. The Bible doesn’t indicate exactly how close the lookers were. Luke 23:35 says they “stood by, watching.” Matthew 27:55 states: “There were also many women there, looking on from afar . . .” Mark 15:40 similarly describes it as “There were also women looking on from afar . . . John 19:25 uses the language of “standing by the cross of Jesus.” Once again, an alleges atheist biblical “contradiction” falls flat or sheer lack of substance, plausibility, and coherence.

35) The opened tombs

According to Matthew 27:51-53, at the moment Jesus died there was an earthquake that opened tombs and many people were raised from the dead. For some reason they stayed in their tombs until after Jesus was resurrected, at which time they went into Jerusalem and were seen by many people.

Here Matthew gets too dramatic for his own good. If many people came back to life and were seen by many people, it must have created quite a stir (even if the corpses were in pretty good shape!). Yet Matthew seems to be the only person aware of this happening – historians of that time certainly know nothing of it – neither do the other gospel writers.

See:

Seidensticker Folly #45: “Zombies” & Clueless Atheists (Atheist Neil Carter Joins in on the Silliness and Tomfoolery as Well) [8-29-20]

36-38) Who found the empty tomb?

a. According to Matthew 28:1, only “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.”

b. According to Mark 16:1, “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome.”

c. According to Luke 23:55, 24:1 and 24:10, “the women who had come with him out of Galilee.” Among these women were “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James.” Luke indicates in verse 24:10 that there were at least two others.

d. According to John 20:1-4, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone, saw the stone removed, ran to find Peter, and returned to the tomb with Peter and another disciple.

Who did they find at the tomb?

a. According to Matthew 28:2-4, an angel of the Lord with an appearance like lightning was sitting on the stone that had been rolled away. Also present were the guards that Pilate had contributed. On the way back from the tomb the women meet Jesus (Matthew 28:9).

b. According to Mark 16:5, a young man in a white robe was sitting inside the tomb.

c. According to Luke 24:4, two men in dazzling apparel. It is not clear if the men were inside the tomb or outside of it.

d. According to John 20:4-14, Mary and Peter and the other disciple initially find just an empty tomb. Peter and the other disciple enter the tomb and find only the wrappings. Then Peter and the other disciple leave and Mary looks in the tomb to find two angels in white. After a short conversation with the angels, Mary turns around to find Jesus.

Who did the women tell about the empty tomb?

a. According to Mark 16:8, “they said nothing to anyone.”

b. According to Matthew 28:8, they “ran to report it to His disciples.”

c. According to Luke 24:9, “they reported these things to the eleven and to all the rest.”

d. According to John 20:18, Mary Magdalene announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord.

See:

Pearce’s Potshots #13: Resurrection “Contradictions” (?) [2-2-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #14: Resurrection “Contradictions” #2 [2-4-21]

Dialogue w Atheist on Post-Resurrection “Contradictions” [1-26-11]

Seidensticker Folly #18: Resurrection “Contradictions”? [9-17-18]

Seidensticker Folly #57: Male Witnesses of the Dead Jesus [9-14-20]

Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions” [3-12-21]

39) THE ASCENSION

According to Luke 24:51, Jesus’ ascension took place in Bethany, on the same day as his resurrection.

According to Acts 1:9-12, Jesus’ ascension took place at Mount Olivet, forty days after his resurrection.

See:

Seidensticker Folly #15: Jesus’ Ascension: One or 40 Days? [9-10-18]

40) NO SIGNS, ONE SIGN, OR MANY SIGNS?

At one point the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him for a sign.

1. In Mark 8:12 Jesus says that “no sign shall be given to this generation.” . . . 

3. In contradiction to both Mark and Matthew, the gospel of John speaks of many signs that Jesus did:

a. The miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana is called the beginning (or first) of the signs that Jesus did (John 2:11).

b. The healing at Capernaum is the “second sign” (John 4:54).

c. Many people were following Jesus “because they were seeing the signs He was performing” (John 6:2).

This exhibits rank ignorance of Scripture (very common among anti-theist atheists). The difference (not a contradiction) has to do with willingness to believe vs. unwillingness. Jesus knew who would accept His signs and miracles and who would not. With people who did not and would not (usually the “scribes and Pharisees”), He refused to do miracles and signs. This is made clear in the Bible:

Mark 8:11-12 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. [12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (cf. 16:4)

In Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man, He explains why sometimes it does no good to perform miracles:

Luke 16:27-31 And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

This also, of course, foretold the widespread rejection of the miracle of His own Resurrection. Belief or willingness to accept the evidence of a miracle is also tied to Jesus’ willingness to do miracles:

Matthew 13:58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

With the common folk, it was entirely different, and so we also see a verse like John 6:2 above. Because the atheist hyper-critic refuses to acknowledge or understand these simple distinctions, all of a sudden we have yet another trumped-up, so-called contradiction where there is none at all. E for [futile] effort, though . . .

41) 2. In contradiction to Mark, in Matthew 12:39 Jesus says that only one sign would be given – the sign of Jonah. Jesus says that just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so he will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Here Jesus makes an incorrect prediction – he only spends two nights in the tomb (Friday and Saturday nights), not three nights.

This is an old and stupid saw of atheist anti-Christian polemics, which exhibits an ignorance of ancient Near Eastern Semitic culture and certain expressions and the reckoning of time. I thoroughly refute it here:

“Three Days and Nights” in the Tomb: Contradiction? [10-31-06]

42) SON OF DAVID?

Matthew, Mark and Luke all contain passages which have Jesus quoting Psalm 110:1 to argue that the Messiah does not need to be a son of David (Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44).

1. This contradicts many Old Testament passages that indicate that the Messiah will be a descendant of David. It also contradicts official church doctrine.

2. In Acts 2:30-36 Peter, in what is regarded as the first Christian sermon, quotes Psalm 110:1 in arguing that Jesus was the Messiah, a descendant of David.

The Messiah (Jesus) was indeed the Son of David, which is why He accepted this title for Himself, and never rebuked or denied it (Mt 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9; Mk 10:47-48; Lk 18:38-39), and why St. Peter repeated this truth.

The falsehood involved here is thinking that the three passages first listed contradict this understanding. They do not, because they record a certain kind of socratic rhetoric that Jesus frequently used; not intended as a denial at all. The Bible commentaries cited below explain this, so as to get atheists woefully ignorant of biblical teaching and exegesis (and Hebrew literary figures of speech and rhetorical argumentation) up to speed:

“The Pharisees, having in the course of our Lord’s ministry proposed many difficult questions to him, with a view to try his prophetical gifts, he, in his turn, now that a body of them was gathered together, thought fit to make trial of their skill in the sacred writings. For this purpose he publicly asked their opinion of a difficulty concerning the Messiah’s pedigree, arising from Psalms 110 : What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? — Whose son do you expect the Messiah to be, who was promised to the fathers? They say unto him, The son of David — This was the common title of the Messiah in that day, which the scribes taught them to give him, from Psalm 89:35-36; and Isaiah 11:1.” He saith, How then doth David in spirit, rather, by the Spirit; that is, by inspiration; call him Lord — If he be merely the son, or descendant of David? if he be, as you suppose, the son of man, a mere man? “The doctors, it seems, did not look for any thing in their Messiah more excellent than the most exalted perfections of human nature; for, though they called him the Son of God, they had no notion that he was God, and so could offer no solution of the difficulty. Yet the latter question might have shown them their error. For if the Messiah was to be only a secular prince, as they supposed, ruling the men of his own time, he never could have been called Lord by persons who died before he was born; far less would so mighty a king as David, who also was his progenitor, have called him Lord. Wherefore, since he rules over, not the vulgar dead only of former ages, but even over the kings from whom he was himself descended, and his kingdom comprehends the men of all countries and times, past, present, and to come, the doctors, if they had thought accurately upon the subject, should have expected in their Messiah a king different from all other kings whatever. Besides, he is to sit at God’s right hand till his enemies are made the footstool of his feet; made thoroughly subject unto him. Numbers of Christ’s enemies are subjected to him in this life; and they who will not bow to him willingly, shall, like the rebellious subjects of other kingdoms, be reduced by punishment. Being constituted universal judge, all, whether friends or enemies, shall appear before his tribunal, where by the highest exercise of kingly power, he shall doom each to his unchangeable state.” And no man was able to answer him a word — None of them could offer the least shadow of a solution to the difficulty which he had proposed. Neither durst any man ask him any more questions — “The repeated proofs which he had given of the prodigious depth of his understanding, had impressed them with such an opinion of his wisdom, that they judged it impossible to insnare him in his discourse. For which reason they left off attempting it, and from that day forth troubled him no more with their insidious questions.” — Macknight. (Benson Commentary)

He had silenced his opponents, and opened profundities in Scripture hitherto unfathomed; he would now raise them to a higher theology; he would place before them a truth concerning the nature of the Messiah, which, if they received it, would lead them to accept him. It was as it were a last hope. He and the Pharisees had some common ground, which was wanting in the case of the Sadducees and Herodians (comp Acts 23:6); he would use this to support a last appeal. . . . He desires to win acceptance of his claims by the unanswerable argument of the Scripture which they revered; let them consider the exact meaning of a text often quoted, let them weigh each word with reverent care, and they would see that the predicted Messiah was not merely Son of David according to earthly descent, but was Jehovah himself; and that when he claimed to be Son of God, when he asserted, “I and my Father are one,” he was vindicating for himself only what the prophet had affirmed of the nature of the Christ. (Pulpit Commentary)

From the universally recognized title of the Messiah as the Son of David, which by His question He elicits from them, He takes occasion to shew them, who understood this title in a mere worldly political sense, the difficulty arising from David’s own reverence for this his Son: the solution lying in the incarnate Godhead of the Christ, of which they were ignorant. (Henry Alford’s Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary)

43) THE FIG TREE

After Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem a sees a fig tree and wants some figs from it. He finds none on it so he curses the tree and it withers and dies (Matthew 21:18-20, Mark 11:12-14, 20-21).

1. Since this occurred in the early spring before Passover, it is ridiculous of Jesus to expect figs to be on the tree.

2. Matthew and Mark cannot agree on when the tree withered.

a. In Matthew, the tree withers at once and the disciples comment on this fact (Matthew 21:19-20).

b. In Mark, the tree is not found to be withered until at least the next day (Mark 11:20-21).

Apologist Kyle Butt offers a plausible explanation:

One prominent question naturally arises from a straightforward reading of the text. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree that did not have figs on it, especially since the text says that “it was not the season for figs”? In response to this puzzling question, skeptical minds have let themselves run wild with accusations regarding the passage. . . .

When Jesus approached the fig tree, the text indicates that the tree had plenty of leaves. R.K. Harrison, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, explains that various kinds of figs grew in Palestine during the first century. One very important aspect of fig growth has to do with the relationship between the leaf and the fruit. Harrison notes that the tiny figs, known to the Arabs as taksh, “appear simultaneously in the leaf axils” (1982, 2:302) This taksh is edible and “is often gathered for sale in the markets” (2:302). Furthermore, the text notes: “When the young leaves are appearing in spring, every fertile fig will have some taksh on it…. But if a tree with leaves has no fruit, it will be barren for the entire season” (2:301-302).

Thus, when Jesus approached the leafy fig tree, He had every reason to suspect that something edible would be on it. However, after inspecting the tree, Mark records that “He found nothing but leaves.” No taksh were budding as they should have been if the tree was going to produce edible figs that year. The tree appeared to be fruitful, but it only had outward signs of bearing fruit (leaves) and in truth offered nothing of value to weary travelers. . . .

[I]n a general sense, Jesus often insisted that trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down (Matthew 7:19; Luke 13:6-9). The fig tree did not bear fruit, was useless, and deserved to be destroyed: the spiritual application being that any human who does not bear fruit for God will also be destroyed for his or her failure to produce.

Jesus did not throw a temper tantrum and curse the fig tree even though it was incapable of producing fruit. He cursed the tree because it should have been growing fruit since it had the outward signs of productivity. Jesus’ calculated timing underscored the spiritual truth that barren spiritual trees eventually run out of time. As for personal application, we should all diligently strive to ensure that we are not the barren fig tree.

44) THE GREAT COMMISSION

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells the eleven disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

1. This is obviously a later addition to the gospel, for two reasons:

a. It took the church over two hundred years of fighting (sometimes bloody) over the doctrine of the trinity before this baptismal formula came into use. Had it been in the original gospel, there would have been no fighting.

First of all, this is another bald assertion that a particular passage was added later to the Bible. No proof, no evidence; just the assertion, which, of course, carries no force or weight whatsoever.

Secondly, trinitarianism is massively present in the New Testament, both in terms of Jesus’ own claim to be God in the flesh (and New Testament agreement), and also the trinitarian teaching that the Holy Spirit is God, as well as, of course, God the Father.

The Didache was a very early Christian document (as early as 70 AD), and it states:

After the foregoing instructions, 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)

That’s hardly “two hundred years” later “before this baptismal formula came into use”: as Carlson ignorantly proclaims.

45) In Acts, when people are baptized, they are baptized just in the name of Jesus (Acts 8:16, 10:48, 19:5). Peter says explicitly that they are to “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

They were baptized in Jesus’ name (as well as in the name of the Father and Holy Spirit). The same book of Acts did not deny trinitarianism at all, since it provided the best single passages that proves  the deity of the Holy Spirit:

Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? [4] . . . You have not lied to men but to God.” . . .

Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit; at the same time he lied to God; therefore the Holy Spirit and God are synonymous: one and the same. Just five verses before Acts 2:38 cited above, Luke provides an explicitly trinitarian utterance:

Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear.

He did the same again, later in the book:

Acts 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Commentaries provide a fuller explanation of the main question at hand:

The question presents itself, Why is the baptism here, and elsewhere in the Acts (Acts 10:48Acts 19:5), “in the name of Jesus Christ,” while in Matthew 28:19, the Apostles are commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Various explanations have been given. It has been said that baptism in the Name of any one of the Persons of the Trinity, involves the Name of the other Two. It has even been assumed that St. Luke meant the fuller formula when he used the shorter one. But a more satisfactory solution is, perhaps, found in seeing in the words of Matthew 28:19 (see Note there) the formula for the baptism of those who, as Gentiles. had been “without God in the world, not knowing the Father;” while for converts from Judaism, or those who had before been proselytes to Judaism, it was enough that there should be the distinctive profession of their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, added on to their previous belief in the Father and the Holy Spirit. In proportion as the main work of the Church of Christ lay among the Gentiles, it was natural that the fuller form should become dominant, and finally be used exclusively. (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

Catholic apologist Karlo Broussard further elaborates:

Why is the Church saying that we can baptize with the Trinitarian formula when all the baptisms mentioned in the Bible are done “in the name of Jesus”? Here are few ways to meet this challenge.

First, a self-professed Christian can’t reject the validity of the Trinitarian formula because Jesus commands the apostles to use it when they baptize: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Those who pose the challenge, therefore, at least have to acknowledge that the Trinitarian formula is valid since it comes from the lips of the Master himself.

Second, when compared to Jesus’ instruction to use the Trinitarian formula in Matthew 28:19the passages found in the book of Acts don’t seem to refer to the actual formula that must be used in administering the sacrament.

Notice how in Matthew 28:19 Jesus is privately addressing only the eleven (Matt. 28:16), whom he is sending toperform baptisms. In context, it makes sense that Jesus would be telling them exactly how to do it.

Contrast this with, for example, Peter’s injunction in Acts 2. That takes place in a public setting and is given to those who would receive baptism—not to those who would be performing it. It would not seem to be as vitally important for those receiving the sacrament to know the precise formula as for those performing it, right?

Moreover, Peter’s injunction is not premeditated. Instead, he is quickly enumerating what must be done to be saved in response to those present who, upon hearing his preaching, were “cut to the heart” and asked him, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v.37). It’s unreasonable to think that Peter would be giving precise instructions as to the words that must be used in baptism when he’s merely saying, “You want to be saved? Okay, here are the things you need to do—repent and get baptized.”

Jesus’s command to baptize in Matthew 28:19 is also distinct from Peter’s command for Cornelius to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). As on the day of Pentecost, Luke records what Peter says to those who would receive baptism, not those who would administer it.

Also, Luke does not record what Peter said specifically. He merely narrates in summary form: “And he [Peter] commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” It doesn’t seem that Luke intends to say that the words “in the name of Jesus” were Peter’s instructions for the actual words to be used in administering baptism. (“Baptize in the Name of … Who?”, Catholic Answers, 11-29-18)

46) This contradicts Jesus’ earlier statement that his message was for the Jews only (Matthew 10:5-6, 15:24). The gospels, and especially Acts, have been edited to play this down, but the contradiction remains. It was the apostle Paul who, against the express wishes of Jesus, extended the gospel (Paul’s version) to the gentiles.

Again, this exhibits a profound ignorance and cluelessness as regards actual biblical teaching. I have disposed of this bogus objection at least four times (aren’t links wonderful and so convenient?):

David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #7: Ch. 7 (Gentiles) [8-19-19]

Vs. Atheist David Madison #39: Jesus the Xenophobic Bigot? (And did Jesus minister exclusively to Jews and not Gentiles at all: an alleged Gospel inconsistency)? [12-12-19]

Did Jesus Minister Exclusively to Jews and not Gentiles? [7-2-20]

Did Jesus Heal and Preach to Only Jews? No! [National Catholic Register, 7-19-20]

47) ENOCH IN THE BOOK OF JUDE

Jude 14 contains a prophecy of Enoch. Thus, if the Book of Jude is the Word of God, then the writings of “Enoch” from which Jude quotes, are also the Word of God. The Book of Enoch was used in the early church until at least the third century – Clement, Irenaeus and Tertullian were familiar with it. However, as church doctrine began to solidify, the Book of Enoch became an embarrassment to the church and in a short period of time it became the Lost Book of Enoch. A complete manuscript of the Book of Enoch was discovered in Ethiopia in 1768. Since then, portions of at least eight separate copies have been found among the Dead Sea scrolls. It is easy to see why the church had to get rid of Enoch – not only does it contain fantastic imagery (some of which was borrowed by the Book of Revelation), but it also contradicts church doctrine on several points (and, since it is obviously the work of several writers, it also contradicts itself).

