Jump to content

Contradictions?


Recommended Posts

In a recent thread, there was a comment that seemed to imply belief that the Bible has no contractions. I, however, see no reason why that would be the case. It's a collection of texts from different authors living in different places in different times; they're likely to have slightly differing beliefs on some things and they're likely to have heard slightly different versions of the stories.

 

Many people think that the existence of contradictions means that the Bible is wrong or that it can't be trusted at all(much like the YEC's 'If you can't believe the beginning, why believe the end?'), but I also don't see any justification for that view. Not being inerrant does not imply worthlessness(unless you expect us to disregard every post you ever made). All it means is that instead of treating it like absolute truth, we should treat it like various recounting of the stories(like witnesses in a trial, but, in this case, they're not witnesses).

 

I think the Bible is largely taken out of context as a whole in modern Christianity. There's not a lot of thought given to what kind of documents comprise the Bible. AFAICT, the Gospels aren't even intended to be entirely historically accurate; they're largely midrashic. I've yet to see any indication that the authors of the NT wrote expecting their text to be included in a holy compilation rather than just be read by the intended audience. I think there is much to gain in reading the gospels how they were meant to be read-as individual documents by different authors(who may or may not have differing opinions about God just as different posters here may or may not have differing opinions about God) writing to different audiences. It really makes sense; would you try to understand what one poster here thinks by what a different poster writes? Reading the Bible in this manner lets us see what each author was trying to get across rather than a muddled mish-mash of opinions trying to be forced into one coherent view. A good example is the book of Matthew.

 

There's much reason to believe that Matthew is heavily midrashic. One example of many is the virgin birth. This is one example of which Matthew is forcing prophecy on Jesus, because Matthew wanted to make it clear that Jesus WAS the promised Messiah. Keep in mind, that in midrash, literal truth isn't nearly as important as meaning; saying it is prophesy is good enough to make his point.

 

In Matthew 1:22-23, the author of Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14. That's all fine and dandy until we go and actually read it in context. The author of Matthew even cuts off Isaiah mid-sentence. The prophecy in question(read the whole chapter and you'll see), is that the pregnant woman in the room will have a son named Immanu-El and the principle enemies of Ahaz will be defeated before said boy is old enough to know right from wrong. The birth isn't what is being prophesied at all; it is the timescale for the actual prophesy-the defeat of the armies.

 

Other things about 7:14. The word 'virgin' is the Hebrew word 'alma' meaning 'young woman'. It in no way implies anything about sexual experience or lack thereof. It is likely that Matthew used a greek word meaning virgin in order to make Jesus even more special. The author of Matthew essentially invented his own prophesy for midrashic purposes.

 

From a Christian book(Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis):

A danger in functional equivalency is importing too much into the target language, supplying more meaning than the original provided. An example is adding specificity lacking in the original. Many English translations did this in Isaiah 7:14 when they rendered the Hebrew word almah, meaning "a female...who has not yet borne a child,"69 as "virgin." The lack of sexual experience that is an integral part of the meaning of the English term virgin is not part of the specific meaning of the Hebrew term. That is, an almah may (Isa. 54:4) or may not have had sexual relations, since that is not the distinguishing semantic feature for the word, while virgin by definition cannot have had sexual relations.

 

69. John Walton, NIDOTTE 3.415-19, here 418. The LXXX renders the word as parthenos, which also indicates sexual maturity but not sexual experience or its lack.

 

The other bit of scriptural evidence comes from Paul. It's evident that Paul didn't believe the virgin birth(and is perhaps even unaware of it in Romans).

 

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared [to be] the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:"-Romans 1:1-4

 

That is Paul quite explicitly saying that Joseph(line of David) is Jesus's biological father(made of the seed.....according to the flesh).

 

In another of Paul's letters we see him encountering the story of the virgin birth. Unfortunately, it's not positively; Paul warns against it as irrelevant(or even dangerous) to the faith.

 

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, [which is] our hope; Unto Timothy, [my] own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, [and] peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: [so do]."-1 Timothy 1: 1-4

 

Another example is the massacre of the innocents. There is no historical record of this event outside of Matthew. Does that alone mean it didn't happen? No. Did it happen? Probably not. Does it really matter if it happened if the gospel of Matthew is midrashic? No; what matters is the meaning.

