The Bible is an amazing compendium of ancient wisdom and lore that has been handed down to the present world from its Bronze-Age origins at the hands of primitive sheep herders and fishermen. For some, it is seen as being divinely inspired and inerrantly infallible, while others dismiss it for its harsh cruelty, misogynistic paternalism, atrocities of the worst nature attributed to commands from God, and point to its many internal contradictions and factual errors in rushing to dismiss it as a fraud. As a result, the true nature and history of this remarkable artifact are often lost into the arguments about the extremes of calling it either a cruel hoax or a divine miracle.
All too often the Bible is seen in terms of all-or-nothing, black-and-white extremes, often summarized by the question: “Is the Bible true?”
But as Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38), “What is truth?” And, what is the truth about the Bible?
There are many who are quick to dismiss it as a fraudulent package of worthless myths, while others proclaim it to be the inerrant, infallible Word of God. But can it neatly fit into either simplistic stereotype?
Is the Bible a fraud?
If someone were to come forth today and claim that they had discovered a new work dating back to Bible times, whether that era is defined in terms of the period written about or the more recent period to which we can trace the origins of actual preserved texts, the first question would not be as to whether every statement in it were factually accurate. It would be to determine, using whatever scientific and analytical tools possible, whether the document actually came from the time and place claimed and if it were really written in the ancient times and places of the Bible. We would try to determine its authorship and compare its contents with those of other documents whose authenticity as ancient documents has already been confirmed.
This is the same thing we would do if newly-discovered texts were claimed for the legends of the Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Mayans, Incas or any other ancient compendium of mythology.
In that context, as to the legitimacy of its claims to be of legitimate ancient authenticity, there can be little doubt in terms of modern Bible scholarship, evaluation of documents preserved, and the historical record of those documents’ origins, that the Bible is clearly the work of ancient writers. As such, it clearly gives us a window into the thoughts of ancient peoples from whom much of modern ethical thinking has developed.
At the same time, the same can be said of the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and the civilizations of ancient India, Africa, Mesoamerica and Asia. Archeologists and anthropologists treasure the insights that verified discoveries of ancient documents provide about those ancient civilizations and how they thought and lived. Yet, though treasured and revered, few would seriously consider those writings to be the inerrant, infallible Word of God merely because they are really, really old.
Thus the Bible, and whatever insights and wisdom can be found in it, must incontrovertibly be accepted as a great gift to the modern world. But that, alone, does not make it the infallible, inerrant Word of God — a claim that would have to be evaluated separately on its merits.
It should reasonable be expected that any work that would claim authorship or inspiration from a deity described as omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), would — reflecting the character of its primal source — be completely devoid of any flaws or imperfections. In fact, one of the claims that has often been made on behalf of the Bible by some of its more simple-minded proponents, is that it consists of 66 books produced over a span of some 5,000 years by more than 40 different writers and yet does not have a single contradiction or flaw in it. As we shall see, this claim is, sadly, far off the mark.
For all the richness, insight and wisdom which the Bible provides, we must remember that it came forth from a people who began their existence as nomadic refugees, first from the lands of the fertile crescent, later from Egyptian slavery, and also from subsequent conquests by Babylon (Persia) and Rome. The books of the Bible were produced at differing times, under differing conditions, by writers who often did not know of each other and were not familiar with each other’s works. The Bible itself was not even compiled into its current form until several centuries after the last event in it (other than prophecies) had occurred. The early Christians did not go to their worship services carrying their neatly-packaged Bibles — the Bible was yet be developed and, in those early times, differing communities of Christians (not to mention the Jews from whom the Old Testament of the Bible originated) had very different and sometimes conflicting compilations which only a few could actually possess in those days before inexpensive printing and production methods. Not until early in the fourth century A.D. did councils of mortal men vote to decide which books would be in and which would be out in the final compilation of a standardized Bible. (And even today the process is not fully agreed upon, as Catholic and Protestant Bibles have differing numbers of books, and varying translations of the Bible include or exclude various contested passages.) It is ironic that many Evangelical Bible literalists claim that Catholics are not true Christians, yet they claim divine infallibility of a specific set of ancient writings selected and compiled by the very body whose theology they find fatally suspect.
