Are there Discrepancies in the Bible ?

As a child, I believed in Santa Claus but as time went on, I had questions.  If Santa came down our chimney, how did he get back up ?  How come I didn’t hear the reindeer on our roof ?  Why did I see multiple Santa’s around town ?  Of course my parents would come up with all sorts of explanations and because they were my parents, I believed them………..until I really challenged them.  Then they had to fess up !  I had questions with Christianity too but instead of someone fessing up, they kept providing explanations that my mind could no longer embrace.

Many of the explanations provided below coincide with some of the ones I could no longer embrace.  Do any of these ring a bell with any deconverts here ?

RC Sproul says, “There are some extremely difficult passages in the Scriptures, and I’m not always happy with some of the resolutions, but I think that for the most part those difficult discrepancies have been thoroughly reconciled through biblical scholarship.”

Here is a writer for gotquestions.org who didn’t bother to pen his name on his explanation , “We should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only an error if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be reconciled. Even if an answer is not available right now, that does not mean an answer does not exist. Many have found a supposed error in the Bible in relation to history or geography only to find out that the Bible is correct once further archaeological evidence is discovered.

Here is his advice to Christians when asked the “errors in the Bible question”.

So, what are we to do when someone approaches us with an alleged Bible error? 1) Prayerfully study the Scriptures and see if there is a simple solution. 2) Do some research using some of the fine Bible commentaries, “Bible defense” books, and biblical research websites. 3) Ask our pastors/church leaders to see if they can find a solution. 4) If there is still no clear answer after steps 1), 2), and 3) are followed, we trust God that His Word is truth and that there is a solution that just simply has not been realized yet

christiananswers.net republished this answer, “The godly base their confidence on two truths: 1) “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16); and 2) an elementary rule of Scripture is that God has deliberately included seeming contradictions in His Word to “snare” the proud. He has “hidden” things from the “wise and prudent” and “revealed them to babes” (Luke 10:21), purposely choosing foolish things to confound the wise “(1 Corinthians 1:27). (Author: Ray Comfort of Living Waters Publications. Excerpted from The Evidence Bible)

jw.org had this to say, “No, the entire Bible is harmonious. While some passages might seem to show the Bible contradicting itself, they can usually be understood correctly by applying one or more of the following principles:

  1. Consider the context. Any author can appear to contradict himself if his words are taken out of context.

  2. Consider the writer’s viewpoint. Eyewitnesses might describe an event accurately but not use the exact same wording or include the same details.

  3. Take into account historical facts and customs.

  4. Distinguish between the figurative and the literal uses of a word.

  5. Recognize that an action may be attributed to someone—even if he did not personally carry it out. *

  6. Use an accurate Bible translation.

  7. Avoid trying to reconcile what the Bible says with mistaken religious ideas or dogma.”

Making a Holy Book Infallible can lead people to fly planes into buildings, or cause someone to kill a Doctor who performs abortions.

I quoted Early Church Father, Justin Martyr over at Citizen Tom’s Blog and was chastised by Tom for taking the quote out of context.  I did nothing of the same.  Justin knew the people he was addressing worshiped gods with similar stories so he readily admitted that the story of Jesus propounded nothing new to what they already believed of the sons of Jupiter .

I think Christians would do better to keep their Faith private.  Christianity is a “Faith Based” Religion BTW.

If you want to receive the ire of an Atheist, I’m not necessarily referring to Ark here  🙂  Just say “the Bible is true because God says it is”.

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23 thoughts on “Are there Discrepancies in the Bible ?

  1. The theological two-step!

    Is that the new view?

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  2. Oh I don’t know.

    1) Consider the context. Any author can appear to contradict himself if his words are taken out of context.

    2) Consider the writer’s viewpoint. (modified to remove the part that I think was less useful advice)

    3) Take into account historical facts and customs.

    4) Distinguish between the figurative and the literal uses of a word.

