By Dan Barker
PAUL SAID, "God is not the author of confusion," (I Corinthians 14:33), yet never has a book produced more confusion than the bible! There are hundreds of denominations and sects, all using the "inspired Scriptures" to prove their conflicting doctrines.
Why do trained theologians differ? Why do educated translators disagree over Greek and Hebrew meanings? Why all the confusion? Shouldn't a document that was "divinely inspired" by an omniscient and omnipotent deity be as clear as possible?
"If the trumpet give an uncertain sound," Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:8, "who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air." Exactly! Paul should have practiced what he preached. For almost two millennia, the bible has been producing a most "uncertain sound."
The problem is not with human limitations, as some claim. The problem is the bible itself. People who are free of theological bias notice that the bible contains hundreds of discrepancies. Should it surprise us when such a literary and moral mish-mash, taken seriously, causes so much discord? Here is a brief sampling of biblical contradictions.
Should we kill?
Exodus 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill."
Leviticus 24:17 "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death."
Exodus 32:27 "Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, . . . and slay every man his brother, . . . companion, . . . neighbor."
I Samuel 6:19 " . . . and the people lamented because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter."
I Samuel 15:2,3,7,8 "Thus saith the Lord . . . Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. . . . And Saul smote the Amalekites . . . and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword."
Numbers 15:36 "And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses."
Hosea 13:16 "they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with children shall be ripped up."
For a discussion of the defense that the Commandments prohibit only murder, see "Murder, He Wrote", chapter 27 (Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist).
Should we tell lies?
Exodus 20:16 "Thou shalt not bear false witness."
Proverbs 12:22 "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord."
I Kings 22:23 "The Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee."
II Thessalonians 2:11 "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie."
Also, compare Joshua 2:4-6 with James 2:25.
Should we steal?
Exodus 20:15 "Thou shalt not steal."
Leviticus 19:13 "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him."
Exodus 3:22 "And ye shall spoil the Egyptians."
Exodus 12:35-36 "And they spoiled [plundered, NRSV] the Egyptians."
Luke 19:29-34 "[Jesus] sent two of his disciples, Saying, Go ye into the village . . . ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. . . . And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? And they said, The Lord hath need of him."
I was taught as a child that when you take something without asking for it, that is stealing.
Shall we keep the sabbath?
Exodus 20:8 "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy."
Exodus 31:15 "Whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death."
Numbers 15:32,36 "And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. . . . And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses."
Isaiah 1:13 "The new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity."
John 5:16 "And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day."
Colossians 2:16 "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days."
Shall we make graven images?
Exodus 20:4 "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven . . . earth . . . water."
Leviticus 26:1 "Ye shall make ye no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone."
Deuteronomy 27:15 "Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image."
Exodus 25:18 "And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them."
I Kings 7:15,16,23,25 "For he [Solomon] cast two pillars of brass . . . and two chapiters of molten brass . . . And he made a molten sea . . . it stood upon twelve oxen . . . [and so on]"
Are we saved through works?
Ephesians 2:8,9 "For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . not of works."
Romans 3:20,28 "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight."
Galatians 2:16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ."
James 2:24 "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
Matthew 19:16-21 "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he [Jesus] said unto him . . . keep the commandments. . . . The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven."
The common defense here is that "we are saved by faith and works." But Paul said "not of works."
Should good works be seen?
Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works."
I Peter 2:12 "Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that . . . they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation."
Matthew 6:1-4 "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them . . . that thine alms may be in secret."
Matthew 23:3,5 "Do not ye after their [Pharisees'] works. . . . all their works they do for to be seen of men."
Should we own slaves?
Leviticus 25:45-46 "Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, . . . and they shall be your possession . . . they shall be your bondmen forever."
Genesis 9:25 "And he [Noah] said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."
Exodus 21:2,7 "If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. . . . And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the manservants do."
Joel 3:8 "And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it."
Luke 12:47,48 [Jesus speaking] "And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes."
Colossians 3:22 "Servants, obey in all things your masters."
Isaiah 58:6 "Undo the heavy burdens . . . let the oppressed go free, . . . break every yoke."
Matthew 23:10 "Neither be ye called Masters: for one is your Master, even Christ."
Pro-slavery bible verses were cited by many churches in the South during the Civil War, and were used by some theologians in the Dutch Reformed Church to justify apartheid in South Africa. There are more pro-slavery verses than cited here.
Does God change his mind?
Malachi 3:6 "For I am the Lord; I change not."
Numbers 23:19 "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent."
Ezekiel 24:14 "I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent."
James 1:17 " . . . the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
Exodus 32:14 "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
Genesis 6:6,7 "And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth . . . And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth . . . for it repenteth me that I have made him."
