Conservapedia:Is the Bible Inerrant?

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Biblical fundamentalists, inerrantists, ultra-orthodox Jews, Catholics, and conservative Christians in general claim that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and therefore contains no contradictions. Critics generally reply that the Bible is full of contradictions, cannot consequently be the infallible Word of God, and for this reason nowhere claims to be. (Given that both facts are simply general knowledge, neither needs specific referencing.) The following article is designed to test both assertions directly against what the Bible itself says.


Contents

Types of alleged contradictions

Claims of contradictions in the Bible may fall into one of a number of common types.

Mismatched lists

Different authors might each list people, words, or events that do not correspond exactly. However, in most cases, none of the authors claim that their lists are exhaustive, so items missing from one list that are on another list is not in itself a contradiction.

Omitted details

One author might mention details of an event that another author omits, with the sceptic claiming that if it really happened, both authors would have mentioned it. This "argument from silence" is logically invalid, and usually ignores possible reasons for a given author not mentioning those details, particularly as each author generally had a particular purpose or audience in mind when writing.

Differing languages or reference points

One author might mention details using one language, clock, calendar, etc., while another might mention the same details using a different language, clock, calendar, etc.

Genuine contradictions

One author might give details that flatly contradict another. Only careful examination of the texts (independently of personal preconceptions or conjecture) can decide whether or not this is the case.

Contradictions need to be proved

Apologists might often disagree as to how an apparent contradiction is to be best explained, due to nobody knowing for sure what the correct explanation is - whether merely circumstantial or a case of genuine contradiction. However, for a sceptic to prove the charge of contradiction, the onus is on him to eliminate all possible realistic explanations. The onus is not on the apologist to know which possible explanation is correct. By the same token, however, neither is it legitimate for the apologist to insist that any given explanation must be correct merely because it fits his or her preconceptions or has been argued by highly selective commentators with similar views. Indeed, the persistent citing of such commentators is liable to lead to an unresolvable 'battle of the commentators' that is likely to leave the general reader (who is in no position to judge the merits of the various commentators) just as nonplussed as before. True, the fact that there is a possible explanation means that the charge of contradiction may fail, depending on the inherent likelihood of the explanation. On the other hand, an unreasonably large number of not-very-likely or highly conjectural explanations may cast doubt on the apologist's case.


Examples of alleged contradictions

The following is a list of the most frequently adduced contradictions, arranged (for clarity and concision) in brief question-and-answer form. Translations are from the KJV. The more usually advanced objections are appended in italics, and may be added to, as this article is not locked - though long semantic 'wriggles' may not redound to the entire credit of the poster's argument.