The result, predictably, is a book which, when carefully examined, presents us with many stunning and direct contradictions, not to mention obvious errors of fact and logic which we would expect to be unknown to ancient primitives but not unknown to an omniscient deity revealing its contents. Additionally, just as any fortune-teller has many success stories to brag about (as well as a good number of failed predictions to try to sweep under the carpet), so the Bible, in its human frailty, also has many stunning successes in its prophecies (though some might have actually been written long after the events predicted actually occurred), but even the edited version that has come down to us also contains many glaring examples of prophecies in which events were predicted in a specific time frame or context, and that context has passed while the prophecy has NOT been fulfilled as predicted.
Let us examine each of these areas (contradictions, failed prophecies and flaws):
1. The very first page of the Old Testament opens right up with contradictory descriptions of the creation (Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2). For example, if the Institute for Creation Research sought relevant information from Genesis, would they determine that plants were created, then animals, then humans (Genesis 1), or humans, then plants then animals (Genesis 2)? Note that in both passages, time indicators are clearly established.
In Genesis 1 God’s creative handiwork for each day is described in order. In verses 11-13 it clearly states that plants were created on the third day. In verses 20-25 it clearly states that fish and birds were created on the fifth day and land animals on the sixth. In verses 26-31 it clearly states that humans were created on the sixth day, after the land animals had been formed. First plants, then animals then humans.
In Genesis 2 there is a different and contradictory sequence (many Bible scholars believe these were two separate traditions that were consolidated into a single book). In verses 5-7 it says that before any plants had been created (for there was not a man to till the ground), that God first formed the heavens and the earth and then created man. It specifically states that this came first and even states the reason. In verses 8-9 it says that God then planted a garden “eastward in Eden,” and put the man there to care for it, and planted every kind of tree and plant. But it was not good for man to be alone in the garden, so God decided to provide companions and, in verses 19-20 God created companions. So the creation sequence is: first man, then plants, then animals. (And as a side note, this primitive God of the early writings, who would become more decisive as the traditions evolved, decided that these animals didn’t quite provide enough companionship, so he decided to provide a female companion which seems to have proven much more satisfactory. Shouldn’t an “omniscient” [all-knowing] deity have already known this?)
At its most simple, the contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 can be stated as: Genesis 1 says that the humans (male and female) were created last, after animals. Genesis 2 says that the man (male) was created first and animals were created much later for the purpose of being the man’s companions, but that didn’t work out so well (God’s error) so, lastly, God created a female human who turned out to be much more companionable. Well, at least until she listed to that darn talking snake and turned out to be somewhat rather naughty (sinful).
So aside from completely lacking in any of the scientific evidence that accompanies, say, evolution (supported by DNA evidence and extensive transitional fossils), aside from the fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support the myth of a talking snake in a magic garden, the accounts right in the first two chapters can’t keep their story straight.
2. Likewise, the very first page of the New Testament introduces another major contradiction: inconsistent genealogies of Jesus’ ancestry in Matthew and Luke.
Some have “explained” this discrepancy by claiming that Luke is the genealogy of Mary; such a claim acknowledges error, since Luke specifically states that it is the genealogy of Joseph [Luke 3:23], just like Matthew [Matt 1:16]. So, either there is a contradiction (Matthew says that Jacob is the father of Joseph; Luke says Heli is the father of Joseph, and from there back to Solomon not a single name is the same; not even the same number of generations), or Luke makes an incorrect statement of relevant fact.
Many readers have written to defend the claim that Luke is the genealogy of Mary, but that the Bible says that Heli is the father of Joseph because women were not regarded equally with men in the Bible record, and that the father of Mary is also the father of Joseph, which we in modern times would call “father-in-law.” But if we look at the actual historical context of such usages in the Bible, this explanation is quickly shown to utterly fail.