    The first four (with some modification of the second) seems like pretty sound advice to me actually. What do you find unsound about those four exactly?

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  3. OK, you chose 1,3, and 4 verbatim but modified 2 , “to remove the part I think was less useful”

    What about 5, 6, and 7 ?

    How would you feel about the redactors removing parts they felt were less useful ?

    Thanks for stopping by and making your comments. I always appreciate new visitors .

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    • From an authenticity sake I don’t think we should go chopping out pieces of the bible. With the obvious caveat that there are different collections of books included in the Bible depending on denominations and traditions and sometimes one group might include a particular book that the other does not.

      Use an accurate Bible translation isn’t bad advice either I suppose, but something is ALWAYS lost in translation. I am not sure what they are trying to say with 7. How do they define mistaken religious dogma or ideas when religious dogma and ideas usually have their origins in interpretations of the Bible?

      I have actually commented here before: link. Just not often.

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  4. Yes, I remembered that you visited before when I visited your site. It takes my mind a while before things come back. LOL Thanks for stopping by again.

    ” I am not sure what they are trying to say with 7.” Exactly !

    “Use an accurate Bible translation isn’t bad advice either I suppose” I have at least 10 different ones in my library which claim to be accurate………so which one is right ? 🙂

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    • That’s quite the collection of Bibles. I suppose you’re correct in that “accuracy” is a poor term. Did you have any thoughts on what is unsound about the original four though?

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  5. Actually I do. Let’s look at them one by one.

    “1.) Consider the context. Any author can appear to contradict himself if his words are taken out of context.”

    “Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1),

    , “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”(1 Chronicles 21:1)

    Which one is taken out of context ?

    “2.) Consider the writer’s viewpoint. Eyewitnesses might describe an event accurately but not use the exact same wording or include the same details.

    Which writers were eyewitnesses to the events they were describing ?

    “3.) Take into account historical facts and customs.”

    Deut 22:22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.
    2 Sam 12:13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
    Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.
    2 Kings 14:6 Yet he did not put the children of the assassins to death, in accordance with what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses where the Lord commanded: “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.”[a]

    Here we have a custom of killing a man sleeping with another man’s wife but this did not happen to King David. We also have a law which says a child is not to be killed for the sins of his father and yet King David’s child was killed for that very reason.

    “4.) Distinguish between the figurative and the literal uses of a word.

    Find 2 people who can go verse by verse and agree which verses are figurative and which ones are literal 100%

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    • In my response to #1 , I wasn’t showing how the author might appear to contradict himself rather how he appeared to be contradicting another. I will look for an example of #1

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  6. In response to #1

    And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. Genesis 4:11-12

    And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch. Genesis 4:16-17

    Here the author appears to be contradicting himself. Am I wrong ?

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    • A point I continually try to make in these types of discussions is that we’re not limited to the two choices of fundamentalist theist approaches versus atheist approaches, but we can also strive for a literary approach. The key point I am making is that whether I am reading Shakespeare, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Homer, or the Bible, or even an article in a newspaper to some extent, considering the context, considering the writer’s viewpoint, taking into account historical facts and customs as it relates to the work would all be useful to understanding what is being expressed. So in understanding discrepancies for whatever purpose, they also remain useful. In other words, if these criteria are useful in understanding a fictional work and atheists think the Bible is a fictional work, then it makes no sense to imply the Bible is the exception to the rule and these tools won’t aid us.

      Consider your first example:

      Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1),
      , “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”(1 Chronicles 21:1)

      Your reading: This is contradiction because the first passage claims it is God who orders David to number Israel, while the second passage says it is Satan.

      A Jewish reading: Most of the scholarship I’ve read suggests that in Ancient Judaism, Satan is not an antagonist figure to God, but rather a servant of God who does his bidding. With this background knowledge (context) in mind, the passages don’t contradict each other, but rather Chronicles elaborates on the first passage. The Lord was angry, so he sends Satan who is working for Him, to move David.