  • How long did it take God to create the world?
Genesis 1: Six days (Hebrew yom)
Genesis 2: One day (Hebrew yom)
Objection: The context indicates that the word yom in chapter 2 is used in the sense of "when", as many translations have it.
Counter-objection: Linguistic studies do not support the use of "when" to translate yom.
Objection: The phrase "be yom", "in the day" in chapter 2 is used in the sense of "when", as many translations have it.
  • Was man created before or after the animals?
Genesis 1:24-6: After the animals
Genesis 2:7,19: Before the animals
Objection 1: Unlike chapter 1, with its numbered days, chapter 2 is not intended as a chronological account.
Counter-objection: Since verse 7 comes well before verse 19, it is clear that man came before the animals. Additionally, Gen 2:18 states specifically that the animals were created because God felt it was not right for man to be alone.
Objection 2: At least one modern translation (NIV) replaces the word 'formed' with 'had formed', (showing that the animals had already been created).
Counter-objection: That is a clear mistranslation of the Hebrew verb, whose tense and mood is imperfect ('formed', 'was forming'), not pluperfect ('had formed').[1]
Counter-counter objection: Some sources suggest - on the basis of seeing chapter 2 as not a contradiction of chapter 2, but as part of its context - that it is appropriate to treat the word as a pluperfect. [1]
Counter-counter-counter-objection: Which is, of course, an entirely circular argument, and in violation of Semitic linguistics!
  • How long is a day as far as God is concerned, then?
Genesis 1: An evening and morning
II Peter 3:8: A thousand years
Objection: Increasing time periods have no practical effect on God, who is outside time. This does not preclude Him expressing time exactly to his creatures.
  • Is there only one God?
Deuteronomy 6:4: Yes
Deuteronomy 6:14: "Do not follow other gods" (Follow the one True God), Numbers 33:4 "for the LORD had brought judgment on their gods."
  • Does God know the hearts of men?
Psalm 139:2,3 Acts 1:24: Yes
Genesis 22:12, Deuteronomy 8:2, 13:3: Evidently not
  • How many of each kind of living creature did God tell Noah to take into the Ark?
Genesis 6:19: One pair
Genesis 7:2: Seven pairs of birds and ‘clean’ creatures, and one pair of the rest
Objection: It is common for the Bible writers to give an overview initially, and more detail later.
Counter-objection: Given that there are far more clean than unclean animals, it would seem that the predominant seven pairs would be given in an overview (absent, of course, the usage of any phrase meaning "at least two").
  • Is God warlike?
Exodus 15:3: Yes
I Corinthians 14:33: No
  • Is God's anger fierce and long-lasting?
Jeremiah 17:4: Yes
Psalm 30:5: No
  • On which mountain did Moses receive the Ten Commandments?
Exodus 3: Horeb
Exodus 19: Sinai
Objection: They are both the same mountain.
Counter-objection: The Biblical text indicates that Horeb was the proper name of the mountain, and that the mountain was located in the Sinai desert.
  • Are we punished for our parents' sins?
Exodus 20:5: Yes
Ezekiel 18:20: No
  • Is it right to kill?
Exodus 20:13: No
I Samuel 15:2,3,7,8: Emphatically yes
Objection: Traditionally, 'Thou shalt not kill' was simply taken to mean 'Thou shalt not kill Jews.
Comment: The word should actually be 'murder', not kill.
  • Does God require burnt offerings and sacrifices?
Exodus 29:36, 29:18, Leviticus 1:9: Yes
Isaiah 1,11-14: No
  • Did David have thirty companions, or thirty-seven?
II Samuel 23:24: Thirty [all named and listed]
II Samuel 23:39: Thirty-seven in all
  • How many stables did Solomon have for his horses?
I Kings 4:26: Forty thousand
II Chronicles 9:25: Four thousand
Objection: This one is probably a copyist error.[2]
Non-objection: The Bible is thus not infallible.
  • How many overseers did Solomon have?
I Kings 9:23: 550
II Chronicles 8:10: 250
  • Did Michal have children?
II Samuel 6:23: No
II Samuel 21:8: Yes
  • Who was the mother of Abijah?
II Chronicles 11:20: Maachah the daughter of Absalom
II Chronicles 13:2: Michaiah the daughter of Uriel
  • At what age did Ahaziah come to the throne?
II Kings 8:26: 22
II Chronicles 22:2: 42
  • Who succeeded King Josiah?
II Chronicles 36:1: Jehoahaz
Jeremiah 22:11: Shallum
  • At what age did Jehoiachin come to the throne?
II Kings 24:8: Eighteen
II Chronicles 36:9: Eight
  • Can God be seen?
Genesis 32:30: Yes
Exodus 33:11: Yes
John 1:18: No, not at any time
  • Is God is to be found by those who seek him?
Proverbs 8:17: Yes
Proverbs 1:28: No
  • Should children be corrected with "the rod?"
Proverbs 13:24, 23:13-14, 29:15: Yes
Colossians 3:21: No
Objection: Colossians mentions nothing about physical punishment.
  • Is God mercfiul, or merciless?
Jeremiah 13:14: Merciless
I Samuel 15:13: Merciless
James 5:11: Very pitiful, and of tender mercy
  • Does God tempt men, or not?
Genesis 22:1: Yes
James 1:13: No
  • Can the Sun and Moon ever appear together in the sky at the same time
Joshua 10:12: Yes.
Psalm 136:8-9 No.
Genesis 1:16: No.
Objection: There is no contradiction: the last two references are to 'ruling', not 'appearing'.
Non-objection: The parallelism in the language means that the Moon plays the same role with respect to "night" as the Sun plays with respect to "day.
  • Should one answer a fool?
Proverbs 26:4: No.
Proverbs 26:5: Yes.
Objection: Taken together, the two verses mean, 'It is unwise to argue with a fool at his own level and recognize his own foolish suppositions, but it is good sometimes to refute him soundly, lest his foolishness seem to be confirmed by your silence.'[3]
But the text [2] does not actually say this.
  • Is there an afterlife?
Luke 16:22-23: Yes.
Ecclesiastes 9:5: No.
Objection: Ecclesiastes is merely recounting Solomon's opinion; the closing words in 12:9-14 show that the purpose of the chapter is to portray Solomon as a wise leader, and that not everything in it is should necessarily be taken as true.
Non-objection: thus we see the value of allegory over inerrant literal truth.
  • Which of the two genealogies of Jesus is right – Matthew’s or Luke’s (both of them traced through the man who was supposedly not Jesus’ father in the first place)?
Impossible to say: they are totally incompatible
Objection 1: One of them is traced through Mary, his mother.[4]