Wherever the Bible identifies prominent women and cites their relationship to their husband’s families, it uses the term “in-law.” Anyone who owns a digital Bible (on a diskette or CD or on your hard drive) should do a quick search on the expression “in-law” and see how routinely this is used throughout both Old and New Testaments to identify that relationship (e.g., Sarai, wife of Abraham, Ruth, and many others). Women are identified both as to their fathers-in-law and, for men, to their daughters-in-law, throughout the Bible. And when the lineage of a woman is identified it is her own ancestors that are cited, as in the case of Esther (see Esther 2:5-7; notwithstanding that Esther then married the King who would certainly provide her with a fine lineage of his own, if things were counted that way). Is Mary, the mother of Jesus, less important than others such as Sarai, Esther or Ruth? If their in-law relationships or genealogies can be included, why not Mary’s? And, can you find one single other example in the Bible where a lineage is cited through the woman but it says someone was the “father of” and then gives her husband’s name instead of her own?
Please also note that translations prepared by professionals take into consideration the context of cultural variations. Perhaps one might claim that the scholars of the King James (almost 400 years ago) were not sophisticated to reflect these cultural implications; however more recent updates (Revised Standard Version, New International Version, Today’s English) have excellent standards of professionalism in developing scholarly translations, and every one of them identifies Joseph as the SON of Heli, and not one of them has concluded that Heli was the father-in-law of Mary.
3. In fact, the entire accounts of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are not only completely inconsistent, but also include direct contradictions.
Here are examples of details in Matthew but not in Luke:
• Wise men from East bring gifts (Matt 2:11)
• King Herod is on the throne at the time of Jesus’ birth (Herod’s reign ends in 4 BC) (Matt 2:1) and kills all babies under age two (Matt 2:16) though there is no other external historical source, Jewish or otherwise, to confirm what would have been a horrendous holocaust.
• After the birth, Joseph and Mary flee immediately with Jesus to Egypt (Matt 2:13-15)
• Note: there is no manger, no shepherds, no Roman census, no travel to Bethlehem (they seem to just be there already) and no story of John the Baptist’s birth, and no mention of the reign of Quirinius (Cyrenius) in Syria, which did not overlap at any time with the reign of Herod.
Here are examples of details in Luke but not Matthew:
• Story of Zacariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist’s birth (Luke Chapter 1)
• Decree of Caesar Augusts for a worldwide census (Luke 2:1), which is not supported by any corroborating historical account.
• Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4).
• Birth in a manger because there is no room in the inn (Luke 2:7; 2:12).
• Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and angels (Luke 2:13-15)
• After the birth, they linger in Jerusalem for circumcision, blessings, etc., and then return directly to Nazareth. (Luke 2:21-39).
• Birth occurs when Cyrenius [KJV] (aka: Quirinius in NIV, RSV and historical accounts), whose reign began in 6 AD.
• Note: there are no wise men, no mention of Herod and no flight to Egypt.
The ONLY overlapping details are the angelic annunciation and that it happened in Bethlehem, which was needed to satisfy Micah 5:2, which is often interpreted by Christians as being a prophecy of Jesus.
More significant are the direct contradictions:
• Matthew notes that Herod, whose reign ended in 4 BC, is on the throne of Judea (Matt 2:1), while Luke claims that Quirinius (or Cyerenius) is ruler of Syria (Luke 2:2), but that reign did not begin until 6 AD, ten years AFTER Herod had left the throne of Judea as claimed by Matthew!
• Further, Matthew claims that after the birth, Joseph and Mary immediately take Jesus and flee directly to Egypt (Matt 2:13-15), while Luke claims they linger in nearby Jerusalem for Jewish rituals and then return directly to Nazareth (Luke 2:21-39).
It is certainly probable that two different reporters covering the same events would pick and choose different details or which minor aspects to emphasize. That is not the case here. It is not a matter of telling similar stories with only a few differing details or points of emphasis. They are telling completely different stories.