The fallacy here is to think that because the Bible cites something, it, too, must be the “Word of God.” This simply isn’t true, since the Bible cites several non-canonical works or aspects of various traditions without implying that they are canonical. St. Paul, for example, in speaking to the philosophical Athenians (Acts 17:22-28), cited  the Greek poet Aratus: (c. 315-240 B. C.) and philosopher-poet Epimenides (6th c. B. C.) – both referring to Zeus. So St. Paul used two Greek pagan poet-philosophers, talking about a false god (Zeus) and “Christianized” their thoughts: applying them to the true God. He also cited the Greek dramatist  Menander (c.342-291 B.C.) at 1 Corinthians 15:33: “bad company ruins good morals”.

For more along these lines, see David Palm, “Oral Tradition in the New Testament” (This Rock, May 1995) and “Non-canonical books referenced in the Bible” (Wikipedia).

48) THE APOSTLE PAUL’S CONVERSION

The Book of Acts contains three accounts of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. All of three accounts contradict each other regarding what happened to Paul’s fellow travelers.

1. Acts 9:7 says they “stood speechless, hearing the voice…”

2. Acts 22:9 says they “did not hear the voice…”

3. Acts 26:14 says “when we had all fallen to the ground…”

Some translations of the Bible (the New International Version and the New American Standard, for example) try to remove the contradiction in Acts 22:9 by translating the phrase quoted above as “did not understand the voice…” However, the Greek word “akouo” is translated 373 times in the New Testament as “hear,” “hears,” “hearing” or “heard” and only in Acts 22:9 is it translated as “understand.” In fact, it is the same word that is translated as “hearing” in Acts 9:7, quoted above. The word “understand” occurs 52 times in the New Testament, but only in Acts 22:9 is it translated from the Greek word “akouo.”

This is an example of Bible translators sacrificing intellectual honesty in an attempt to reconcile conflicting passages in the New Testament.

Several people have made adequate and sufficient refutations of this charge: Erik Manning, J. P. Holding, Bill Pratt, and Jimmy Akin.

49) JESUS CALLS THE DISCIPLES

1. In Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20, Peter and Andrew are casting nets into the sea. Jesus calls out to them and they leave their nets and follow him. Jesus then goes on a little further and sees James and John mending their nets with their father. He calls to them and they leave their father and follow him.

2. In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus asks Peter to take him out in Peter’s boat so Jesus can preach to the multitude. James and John are in another boat. When Jesus finishes preaching, he tells Peter how to catch a great quantity of fish (John 21:3-6 incorporates this story in a post- resurrection appearance). After Peter catches the fish, he and James and John are so impressed that after they bring their boats to shore they leave everything and follow Jesus.

3. In John 1:35-42, Andrew hears John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God. Andrew then stays with Jesus for the remainder of the day and then goes to get his brother Peter and brings him to meet Jesus.

Apologist Eric Lyons has made a direct reply to Paul Carlson concerning this groundless charge.

50) SHOULD THE TWELVE DISCIPLES TAKE STAFFS?

When Jesus summons the twelve disciples to send them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, he lists the things the disciples should not take with them.

1. In Matthew 10:9-10 and Luke 9:3-5, a staff is included in the list of things not to take.

2. In contradiction to Matthew and Luke, Mark 6:8 makes a specific exception – the disciples may take a staff.

At least this appears at first glance to be a real contradiction (unlike virtually all atheist proposed ones I’ve ever seen: and I’ve dealt with several hundred). So it deserves a serious treatment. Protestant apologists Eric Lyons and Brad Harrub (on a site that specializes in alleged biblical contradictions) grant the difficulty of interpreting these passages harmoniously in writing that they were “Perhaps the most difficult alleged Bible contradiction that we have been asked to ‘tackle’ . . . A cursory reading of the above passages admittedly is somewhat confusing.” Then they proceed to explain the apparent discrepancies:

The differences between Matthew and Mark are explained easily when one acknowledges that the writers used different Greek verbs to express different meanings. In Matthew, the word “provide” (NKJV) is an English translation of the Greek word ktesthe. According to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon, the root word comes from ktaomai, which means to “procure for oneself, acquire, get” (1979, p. 455). Based upon these definitions, the New American Standard Version used the English verb “acquire” in Matthew 10:9 (“Do not acquire….”), instead of “provide” or “take.” In Matthew, Jesus is saying: “Do not acquire anything in addition to what you already have that may tempt you or stand in your way. Just go as you are.” As Mark indicated, the apostles were to “take” (airo) what they had, and go. The apostles were not to waste precious time gathering supplies (extra apparel, staffs, shoes, etc.) or making preparations for their trip, but instead were instructed to trust in God’s providence for additional needs. Jesus did not mean for the apostles to discard the staffs and sandals they already had; rather, they were not to go and acquire more.

They continue by tackling the additional information from Luke:

As is obvious from a comparison of the verses in Matthew and Luke, they are recording the same truth—that the apostles were not to spend valuable time gathering extra staffs—only they are using different words to do so.

Provide (Greek ktaomineither gold nor silver…nor staffs” (Matthew 10:9-10, emp. added).

Take (Greek airo) nothing for the journey, neither staffs” (Luke 9:3, emp. added).

Luke did not use ktaomi in his account because he nearly always used ktaomi in a different sense than Matthew did. In Matthew’s account, the word ktaomai is used to mean “provide” or “acquire,” whereas in the books of Luke and Acts, Luke used this word to mean “purchase, buy, or earn.” Notice the following examples of how Luke used this word.

“I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (ktaomai) [Luke 18:12, emp. added, NAS]

“Now this man purchased (ktaomai) a field with the wages of iniquity (Acts 1:18, emp. added).

“Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased (ktaomai) with money!” (Acts 8:20, emp. added).

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained (ktaomai) this citizenship” (Acts 22:28, emp. added).

*
[Luke 21:19 is the only place one could argue where Luke may have used ktaomai to mean something other than “purchase, buy, or earn,” but even here there is a transactional notion in it (Miller, 1997)].When Luke, the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14), used the word ktaomai, he meant something different than when Matthew, the tax collector, used the same word. Whereas Luke used ktaomai to refer to purchasing or buying something, Matthew used the Greek verb agorazo (cf. Matthew 14:15; 25:9-10; 27:6-7). Matthew used ktaomai only in the sense of acquiring something (not purchasing something). As such, it would make absolutely no sense for Luke to use ktaomai in his account of Jesus sending out the apostles (9:3). If he did, then he would have Jesus forbidding the apostles to “purchase” or “buy” money [“Buy nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money….”]. Thus, Luke used the more general Greek verb (airo) in order to convey the same idea that Matthew did when using the Greek verb ktaomai.
*

Just as ktaomai did not mean the same for Luke and Matthew, the Greek word airo (translated “take” in both Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3) often did not mean the same for Luke and Mark (see Miller, 1997). [Understanding this simple fact eliminates the “contradiction” completely, for unless the skeptic can be certain that Mark and Luke were using the word in the same sense, he cannot prove that the accounts contradict each other.] Mark consistently used airo in other passages throughout his gospel to mean simply “take” or “pick up and carry” (2:9; 6:29; 11:23; 13:16). That Luke (in 9:3) did not mean the same sense of airo as Mark did (in 6:8) is suggested by the fact that in Luke 19:21-22 he used this same verb to mean “acquire.” [see also the visual chart in the article that is very helpful]

Now, the anti-theist atheists (who love bringing up things like this) typically respond with “well, see how hard you had to work to solve the contradiction?! It shouldn’t have to be that hard!” We agree that it shouldn’t be so hard, if one understood Greek in the first place. But for those of us who don’t know Greek, it appears contradictory, because the difference hinges upon different Greek words and even different meanings of the same Greek words (in context): just as English words usually have several definitions.

Therefore, it takes a considerable bit of explaining to clarify for the non-Greek speaker. Once that key difference is understood, the so-called “contradiction” is shown to not be one at all, because the writers are using different Greek words and meaning different things. And there are many alleged “biblical contradictions” that are resolved in this same fashion.

51) THE SECOND COMING

1. During the disciples’ lifetime

There are several passages in the gospels where Jesus says he will return in the disciples’ lifetime (Mark 13:30, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34, Luke 21:32, etc.).

The same expectation held during the period the apostle Paul wrote his letters. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Paul says that the time is so short that believers should drastically change the way that they live. But Paul had a problem – some believers had died, so what would happen to them when Jesus returned?

Paul’s answer in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 shows that Paul expected that at least some of those he was writing to would be alive when Jesus returned – “we who are alive, and remain…” The same passage also indicates that Paul believed that those believers who had died remained “asleep in Jesus” until he returned. However, as the delay in Jesus’ return grew longer, the location of Jesus’ kingdom shifted from earth to heaven and we later find Paul indicating that when believers die they will immediately “depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23).

It is quite obvious that Jesus never intended to start any type of church structure since he believed he would return very shortly to rule his kingdom in person. It is also quite obvious that Jesus was wrong about when he was coming back.

See:

Seidensticker Folly #58: Jesus Erred on Time of 2nd Coming? (with David Palm) [10-7-20]

“The Last Days”: Meaning in Hebrew, Biblical Thought [12-5-08]

Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming [8-3-19]

Debate with an Agnostic on the Meaning of “Last Days” and Whether the Author of Hebrews Was a False Prophet [9-13-06]

***

Photo credit: darksouls1 (10-10-16) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: I tackle and refute all 51 supposed Bible “contradictions” suggested by anti-theist atheist Paul Carlson in his pathetic hit-piece, “New Testament Contradictions” (The Secular Web, 1995).

***

March 12, 2021

This took place in the combox of the atheist Jonathan MS Pearce, underneath his article, “Differences, Contradictions and Speculations of the Resurrection Listed” (3-11-21). Respondents will be in various colors. I’ve already replied to several portions of the book mentioned in the article: Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions” (3-12-21).

*****

Geoff Benson: Oh it’s perfectly possible to contrive all sorts of solutions to the conundrums that contradictions present, and if you’re especially interested in working through them, the way that Dave Armstrong does, then you can perhaps persuade yourself that they aren’t inconsistencies. The trouble is that they are so numerous, so vast in number, that there must surely come a point where you say enough is enough. No, well probably not! And don’t think we aren’t interested in facts, it’s that what you see as biblical facts we see as mythological meanderings.

If there were any likelihood that the stories depicted in the bible were true then perhaps we might give more attention to your attempts to reconcile the contradictions. Unfortunately, almost every story has been proved to be untrue, especially in the OT. The nativity and resurrection accounts are now both regarded as interpolations that don’t exist in the earliest available copies of the gospels, and as there is pretty well no eye witness testimony to anything you might begin to understand why we continue to retain some scepticism.

This is the copout of atheist anti-biblical polemics. “There are just so MANY contradictions . . .!” But there can be long lists consisting of one lie after another and each one has to stand on its own and withstand proper scrutiny. And the Christian can in turn, produce our counter-lists (I have many of these myself), showing how atheist accusations are consistently and persistently wrong (therefore, if they are wrong hundreds of times, why believe that atheist critiques of the Bible are true and accurate and that the Bible is a fraudulent, ridiculous document?). How does one know that one side is right and the other wrong?

So laundry lists in and of themselves prove little. The argument on either side, however, does come down to cumulative effect (I do agree about that). And it becomes a matter of the nature of plausibility, which is an extraordinarily complicated matter.

I’ve read most of your ‘challenges’ that you have provided on your blog, and I can only say that they are far too long and convoluted to represent valid rebuttals of the contradictions and inconsistencies referred to. There’s far too much ‘messing about’ and waffle. Why not stick to a few lines? If you are addressing, for example, the number of women at the tomb contradictions then surely no more than ten lines of comment would cover the salient points. I think that’s why you aren’t getting much in the way of detailed response.

It’s an impossible demand. It’s not possible to thoroughly and effectively refute many alleged contradictions without writing (usually) at least twice the amount of words that it took to assert them.

If I give short answers, I’ll simply be accused of not taking the charges sufficiently seriously, and will convince no one. If I get in depth and thoroughly dismantle it, then the atheist comes back with your response: “too long”; “why should it be so difficult to defend supposedly inspired text?”; “why wouldn’t an omniscient God make it self-evident?” etc. Well, the nature of the reply is based on how complex and multi-faceted the charge of contradiction is.

So, for example, in one of my replies in the paper I just put up in response to the book mentioned in the OP, I got very in-depth, because it was a technical literary point that no one would even grasp, let alone accept, unless it was explained at some length and verified by several scholars.

It’s called “compression” of time or “telescoping” and is a phenomenon not only in the Bible but in classic Greek and Roman literature as well.

In the end, every argument has to be considered on its own merits. They can’t just be dismissed with a wave of a hand. If you have no interest, that’s one thing, But if you do, this response won’t do. You have to get down in the “dirt” of argumentation and give it your best shot in reply.

In my latest reply I answered 59 alleged biblical contradictions in about 6,000 words (an average of 102 words per reply). It’s hard to get any briefer than that in these sorts of discussions. But many of my replies were also links to article-length replies I had already done. And it took me about 12 hours to write it. Here it is: Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions”.

To tear down something is always much easier (at least on a surface level) than to defend it.

***

ericHello Mr. Armstrong,

I have to admit, I think the whole apologetic approach is just backwards from legit scholarship. Taking your very first one as an example, yes it may be possible to make all the gospels align with the three days if you assume any bit of a day counted as “a day and a night.” And it’s possible to make the clock hour reports of the various gospels align if you assume Mark was counting hours one way but John was counting hours an entirely different way.

But for legit scholarship, there is no prima facie reason to do any of that assuming. One has to start with the premise that there must be one consistent story being told before doing that makes any sense. And if you assume that to start with, you are in a significant sense merely assuming what you are trying to convince nonbelievers is true. I.e. arguing circularly. An objective scholar not making the assumption that there must be a single consistent story under all these accounts would much more naturally conclude that the various stories report different details.

I hold to biblical inspiration on faith, but based on many cumulative reasons, too. That said, it is entirely possible to separate that logically from a defense of any particular proposed contradiction, because the latter boils down to simply a logical matter, not even requiring faith or Christian belief at all for one to comment upon.

How the ancient Hebrews construed these issues of time and chronology is indeed relevant to this issue of “three days and a night.” But it’s not rocket science. In fact, we talk in similar terms in our culture, too, per the analogies I gave in my reply:

It would be like saying, “This is the third day I’ve been working on painting this room.” I could have started painting late Friday and made this remark on early Sunday. If I complete the task on Sunday, then the chronology would be just as Jesus’ Resurrection was. The only difference is the Hebrew idiom “three days and three nights” which was not intended in the hyper-literal sense as we might mistakenly interpret it today. . . .

We speak similarly in English idiom – just without adding the “nights” part. For example, we will say that we are off for a long weekend vacation, of “three days of fun” (Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday).

But it is understood that this is not three full 24-hour days. Chances are we will depart part way through the first day and return before the third day ends. So for a Saturday through Monday vacation, if we leave at 8 AM on Saturday and return at 10 PM on Monday night, literally that is less than three full days (it would be two 24-hour days and 14 more hours: ten short of three full days).

Yet we speak of a “three-day vacation” and that we returned “after three days” or “on the third day.” A literal “three 24-hour day trip” would end at 8 AM on Tuesday. Such descriptions are understood, then, as non-literal. The ancient Jews and Romans simply added the clause “and nights” to such utterances, but understood them in the same way, as referring to any part of a whole 24-hour day.

And it’s possible to make the clock hour reports of the various gospels align if you assume Mark was counting hours one way but John was counting hours an entirely different way.

Indeed they were counting the hours differently: the Synoptics used Hebrew time, which started the day at 6 PM. John used Romans time, which was like ours (start at midnight). John refers to Jesus’ trial as being at the “sixth hour” (19:14). That would make it 6 AM Roman (and our) time, before when the Synoptics say He was crucified at the third hour, Hebrew time (9 AM our time and Roman time). We know that John used Roman time from other internal examples, such as John 1:39 (preaching at 10 AM rather than 4 AM).

None of this argumentation requires special pleading or circular reasoning at all. I’m simply showing how the objections are not strong or plausible and that Christian explanations are much more so. Each thing must be considered on its own.

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation. Both viewpoints provide a bias. Generally speaking, not despising and detesting something makes for a better and more objective analysis of it. In that sense, I think the Christian premise leads to more constructive and productive Bible commentary and analysis. Atheists approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The butcher has not the slightest interest in the hog. He only wants to slaughter it and cut it up.

Apologetics is a means to help Christians have a better understanding of how reason and faith are in harmony.

But that’s the problem: you can’t legitimately academically explore how they are in harmony if you premise/assume at the outset that they must be in harmony.

I very much doubt that when discussing Mormonism, you assume Moroni really did visit Joseph Smith and then talk about how the literary and historic evidence of events surrounding that create a better understanding of how reason and the Mormon faith are in harmony. That approach makes no rational sense to you, right? We shouldn’t beg the question of the Mormon faith being true, that undermines the entire analysis of the events! Well, you’re that guy. Just not the Mormon version of that guy.

What you are blasting is what is called presuppositionalism in apologetics. I’ve never been of that school. I make much more of a separation between reason and faith, while not forsaking the place of faith at all.

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation.

Where did I make that assumption?

Generally speaking, not despising and detesting something makes for a better and more objective analysis of it.

I don’t despise or detest the bible. Where did you get THAT idea?

Atheists approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The butcher has not the slightest interest in the hog. He only wants to slaughter it and cut it up.

And for a third time you attribute to me unfair motives and attitudes I’ve given you zero reason to think I hold.

For the record, I view the bible as a sincere work of scripture developed by many religious people over time. One containing stories, allegories, quotes, sayings, advice, poetic flights of fancy yet also practical letters to congregations, mundane historical claims and not a few remarkable miracle claims. I’m not trying to refute everything it says. I’m not trying to justify everything it says as consistent. I want to understand what it says, but I don’t think to do that one should either assume it’s fully consistent OR assume everything it says must be wrong/evil/incorrect. Either of those starting positions would seem, to me, to potentially lead to very poor scholarship. Rather I try to take it as it comes. Bears kill kids because they make fun of Elisha? Probably not intended as an allegory but as a recounting of an event. Seems pretty unlikely though. And pretty damn evil if true. Jesus preaching turn the other cheek? The golden rule? Also probably not intended as allegory but rather as a recounting of an event. This is pretty obviously moral advice meant to be taken seriously. And, it’s pretty darn good advice in my opinion. See how it works?

I was referring to atheists in general, not you, as I think was clear enough. I said, “the atheist assumption” (not “your assumption”). All generalities (like rules) have exceptions. So you are one. Congratulations. But it doesn’t make my general point invalid.

Since you are open to being corrected, I’d love to see you examine any article of mine where I take on an alleged biblical contradiction and admit that I got the better of the argument, and that the proposed critique utterly failed, so that the passages were not contradictory at all.