Counter-objection: Both of them are specifically traced through Joseph, as the texts themselves make clear.
Counter-counter-objection: Restating the claim is not a counter-objection.
Counter-counter-counter-objection: The cited article states that the genealogy in Luke goes through Mary however it includes Joseph.
Objection 2: One is traced through Joseph's father, the other through his step-father.
Counter-objection: The text doesn't say so.
  • Who was Joseph's father, then?
Matthew 1:16: Jacob
Luke 3:23: Heli
Objection: This is merely the previous objection restated.
  • Who visited Jesus in his crib?
Matthew: Astrologers
Mark: Not mentioned (no birth story)
Luke: Shepherds
John: Not mentioned (no birth story)
Objection: Matthew does not say that the magi visited Jesus in the crib. The "contradiction" is imaginary.
Counter-objection: The texts states 'where the young child was'.
  • Did Jesus tell his disciples to go out with or without a stick?
Matthew 10:10: Without a stick
Mark 6:8: With a stick
Luke 9:3: Without a stick
John: Not mentioned
Objection: In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is telling his disciples not to go and get a staff. In Mark, Jesus is saying that they can take with them the staff that they already have. [5]
Counter-objection: The text does not say so.
  • Where was the Sermon on the Mount delivered?
Matthew: On a hill
Mark: Not mentioned
Luke: At the bottom of a hill
John: Not mentioned
Objection: Luke is usually translated as "on a level place", not "on a plain". He could therefore be referring to a level place on a hill.
Counter-objection: The text [3] says 'He went out into a mountain [v.12]... came down [v.17]... and stood in the plain' [my italics].
  • Where in each gospel does Jesus make the all-important claim 'I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me'?
Matthew: Not mentioned
Mark: Not mentioned
Luke: Not mentioned
John: 14:6
Objection: How is this a contradiction if only one writer mentions it?
Counter-objection: Evidently either Matthew, Mark and Luke had never heard of it, or else they didn't think it worth mentioning, so it can't have been 'all-important'.
  • Was Jesus a bringer of peace?
John 14:27: Yes
Matthew 10:34: No
  • At what time was Jesus crucified?
Mark 15:25: At the third hour
John 19:14-15: After the sixth hour
  • Who was present at the Crucifixion?
Matthew: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, the mother of the sons of Zebedee and other women
Mark: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome and other women
Luke: His friends, and the women who had accompanied him from Galilee
John: His mother, her sister, Mary wife of Clopas and Mary of Magdala
Objection: Mentioning only some of the people present does not preclude others being present.
  • What were Jesus’ last words on the cross?
Matthew: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
Mark: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
Luke: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’
John: ‘It is finished.’
Objection: In most cases, the writers do not indicate that the words they quote were the last words.
Counter-objection: But they are the last words that they report. Additionally, both Matthew and Mark use Aramaic, which appears more likely to have been used, and which contains a pun on the names of God and Elias.
  • How did Judas die?
Acts 1:18: He fell down and burst asunder
Matt. 27:5: He hanged himself
Objection: Neither account excludes the other. He hanged himself, and his body fell down and burst asunder.
Counter-objection: Neither account suggests that both happened.
  • Who was the first to reach the tomb on the Sunday morning?
Matthew: Mary of Magdala and ‘the other Mary’
Mark: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome
Luke: Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James
John: Mary of Magdala
Objection: None of the authors claim to be listing everybody. None say that the others were not there.
  • Whom did they find in the tomb?
Matthew: An angel
Mark: A youth
Luke: Two men in dazzling garments
John: Two angels
Objection: Mentioning one does not preclude there being two. Otherwise, they could all be different descriptions of the same beings.
  • What message did he/they deliver?
Matthew: That Jesus was going on to Galilee, where they would see him
Mark: That Jesus was going on to Galilee, where they would see him
Luke: To remember what he had said
John: That he was now ascending to the Father
  • When did Jesus say he would return?
Matthew:(a) After three days
(b) At some unspecifiable future time
Mark: (a) After three days
(b) At some unspecifiable future time
Luke:(a) After three days
(b) At some unspecifiable future time
John: Unspecified
  • Did those with Saul Paul at his conversion hear a voice?
Acts 9:7: Yes
Acts 22:9: No
  • Who ever ascended into heaven?
II Kings 2:11: Elijah
John 3:13: Only the Son of Man
  • Does God approve of observing the Sabbath, or not?
Exodus 20:10: Yes
Isaiah 1:13: No
Objection: "The reason why the Sabbath keeping and other observances of the Israelites were not acceptable to God, is set forth by Isaiah, in a subsequent verse, thus: 'Your hands are full of blood.'"[6]
Counter-objection: The answer seems to be 'Only by those with no blood on their hands', then. Hmm!
  • Is God ominpresent and omniscient?
Psalm 139:7-10, Proverbs 15:3, Job 34:22,21: Yes
Genesis 18:20-21: No
  • Does God change?
Malachi 3:6: No
James 1:17: Yes
  • Are the followers of Christ obliged to keep the whole of the Jewish Law (i.e. all 613 positive and negative provisions of it)?
Matthew 5:17-18 (Jesus): Yes
Romans 6:15 (Paul): No
  • Is salvation dependent on faith, or or on deeds?
Romans 3:28: By faith without deeds
James 2:24: By deeds, and not just by faith
  • Should good deeds be done publicly?
Matthew 5:16: Yes
Matt 6:3-4: No
  • Is it permissible to call people names?
Matthew 5:22: No
Matthew 23:17: Yes
  • Should we swear oaths?
Numbers 30:2: Yes
Matthew 5:34-37: No
  • Is the earth everlasting?
Ecclesiastes 1:4: Yes
II Peter 3:10 : No
  • When was Jesus supposed to return and the world end?
Matthew 16:28: In the lifetime of Jesus' audience
Luke 21:32-33: Before the generation of Jesus' audience passed away
I Corinthians 15:51: Before all Paul's correspondents died
Revelation 1:3, 22:7, 20: Soon after the Revelation was dictated/written.

