Friday, April 02, 2004

Alleged "Bible Contradictions"

From my book, Mere Christian Apologetics:

A common tactic of biblical skeptics is to question the veracity and historical trustworthiness of the New Testament based on alleged numerous "contradictions" therein. But most of these so-called "problem passages" can easily be shown to be not contradictory, but rather, complementary. This is what might be described as the "1001 Bible contradictions" ploy.

In the desperation to find “contradictions,” any instance of a different report (not absolutely identical in all respects) is regarded as contradictory, when in fact this is not so at all, and obviously so, for anyone who will take a little time to reflect upon it. A simple example will suffice to illustrate this:

1. Joe says he saw Bill walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at 3:10 PM on a hot Saturday afternoon.

2. Alice says she saw Ed walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at 4:10 PM.

3. John says he saw Kathy walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at 4:30 PM.

4. Sally says she saw Bill walk up to the Dairy Queen and buy an ice cream at “about 3:15 PM,” Ed buy an ice cream there at “about 4:20 PM,” and Kathy buy an ice cream there at “about 4:45 PM.”


Now, according to these “conflicting” and “contradictory” reports, how many people (at least) bought an ice cream at the Dairy Queen between 3:10 and “about” 4:45 PM on a hot Saturday afternoon? Was it 1,2,3, or 6? Actually, none of the above, because (in all likelihood) many more people went there during that time to buy ice cream. They just weren’t all recorded.

But skeptical hyper-critics look at the above data (let’s say they represent the four Gospels) and see a host of “contradictions”:

1. Joe contradicts Alice as to who visited there in an hour’s time.

2. Joe contradicts John as to who visited there in an hour and 20 minute’s time.

3. Alice contradicts John as to who visited there in 20 minute’s time.

4. Joe says someone visited at 3:10, but Alice claims it was at 4:10, and John says it was at 4:30.

5. Joe, Alice, and John can’t even agree on who visited the Dairy Queen in a lousy span of only 80 minutes! They are obviously completely untrustworthy! Probably two or more of them are lying.

6. To top it all off, we have the utter nonsense of Sally, whose time for Bill’s arrival contradicts Joe’s report by 5 minutes!

7. Sally’s time for Ed’s arrival contradicts Alice’s report by 10 minutes!!

8. Sally’s time for Kathy’s arrival contradicts John’s report by 15 minutes!!!


And so on and so forth. Yet this is the sort of incoherent “reasoning” which we get from so many skeptics of the Bible, who pride themselves on their “reasoning abilities” and “logical acumen,” over against the alleged gullible, irrational orthodox Christians, who accept biblical inspiration. Many examples of this sort of nonsense can be easily located in the usual laundry lists of “biblical contradictions” which frequently appear in skeptical and atheist literature, often exhibiting the most elementary errors of fact or logic.

Fair-minded and open-minded folks should be able to easily see through the shallowness of such “proofs.” The skeptical underlying assumptions are almost always assumed as axioms (reasons for this acceptance are deemed unnecessary), and the Christian assumptions are almost always frowned-upon as irrational, “impossible,” etc.

We often hear, for example, the weak argument that John’s Gospel excludes a lot of the important events in Jesus’ life, which are recorded in the synoptic Gospels. But it obviously had a different purpose (it was more theological in nature, rather than purely narrative). In the world of biblical hyper-criticism, however, facts such as those are of no consequence. The usual predisposition is that “contradictions” are involved, per the above “reasoning.”

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