One can safely conclude that the Bible is fallible if one can find irreconcilable contradictions in its own text. One cannot have it both ways: textual contradictions imply that at least one of the versions is false—if not both. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate ‘litmus test’ for the Bible’s infallibility (or otherwise) since the Bible is supposedly God’s word, and presumably God cannot contradict himself: it defeats the opponent on one’s own home court, so to speak. In this article, I shall let the Bible speak for itself.
This article consists only of textual contradictions we find in the New Testament; my next article will consist of textual contradictions we find in the Old Testament and between the two Testaments. The reader will surely appreciate that these two articles are not an exhaustive study of the Bible; so a few examples will have to suffice. Indeed, being written by various authors, the Bible is overloaded with contradicting accounts and statements: there are many, perhaps hundreds, of contradictions. To the pure of heart, however, even one clear such instance should prove, unequivocally, that the Bible is fallible. We find all sorts, a whole spectrum, of contradicting texts throughout the Bible.
I’ll start with a passage most Christians are quite familiar with: the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul) to Christianity, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Now, Acts seems to have been written by the same author as Luke’s gospel. We don’t know who the authors of the gospels are, but, for simplicity, I shall keep calling the evangelists by their traditional names.
“Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord [Jesus], went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way [Christians], whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And he said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [sharp sticks to guide cattle].’ And he trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.’ And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Behold, I am here, Lord.’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.’ Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints [followers] at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.’ But the Lord said unto him, ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel [means] unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.’ And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat [food], he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:1–20, KJV, emphasis mine)
It looks perfect in the absence of any other account, no? Now, according to biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, in his book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, this account was written after 120 CE (p. 432); and its author, as mentioned, is unknown. (All biblical authorship datings in this article are taken from this book or the New American Bible.) Keep in mind that this is more than 90 years after Jesus had died; naturally, all the apostles and practically all the generation of Jesus’s time had died by then: so, there was hardly anyone left who would be able to challenge or even question it.
Let us now read about the same incident from another source in the Bible itself. Again according to Crossan, the following account from the letter to the Galatians was written much earlier, in 52–53 CE, and the author is known to be Saul/Paul himself (p. 427).
“For ye have heard of my conversation [way of life (NIV)] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews’ religion above many [of] my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in [to] me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood [anyone (ESV)]: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter [the original apostles’ leader], and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that ‘he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.’” (Galatians 1:13–23, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice that God himself “revealed” to Paul that Jesus was his (God’s) own Son. Notice also that Paul did not consult anybody or meet any Christians for three years—not three days, as the author commonly known as Luke would have us believe. Indeed, immediately after his conversion, he went first to Arabia, not Damascus. Moreover, Paul swears “before God” that he is telling the truth about all this.
In his coauthored book In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan opines that if one studies Luke’s writings, one observes that the latter had an agenda; he wanted Christians of his time to believe in the unity of the Church: that all Christian authority started in Jerusalem, that Paul was subordinate to the twelve apostles first chosen by Jesus, and that Paul was initially instructed in the faith by the disciples in Damascus. On the other hand, Paul claims that his apostleship came directly from God (p. 29). In other words, Paul claimed that he learnt practically everything about Christianity from God himself, as he says in this passage, and the resurrected Jesus, as he says in other passages. To Paul this was of prime importance, as is shown by his oath here.
I personally believe Paul is telling the truth. Why? Because he was a skeptic of early Christianity; he was a Pharisee who initially persecuted Christians, and who suddenly, without any logical explanation, started to preach Christianity: “he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” So, something drastic must have happened to him: in the above passage he himself tells us why: “it pleased God … to reveal his Son [to] me.” He spent three years alone, I presume, reconciling his old religion (Judaism) with the new religion (Christianity).
For example, one problem Paul might have had is that Deuteronomy says that whoever is hung on a tree (crucified) is cursed by God—and Jesus was crucified!
“If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be [condemned] to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree [cross]: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God); that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23, KJV, emphasis mine)
Had not God somehow “revealed” Jesus to Paul, the latter would still have believed (according to Holy Scriptures) that Jesus was cursed by God.
Luke, on the other hand, seems to be distorting the truth because, as mentioned, according to Crossan, he had an agenda. Moreover, it also seems that Luke invented that whole section about Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, as well as Paul’s three-day blindness caused by the alleged “light from heaven.” Wow! Interestingly, in all my decades as a Catholic, I never heard this passage from Galatians in church: I had to read the Bible privately to get to know about it. Now recall that this same Luke also wrote one of the four gospels. So, how can we believe anything else he says? So much, then, for the reliability of Luke’s gospel! I am not saying that all of it is lies; but, to me at least, it sure raises a red flag.
Still, it does not really matter here who we believe—Paul or Luke—the Bible has a contradiction that cannot be reconciled in this incident: it follows, therefore, that they cannot both be the infallible word of God.