Now, you might be wondering why I said it probably didn't happen. There are a few reasons:

 

1)Josephus goes through the trouble of a detailed chronicling the various atrocities of Herod. On the massacre, he is silent. It would be very unlikely for Josephus to leave it out.

2)By human nature(especially of the people of antiquity), numbers get exaggerated(think of the fisherman recounting the prize catch of the day and the fish gets bigger with each telling). People involved tell other people and exaggerate a little bit. They tell others and exaggerate a little bit, etc. The event would likely be recorded by someone.

3)The author of Matthew has other places that point to a tendency toward midrash.

4)The story greatly parallels that of Moses(which is a great indicator that it's likely midrashic)

 

 

Now, the last point is really of interest, as it allows us to start to see why this story was added. To the author of Matthew, Jesus was a son of God, just like David(Psalm 2:7); he was the chosen one, just like Moses. As such, the author of Matthew makes several parallels between Jesus and Moses. The first one is the massacre of the innocents. The second is Jesus being brought out of Egypt afterward. We can see that the massacre of the innocents, like the virgin birth, are added to make Jesus special; to make him the chosen one. They may or may not be true, but they are clearly there for meaning, rather than history.

 

There's just so much about the birth stories that one could write a book just about them!

 

Matthews version:

Joseph and Mary are living in Bethlehem and are engaged to be married until Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant and wants to secretly get out of the marriage to avoid any shame. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that Mary is a virgin and the baby is a miracle. Joseph then decides to marry Mary anyway. Some wise men from the east find out and ask Herod where the baby is. Herod is all sorts of pissed off that a baby 'King of the Jews' has been born because that's HIS title. So Herod tricks them to go find the baby and report back so he can go pay tribute as well. The wise men then follow a star to Joseph's house where they give baby Jesus gifts. An angel appears to the wise men warning of Herod's intentions so they go home instead of back to Herod. This REALLY ticks Herod off, so he arranges for a massacre of all the infants 2 and under in the area. Joseph is yet again tipped off my an angel in a dream, so they flee to Egypt until Herod dies. After Herod dies, Joseph meets with the Angel in another dream where he is told of Herod's death. Joseph fears that Archelaus(one of Herod's sons) might still want Jesus dead, so he moves to Nazareth instead of moving back home to Bethlehem.

 

Luke's version:

A bunch of hooplah about John the Baptist's miraculous birth(his parents were old and infertile, but God fixed that[John is 6 months older than Jesus]). An angel appears to Mary and tells her of her impending virginal pregnancy. Caesar Augustus decrees that a census of the whole Roman empire must be made. So, while Quirinius is governor of Syria for the first time, a census is made. Joseph and Mary then leave their Nazareth home to go to Bethlehem to register for the census since Joseph is of David's lineage. Mary has Jesus while they are in Bethlehem, but there is no room in the Inn, so they put Jesus in a manger(trough, for those that don't know) instead of a crib. An angel appears to some shepherds and tell them all about it, so they go to see for themselves. They stay in Bethlehem until all of Jesus's birth stuff is done, then they move back to Nazareth.

 

Even a surface reading of this passage gives the impression that the stories are very different(the only thing that seems constant is that there is a virgin birth in Bethlehem). Looking a little deeper, we can see that the setting isn't quite the same either; Matthew has the family originally from Bethlehem while Luke has them from Nazareth. A rough familiarization with history shows the settings are even more different than that as the stories are at least 10 years apart.

 

Herod reigned until his death in 4BC. Upon Herod's death, his kingdom was split among his sons. In 6AD, Herod Archelaus(one of King Herod's sons) was deposed and his land thus fell into Roman control. One of Archelaus's replacements was a man by the name Coponius. At the same time as the appointment of Coponius, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria in 6AD. Upon the appointment of Quirinius, since this was the first time the land was under Roman control(it was previously only a client kingdom), it was decreed by Caesar Agustus that there should be a census. This census was the first Roman census of the area(it wasn't a census of the entire empire nor were residents required to go to the ancestral home).