      A Christian Reading: Although I’m not a Christian, most Christians talk about God letting his antagonist Satan have reign on the Earth when evil things happen. With this slightly different consideration (context) in mind, we again see how the two passages can be reconciled. The Lord is angry, so he allows Satan to stand against Israel.

      A Literary Reading: The two passages come from two different books by two different writers working within an Oral Tradition. The different details might be explained by different, but related, traditions being written down or they might be a product of a later time in which the later author (probably the writer of Chronicles) has a different theological concepts (the idea that a being called Satan exists where the earlier narrative, Samuel, might not have a concept of a Being called Satan yet). Notice the focus here is explaining why there is a discrepancy.

      2) This is why I modified the suggestion. Considering the writer’s viewpoint and why they are writing and what they are trying to express is good advice for any work of writing. Trying to figure out whether someone was an eyewitness or not in the Bible is fraught with problems.

      3) If you look closely at Deuteronomy 24, all of the passages are about how people should act towards other people (notice again how context, reading it in light of other passages found around it, serves as a guide). These rules bind people, not God. So the other passage, which mentions that God is forgiving David, but still punishing him through his son technically doesn’t contradict the custom. We could, of course, then have a separate theological conversation about whether God should be bound to the same moral rules as humans, but the real point is that technically the passages don’t contradict each other once the context is considered.

      4) Even if people fail to always agree on what is figurative and what is literal an individual should still make the attempt. It still remains a useful tool in any kind of literary interpretation. People don’t always agree with each other on blogs either; nevertheless, I still think we should read blogs, including those that disagree with us. To discern who is correct or at least makes the most sense to us we should consider their argument and their underlying assumptions.

      No one would approach any other fictional text and assume the writer probably meant everything literally. We would assume some lines are figurative language and others are literal straight-forward statements. It’s also important to note that this is not a dichotomy.

      Notice in the Samuel passage you quoted: “The Lord burned against Israel.” I paraphrased this as “The Lord was angry.” This passage doesn’t mean The Lord physically burst into flames on the physical land controlled by the nation of Israel, he is NOT literally burning. In other words, this is figurative language, which is designed to show the character’s literal emotional state. Now let’s go further and assume the literalist Christian probably understands this as a literal event that occurred in history. The point here then is that the figurative language and understanding it as a literal event that actually occurred are not diametrically opposed to each other.

      Consider this passage from Lamentations 1:

      “How deserted lies the city,
      once so full of people!
      How like a widow is she,
      who once was great among the nations!
      She who was queen among the provinces
      has now become a slave.

      Bitterly she weeps at night,
      tears are on her cheeks.
      Among all her lovers
      there is no one to comfort her.
      All her friends have betrayed her;
      they have become her enemies.” – Lamentations 1

      Now, there is a lot of strange and fantastical events in the Bible. So it could be the city (an inanimate object) has come to life and is literally crying, but what is actually happening here is a whole bunch of figurative language. We have a simile in the third line comparing the city (Jerusalem) to a widow (particularly the quality of being abandoned and alone). This is followed by a metaphor that describes the former glory of Jerusalem by comparing it to a Queen among provinces reduced to the status of a slave. Then we have the city weeping and described as having cheeks covered in tears. How can a city have tears on its cheeks (i. e. cities don’t have cheeks)? Even though the city is the central figure of these passages, it isn’t actually about the physical city itself. The city is a metonymy standing in for the Nation and People of Judah. This whole thing is exploding with figurative language (note: it is not literally exploding. This, too, is a figurative language).

      Basically all of this comes back to good practices for good reading, which is a skill that can be learned and practiced like any other skill.

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      • “A point I continually try to make in these types of discussions is that we’re not limited to the two choices of fundamentalist theist approaches versus atheist approaches, but we can also strive for a literary approach.”

        You placed a lot of time and thought into your response. I enjoyed reading it and trying to understand where you are coming from. If you are not a professor you should be. Your points are well taken.