Not only did Luke, at times, invent his accounts, but he actually manipulated the truth to suit his purpose. In his coauthored book In Search of Paul, Crossan shows this quite clearly through the following example. The first version again comes from Acts. In this extract, Saul/Paul is in Damascus.
“After that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him [Saul]: but their laying await was known of [to] Saul. And they watched the gates [of Damascus] day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” (Acts 9:23–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
We find Paul’s own account of the same incident is in his authentic Second letter to the Corinthians.
“In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
In Paul’s account, therefore, the danger arose from Arabs, not Jews: the Nabatean (nomadic Arab) ruler Aretas IV held the city of Damascus between 37 CE and 39 CE. This passage was written around 57 CE (NAB, p. 266); Luke’s, you may recall, was written after 120 CE (Crossan, p. 432).
Luke, some sixty years later, wanted to blame the danger on the Jews. According to Crossan, throughout his book Luke portrays pagans accepting Christianity after the Jews had rejected it; the Jews then opposed gentile conversions “out of jealousy.” Luke knows the details of the above incident, as one can see when one compares Paul’s account, yet he distorts the truth to help promote his own agenda (Crossan & Reed p. 31). So we find anti-Semitism in Luke’s writings: namely, Acts and Luke’s gospel. Does the reader think God would inspire anyone to stretch the truth in prejudice of a particular nation?
Some might argue that there is not much difference between an Arab and a Jew; but these people have fought each other for centuries: ever since my youth I have always known them fighting each other. It is ludicrous to identify them as one and the same nation.
True, Luke might not have been aware of the difference, but God should have known better if he were truly dictating to Luke, no? If it was a lack of Luke’s knowledge, it is the type of error one finds in a human book, but one would not expect to find such an error in a divine book. God does not make mistakes, not even small ones, right?
Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism; yet Christians were ostracized from worship in the Jerusalem Temple and from Jewish synagogues: they ended up having nowhere to worship God. They had to resort to private homes for a while. In his book Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Catholic Church historian Garry Wills states that, while it might be true that Jews persecuted Christians as heretics of Judaism, over time, Christians augmented the Jews’ responsibility for Jesus’s death, and downplayed the Romans’ (p.22).
Naturally, Christians developed a certain animosity against the Jews that was to last a very long time—centuries—which got worse over time to the point of calling the Jews deicides; that is, God killers. In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, we read,
“Then answered all the people [Jews], and said, His [Jesus’s] blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25, KJV, emphasis mine)
No doubt, a human book would show such sentiments as a reaction, but presumably not a divine book since God is impartial and loves everyone equally; not to mention the fact that the Jews only thought they were killing a mere man—a heretic at that. In short, Christian anti-Semitism has its roots in the New Testament scriptures themselves.
Anyway, again it doesn’t matter here which version one believes—Paul’s or Luke’s—one of the versions is wrong. The Bible has here a significant discrepancy; therefore, one of the versions cannot be God’s word.
Flight into Egypt
In Matthew’s gospel, we read that Jesus narrowly escaped King Herod the Great’s ‘slaughter of the innocents’ because Jesus’s family fled to Egypt beforehand.
“When they [the magi/wise men] were departed [from the infant-Jesus’s house], behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph [Jesus’s foster father] in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother [Mary], and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for [King] Herod [the Great] will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:13–15, KJV, emphasis mine)
However, in narrating Jesus’s infancy, Luke’s gospel does not say anything about Jesus’s family’s flight to Egypt. Instead, it says that when Jesus was eight days old, he was circumcised; when Jesus was forty days old, his family visited the Jerusalem Temple; and they all went straight back home to Nazareth, Galilee, where they stayed at least until the child was twelve years old. Here’s the Lukan account.
“When eight days [from Jesus’s birth] were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called ‘Jesus,’ which was so named of [by] the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her [Mary’s] purification [i.e., 33 days more] according to the law of Moses [see Leviticus 12:2–4] were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord [in the Temple]. … And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:21–22, 39–42, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, again, we have a contradiction between Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels which is impossible to reconcile. The explanation, according to Wikipedia,
“A theme of Matthew is likening Jesus to Moses [and Israel] for a Judean audience, and the Flight into Egypt illustrates just that theme” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_into_Egypt.
In other words, it seems that Matthew, who was apparently writing for a Jewish-Christian community, opted to send Jesus on a detour to Egypt in his gospel; thus fabricating a so-called ‘prophecy’ from Hosea:
“When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1, KJV)
Of course, God’s “son” in this verse refers to Israel (i.e., the Jewish people), not Jesus, which Matthew is trying to portray to his audience as a type of Christ—in addition to Moses who, as an infant, also narrowly escaped death from Pharaoh (see Exodus 1:22–2:10).
