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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label bible contradictions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bible contradictions. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Answering Bible Contradiction Claims (video)

Last week I gave two talks at the annual Speaking the Truth in Love apologetics conference. Here is the video from one of those, entitled Answering Bible Contradiction Claims. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Understanding the Bible Requires Humility

The Bible is a unique work in human history. It isn't simply one book, but a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors in at least three languages over some 1500 years or so focusing on some of the most important moral and spiritual questions of all time.

One would think such a collection would be utterly incompatible; ideas and precepts would contradict each other on every page. Certainly, skeptics like to make such charges, but some Christians do, too. Take the prohibitions on homosexual relations as an example. In a recent discussion, Brian McLaren holds the passages banning homosexual sex no longer apply. He feels while the admonition was appropriate for those of the first century world, the modern nature of homosexual orientation and unions are something different and therefore the overarching principle of love should take precedence. McLaren pointed to other passages where Jesus seemed to also overturn scriptural commands, such as not working on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8).

Andrew Wilson, who engaged McLaren, disagreed. Wilson holds that Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath in the Matthew passage restores the original intent of the command. It doesn't change it. I tend to agree with Wilson, here. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was correcting the deviations that had snuck into the religious teaching of the day. Jesus is saying that the opinions of the Pharisees were misunderstanding the admonitions. He needed the people to learn the correct lesson.

A Proper Approach to the Bible

The thing I liked the most about the discussion is how Wilson clarifies the way each reader should approach the biblical text. Given there is so much content placed in different genres and written across different times and cultures, there can be places where one would ask “how should I understand this?” Wilson offers a method when reading the scriptures, which is to apply humility four different ways:
  • Humility toward Community– We must first ask how other good, stable Christians have understood such passages. People have a tendency to slant or bend the ideas they receive towards their own experiences, but by asking others one can mitigate such tendencies and pool their common understanding into a more expansive view. This doesn't always mean communities settle on the right understanding, but it is a good first step in seeking a more reliable comprehension of the thought being conveyed.

  • Humility towards Catholicity-Beyond just the local community, one should also ask how Christians across all cultural spectrums would see the passage in question. Obviously, in the antebellum South, slave owners were wont to take Paul's command in Ephesians 6:5-9 as justification for slavery. However, others, such as William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement explained how chattel slavery was antithetical to Christianity. If one were to humbly listen to those voices outside their primary circle, they could come away with a new and more profound understanding of difficult biblical passages.

  • Humility towards Orthodoxy-While current points of view are important, there is a basis of orthodox beliefs against which all biblical interpretations should be measured. The early church fathers labored incredibly to ensure they understood the primary aspects of Jesus and the Apostles' teachings. Over the course of decades and sometimes even centuries, these core beliefs were honed to precision. Therefore, when one comes across a passages that isn't as clear, it is incumbent upon him or her to make sure such beliefs do not undermine these essential positions of the faith.

  • Humility towards Scholarship-Lastly, one must realize there's a whole lot about a text he or she may not know. For example, how slavery in the ancient world of Paul had a much wider range of experience than the slavery practiced in the South. Scholars explore the ancient language, the cultural background, the types of uses of words, and the opinions of other scholars to come to their conclusions. A truth-seeker must be able to include their voices when struggling with a difficult section of scripture.
The person reading the Bible is well served through this practice of humility. Realize, humility doesn't mean one should de facto accept the word of the community or of scholars, etc. It does, however, give appropriate credence to them and one's mind will be opened to possibilities that may not have otherwise been considered.

Whenever I speak with skeptics, humility towards the text seems to be the biggest thing they're missing. They want to believe passage X proves their point. Their stance may give them assurance, but it ultimately won't further the truth.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Does "The Father is Greater than I" Undercut the Trinity?

One of the benefits of moving to a new home is my new address isn't "marked" by Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons and I get to engage with those who would knock on my front door. Today, I received my first call from two ladies representing the Jehovah's Witnesses. They began by asking if I believed people could live forever on earth. I replied that in a sense I did believe that, but I followed it up with one of my own, asking just who those are that qualify for such a blessing. The older lady responded by reading John 17:3, which is a standard verse the Witnesses use: "This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (NWT).

The verse led us to the nature of who Jesus is. If one is to know Jesus, then one must properly understand how the Bible portrays Him. It is very clear that over and over again, the Bible equates the person of Jesus of Nazareth with Jehovah God. One can clearly see this in how Jesus forgives sins in Mark 2:10, how the Father commands even the angels to worship him in Hebrews 1:6, and how he even ascribes the very names of God to himself in Revelation 22:13 – basically an outline of the HANDS argument. I also had them read John 1:3, and explained how Jesus cannot be a created being, but must be the eternal God.

The ladies directly asked if I believed in the Trinity, and one explained how she simply could not. She said passages like John 14:28 where Jesus states "The Father is greater than I"(ESV) show that Jesus could not be God. Other passages seem to reinforce this idea. 1 Corinthians 11:3 declares, "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (ESV). These verses show Jesus's subordination to the Father.

My Witness friend offered this analogy:
You have a father, right? You may see your father as a really great man. Imagine if he is a really great man. You would listen to your father. You wouldn't consider yourself to be your father. You would follow your father's rules and would recognize his authority over you.
I agreed that such a picture of authority properly reflects the passages. But I said that isn't the whole story:
Let's continue with your analogy. Imagine all is as you said and a thief broke into our house one evening to rob us. While inside, either my father or myself woke up and went to investigate. The thief shot and killed the investigator but was later apprehended. Now, let me ask you a question. Is the crime more severe if the man the thief shoots is my father and not me? Wouldn't the homicide be equally wrong no matter if it was my father or myself who was murdered? I think we can agree it would be. That's because the authority one recognizes is different than the inherent worth of the person. While I may choose to place myself under my father's authority, it doesn't make his humanity more human than mine. A general and a private are both equally valuable human beings, the only difference is one where a person chooses to recognize the authority of another.
The ladies agreed that this was reasonable. I continued:
The Bible tells us that Jesus who was in the form of God did not see equality with God a thing to be grasped, but placed himself in submission to the Father (Phil. 2:6-8). So, passages where Jesus says the Father is greater are simply reflecting his submission to the Father's authority, not to some difference in their essence.
Their first reply was "So, you believe in the Trinity," which I saw immediately closed them off to exploring the topic further. In their minds, the word Trinity was forbidden and they began immediately writing off whatever else I said on the topic, ultimately dismissing themselves. This was a shame, as they agreed with all I said up to that point.

I pray that our conversation will give these ladies more to think about. But they shouldn't have to think that because Jesus submits to the authority of the Father means Jesus is not fully God as well as fully man. His essence is divine, as it has been from all eternity. His relation to the Father is as the Son, which means he submits himself to the Father. The two concepts are different.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Quick Answers to the Charge of Bible Contradictions

When I speak with skeptics, many of them claim the Bible cannot be trusted because of all the contradictions within it. I usually ask for specific examples at this point, understanding that the objector may have some specific text in mind. (Don't bluff on this! Here's why.) However, when they offer examples, these usually are shown to not be contradictory upon examination.

