Bible dealbreakers: Inconsistent facts

I’m doing a series on what I’d like to call “Bible dealbreakers,” reasons why I reject the Bible’s authority and therefore reject Christianity. This is part four of six.

So, I decided to split what I had planned for part four into two separate posts. (I feel a little bit like Douglas Adams writing an “increasingly inaccurately-named trilogy.”) There are two distinct kinds of Biblical inconsistencies that each pose distinct problems for Christianity.

I’m going to start with the more boring but more objective one: factual statements that contradict each other in different verses of the Bible. I have a problem with this in the same way that I have a problem with the Bible’s historical and scientific inaccuracies. In those cases, we know the Bible’s claims to be false based on outside evidence and investigation. In these cases, we know that at least one of two (or more) conflicting verses can’t be true because they are mutually exclusive. Either way, it casts serious doubt on the trustworthiness of the Bible as a source of truth. I’d actually argue that the inconsistencies are worse, in a way — they remind us that there are some things we know are wrong only because the Bible says something different elsewhere. Who knows what other errors might be hiding in the statements that aren’t contradicted? Even if the error is just the equivalent of a typo … who knows where else a typo might have happened?

The Bible gives two different dates for the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem. Was it on the 7th of Av, or the 10th of Av?

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. Jeremiah 52:12-13

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 2 Kings 25:8-9

Although the scene is iconic, the Bible is unclear on whether Jesus carried his own cross — and there are more verses that say he did not than say that he did.

So [Pilate] delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. John 19:16-18

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). Mark 15:20-22 (Also Matthew 27:31-33, Luke 23:26.)

Speaking of iconic — what weapon did David use to kill Goliath?

And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.1 Samuel 17:49-50

Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 1 Samuel 17:51 — the very next verse!

In Genesis 10, the people speak many languages already, but when we get to chapter 11 and the Tower of Babel, there is only one language in the world. It’s not clear whether Mary Magdalene recognized the resurrected Jesus when she first saw him, whether she didn’t recognize him, or whether she didn’t see him directly at all. The Bible can’t even agree on what the twelve tribes of Israel are. I could go on with this much longer, but it seems hardly necessary. If you’re still unconvinced, I’ll point you to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, which was invaluable to me in tracking down these verses, and has a catalog of many more contradictions than I’d ever have the patience for.

One way out of this is to find a way to reconcile these contradictions somehow — either by arguing for mistranslations and copying errors, or by inventing another story altogether that could result in all these various misunderstandings (Maybe Simon of Cyrene and Jesus carried the cross together, etc.). This doesn’t exactly help the Bible’s credibility, though. Alternatively, you could choose one version of each that is “right” and consider the others “wrong,” but it’s unclear how you would go about making that choice in a reliable way. And anyway, once you’ve gone and labeled a bunch of Bible verses as obviously false, what grounds do you have for assuming that the rest of them must be true?

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  1. Questioning

     /  February 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I just want to say how much I am appreciating this series. You are not some angry, God-hating atheist trying to disprove Christianity out of spite. You are very reasonably and rationally examining the evidence, and finding it insufficient. I feel that you have been very gracious toward Christianity, actually, offering to give the benefit of the doubt in certain circumstances. All in all, I think you’re doing a great job with this, and I have found it really helpful.

  2. Thank you! It’s been taking a lot more time than I anticipated it would, and it really makes my day (week?) to hear that, erm, spending less time on my research than I should have has been worthwhile. 🙂

  3. All Xtians know that you and others are just not spiritually inspired enough to connect the various parts into a coherent hole, that they can then pour their brains into.
    So your opinion as a satanist atheist (oxymoron) are just disjoint mutterings. Cuz the holey men have shown how it all goes together.
    I have actually had them say that. Just like they pick and chose the parts they like, they also ignore the parts that contradict their beliefs.
    But it is very good work you are doing, so keep up the good fight…good article.

  4. @ Questioning,

    I competely agree with you. I believe most atheists are this way, many Christians just have a hard time with people who disagree with them and want a little more proof than they can personally give. I personally found that most atheist actually know more about the bible itself than most of us Christians, which is sad for us, but it is very true.

    -Don Preece

  5. I want to echo the sentiments that this was appreciated greatly. I’ve read many take-downs of the bible and every time some new verse or fact is pointed out in contradiction with reality. I cannot bring myself to read the bible cover to cover for a second time, so I greatly appreciate the efforts of people who write down the problems that are so obvious with the “word.”
    (Although, I have to say I’ve never read or seen anything I’d classify as a “god-hating atheist trying to disprove christianity out of spite.” As you’ve shown, the bible does that on its own)

  6. I appreciate the series, it has helped me blog too. . .but I can’t take the part about Goliath and David cutting of his head with his sword. As the story says that David shed Saul’s armor, it is presumed after talking about Goliath, that the sword belongs to him. . .at least that’s what my English teacher taught me. I hate to make someone see a foolish mistake on your part blamed on the Bible, as it discredits the rest. Oh, and there is much more for inconsistencies. . .I’d love you to update this with some more, and take out the one that can be easily justified. . .including one in the historical discrepancies post. (About the plagues not having any evidence, because I watched a documentary explain how a natural occurrence likely caused that exact progression of events, right at that time.) Otherwise, nice job.

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