4. Apostles James and Paul disagreed about a key doctrine: whether “salvation” is by faith alone, or faith and works combined. Compare the direct contradictions (when analyzed for parallel vocabulary and parallel grammatical structure in the original language) in wording between Romans 3:28 and James 2:24.
Additional scriptures support faith alone (Romans 3:27-28 & 4:6; II Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5), while others specify the need for works / good deeds (Matt 16:27, Revelations 2:26 & 20:12; 2 Timothy 4:14; Philippians 2:12; James 2:24-26).
The ultimate contradiction of the Bible is the deep division between the two key figures of Christianity: Jesus, revered as savior and god/man; and Paul, the apostle who spread the infant religion of Christianity throughout the known world. The depth of the contradictions between the “apostle” Paul and Jesus (backed up by his brother James) are clearly the most extreme contradictions in the Bible, and merit their own in-depth analysis. These contradictions also explain much of the difference between conservative “Christians” who follow Paul and the liberal Christians who try to follow the teachings attributed to Jesus, and go a long way towards explaining why the conservatives are so unlike anything attributed to Jesus. This analysis can be found at:
These are just a few examples of contradictions that leap quickly to mind. A longer compilation entitled “Biblical Contradictions,” with hundreds of such contradictions (and still incomplete!), can be downloaded as a text file by visiting our web page at:
P.S. Regarding Contradictions in the Qur’an:
Several readers have written to inquire about contradictions in the Qur’an (or Koran). I have read English translations of the words of the Qur’an, which provide access to content, but do not capture the full poetic cadence and meanings conveyed in the original Arabic, and own print and digital versions translated by Muslims. The Qur’an does contains many contradictions, flaws and factual errors. But having grown up Christian, not Muslim, and addressing a North American readership that includes far more Christians than Muslims. And to the extent that, unlike some countries in the Middle East where the threat is, indeed, from the fringe elements of their dominant faith, the United States is threatened with takeover by religious theocrats, that threat, here, comes from extremist fringe elements of “Christian” sects (such as those who kill women’s doctors and bomb women’s clinics and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Christian Identity Movement, Lambs of God, Westboro Baptist Church, Irish Republican Army, etc.), not Muslims, though that is different in some other countries. Therefore, considering my own background and for this readership, I’ll focus on the Bible. Those interested in the Qur’an can check an excellent website:
1. Ezekiel [chapters 26-28] erroneously predicts that during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar [Ezekiel 26:7] the city of Tyre will be utterly destroyed, become a bare rock [Ezekiel 26:4; 26:14 — KJV says “like the top of a rock”; NIV says “scrape away the rubble and make a bare rock”], and never be rebuilt [Ez 26:14; 26:21]. The city was defeated in battle in 587 BC, during King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, but was not “utterly” destroyed or “never rebuilt.” In fact, Tyre today has more than 20,000 inhabitants at the core of the “old city” (on the original site), surrounded by a metropolitan area of more than 100,000 people! (Even within Bible times, long after the battle described by Ezekiel, Tyre had already been rebuilt and, in New Testament times it is still portrayed as a city (Mark 3:8) and as a harbor where ships could unload (Acts 21:3,7), so this could also qualify as a contradiction.
2. Matt 12:40 clearly says: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Please note it says three days and three nights (the same as in Jonah 1:17 which it refers to). Yet all four gospels report that Jesus died on Friday evening and was resurrected on Sunday morning (at or before dawn, some more contradictions on this point), which would only allow less than 36 hours, not three days AND three nights.
Other than the reference in Matthew 12:40 seeking to link Jesus to an Old Testament reference, the gospels use the phrase, “On the third day” instead of “three days and three nights” (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7), to reflect the chronology of death of Friday (first day), in the tomb Saturday (second day), resurrection Sunday (third day) as recounted in all four gospel accounts.
3. In Matt 24:34 Jesus predicts that the end of the world and all the fantastic “signs” he describes will occur within the lifetimes of the “current generation” or those currently living at the time Jesus spoke those words.