 

This puts us in a bit of a bind, since Jesus was at least almost two BEFORE Herod dies(in 4BC). The soldiers carrying out the massacre would know the difference between a week old baby and a two year old(massacre was of all two and under). It is also assumed that the stay in Egypt lasted longer than a week or so as well unless one posits supernatural help in the death of Herod.

 

Luke, however, has Jesus being born AFTER Quirinius comes into power in 6AD. This is a real concern since the census is a direct result of Herod's death(along with his son being a poor ruler). Now we have a discrepancy of at least 10 years. That's a pretty big hole if this is supposed to be the same story.

 

Perhaps this is just a difference in the story each author heard, or maybe the difference was due to meaning. I happen to think that Matthew wrote his emphasizing Jesus as the saviour of the Jewish people(like Moses[see above]) and Luke wrote emphasizing the connection between Jesus and John the Baptist showing how they're messages are similar and John brought the way for Jesus.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I think the Bible is largely taken out of context as a whole in modern Christianity. There's not a lot of thought given to what kind of documents comprise the Bible.

 

Yes, I'd very much agree with that observation.

 

I've yet to see any indication that the authors of the NT wrote expecting their text to be included in a holy compilation rather than just be read by the intended audience. I think there is much to gain in reading the gospels how they were meant to be read-as individual documents by different authors . . . writing to different audiences.

 

This also, is a most important thing to keep in mind; yes. The only thing that at times will trump this most obvious correct understanding, will be found to the those times when scribal changes can be deduced to have occurred to 'make the texts say what 'the church knew they were to have said.' (kind of like political correctness)

 

Nicely written and argued post.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I hadn't thought of this until now, but if they had to go to Egypt to avoid the massacre, then it seems to have affected such a broad area that it would have included where John the Baptist lived (unless they went to Egypt too). Otherwise, Gabriel could have told them to live with Elizabeth until it all blows over. This implies that John was older than two, and so it follows that Jesus was close to two.

 

PS -- What is meant by "midrashic"?

Link to post
Share on other sites

ydoaps: I agree with most of what you say but disagree with "I think the Bible is largely taken out of context as a whole in modern Christianity."

 

My reason is that I don't think 'modern Christianity' is something quite as unified and well defined as you seem to imply. I am a Christian, but I believe that the bible should not be used as a historic fact book, and I think most Christians I know would agree. Even if you were willing to claim that the original writings were 100% true and accurate, there have been modifications and translations since that clearly alter the texts, making them no longer 100% accurate.

 

Having said that, it is still a wonderful (collection of) book(s) full of amazing revelations about God and Jesus, and indeed ourselves, the world we live in and how we should live in that world.

 

I actually think the phenomenon you describe isn't a Christian thing, but a modern western culture thing. Our culture assumes that any book written which looks like it is telling a true story must be 100% factually true. All events must be completely accurate and consistent. The actual events themselves are all important.

 

However, I think when the books were written, this was not the philosophy of the authors. The authors were intending to inform more generally, not about historical facts, but about a particular world view: the interaction of man with the divine and how we should live in that context. They weren't writing their books as some kind of evidence to 'prove' that Jesus was God, or even that God exists. I think it is Western culture's attempt to use them in that light that creates a lot of problems.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I agree with most of what you say but disagree with "I think the Bible is largely taken out of context as a whole in modern Christianity." (bold mine)

 

I think I can understand the position being presented here, but let me see if that can also be tested.

 

Having said that, it is still a wonderful (collection of) book(s) full of amazing revelations about God and Jesus, and indeed urselves, the world we live in and how we should live in that world. (bold and underscore mine)

 

This might cause some concern. We can firstly come to determine (and if need be might expound on that further, later) that we are not looking at a single book or any sorts of that time period involved in the initial cult.(1) There are, as you will know of, a good number of written works of various genre which sprung from the original Judaic activity which became Christianity (as we especially later see it in the later second century) which are will lead us back to a more centrally located oral tradition (and I'm focusing more so on the Christian works here).