Below are two short videos where I discuss how most charges of contradictions are simply the objector applying an unreasonable standard on the text. We can break these down into three categories: skeptics either expect robot reporting, snub style to force meaning, or demand "my way or the highway." The second video shows how I treat one specific objection often lobbed against the resurrection accounts: the differences the Gospels record when describing the number of women who visited Jesus's tomb on Sunday morning. Enjoy.

Does The Bible Have Contradictory Claims In It?

Is The Number Of Women At The Empty Tomb A Contradiction?

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Why Would God Command Women to Marry Their Rapists?

Recently I've had a few different people ask me about the passage in Deuteronomy dealing with a young woman who has been raped. One was by an atheist, the other by a Christian. Both thought that the passage painted God as a cruel misogynist who would have a woman doubly punished for a crime committed against her. Here is how the Christian lady phrased it:
Did God approve of moses law? I am referring to women. If a woman had a female child she was unclean double the time. If a girl was raped she had to marry her rapist. Seems like women were less than. I can't imagine God being ok with that? Thanks !!
While the idea of setting a law where the rapist marries his victim seems shocking to us today, once the passage is placed into its proper textual and historical context, one can see just how important the law was to protect women.

God Did Not Command Women to Marry Their Rapists

The passage in question comes from Deuteronomy 22, where God is laying out certain ways of dealing with different sexual sins. In verses 23-29, the law takes into account different scenarios of rape. Let's take the first two scenarios offered:
If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.
Notice that in neither of these cases is there mentioned anything about a woman marrying her rapist. In the first instance, the woman is betrothed and she is found with another man within a populated area, where she could've called for help but didn't. This law is to root out adulterous relationships whereby the female later claims it was rape. In the second instance, the woman is given the benefit of the doubt, since the area is unpopulated.
It is verses 28-29 that cause all the fuss:
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.
The key to understanding this passage is twofold: understanding the opportunities available to women in this culture and understanding who the mandate is addressing. One must remember this law is written to govern the nation of Israel's legal system in the Late Bronze Age. A young woman who was not a virgin was not considered marriageable material. A young woman who was raped or was promiscuous would have been considered "damaged goods," especially since the land was to be passed down from father to son. The loss of virginity prior to marriage would call that direct line of paternity into question.

How Would Women in the Ancient World Survive?

Secondly, women had no real way to live independently from a man, especially if she had no land to live on. Without a husband, a woman who is unlikely to be married has nowhere to live except in the house of her father. She would be dependent upon either her father's kindness or her husband's to sustain her life. This is why in the book of Ruth we see Naomi telling her two young widowed daughters-in-law that they would fare better in their fathers' houses than risk fending for themselves in Israel.

Lastly, if the father felt his house was shamed by the crime (an unfortunate but very clear possibility), he may not even allow her to stay in the house. Understanding these concepts, it should be clear that rape in the Ancient Near East was not merely a crime against the personal autonomy and emotional well-being of a woman, but it could quite literally have been a death sentence for her!

Thus, when we look at the command given, we can read it with a proper perspective. Notice that the command is not to the woman. It does not say "you shall marry your rapist." What it says is any man who takes the virginity of the woman must be ready to provide for her for the rest of her life as a wife. Since he stole the most valuable of her possessions, her ability to marry, he is obligated to marry her himself so she won't die.

One more important point to remember; the obligation does not go both ways. Deuteronomy 22 is expanding on the law given in Exodus 22:16-17. There, we read. "If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins." Notice that the father of the girl has a right of refusal. He can say "You're a creep and you will have to pay, but you're not coming near her."

So the law on a man who takes the virginity of a woman must also be ready to marry her is not punitive for the woman; it's actually protective. It ensures she won't be tossed away as "damaged goods" but will be provided for. It also emphasizes that promiscuity is a serious matter. The father of the woman can protect his daughter from vicious rapists while also forcing kids who "were just fooling around" to make their relationship permanent. This isn't a misogynistic command but one meant to protect young girls' lives. We simply need to understand the culture in which it was applied.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Claims of Contradictions May Display Prejudice

The charge of contradiction is one that is easily made. It's simple to take two accounts of the same event that holds different details and claim that they are somehow contradictory. I hear this often when discussing the reliability of the Gospel accounts with skeptics. They claim that the birth narratives of Jesus are contradictory or the resurrection accounts offer opposing stories.

The thing about claiming contradictions is that skeptics can easily make such charges while obstinately rejecting any attempts at understanding possible solutions. Skepticism only seems to run in their favor, as they are less skeptical about the claim of contradiction than they are of the reconciliation of the differences. But this isn't anything new.

Dr. Tim McGrew, who runs the Library of Historical Apologetics organization (check out their Facebook page here), came across this quote, originally written by the British theologian Edward Stillingfleet nearly 200 years ago. He deftly sums up the problem with the immediate assumption of contradiction:
How easily things do appear to be contradictions to weak, or unstudied, or prejudiced minds, while after due consideration appear to be no such things. A deep prejudice finds a contradiction in every thing; whereas in truth nothing but ill-will, and impatience of considering, made any thing, it may be, which they quarrel at, appear to be so. If I had been of such a quarrelsome humour, I would have undertaken to have found out more contradictions in your papers than you imagine, and yet you might have been confident you had been guilty of none at all. When I consider the great pains, and learning, and judgment, which hath been shewn by the Christian writers in the explication of the Scriptures; and the raw, indigested objections which some love to make against them; if I were to judge of things barely by the fitness of persons to judge of them, the disproportion between these would appear out of all comparison.1
When Stillingfleet wrote these words, he did not have to deal with the New Atheists or the various charges that pass from page to page on the Internet. Yet, he notes that much intellectual exertion has been given to the study of the scriptures even to that point by those who would critically examine all its aspects. 200 years late, even more scholars have turned a critical eye towards the accounts of Jesus life, death and resurrection, and it still stands as strong as it has since its composition.

It's easy to fall into the trap of expecting ancient documents to conform to 21st century practice, but as Stillingfleet states, drawing on such expectation to make the accusation of contradiction reflects a weak and unstudied mind who may hold a deep prejudice. As for specifics in dealing with contradictions, I've written a series of posts, some of which may be found here, here, and here. I've also offered offered some quick tips to keep in mind.

While the charge of contradiction may be easy to lob, such charges may actually say more about the accuser than the documents. Let's not be too shaken when they appear.


1. Stillingfleet, Edward. "A Letter of Resolution, to a Person Unsatisfied about the Truth and Authority of the Scriptures," in Origines Sacrae, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1817). Print. 381-82. E-book available at
Image courtesy Woody Thrower and licensed by the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Why do Christians Condemn Slavery?

I saw an interesting question posed by David, a self-identified atheist in a Facebook group the other day. I believe the question is earnest and his tone appropriate. I think it deserved a thoughtful response. He asks:
I am an atheist. However, this is a serious question that will appear to be trolling. Trust me, it isn't.

Why do Christians condemn slavery?

