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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Project Faith

You may or may not have seen a recent internet graphic floating around the last year or two (or before--I'm not really sure when it was created). It can be found at and it basically displays a host of alleged contradictions in the Bible by means of big, red arcs connecting verses believed to be in conflict with each other. At the bottom, it lists the verse references and questions raised by them. I believe in total, there are about 439 alleged contradictions. It's an impressive image, and, as you may have guessed, ridiculously misleading. It's just the perfect tool to confirm a non-Christian's stance against biblical inerrancy and divine perfection and long as they never look up the references themselves or research any possible solutions to the apparent discrepancies.

I'm not sure I will actually systematically go through and research every single one of the alleged contradictions and blog about them here; I've made enough promises already to continue the "confessions of faith" series and the "Romans exposition" series (still planning on it, don't worry!). But I thought I'd share at least the beginning of my work on the discrepancies with you here. I've gone through 20 so far. I haven't spent a very long time on each one; I've contented myself with basically initial possible answers to some of the historical and numerical contradictions. I've spent a bit more time on ones that are more about theological issues, because that's more my field. A lot more thorough study could be done by someone else, or I may do more in the future as I study particular passages.

But I just wanted to share some of my initial work here to 1) demonstrate the low-level quality of many of the objections; 2) demonstrate a few of the various sources and causes for apparent contradictions; and 3) demonstrate how a Christian believer should go about studying the issue of alleged biblical contradictions.

Related to that last reason, before I share the first 20 objections and possible solutions, I want to discuss a few important but more abstract and fundamental things.

One is that Christians by definition must submit to and believe in the Bible as God's perfect Word, free from all error. A Christian should not be afraid of the multitudinous allegations of contradiction brought against the Bible by the unbelieving world, no matter how insistent unbelievers are that the contradictions are apparent, obvious, and large in number. For starters, that's simply not true. But an apologist reassuring you of that should not be the ground of your hope and faith in God's Word. A Christian should boldly believe, together with the historical Christian Church, that God's written Word contained in and co-extensive with the 66 books of the Bible, is free from error. This is because the truth of God's Word should be the highest authority and most basic assumption in a believer's thought life. Even if a Christian is presented with what, on the surface, looks to be a blatant, direct contradiction in the text with no evidence of scribal copyist errors, he or she should not immediately jump the ship of inerrancy or abandon inspiration in any sense at all. Rather, he or she should study the issue and think and pray about it for a year--two years--five years! There are at least two reasons for this: 1) God cannot lie, and a very plausible solution will almost certainly arise through diligent and patient, humble (oh the importance of humility!) study; and 2) difficult textual issues such as these often lead to some of the most profound biblical insights as a person learns important text-criticism issues, theological distinctions, or new hermeneutical principles and tools, enabling them to get more out of the riches of God's Word in the future!

Second, a Christian studying alleged contradictions must understand clearly what biblical inerrancy does and does not mean and imply. For example, he or she needs to realize and be able to articulate that ultimately, inerrancy only strictly applies to the original manuscripts in the original languages, yet that it is still meaningful for us to speak of our copied and translated Bibles today as inspired and inerrant. Also, a proper view of biblical inerrancy takes into account issues of diverse literary genres, figurative language, ancient vs. modern standards of numerical precision, and a host of other important issues. For someone who is not very familiar with these issues yet, I highly recommend reading through the long form of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The denials and affirmations are immensely helpful in articulating and clarifying the definition of biblical inerrancy and some related concepts.

Third, a huge number of alleged contradictions, particularly ones leveled against parallel narrative accounts in Scripture, disappear as relevant problems when one simply keeps in mind the actual definition of a logical contradiction. The formal definition of a logical contradiction could be stated as "the situation where something is both true and not true at the same time and in the same relationship." Or: "A and not-A are true in the same way at the same time." Very, very often, unbelievers eager to level charges against God's Word (spiritually speaking, so as to avoid accountability before the God whom they know at some level yet refuse to acknowledge as God, see Romans 1:18ff) will point out differences between parallel narratives which amount to varying level of detail, "telescoping," imprecise quotation, and the like. These do not meet the requirements of the definition of "contradiction," though. Most of these actually do not even introduce direct conflict such that A and not-A are ever true at the same time. In the case of alleged contradictions between heavily theological passages, often the lacking requirement for the definition of contradiction is "in the same relationship." For example, we are and are not "justified by works" depending on whether it's in the sense of justification Paul usually means (except for in Romans 2 perhaps) or the sense of justification that James usually means (apart from his quotation of Gen. 15:6).