“Being open to” /= “admit you got the better of the argument.” This is, in my opinion, a pretty common problem with emotionally triggering topics; whether it’s biblical exegesis or politics or something else. People who strongly, emotionally favor a single outcome do exactly what you just did – they can’t understand disagreement as being anything other than misunderstanding or self-interest/close-mindedness. But in reality, it’s often neither. Your conversation partner may understand the topic, they may be open to arguments, have no ulterior motive, and yet they may still conclude differently from you. This is one such case.

You’re getting way off-track. I’m not talking about all that and you are wrong as to my overall opinion of such disagreements and their motivation. I’m simply noting what I constantly observe in atheist circles (usually anti-theist ones, which are not all atheists). Why anyone does what they do or argues a certain way is a much more complex topic, that is usually best avoided.

So are you willing to look at one of my papers and see if you can admit / concede that I was ever right about any particular anti-biblical argument, in front of your atheist buddies? I’m just about to post my reply to the book above, which takes on 59 separate alleged contradictions. That would be an excellent place to start.

If you can concede that I was correct, say, nine times out of 59 (which is only 15% of the time) then yes, I would readily grant that you have a significantly open mind, for an atheist not inclined to accept (or be gung-ho about) biblical accounts. And you would gain a lot of respect in my eyes, since I have always highly valued open-mindedness and nonconformity.

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation.

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Anri: One of these viewpoints posits that holy books are fallible. The other… makes a few more assumptions.

But if you think your average Christian is familiar enough with the bible well enough to actually know what’s in it aside from a few cherry-pickled points here and there, ask around. I would personally argue that a necessary but non-sufficient step in being able to say one reveres a work is to have a working knowledge of it.

To extend your analogy, your average Christian is neither swineherd nor butcher – they are a consumer of pork who honestly thinks it appears pre-packaged in the grocery store and is ignorant of the fact that it comes from butchering hogs.

I totally agree that “your average Christian” is very ignorant — inexcusably so — of many things in the Bible and theology. That’s why I do what I do. Apologetics is a means to help Christians have a better understanding of how reason and faith are in harmony.

My standard comparison is between the anti-theist atheist (often a former fundamentalist) who mistakenly thinks he or she is an expert on the Bible, vs. Bible scholars or at least someone sufficiently educated in their faith (in my case it is 44 years of Bible study and 40 years of active apologetics).

Atheists, however, very often love to run across Christians who don’t know their stuff (neither theology nor apologetics), so they can toy with them and toss them around as a plaything, to “prove” that Christians en masse are ignoramuses: indeed, that the entire system is nonsensical and absurd and only fit for mockery.

This is why I keep vocally objecting to the anti-theist tribe of atheists who refuse to defend their views under scrutiny. It proves that they aren’t interested in the standard thinkers’ back-and-forth argument. They simply want to preach to the choir and always appear unvanquishable. A lot of that is good old human pride.

Atheists, however, very often love to run across Christians who don’t know their stuff (neither theology nor apologetics), so they can toy with them and toss them around as a plaything, to “prove” that Christians are ignoramuses: indeed, that the entire system is nonsensical and absurd and only fit for mockery.

And you’re quite certain that this is not a case of atheists quite correctly identifying that what average, ignorant Christians believe is, in fact, highly nonsensical, absurd, and worthy of mockery?

Some of that takes place, yes (which was stated in my own comment). But it goes far beyond that to a failure to make distinctions between educated and uneducated Christians: to mocking the entire religion and belief-system and everyone in it, with sweeping statements. Extremely common here and on every atheist forum I’ve ever seen.

And might – perhaps – the atheists (and non-Christian theists) have a point that this confident ignorance brings a variety of evils into an ostensibly secular society?

Absolutely. And I have a point to make about radical atheist positions having a deleterious effect on a society that is largely theist in orientation: such as forcing taxpayers to fund abortion, when half of us think it’s murder or forcing nuns to provide or teach contraception: both things occurring right now or being vigorously pushed; also the vast amount of censorship and suppression of free speech being done by Big Tech. It works both ways. I think there is a lot of common ground which could be had. I could agree with much of, e.g., the Humanist Manifesto.

And that if the average ignorant Christian were able to be swayed by informed debate… they wouldn’t be an average, ignorant Christian?

Intelligent and constructive debate will cause conversions in both directions. Desire to learn and seek truth is a thing that somehow has to be cultivated and nourished in individuals.

Speaking for myself (and, I do not doubt, a large number of non-Christians, atheist and otherwise), I’d rather not have my life impinged upon by Christians, ignorant or not – but you know as well as I that that’s just not possible in the US.

I would largely agree, just as I detest having my free speech now interfered with and being forced to fund what I think is outrageous murder of innocents. Catholics, pro-lifers, and conservatives like myself have plenty of experience being suppressed, mocked, lied about, just as an atheist like you would have. We actually have a lot in common in that way. We’re people who strongly believe in certain things, and who seek to live by principles.

I don’t interfere with any atheist and how he or she lives his or her life. When I’m here I’m just talking and dialoguing like I do with everyone. If someone doesn’t like it, they can ignore me (I highly encourage them to do so). The ones who can’t do anything but insult, I simply ban and ignore. Good riddance. I love talking to people like you.

On a (possibly) separate note, should an atheist consider scholarly research into the Koran with the same weight they accept yours into the bible? How about other holy works? Should I take a scholarly analysis of, let’s say, Shinto, as seriously as yours of Christianity?

Everyone has to seek truth wherever it leads them. I naturally (especially as a professional apologist) think Christianity can be defended in a way that Islam cannot, and they think that of Islam. But there are objective ways to judge the relative strengths of arguments and evidence.

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FicinoPeople have been trying to harmonize everything in Plato for over 2000 years, and agreement has not been reached. Why not just say, with many other commentators, that some things said by leading interlocutors in Plato contradict things said by leading interlocutors elsewhere in Plato? The people who take the latter approach by and large do not despise Plato or assume that everything in his work is false or try to butcher it. Lots of them love Plato without going on to take the neo-Platonist view that Plato was “divine” etc.

Similarly with nonbelievers’ approach to the Bible – or even the approach of many less conservative Jews (re what we call the OT obviously) and Christians.

No one claims that Plato is inspired revelation.

In a working, practical sense, however, I’m not trying to prove biblical inspiration (which is ultimately a proposition of faith). I’m trying to establish non-contradictoriness of any given couplet of passages and accuracy and trustworthiness in the biblical accounts (insofar as they are able to be objectively critiqued: matters of history, geography, linguistics, the culture of the time, etc.).

I’m making a defensive argument and defeating the defeaters. In that sense, it’s irrelevant to the discussion itself, that I believe the Bible is inspired. I was simply being honest and open about that, in my replies to Eric.

No one claims that Plato is inspired revelation.

As I said, there were philosophers in antiquity who would refer to Plato as θεῖος. That’s what I had said in English.

Earlier in this thread you wrote:

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation. Both viewpoints provide a bias. Generally speaking, not despising and detesting something makes for a better and more objective analysis of it. In that sense, I think the Christian premise leads to more constructive and productive Bible commentary and analysis. Atheists approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The butcher has not the slightest interest in the hog. He only wants to slaughter it and cut it up.

My reference to the habits of commentators on Plato is meant to give an example of a willingness to let contradictions in a corpus be contradictions without therefore treating that corpus from an assumption that it is always wrong or approaching it as [not “like”] a butcher approaches a hog. There are many atheists who approach the Bible the way non-neo-Platonists approach Plato. It’s not hard to appreciate a body of texts while also noticing contradictions among things asserted therein.

I’ve never noticed that much here, and I have yet to find an atheist venue where such a tolerant, broad-minded outlook predominates. But there are individuals in any forum that do a lot better. I consider you one of them. You always offer thoughtful analyses, minus the childish insults.

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You’ll understand that mockery, in my humble opinion, pales in comparison with an opinion that someone deserves an eternity in hell.

Does anyone deserve a lifetime in jail? And if so, why? We all pretty much agree on the general parameters and worthwhileness of civic justice. Christians also believe in cosmic justice. If someone is evil and unrepentant (say a Hitler or a Stalin or a Pol Pot, to use the usual examples), he or she ends up in hell, not because God is a hateful monster, but because justice demands a punishment. Whoever is there, is based on their own free will and choices to do evil rather than good. God judges people based on what they know (Romans 2). Therefore, it’s possible for atheists to be saved (as I have written about for years).

But if someone knows there is a God and rejects Him (the question of what it means to truly “know” being the big question here)? Yes, they go to hell because that’s the nature of a separated eternity from God, Who offers every human being the free offer of salvation and an eternity in the utmost bliss.

That’s my nutshell answer! Of course, as an apologist, I’ve written a lot about the problem of evil (the most serious objection to Christianity) and hell.

It is in the nature of a complex democratic society that some of our tax money will go to things we find morally repugnant, such as foreign wars, or the building of weapons of mass destruction, or capital punishment, or tax breaks for religious organizations merely because they are religious organizations.

Good reply! But that’s fine because I was trying to make the point that the non-atheist conservative, Christian like myself has plenty of things forced on me that I don’t like, either. We have that in common, in other words. And (to rejoice in more common ground), I oppose all unnecessary and unjust wars (but not all wars, because some are just and necessary), use of nuclear weapons as intrinsically immoral (the Catholic official position), and capital punishment. I would even be happy with removal of tax breaks for religious folks, provided the (ever more secular) government would cease trying to repress our religious and free speech freedoms.

I would argue that secular states have done a better job of producing societies that are equitable and progressive than explicitly (and enforced) religious ones.

What would be examples of three of these “secular states” that you admire? And the US is basically a secular state, but with a profoundly religious background culture.

Do you think religious institutions, when in power, did not engage in censorship? And – unlike secular governments – did so as agents of the greatest source of morality in the universe?

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This goes for governments of all stripes and religious persuasions, although its obvious that atheist, anti-religious states have been exponentially more wicked than Christian ones: Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, Mao’s China, China today with its slave camps and forced abortion and little religious freedom, etc.

The “evils” of past ages of Christian-run governments are vastly exaggerated (e.g., the Inquisition and the Crusades). I’ve had people with a straight face tell me that the Inquisition killed “68 million” people: certainly more than the entire population of Europe at the time. The actual numbers (from real historians) are less than 9without looking) maybe 7-8,000.

If a government condemns a type of speech, they can be voted out. How does one vote out god when he has condemned something?

I don’t see how your life is much affected by us Christians out here living our lives and wishing — just like you — to be free of coercion and forced immorality as well. Do you break down at the sight of a manger at Christmas? How does it work? Everyone gets insulted these days (as far as that goes; I understand a lot of Christians are very uncharitable to atheists, and I condemn that). Try being a Christian in an atheist forum (pretend sometime!). Most of the replies to me I don’t see because I blocked people who were only insulting with no substance, so I can utterly ignore them. But the insults are up here right now. You can see ’em.

Speaking as an atheist, I don’t much mind being mocked. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to rail against it. Mock away. Mockery doesn’t hurt me, in much the same was as – presumably – it can’t possibly hurt god.

My views exactly, too. I’ve been called absolutely everything; lied about in every imaginable way in my 24 years online as an apologist. It’s just a running joke to me. No effect on what I do whatever . . .

I don’t care to be lied about, either, but hey – it’s a free country.

That’s right. No one likes to be lied about. I’m sad for the people who do that, not for myself.

As far as being oppressed, I oppose forms of oppression based on religion… when this ‘oppression’ isn’t simply the removal of privilege for a group that has exercised it for so long, so unconsciously and prevalently, that they simply consider it their due.

What would be an example of such oppression?

So, when you claim that Christianity can be defended in objective ways Islam, or Shinto, or Hinduism (I am assuming you think this) cannot, what do you think is wrong with the reasoning of the scholars who continue to accept them?

All false worldviews are built upon false premises somewhere along the way. It’s as simple as that. So I believe as a Christian that Christianity has all the right premises in a way that no other worldview has (though many other views have many true premises and truths too).

Are Christians just that much smarter? Have they done their homework where adherents of other faiths – however otherwise well-educated – simply haven’t?

No. All religions (and all worldviews of any sort) have their educated, seriously observant adherents (a small number) and a much larger mass of uneducated sheep.

Or – to put it a less-snarky way – do you think it’s just a coincidence that most people end up in the faith they were raised in as children?

No. That’s how most human beings function. I’ve written about this stuff (replying to John Loftus and others, who love this argument: that I think proves nothing whatever s to relative truthfulness of different beliefs). Most people are sheep rather than free and independent thinkers, and so they end up with whatever they are surrounded with. I always rebelled against that, so I was raised Methodist and became a practical atheist with a big interest in the occult, then an evangelical Protestant, and at length a Catholic. It was based on a deliberate informed decision, not following everyone else.

Great discussion! Thanks! I hope we can continue for a long time.

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Photo credit: geralt (1-31-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: Excellent and constructive dialogues with four friendly, serious-minded atheists in a large atheist forum. I discuss Bible “contradictions” but also note that we have much in common too.

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December 17, 2018

This exchange occurred underneath my post, Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction”. Words of Stewart Felker will be in blue. He gave even further replies in this thread than what I have recorded below, if anyone is interested.

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I think you’re being a bit uncharitable with some of this, Dave.

Their question of your method for disputing contradictions and suggesting alternatives — particularly, whether you think that the mere possibility of an alternative interpretation alone is enough to counteract claimed contradictions, or whether you consider the probability of this interpretation (however it is that we determine this) to be important, too — is actually a very important one that you should spend time addressing.

(Not necessarily specifically in relation to this issue of the portrayal of Joseph of Arimathea, but just in general.)

I agree. Whenever I have done this sort of thing, I invariably think my explanation is more plausible than atheist skepticism, or else I wouldn’t make the argument in the first place.

Then I guess I’d say that there are some more specific and “objective” standards for being in a position to adjudicate on issues like this to begin with.

For example, as it pertains to the Joseph of Arimathea issue, how many scholarly commentaries/studies did you consult that look at the various historical, linguistic, and contextual factors relevant to determining what the gospels intended to say here, and if there’s a contradiction?

I can’t say that I’ve spent much time on this in particular; though I have spent some time on whether Matthew’s description of him as a rich man (and perhaps other things here) was deliberately intended as a reference to Isaiah 53. There’s also been the occasional suggestion that something about this whole narrative detail, with Joseph asking permission from Pilate for burying Jesus, may be a call-back to the story of Joseph son of Jacob in Genesis, and his interaction with Pharaoh—though some commentators are skeptical of this, too (Davies and Allison in their seminal commentary on Matthew, for one).

I haven’t made any firm conclusions about either of these things, but they certainly could be relevant to determining the historicity (or lack thereof) of these details. (We may also have some reason for skepticism in the description of Joseph specifically as a *secret* disciple: see John 19:38. This could owe something to the same sort of hagiographical tendency as we find in the early tradition of Gamaliel as having converted to Christianity, too. Again though, this is just a suggestion for further research, and I have no solid opinion on it one way or the other.)

On the other hand, I have spent an enormous amount of time with other details in this narrative and the issue of contradiction here. For example, I’ve probably a cumulative two weeks doing high-level academic research on the likely contradiction (to the other gospels) in Matthew 28:2 alone.

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For example, as it pertains to the Joseph of Arimathea issue, how many scholarly commentaries/studies did you consult that look at the various historical, linguistic, and contextual factors relevant to determining what the gospels intended to say here, and if there’s a contradiction?

None, because it wasn’t necessary for 1) my purpose, and 2) by the nature of the case we were discussing, i.e., “are there literally logical contradictions in the relevant texts?” It was claimed that there were such contradictions. My task was to demonstrate that this was not the case. That’s a matter of logic: not what all the pointy-heads think of the text.

I think I succeeded, but in any event, “DagoodS” offered no counter-arguments whatever to mine, so in my opinion he lost that debate by default or by, in effect, forfeiting. If he actually had an effective response, I assume he would have given it: being an attorney highly trained in debate and also familiar with theological debate.

In other cases, I do delve into scholarship and commentaries: especially linguistic. You’re probably not familiar with my apologetics work, and the scope of it. I have over 2100 articles posted to Patheos, and have written 50 books (ten of them “officially” published), as a professional Catholic apologist.

There are all kinds of scholars, and they all have a bias. If they are orthodox Christian (as myself), they obviously approach the text as inspired revelation and assume that it is consistent with itself and not contradictory (I have no problem with minor manuscript textual errors such as discrepancies regarding, e.g., numbers). That’s a bias, too, but I think it is a “good” bias: all things considered.

The secular or atheist Bible scholar approaches the text with great suspicion and hostility. This will color how they view it, as well. As I’ve always said, atheist anti-theist types approach the Bible and its interpretation like a butcher approaches a hog. A Christian like me approaches it with the reverence and awe that one might give to a great masterpiece of art or literature. It’s a completely different mindset. And that obviously colors the conclusions reached.

But in this instance, I was merely making logical points, and so it wasn’t necessary to delve into “the literature.” I was “defeating the defeater.”

No one is under any illusion that it would be impossible to simultaneously be a member of the Sanhedrin but also to secretly be a Christian. Instead, the question is whether it’s historically plausible for this to have been the case — or whether, as I hinted at, there may have been some sort of exaggeration along the way or something.

And, really, that’s the fundamental question for everything here, I think: what’s plausible, not what’s merely possible (or impossible). All historical reconstruction is done on this basis.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, and seems to have become a Christian, or was quite respectful of Jesus, at the very least. Paul was a Pharisee. I don’t think these things are a big deal. If the Bible reported it, and the Bible has been shown time and again to be historically accurate and precise, then we trust it for details that may seem prima facie more doubtful.

That’s the difference in approach. You — like all biblical skeptics — are speculating and looking for holes in the text, and poking holes in it. That’s how you approach it from the outset. It’s not just the denial of inspiration. It’s the view that the Bible is simply a pack of fairy tales and myths. And some of you even deny that Jesus existed (which I believe to be intellectual suicide, on the level of belief in a flat earth or geocentrism or a 6000-year-old earth.

Plausibility is a fascinating discussion in and of itself, but it, too, is highly dependent upon one’s presuppositions and overall worldview. I find lots and lots of things in the Bible (from a Christian perspective) quite plausible, whereas atheists invariably do not. Why such a difference? Well, it’s not because Christians are dumb and stupid and just “don’t get it” (as is often charged). It’s because radically different presuppositions and premises lead to different views of what is plausible and what isn’t.