Anyway, either Matthew’s or Luke’s account of Jesus’s childhood is false: it does not really matter which, as far as this article is concerned.
In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples alive on the same day he was resurrected (see Luke 24:1–49) and right after this apparition, that same day, he ascended to heaven.
“He [Jesus] led them [his disciples] out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50–51, KJV)
So, the final chapter of Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus ascending to heaven the same day he resurrected from the dead: there is no hint of any delay in between. (I suggest the reader check it out to convince oneself.)
Now, in the beginning of Acts, written twenty-odd years later, the same author, Luke, seems to have forgotten what he had written in his own gospel because he writes,
“The former treatise [Luke’s gospel] have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up [to heaven], after that he through the Holy Ghost [Spirit] had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of [by] them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1–3, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to Acts, contrary to Luke’s gospel, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, appearing to his apostles/disciples, before he ascended to heaven: there is no indication in any of the New Testament books that he zigzagged back and forth between heaven and earth.
We, therefore, have here another contradiction by the same biblical author nonetheless: between the end of his first book and the beginning of his second book surprisingly enough. Not much to write home about regarding Luke’s consistency and consequently the Bible’s infallibility.
Following is Paul’s opinion regarding Christian equality from his authentic Galatians, which was written in 52–53 CE (Crossan, p. 427).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)
So, according to authentic Paul, Christians should not be distinguished by nationality, social status, or gender—they are all equal. He does not say anything about pagan or Jewish relationships; he only defines Christian relationships—of course, his ideas needed improving over time, but that is another issue.
Moreover, in his also authentic letter to Philemon, written in 61–63 CE (NAB, p. 335), Paul asks his Christian friend, Philemon, to voluntarily free his escaped slave, Onesimus, whom Paul had just baptized in prison.
“Perhaps he [Onesimus] therefore departed for a season [a while], that thou [Philemon] shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant [slave (NAB)], but above a servant , a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (Philemon, 1:15-17, KJV)
On the other hand, in the letter to the Colossians, which was probably written after Paul’s death, according to Crossan some time prior to 80 CE (p. 430), pseudo-Paul writes,
“Servants [Slaves (NAB)], obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” (Colossians, 3:22, KJV)
And later, in the same letter, pseudo-Paul writes,
“Masters, give unto your servants [slaves (NAB)] that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians, 4:1, KJV)
Here pseudo-Paul concurs with inequality in the Christian community. Compare these last two quotes with authentic Paul’s opinion from his authentic Galatians above.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)
In First Timothy, which according to Crossan was written after 120 CE (p. 433), pseudo-Paul writes,
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11–12, KJV)
Again, compare this with authentic Paul’s opinion from his Galatians:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)
Moreover, the author of First Timothy sounds nothing like the Paul in his authentic Romans, which according to Crossan was written in 55–56 CE (p. 427), where he writes,
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister [fellow Christian], which is a servant [deacon (NAB)] of the church which is at Cenchrea [a seaport in Corinth]: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints [God’s people], and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer [helper] of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:1-2, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the clause “that you receive her.” So, it seems that it was a female deacon who hand-carried Paul’s letter to the various Christian communities/houses in Rome.
Furthermore, does the above passage from First Timothy sound anything like the Paul, who wrote the following in the same Romans?
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives [Jews] and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ [Christians] before me.” (Romans; 16:7, NAB, emphasis mine)
So, Junia was a female apostle. How about that?
According to biblical scholar John Crossan, Andronicus and Junia were probably husband and wife (Crossan & Reed, p. 115); albeit biblical editors, over the years, tried to interpret her name as belonging to a male by changing it to “Junias”—talk about manipulating Holy Scripture.
For example, here is the Douay-Rheims version, which is based on a translation of the conventional Latin Vulgate.
“Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners; who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Romans 16:7, DRC).
The New American Bible comments on this verse as follows.
“The name Junia is a woman’s name. One ancient Greek manuscript and a number of ancient versions read the name ‘Julia.’ Most editors have interpreted it as a man’s name, Junias.” (Romans 16:7n)
I’ll pose this question to the reader now. Which of these two versions of treating women and slaves does the reader think is God’s word—God’s desire? Which one does the reader think was Jesus’s teaching? Does the reader think that later Christian generations were right in changing authentic Paul’s teaching? Finally, which manuscript or translation would be God’s word?
In another undisputedly authentic letter, First Corinthians, Paul writes:
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” (1 Corinthians 11:4–5, KJV, emphasis mine)
Disregard, for the present discussion, the covering or non-covering of the head—it is irrelevant to my discussion here. This passage seems to assume that women did lead prayers and preach to the church assembly (“every woman that prayeth or prophesieth”) like men did.