The Bible seems to condone a few different forms, explicitly in the OT (Leviticus 25:44-46) and at least complicity in the NT. Doesn't Jesus (Luke 12:47-48), Paul (Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-2) and others use this relationship as a allegory of people's relationship with Jesus, being "slaves to Christ"? Isn't this supposed to be a picture of this relationship, similar as a husband and wife relationship is a picture of Christ and the Church? We wouldn't want to abolish the institution of marriage, correct? If we abolish slavery forever, how will people one hundred years from now REALLY understand this slave/master relationship? Perhaps abolishing slavery will ultimately hurt our chances of understanding God, no? So, why do Christians condemn slavery?

Slaves to Christ

There's a lot here, so I want to go through it appropriately. I also think there's a related question that wasn't expressed but that may be in the back of the questioner's mind, which deals with the Christian objection against same-sex marriage. Let me tease this out a bit.

One way that some Christians have argued for the sanctity of man-woman marriage is because God created it to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33).Same-sex marriage mars that model by eliminating the husband/wife distinction. Two men or two women don't fit the designations of Ephesians 5.

Another model of the relationship between Christ and the believer is the slave model. Almost all the New Testament writers used the phrase of themselves (Rom. 1:1, 2 Cor. 4:5, Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1, Jas. 1:1, 2 Pet. 1:1. Jud. 1:1, Rev, 1:1) and also other Christians (Col.1:7, Col. 4:7, 2 Tim.2:24, Rev, 1:1). Slavery, therefore, is a way believers can identify in their relationship with Christ. Thus, if same-sex marriage corrupts the picture of Christ and his church as laid out in Ephesians 5, then doesn't the abolition of slavery also corrupt the picture of a devoted believer to his Lord as cited in the passages above? Aren't Christians being inconsistent in standing against same-sex marriage while they support the abolition of slavery? Since Leviticus is the primary text against homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) and it condones slavery in Lev.25:44-46, then shouldn't Christians be consistent in their obedience to the Levitcal laws?

Not All Levitical Laws are Alike

I appreciate David's thoughtful approach to this issue. However, I think he misunderstands the role Leviticus plays in the life of the Christian. The Levitical laws are primarily written to the inhabitants of Israel and they were intended to give the new nation a way of separating themselves from their pagan neighbors, showing their allegiance to their God, and various social laws on how to run a nation. Today, the first two items would be seen by most Westerners as separate from the third, but that wasn't true for people of that era, just as it isn't true for many in the East. Paul Copan notes the distinction when he writes:

So when a neighbor, say, moves boundary stones to enlarge his own territory, this has a social impact, affecting his neighbor's livelihood. This act of theft from a neighbor isn't just a societal violation; it's a violation against God as well. Or consider how adultery throws a family into upheaval, not to mention creating a tear in Israel's social fabric. It was an offense against God as well. So when the one God makes a covenant with his people (at Sinai) just before providing a land for them, he is attempting to reshape his people into a nation very much unlike their neighbors.1

Some of these laws, such as dietary restrictions or not wearing garments of mixed fabric are clearly made to distinguish Israel as discriminating and unique. The New Testament tells us that the sacrifice of Christ abolished those distinctions in passages like Acts 10, where Peter first sees a vision of the unclean animals, is told to kill and eat them, and then receives gentile visitors. He concludes, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him" (Acts10:34, ESV).

Laws Must Reflect Their Culture

Secondly, the laws of a nation will naturally reflect the times in which one lives. For example, horse theft used to be a capital crime in many states when a horse was crucial to a man's livelihood and it usually was the most expensive piece of property he owned. Those statues are no longer applicable; not because the crime has changed, but because the culture has changed around it, making losing one's horse an act that has different consequences. Jesus noted this, too, when he chastised the Pharisees asking about Moses' law of divorce in Deuteronomy 24.

I say this because it is crucial to understanding the concept of slavery in the ancient world, especially in the way the New Testament writers use the term. As I've said before, slavery in the Ancient Near-East was not the same as the chattel-slavery of the pre-Civil War South. It was more like serfs and Lords in Israel. Remember, no one was guaranteed a meal in those days. If you were hurt, if you were poor, or if you were a conquered people, you had very few options to avoid starvation. People would even sell themselves into slavery to pay off debts. Once under the protection and care of a wealthy master with the resources to guarantee your basic welfare, some people would actually be better off as slaves. There were even those who decided to pledge their allegiance to their master and became a permanent "employee" of the master's house, sometimes written as a bond-slave or bond-servant. This is the idea that Paul and the other writers above make when they compare themselves to slaves. They are committing themselves freely and permanently to Christ.

Slave in the New Testament is also often used as a descriptor of one's entrapment to sin, such as Romans 6 where Paul tells the church in Rome that they were previously slaves to sin, but now have become slaves to Christ. So, Christians can consistently oppose slavery and still hold the idea of being a bond-servant to Christ. Slavery in that culture meant something other than modern versions of slavery, and the kind of slavery the New Testament writers use concerning Christians is a voluntary slavery.

Tomorrow, I will discuss a little more how the Levitical laws are relevant to Christians and the general culture.


1. Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. Print. 70.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Why a Good Bible Translation is Not Enough

A friend of mine from Holland recently asked if there was an English equivalent to the Dutch phrase "'s Avonds een vent, 's ochtends een vent." The phrase translates to the English "At night a man, in the morning a man" and it's a very popular idiom there, or so I'm told. The Dutch will recognize its meaning immediately, but as an English speaker, I'm going to be hopelessly lost unless my friend unpacks the phrase a bit more. As it turns out, it implied that if one wishes to act like an adult and stay out late (perhaps drinking or partying), then one must also act like an adult in the morning by getting up on time and putting forth a full effort at his or her responsibilities of work or school.

How Culture Affects the Use of Language

Reading the translation of the idiom by itself, I don't think anyone unacquainted with Dutch culture would ever understand its meaning. The United States was heavily influenced by the Puritans, so we don't have any figure of speech that equates drinking with being a grown up. Instead, we have Benjamin Franklin's "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," which is much more in line with our work ethic.

I offer this example because idioms and figures of speech are used throughout the Bible and simply reading a Bible translation without understanding how the language is being used can lead the student to as much confusion as only translating the Dutch idiom above. Let me give you one example: In Amos 4:6 God tells the Israelites, "I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities." To a 21st century culture, one may rejoice. But the phrase is a curse as it is followed by "and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me." God is telling the Israelites that he caused a famine; their teeth were clean because there was no food left to get stuck in them!

Because modern society places an emphasis on white teeth and good oral hygiene, we bring certain presuppositions to the text without even realizing it and one can often miss the point. Another example is Proverbs 22:13 which reads, "The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!'" While such an alarm sounds important and anything other than sluggardly, if you know that lions were native to Israel but not dominant there1 you can perhaps make out the meaning of the proverb. The sluggard says he cannot go outside to work because he may be attacked by a lion (a very unlikely scenario). It's akin to me saying I cannot drive to work because I may be killed in a car accident.