Paul and Jesus didn’t agree on much (see the more detailed artcile on the contradictions between Paul and Jesus and James), but they both share this failed prophecy. In addition to the verse from Jesus cited above, this failed prophecy is reinforced even more explicitly by Paul in his epistle to the Thessalonians, in I Thessalonians 4:15-17 which makes it clear that Jesus is prophesied to return within the lifetimes of those still alive at the time the epistle is written.
Even ignoring Paul’s much more specific statements in Thessalonians, some have written to claim that the reference in Matthew is to the generation in which the signs and wonders begin, not the generation contemporaneous with Jesus. However, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the reference to generations also refers to a “future” generation. Jesus is referring to a time indicator of when in the future those future events will occur. He says it is in the future, but before this generation passes away. Those who claim the future reference say that means when the sign starts, “that generation” will not pass. But the scripture says “this” generation (proximal), not “that” generation (remote). Jesus does not talk about a “future” generation. He uses the term “this” which refers to an immediate or current reference. In fact some other versions of the Bible, notably “Today’s English Version” (developed by Reader’s Digest) actually say “the generation now living” which is how their professional translators chose to convert the clear and unambiguous source references into modern English. Translators of most other versions seemed content to leave it with the immediate pronominal referent “this” generation which, in the absence of a more remote referent or specific future reference, makes it clear and unambiguous that the reference is to the people of the contemporaneous generation which Jesus is addressing).
4. Isaiah 7:14 is widely claimed as a prophesy for a messiah, who shall be given the name “Immanuel.” This must not be referring to the son of Mary and Joseph, since they did not name him Immanuel, but rather, Jesus. The only reference to the name Immanuel in the entire New Testament is Matt 1:25 referring to Isaiah’s prophecy, but even Matthew never actually uses that as a name or reference to Jesus and, in fact, there is no Bible record of Jesus being named or even ever called or referred to as “Immanuel.”
Similarly, Isaiah 53:5-12 is often cited as a prophecy of Jesus’ atonement and his taking upon himself our sins. In reality, it has nothing to do with anyone taking upon himself anyone else’s sins, nor is it even remotely related to Jesus. Verse 5 states that the victim described is “wounded” and “bruised with stripes” (terminology that describes a flogging but not a crucifixion). It says nothing about the victim dying — on the contrary, verse 10 explicitly states that this unfortunate victim will live a long life (Jesus died young) and see his offspring (Jesus reportedly died childless, unless you accept the “DaVinci Code” hypothesis). Since Peter makes the connection between this passage and Jesus (IPeter 2:24-25), this can also count as a contradiction.
Atrocities and Other Flaws
Numbers Chapter 31 commands the Israelites to invade the Midianites (verse 1-2), the chapter goes on to describe the cruelty, destruction and taking of spoils of war commanded by god. It says God commands the killing of every adult male, and this was done (verse 7). When they return with the male children and females, they are commanded by god to kill all the male children and all the females who “have known man intimately,” which is Bible language for not being virgins (verse 17).
Further, it tells this bunch of horny warriors, as part of their spoils of war, to keep alive the virgin girls “for yourselves” (verse 18) For what? To baby sit them? Why just the girls and not the boys? Why only virgins? Why is their sexual history relevant? Putting it into historical context, and given what we know of the culture of that time, and the tradition of rape and pillage allowed by conquering warriors for military spoils, in that context it clearly appears that, according to the Bible in this passage, God (through Moses) is commanding rape! (Verses 30-35 showing the command was carried out). Some have claimed that the Midianite virgins that the soldiers were instructed to “keep for themselves” means the soldiers were to marry them. However, the Bible has no record of wholesale marriage between the Israelite soldiers and Midianites. And verses 32-35 of this chapter refer to the captured virgins as “booty” (in the King James Version; the New International Version uses the term “plunder”). It does not refer to them as “brides.” In any case, why would they need only brides; after all the men lost in battle, seems they would be more in need of young men if marriage was the object. And after the soldiers have just killed their fathers, mothers, brothers and any sisters who weren’t virgins, I’m sure they can really look forward to loving marital bliss (at least the Israelites won’t have to worry about “in-law” problems, but one would think a compassionate God would have more consideration for these poor girls).