(Now, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the word ‘prophet’ comes from two Greek words: pro meaning ‘for’ and phanai meaning ‘to speak.’ Thus a prophet is ‘one who speaks for’ God: not necessarily one who foretells the future, as is commonly understood by the word nowadays. Since presumably only God can foretell the future, it was later in time that the word adopted this meaning.)
However, later on in the same letter, First Corinthians, we read,
“As in all churches of the saints [God’s people], let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Corinthians 14:33–36, KJV)
Notice the condescending tone toward women. Did Paul change his mind in the process of writing this letter?
According to the New American Bible, it so happens that, in the original language (Greek) this letter was written in, we find, in these last-quoted verses, differences in vocabulary and style. (Every writer has a characteristic vocabulary and style.) Moreover, in some manuscripts, these verses are transposed to the end of chapter 14: that is, they are not found in the same location—they are placed four verses ahead. Although these verses seem to be present in all available manuscripts, they “are often considered an interpolation, reflecting the discipline of later churches.” (NAB: 14:33b–36n) Alteration (tweaking) of documents by copyists, to conform to their own later beliefs, was quite common in antiquity.
Tell me now—which one would be God’s word regarding women preaching/speaking publicly in church; the former (Paul’s) or the latter (pseudo-Paul’s)? Whichever one the reader chooses is immaterial: if the Bible were truly the infallible word of God then it would, at least, have been consistent, not contradictory.
In Matthew’ gospel, written around 90 CE (Crossan, p. 430), we have the following account of how Judas Iscariot (Jesus’s traitor) died.
“He [Judas Iscariot] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, ‘It is not lawful for [us] to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.’ And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, ‘The field of blood,’ unto this day.” (Matthew 27:5–8, KJV, emphasis mine)
In Acts, written after 120 CE (Crossan, p. 430), the original apostles’ leader, Peter, also described Judas’s death while addressing the first Christian community gathered in Jerusalem.
“This man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, ‘Aceldama’ [Akeldama], that is to say, ‘The field of blood.’” (Acts 1:18–19, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, how did Judas die? Did he commit suicide by hanging himself; or did he die of a bad fall? Or did both evangelists (Matthew & Luke) simply want to portray Judas coming to a tragic end for his betrayal of Jesus? And who bought the field, the chief priests or Judas? Why, one may ask, is God’s word so sloppy with the details?
Aware of this discrepancy, the Douay-Rheims Version manipulates the translation of the first verse of the last quote, trying to cover up the obvious biblical contradiction by conflating both methods described for Judas’s death; it has,
“He indeed hath possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out.” (Acts 1:18, DRC).
However, that is not what the original text says. Out of 27 translations there is only 1 translation mentioning hanging in this verse: https://biblehub.com/acts/1-18.htm; besides, there is no mention of hanging in the original Greek text: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/1-18.htm.
John the Baptist
In Luke’s gospel, which was written in the 90s CE (Crossan, p. 431), we read that John the Baptist was related to Jesus. Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, and Mary, Jesus’s mother, were supposedly cousins or (at least) relatives.
“The angel [Gabriel] answered and said unto her [Mary], ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [child] which shall be born of thee shall be called the “Son of God.” And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.’” (Luke 1:35–36, KJV, emphasis mine)
On the other hand, in John’s gospel, written after 100 CE (Crossan, p. 431), we read that John the Baptist never knew Jesus.
“The next day John [the Baptist] seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, “After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.” And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.’ And John bare record, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he [God] that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost [Spirit].”’” (John 1:29–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
Strictly speaking, it is possible that John the Baptist was related to Jesus and at the same time never knew Jesus, but it is highly improbable because of the following additional biblical texts.
According to Luke’s gospel, Mary and Elizabeth were close enough relatives (“cousins”) that the former went to assist the latter during the last three months of her pregnancy (see Luke 1:39–40, 56). It also seems Elizabeth was aware of Jesus’s greatness for the evangelist writes,
“It came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.’ … And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.” (Luke 1:41–44, 56, KJV, emphasis mine)
How is it possible that Elizabeth had never spoken of Jesus and Mary to her son, John the Baptist? That is, unless, of course, Elizabeth died while John the Baptist was still very young. Admittedly, she could have died while her son was very young because she was advanced in years when she bore him (see Luke 1:7).
However, it would still be hard to explain why Mary never told Jesus about John the Baptist, never went to see Elizabeth and/or Zechariah again, or told John the Baptist anything about Jesus: that is, not even that they were related. Why? Because, again according to Luke’s gospel,
“Now his [Jesus’s] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:41–42, KJV, emphasis mine)
Consequently, it is very improbable that Jesus’s family went to Jerusalem every year for at least twelve years, and probably through Jesus’s adolescence and adulthood (see Luke 2:51–52; 3:23), but never visited John the Baptist who lived near Jerusalem: since his father, Zechariah, was a priest at the Jerusalem Temple (see Luke 1:5, 8–9).