The emphasis of a culture also colors words. In talking about the Franklin quote above, another friend  responded with a favorite from her father: "Early to rise, early to bed makes a man socially dead!" Different times can emphasize different values and can make the same idiom appear differently to the reader. The influence of the Puritans are fading from American culture!

Understand the Context to Understand the Message

There are of course many more illustrations I could offer, but I think the point is clear. One must do more than simply read the Bible in a wooden, literal way to understand what the author is trying to convey to his readers. This especially is true when a skeptic or atheist tries to assert that one certain passage offers a contradiction to another. As I've previously written, claiming a contradiction for Jesus' claim that he'd be in the tomb three days and three nights is simply an abuse of an idiom. We know that the phrase is an idiom because David used it well before Jesus in 1 Samuel 30 and it didn't mean 72 hours in his usage either.

Therefore, before you read a book of the Bible, make sure you keep in mind a few key questions. Ask about the audience to whom the book was being written. Was it for believers in the church, Israel citizens, or a general retelling of events? What issue, problem, or point prompted the author to write to them? Is the author trying to write history, poetry, establish civil laws that would apply only to the nation of Israel, or do something else in the text? All these pieces help the student better understand the words on the page. Most good study bibles will have an introductory section that answers these questions for you as well as footnotes that can explain some of the more confusing idioms. Good commentaries can also be of immense value in better grasping the historical aspects of the passage. It's like the old proverb says, "Any text taken out of context is a pretext." Be a man and divide the word rightly!


1. See Rowan, Yorke M. and Jonathan Golden. "The Chalcolithic Period of the Southern Levant: A Synthetic Review." Journal of World Prehistory 22: 1-92. 9 April 2009. 24. Available online at

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is the Trinity a Contradiction?

In my recent series on the essential beliefs of Christianity, I received a comment from a reader who claimed that I hadn't offered a cogent argument for the Trinity. This isn't the first time I've heard the claim that the Trinity is a contradictory concept. The doctrine of the Trinity has been challenged by everyone from Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslims as contradictory.

What is a Contradiction?

A contradiction occurs when someone asserts a claim resulting in the conclusion that A does not equal A at the same time and in the same way. To briefly understand what I mean, take this well-worn example of a syllogism:

      1. All men are mortal

      2. Socrates is a man

These two premises are not really controversial. But we can know something else about Socrates by looking at them:

      Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

This conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. There is no escaping it. Socrates is part of the set "all men" and if everyone in the set of all men are mortal, Socrates must be mortal, too.

But what if I make an additional claim about Socrates, such as:

      3. Socrates is immortal

If I assert premises #1, #2, and #3, I would have a contradiction. Socrates cannot be both mortal (from #1 and #2) and immortal (from #3) at the same time and in the same manner. Premise #3 could of course not be talking about the physical body of Socrates but referring to his work. In such a case, statement #3 holds no bearing on the other two statements, since they are completely different concepts. But if statement #3 means immortal in the same sense that statement #1 does, then Socrates cannot be a man and immortal because it would mean that Socrates is mortal and while he is at the same time the opposite of mortal. Both cannot possibly be true.

The Argument Against Contradiction

Since we know now what it takes to call an idea contradictory, we can use this understanding to see if the Trinity fits the definition of a contradiction.

      1. If the doctrine of the Trinity defines God as being both one and more than one at the same time and in the same manner then it is contradictory and therefore false.

Next, we declare that God is monotheistic. This is a staple of Christian belief:

      2. There is one God.

But Christianity teaches of a plurality within God. Supported by scripture, it makes the claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can express themselves differently. The Son may pray to the Father or submit to His will. The Father may send the Spirit, and so on. But they are each called God. So, we get another premise:

      3. The person of the Father is God, the person of the Son is God, and ;the person of Holy Spirit is God.

      4. Therefore, God is one being comprised of the persons of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (from 2,3).

If we are to now claim that the Father is a being, the Son is a being, and the Holy Spirit is a being, we would have a contradiction. You would have God is three beings and God is one being. Certainly both cannot be true. However, that is not the Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine is that God is one being comprised of three persons. In my last post I showed how personhood is separate from being. We can create a sub argument here from the facts of that post:

               5a. Personhood is not the same as being if the number of persons of an entity differs from the number of beings present in itself.

               5b. A plant is an entity whose number of persons (zero) differs from the number of beings (one) present in itself.

               5c. Therefore, personhood is not the same as being.

So, because we've clarified the concept of personhood and being, we can add an additional proposition to our argument:  

      6. Therefore, God can be one being comprised of a different number of persons without contradiction (from 4,5c).

      7. Therefore the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory ( from 1,6)

By arguing thusly, one can see that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory. One must add additional premises to the argument, and those premises must properly reflect Christian doctrine.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Debunking 'Bible Secrets' Television Shows

Every year before Christmas and Easter, the media turns to stories about religion to try and boost their audiences. Like clockwork, the History Channel has just begun a series titled "Bible Secrets Discovered". This is the latest in a genre (including "The Bible's Buried Secrets," "Jesus Family Tomb" and others) that seeks to publicize some novel scriptural understanding that undermines the Bible's credibility. Are their charges true?

Below is a four-part audio series plus a two page downloadable PDF outline where I show how these 'Bible Secrets' shows engage ins a bit of misdirection to achieve their goals. More P.T. Barnum than true scholarship, when examining the facts thoughtfully, one can quickly see why these shows present an emperor who has no clothes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Quick Tips on Dealing with Difficulties

We're at the close of our series looking at the supposed contradictions in the Bible. In all our examples, we have shown that there can be answers to passages that seem to contradict each other or facts that we know today. Since it's impossible to deal with more than merely a handful of examples in this series, I want to leave you with a few checkpoints to use when confronting charges of a contradiction. The following quick tip guide will help you think more clearly in your discussions:

Bible Contradictions - Quick Tips on Dealing with Difficulties

Quick Tips on Dealing with Difficulties

Is it really a contradiction?