Plausibility is one thing, and it’s subjective enough to allow for many opinions, that are not easily synthesized. But what I was doing in the original exchange about Joseph of Arimathea was to note that what was claimed to be literally a logical contradiction, actually wasn’t at all. Ive been through this time and again with atheists. They see contradictions where there are none. And that’s a different discussion.

I think atheists see “contradictions” where they don’t exist, because of hostility and wishful thinking. The bias going in colors their ability to reason dispassionately and as objectively as possible.

I do not (in general) spend time “speculating and looking for holes in the text,” and have not done so in this specific conversation either.

I did say that I’ve “probably a cumulative two weeks doing high-level academic research on the likely contradiction (to the other gospels) in Matthew 28:2 alone”; but that doesn’t mean that I went into things looking for a contradiction here. In fact, I originally devoted so much time toward the interpretation of that verse after having read Eusebius and Augustine’s interpretations of this in response to critics who claimed a contradiction. (And in any case, I originally mentioned that only really to contrast that with my general non-expertise on this issue of Joseph of Arimathea.)

Beyond that, and relevant to the current topic of Joseph of Arimathea, all I really mentioned was “the question is whether it’s historically plausible for this to have been the case [that Joseph was truly a secret follower of Jesus] — or whether, as I hinted at, there may have been some sort of exaggeration along the way or something.”

Again, one potential parallel for there having been some exaggeration or hagiography here was, as I mentioned, the early (non-Biblical) tradition of Gamaliel having converted to Christianity — something that many historians if not most are skeptical of the historicity of.

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More exchanges from the combox:

“kingmcdee”Thanks, Dave, this was an interesting discussion. I do ultimately think that “plausibility” is a somewhat unreliable metric for making decisions about what “probably” happened, because it seems to me to ultimately come down to deciding that, while the text (written by someone much closer to the events than I am, and part of the relevant culture, which I am not) says one thing, my feelings about what is plausible (which are conditioned by all sorts of things, many of which are irrelevant to the discussion) make it such that I can claim that something else actually happened. And, as you say, an atheist could have very different beliefs about what is or is not plausible than a Christian might, and unless he could demonstrate that his beliefs about plausibility were rationally superior, it would be unfair for him to expect us to accept them.

Totally agree. And this is why I think it’s much more productive and worthwhile concentrating on the objective issue of whether logical contradictions are present, rather than the very subjective “wax nose” of plausibility.

Atheists claim hundreds of “contradictions”: so there is certainly no lack of that! I’ve dealt with dozens of them myself, and so have many other Christian apologists.

So what of the middle ground of probability, which assesses the likelihood or unlikelihood of contradiction based on factors inherent to the text itself, or some historical context that elucidates it?

It’s still subjective speculation, and with radically different premises coming in, nothing is accomplished by it. At the end, the Christian says x is plausible or probable and the atheist says it ain’t.

On the other hand, contradictions are objectively determined. Something either is or isn’t. Atheists claim all kinds of logical contradictions in the Bible. I and others have shown that they were mistaken.

Why do so many mainstream Biblical scholars acknowledge the existence of genuine Biblical contradictions, then? And why is denying these any different from denying, say, mainstream scientific evidence about [whatever]? (That’s not to say that literary interpretation and the physical sciences are the same thing, obviously; but they have similar standards of rationality and parsimony and peer review, etc.)

And I really don’t understand this dichotomy you seem to be driving at. In order to determine whether something is a logical contradiction or not, we certainly have to interpret the text, first — which as I’ve said usually requires a lot of detailed philological analysis. That’s where probability comes in.

Like, we should all agree that it’s logically impossible for Judas to have both died by hanging but to have also died via evisceration. Now it’s not logically impossible that he died by hanging, his body remained like that for however long, and then at some point it fell down and his bowels came out. But when we’re trying to determine which of these scenarios the Biblical texts support, here we have to rely on interpretive probability.

Why do so many mainstream Biblical scholars acknowledge the existence of genuine Biblical contradictions, then?

Because many or perhaps even most of them are hostile to the Bible and don’t believe it’s inspired. So they are predisposed to see contradictions where there are none. Premises determine outcomes.

Catholics interpret Scripture in light of the accumulated wisdom of 2000 years of Christian interpretation, and another thousand years or so of Jewish interpretation before that. We think many people who believe in God and revelation have learned lots of things over those 3000 years, that we can benefit from today.

Heterodox scholars (or non-Jewish ones, with regard to a religious Jewish paradigm) interpret according to post-Enlightenment hyper-rationalism and hostility towards religious worldviews and traditions, which is an outlook only 250 or so years old. These produce different outcomes and make people view probabilities and plausibility quite differently.

The apologist like myself can’t possibly break through all those contrary paradigms and presuppositions. Thus I don’t waste my time trying to do so. I don’t go round and round with atheists, playing their Bible hopscotch and liberal scholarship (count the number of [heterodox] scholars who think thus-and-so) games. All I can do is deal with objective and concrete particulars, and demonstrate that a claimed logical contradiction is not one. And so that’s what I do, and why we have been talking past each other this entire time (even after you decided to stop the petty insults and psychoanalysis), about Joseph of Arimathea and the larger general issue.

The one thing that scholars actually do that you don’t seem to be doing is actually taking a close look at the texts themselves (which I’ve now done in my longer comment).

These texts need to be interpreted as best as we can, using our accumulated philological and historical (and archaeological, etc.) knowledge.

Sure, everyone has a perspective and everyone has opinions. But there are certain matters of syntax and philology and historical that we can analyze and debate more objectively, no matter what perspective we come from.

So why isn’t this a good starting place? In fact why isn’t this the most logical starting place? If I’m wondering about the meaning of ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς… in Matthew 27:57 or whatever it may be, why can’t we talk about this like rational people?

That being said: I’ve mentioned the contradiction in Matthew 28:2 several times now; and although you mention the “accumulated wisdom of 2000 years of Christian interpretation,” fascinatingly Eusebius is I believe literally the only person from antiquity who devoted more than a few words to the issue — and even then, he devotes maybe 40 or 50 words to it tops, and really doesn’t say anything more than “it doesn’t contradict the other gospels because it can’t contradict the other gospels.”

This is why we have to go beyond ancient wisdom and use the full resources of modern study.

Hostile premises are present prior to any urge to bring “philological and historical (and archaeological, etc.) knowledge” (which is fine) to the table.

It almost seems like you’re saying no only that there are no contradictions (and so on), but that the very accusation of contradiction — or the very enterprise of trying to interpret the Bible critically — comes from a hostile or at least disingenuous intent.

It’s hostile intent almost always: not necessarily disingenuous, but flowing from premises fundamentally hostile to historic, orthodox Christianity. The Bible is seen (at best) as merely a fairly respectable but solely human book, written by a primitive culture that didn’t “get” many things that we find obvious — thus filled with many potential errors; or (at worst) as a dishonest collection of fairy tales, myths, and legends, intended to control and deceive people.

I think you’re making the whole issue more abstract than it needs to be.

Not to overlook the obvious, but scholars see contradictions where the text most naturally seems to suggest a contradiction, and where all alternative explanations are less plausible than this — not simply because they have some preconceived notion that ancient texts should have contradictions because they were written carelessly or by “primitive people.”

And what they find plausible is (I’ve noted repeatedly) indeed highly dependent upon their presuppositions and overall worldview. Thus, Christians will think many things in the Bible are plausible whereas the atheist and the theologically liberal skeptic do not. Disbelief in miracles and biblical prophecy alone greatly alters interpretation of hundreds of passages. One can’t escape it. Disbelief in the incarnation does the same. We all have our biases.

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Your argument is “modern Biblical scholars interpret according to post-Enlightenment hyper-rationalism” and that their exegesis is worthless anyways. 

I didn’t say liberal scholarship was worthless. Occasionally it provides good insight. But because it is hostile to the Bible and orthodoxy, and starts from erroneous premises, usually it doesn’t.

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I also don’t think it’s fair to accuse atheists of bowing out of conversation because they’re uncomfortable (or not knowledgeable or whatever) when the conversation starts to get into specifics about exegesis and contradictions, etc., as you’ve accused them of; because at the same time that you said this, you said “Not gonna go round and round with that” to me precisely where I finally started to get into the nitty-gritty of this, as it were.

That’s two completely different reasons for bowing out, as I have explained. I’m not interested in what every atheist and liberal exegete (real or imagined) thinks of various biblical texts. It goes round and round and nothing whatsoever is accomplished.

With atheists in my debates, they are claiming the presence of a logical contradiction. I give an alternate non-contradictory explanation and critique theirs. At that point they cease being interested. They don’t wanna go past one round where they give their presentation. Thus, what they ostensibly claim to be interested in, is shown not to be that great of an interest as soon as their view is confuted.

But I never was at any time interested in most of what you offer: endless analysis of texts with hostile skeptical premises underlying all, and never-ending claims of the “implausibility” of every Christian / biblical doctrine. When premises are radically different, discussion is very difficult to have.

That’s why I say that what I will do with the atheist (if I’m in the mood and otherwise bored, which is not always) is examine proposed specific contradictions: whether they are actually present in the text or not (because almost all can agree on the definition of a logical contradiction: though atheists seem to quickly forget as soon as they open up a Bible). But then I do that (such as my 30 replies to Bob Seidensticker), and they go silent and flee for the hills in terror.

You stick around, but I can see (as I’ve been saying over and over) that little or nothing will be accomplished by dialogue between us. But I’m doing some of this meta-analysis and epistemological analysis to at least show you where I’m coming from, since you seem to be having a hard time fully understanding it.

Why does it seem like you almost have a fatalistic attitude toward this? It’s like you don’t think it’s possible to make any sort of determination about the plausibility or implausibility of a claimed contradiction, because people are just too embedded in their biases to be able to have any sort of productive dialogue on this at all.

From my constant experience debating these things with atheists and skeptics for now 37 years. It’s not fatalistic; it’s realistic.

I haven’t said that the level of plausibility is impossible to ascertain; only that different worldviews arrive at wildly different conclusions about any given instance.

But if someone says, “x contradicts y in the Bible” I can show how in fact it does not, and move on. It’s objective and fairly decisive.

Are you suggesting that just a single reply is good enough? What if you’ve overlooked something or made an interpretive error of your own?

That gets back to premises and how they strongly affect interpretation. When discussing an alleged contradiction, the apologist can give his interpretation over against the atheist / skeptical assertion. Readers can then decide which is a more plausible explanation: contradiction or non-contradiction and non-issue.

And of course most Christian readers will think my explanation was more plausible and almost all atheist readers will disagree. That’s just how it is, because of premises and presuppositions. But at least specific, fairly objective subject matter was dealt with (as opposed to “grand” theological issues), where there may be some slight progress in a meeting of the minds.

***

I’ve said over and over, that the Christian can argue till kingdom come (as much about one issue as even you would like), and in the end the atheist will say it’s implausible and Christians will say it is plausible, and never the twain shall meet. And so I have to wisely, prudently choose which debates to get into. One must choose one’s battles wisely and choose which hill to die on. Can’t do everything . . .

And as a bonus we’re invariably accused of being anti-reason, anti-science, and anti-scholarship. You haven’t brought up science because it wasn’t involved, but if it did come up, surely you would play that card, too.

***

My good friend Paul Hoffer also made an excellent long comment about the nature of plausibility itself.

***

Photo credit: image by geralt (12-4-13) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

***

October 23, 2018

1. Christians don’t sin? 2. Universalism? 3. “Tomb evangelism”. 4. Can human beings see God or not?

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.

But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 27 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” 

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions” (10-20-18), Bible-Bashing Bob opined:

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.  . . . 

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).

. . . But . . . (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?

Virtually all men have sinned. But it is not the case that it is impossible for a human being to be without sin. Catholics believe the Blessed Virgin Mary was such a person. I’ve explained how we can do so in light of Romans 3:23 above: which is often thrown in our faces by anti-Catholic Protestants: “All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary? (National Catholic Register, 12-11-17).

1 John is written in largely proverbial, or idealized language. The seemingly absolute statements of 1 John 5:18 and 3:6, 9 are qualified by other statements in context. Of course, believers sin all the time. In proverbial literature, the intention is not absolute and all-encompassing, without exception, but rather, common-sense observation of what usually accompanies a certain state or condition. Thus, John is saying that “those in Christ do not sin,” or, more accurately, “the essence of the person in Christ is righteousness; sin is contrary to the essence of a Christian.” But John further clarifies 1 John 5:18 (what Bob would claim is a “contradiction”) in the first chapter of his epistle:

1 John 1:8-9 (RSV) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (cf. 2:12)

But in fact it is no contradiction at all, because proverbial literature is not meant to be interpreted in such absolute, airtight terms. Bob (like so many atheists), unthinkingly and automatically applies a wooden, boorish, hostile interpretation, which completely ignores genre and context. I’ve demonstrated time and again that he is guilty of this rather foolish practice, throughout my previous 27 installments.

Now, lest Bob claim that my interpretation is merely special pleading, with no indication in the epistle itself, I would point out to him the following passages, which explain John’s meaning in the three “Christians don’t sin” passages (note especially the qualifying words “if” and “but”):

1 John 1:6-7  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; [7] but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 2:3-6 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. [4] He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

Thus, it’s no contradiction when both ideas (absence of sin and sin) appear in one passage: because the meaning is rather easily understood in the overall context (that Bob ignores, as usual):

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

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.

This is more asinine foolishness. I’ve already (way back in 2006) wrangled at extreme length about supposed biblical universalism with an atheist far more eminent than Bob: Dr. Ted Drange. This included analysis of Romans 5. The Book of Revelation also makes it very clear that universalism is false and not biblical teaching, and that some obstinate folks definitely end up in hell.

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.

Christian apologist Eric Lyons answers this:

Barker, McKinsey, and other critics who point to Mark 16:8 as contradicting Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 fail to consider that these verses are incongruous only if the writers were referring to the exact same period of the day. The truth is, initially, the women were afraid and silent, as Mark recorded. Then, later that day, they broke their silence and “told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). Mark’s narrative does not contradict Matthew and Luke, but supplements their accounts. What’s more, if Bible critics were to examine all of Mark’s resurrection narrative, they would learn that following the women’s temporary silence regarding Jesus’ empty tomb (16:8), Mary Magdalene “told those who had been with Him” (16:10) just as the angel had commanded her and the other women earlier in the day (16:7). Thus, Mark defined what he meant when he wrote “they said nothing to anyone.” They said nothing for a time, and then later bore witness of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.

Now, Bob will reply that 16:10 is from the later addition (and most students of the Bible agree). But Mark 16:7 was not part of the addition and it referred to the angel commanding them to tell others, which 16:10 and Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 confirm that they indeed did. No problem . . .

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).

This utterly neglects the biblical motif of the “angel of the Lord” who is a visible representation of God. Because Bob’s study of the Bible has been haphazard”: as he admits, he hasn’t taken the time to properly study this. And of course he doesn’t care to, anyway, because he thinks this is yet another of his innumerable fake “contradictions”: which he thinks is a fun and enjoyable pastime, within his overall mission in life of mocking and belittling Christians. In reality, however, he makes an ass of himself (not Christians and Christianity) over and over, as I have documented: now for the 28th time (with no reply from this giant of biblical “scholarship” [choke!]).

The Bible clearly refers to these instances as appearances of angels, or else appearances of things such as fire. What Moses actually saw on Mt. Sinai was a burning bush: a fire that didn’t consume the bush (Ex 3:2-3). But the text shows that the angel of the Lord represented God, Who is in fact invisible:

Exodus 3:2, 4 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; . . . [4] When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, . . . 

Note that it says that “God” called out, but what actually “appeared” was the angel of the Lord. Of course, Bob doesn’t believe anything in the Bible, but that’s beside the point. He is always claiming that the Bible contradicts itself; that it is internally contradictory. And I’m showing over and over that his examples simply don’t prove that. This is no contradiction. God the Father is invisible and can’t be seen. But an angel can represent Him, and as such is sometimes called God, or equated with God: just as an ambassador represents a country.

Bob’s example of Genesis 18 is also easily explained in context, in the same way. The Lord “appeared” but exactly how did He do so? He did through three men, who were actually angels, as I will explain shortly. The very next verse (Gen 18:2) states what he actually saw: “He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him.” Two of them left, on the way to Sodom and Gomorrah, and then the text states: “Abraham still stood before the LORD” (18:22; cf. 19:27). Genesis 19:1 describes these two men as “angels” and then two later passages show how these angels represented God and acted as His agents:

Genesis 19:13, 24 “for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” . . . [24] Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; (cf. 19:25, 29)

This sort of equation happens several more times in Scripture. Jacob famously wrestled with an angel (again called a “man”: Gen 32:24-25), and then says that he has “seen God face to face” (32:30). Manoah saw an “angel of the Lord”: as the passage states over and over (Judges 13:9, 13-21). Then he said to his wife: “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (13:22). Gideon and the prophet Zechariah make all this crystal clear:

Judges 6:22-23 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD; and Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” [23] But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” 

Zechariah 12:8 . . . the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.

Joshua even bowed before and worshiped one such (very impressive!) angel of the Lord, because He represented God:

Joshua 5:13-15 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” [14] And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” [15] And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. 

In Judges 2:1, the angel of the Lord speaks as if He were God (who liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery).

It’s amazing what one can learn if they actually takes the time to seriously study the Bible, isn’t it? Bob’s out to sea, but he doesn’t know it. Ignorance is bliss. He can’t even get it right about Adam and Eve. He apparently either didn’t even read the relevant text, or grossly misinterpreted it, for Genesis 3:8 states that they “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.” It never claims that they saw Him. So where did Bob get the idea that they did? I guess he thinks blind people can see, if he equates hearing with seeing. Makes as much sense as all the other examples of his silliness . . . Bob is a living, walking example of Solomon’s wisdom from 3000 years ago:

Proverbs 12:23 A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim their folly.