Before I end this section I would like to address the different Bible translations of verses 31 and 33 in John’s first chapter. For example, the New Living Translation renders verse 31 as “I did not recognize him as the Messiah” and verse 33 as “I didn’t know he was the one.” There are also a handful of translations that render the two verses as “I did not recognize him.” However, some two-dozen translations render these two verses as “I did not know him” or “I knew him not,” including the Berean Literal Bible: see https://biblehub.com/john/1-31.htm and https://biblehub.com/john/1-33.htm. No doubt, the “I did not recognize him” translations are influenced by a desire to resolve the apparent biblical contradiction and are not faithful translations. Moreover, in my opinion, trying to fudge the translation of this couple of verses is a tacit admission of a genuine contradiction.
Faith and Works
A much-debated theological question among Christians is whether good deeds or simple faith in Jesus Christ is required for ‘salvation.’ Lutherans and Calvinists uphold the concept of justification by faith alone, which precludes salvation being earned by the good deeds in one’s lifetime. They contend that good deeds should only follow as a result of a strong faith, but good deeds as such, without faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, are ineffective in acquiring salvation.
“According to Protestants this justification is by faith alone – not through good deeds – and is a gift from God through Christ”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology).
In Ephesians, probably written posthumously in Paul’s name after 80 CE (NAB, p. 293), we read,
“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of [good] works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, KJV)
However, the author of the letter of James (I shall keep calling him James for simplicity) contradicts pseudo-Paul’s theology above; he writes,
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26, KJV, emphasis mine)
In my opinion, if it’s dead, it does not produce any results. While discussing these two opposing concepts in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s?, Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that they only apparently contradict each other; they actually complement each other if one considers the context in which they were said. They attempt to reconcile this apparent conflict in biblical texts by pointing out that pseudo-Paul was speaking to converted Jews, who believed that obeying the Mosaic Law minutely made them righteous people: that is, people pleasing to God and deserving of salvation, or heaven. Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that,
“We can never become righteous—and thus deserve salvation—by our own works [good deeds], for we are inherently sinful. We can only be saved by faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.” (p, 91)
They also cite Paul’s authentic Romans to strengthen their argument.
“Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Jesus] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Romans 5:18, KJV, emphasis mine)
However, they contend, James only seemingly disagrees with this doctrine because he was speaking to Christians in general—not to converted Jews. I must admit that their explanation, that the two quotes were addressed to different audiences, is an interesting interpretation.
They add that James makes a crucial point: namely, that if one’s faith is not complemented by acts of love, kindness, and generosity, it is worthless; they add,
“An inactive faith is a dead faith and will not lead to salvation. … No work [good deed], however, that a Christian can do … will earn him the right to everlasting life. This is “the gift God gives” (Romans 6:23, John 3:16) to those who exercise faith.” (p. 92, emphasis in original)
What they are in effect saying here is that they agree with both pseudo-Paul and James, even though they seem to contradict each other. Pseudo- Paul says one must have faith to be saved; James says that if one does not help others, one does not have faith and therefore cannot be saved. Let us go along, for a moment, with the interpretation that both faith and good deeds are required for salvation.
However, if one were to insist that faith in Jesus is a requirement for salvation, we find that it does not jibe with the following passage in Matthew’s gospel, which portrays Jesus telling his disciples,
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’ Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’ Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31–46, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice, at the beginning, that the passage speaks of “all nations,” not just Christians; and there is absolutely no mention of any faith in Jesus being required of them here: in fact, those saved or damned did not need to know who this “Son of Man” was. Now, most ‘Son-of-Man’ passages elsewhere in the Gospels refer to Jesus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_man_(Christianity). (But see my article on “Son of Man.”) So, how can one explain this passage? It does not jibe with the above quote from Ephesians that we absolutely need faith in Jesus for our salvation, and that whatever else we do for others is basically ineffective unless we believe in Jesus.
Now, recall that Ephesians is not one of the undisputed Pauline letters. True, the above verse from Romans (5:18) seems to portray Jesus as the world’s (everyone’s) Redeemer (“all men”), not just those who profess faith in him; however, the text in Romans is not exclusive of ‘good deeds’ to merit salvation. In fact, authentic Paul also writes later in the same Romans:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet’; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to authentic Paul, the fulfilment of the Mosaic Law is love. Ultimately, it seems that pseudo-Paul was wrong in his assessment of the importance of our faith in Jesus: he overrated it. And so did Martin Luther and other Protestant followers possibly because of this couple of verses in Ephesians. I believe that Jesus’s mission from God was only to set us a perfect, living example of brotherly love not to redeem us from sin, which boils down to following the Mosaic Law. In fact, Matthew portrays Jesus saying,
“Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot [speck] or one tittle [dot] shall in no wise pass from the [Mosaic] law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18, KJV)
I think being good to others is more important for salvation than believing that Jesus is the Son of God or that he ransomed us from original sin. In any case, I show clearly in my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin,” that the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis seems to be an adaptation of a prior pagan myth and bears no relation to reality; that is, it never happened: thus, the concepts of both original sin and redemption from original sin become meaningless.
