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.

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.
Counter-counter-Objection: If so, cite a source. One definition given by Webster's 1828 Dictionary of day is: Time specified; any period of time distinguished from other time; age; time with reference to the existence of a person or thing. He was a useful man in his day. In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Genesis 2:2.
  • 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!
Objection 3: Most animals were created first. Genesis 2 is an account of the Garden of Eden specifically, in which God created man, then the animals.
  • 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."
"Objection: This argument is a fallacy of equivocation. There is only one true God, as in supreme being, while there may be many gods, as in beings of great power."
  • 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
Objection: God does know the hearts of men. He knows all before it happens, and yet he allows it to happen. The same is true here. God has these things happen, not in order for him to know, but that the readers would know, and that those who were tested themselves would know.
  • 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").
Counter-counter-objection: Clean animals are, in the Old Testament, considered more important than unclean animals.
  • Is God warlike?
Exodus 15:3: Yes
I Corinthians 14:33: No
Objection: I Corinthians 14:33 never says anything about war, rather, it says God is the "author...of peace." Peace is not necessarily opposite to war, as war is sometimes necessary to achieve peace. A great General could bring about much peace.
  • Is God's anger fierce and long-lasting?
Jeremiah 17:4: Yes
Psalm 30:5: No
Objection 1: God's anger is different in different circumstances. His wrath would be much greater against more and greater sins than against a single, small sin.
Objection 2: "a moment," in the eyes of God, is not the same as a moment in our eyes. God sees time differently, being outside of it.
  • 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.
Counter-counter-objection: The counter-objection did not disprove the objection at all.
  • Are we punished for our parents' sins?
Exodus 20:5: Yes
Ezekiel 18:20: No
Objection: Ungodly parents tend to produce ungodly children, and it is therefore the children's sins, not the parents, that are responsible for their judgement in Exodus 20:5.
  • 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
Objection: God, in Isaiah 1:11-14, is not condemning offerings and sacrifices, but the unrepentant spirit of those offering them vainly.
  • 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
Objection: The list starting in verse 24 does not claim to be exhaustive. Also, more than thirty are listed.
  • How many stables did Solomon have for his horses?
I Kings 4:26: Forty thousand
II Chronicles 9:25: Four thousand
Objection: While the Kings account says "stalls of horses," the Chronicles account says "stalls for horses and chariots." Evidently, they are referring to two different types of stalls. One kind of stall for horses ridden by soldiers, and another kind for chariots/chariot horses.
  • How many overseers did Solomon have?
I Kings 9:23: 550
II Chronicles 8:10: 250
Objection: The 550 are "over Solomon's work," and are those "which bare rule over the people that wrought the work," while the 250 are those "that bare rule over the people.
  • Did Michal have children?
II Samuel 6:23: No
II Samuel 21:8: Yes
Objection: Michal never had children of her own, as is said in 6:23. The children in 21:8 are those "whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite." They were not Michal's children, she simply raised them.
  • Who was the mother of Abijah?
II Chronicles 11:20: Maachah the daughter of Absalom
II Chronicles 13:2: Michaiah the daughter of Uriel
Objection: They are the same person. The word "daughter," when referring to Absalom, simply means female descendant. This use of words like "father," "mother," "son," etc. was customary at the time.
  • At what age did Ahaziah come to the throne?
II Kings 8:26: 22
II Chronicles 22:2: 42
Objection: The verses never specify where Ahaziah began to reign. In a possible scenario, due to certain known complications in the politics and affairs of the time, Ahaziah became a co-regent over Israel at 22, then became king of Judah at 42.[2]
  • Who succeeded King Josiah?
II Chronicles 36:1: Jehoahaz
Jeremiah 22:11: Shallum
Objection: They are the same person. Note I Chronicles 3:15.
  • At what age did Jehoiachin come to the throne?
II Kings 24:8: Eighteen
II Chronicles 36:9: Eight
Objection: Chronicles refers to the age at which Jehoiachin began to rule over Judah, while Kings is referring to Israel.[3]
  • Can God be seen?
Genesis 32:30: Yes
Exodus 33:11: Yes
John 1:18: No, not at any time
Objection: In the examples given, God is seen through theophany, not actually seen.
  • Is God is to be found by those who seek him?
Proverbs 8:17: Yes
Proverbs 1:28: No
Objection: Proverbs 1:28 is talking about those who "have set at nought all my counsel," (1:25), while 8:17 is about "them that love me."
  • 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
Objections: God has compassion for those who seek him, but wrath for those who fight him.
  • Does God tempt men, or not?
Genesis 22:1: Yes
James 1:13: No
Objection: "Tempt" in Genesis 22:1 does not mean 'tempt to do evil', but means to "test" or "prove". A single world may have a few different senses in which it can be used.
  • 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.'[2]
But the text [4] does not actually say this.
Counter-counter-objection: But the text does. Evidently, if the author considered these two verses contradictory, he would not have put them right beside each other. They are a contrast, not a contradiction[5].
  • Is there an afterlife?
Luke 16:22-23: Yes.
Ecclesiastes 9:5: No.
Objection 1: 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.
Objection 2: Ecclesiastes 9:5 is only saying that nothing more can be done after death to earn heavenly rewards.