 

We might say, in that regards, therefore, that we would be dealing with a single story line in the Christian canon and non-canonical documents, but not looking at a true single volume...or book.

 

In that line of investigation, therefore, we will have to hold the contextual and literary setting of the documents' contents to speak for themselves. It is more evident that we will find that the autographs speaking to, and only to, those of the immediate and contemporary recipients . . . and not to us of today. (thus any elements of Christianity at large in our relative age [18 to 21 centuries] considering that the writer of any document had been speaking to humanity at large, can well be demonstrated to be 'taking the original intentions out of context.'

 

I actually think the phenomenon you describe isn't a Christian thing, but a modern western culture thing.

 

This also more so seems to support the conclusion advanced. Much has been taken out of context.

 

The authors were intending to inform more generally, not about historical facts, but about a particular world view: the interaction of man with the divine and how we should live in that context. They weren't writing their books as some kind of evidence to 'prove' that Jesus was God, or even that God exists. I think it is Western culture's attempt to use them in that light that creates a lot of problems.

 

I tend to think we might find some contradictions here, as well.

 

 

 

1. I might point out that I am using this term in the original, neutral sense, and not the more commonly negatively implied sense.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I am a Christian, but I believe that the bible should not be used as a historic fact book, and I think most Christians I know would agree.

 

The funny thing is that I'm a Pagan and find the Old Testament an interesting historical document. Much of it appears to be the written form of a much older verbal history. I'm not saying that it is a factual history, but that many parts are based on factual history. Some is corroborated by other sources, some is not.

 

Many peoples and places mentioned in the Bible are only now being found or correctly identified and attributed.

 

However it must always be remembered that we are looking at a book that tells factual history by way of story telling that would engage an audience way back then. In a time without widespread literacy, storytelling was King and good storytellers could and did travel, recounting their tales in exchange for food and shelter.

 

The story of the destruction of Jericho is far more interesting in the Bible than the basics of "We laid siege to the city for a week, then on the last day, the attack was sounded and we stormed the city." The story in the Bible is embellished, but this doesn't change the fact that the Israelites did storm and destroy Jericho after laying siege to it.

 

Like many legends and stories, the Biblical ones often have the kernel of truth inside.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Is this a contradiction or am i not reading it correctly?

 

Just to pull this line of thought (and the response by ydoaPs has delt with one angle) out a bit further (and the concept of contradictions as well). It can well be argued that there are different levels of conflict in reporting (contradictions).

 

At Matthew 24:34,35 we will find something along the lines of:

 

Truthfully I tell you all, this generation will by no means pass away, and not all these things occur. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

(the setting is his speaking to his disciples in private)

 

We'll see the basic tenet in very close wording at Mark 13:30, 31, and Luke 21:32, 33. In taking the historical aspect of the literary genre, we'd be far more correct in taking the understanding that at that moment, in that said setting, the gist of what is presented in our record had been communicated (although it later got cluttered and confused, which is what we got). The second portion of the above quotes is just a Hebrew-like cliche emphasizing the truthfulness of what had been spoken.

 

Here, however, we find that these words do create conflict of character portrayal (if you will). This is true in that in According to John, Yeshua (the overall character presented by the earliest of the early movement) told the same disciples that the spirit of the truth would tell them the truth and would bring back to their minds everything that he had told them during his ministry with them. (Jn. 14:26; 16:13)

 

According to John totally ignores that episode, yet in the later letters, still is seen to be pushing 'it is the last hour.' (too lazy to run down the verse...sorry) The character is still being presented as having spoken the absolute truth of the course of immediate history (of that time). [cross-compare the somewhat later written 2 Peter, chapter 2] Therefore in the end, the church had to make an effort to re-interpret the report in order to maintain character unity . . . the 'last days' will be forever in the future. The character is still a speaker of truth.

 

As pointed out earlier, of course, this is not what is usually called the 'Bible contradiction' kind of thing, though, but is a conflict of report (thus contradiction) of a different nature, which had come to be fixed in the reports which made our exemplars.

 

As far as contradictions in the historical report, there are a few which I like...and when time allows, will point them out.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.