Notes

  1. See Account, Times Two, by J. P. Holding
  2. Copyist Errors and Estimations, by J. P. Holding.
  3. I Pity the Fool I Answer, by J. P. Holding.
  4. The Virginal Conception of Christ, by Jonathan Sarfati.
  5. Good question... Well, did Jesus tell them to take a staff or not? Another contradiction?!, by Glenn Miller.
  6. John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, 1874.

Sources

  • Cruden, A., Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments (Lutterworth, 1930)
  • Cupitt, D., The Sea of Faith (BBC, 1984)
  • Dawkins, Prof. R., The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006)
  • Finkelstein, I. & Silberman, N.I., The Bible Unearthed (Touchstone, 2002)
  • The Holy Bible (King James Version)
  • McKinnon, Prof. D.M, Williams, H., Vidler, Dean A.R. & Bezzant, Dean J.S., Objections to Christian Belief (Constable, 1963)
  • The New English Bible (Oxford & Cambridge University Presses, 1970)
  • The New Jerusalem Bible (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1990)
  • Peake, A.S., Commentary on the Bible (Nelson, 1962)
  • Robinson, Bishop J.A.T., Honest to God (SCM, 1963)
  • Schonfield, Dr. H.J., The Passover Plot (Hutchinson, 1965)
  • Schonfield, Dr. H.J., Those Incredible Christians (Geis/Bantam, 1968)
  • Spong, Bishop J.S., Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991)
  • Young, R., Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible (Lutterworth, 1939)
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