***

Photo credit: The laughing court jester (anonymous: Netherlands: 15th century) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

 

 

June 11, 2016

Master List of Christian Internet Resources for Apologists (Links)

BibleAntique
(Compiled on 7-19-10; links checked and updated on 9-6-20)
***

Websites
***

A Christian Thinktank (Glenn Miller; probably the single best resource; very in-depth)

Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministry (J. P. Holding)

Old Testament Issues (J. P. Holding)

The Reliability of the New Testament (J. P. Holding)

Book Recommendations (J. P. Holding)

C. Dennis McKinsey’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy: Critique and Answer Key (J. P. Holding)

Contradicting Bible Contradictions (Ben van Noort)

Bible Difficulties and Bible Contradictions (Matt Slick)

Bible Query (Christian Debater website; includes easy links to answers regarding each biblical book)

Errors and Contradictions in the Bible? (part of the Answering Islam website)

192 Alleged “Contradictions” in the Bible (+ Part Two / Part Three) (Unam Sanctam Catholicam [Catholic] )

Defending the Gospels: Answers to [38] Problems in Reply to “Shredding the Gospels” by Diogenes the Cynic (John McClymont)

Apologetics Press: Alleged Discrepancies (mostly by Eric Lyons)

Resolved Biblical Contradictions (Rational Christianity site)

Dealing With Apparent Contradictions in Scripture (John Kitchen; PDF)

Responses to various alleged contradictions in the Gospel of John (Sam Shamoun)

Why do all four Gospels contain different versions of the inscription on the Cross? (Russell M. Grigg)

A Suggested Harmonization of the Resurrection Narratives (Murray J. Harris)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A harmony of the resurrection accounts (Answering Islam website)

The Problem of Apparent Chronological Contradictions in the Synoptics (Joe Botti, Tom Dixon, and Alex Steinman)

Bible Difficulties (Come Reason Ministries)

What about the Jesus Seminar? (Answering Islam site)

Replies to Various Controversial Issues Regarding the Bible
(Answering Islam site)

The Myth of “Factual” Bible Contradictions (Eric Lyons)

Are There Contradictions in Genesis 1 and 2? (Kenneth J. Howell; This Rock, January 2004 [Catholic] )

Contradictions in Scripture? (Brian W. Harrison [Catholic] )

Skeptic’s Instructions for Reading the Bible:

  • Always read it completely literally in isolation and never take into account the social, historical, literary and cultural context in which it was written.
  • Have a wrong concept of how God should have done things and then throw the rattle out of the pram when he does things differently – this is otherwise known as setting up a straw man and then knocking him down.
  • Assume that God dictated it rather than using men in the social, historical and cultural context of the day.
  • If there is a difficult passage never consult a commentary written by someone who understands the social, historical, literary and cultural context.
  • Never compare scripture with scripture to find the meaning of difficult texts
  • Never use different Bible versions, never check out the Greek or Hebrew.
  • Always assume that if you cannot understand something then it cannot ever be true.
  • Ignore the fact of progressive revelation.
  • Never try to understand difficult doctrines like the Holy Trinity, and never consult a theologian who can better explain these things.

[from Ross A. Taylor’s Bible Difficulties: Resources to Refute the Skeptics and Critics; last item modified a bit presently]

Norman L. Geisler, in his book, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Baker Books: 1992), made a similar list about the mistakes that atheists make when approaching the Bible and attempting to interpret it (hat tip to Ross Taylor’s site above):

1. Assuming that the unexplained is not explainable.
2. Presuming the Bible guilty until proven innocent.
3. Confusing our fallible interpretations with God’s infallible revelation.
4. Failing to understand the context of the passage.
5. Neglecting to interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones.
6. Basing a teaching on an obscure passage.
7. Forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics.
8. Assuming that a partial report is a false report.
9. Demanding that NT citations of the OT always be exact quotations.
10. Assuming that divergent accounts are false ones.
11. Presuming that the Bible approves of all its records.
12. Forgetting that the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language.
13. Assuming that round numbers are false.
14. Neglecting to note that the bible uses different literary devices.
15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of scripture, is without error.
16. Confusing general statements with universal ones.
17. Forgetting that latter revelation supersedes previous revelation.

Books
***

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES, “HARD SAYINGS”, AND ALLEGED “CONTRADICTIONS”

Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan: 1982) [read online for free: PDF format]

Gleason L. Archer, Jr., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan: 2001)

William Arndt, Bible Difficulties: An Examination Of Passages Of The Bible Alleged To Be Irreconcilable With Its Inspiration (Kessinger Pub.: 2008)

William Arndt, Does the Bible Contradict Itself?: A Discussion of Alleged Contradictions in the Bible (Concordia Pub. House: 5th ed., 1976)

William Arndt, Robert G. Hoerber, & Walther R. Roehrs, Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions (Concordia Pub. House: 1987)

Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul (IVP: 1989)

F. F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus (IVP: 1983)

Phillip Campbell, The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures (Grass Lake, Michigan: Cruachan Hill Press: 2017)

Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker: 2011)

Carey L. Daniel, The Bible’s Seeming Contradictions: 101 Paradoxes Harmonized (Zondervan, 1941)

M. R DeHaan, 508 Answers to Bible Questions: With Answers to Seeming Bible Contradictions (Zondervan: 1952)

Daniel Worcester Faunce, A Young Man’s Difficulties With His Bible (American Baptist Pub. Soc.: 1898) [read online for free at Internet Archive: link one / link two]

Daniel Worcester Faunce, The Mature Man’s Difficulties With His Bible (American Baptist Pub. Soc.: 1908) [read online for free at Internet Archive]

Norman L. Geisler, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Baker Books: 1992)

Norman L. Geisler & Thomas Howe, Big Book of Bible Difficulties: The Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (Baker Books: 2008)

John Haley, Alleged Discrepancies Of The Bible (Whitaker House: 2004; originally 1874) [read online for free at Internet Archive; links to choose from: one / two / three / four]

James Augustus Hessey, Moral Difficulties Connected With the Bible (SPCK: 1871) [read online for free at Internet Archive]

A. F. W. Ingram, New Testament Difficulties (SPCK: 1903) [read online for free at Internet Archive]

Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (IVP: 2007)

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., editor, Hard Sayings of the Bible (IVP: 1996)

D. James Kennedy, Solving Bible Mysteries: Unraveling the Perplexing and Troubling Passages of Scripture (Thomas Nelson: 2000)

J. Carl Laney, Answers to Tough Questions: A Survey of Problem Passages and Issues (Kregel: 1997)

Robert Stuart MacArthur, Bible Difficulties and Their Alleviative Interpretation: Old Testament (E. B. Treat: 1899) [read online for free at Internet Archive]

H. L. Mitchell, One Hundred And Seventy-Seven Alleged Bible Contradictions And Discrepancies: A Book For Thinking Christians And Honest Skeptics (Kessinger Pub.: 2007)

David E. O’Brien, Today’s Handbook for Solving Bible Difficulties (Bethany House: 1990)

William L. Pettingill & R. A. Torrey, 1001 Bible Questions Answered (Thomas Nelson: 2001)

Ron Rhodes, The Complete Book of Bible Answers (Harvest House: 1997)

Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages (Harvest House: 2008)

Larry Richards, 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered (Revell: 1997)

Thomas Spalding, Scripture Difficulties Explained by Scripture References, or, The Bible its Own Interpreter (Daldy, Isbister: 1877) [read online for free at Internet Archive]

Robert H. Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker: 1997)

Robert H. Stein, Difficult Sayings in the Gospels: Jesus’ Use of Overstatement and Hyperbole (Baker: 1986)

John Thein [Catholic], The Bible and Rationalism; or, Answer to Difficulties (Kessinger: one-volume ed.: 2010) [read free online versions at Internet Archive: volumes one / two / three / four]

R. A. Torrey, Difficulties and Alleged Errors and Contradictions in the Bible (Baker Book House: 1964) [read a free online version at Internet Archive]

Robert Tuck, editor, A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties; or, Reasonable Solutions of Perplexing Things in Sacred Scripture (T. Whittaker: 1887) [read online for free at Internet Archive]

Robert Tuck, A Handbook of Scientific and Literary Bible Difficulties (T. Whittaker: 1891) [read free online version at Internet Archive]

Richard Whately, Essays on Some of the difficulties in the Writings of the Apostle Paul, and in Other Parts of the New Testament (Draper: 1865) [read free online version at Internet Archive]


BIBLICAL LITERARY FORMS / BIBLE INTERPRETATION

G. K. Beale , editor, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New (Baker: 1994)

G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker: 2007)

Sandy D. Brent, Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament (B&H; Academic, 1999)

E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible: Explained and Illustrated (Baker Books: 2003)

D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Baker: 2nd ed., 1996)

Jeanie C. Crain, Reading the Bible as Literature (Polity: 2010)

David A. Dorsey, Literary Structure of the Old Testament, A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi (Baker: 2004)

Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan: 2nd ed.: 1993)

R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (Regent College Pub.: 1992)

Marshall D. Johnson, Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type As an Approach to Understanding (Eerdmans: 2002)

John R. Maier & Vincent L. Tollers, The Bible in its Literary Milieu: Contemporary Essays (Eerdmans: 1979)

Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1985)

Leland Ryken & Tremper Longman III, editors, A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Zondervan: 1993)

Robert H. Stein, Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Baker: 1997)

Douglas Stuart, Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (Westminster John Know Pr: 2009)

John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Baker: 2006)


ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN CULTURE AND THE BIBLE / BIBLICAL ANTHROPOLOGY

Cyrus H. Gordon & Gary A. Rendsburg, The Bible and the Ancient Near East (W. W. Norton & Co.: rev. ed.: 1998)

G. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch and Its Cultural Environment (Baker: 1987)

Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (Fortress Press: 2006)

Bruce J. Malina & Richard L Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Fortress Press: 2nd ed.: 2002)

Bruce J. Malina & Richard L Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Augsburg Fortress Pub.: 1998)

Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Acts (Fortress Press: 2008)

Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Westminster John Knox Press, 3rd ed.: 2001)

John J. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible (Liturgical Press: 1999)

John J. Pilch, Introducing the Cultural Context of the Old Testament (Wipf & Stock: 2007)

John J. Pilch, Introducing the Cultural Context of the New Testament (Wipf & Stock: 2007)

John J. Pilch & Bruce J. Malina, editors, Handbook of Biblical Social Values (Hendrickson Pub., rev. ed.: 1998)

John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Zondervan: 1994)

Edwin M. Yamauchi, Gerald L. Mattingly, & Alfred J. Hoerth, editors, Peoples of the Old Testament World (Baker: 1998)


RELIABILITY AND HISTORICAL ACCURACY OF THE BIBLE

Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable?: A Look at the Historical Evidence (IVP: 1993)

Richard J. Bauckham, editor, The Book of Acts in Its First Century; Vol. 4: Palestinian Setting (Eerdmans: 1995)

Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP: 2nd ed.: 2008)

Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary (IVP: 1998)

F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? (Wilder Pub.: 2009)

F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (Doubleday: 1993)

R. T. France & David Wenham, editors, Gospel Perspectives, Volume 1: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (Wipf & Stock Pub.: 2003)

R. T. France & David Wenham, editors, Gospel Perspectives, Volume 2: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (Wipf & Stock Pub.: 2003)

R. T. France & David Wenham, editors, Gospel Perspectives, Volume 3: Studies in Midrash and Historiography (Wipf & Stock Pub.: 2003)

David W. J. Gill & Conrad Gempf, editors, The Book of Acts in Its First Century; Vol. 2: Graeco-Roman Setting (Eerdmans: 1994)

Colin J. Hemer, Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns: 1990)

Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (Wipf & Stock Pub.: 2003)

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? (IVP: 2001)

Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls & Related Literature) (Eerdmans: 2003)

Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford Univ. Press, 3rd ed.: 1992)

Brian Rapske, The Book of Acts in Its First Century; Vol. 3: Paul in Roman Custody (Eerdmans: 1994)

Graham Stanton, Gospel Truth?: New Light on Jesus and the Gospels (Trinity Pr Intl: 1995)

Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Augsburg Fortress Pub., rev ed.: 2001)

Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature) (Eerdmans: 1999)

Bruce W. Winter & Andrew D. Clarke, editors, The Book of Acts in Its First Century; Vol. 1: Ancient Literary Setting (Eerdmans: 1994)


BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY (OLD TESTAMENT AND GENERAL)

William Foxwell Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Westminster John Knox Press: 2006)

William Foxwell Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible (Gorgias Press: 2009)

William Foxwell Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra: An Historical Survey (Harper Torchbook: 1963)

John Ashton and David Down, Unwrapping the Pharaohs: How Egyptian Archaeology Confirms the Biblical Timeline (Master Books: 2006)

John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker: 1997)

William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Eerdmans: 2002)

Alfred Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Baker: 1998)

Alfred Hoerth & John McRay, Bible Archaeology: An Exploration of the History and Culture of Early Civilizations (Baker: 2006)

James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion UK: 2008)

James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford Univ. Press: 1999)

James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford Univ. Press: 2010)

James K. Hoffmeier & Alan Millard, editors, The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions (Eerdmans: 2004)

David M. Howard, Jr. & Michael A. Grisanti, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Kregel: 2004)

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars (Broadman & Holman Pub.: 1998)

K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans: 2003)

K. A. Kitchen, The Bible in Its World: The Bible and Archaeology Today (Wipf & Stock Pub.: 2004)

James D. Long, Riddle of the Exodus: Startling Parallels Between Ancient Jewish Sources and the Egyptian Archaeological Record (Lightcatcher Books, rev. ed., 2006)

V. Philips Long, editor, Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crisis of Biblical Israel (Eerdmans: 2002)

Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Baker: 1997)

Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible (Harvest House: 1997)

Iain W. Provan, V. Philips Long, & Tremper Longman, A Biblical History of Israel (Westminster John Knox Press: 2003)

Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Baker: 1997)

Edwin M. Yamauchi, Stones and the Scriptures (Baker: 1981)

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY (NEW TESTAMENT)


E. M. Blaiklock, The Archaeology of the New Testament (Thomas Nelson: 2nd ed.: 1984)

James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and Archaeology (Eerdmans: 2006)

John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament (Baker: 2008)

Merrill Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament (Zondervan: 1984)

Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Archaeology of New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor (Baker: 1980)

HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS

Richard J. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans: 2006)

Darrell L. Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Baker: 2002)

Darrell L. Bock & Daniel B. Wallace, Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ (Thomas Nelson: 2007)

Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic Sage Or Son Of God? (Baker: 1995)

James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide (Abingdon Press: 2008)

Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Baker: 2007)

Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (IVP: 2008)

Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press Pub. Co.: 1996)

J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, & Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Kregel: 2006)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Zondervan: 1998)

Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ (Zondervan: 2007)

Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Eerdmans: 2000)

Michael J. Wilkins & J. P. Moreland, editors, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Zondervan: 1996)

Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (IVP: 2nd ed.: 1997)

N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Eerdmans: 1993)

N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Augsburg Fortress Pub.: 1992)

N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Augsburg Fortress Pub.: 1997)

HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE AND JESUS’ RESURRECTION

William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Moody Press: 1981)

William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann; edited by Ronald Tacelli & Paul Copan, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann (IVP: 2000)

Craig A. Evans & N. T. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened (Westminster John Knox: 2009)

Gary R. Habermas & Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel: 2004)

Gary R. Habermas & Antony Flew; edited by David J. Baggett, Did the Resurrection Happen?: A Conversation With Gary Habermas and Antony Flew (IVP: 2009)

Gary R. Habermas, Antony Flew, & Terry L. Miethe, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate (Wipf & Stock: 2003)

Josh McDowell & Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection (Regal: 2009)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (Zondervan: 1987)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan: 2004)

Lee Strobel, The Case for the Resurrection (Zondervan: 2010)

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Pub.: 2003)

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne: 2008)

N. T. Wright & John Dominic Crossan; edited by Robert B. Stewart, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue (Fortress Press: 2006)

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Photo credit: “geralt” (12-9-14) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

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May 16, 2020

This is a follow-up comment to my Reply to Atheist Ward Ricker Re “Biblical Contradictions” (5-15-20). He replied with a 5 1/2 page article. And now I counter-reply. Ward’s words will be in blue.

*****

I have just read your reply, and it convinces me that constructive dialogue between us will not be possible, for several reasons:

1) You doubt my good will, good faith, and sincerity (a charge I do not reciprocate): which qualities are absolutely essential to assume in an opponent if constructive dialogue is to occur. Failing these, it never ever is possible, as I know full well from long experience. I have never seen an exception to this dynamic. Examples:

Why would you twist the meaning around as you do? Your “suggestions” contradict the clear “words of god”. Why would you do so?

You are simply unwilling to accept what the Bible says . . .

One wonders if you are just trying to confuse.

2) You fundamentally dislike my writing style and/or methodology:

At the risk of offending, in going through your writings I have noted how convoluted your arguments tend to be. Indeed, I find it difficult to respond even to the few that I respond to here, because your arguments are rather convoluted, confusing and unclear. Your lack of clear, concise statements makes it difficult to write a response. It makes for a lot of work (and, indeed, I have other things to do with my life), so if you wonder why you have trouble getting people to respond to you, you might take that into consideration.

That’s your right, of course (it’s a free country), and such things are largely subjective (and because they are, many people believe exactly the opposite of what you think about my writing). “Different strokes for different folks” / “can’t please everyone,” etc. But it means that you and I will not be able to constructively dialogue, because (from where I sit), you don’t even comprehend (at least some) of my arguments in the first place, and because of that, fall back on a complaint that the problem must be on my end: that I am unacceptably and unfortunately muddled, confused and unclear. It also leads to straw men in such a scenario. You don’t get what I am saying and so wind up fighting straw men that are simply not what my argument was.

3) We have vastly different conceptions as to what dialogue itself is. You don’t want to go point-by-point, as I almost always do (socratic method). You’ll do it for a time, for carefully selected passages, but you ignore others. You selected passages from my Seidensticker series, but never showed a willingness to comprehensively deal with any particular one (which is what I am looking for).

This never works. In my opinion, true dialogue must take into account the opponents’ entire argument, and not pick-and-choose some stuff, while arbitrarily ignoring others. And you can always fall back on your opinion that my writing is frustratingly unclear (#2 above). That means there is no hope for us to constructively engage. I wish it were otherwise, but this is the only conclusion I can reasonably draw, based on your reply.

I lay out my conception of such a serious, philosophical-type discussion here: Good Discussion: Back-and-Forth Dialogue vs. “Mutual Monologue”.

Don’t feel too bad. Virtually no one of any persuasion ever does this, these days (and I endlessly bemoan that fact). But being the idealist and socratic that I am, I will keep seeking it (heaven help me).