Deut 22:28-29 “ If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,  he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (NIV).” In no way is the rape victim given a choice. The marriage must happen. Perhaps she had refused his proposal! All he has to do is rape her and she’s trapped for the rest of her poor, miserable life, with the person who violated her, no matter how righteous and virtuous she had tried to live. She is a double victim.
Exodus 22:18 commands the killing of witches. Lev 20:27 (KJV) commands the killing of wizards (including Oz?)
Exodus 35:2 clearly states that those who work on the Sabbath should be put to death. Do Bible believers feel they are personally obligated to kill those with Sunday jobs?
So that covers the death penalty requirements mandated for witches, wizards and violators of the Sabbath. Additional requirements for the death penalty include gays (Leviticus 20:13), adulterers (Leviticus 20:10), or anyone who just doesn’t share your same beliefs (2 Chronicles 15:12-13). The questions I would ask my friends who believe the Bible to be literally commanded by God would include:
• Are you personally willing to stone, hang or burn someone who claims to be (or you merely suspect of being) a witch?
• Are you personally willing to stone, hang or burn someone who violates the Sabbath?
• Are you personally willing to stone, hang or burn anyone you know who has ever committed adultery?
• Are you personally willing to stone, hang or burn someone for being gay?
Leviticus chapter 21, verses 17-24, makes it very clear that those with a variety of disabilities are not welcome to approach the altar of God. Will Bible believers initiate a campaign to overturn the wicked Americans with Disabilities Act? Verse 20 specifically mentions any defect or “blemish” in one’s vision. I have to admit that I wear prescription glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Deuteronomy 23:1-2 commands that a man wounded in the genitals be considered an outcast, and that a bastard (the innocent child of illicit sexual relations) be outcast “even to his tenth generation.” (No wonder abortion was practiced, and permitted in the law — Numbers 5:12-28 — and in fact, is not prohibited or even discouraged anywhere in the Bible.)
2 Kings 2:23-24 shows that God, through his prophet Elisha, causes two she-bears to attack 42 “small boys” simply because they made fun of Elisha’s baldness. Additionally, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 commands that parents discipline a disobedient son by stoning him to death. Strict observance of these scriptural commands could do much to streamline the backlog in our juvenile justice system.
Judges 11:29-40 God’s covenant with Jephthah requires Jephthah to give his virgin daughter as burnt offering, and it is done. Not only is this offering of a virgin as a human sacri–fice (and his own daughter to boot!) extremely barbaric, it also directly contradicts the prohibition in Deuteronomy 18:10 against allowing one’s own “son or daughter to pass through fire.”
Beyond contemporary issues such as creationism vs. evolution, the Bible contains many other simple errors of fact regarding science and nature: Leviticus 11:6 asserts that hares chew the cud like cows; they do not. Deut 14:18 classifies bats as birds; they are not birds, they are mammals. Leviticus 11:20-23 describes flying insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and locusts as having four legs; they have six. Not surprisingly, those promoting the Bible as the sole authority on science tend to avoid some of these more embarrassing verses.
The Bible is pro-slavery. There are many examples in the Old Testament where slavery was approved by God; it was even commanded that captives in war be taken as slaves (Num 31; Joshua 9:23). Leviticus 25:44-46 outlines the do’s and dont’s of permissible slavery. Verse 46 specifically permits slavery, as long as fellow Hebrews are not the slaves. In Genesis 9:25-27 God commands Canaan to become a slave (the word “servant” is used in King James Version; the word “slave” is used in the more modern Revised Standard and New International Versions). In the kinder, gentler New Testament, Paul wrote that slaves should be obedient to their masters (Eph 6:5-7 & Titus 2:9-10). In I Peter 2:18, it is even specified to be submissive both to masters who are overbearing as well as gentle! Why didn’t they speak out against this moral outrage? Were they afraid of the law? They could at least have remained neutral on the subject.