In sum of preparation for this kind of study, then: 1) As a Christian, you have a duty to believe God's Word apart from any supposedly independent human judgment of its truth and consistency, and this should give you boldness and comfort in the face of hostile unbelief (as well as a spur to ever-deeper study of the Word) rather than a fear of being criticized for circularity or some kind of "blind" faith commitment. Only God's revealed truth makes sense of His created world, and God's truth will be vindicated in the end, just as Christ Himself was raised from the dead after being put to death by mockers (the central tenet of the Christian faith); 2) Make sure you are familiar with and stick to your guns when it comes to defining "inerrancy" and defining "contradictions," strictly.

Alright, here's what I have so far for the first 20 from project-reason:

1) How many men did David's chief captain kill?

2 Sam 23:8 vs 1st Chron 11:11

Possible scribal copyist error 300/800 Hebrew; less likely: two battles referenced; far less likely: different individuals with very similar or same name;

2) Abraham justified by faith or works?

Rom. 4 vs James 2

Two senses of justification are in view; Gen 15:6 was before Gen 22 in the Abraham narrative. Paul in Rom. 2 uses the sense of "justify" James more commonly means, and James quotes Gen. 15:6 which is what Paul always quotes to prove justification by faith apart from works! Obviously both writers were aware of both Gen. 15 and 22, and the dynamics of justification in each. James 2 speaks of vindication by works after having been justified by faith (he speaks of the obedience as a "fulfillment" of justification by faith), and Paul in Rom. 2 speaks of eschatological vindication at the final judgment in accord with works, and in accord with a previous declaration of justification through faith in Christ. James also references justification by faith in Gen. 15:6, and Paul mostly focuses on that aspect of justification in Romans 3-8 and Galatians. Both writers speak of "justification" in both ways, but each emphasizes a different kind of justification.

3) How many sons did Abraham have?

Heb 11:17 & Gen 22:2 vs Gen 16:15, 21:2-3, 25:1-2, 4:22??

a) Obviously Isaac is the "only" son of *promise* with whom the covenant was established.; b) Heb 11:17 is monogen─ôs and Hebrew and LXX of Gen 22:2 can also mean "only" in sense of "unique/one of a kind" (cf. Jn 3:16 where Jesus is "only/only-begotten/monogen─ôs son of God" even though in Jn 1:12 believers can all become sons of God).

4) Is Abiathar son or father of Ahimelech?

1 Sam 22:20, 23:6 vs 2 Sam 8:17, 1 Chron 18:16, 24:6

"Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, was murdered by Doeg, according to the command of Saul (1 Sam 22:9-23). His son, Abiathar seems to be the only one to have escaped the massacre.

This Ahimelech, being dead, cannot be the same Ahimelech who is spoken of in 2 Samuel 8, 1 Chronicles 18, and other places. It would appear that Abiathar had a son, whom he named Ahimelech, perhaps as a tribute to his father, who died at the hands of ungodly men.

5) Mother of Abijam?

1 Ki 15:1-2 vs 2 Chron 13:1-2

Two names, one person. "Maacha", which means "suppression"; in 2 Chronicles however, she is called "Michaiah", which means "Who is like Jehovah?". Michaiah is the name which is used for her as the queen mother, Maacha is the name which is used in connection with her idolatry (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:16). Note: actually *grand*mother. "Mother" is used in general sense of female ancestor.

6) How are Asa and Abijam reltaed?

1 Ki 15:1-2, 8, 9-10

Possible that Abijam married his own mother and became Asa's father; more likely, "mother" used in a broader sense (just as "father" is often used broadly in Jewish literature, not always referring to first-generation descent). Maacah an important "queen mother" and maybe simply Asa's *grand*mother.

7) How long was the ark at Abinadab's house?