4) It appears (as is often the case with atheists) that your past fundamentalism still profoundly affects your present attempts to interpret the Bible, due to relentless false premises, leading to (of course) false conclusions. Examples abound:

a) you clearly don’t understand the very different ancient Hebrew modes of thinking; particularly the “both/and” approach, which is very difficult for modern sensibilities to grasp: with our excessive false dichotomies and “either/or” mentalities. As long as you don’t get this aspect, you’ll never understand many Bible passages, especially ones about God. And it causes you to assert many “contradictions” that in fact are not.

b) you don’t think through the notion of God being a judge. 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.

c) you don’t have the slightest clue about anthropomorphism and anthropopathism (I would guess that you probably never even heard the words till now). If you did, you would understand how language is very diversely used in Scripture, and often is non-literal and you would understand things like God “repenting.” This leads you to make inane observations like, “But that’s not what it says. It says that he repented . . . “ [my italics added] Of course, that’s what it “says.” That’s not at issue. The question is whether it is literal or metaphorical. This is what you don’t get.

There are many different genres in the Bible (consider, for example, Jesus’ parables and the proverbs and books like Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon). But because you are a former fundamentalist (most atheists who play the “Bible contradiction” game were), you always have to interpret literally (or so it sure seems so far). That was wrong and dumb and hermeneutically clueless when you were a Christian, and it remains so now. It caused you to arrive at false conclusions then, and it does now. This is an elementary component of biblical interpretation.

d) you object to consulting the original languages: which is essentially necessary in all proper exegesis of the Bible.

e) your wooden hyper-literalism is again sadly evident in how you treat the question of OT references to “many gods”. Clearly the OT teaches that these are not real “gods.” Only God (YHWH) is real. But you can’t see that, out of your (as usual) inapplicable literalism of interpretation. How I explain this makes perfect logical and rational sense. But you can’t see it, because your false premise won’t allow you to. Seidensticker and Madison and Loftus and other Bible-bashing atheists make these same mistakes. It’s nothing unique to you.

But this shows that I wouldn’t have any more success in achieving true dialogue with you than I have with them. You’re willing to talk (good and admirable itself), but because of these factors it’ll never work, and my patience would last no more than a day. All good dialogue can only proceed if there are some premises held in common.

f) you are equally out to sea in examining the traits of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; some passages concerning these are also non-literal, and you (predictably by now) think they are literal. So you come to the wrong conclusion. It’s because you have very little inkling of how ancient Hebrew thought about things. They weren’t stupid; just very different from us, as we would expect. Our type of thinking (linear / either/or rationalism and syllogistic logic) comes from the ancient Greeks. We have to realize that this is a framework and understand that the Hebrew framework is a different one. We can’t be like a fish in a tank, not knowing that it is.

5) Your conclusion sums up your problem in approaching a Christian apologist like myself, seeking dialogue:

Why would you want to defend a book in the first place that teaches acceptance of murder, slavery, genocide, rape, racism and many of the other evils that still plague our planet today?

Quite obviously (as seen in my replies to Seidensticker), I don’t think it condones any of these things. Your proper task is not to ask asinine, insulting “when did you stop beating your wife?” types of questions, but rather, to try to understand why I come to the opposite conclusion of yours. I’m perfectly sincere and operating in good faith just as I believe you are. In a constructive, mutually respectful dialogue, you would never frame your question in these terms, but rather, would say something like:

Why is it that you think that the Bible doesn’t advocate murder, slavery, genocide, rape, racism and many other evils, as it seems to in my reading (at least prima facie)? I want to understand your reasoning — borne of your 39 years of apologetics research and writing –, so I can best be in a position to rationally come to the correct conclusion about biblical teaching.”

6) All of this said, 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). But dialogue of the sort I seek is clearly impossible between us.

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Related Reading

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“Three Days and Nights” in the Tomb: Contradiction? [10-31-06]

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Death of Judas: Alleged Bible Contradictions Debunked (vs. Dave Van Allen and Dr. Jim Arvo) [9-27-07]
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Gadarenes, Gerasenes, Swine, & Atheist Skeptics (vs. Jonathan MS Pearce) [7-25-17]
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Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]
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Photo credit: George Redgrave (11-16-14) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]

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July 3, 2018

Dave Van Allen runs the large website ExChristian.Net [or at least he did in September 2007, when this was written]. His words will be in blue. Dr. Jim Arvo’s words will be in green.

* * * * *

One of the biggest contradictions I could not rectify was whether or not Judas threw his money into the temple and hanged himself or bought a field and fell headlong into it. 

Let’s examine this alleged contradiction:

Matthew 27:5-10 (RSV) And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Acts 1:18 (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.

Now, do these two descriptions necessarily formally contradict? No. For example, here is one way that the seeming discrepancy of the purchase of the field can be explained:

Regarding the “purchasing” of the “field”…both accounts are true. The temple rulers bought the plot of ground, like Matthew says. Acts does not contradict Matthew. Remember that the priests said, “it is not lawful to put them into the treasury”. In other words, they were not taking actual ‘receipt’ of the money, diverting it, instead, to purchase the plot of ground. Thus, in a ‘legal’ sense (?) since they were not taking ‘ownership’ of the money, it was still Judas’ money. And when Peter speaks of “wages of iniquity”, it is not that Judas bought the plot of ground…but that the money he had received to betray Jesus had bought it. The money was Judas’ “wages”…but he threw it back, and the priests weren’t accepting it. These “30 pieces” were like the proverbial “hot potato” BLOOD MONEY both parties were trying to get rid of. Technically it was still Judas’ money, which the priests used to purchase the plot of ground. Thus, in a legal sense, it could be said that Judas bought it, because it was ‘his money’ that bought it.

. . . And so, did Judas hang himself…or did he “fall headlong”? Both are obviously true. He hung himself. When did he fall headlong? Did the rope break? Or did his “entrails gush out” when others came along to cut him down from the tree (assuming he actually hung himself from a tree limb)…and he split open when he hit the ground? There is a lot of data the Bible doesn’t tell us. How tall was the tree? If he hung himself on a tall branch, it might not have been possible for somebody to hold the body while another cut the rope. So, if a single person went up and cut the rope, and the body fell a great distance to the ground (not gently), the chances might be good that the body would land, making a ‘mess’.

[ source ]

The supposed contradiction of the purchase is also clarified by looking at the Greek words involved, as another Christian site devoted to alleged biblical discrepancies explains:

Once we examine the original Greek, we see Matthew and Luke differentiate between terms of ownership. Matthew uses the word ajgoravzw (legal ownership) while Luke uses ktaomai (physical possession). In other words, Judas purchased the field in his name and was therefore the legal owner, but after his death, the priests obtained the field for communal use yet did not possess the legal rights to it. In layman’s terms, Judas purchased the field but the priest acquired the field after his death.

And Judas’ manner of death is speculated upon by another web page, without falling into necessary contradiction:

1. First, Judas tried to kill himself by hanging himself. And this is not always a successful way. Maybe he tried, and failed (as have many others who have tried to commit suicide by hanging). Then after some time, he threw himself off a cliff and fell upon some jagged rocks. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for people who commit suicide to have tried it before.

2. Judas could have tied a rope to a tree branch that extended over a cliff (after all, you have to get some space between your feet and the ground to hang yourself). In this situation, the rope/branch could have broke before or after death, and Judas plummeted to the ground and landed on some jagged rocks.

Certainly, these explanations are plausible, thus a contradiction has not been established.
MAT 27:5-8 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

First of all, notice that the text does not say that Judas died as a result of hanging. All it says is that he “went and hanged himself.” Luke however, in Acts, tells us that “and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.” This is a pretty clear indication (along with the other details given in Acts – Peter’s speech, the need to pick a new apostle, etc.) that at least after Judas’ fall, he was dead. So the whole concept that Matthew and Luke both recount Judas’ death is highly probable, but not clear cut. Therefore, if I were to take a radical exegetical approach here, I could invalidate your alleged contradiction that there are two different accounts of how Judas died.

Notice verse 5.”Then he…went and hanged himself.” Matthew does not say Judas died, does it? Should we assume he died as a result of the hanging?

What does Acts say? ACT 1:18 (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

ACT 1:20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’

Here we may have a graphic explanation of Judas’ death. Of course, maybe someone can find some medical source somewhere that discusses the possibility of one having their entrails gush out after being burst open in the middle, and still survive. :)

So, my line of reasoning to dispel the contradiction myth re: the “two” accounts of Judas’ death is this. Matthew doesn’t necessarily explain how Judas died; he does say Judas “hanged himself”, but he didn’t specifically say Judas died in the hanging incident. However, Acts seems to show us his graphic demise. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Matthew and Acts re: Judas’ death.

We do know from Matthew that he did hang himself and Acts probably records his death. It is possible and plausible that he fell from the hanging and hit some rocks, thereby bursting open. However, Matthew did not say Judas died as a result of the hanging, did he? Most scholars believe he probably did, but….

One atheist I debated along these lines said… the Greek word “apagchw” (ie: hang oneself) is translated as a successful hanging. I replied, No you can’t only conclude this, although…this was a highly probable outcome. But Matthew does not state death as being a result. The Greek word is APAGCHO. Matthew 27:5 is it’s only occurrence in the New Testament. In the LXX (the Greek translation of the OT used at the time of Jesus), it’s only used in 2 Samuel 17:23 : “Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father’s tomb.” Notice that not only is it stated that Ahithophel “hanged himself” [Gr. LXX, APAGCHO], but it explicitly adds, “and died”. Here we have no doubt of the result. In Matthew, we are not explicitly told Judas died. Also, there is nothing in the Greek to suggest success or failure. It simply means “hang oneself”.

The same page discusses the aspect of the purchase:

Perhaps here, the following maxim holds — “He who does a thing by another, does it himself.” That is, yes it was the chief priests who actually bought the field, but Judas had furnished the occasion for its purchase. Thus, the verse in Acts could be employing a figure of speech where we attribute to the man himself any act which he has directly or indirectly procured to be done. After all, we attribute the “Clinton health care plan” to Bill Clinton, when in reality, it is a plan devised by others associated with Bill Clinton.

So we see that very plausible Christian explanations can be and have been advanced for these things. I doubt that young Dave sought these out. He merely asked questions of people who usually weren’t prepared to give an adequate defense and counter-explanation. Then Dave used their non-answer as a pretext for falsely supposing that no Christian could provide any plausible explanation, thus leading to the further unwarranted conclusion that the Bible was untrustworthy (hence, Christianity itself).

In contrast, here is Dave’s counter-“explanation” from the combox:

[T]he real point is that neither the writer of Matthew nor the writer of Luck actually saw any of it – it was all hearsay. It seems obvious that each writer merely tailored the details of the fable in order to demonize either the Jewish leaders or Judas, depending on the writer’s personal motive.

Besides, I’ve heard that worn out apologetic a hundred times, and for many a year I even tried to believe it. I’m ashamed to say I even preached it to others.

However, both stories cannot be true – period. Since there is some measure of inaccuracy in at least one of the stories, that would suggest that the Bible is not inerrant. If the Bible is not inerrant in even one sentence, then there is error, and that means it is NOT the word of a god.

. . . the evidence remains that Judas either hanged himself in a field he purchased, or he had a nasty fall in a field that someone else purchased. More than likely, neither story has a shred of truth in it and the writers of the two gospels simply felt that Judas needed to end up dead after his horrible “mortal” sin of kissing God on the lips.

You (be you atheist or Christian or something else) decide which is more reasoned and plausible, and which is mere dogmatic denial based on a preconceived bias.

Clearly, anyone could reject anything if they utilized such a “method” and refused to seek out the more informed proponents of said belief-system before finding it wanting. That is Mickey Mouse pseudo-intellectualism, not serious thought and seeking of truth. if Dave Van Allen conceded (today) that this is not a case of two obvious contradictions, then he would have to remove this objection from the collection of those that caused him to reject Christianity.

If the Christian could (speaking hypothetically for the moment) systematically debunk all of his similar objections, does that mean his deconversion is nullified and he would again become a Christian? Maybe so, but that is ultimately a matter of God’s grace and faith. Apologists can only remove the roadblocks of false objections. We can lead the horse to the stream and show that there are no unassailable hindrances in getting to the stream, but we can’t force the horse to drink.

I wrote to an evangelistic radio ministry out of Richmond Virginia, asking for direction about these apparent problems. I was only thirteen and they responded to my cry for help with a short note. Instead of an intellectually satisfying apologetic, they merely admonished that some things could only be answered through the eyes of faith. I pretty much got the same answer everywhere I went. 

Exactly my point. But he did not seek enough answers. There are entire books written about such things, such as, for example, volumes by biblical scholars Gleason Archer and William Arndt. It’s even easier now with the Internet (I found the above explanations in short order via Google). Dave didn’t have that back then, but books existed in those days, way back in the 60s and 70s. But instead, young Dave settled for non-answers from fundamentalist types unacquainted with apologetics and an intellectual grounding for their faith.

Maybe he didn’t know any better then, and can be given some slack (he at least tried to get answers from someone) but he should now, especially after reading this (assuming he ever does). It’s a classic case, though, of the absence of apologetics, where it was crucial that it was present, in order to help a young zealous Christian harmonize faith and reason without contradiction or serious difficulty. It wasn’t there, and by his own admission, this led him to later reject Christianity.

This is why I do what I do. Apostasy can be avoided in part by an understanding of the reasons why we believe what we believe. That’s apologetics. It is extremely important in a Christian’s life. As the proverb goes: “the heart cannot accept what the mind believes to be false.”

* * * * *

Having studied the arguments of a great many apologists who purport to dismantle the “so-called contradictions”, I can say with little hesitation that I find their arguments to be artificial and filled with special pleading and often circular reasoning. (See below for an example.)

As I have found the hackneyed, facile skeptical arguments, that are often so silly that they don’t even understand that a clear formal contradiction is not present at all, but simply wished upon the texts, as a result of the usual predispositional bias of the textual critic. I have several examples on my site.

I don’t deny that there are difficult textual questions. Of course there are (and there are silly Christian arguments to be found), and Christian scholars devote entire careers to them in some cases. But many “difficulties” are in fact, none at all.

Regarding how Judas met his demise, DA said “… And so, did Judas hang himself…or did he ‘fall headlong’? Both are obviously true.”

Obviously?! Why is that obvious? 

What is obvious is that it is not a formal contradiction. It just isn’t. As a professor, surely you can see and acknowledge that. The two passages can easily be synthesized in several different ways. A true contradiction would be something along the lines of:

1) Judas went and hanged himself and died in five minutes, and his dead body had only a mark on his neck.

2) Judas did not hang himself from a tree, but rather, fell headlong onto sharp rocks and his bowels gushed out and he died.

That is clearly a contradiction, and no one would deny it. But the biblical texts under consideration are not.

Of course it’s not a “formal” contradiction! You are unlikely to find many formal contradictions in prose! If I said I had been sick with the flu, and had a 110 fever all day on Wednesday, and I later claimed to have run a marathon in under three hours that same day, there is no formal contradiction. It’s conceivable that both were true. However, without some explication, it would be quite fair to think something was amiss in my claims–that not both are true.

Just as it is also “quite fair” to surmise that there was no contradiction of any sort if it isn’t obvious. Goose and gander.

As for the Judas accounts, both appear to offer an explanation as to HOW Judas died; that is, they both convey the fact that Judas died, and they give details of a life-ending event. One is quite explicit in asserting that the death was by hanging. 

This is untrue. The text (if we want to get technical, as these discussions of “Bible contradictions” always do) says he “hanged himself.” It doesn’t say he died by hanging. He may very well have, of course, and it is not unreasonable at all to suppose so, but it is also equally reasonable and plausible to harmonize the two accounts in one of the various ways I have presented. He could, for example, have died by hanging and then the body may have fallen, with his bowels coming out. And that is no contradiction. It is mentioning different aspects of what happened to him, in two accounts.

The other mentions a bizarre event of disembowelment. The natural reading of the second is that this bizarre event was the CAUSE of death. Without further explication, there is an apparent contradiction.

It may have been the actual cause of death (with his falling from the tree as he was hanging, but before he had died) or it may not have been , as in my above hypothetical example. It’s all speculation on both sides, but a contradiction has not been established; period. End of sentence. The claim is that a contradiction is present, and it has not been proven.

* * *

Certainly not by a plain reading of the text. Do you think it improper for someone to point to the two different accounts and suggest that they contradict?

They could possibly, but not necessarily. When one approaches texts with such hostility and animosity coming in, itching to find a contradiction, then they will “see” them where there are none.

That’s ad hominem. I’m not interested in such appeals.

You may not be interested, and it may or not be ad hominem, but it remains a prevalent fact of atheist / agnostic / skeptical exegesis. I’ve seen it a hundred times. You may not be guilty of it, but many are, and I was making a general observation, as I often do in the midst of discussions.

It seems to me that Christian, though biased in favor of harmonization of biblical texts, at least comes to it with a positive goal of understanding it in a coherent way. But the critic assumes that it is a bundle of contradictions, written by gullible nomadic idiots and shepherds, and so find what they want to find.

He hung himself. When did he fall headlong? Did the rope break? Or did his ‘entrails gush out’ when others came along to cut him down from the tree (assuming he actually hung himself from a tree limb)…and he split open when he hit the ground? There is a lot of data the Bible doesn’t tell us.

Right, lots of details will be missing from any story. However, this does not give you license to ADD whatever detail you wish. In this case you are assuming that the missing details will harmonize the two accounts. Why do you assume that?

Because I am giving the texts the benefit of the doubt, that both parties were telling the truth according to the information available to them.

Why do you assume that? 

I explained below, by the analogy of court cases; also because it is the most sensible way to approach anything, unassuming and in charity rather than cynicism.

Then, even if that is so, why do you assume that the information is accurate? Certainly it’s possible that the stories are honest and accurate information written by those who were in a position to actually know what happened. But that is one possibility among many. 

Following my method above, I assume it is accurate unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Also, it is known that the biblical writers conveyed information with extraordinary accuracy. We know this from outside historical and archaeological evidences.

Stories can and do get passed on inaccurately, paraphrased, and embellished. They can also be synthesized from older texts, through midrash. At the other extreme we have total unfounded fabricated, although I see no reason to think the latter is likely in this case.

Like I said, the accuracy of the Bible has been verified again and again as further independent data is gathered (often making higher critics look like fools in their bold claims that are later proven to be false).

* * *

. . . the two can be synthesized and harmonized, just as we would do with two witnesses in a trial, of good character and reputation. We don’t assume that their eyewitness accounts clash or that someone is lying because there are some details that don’t harmonize at first glance.

No, of course not. Neither do we simply assume that things took place exactly as described. Particularly when it’s unclear how the writer came to know what is in the story. One needn’t jump to the extreme of “lying” in order to legitimately doubt a report, as per my comments above.

Be that as it may, this particular discussion has to do with whether a glaring contradiction is present. Remember, Dave claimed this was one of the clearest examples of that. I contend that he has failed to demonstrate it.