Leviticus gives some excellent examples of flaws and contradictions. For those who claim that the Mosaic Law was superseded/replaced by Jesus’ higher law, or that Christians are under mercy and not law, I would just say: don’t go around using the usual passages from Leviticus (18:22; 20:13) to condemn homosexuals if you don’t endorse all of its commandments with equal enthusiasm.
Leviticus chapter 11 enumerates permissible and forbidden foods. Permitted are cloven-hoofed cud-chewing animals such as cows and lambs (v.3); forbidden are cloven-hoofed non-cud-chewing animals (camels, etc.); additional animals prohibited as meat include rabbits (v.6), pork (v.7). Verses 8-9 specify that fish with fins and scales are permitted, but all other seafood (specifies both seas and rivers) is an abomination. So I hope none of you Bible-lovers who are too fond of shrimp, crab, lobsters, oysters, and other shellfish., are feeling too cramped by the Law. And it is not just a matter of “law” — foods such as shellfish and pork are described as an abomination. So even if you believe the Law to be superseded, that would no make these “unclean” dietary products any less “abominable” than anything else so described in Leviticus. Actually, I recommend the entire 11th chapter of Leviticus to anyone who takes the Bible too literally.
Lev chapter 12 describes a woman’s uncleanliness during and after menstruation, and ritual purification for women. I hope all those women who cite Old Testament commandments against anything are strict in the obedience to these rituals. Of course, since they can’t speak in Church (1Cor 14:34-35), we don’t need to hear them griping about it.
So again, those who cite the Law of Moses to condemn homosexuality, show themselves to be cherry-picking scripture very selectively, ignoring the prohibitions against the things they choose to indulge in. Similarly, falsely citing the Bible as the basis for “traditional marriage” of one man and one woman ignores the fact that through most of the Bible, the definition of marriage was one man and multiple prepubescent underage women, who were considered his chattel property. And if you want to follow strictly the Biblical definition of “traditional marriage,” it also means that a rape victim must be forced to marry her rapist (Deut 22:28-29). Fortunately, marriage has been evolving and being redefined for millennia.
I’d like to wrap up this subsection with something that it so absurd it seems like a joke, but I’m not kidding. I recently received in my office P.O. Box a brochure just addressed to “Business Manager” at my address (neither my personal or business name was included — kind of the business equivalent of “occupant”). It was from an organization called “The Geocentric Bible Foundation, Inc.” The headline title blares: “Have Scientists Been Wrong? For 400 Years?” By starting with the premise that The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and everything in it is to be taken literally, and from there citing a Biblical basis for claims that the sun revolves around the earth and not the earth around the sun. While most of even those who believe in Bible inerrancy or even Bible literalism would allow for some allegoric or figurative references and would not accept either the Biblical citations or the interpolated conclusions from them, it does show how far afield one can go if one starts from the flawed premise of Biblical inerrancy and infallibility.
All or Nothing
A number of readers have written to say that the Bible must be accepted as true in its entirety or else it is entirely false.
I have to admit I do not understand this “all or nothing” extremist mentality. Why do they hold the Bible to this extreme standard, but not other works? I read many books. In each, I accept some parts and reject other parts. There are many great philosophers or writers whose ideas I like a great deal, but I can’t think of a single one with whom I am in agreement with 100% of absolutely everything they teach. Just because I may disagree with them on a few points on which I think the author drifts into error does not mean I reject all the points that are valid. If I think them wrong on a few points, it doesn’t mean that I must therefore completely cut myself off from all their other good points.
I assume that Christians can understand this point: if they find a few flaws in the minor details of works by contemporary Christian writers, I’m sure they can overlook these little errors as the works of fallible mortal humans and still accept the main points that agree with their beliefs. Likewise, I believe that Jesus and some of his followers taught many good and worthy lessons. But they were only human. They were doing the best they could and, for the most part, did a pretty good job. The fact that there are flaws just proves their humanness, but does not mean that because they are imperfect they are therefore evil.