  1. The burden of proof rests on the critics
    The Bible is probably the most critiqued and scrutinized book in history. Whenever a person charges the Bible with supposedly containing a contradiction the burden rests on them to prove that the contradiction is actually one and not his or her mistaken reading of the text. The text is innocent until proven guilty.1
  2. If there's a plausible solution, then it cannot be a contradiction
    Remember, I said at the outset that a contradiction is a very specific thing – it must show that the statements are making competing claims about the same thing at the same time. If it can be shown that another understanding of the text is not only possible but would be reasonable, then the charge of contradiction evaporates.
  3. Be sure you know what the text says
    Read the text carefully. Words like "after these things" could mean a significant gap in time. Ignoring them is one way to snub style.
  4. Be sure you know what the text means
    With 2,000 years or more between those that wrote the biblical texts and us, it is very easy to misunderstand the intent of the author. Both Snubbing Style and My Way or the Highway make this kind of mistake, but in different circumstances.
  5. Don't confuse imprecision with error
    Round numbers, shortening chronologies and estimating timelines within days instead of minutes are all considered appropriate in ancient literature. Robot Reporting is really a very recent approach to telling a story. As timekeeping improved, so did the precision in recording time.
  6. The Bible itself is an archaeological document – and one of the highest caliber. Therefore, it should be treated as trustworthy. If another document calls into question the Biblical text, why should one assume the Bible to be in error?
    One thing that always amazes me is how when a critic finds ancient texts that bring the accounts of Jesus into question, they never subject the competing claim to the same critical standard as the biblical text. The so-called "lost gospels" are a prime example of given them the benefit of the doubt while the Bible is supposed to be overwhelmingly convincing.
The Bible has shown its value as a historic document. Authors like Luke have paid particular attention to historic details, getting even inconsequential facts right. As we've seen, most claims of contradiction can be easily reconciled to the satisfaction of anyone who is open to honest inquiry. However, a lot of people I come into contact with aren't really interested in the evidence but ale looking for another excuse to not have to believe what it says. Julia Sweeney, a well-known performer who was on Saturday Night Live exemplifies this when she offers her critique of the Bible. She says:
"To me, the Iliad offers more insight into human character and lessons than the Bible. You know, like Jesus was angry a lot. When he turned all those people into pigs and made them run off a mountain, it was so hateful, not just to people but to pigs. I felt upset for the pigs!" 2
Sweeney is trying to object to the story in Mark 5:2-13. However, her woeful misunderstanding shows that she hasn't even done a thoughtful reading of the text. Jesus didn't turn people into pigs, He cast demons out of people and into a heard of swine. He didn't make them run off a cliff, the demons did that voluntarily. Sweeney gets all the facts of this passage wrong and then tries to imply that Jesus was somehow cruel to both people and animals! It was C.H. Spurgeon who said "I would far rather have a man an earnest, intense opposer of the gospel than have him careless and indifferent." When people run roughshod over the biblical text and then claim "contradiction" they really aren't being honest; they're simply throwing out another smokescreen.3


1. Dr. Craig Blomberg writes "Once one accepts that the Gospels reflect attempts to write reliable history or biography, however theological or stylized their presentations may be, then one must immediately recognize an important presupposition that guides most historians in their work. Unless there is good reason for believing otherwise, one will assume that a given detail in the work of a particular [ancient] historian is factual. This method places the burden of proof squarely on the person who would doubt the reliability of a given portion of the text. The alternative is to presume the text unreliable unless convincing evidence can be brought forward in support of it. While many critical scholars of the Gospels adopt this latter method, it is wholly unjustified by the normal canons of historiography, Scholars who would consistently implement such a method when studying other ancient historical writings would find corroborative data so insufficient that the vast majority of accepted history would have to be jettisoned." From Blomberg, Craig L. Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic: 2007. 304.

2. Miller, David Ian. "FINDING MY RELIGION: Julia Sweeney talks about how she became an atheist." San Francisco Chronicle 15 August 2005: Accessed online at <>.

3. John W. Haley's book Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible underscores my point. Originally published in 1874, it continues to answer almost all alleged contradictions offered to this day. To check it out, see Baker Books republished version here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Differences between Accounts Is Actually a Positive!

As we begin to wrap up our study of the different types of charges against the consistency of the Bible, we find that many of the claims of contradiction are really nothing of the sort. They are merely products of an author using the language, styles, and categories of his day, or perhaps trying to emphasize a particular point or teaching of his subject. Where two or more authors conflict, we can look to the authors' different goals in writing and see that they would report events differently. Regardless, the previous explanations show why the claims that the Bible cannot be the God's Word because it contains contradictions falls away as acceptable alternatives are available for these differing objections.

However, I want to bring up one additional point not often heard when discussing the differences in the Bible and specifically in the gospel accounts. I have claimed previously that the gospels are eyewitness testimony. Either eyewitnesses or close associates who interviewed the eyewitnesses wrote the gospels. The fact that accounts of Jesus' resurrection vary in theme and detail actually strengthen the claim these were eyewitnesses instead of people who all conspired to make up the same story. You see made up stories only deal with main events and they only have one particular point of view. When people get together to invent a fable, they don't worry about the details. You know Hansel and Gretel had bread with them in the forest, but you don't know which forest they were in or what type of clothing they were wearing. These things aren't deemed important to the story so they aren't considered.  All accounts of Hansel and Gretel are pretty much the same—which means they all stem from one source.

Eyewitness testimony, on the other hand, is messy and many times offers different facts. In fact, any police detective will tell you, if multiple witnesses tell the exact same story with the same details it is a sure sign of collusion, meaning the witnesses got together and fabricated what they were going to say beforehand. Cold-case homicide detective Jim Wallace supports this point. In his book Cold-Case Christianity he writes:
"I learned many years ago the importance of separating witnesses. If eyewitnesses are quickly separated from one another, they are far more likely to provide an uninfluenced, pure account of what they saw. Yes, their accounts will inevitably differ from the accounts of others who witnessed the same event, but that is the natural result of a witness's past experience, perspective, and worldview. I can deal with the inconsistencies; I expect them. But when witnesses are allowed to sit together (prior to being interviewed) and compare notes and observations, I'm likely to get one harmonized version of the event. Everyone will offer the same story. While this may be tidier, it will come at the sacrifice of some important detail that a witness is willing to forfeit in order to align his or her story with the other witnesses; I'm not willing to pay that price. I would far rather have three messy, apparently contradictory versions of the event than one harmonized version that has eliminated some important detail. I know in the end I'll be able to determine the truth of the matter by examining all three stories. The apparent contradictions are usually easy to explain once I learn something about the witnesses and their perspectives (both visually and personally) at the time of the crime."1
So, the fact that the gospel accounts differ from each other is actually a good thing! Eyewitnesses will report different aspects of an event because each has a different perspective. It means that the writers didn't conspire to make up one story but are reporting events with the impressions the witnesses really had.


1.Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homocide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospel. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C.Cooke Pub, 2013). 71.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bible Contradictions - More of My Way or the Highway

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Japan
We're on the home stretch of a series I've been posting covering various types of contradictions that the Bible has been accused of. I've grouped the nature of the accusations into three main types of errors: expecting "robot" reporting, snubbing style to force meaning, and demanding "My way or the highway." For the full list of links to the series, click here. Here's a couple more from our last category.

Strict chronological order in all accounts of the same events

Since the Bible claims to report historical events, people have sought to show that it reports history unreliably. They will sometimes point to different Gospels reporting the same event, but recording that it occurred at different times or in different circumstances.  But it shouldn't surprise you that the way people report historical events has changed a bit in the last 2000 years.  Scholars note that ancient historians would not always feel compelled to report the events of a person's life in the chronological sequence in which they originally occurred. Sometimes they were more concerned about displaying a certain aspect or character trait of their subject, so they would assemble different events around a central teaching or significant point to substantiate their claim.1  Therefore, Matthew felt he had the freedom to report the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in a different order than Luke.