It is also possible that the missing details would make it even more difficult to harmonize the accounts.

Of course. But the Christian who harmonizes is basically expanding upon what we know in the texts. Nothing wrong with that, just as historical fiction is considered valid as far as it goes: as speculation building upon what we know.

Missing details are MISSING. We do not know what they are. If you claim that there is no contradiction because facts can be inserted to harmonize them, then you are begging the question–i.e. you claim there is no contradiction because fact X can be inserted to harmonize the accounts. But if your reason for assuming X is that it harmonizes the accounts, that is circular. 

Not quite.I am saying that there was no contradiction in the first place. A formal contradiction has not been established; as in most atheist arguments of this sort, it is assumed with insufficient warrant. You have to first prove that a formal contradiction is present in the text.

No, that’s a specious claim. The word “formal” is completely out of place in this discussion. If we were discussing mathematical proofs, then we would seek formal contradictions. What we have before us are written accounts by people we cannot question. If the obvious surface meaning of the text leads to an improbable scenario (i.e. a person dying in two different ways), then there is sufficient warrant to doubt that they are both true.

And we have attempted to show that it is not necessary to interpret in the sense that there are two conflicting, contradictory stories. People may differ on which scenario is more plausible. I’m glad to leave that to the fair-minded person’s judgment. Both sides have been presented; let folks decide for themselves. That’s what I am about. We can each claim our view is best all day long but in the end such claims are meaningless. Others will have to decide who has the better interpretation.

* * *

When the Christian speculates on unknown details, it is an argument from plausibility or possibility, not strict logic. That is permissible, but claiming contradictions when they cannot be proven is what is out of line, and lousy thinking.

When a Christian speculates, it’s not automatically “plausible”; it’s still speculation. 

Of course. Plausibility is dependent on many other factors, and people will differ in judging that. My point was that arguments from plausibility are superior to erroneous claims of contradiction that cannot be substantiated.

If there is something to substantiate it, it may or may not then be deemed “plausible”. 

Yes, exactly.

And again, your claim about “proving” contradictions is specious. One cannot “prove” that something is a contradiction in a formal sense in most prose. These are not formal arguments. In general, they cannot be. There is always an element of likelihood involved. And, no, it’s not “lousy thinking”. You can do better than a quip like that.

Christians are subject to many quips. I am entitled to judge the strength of arguments, just as ours are routinely judged by you guys. I’m confident that you’ll survive the duress of critique.

* * *

I grant that the aspect of the texts having to do with purchase of the land is more likely to be a contradiction, and the explanations we offer less plausible and strong. But I don’t think they are bad arguments or outright implausible.

But one’s attitude coming to the text will highly color such judgments. I am biased in favor; y’all are biased against. I approach the writer as an intelligent person (and Luke certainly was that). You guys usually regard them as primitive gullible simpletons (part of that is “chronological snobbery”, as C. S. Lewis calls it), and so expect to find massive error and contradiction.

That’s a crass generalization. 

It certainly is a generalization, by nature. Whether it is “crass” or not depends on whether it is a true general observation. I say it is.

I know from my own long experience how I have been treated myself, and I have read dozens of ad hominem atheist posts. My experience with atheists is just as valid as your experience with Christians. I’m the first to admit that there are many Christians who have unfair, uncharitable, even sinful views of atheists en masse. Atheists and agnostics should also admit the obvious regarding the extremely negative view that is taken by many many atheists and agnostics towards Christians and the biblical writers.

Let me give you my assessment, so you needn’t speculate. I’ll use the author of “Mark” as an example. I suspect that the author truly believed what he wrote, and was rather well educated. I do not detect any outright fabrications in his account–not by the standards of the day. 

Good. That is more fair than most atheist attempts at exegesis that I have seen.

However, it appears that the author held a common belief of the time: that scripture was a vehicle though which god speaks (in the present tense) to believers. 

It’s a rather common belief today, too. It’s called “biblical inspiration.” Obviously, acceptance or denial of that also colors how people interpret. To us the Bible is made up of inspired words ultimately from God. To you who believe neither in God nor the supernatural, it’s just an old book. Big difference . . .

He, and his contemporaries, routinely sought to answer historical questions by looking to scripture. If something was “foreshadowed” in scripture, then it must have come to pass. This is not forgery. This is not dishonesty. Yet it is not a reliable way to conduct historical research either (at least not by today’s standards). 

I think this is overly simplistic. The gospel writers and Luke in the book of Acts were writing narratives with an eye to producing what we call “salvation history.” But one can judge the historical accuracy of these books wholly apart from acceptance of Christian claims that go beyond mere historical writing.

The Judas story, by the way, may have been invented in this way as well. That is a possibility I always consider when reading the Bible.

Well, you would, based on your presuppositions. Thanks for your honesty. We Christians simply accept the text at face value, as we would any other text. Judas died, and there are two accounts of that death, and they do not contradict, as is claimed.

The point being that there may be other legitimate reasons for adding some missing detail–I don’t discount that. But I don’t see any indication of such an argument in what you’ve written.

Yet you have not dealt with my arguments themselves. You’ve only nipped around the edges and engaged in “meta-analysis.” That is usually a clue that a person doesn’t want to deal with the argument and wants to shift the discussion to extraneous or presuppositional factors. Sometimes that is good, but in the present case, I think it is obfuscation.

Okay, now you have become quite rude. 

So you say. I’ll let the reader judge whether that is true or not.

That’s usually a give-away too. It usually indicates fear of being upstaged. 

Is that an ad hominem attack? You tell me. My supposed imaginary “fear” has something to do with the discussion at hand?

I was quite clear that I read only part of your writings, and only responded to part of them. If you actually have something of substance to offer, then please direct me to it, or recap it here. I honestly don’t have the time to sift through all you’ve written looking for something that may make sense to me.

Well, I have enjoyed it, even if you haven’t. Thanks for your time.

By the way, I pointed out a very clear circularity in your argument; unless you can substantiate the details you wish to add to the Judas story in some independent way, your argument is fallacious. Please don’t nip around the edges. Address that directly if you would. Thanks.

I already did. Thanks again

If you cannot bring yourself to admit that the clear surface meaning of the two Judas accounts are problematic, then it seems to me that you cannot even enter into the debate in a meaningful way IMHO.

Right. And this is what it almost always comes down to in these sorts of discussions. The atheist point of view (on yet another alleged biblical contradiction) is, we are told, self-evidently true. If the Christian can’t see that, then there is no discussion. Basically, to disagree at all is to preclude any meaningful discussion. And that is “logic” as viciously circular as it can get . . .

***

(originally 9-27-07)

Photo credit: Judas Hangs Himself, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

June 8, 2017

BibleRipped2

Photograph of torn Bible pages by George Redgrave (9-30-14) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0]

***

(2002; portion after five asterisks: 6-7-17)

***

A common tactic of biblical skeptics is to question the veracity and historical trustworthiness of the New Testament based on alleged numerous “contradictions” therein. But most of these so-called “problem passages” can easily be shown to be not contradictory, but rather, complementary. This is what might be described as the “1001 Bible contradictions” ploy.

In the desperation to find contradictions, any instance of a different report (not absolutely identical in all respects) is regarded as contradictory, when in fact this is not so at all, and obviously so, for anyone who will take a little time to reflect upon it. A simple example will suffice to illustrate this:

1. Joe says he saw Bill walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at 3:10 PM on a hot Saturday afternoon.

2. Alice says she saw Ed walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at 4:10 PM.

3. John says he saw Kathy walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at 4:30 PM.

4. Sally says she saw Bill walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at about 3:15 PM, Ed buy an ice cream there at about 4:20 PM, and Kathy buy an ice cream there at about 4:45 PM.

Now, according to these conflicting and contradictory reports, how many people (at least) bought an ice cream at the Dairy Queen between 3:10 and about 4:45 PM on a hot Saturday afternoon? Was it 1, 2, 3, or 6? Actually, none of the above, because (in all likelihood) many more people went there during that time to buy ice cream. They just weren’t all recorded.

But skeptical hyper-critics look at the above data (lets say they represent the four Gospels) and see a host of contradictions:

1. Joe contradicts Alice as to who visited there in an hour’s time.

2. Joe contradicts John as to who visited there in an hour and 20 minutes time.

3. Alice contradicts John as to who visited there in 20 minute’s time.

4. Joe says someone visited at 3:10, but Alice claims it was at 4:10, and John says it was at 4:30.

5. Joe, Alice, and John can’t even agree on who visited the Dairy Queen in a lousy span of only 80 minutes! They are obviously completely untrustworthy! Probably two or more of them are lying.

6. To top it all off, we have the utter nonsense of Sally, whose time for Bill’s arrival contradicts Joe’s report by 5 minutes!

7. Sally’s time for Ed’s arrival contradicts Alice’s report by 10 minutes!!

8. Sally’s time for Kathy’s arrival contradicts John’s report by 15 minutes!!!

And so on and so forth. Yet this is the sort of incoherent reasoning which we get from so many skeptics of the Bible, who pride themselves on their reasoning abilities and logical acumen, over against the alleged gullible, irrational orthodox Christians, who accept biblical inspiration. Many examples of this sort of nonsense can be easily located in the usual laundry lists of biblical contradictions which frequently appear in skeptical and atheist literature, often exhibiting the most elementary errors of fact or logic.

Fair-minded and open-minded folks should be able to easily see through the shallowness of such proofs. The skeptical underlying assumptions are almost always assumed as axioms (reasons for this acceptance are deemed unnecessary), and the Christian assumptions are almost always frowned upon as irrational, impossible, etc.

We often hear, for example, the weak argument that John’s Gospel excludes a lot of the important events in Jesus life, which are recorded in the synoptic Gospels. But it obviously had a different purpose (it was more theological in nature, rather than purely narrative). In the world of biblical hyper-criticism, however, facts such as those are of no consequence. The usual predisposition is that contradictions are involved, per the above reasoning.

*****

I’ve compiled many resources for Christians who encounter this sort of thing: Alleged Bible “Contradictions” & “Difficulties”: Master List of Christian Internet Resources for Apologists (Links).

I just had an encounter yesterday with a man who listed off four alleged contradictions in the Bible. I spent a significant amount of time offering counter-explanations in a combox on my blog, showing (I think) that contradictions were actually not present, complete with links to the material that answers the charges. I wrote at the beginning and the end:

 

Since you are unwilling to look these up in my sources (which is why I provided them), I’ll do your work for you. It was not difficult to find possible and plausible solutions in a few seconds searching on Google . . .

Now, I just spent a bunch of my time doing work that you could have done just as easily. Next time, do it yourself. But something tells me you won’t, because if you were willing, you would have done it this time, rather than challenging me with it. As it is, you provide a classic example of the logical inadequacies and unfair attitude of the biblical skeptic, that I can now pass on to my readers, as an illustration of what I’ve been saying for years: atheists and other Bible skeptics approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog.

 

And so how did this man respond when I did all that for him? He deleted all his comments and split . . . Exactly my point: he doesn’t give a rat’s rear end about actually solving these alleged Bible difficulties, or giving the Bible a fair shake. He only wants to tear it down. He has no interest in defenses of an infallible, inspired Bible. Therefore, if a Christian seriously interacts with his criticisms, he wants no part of it, because that doesn’t advance his agenda, and he disappears. He’s not interested in either serious Bible study or serious discussion. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times.

* * *

 

June 30, 2021

ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE / BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY  

Abraham

Abraham, Moses, Camels, & Archaeological Evidence [5-22-21]

Abraham & Beersheba, the Bible, & Archaeology [6-9-21]

Was Abraham from This City Ur That One? [7-20-21]

Abraham Lived in Haran, Which Did Exist at the Time! [7-22-21]

Abraham’s Shechem Lines Up With Archaeology [7-23-21]

Abraham, Salem, Mt. Moriah, Jerusalem, & Archaeology [7-24-21]

Abraham & Hebron: Archaeology Backs Up the Bible [7-24-21]

Was Sodom Destroyed by a Meteor in Abraham’s Time? [7-27-21]

Abraham, Warring Kings of Genesis 14, & History [7-31-21]

Amorites

Arameans, Amorites, and Archaeological Accuracy [6-8-21]

Camels, Domestication of

Abraham, Moses, Camels, & Archaeological Evidence [5-22-21]

OT Camels & Biblically Illiterate Archaeologists [5-24-21]

When Were Camels Domesticated in Egypt & Israel? [5-25-21]

Camels Help Bible Readers Get Over the Hump of Bible Skepticism [National Catholic Register, 7-21-21]

Chariots, Iron (Judges and Joshua)

Pearce’s Potshots #41: 13th c. BC Canaanite Iron Chariots [7-16-21]

David, King

Rarity of Non-Biblical Mentions of King David Explained [9-16-21]

Edomites

Edomites: Archaeology Confirms the Bible (As Always) [6-10-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #42: 12th c. BC Moabite & Ammonite Kings (The Broad Definition of “King” in the Ancient Near East, + Biblical Use of  “Chiefs of Edom”) [7-19-21]

Exodus

Seidensticker Folly #5: Has Archaeology Disproven the Exodus? [8-15-18]

Pearce’s Potshots #31: How Many Israelites in the Exodus? [5-27-21]

City of the Exodus (Pi-Ramesses), Bible, & Archaeology [6-28-21]

Moses’ “Store-City” Pithom & Archaeology [6-29-21]

Egyptian Mud Bricks and Straw: Bible = Archaeology [6-29-21]

Archaeology: How Many Hebrew Slaves in Pi-Ramesses? (And Could 20,000 Nomadic Hebrews Survive in the Sinai Desert for Forty Years?) [7-1-21]

General

God: Historical Arguments (Copious Resources) [11-9-15]

Archaeology: Biblical Maximalism vs. Minimalism (+ Dates of the Patriarchs and Other Major Events and People in the Old Testament) [9-9-21]

Genesis: Table of Nations

Genesis 10 “Table of Nations”: Authentic History [8-25-21]

Gerasenes / Gadarenes

Gadarenes, Gerasenes, Swine, & Atheist Skeptics  [7-25-17]

Gerasenes, Gadarenes, Pigs and “Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 1-29-21]

Goliath

Goliath’s Height: Six Feet 9 Inches, 7 Feet 8, or 9 Feet 9? [7-4-21]

Hebrew Language

Archaeology, Ancient Hebrew, & a Written Pentateuch (+ a Plausible Scenario for Moses Gaining Knowledge of Hittite Legal Treaties in His Egyptian Official Duties) [7-31-21]

Hittites

The Hittites: Atheist “DagoodS” Lies About Christian Apologists Supposedly Lying About How Biblical Critics Once Doubted Their Historical Existence [1-10-11, at Internet Archive]

Habitually “Lying” Christian Apologists?: 19th Century “Hittites Didn’t Exist” Radical Skepticism and Examination of Atheist DagoodS’ Replies and Charges [1-15-11, at Internet Archive]

Hittite Skeptics Chronicles, Part III: Specific Citations of Denial (Budge, Sumner, & Conder) and Biblical Historical Accuracy (in the Time of Elisha) [1-19-11, at Internet Archive]

Great Hittite Wars, Part IV: Lying Christian Egyptologist M. G. Kyle?: Atheist DagoodS Disputes Sir A. E. Wallis Budge’s Reported Hittite Skepticism  [1-21-11, at Internet Archive]

“Higher” Hapless Haranguing of Hypothetical Hittites (19th C.) [10-21-11; abridged 7-7-20]

“Israelites” as a Title

Pearce’s Potshots #27: Anachronistic “Israelites”? [5-25-21]

Jesus

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History [2-3-11]

“’Bethany Beyond the Jordan’: History, Archaeology and the Location of Jesus’ Baptism on the East Side of the Jordan” [8-11-14]

Archaeology: Jesus’ Crucifixion, Tomb, & the Via Dolorosa [9-18-14]

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Herod’s Death & Alleged “Contradictions” (with Jimmy Akin) [7-25-17]

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Contradictory” Genealogies of Christ? [7-27-17]

December 25th Birth of Jesus?: Interesting Considerations [12-11-17]

Seidensticker Folly #4: Jesus Never Existed, Huh? [8-14-18]

Was Christ Actually Born Dec. 25? [National Catholic Register, 12-18-18]

The Bethlehem Nativity, Babe Ruth, and History [National Catholic Register, 1-1-19]

Are the Two Genealogies of Christ Contradictory? [National Catholic Register, 1-5-19]

Jesus’ Resurrection: Scholarly Defenses of its Historicity [4-12-20]

Jesus’ December Birth & Grazing Sheep in Bethlehem (Is a December 25th Birthdate of Jesus Impossible or Unlikely Because Sheep Can’t Take the Cold?) [12-26-20]

Pearce’s Potshots #11: 28 Defenses of Jesus’ Nativity (Featuring Confirmatory Historical Tidbits About the Magi and Herod the Great) [1-9-21]

Joseph (Patriarch)

Genesis, Joseph, Archaeology, & Biblical Accuracy (A Brief Survey of Evidence for “The King’s Highway” in Jordan in the Bronze Age: Prior to 1000 BC) [6-8-21]

Joseph in Egypt, Archaeology, & Historiography [8-7-21]

Joshua’s Conquest of Canaan

Archaeology & Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal [7-22-14]

Pearce’s Potshots #32: No Evidence for Joshua’s Conquest? [5-28-21]

What Archaeology Tells Us About Joshua’s Conquest [National Catholic Register, 7-8-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #43: Joshua’s Conquest & Archaeology (Including a Plausible Theory as to Why Late Bronze Age Jericho (after 1550 BC) has Virtually Completely Eroded) [8-3-21]

Archaeology Verifies 13th c. BC Cities Listed in Joshua [8-5-21]

Moabites & Ammonites

Pearce’s Potshots #42: 12th c. BC Moabite & Ammonite Kings (The Broad Definition of “King” in the Ancient Near East, + Biblical Use of  “Chiefs of Edom”) [7-19-21]

Moses

Abraham, Moses, Camels, & Archaeological Evidence [5-22-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #29: No Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt? [5-26-21]

Moses, Kadesh, Negev, Bronze Age, & Archaeology [6-10-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #34: Atheist Throws a Screwball Pitch (Part II of “Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt”) [6-12-21]

Did Moses Exist? No Absolute Proof, But Strong Evidence (Pearce’s Potshots #35, in Which Our Brave Hero Classifies Moses as “a Mythological Figure” and I Reply!) [6-14-21]

City of the Exodus (Pi-Ramesses), Bible, & Archaeology [6-28-21]

Moses’ “Store-City” Pithom & Archaeology [6-29-21]