  • 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.[3]
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.
Non-objection: Thank you. You have not helped your case, though.
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
Luke: Shepherds
Objection 1: 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'.
Objection 2: Neither account says that the other did not happen. The claims are not exclusive. Both could have visited Jesus.
  • 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
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. [4]
Counter-objection: The text does not say so.
Counter-counter-objection: But it does. "Provide" (Matthew 10:9) is a different word from "take" (Mark 6:8).
  • Where was the Sermon on the Mount delivered?
Matthew: On a hill
Luke: At the bottom of a hill
Objection 1: 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 [6] says 'He went out into a mountain [v.12]... came down [v.17]... and stood in the plain' [my italics].
Objection 2: Luke says that Jesus went to a plain and saw a multitude. Matthew 5:1 tells us that he left this multitude and went to a mountain.
  • 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'.
Counter-counter-objection: History textbooks are not contradicting if one does not contain a certain event or claim. The Bible is written so that only through good biblical study can one find the whole truth (Isaiah 28:13).
  • Was Jesus a bringer of peace?
John 14:27: Yes
Matthew 10:34: No
Objection: Jesus has peace as a goal, and will eventually establish world peace. But for now, because many will reject him, they will be set against their very family.
  • At what time was Jesus crucified?
Mark 15:25: At the third hour
John 19:14-15: After the sixth hour
Objection: Mark is using the Jewish clock (which begins at sunrise) while John is using the Roman clock (which begins at midnight). John is saying Jesus was before Pilate at 6 AM, and Mark says Jesus was crucified at 9 AM.
  • 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.
Counter-counter-objection: Last words recorded and reported are not the same. Also, there was no pun here. It was those watching the crucifixion, who did not speak Aramaic, who thought that Eli meant 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.
Counter-counter-objection: These were casual mentions of the event, not detailed accounts. One would not expect the entire event to have been recorded in one place.
  • 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
Objection: They delivered all of these messages. No record says that only one of these things was said.
  • 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
Objection: Christ would return from the grave after three days, but would then rise into heaven, to return at some unspecifiable future time.
  • Did those with Saul Paul at his conversion hear a voice?
Acts 9:7: Yes
Acts 22:9: No
Objection: The voice they heard was the voice of Saul, talking to the vision that they couldn't hear. They were wondering to whom Saul was speaking.
  • Who ever ascended into heaven?
II Kings 2:11: Elijah
John 3:13: Only the Son of Man
Objection: There is more than one heaven, and the one referred to by Christ here is God's very residence.
  • 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.'"[5]
Counter-objection: The answer seems to be 'Only by those with no blood on their hands', then. Hmm!
Counter-counter-objection: The point is that the Israelites were being hypocrites.
  • Is God ominpresent and omniscient?
Psalm 139:7-10, Proverbs 15:3, Job 34:22,21: Yes
Genesis 18:20-21: No
Objection: In Genesis 18:20-21, God was in a theophany in order to talk with Abraham.
  • Does God change?
Malachi 3:6: No
James 1:17: Yes
Objection: James 1:17 clearly says that God does not change. Didst thou even read the verses? Didst thou expect that we would not?
  • 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
Objection: The law would not be destroyed but would be fulfilled, so that the saint needn't keep all of it.
  • Is salvation dependent on faith, or on deeds?
Romans 3:28: By faith without deeds
James 2:24: By deeds, and not just by faith
Objection: James speaks of works of faith, not works of righteousness or of the law. Hebrews 11 lists many instances of works of faith. If one truly believes, one acts as if this belief were true. Noah did not only believe a flood was coming, but built an ark as instructed (Hebrews 11:7). Had he not built the ark, how could he have really believed?
  • Should good deeds be done publicly?
Matthew 5:16: Yes
Matt 6:3-4: No
Objection: 5:16 is about being a humble example, while 6:3-4 is about bragging pride.
  • Is it permissible to call people names?
Matthew 5:22: No
Matthew 23:17: Yes
Objection: The very point of 5:22 is that thoughts shall be judged also. There is a difference between hatred without reason and righteous rebuke.
  • Should we swear oaths?
Numbers 30:2: Yes
Matthew 5:34-37: No
Objection: God gave the Israelites a chance with oaths, but they acted foolishly. 'No oaths' was a new commandment.
  • Is the earth everlasting?
Ecclesiastes 1:4: Yes
II Peter 3:10 : No
Objection: Ecclesiastes 1:4 is using hyperbole.
  • 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.
Objection: Matthew 16:28 speaks of Christ's spiritual kingdom, not his physical one. Luke 21:32-33 speaks of the generation of the events Christ is describing. Paul, in the 1 Corinthians reference, is talking about the saints in general, not necessarily the ones to whom he was writing. As for the Revelation prophecies, 'soon' is relative, especially in the eyes of a God who transcends time.

Notes

  1. See Account, Times Two, by J. P. Holding
  2. I Pity the Fool I Answer, by J. P. Holding.
  3. The Virginal Conception of Christ, by Jonathan Sarfati.
  4. Good question... Well, did Jesus tell them to take a staff or not? Another contradiction?!, by Glenn Miller.
  5. 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)
  • Morris, Dr. H.M., "The Henry Morris Study Bible" (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1995)
  • KJVtoday.com