Assuming similar events must be the same event

Many times the claim of contradiction is raised when different gospel writers offer seemingly conflicting details on a particular event.  For example, Jesus' sermon containing the Beatitudes ("blessed are the poor in spirit… etc") is famously called "the Sermon on the Mount" since it begins with Jesus going up on a mountain with His disciples following Him.  But Luke records that Jesus stood in a level place when preaching the Beatitudes, so it sounds like Luke contradicts Matthew. Of course there could be a level place on the mountaintop, such as a plateau, where Jesus decided to preach this sermon.  That would remove the contradiction.

However, it is also possible that Jesus preached the same sermon more than once in different locations! If the principles of a teaching were important, then it stands to reason that Jesus would want to let many people in different locations hear the message.  There were no newspapers or tape recorders in those days; then only way to disseminate your teachings quickly is to repeat them.   Even today, speakers will recycle full speeches to different groups so that all get to hear the principles that they feel are worthy of more attention. Either way, this cannot be used to prove a contradiction since either explanation is a plausible possibility.

Example: Did Jesus cleanse the Temple at the beginning or the end of His ministry?

All four gospels tell of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Matthew, Mark and Luke have this event happening in the final week of Jesus' ministry, while the gospel of John records it very early in chapter two. Is this a contradiction? No.  It's possible that John is not sticking to a strict chronology, but recording the cleansing of the Temple early.  John's Gospel is structured differently from the other three in that John uses seven events to instigate seven major discourses by Jesus, each emphasizing a specific aspect of Jesus' divine nature.

But scholars also recognize that it's quite likely that Jesus cleaned the Temple twice in His ministry - once at the beginning and once in the final week before His crucifixion. The accounts seem to differ in tone (Jesus was thoughtful in John, making a whip with cords and preplanning the event and He told the sellers "stop making My Father's house a place of business" while in the other accounts the actions seem more immediate and Jesus' speech is more aggressive, saying "You have made [this  place] a robber's den."

Since John records at least three Passover visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, it would not be a stretch to believe that within two or three years, the moneychangers had come back to the Temple and once again set up shop.  There was good profit in selling to worshipers and the priests were considered the real authority for the Temple, not Jesus.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus coming back to the Temple saw the re-established merchants and again drove them out.


1. John W. Haley notes that other historical accounts have taken this approach. "From the pen of one writer we receive an orderly, well-constructed biography; another gives us merely a series of anecdotes, grouped so as to suit some trait, sentiment, or habit of the person described.  Thus, in Xenophon's Memorabilia, we do not find a proper biography of Socrates, but we see various points in his life and character set forth by anecdotes respecting him and by reports of his discussions."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bible Contradictions - My Way or the Highway

The third major way critics will try to claim a contradiction within the Biblical accounts, is to make the mistake I call making it "My Way or the Highway." Basically this means we take our modern biases and understanding of what we think writing should be and try to apply it to people writing in the ancient past.  This is a little different than snubbing style, in that snubbing style usually ignores the intent of the author while My Way or the Highway forces accepted modern approaches as universals to which ancients were somehow supposed to adhere. Many times in these instances, there are facts in dispute – not merely perspective or idioms.  The easiest of these to see is our first example: using modern definitions or classifications and forcing them on ancient writers.

Applying modern definitions to ancient texts

The history of the advancement of science has been fueled to a great degree by the Christian worldview.  Christians knew God was a god of order and He would create an orderly world that would be consistent, knowable and classifiable.  Because of this, they took to exploring their world, learning more about it, and sought to place this knowledge into categories. So, for example, scientists have developed a classification system for all living things known as biological taxonomy.  Your pet dog is part of a larger group (known as a genus) called Canis, including wolves and coyotes.  They are part of a larger family of animals that include jackals and foxes, which are still part of a larger grouping of carnivores: or meat-eating mammals.

This idea of grouping things together makes a lot of sense, but the precision and granularity we see now is a relatively recent invention. It has only being around for some 300 years or so.1 Yet it's a popular ruse to use scientific definitions that weren't even invented during Bible times to show that the Bible's in error.   For example, some object to Leviticus 11:13 classifying a bat as one of the birds since bats are mammals.  However, grouping animals by the fact that they have fur over the fact that they fly is purely arbitrary choice on our part, a choice that was made some 3000 years after Leviticus was written! This is in no way a mistake or contradiction, it's simply the critic trying to force a modern definition on a passage where the writer was using a completely different one.

Example: Does the Hare Chew Cud?

"Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in two: the camel and the rabbit …" Deuteronomy 14:7

 Cud chewers today are recognized as animals such as cows who chew their food, swallow it, then regurgitate it and chew it some more. Rabbits and hares, however, do not have a chambered stomach such as the cow to regurgitate food.  Instead, they let some their food pass through their digestive system and expel it where they then take it and rechew it again. This process is known as cecotrophy.  (It should be noted that they are not chewing dung as the makeup of the cecotrophs is quite different than their waste).

Since the classification of cud-chewers was first defined in 1847 by Richard Owen, it would be intellectually dishonest for someone to claim that a 3500 year old writing is contradictory because it doesn't match with this scientific classification. Further, if the ancient Hebrews defined 'cud-chewing" as that process where half digested vegetation was re-chewed by an animal for easier re-digestion (and that is a very specific and scientific definition), I would say the hare fits here fine.2


1 Most of the accepted way of classifying plants and animals follows the model set forth by Carolus Linnaeus in his book Systema Naturae.  For more on Linnaeus, see Scientists of Faith: Forty-Eight Biographies of Historic Scientists and Their Christian Faith by Dan Graves (GrandRapids: Kregel Pub, 1996)pp.80-83
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Does the hare really chew cud?" 6 April 2010

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Two More Ways Critics Snub Style

We are currently reviewing different ways critics make mistakes when accusing the Bible of being self-contradictory. In our last post, we saw that people sometimes claim the Bible has a contradiction when it is really only using phenomenological language. Today, we'll look at two additional ways critics snub style to force meaning.

Misunderstanding popular idioms and sayings

Every culture has expressions of speech they use to communicate quickly and colorfully. Teens do this naturally; what used to be hip became groovy which turned into cool, then phat. However, some people try to snub style by forcing common sayings—known as idioms—to be understood literally.  This simply proves the objector is not treating the text fairly.  I remember hearing a story where a translator was helping a person visiting Russia.  Getting to the train station minutes before their departure, he told a local that they had made it by the skin of their teeth, which the translator repeated verbatim.  The Russian looked at the man and was quite perplexed.  Teeth don't have skin! So the man had to interpret the meaning of the idiom in order for his listener to understand what he was saying. Similarly, ancient people also had idioms that they used to speak in a particular way.

Example: Jesus in the Tomb Three Days and Nights

"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."  Matthew 12:40

When you look at the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection, it seems that Jesus was wrong. He died on Friday evening and was resurrected before daybreak on Sunday morning.  That's maybe 36-38 hours at the most, not three days AND three nights.  But in Hebrew speech any part of a day is referred to as a whole day.  We can see this in the passage of 1 Samuel 30. Here, David had been fasting before God to conquer the Amalekites, since they had ransacked southern Israel and captured many people including David's wives.  After his victory, verse 12 says that David "had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights."  But in verse 1, it clearly states that David overtook the Amalekites on the third day, not afterwards. So, here is another instance of the phrase three days and three nights not being used literally, but an expression for covering at least part of a three day period.