Egyptian Mud Bricks and Straw: Bible = Archaeology [6-29-21]

Using the Bible to Debunk the Bible Debunkers (Is the Mention of ‘Pitch’ in Exodus an Anachronism?) [National Catholic Register, 6-30-21]

Archaeology: How Many Hebrew Slaves in Pi-Ramesses? (And Could 20,000 Nomadic Hebrews Survive in the Sinai Desert for Forty Years?) [7-1-21]

Archaeology, Ancient Hebrew, & a Written Pentateuch (+ a Plausible Scenario for Moses Gaining Knowledge of Hittite Legal Treaties in His Egyptian Official Duties) [7-31-21]

In Search of the Real Mt. Sinai (Fascinating Topographical and Biblical Factors Closely Examined) [8-16-21]

The Tabernacle: Egyptian & Near Eastern Precursors (Archaeology Entirely Backs Up the Extraordinary Accuracy of Holy Scripture Yet Again) [9-8-21]

Noah’s Flood

Tower of Babel, Baked Bricks, Bitumen, & Archaeology (Also, Archaeological Verification of Sufficiently Available Bitumen and Wood for the Building of Noah’s Ark) [8-26-21]

Summary of Archaeological & Scientific Evidences Concerning Noah’s [Local] Flood [Facebook, 9-9-21]

Peter

Archaeology & St. Peter’s House in Capernaum [9-23-14]

Philistines

Pearce’s Potshots #33: No Philistines in Moses’ Time? [6-3-21]

Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom & Gomorrah & Archaeology: North of the Dead Sea? [10-9-14]

Was Sodom Destroyed by a Meteor in Abraham’s Time? [7-27-21]

Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, Baked Bricks, Bitumen, & Archaeology (Also, Archaeological Verification of Sufficiently Available Bitumen and Wood for the Building of Noah’s Ark) [8-26-21]

* * *

Helpful General Articles from Others

53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically (Bible History Daily / Biblical Archeology Society, 10-13-20)

 

SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY AND THE BIBLE / SCIENTIFIC HARMONY WITH THE BIBLE

Adam and Eve (and Genetics)

Bishop Robert Barron: Adam Wasn’t a “Literal Figure” [9-23-11]

Defending the Literal, Historical Adam of the Genesis Account (vs. Catholic Eric S. Giunta) [9-25-11]

Adam & Eve of Genesis: Historical & the Primal Human Pair? (vs. Bishop Robert Barron) [11-28-13]

Adam & Eve & Original Sin: Disproven by Science? [9-7-15]

Dialogue with Philosopher Dr. Lydia McGrew on Adam and Eve and the Polygenism vs. Monogenism Genetics Issue [Facebook, 5-11-17]

Only Ignoramuses Believe in Adam & Eve? [9-9-15]

Animals: Mythical

Loftus Atheist Error #9: Bible Espouses Mythical Animals? [9-10-19]

The Bible and Mythical Animals [National Catholic Register, 10-9-19]

Demonic Possession

Demonic Possession or Epilepsy? (Bible & Science) [2015]

Disease / Germ Theory

Vs. Atheist David Madison #37: Bible, Science, & Germs [12-10-19]

Seidensticker Folly #36: Disease, Jesus, Paul, Miracles, & Demons [1-13-20]

The Bible on Germs, Sanitation, & Infectious Diseases [3-16-20]

Bible on Germ Theory: An Atheist Hems & Haws (. . . while I offer a serious answer to his caricature regarding the Bible and genetics) [8-31-21]

Earth: Creation of

Cosmological Argument for God (Resources) [10-23-15]

Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time: Refutation of a Clueless Atheist “Biblical Contradiction” [5-11-17]

The Genesis Creation Accounts and Hebrew Time [National Catholic Register, 7-2-17]

Earth: Sphere

Biblical Flat Earth (?) Cosmology: Dialogue w Atheist (vs. Matthew Green) [9-11-06]

Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski) [9-17-06]

Evolution, Theory of

Catholicism and Evolution / Charles Darwin’s Religious Beliefs [8-19-09]

Dialogue with an Atheist on Evolution [9-17-15]

My Claims Regarding Piltdown Man & the Scopes Trial Twisted [10-10-15]

Scripture, Science, Genesis, & Evolutionary Theory: Mini-Dialogue with an Atheist [8-14-18; rev. 2-18-19]

Catholics & Origins: Irreducible Complexity or Theistic Evolution? [6-17-19]

Why I Believe in “Non-Miraculous” Intelligent Design [6-20-19]

Debate: Can Intelligent Design Be “Non-Interventionist”? (vs. Dr. Lydia McGrew) [6-21-19]

Exodus and Moses

Plagues of Egypt: Possible Natural Explanations [8-11-21]

Parting of the Red Sea: Feasible Scientific Explanation? [8-11-21]

Quails, Wandering Hebrews, & Biblical Accuracy [8-17-21]

Acacia, Ark of the Covenant, & Biblical Accuracy [8-24-21]

Moses & Earth Swallowing Sinners: a Miracle? [9-13-21]

Moses and (Natural?) Water from a Rock [9-14-21]

Flood & Noah 

Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism (vs. Kevin Rice) [5-25-04; rev. 5-10-17]

Adam & Eve, Cain, Abel, & Noah: Historical Figures [2-20-08]

Noah’s Flood & Catholicism: Basic Facts [8-18-15]

Do Carnivores on the Ark Disprove Christianity? [9-10-15]

New Testament Evidence for Noah’s Existence [National Catholic Register, 3-11-18]

Local Flood & Atheist Ignorance of Christian Thought [7-2-21]

Local Mesopotamian Flood: An Apologia [7-9-21]

General

Dialogue w Atheist on Christianity & the Scientific Method [7-19-01]

God and “Natural Evil”: A Thought Experiment [2002]

Atheist Myths: “Christianity vs. Science & Reason” (vs. “drunkentune”) [1-3-07]

Richard Dawkins & “Religion vs. Science” Mentality (+ Galileo Redux) [3-20-08]

Reply to Atheist Scientist Jerry Coyne: Are Science and Religion Utterly Incompatible? [7-13-10]

Christianity: Crucial to the Origin of Science [8-1-10]

Books by Dave Armstrong: Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? [10-20-10]

Typical “Science vs. Catholicism” Criticisms (and Myths) from an Agnostic Scientist Refuted [7-29-11]

Science and Christianity (Copious Resources) [11-3-15]

Dialogue with an Agnostic on Catholicism and Science [9-12-16]

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity [5-23-18]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Loftus Atheist Error #7: Christian Influence on Science [9-9-19]

The Bible is Not “Anti-Scientific,” as Skeptics Claim [National Catholic Register, 10-23-19]

Modern Science is Built on a Christian Foundation [National Catholic Register, 5-6-20]

Seidensticker Folly #44: Historic Christianity & Science [8-29-20]

Goliath

Goliath’s Height: Six Feet 9 Inches, 7 Feet 8, or 9 Feet 9? [7-4-21]

Jesus

Resurrection Debate #4: No “Leafy Branches” on Palm Sunday? [4-19-21]

Resurrection (?) #10: “Blood & Water” & Medical Science [4-25-21]

Jordan River Crossing

Joshua & the Parting of the Jordan: A Natural Event? [9-13-21]

Miracles and Science

The Resurrection: Hoax or History? [cartoon tract; art by Dan Grajek, 1985]

Silly Atheist Arguments vs. the Resurrection & Miracles [2002]

Biblical and Historical Evidences for Raising the Dead [9-24-07; revised for National Catholic Register, 2-8-19]

Dialogue with an Atheist on Miracles & First Premises [12-18-10]

Exchange on Miracles & Hyper-Rationalism [12-7-15]

Dialogues with Atheists on Miracles [6-8-16]

Does God Still Perform Miracles? (Some Evidence) [5-26-18]

Miracle of the Sun at Fatima: Brief Exchange [7-3-18]

Dialogue w Agnostic on Proof for Miracles (Lourdes) [9-9-18]

Miracles & Scientific Method: Dialogue with Atheist [2-22-19]

Atheist Desire for Amazing Divine Miracles / Incorruptibles [2-23-19]

David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #6: Chapters 5-6 (Supernatural & Miracles / Biblical Literary Genres & Figures / Perpetual Virginity / Healing & Belief / Persecution of Jesus in Nazareth) [8-18-19]

Seidensticker Folly #39: “The Sun Stood Still” (Joshua) [4-16-20]

Reflections on Joshua and “the Sun Stood Still” [National Catholic Register, 10-22-20]

Patriarchs: Old Ages of

969-Year-Old Methuselah (?) & Genesis Numbers [7-12-21]

Souls and Spirits

Seidensticker Folly #8: Physics Has Disproven Souls? [8-16-18]

Seidensticker Folly #71: Spirit-God “Magic”; 68% Dark Energy Isn’t? [2-2-21]

Dark Energy, Dark Matter and the Light of the World [National Catholic Register, 2-17-21]

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem, Astronomy, Wise Men, & Josephus (Amazing Astronomically Verified Data in Relation to the Journey of the Wise Men  & Jesus’ Birth & Infancy) [12-14-20]

Timeline: Star of Bethlehem, Herod’s Death, & Jesus’ Birth (Chronology of Harmonious Data from History, Archaeology, the Bible, and Astronomy) [12-15-20]

Who Were the “Wise Men,” or Magi? [National Catholic Register, 12-16-20]

Conjunctions, the Star of Bethlehem and Astronomy [National Catholic Register, 12-21-20]

Star of Bethlehem: Refuting Silly Atheist Objections [12-26-20]

Route Taken by the Magi: Educated Guess [12-28-20]

Star of Bethlehem: More Silly Atheist “Objections” [12-29-20]

Astronomy, Exegesis and the Star of Bethlehem [National Catholic Register, 12-31-20]

Pearce’s Potshots #12: Supernatural Star of Bethlehem? (Biblical View of Astronomy, Laws of Nature, and the Natural World) [1-11-21]

Star of Bethlehem: Natural or Supernatural? [1-13-21]

Bible Commentaries & Matthew 2:9 (Star of Bethlehem) [1-13-21]

Star of Bethlehem: Reply to Obnoxious Atheist Aaron Adair (Plus Further Related Exchanges with Aaron and a Few Others in an Atheist Combox) [1-14-21]

Star of Bethlehem: 2nd Reply to Arrogant Aaron Adair [1-18-21]

Star Researcher Aaron Adair: “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!” [1-19-21]

Star of Bethlehem & Magi: 20 Fascinating Aspects [1-22-21]

Universe, Origin of: Cosmological Argument / Big Bang

Cosmological Argument for God (Resources) [10-23-15]

Cause of the Big Bang: Atheist Geologist Challenged [4-21-17]

Seidensticker Folly #14: Something Rather Than Nothing [9-3-18]

Seidensticker Folly #38: Eternal Universe vs. an Eternal God [4-16-20]

Seidensticker Folly #42: Creation “Ex Nihilo” [8-28-20]

Creation Ex Nihilo is in the Bible [National Catholic Register, 10-1-20]

Universe, Origin of: General

Atheism: the Faith of “Atomism” [8-19-15]

Clarifications Regarding My Controversial Atheist “Reductio” Paper [8-20-15]

Exchanges with Atheists on Ultimate Origins [11-19-15]

Atheists Seem to Have Almost a Childlike Faith in the Omnipotence of Atoms [National Catholic Register, 10-16-16]

Atheists & Inherent “Omnipotent” Creative Qualities of Godless Matter [7-26-17]

Dialogue w Atheist on the Origin of the Universe [6-23-18]

Dialogue with an Atheist on “God of the Gaps” [6-24-18]

Vs. Atheist David Madison #38: Who is Insulting Intelligence? (. . . with emphasis on the vexing and complex question of the ultimate origins of matter and life) [12-11-19]

Universe, Origin of: Teleological Argument / Intelligent Design

Albert Einstein’s “Cosmic Religion”: In His Own Words [originally 2-17-03; expanded greatly on 8-26-10]

Theistic Argument from Longing or Beauty, & Einstein [3-27-08; rev. 3-14-19]

Teleological (Design) Argument for God (Resources) [10-27-15]

Dogmatic Materialist Scientists vs. Intelligent Design [10-29-15]

Seidensticker Folly #41: Argument from Design [8-25-20]

God the Designer?: Dialogue with an Atheist [8-27-20]

Universe: Sustained by God

“Quantum Entanglement” & the “Upholding” Power of God [10-20-20]

Quantum Mechanics and the “Upholding” Power of God [National Catholic Register, 11-24-20]

***

Photo credit: Kenneth A. Kitchen is the dean of biblical archaeologists in our time. His book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, was published in 2006. [from the Amazon book page]

***

Summary: I collect hundreds of my blog posts having to do with the Bible & archaeology (scientific evidence that supports its accuracy) & also the relationship between the Bible & science, generally.

Updated on 16 September 2021

May 5, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Michael Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #101 John versus the Three Synoptics and Acts

Perhaps one of the most important ideas taught in John is that the apostles had the power to remit the sins of “whose soever sins.”

John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (NRSV 1989, 113).

John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (NIV 1978, 1225).

Mark 16:16 instructed: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Therefore, no power delegating the apostles to forgive sins was mentioned or implied. Instead the power was in the hands of the sinner to be saved by believing and being baptized. (p. 584)

Yes, belief in Jesus and the Gospel and baptism are necessary for salvation, as a general, proverbial (true) statement. At the same time, sins can cause one to fall away from salvation:

1 John 5:16-17 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. [17] All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. [most translations have something similar to NASB: “a sin not leading to death”]

This is the NT basis for the Catholic notion of mortal sin: the sin that is so serious and grave that it can cause one to fall away from fellowship with God and salvation: which can be removed in the Catholic system by confession to a priest and subsequent absolution, which is what John is talking about above (and reiterating here in his first epistle). 1 John 5:16-17 is also the primary NT basis for a venial sin (“sin which is not mortal”): sin that is less serious and won’t cause loss of communion with God or salvation, and is not required to be absolved by a priest.

Mark happens to not mention absolution (though he alludes to John the Baptist’s foreshadowing of it: Mk 1:4-5; cf. Mt 3:6; Acts 19:18). No one can give good reasons for why he supposedly was obliged or required to do so, except for [I use sarcasm] “contradiction hunters” who foolishly think they “see” a supposed “contradiction” under every “NT rock.”

Matthew 28:18 reported that Jesus claimed: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Here, too, no power to remit sins was given to the apostles. Instead Jesus instructed that his apostles: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (p. 584)

Matthew is simply teaching about the supreme importance of evangelizing and baptizing: the primary means by which people become Christians and can achieve salvation. As in the case of Mark, he is not obliged to discuss absolution in the same context, since it is not essentially about how to obtain salvation, but rather, about how not to lose it. But more on Matthew and absolution below . . . He doesn’t ignore it in his entire Gospel.

Luke reads similar to Matthew. Luke 24:47 declared: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all
nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Consequently, here, too, no power to remit sins was given to the apostles. Rather, they were commanded to teach all the nations. (p. 584)

Oddly, Alter looks at “remission of sins” in the text, but then obliviously states that in this passage no power to remit sins was given to the apostles.” Huh? How does he know that? In fact, Matthew 28:18 and Luke 24:47 emphasize two aspects of remission of sins: Matthew is highlighting the initial remission of regeneration through baptism (see several other NT passages on that), and Luke is perhaps referring to the sort of absolution that John 20:23 also refers to: that remits sins committed after baptism. In Catholicism both things are sacraments: physical means or rituals by which more grace and power to conquer sin are obtained.

What Jesus said in John 20:23 was during one of His post-Resurrection appearances. Likewise, with Luke 24:47, the words were uttered right before He ascended. Thus, the Christian plausibly posits that “remission of sins” in Luke may very well parallel John 20:23 (“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”).

Occasionally there are those instances where it seems inconceivable that some event or concept is omitted from the synoptic narrations and is present in John. This is one of those instances. Not even one of the synoptic writers or the author of Acts discussed the notion that the apostles had the unique power to forgive sins. (p. 584)

Ah, but Alter has it totally wrong. Matthew in fact does discuss the forgiveness or remission of sins by the disciples, and by extension, succession, and analogy, priests (absolution), two times:

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [said to Peter alone]

Matthew 18:18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [said to the entire group of disciples]

I wrote about these passages and this concept in my first “officially” published book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, in 1996:

Binding and loosing were technical rabbinical terms meaning, respectively, “to forbid” and “to permit,” with regard to interpretations of Jewish Law. In secondary usage, they also could mean “to condemn” and “to acquit.” This power is also given to the Apostles in Matthew 18:17-18, where it apparently refers particularly to discipline and excommunication in local jurisdictions (whereas Peter’s commission seems to apply to the universal Church).

In John 20:23 it is also granted to the Apostles (in a different terminology, which suggests the power to impose penance and grant indulgences and absolution). . . . Marvin Vincent [Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. I, 96] writes: 

No other terms were in more constant use in Rabbinic canon-law than those of binding and loosing. They represented the legislative and judicial powers of the Rabbinic office. These powers Christ now transferred, . . . in their reality, to his Apostles; the first, here, to Peter, as their representative, the second, after his Resurrection, to the Church (John 20:23) . . . (p. 225)

For the Jewish background, see, Jewish Encyclopedia, “Binding and Loosing”: which also discusses the NT appropriation and development of this concept. Priests forgiving sins in the name of God is found in the epistles as well:

2 Corinthians 2:10 Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,

James 5:14-16 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; [15] and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [16] Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. 

1 John 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

All of this also, of course, is nothing essentially new, and goes back to the priestly sacrificial and atoning system of the Mosaic Law:

Exodus 32:30 On the morrow Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

Leviticus 4:20 Thus shall he do with the bull; as he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this; and the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. (cf. 4:26, 35)

Leviticus 5:5-6  When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, [6] and he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. (cf. 5:10, 12-13)

Leviticus 19:21-22 but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the LORD, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. [22] And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him. (cf. 7:7; 9:7; 12:8; 14:19; 16:6, 11, 25, 27, 30)

Numbers 8:12 Then the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bulls; and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD, to make atonement for the Levites. (cf. 6:11; 15:24, 27-28; 28:22; 29:5, 11; 2 Chr 29:24; Neh 10:33; Ezek 45:17, 20)

***

Photo credit: Selva Rasalingam as Jesus in the The Gospel of Luke (2016, Netflix USA) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]

Summary: Michael Alter writes on the topic of remission of sins “contradictions” & tries to claim that the Synoptic Gospels have no concept of remission of sin, as in John 20:23. Wrong! I provide proofs.

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