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  7. “A Christian Reading: Although I’m not a Christian, most Christians talk about God letting his antagonist Satan have reign on the Earth when evil things happen.”

    Were you ever a Christian ? If so, why aren’t you now ? If not, what would you consider yourself ?

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  8. Apologies in advance for the length of the comment.

    Regarding the four items raised by consoledreader, in a literalist Biblical view these are being done with a specific aim in mind: to reconcile conflicting ideas. All of this is being done so that a person can justify the assertion that the Bible is complete and inerrant. A single error disputes this claim.

    Moreover, the four items bring Biblical analysis into the realm of consensus rather than objective meaning. Context is subjective (item 1), and so is determining whether something is figurative or literal (item 4). The writer’s viewpoint (item 2) is practically unknowable in Biblical analysis because we don’t have other independent writings to choose from. Historical context (item 3) is only relevant if the writer was aware of it and if the writer was trying to make a statement consistent with it.

    All of these things involve gut decisions. They are all arguable, and nobody can fully be right about any of them. For people who argue the Bible has one true meaning, this is essential to bolster the proposition. It allows someone to subjectively claim what is objectively true.

    While this would be okay in a literary analysis, a literary analysis isn’t what’s being put forth by the cited works. These people are trying to justify the assertions that someone walked on water, someone else got swallowed by a whale, and some deity created day and night before there was a sun. As such, they ought to be held to a standard commensurate with their claims.

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    • Valid points SB ! Thanks for your take !

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sirius,

      I understand that the literalist is employing these techniques for the purpose of reconciling conflicting ideas and I realize that is what the original post was addressing, which is a bit different than some of the issue I am tackling.

      Nevertheless, I have to disagree with you about the criteria. Telling the difference between figurative and literal language is not as a subjective as you’re suggesting. For example, simile, which is a type of figurative language has a built in syntax. If you see the word “like” or “as” and two ideas are being compared, you’re objectively dealing with a simile. This doesn’t involve a gut decision, but rather knowing what the figure of speech is and identifying the appropriate pattern as you read. Granted some figures of speech are more difficult to identify than others (i.e. was the author being ironic in this paragraph?). Writer’s viewpoint can often be determined by careful close-reading. It doesn’t require independent writings. It doesn’t take too much consideration to realize that the writer’s viewpoint in the first chapter of Isaiah (a difficult and enigmatic book) is that Israel has been disobedient to what God considers righteous, but if they do what they are supposed to do they will be redeemed. In other words, there is a touch more rigor to all this than mere gut decisions.

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      • Well, those are admittedly easy examples you’re citing. But what about the Garden of Eden myth as a metaphor for something else? Here’s where it gets argumentative, and quite frankly different interpretations of meaning behind the story can be justified. It is to those points where differences in point of view are simply gut decisions, or a preponderance of the evidence.

        Christians also take these different readings and build upon them, hence having over 40,000 different denominations. Are people prohibited from using musical instruments from worship? Is baptism reserved for being saved? Should there be a sprinkling of water or total immersion? There always has been enough ambiguity to build a church on. All of this, of course, without even getting to attempts to reconcile different stories in order to build a coherent narrative…

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        • They’re supposed to be easy examples to show that, yes, we can use these techniques as a starting to point to identify certain objective aspects of a text.

          The Garden of Eden Myth is trickier because we’re dealing with an entire story segment.

          As you say yourself, you can use preponderance of evidence. What it really involves is using textual evidence, supported by inferences from said textual evidence. You can see my take on the Garden of Eden story here and I use many of those techniques described to come up with my reading.

          Different interpretations can be justified, which is only a problem for a single over-arching theology, the literalist. Otherwise, it is perfectly fine to accept all of them as a reasonable and plausible interpretation.

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  9. Actually, there is an even simpler explanation.
    They are lies.
    How’s that fly?

    Like

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