1 Sam 7:1-2; 10:24; 2 Sam 6:2-3; Acts 13:21

1 Sam 7:1-2 does not intend to record entire length of ark's stay, but rather to describe length of time between events of vv. 1-2 and the convening of representatives of house of Israel in vv.3ff. There is no mention of the ark being moved in 1 Sam 7.

8) How old was Abram when Ishmael was born?

Gen 16:16; Acts 7:2-4; Gen 11:26, 32

(The objection is that because of Gen 11:26 it seems he departed from Haran when he was 135, therefore was way past 100 even before Ishmael born, much less Isaac). False assumption: Gen 11:26 does not require that Abram be born to Terah when Terah is 70; it only requires that Terah begin having children at age 70. Abram is 75, not 135, when departing from Haran, and 86 when Ishmael was born.

9) (same objection as #7)

10) When did Absalom rebel against David?

2 Sam 15:7 vs 2 Sam 5:4

Almost certainly a textual variant issue. 2 Sam 15:7 should almost certainly read as "four" years instead of "forty" (see some LXX and Syriac mss., as well as Josephus). There really isn't any notable 40-year period which author would be speaking of. Consider number of times a MT scribe would've written Hb. of "40" in his work given the importance and frequency of the number in the OT. Looks relatively similar in Hebrew to "4" so is an easy mistake to make.

11) Contradictory creation accounts...

Gen. 1:25-27 vs Gen. 2:18-22

If framework view correct, Gen. 1 days may not be intended to indicate chronology at all. In any case, 2:18-19 definitely does not have to be read chronologically (particularly the first part of v.19).

12) Who was Achan's father?

Josh 7:1, 24; 22:20

Compare Josh 7:18! Zerah is Achan's great-grandfather and Carmi is his father (broad use of "father" once again).

13) How many of Adin's offspring came back from Babylon?

Ezra 2:15 vs Neh. 7:20

Possible scribal error; much more likely, one account is from when they departed Babylon, and the other account records numbers upon arrival to Jerusalem.

14) How many of Adonikam's offspring returned from Babylon?

Ezra 2:13 vs Neh. 7:18

(see #13)

15) How should adulterers be punished?

Lev 20:10 vs John 8

a) Story of woman caught in adultery likely not original part of Johannine gospel account; b) Lev 20:10 requires death of both parties, while the scribes and Pharisees only bring the woman; c) scribes and Pharisees hypocritical law-breakers in many ways; d) Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath and the whole Law has the right to administer it as He sees fit (but as demonstrated by previous points, even in this apocryphal story, Jesus reverences the Law as written and knows the scribes and Pharisees are not truly following it).

16) Is it wrong to commit adultery?

Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18; Heb. 13:4 vs Num 31:18; Hosea 1:2 and 3:1

Num. 31:18 manifestly does not condone adultery. It simply allows virgin Midianite women not involved with Baal-peor worship to live and marry Israelite men. The language of Hosea points to Gomer being a woman who *would* be unfaithful but who was not an adulteress yet; she seems to have been faithful in the beginning, in giving birth to first child, yet she seems "under suspicion" in the giving of birth to the second and third "children of whoredom" (see legal proceedings of chap. 2). Gomer serves as an illustration of Israel as a covenant partner in a relationship which started off well but which fell apart because of her later unfaithfulness.

17) How was Haman an Agagite (in light of Saul's destruction of the Amalekites?)

Est. 3:1 vs 1 Sam 15:2-3, 7-8, 32-33

Either Saul, in sparing Agag, also spared his children, or the possibility also exists that Agag had children in the time span between the destruction of Amalek and his death at the hand of Samuel.

18) Was Ahaz buried with his fathers?

2 Ki 16:20 vs 2 Chr 28:27

Ahaz "slept" with his fathers in the sense of having died and gone to them in Sheol; but in fact, he was even buried "with" them in Jerusalem, just not in the same sepulchre, because of his gross sin.

19) When did Ahaziah begin to reign? Eleventh or twelfth year of Joram?

2 Ki 8:25 vs 2 Ki 9:29

Could be partial year co-regency, could be a difference in partial-year reckoning, etc. Also note: there is also a definite copyist error in 2 Chr 22:2 wherever it says he was 42 when he began to reign. He was 22.

20) How old was Ahaziah when he began to reign?

(see #19)

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