Therefore, I contend that anyone belonging to any faith can be ‘saved’ simply by loving one’s neighbor: that is, following one’s conscience—which is imprinted, like God’s signature, onto every human alike. God loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved. God is not partial to anybody, as Acts portrays the original apostles’ leader, Peter, saying during the conversion of the centurion Cornelius and his family.
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth [respects] him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with [by] him.’” (Acts 10:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the phrase “in every nation.”
In short, therefore, I think that pseudo-Paul’s statement in Ephesians (2:8–9) contradicts Matthew’s passage (25:31–46). (Indeed, in my article on the “Son of Man” this speech, most probably, originated from Jesus himself.) Pseudo- Paul says that faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for salvation, while Matthew says it is not: good deeds are what earn us salvation. Interesting interpretations (like Jehovah’s Witnesses’) do not trump what the Bible text says.
To add weight to my argument here, in his book God and Empire (pp. 152–53), biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan sheds further light on the subject of ‘faith and works’; he gives a plausible explanation for Paul’s (or his followers’) apparent insistence on faith rather than works. To start with, Crossan discloses what seems to be another subtle biblical contradiction: between what Paul says and what Luke says. He points out that, unlike what Luke says in Acts, Paul did not first preach to the Jews and then to the gentiles (see Acts 13:46): in his authentic Galatians, Paul clearly states that he preached exclusively to the gentiles (see Galatians 1:15–16; 2:8–9). (The reader may want to check out these citations—they are very convincing.)
Crossan then explains that Luke also introduces a group to whom Paul preached and considered gentiles, the God-worshipers—or God-fearers, as Acts calls these people throughout (see Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26). (Jesus described God as “our Father.” Should we ‘fear’ our Father? Should we consider this another biblical contradiction?)
Anyway, these God-worshipers presumably believed in one God: they did not think much of Greek or Roman polytheism. So, they were sympathizers of the Jewish religion: they helped the Jewish communities financially, but they did not adopt all their beliefs, and they certainly were not circumcised like the Jews. This is probably why Paul might have had a problem with works without faith: in fact, in Romans he writes, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23, KJV) He did not like people sitting on the fence, neither here nor there: he wished them to become totally committed and involved in their faith (Crossan, p. 158). However, this does not mean, as Luther thought and taught, that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved, and whoever doesn’t will be damned.
Luther’s conclusion that we can never do enough good deeds to deserve salvation and that Jesus did it all for us is totally false. He was interpreting Paul’s letters (including the inauthentic ones) almost fifteen hundred years later when their true meaning was blurred or lost; and he was making a common mistake of his time (and ours): that is, assuming every verse in the Bible constitutes a portion of God’s word. In actual fact, biblical texts can even be contradictory: as this article and the next show clearly.
Moreover, in his book God and Empire, Crossan states,
“It is certainly correct … to call Jesus’ death—or in fact the death of a martyr—a sacrifice, but substitution and suffering are not the point of a sacrifice. Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the [non-violent] radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization’s brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus’ execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by violence. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation.” (pp. 140–41, emphasis in original)
So, according to Crossan, the biblical concept of Jesus atoning for our sins is totally skewed.
Finally (what I consider the strongest argument), if it were only faith in Jesus that ‘buys’ us ‘salvation,’ then out of the current world population of 7.9 billion people, only 2.4 billion people can possibly be ‘saved,’ the other 5.5 billion people will be lost eternally in a ‘fiery hell.’ If this were truly the case, then Satan (evil) has defeated God (good) throughout the ages—hands down!
Both God and Son of God
John’s gospel starts with the verse,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
Later, in the same chapter, it has,
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis mine)
Therefore, there is no doubt, from this last quoted verse, that the “Word” in the previously quoted verse refers to Jesus, who became man.
So, basically, in the first chapter of his gospel, the evangelist John is saying that Jesus is “God.” However, toward the end of his gospel, he also writes,
“Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30–31, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice, therefore, that in the same book, John’s gospel, the Bible says that Jesus is “God” and at the same time he is also the “Son of God.” How can one reconcile these two statements? The two clauses: “the Word [Jesus] was God” and “Jesus is … the Son of God” simply do not jibe: as I explain in the next paragraph, he cannot be both God and the Son of God.
We naturally assume that the son of a dog is a dog, so the son of God should be a god, no? But not in the case of God because God is the first cause; the Son of God cannot be the first cause. By “God,” we normally mean “God the Father” of Jesus; Jesus cannot be both “Father” and “Son”: it’s a contradiction in terms. (See my article on “The Trinity.”)