The existence of a few minor flaws, some contradictions, and other failings does not discredit the importance of what these ancient thinkers developed with the limited resources available to them in their primitive societies. It only becomes problematic for those who claim that the writings of these ancient philosophers are not merely the works of wise old men but the inerrant, infallible word of an omniscient, omnipotent deity. Having made that claim, it is problematic for them to explain how a perfect, infallible deity could have left divine scripture which, in fact, can be clearly shown to have the flaws and errors that we would expect from a work written by mortal humans. The result is that they become forced to resort to convoluted reconciliations and tortured mental gymnastics to try to explain why the Bible doesn’t actually mean what it clearly does say.
“Triviality” of Errors Cited
Some have written to claim that the Bible errors I have cited are minor or trivial. I have cited many errors, here and on my website with a link to hundreds more. Some are on significant points of doctrine or important points of theology. Many, perhaps most, are indeed trivial. But that isn’t the point. If one believes that the Bible is God-breathed, authored or inspired to be inerrant and infallible, then to be inerrant or infallible means no errors. It must be as perfect as the omnipotent deity claimed to have inspired it.
The claim that errors are “trivial” is a tacit admission that the Bible that we have does contain imperfections. It doesn’t really matter if the details are minor or the result of clerical errors. The Bible we have is not the perfect, inerrant, infallible word of god.
Based on both the original context and the plain, simple words that have been handed down to us in whatever translation, that there is no possible way of explaining away the contradictions, factual errors and failed prophecies.
But even if, in some cases, there might be a possible (not plausible, but merely “possible”) way in which a contradiction might be construed to mean something different than what it seems to mean, even with all their contortions of fact, logic and language, the idea that this process of mental gymnastics has to be exercised hundreds of times to make sense of the Bible that has been handed down to us means that, to everyday people, it becomes functionally worthless insofar as it claims to be the perfect and inerrant word of god as opposed to the collective wisdom of the ancients who laid the foundations for modern ethics, law and culture.
What the Bible IS and IS NOT
But the real question is: What does the Bible itself say about its own “infallibility”? Actually, it says nothing. The Bible in its current compilation didn’t even exist until several centuries after the last book was written. Why are religious zealots so quick to claim divine authorship of a book that doesn’t even claim it for itself (with the exception of specific portions of law and prophecy such as “Thus sayeth the Lord…,” but not to the modern Bible as a whole)? The Bible was a collection of separate writings (laws, plays, poems, songs, histories and letters) by individual religious commentators who never imagined their writings would ever be considered divine. They are just like modern writers, making commentary and analysis, who just happened to have their works assembled and voted on by later believers who then canonized their words. They refer to the sanctity of sacred scripture (the body already canonized before their time — such as the Law of Moses and the writings of the Old Testament prophets) never imagining that someday THEIR writings, letters, or whatever will be added to the canon. Paul the Apostle, who clearly believed that the established scripture of his day was inspired (see 2 Timothy 3:16), also clearly acknowledged that some of his own writings were NOT, as when he wrote in 1 Cor 7:12 “But to the rest speak I, not the lord…” (emphasis added); and 2 Cor 11:17 “That which I speak, I speak [it] not after the lord…” (emphasis added).
It is not necessary for good Christians to accept the Bible as the inerrant or infallible Word of God in order to understand and believe in Jesus’ teachings of universal compassion. After all, the early Christians themselves did not have an “infallible Bible” to carry around with them — it wasn’t even compiled until centuries later. Just as we gain insights and understanding from modern writers and commentators of today, without claiming that they are divine and infallible, we can gain insight and understanding from ancient writers, as long as we consider their works for what they are, with critical thinking and common sense — not just blind faith.
We should accept the Bible for what it is: often wise and inspirational, but many times filled with error and cruelty. It is an important historical relic, and the original seed from which much of ethical theory in the Western world has developed, but its words must be discussed, analyzed and evaluated on their merits — as the writing of men, not of God. It does not claim to be anything more.
So … on to a deeper analysis of the premier contradiction: the disagreement between Paul and Jesus on some of the most fundamental issues of Christian theology.
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