Jonah 3:10 ". . . and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
See also II Kings 20:1-7, Numbers 16:20-35, Numbers 16:44-50.
See Genesis 18:23-33, where Abraham gets God to change his mind about the minimum number of righteous people in Sodom required to avoid destruction, bargaining down from fifty to ten. (An omniscient God must have known that he was playing with Abraham's hopes for mercy--he destroyed the city anyway.)
Are we punished for our parents' sins?
Exodus 20:5 "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." (Repeated in Deuteronomy 5:9)
Exodus 34:6-7 " . . . The Lord God, merciful and gracious, . . . that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation."
I Corinthians 15:22 "For as in Adam all die, . . ."
Ezekiel 18:20 "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father."
Deuteronomy 24:16 "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin."
Is God good or evil?
Psalm 145:9 "The Lord is good to all."
Deuteronomy 32:4 "a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he."
Isaiah 45:7 "I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things." See "Out of Context" for more on Isaiah 45:7.
Lamentations 3:38 "Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?"
Jeremiah 18:11 "Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you."
Ezekiel 20:25,26 "I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord."
Does God tempt people?
James 1:13 "Let no man say . . . I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man."
Genesis 22:1 "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham."
Is God peaceable?
Romans 15:33 "The God of peace."
Isaiah 2:4 ". . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Exodus 15:3 "The Lord is a man of war."
Joel 3:9-10 "Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong."
Was Jesus peaceable?
John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you."
Acts 10:36 "The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ."
Luke 2:14 " . . . on earth peace, good will toward men."
Matthew 10:34 "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."
Luke 22:36 "Then said he unto them, . . . he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one."
Was Jesus trustworthy?
John 8:14 "Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true."
John 5:31 "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true."
"Record" and "witness" in the above verses are the same Greek word (martyria).
Shall we call people names?
Matthew 5:22 "Whosoever shall say Thou fool, shall be in danger of hellfire." [Jesus speaking]
Matthew 23:17 "Ye fools and blind." [Jesus speaking]
Psalm 14:1 "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."
Has anyone seen God?
John 1:18 "No man hath seen God at any time."
Exodus 33:20 "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live."
John 6:46 "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God [Jesus], he hath seen the Father."
I John 4:12 "No man hath seen God at any time."
Genesis 32:30 "For I have seen God face to face."
Exodus 33:11 "And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend."
Isaiah 6:1 "In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple."
Job 42:5 "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee."
How many Gods are there?
Deuteronomy 6:4 "The Lord our God is one Lord."
Genesis 1:26 "And God said, Let us make man in our image."
Genesis 3:22 "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil."
I John 5:7 "And there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."
It does no good to claim that "Let us" is the magisterial "we." Such usage implies inclusivity of all authorities under a king's leadership. Invoking the Trinity solves nothing because such an idea is more contradictory than the problem it attempts to solve.
Are we all sinners?
Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."
Romans 3:10 "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one."
Psalm 14:3 "There is none that doeth good, no, not one."
Job 1:1 "There was a man . . . who name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright."
Genesis 7:1 "And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation."
Luke 1:6 "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
How old was Ahaziah?
II Kings 8:26 "Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign."
II Chronicles 22:2 "Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign."
Should we swear an oath?
Numbers 30:2 "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath . . . he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth."
Genesis 21:22-24,31 " . . . swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me . . . And Abraham said, I will swear. . . . Wherefore he called that place Beersheba ["well of the oath"]; because there they sware both of them."
Hebrews 6:13-17 "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself . . . for men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath."
See also Genesis 22:15-19, Genesis 31:53, and Judges 11:30-39.
Matthew 5:34-37 "But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven . . . nor by the earth . . . . Neither shalt thou swear by thy head . . . . But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
James 5:12 ". . . swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation."
When was Jesus crucified?
Mark 15:25 "And it was the third hour, and they crucified him."
John 19:14-15 "And about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out . . . crucify him."
It is an ad hoc defense to claim that there are two methods of reckoning time here. It has never been shown that this is the case.
Shall we obey the law?
I Peter 2:13 "Submit yourself to every ordinance of man . . . to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors."
Matthew 22:21 "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." See also Romans 13:1,7 and Titus 3:1.
Acts 5:29 "We ought to obey God rather then men."
How many animals on the ark?
Genesis 6:19 "And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark."
Genesis 7:8-9 "Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth, There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah."
Genesis 7:15 "And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life."
Genesis 7:2 "Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female."
Were women and men created equal?
Genesis 1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
Genesis 2:18,23 "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. . . . And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."
Were trees created before humans?