Differences in perspective or emphasis

One final way critics will snub style is to view a retelling of an account as a contradiction simply because it is emphasizing a different aspect of the same event. For example, the book of Kings and the book of Chronicles offer similar stories of the Kings of Israel and Judah, but the writers there were hoping to make different points. The author of the books of Kings is more concerned with the way God orders the events of history and downfall of the nation's leadership while the author to Chronicles emphasizes the apostasy from the Davidic covenant and temple worship.

Example: Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 competing creation accounts?
"This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven". Genesis 2:4

 In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates the plants first (day three), then the birds and fish (day four), then the animals, and finally man and woman (day 6). However, Genesis 2 seems to say that man was created first, then the plants, then all the animals, and finally woman.  Aren't these contradictory?  The answer is no, because the accounts are really not talking about the same things.

The best way to understand the creation story is to see Genesis chapter one as an overview of all God did to create the heavens and the earth. Then, like a movie plot that backs up to show the details of a particular event, Genesis 2:4 zooms in on the last creation day to tell the events there.   First, planting "a garden toward the east" does not mean that God hadn't already created plants and animals elsewhere.  In fact, because the location of the garden is qualified ("toward the east") it implies that this activity is very localized. God could simply be recreating plants and animals specifically for Adam. The language could also be perspective-driven; God's previous action of creating animals from the ground is restated while underlining that the animals were to be subservient to man.

We use language the same way today. We may tell a friend "this car was built for you" to someone who finds a car they that fits their personality.  Either way, the claim of a contradiction doesn't stand.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Snubbing Style to Force Meaning

I'm currently writing a series of articles answering the claim that the Bible holds contradictions. Previous posts discuss what a contradiction is, what I classify as the three main categories of errors people make when thinking they've found a contradiction, and a review of the first, which is an expectation of Robot Reporting.

The second major way that people err in claiming the Bible holds contradictions is they ignore the style and patterns of the language itself.  All language uses style to convey meaning.Some are put in by the authors to try and make a specific point while others are merely the way people spoke during that time and culture. Ignoring the fact that language and culture have a huge effect on writing and what people mean can mean coming out with a drastically different idea from what the author was really saying. I call this mistake "snubbing style" and it means that someone is trying to force making the text be in error when it is not really the case.

Ignore use of phenomenological language

The first case where this kind of mistake happens is ignoring language that is trying to describe something we all experience using language that we can all relate to.  An example we use even today is how we speak is the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. Now we all know that the sun isn't really circling the earth, the earth rotates and we see the sun.  But since from our point of view it looks like the sun is moving, we talk about the sunrise and sunset. Anyone who would stop someone else in conversation and say "you've made a mistake, the sun doesn't rise at all" would quickly have no friends!

Similarly, the Bible uses this type of language all the time.  God is depicted as having certain characteristics of a body, such as hands and eyes (called anthropomorphic language) even though Jesus tells us God is a spirit. Other passages talk about how "God remembered Noah" or how God would "once again turn his attention toward" His people.  These are all just linguistic ways of making a point that God is getting ready to do something special. He never forgot or had to be reminded.

Does God Change His Mind?

"But Moses interceded with the Lord…  So the LORD changed His mind about the disaster He said He would bring on His people." (Exodus 32:11,14)

If the Bible says that God is all-knowing and never makes a mistake, then how can he change His mind? This is a perfect example of how ancient writers were trying to help their audience understand the circumstances of that moment.  In this instance, Israel had sinned so deeply, they should have been wiped out by God. Therefore, the exchange between Moses and God is there to highlight the fact that it's not because the Israelites were somehow OK that God allowed them to continue, but it is only because of God's own promise and grace that He allowed them to continue at all.  God didn't change his mind, but His words just help us understand how precarious the Israelites situation really was. It also sets up the idea of the need for an intercessor between man and God — pointing the way to our ultimate intercessor, Jesus.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Don't Expect Robot Reporting

I've been going through some of the so-called contradictions that many Internet skeptics accuse the Bible of having. We're currently talking about the assumption of "Robot" Reporting, that is expecting historical books like the Gospel accounts to have been written in mechanical fashion instead of understanding that the authors would write history the same way other ancient writers recorded the events of their day. We've already talked about one way skeptics fall into the Robot Reporting trap: assuming the Gospel accounts should read like court transcripts.

Photo courtesy Mirko Tobias Schaefer

Another reason not to expect robot reporting is the issue of language.  Jesus probably taught the Judean crowds in Aramaic, the language of that land.  However, the world wouldn't understand Aramaic, so the gospel writers wrote in Greek.  Any time you translate from one language to another, it's impossible to record a word-for-word transcription of a teaching—and that's true even today.

Accounts are factual, but not balance sheets

Since writing was such a big deal, most of the stories of ancient times were received and passed on through verbal repetition.  In other words, people talked to one another and would tell the stories that they had heard. As we said in chapter five, people in ancient days made up for the fact they didn't write by honing their skills to memorize long narratives of text with remarkable accuracy.

Because memorizing played such an important role in keeping the stories clear and correct, writers of the ancient world had to different approach to recounting lists and facts.  Using abbreviated lists or rounding numbers to keep them simpler and easier to remember was not only an accepted practice, but the audience would understand that the writer wasn't trying to give exact counts or name every father/son relationship from person A to person B.

Example: Genealogy in Matthew 1

"So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations."

The genealogy of Jesus we read in Matthew 1:1-17 is a prime example of how ancient writers would keep the integrity of a list intact, but make is easier for people to remember. If we were to compare the lists of Judean kings presented in the books of Kings and Chronicles with Matthew's list, we'll find that Matthew purposely left out some of the kings in order to have three equal groupings of fourteen with each grouping tying into a landmark event in the nation's past. Since the term "father" can also mean grandfather or ancestor, we can see that it being used in a different manner, and therefore is not a contradiction.

There were no Xerox machines in Ancient Rome

The last way that critics make the mistake of Robot Reporting is to assume that any errors found in the text must've been placed there by the authors themselves.  We can see through history that this is clearly false, as many times scholars have identified an error in a number that a scribe made while copying the text. Indeed, a famous example of this was the so-called "Sinner's Bible" that was published in 1631.  This King James Version accidentally left out one "not" from the entire bible when printed — unfortunately, it was left out of the seventh commandment which then read "Thou shalt commit adultery!"

God never promised that every copy of a Bible book would be preserved. 2 Peter 1:21 locates the Spirit's work of inspiration at the moment of the production of the texts by the authors. But no biblical text indicates that copies would be kept free from errors. Now, as we talked about in chapter five, sine we have so many copies of New Testament texts, we can know with over 99% certainty what the original texts actually said.  And since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, we've seen that the Hebrew Old Testament text has been preserved with amazing accuracy even after 1,000 years of copying.