Not to mention that, according to Isaiah 45:5: “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (KJV), there is only one God. Ultimately, therefore, we have another Bible contradiction—if not a real mess.
Luke’s gospel portrays one of the two “revolutionaries” (Mark 15:27, NAB) or criminals, crucified on either side of Jesus, asking for a favor.
“He [the criminal] said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43, KJV, emphasis mine)
So according to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was going to be in paradise/heaven (together with the criminal) that same day he died. But, according to the Apostles’ Creed,
“Jesus Christ … was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead.” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=220 .
So, since Jesus was in “hell” for three partial days, he couldn’t possibly also be in paradise/heaven the same day he died. However, someone might object saying that the Apostles’ Creed is not part of the Bible and is therefore not infallible. True, but check this out. In First Peter, we read:
“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by [brought to life in (NAB)] the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by [from] water.” (1 Peter 3:18-20, KJV, emphasis mine)
Regarding the phrase “those spirits that were in prison” the Douay-Rheims Bible comments as follows:
“See here a proof of a third place, or middle state of souls: for these spirits in prison, to whom Christ went to preach, after his death, were not in heaven; nor yet in the hell of the damned: because heaven is no prison: and Christ did not go to preach to the damned.” (DRC: 1 Peter 3:19n)
So, according to Douay-Rheims interpretation of First Peter, Jesus went to purgatory, not to hell, for three partial days. But, in any case, this still contradicts the statement that Luke made, namely, that the penitent criminal was going to be with Jesus in heaven, or “paradise,” the same day they died.
Moreover, apparently Luke himself forgot what he had written in his own gospel when he wrote his second book, Acts. At the very beginning of this book he writes,
“The former treatise [Luke’s gospel] have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost [Spirit] had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of [by] them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. … And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up [to heaven]; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel.” (Acts 1:1–3, 9–10, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to Acts, Jesus went up to heaven about 43 days after he was crucified and died—not the same day he died. We have no evidence, in the New Testament, that he zig-zagged back and forth between heaven and earth.
However, it seems that the above apparent contradiction can be reconciled, even though it seems airtight at first blush. Most apologetic explanations I encountered (on other issues) are tortuous and unconvincing, but the following explanation I am willing to concede.
One of the best defenses, I found, to apparent biblical contradictions in general, concerns the above verse of Jesus’s promise to the penitent criminal.
“Jesus said to him [the criminal], ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43, NKJV)
In their booklet Heaven & Hell, the United Church of God came up with the following explanation of this verse:
“The placement of the comma after ‘you’ and before ‘today’ would certainly seem to indicate this [i.e., going to heaven that same day]. However, notice how an entirely different meaning is conveyed if the comma is placed after ‘today’ rather than before.” (p. 38)
It would read, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Their booklet then adds that, in the Bible’s original texts, there were no punctuation signs: which is undeniably true.
I referred to 27 other Bible translations of this verse; although none of them renders the verse in question with a comma after the word “today,” (or the phrase “this day”): https://biblehub.com/luke/23-43.htm, still, one must admit that the United Church of God could be right. It is not messing around with interpretations: it is only presenting facts about the original text. It might interest the reader that also Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their New World Translation, render this verse in a similar manner.
So, one might ask, why do I still present it as a contradiction in the Bible? Only to show the reader that I am willing to listen to a solid or subtle argument and even change my mind—despite what the opinion of the majority might be. The reader probably knows by now what is my opinion regarding the infallibility or otherwise of the Bible: one more or one less biblical contradiction is not going to make much difference; but still, I do not want to be close-minded—I am always open to discussion.
On the other hand, one must not go overboard trying to find discrepancies everywhere in the Bible. In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses are absolutely right in pointing out that if two (or more) people write about an event, one would include certain details that the other leaves out and vice versa (p. 87). They also give a couple of good examples.
Their first example deals with the following narrative in Matthew’s gospel:
“When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, ‘Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.’” (Matthew 8:5–6, KJV)
However, Luke’s gospel gives a somewht different version of the same account.
“Now when he [Jesus] had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this: ‘For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.’” (Luke 7:1–5, KJV)
Jehovah’s Witnesses reasonably conclude that the man sent the Jewish elders to speak for him (p. 88).
Their second example treats the following incident in Mark’s gospel:
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him [Jesus], saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ They said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’” (Mark 10:35–37, KJV)
Again, in Matthew’s gospel, we find the same account altered slightly.
“Then came to him the mother of Zebedees’ children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he [Jesus] said unto her, ‘What wilt thou?’ She saith unto him, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20–21, KJV)
Jehovah’s Witnesses again logically conclude that Zebedee’s sons asked their mother to make the request on their behalf (p. 89).
One must be unreasonably biased against the Bible to consider such cases contradictions. However, although this concept is a very valid one in these two cases, it is often used by Bible inerrantists as a smokescreen: to gloss over genuine contradictions—balance is the key in the search for truth.