Genesis 1:12-31 "And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: . . . And the evening and the morning were the third day. . . . And God said, Let us make man in our image . . . And the evening and the morning were the sixth day."
Genesis 2:5-9 "And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. .Ê.ÊAnd the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground . . . And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food."
Did Michal have children?
II Samuel 6:23 "Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death."
II Samuel 21:8 "But the king took the two sons of Rizpah . . . and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul."
How many stalls did Solomon have?
I Kings 4:26 "And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen."
II Chronicles 9:25 "And Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen."
Did Paul's men hear a voice?
Acts 9:7 "And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man."
Acts 22:9 "And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me."
(For more detail on this contradiction, with a linguistic analysis of the Greek words, see "Did Paul's Men Hear A Voice?" by Dan Barker, published in the The Skeptical Review, 1994 #1)
Is God omnipotent?
Jeremiah 32:27 "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?
Matthew 19:26 "But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."
Judges 1:19 "And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron."
Does God live in light?
I Timothy 6:15-16 " . . . the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach . . ."
James 1:17 " . . . the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
John 12:35 "Then Jesus saith unto them, . . . he that walketh in darkness knoweth not wither he goeth."
Job 18:18 "He [the wicked] shall be driven from light into darkness, and chased out of the world."
Daniel 2:22 "He [God] knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him." See also Psalm 143:3, II Corinthians 6:14, and Hebrews 12:18-22.
I Kings 8:12 "Then spake Solomon, The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness." (Repeated in II Chronicles 6:1)
II Samuel 22:12 "And he made darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies."
Psalm 18:11 "He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies."
Psalm 97:1-2 "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice . . . clouds and darkness are round about him."
Does God accept human sacrifice?
Deuteronomy 12:31 "Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods."
Genesis 22:2 "And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
Exodus 22:29 "For thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors; the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me."
Judges 11:30-39 "And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hand, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon . . . and the Lord delivered them into his hands. . . . And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: . . . And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed."
II Samuel 21:8-14 "But the king [David] took the two sons of Rizpah . . . and the five sons of Michal . . . and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the Lord: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest . . . And after that God was intreated for the land."
Hebrews 10:10-12 " . . . we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ . . . But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God."
I Corinthians 5:7 " . . . For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us."
Who was Joseph's father?
Matthew 1:16 "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus."
Luke 3:23 "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli."
This chapter was first printed as a "nontract," a freethinkers' version of a (non-proselytizing) tract. Since it was first published, I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing. Most of them do little homework, inventing off-the-cuff defenses of what the bible "could have meant," or devising creative explanations that actually make the problem worse. For example, one Christian, agreeing with Eusebius, explained that "Thou shalt not bear false witness" does not prohibit lies, and that God actually wants us to tell falsehoods if it will further the kingdom of heaven.
Many of the defensive attempts are arguments from silence. Some apologists assert that since the writer of John does not say that there were not more women who visited the tomb with Mary, then it is wrong to accuse him of contradicting the other evangelists who say it was a group of women. But this is a non-argument. With this kind of thinking, I could claim that the people who accompanied Mary to the tomb included Mother Teresa, Elvis Presley, and Paul Bunyan. Since the writer of John does not specifically exclude these people, then there is no way to prove that this is not true--if such fragile logic is valid.
All of the above contradictions have been carefully studied, and when necessary the original languages have been consulted. Although it is always scholarly to consider the original languages, why should that be necessary with the "word of God?" An omnipotent, omniscient deity should have made his all-important message unmistakably clear to everyone, everywhere, at all times. No one should have to learn an extinct language to get God's message, especially an ancient language about which there is much scholarly disagreement. If the English translation is flawed or imprecise, then God failed to get his point across to English speakers. A true fundamentalist should consider the English version of the bible to be just as inerrant as the original because if we admit that human error was possible in the translation, then it was equally possible in the original writing. (Some fundamentalists do assert that the King James Version is perfect. One preacher reportedly said, "If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, then it's good enough for me.") If a contradiction exists in English, then the bible is contradictory.
The above list of thirty-three contradictions is a very small portion of the thousands of biblical discrepancies that have been catalogued by scholars. See "Leave No Stone Unturned" for seventeen additional contradictions specific to the resurrection of Jesus. One monthly publication, "Biblical Errancy," is devoted entirely to this topic (published by Dennis McKinsey, 3158 Sherwood Park Drive, Springfield OH, 45505.) Even if a defender of the bible were to eliminate all of the above (and no one has come close), we are still only scratching the surface. The bible is a flawed book.
© Copyright 1992 by Dan Barker. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not distribute copies of this chapter in this form.