Example: Solomon's Horses — 4,000 or 40,000?
2 Chronicles 9:25 reports Solomon had 4,000 horses while 1 Kings 4:26 reports 40,000. Since letters were used for numbers in ancient Hebrew (like Roman Numerals) a copyist mistook one character for another, similar looking one and thus the error.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Three Common Errors in Assuming Contradictions

We're currently discussing how to deal with claims that the BIble contains contradictions.  You can read the forst two posts in this series here and here. As, I've already noted, those who claim the Bible contains contradictions must prove the statements in question are actually contradictory and not meant in different ways.  Usually, though, most "contradictions" are nothing of the sort. Biblical passages generally hold different types of meaning, determined by their context.  Many times, a person is claiming that the Bible has a contradiction usually has some hidden assumptions that are influencing his or her understanding of the passage. In fact, most supposed contradictions are really errors on the part of people who are not treating the Biblical text fairly. In my study of the different errors that people make in treating the Biblical text, I've found that these errors tend to fall into one of three main groups: Expecting Robot Reporting, Snubbing Style to Force Meaning, or My Way is the Only Way.

Don't Expect "Robot" Reporting

The biggest mistake I see when people mishandle the Biblical text is to expect that the Biblical writers were trying to capture every detail of the scene that they describe. Many people assume the Bible offers some kind of strict, court transcript style reporting of whoever is speaking.  But that was never the intent of the authors.  This first group of mistakes-expecting Robot Reporting, that is to expect the Bible to be completely precise in its descriptions of events. But as we'll see, the Bible can be completely accurate without having to record all details of everything it mentions.

Accounts are history, but not transcripts

All ancient historians understood that they wanted to accurately portray their subject matter.  But they would never try to write down a blow-by-blow description of all aspects of the events they record.  They couldn't. Writing in the ancient world was a much bigger deal than it is today.  For one thing, writing was a skill that not everyone had.  We know Jeremiah and Paul had to use secretaries to help them at times.  Paper also was a prized commodity, and unlike books today, scrolls could only hold so much.  A writer would need to be careful to include only the important facts in his account of an event in order to achieve his point.  Other items may be ignored.  A good example of this is the variation in the number of women at the tomb in our example below.
Example: How Many at the Tomb?
  • One woman: John 20:1
    "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb."
  • Two women: Matt. 28:1
    "Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave."
  • Three women: Mark 16:1
    "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him."
  • Five or more: Luke 24:10
    "Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles."
To easily clarify what the gospel writers are doing, let's look at a parallel that happens many times today. Suppose I received a phone call from my co-worker Fred Jones who says, "Hey, we're going to take our kids to see the new blockbuster at the theater, would you like to come?" "Sure!  I'll gather the family and we'll meet you there."

The next day, I talk to three people about my evening.  A mutual fried asks "what did you do last night?"  "Oh, we went to the movies with the Joneses."  Then, my mom calls me and asks why I wasn't at home.  I reply "I took the family to see a movie." A co-worker then asks if I have seen the new blockbuster.  "Yes," I replied "Fred and I both saw it."

Now, have I contradicted myself in any of these accounts?  No.  I've merely reported the relevant details applicable to the audience.  Leaving out some people is not a contradiction.  Remember, we said a contradiction has to be two mutually exclusive concepts.  If I were to say "I saw the movie with Fred and I saw the movie without Fred" it would be a contradiction.  And even then, it's only a contradiction if I'm talking about the same showing of the movie and that we were both present and not present at the same time. This kind of objection is also used to say the number of angels at the tomb is in error, but there's no contradiction here, just more or less information being presented.

Tomorrow, I will discuss some more ways the error of Robot Reporting comes into play. I hope you'll come back for the whole series.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bible Contradictions - What's a Contradiction, Anyway?

We've all heard the charge that the Bible is full of contradictions. It seems easy to level the charge of "contradiction" at a passage or two that seem to be talking about the same thing, but don't match. However, a contradiction is a very specific thing, and many times people just don't understand what must happen in order for one statement to be considered a contradiction to another. Simply put, a contradiction means that someone is making a nonsense claim. They are saying something that cannot possibly be true. If a statement does have the ability to be true given additional information, then the statement isn't really a contradiction.

This may seem a little confusing, but let me clarify what I mean. Luckily this area has been very well travelled in the study of logic, so we have a solid foundation from where we can base our definition.  The Law of Non-Contradiction is one of the Three Standard Laws of Thought that Professor Ed L. Miller notes that all rational thinking has at its basis. 1 These laws are so simple that they will seem self-evident, even to anyone who hasn't studies critical thinking or philosophy. In fact, Miller says that without these three laws thought and discourse would be impossible.  Without them, "nothing we think or say makes any sense, not even this very sentence."

The first law is the Law of Identity, which simply means that a thing is equal to itself. If I have four children then it is true that I have four children.  The Law of Identity is used to understand different terms that always refer to the same thing.  For example, an unmarried man is a bachelor.  Bachelors and unmarried males are different phrases that refer to the exact same property some men have, so any time I use the word bachelor, I can substitute "unmarried man" and it doesn't change them meaning at all. Another example is "God is divine". If we understand the word "divine" to mean pertaining to God, then the sentence just repeats itself; it says the same thing twice. This Law may seem pretty silly, but you'll see how important it is as we come to the next one.

The Second Law is the one that gets to the heart of what we're trying to understand: the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction says that a thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. Using our example above, if it is true that I have four children, then it cannot be true that I do not have four children at the same time and in the same manner.  Bachelors cannot be unmarried AND married at the same time. God cannot be both divine and not divine at the same time if we're using the word divine to mean the same thing.

You see, the Law of Non-Contradiction draws the line between true and false statements.  Look at the statement "Jesus is God."  It would make no sense to say "Jesus is God therefore Jesus cannot be divine."  Because of the Law of Identity above, we can see that this statement is really speaking nonsense.  Jesus either is God or He isn't. If He is God, then He's divine.  He can't be both divine and not-divine at the same time. 

The third law is known as the Law of Excluded Middle, and it simply means you have to choose a side.  Jesus is either divine or he isn't. Since the Law of Non-Contradiction says he cannot be both then when you have two contradictory statements, you cannot hold to both claims.  You must choose one and forfeit the other.

However, note that the Law of Non-Contradiction does specify that we must be talking about the same time and mean the same thing when we point to a claim as contradictory – and this is where most of our critics get into trouble.  The claim must be talking about the same time and the same manner or respect. If I travel to New York and pick up a post card for my wife, I'll write on the back "I'm in New York!" and drop it in the mail box.  If I fly home the next day, I'll beat that postcard to my home.  When my wife does receive the card, she's not going to say "this is a contradiction – you're right here!" It isn't contradictory since the statement was written when I actually was in New York.   Similarly, if I'm daydreaming about Tahiti while at my desk in Southern California, I may say "I'm not really here; I'm in Tahiti right now." Again, this isn't a contradiction since I'm using the words "not really here" to talk about a mental state, not a physical presence. So in order for something to be contradiction, it must hold to two opposing claims that mean the same thing at the same time.


1. Miller, Ed. L. Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996. p.32
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