A Biblical Scholar’s Experience
Now, I am not a biblical scholar; at the same time, I don’t want the reader to think that what I am writing is just my opinion. So, before I leave the subject of biblical contradictions in the New Testament, I would like to quote the overall, over time, experience of an expert: that of a biblical scholar. To this effect, I would like to give the reader a short account of the personal experience of a New Testament scholar nonetheless, Bart Ehrman, who was initially an Evangelical Christian and a staunch believer in the Bible’s inspiration by God himself, down to its very words (Ehrman, pp. x–xi), but is now a self-declared agnostic (Ehrman, pp. 277–78), or even an agnostic atheist https://ehrmanblog.org/on-being-an-agnostic-or-atheist/.
In the preface of his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), he writes about the time prior to his going to a “liberal” seminary to obtain a doctorate in biblical studies.
“I came … armed to take on all those liberals with their watereddown view of the Bible. … I was ready to fend off any attacks on my biblical faith. I could answer any apparent contradiction and resolve any potential discrepancy in the Word of God, whether in the Old or New Testament. … I was not about to learn that my sacred text had any mistakes in it.” (p. xi, emphasis in original)
Here’s what happened to him eventually.
“I did not change my mind willingly—I went down kicking and screaming. … It became clear to me over a long period of time that my former views of the Bible as the inerrant revelation from God were flat-out wrong. My choice was either to hold on to views that I had come to realize were in error or to follow where I believed the truth was leading me. In the end, it was no choice. If something was true, it was true; if not, not.” (p. xi)
Have another look at the subtitle of his book. In the final chapter of this book, Ehrman writes that he did not stop believing Jesus is a historical figure, but he came to believe the Christian religion is built on myths rather than historical facts.
“I continued to believe that Jesus himself certainly existed. … Jesus’s death was not a myth, but the idea that it was a death that brought about salvation was a myth. … The death of Jesus was, for me, an act of self-giving love. … Jesus was willing to live, and die, for the sake of others. This was an idea that I found to be both noble and ennobling. I believed that his example of self-sacrifice made Christ a being worthy of worship, and felt that his was an example for me to emulate. This was not because I could prove this self-sacrifice as a historical fact but because I could resonate with it personally.” (p. 276, emphasis mine)
What Ehrman means here, unless I am misunderstanding, is that Jesus probably ended up a victim of the church and the state of his time because of his teachings; however, this was not good enough for his followers. They came up with a ‘story,’ namely, that Jesus had to die for our sins in order to save us from damnation in hell. I discuss this further in my article on “Adam and Eve—Original Sin.”
Now, some readers might think that I should have started this article with Ehrman’s experience: to establish it more forcefully initially. However, I purposely placed it at the end because I wanted to gradually convince, rather than brainwash, my readers. I hope that, by this personal account from a biblical scholar, I have set the reader’s mind to examine the evidence I presented here, without prejudice or unreasonable bias one way or the other.
In his book, Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman aptly asks what we are to make of these biblical discrepancies. Are they important as far as our faith is concerned? His answer,
“The discrepancies are significant because they show that the view of the Bible as completely inerrant appears not to be true. There are errors, if the Bible is looked at historically.” (p. 59)
He explains that if the details of two accounts of the same event contradict each other, one of them must be wrong (if not both); they cannot both be right, at least historically: that is, as far as to what really happened. Consequently, he asks whether we should simply discard the Bible as an outdated piece of literature. His answer,
“Not in the least. … We should continue to read, study, and cherish the Bible—but not as an inerrant historical account.” (p. 59)
The biblical contradictions are not only historical but also sociological and doctrinal. Why bother with the Bible, then? Because many of the biblical passages are inspirational: that is, conducive to our living a harmonious life together—it is our spiritual heritage. It’s not perfect, but ….
If the reader is interested, in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation, I show many ‘more subtle’ biblical contradictions, sporadically, along the whole book.
Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)
Bible Hub, https://biblehub.com/.
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Catholic Online: “Prayers,” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/.
Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)
Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. New York, NY: HarperOne, 1992. (ISBN: 9780060616298)
Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed. In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2005. (ISBN: 9780060816162)
Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061173936)
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New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (NAB) (ISBN: 9780899429519)
The Bart Ehrman Blog, https://ehrmanblog.org/on-being-an-agnostic-or-atheist/, posted May 23, 2021.
The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay & Rheims, France, 1752. (DRC)
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)
United Church of God. Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? Milford, OH: United Church of God, 2009.
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Flight into Egypt”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_into_Egypt, last edited July 10, 2022.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Justification (theology)”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology), last edited June 27, 2022.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Son of Man (Christianity)”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_man_(Christianity), last edited July 12, 2022.
Wills, Garry. Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. New York, NY. Image Books, 2001. (ISBN: 0385494114)