ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCIES/CONTRADICTIONS


Dr. Thompson says concerning inerrancy, "One may ask whether or not the word applies to matters involving every statement in the Bible on cosmology, botany, and the other sciences."1  Without hesitation, he attempts to show that the Bible in NOT inerrant by citing multiple alleged Bible Discrepancies/Contradictions.  Unfortunately, Dr. Thompson doesn't provide Bible references for all his alleged discrepancies, so I have provided the ones he left out.  In addition, at times the references are terse, so it may not be possible to fully understand the extent of his concern.

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #1

SCRIPTURE: Gen 1:6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 17, 20; Ps 19:1; 150:1; Eze 1:22, 23, 25, 26; 10:1; Dan 12:3 (provided by me--PBM)
ERROR TYPE: Scientific
DESCRIPTION: "Firmament" is not an accurate scientific term.
REPLY:

Although it is not apparent in God's Holy Fire, evidently Dr. Thompson's objection here is that "firmament" in Hebrew refers to a physical object, such as a dome, instead of a gas.  This is made clear in The Transforming Word, where they present "An Ancient Near-Eastern Model of the Cosmos" showing a flat earth, with a physical dome over the earth representing the dome of heaven, with stars and moon above this in the dome, and then the waters above the dome.2  The obvious implication by the author is that this is the unscientific model found in the Bible also.

However, not all would agree with this hypothesis.  First, it appears that ancient Hebrew had no word for "gas," and so they had no way to express the modern concept of "atmosphere."  Second, Maunder says the following about the firmament: "To the Hebrews the 'firmament' was the apparent void above, in which the clouds float and the lights of heaven pursue their appointed paths."3  In addition, Heard's apparent assumption of the flat earth is undoubtedly from Isaiah 11:12 which speak of the "four corners of the earth" as well as Isaiah 44:24 which speaks of God who "...stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself...."  Now in regards to the expression, "the four corners of the earth," Willis in his 1980 commentary on Isaiah, said this:

The expression four corner of the earth (vs. 12; cf. Job 37:3; Rev 7:1) do not reflect an ancient notion that the earth was flat and the shape of a square or rectangle.  Deuteronomy 22:12 speaks of the four corners of a cloak, and Ezekiel 7:2 of the four corners of the land of Israel, but in neither case is it implied that the biblical writer thought that the cloak or the land of Israel was square or rectangular.  This is simply an idiomatic expression meaning "entirety."4

In addition, Isaiah 40:22 appears to imply that the earth is indeed not only "circular," but also a substantial three dimensional object.  The Hebrew word chug in this verse can mean either "circle" or "vault," but two prominent Hebrew-English Lexicons prefer the meaning of "vault" for chug in Isaiah 40:22.5,6  Contrary to this, most of the English translators choose "circle."  However, TMSG has "God sits high above the round ball of the earth" and DRB has "It is he that sitteth upon the globe of the earth," both trying to capture something of the three dimensional nature of this Hebrew word.  Furthermore, it would appear that a globe-shaped earth is implied by Luke 17:34-36, since at the second coming of Christ, half of the earth will be sleeping and half of the earth awake and working.

Therefore, the assumptions behind Dr. Thompson's proposed allegation regarding the "firmament" appear to be faulty.

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #2

SCRIPTURE: Parable of the mustard seed, Mt 13:31-32; Mk 4:30-32 (PBM)
ERROR TYPE: Scientific
DESCRIPTION: The mustard seed is not the smallest seed.
REPLY:

"No difficulty is seen in the fact that some seeds might actually be smaller than a mustard seed. This trifling quibble disappears in the ancient proverb, 'small as a grain of mustard seed.' Besides, in the relative sense in which Christ spoke, it was a literal fact. And if that is not enough, it could easily be explained as an example of hyperbole, exaggeration for the sake of emphasis."7  It was proverbial in the use of the Rabbis for that which was small.8  Thus, we shouldn't be surprised to find Jesus using it as the way the Jews understood its usage.

Ted Stewart suggests the following solution:

  1. Jesus did not say the mustard seed is the smallest (superlative) seed, but smaller (mikroteron = comparative in Greek), than other seed in Palestine.
  2. Mark 4:31-32 Jesus compared mustard seed with other seed sown by farmers in Palestine.
  3. In the Mishna Jewish rabbis who lived before, during and after Jesus, also used the mustard seed to refer to very small things.9

Note that Stewart's reference to mikroteron as being stated in the "comparative degree" as well as its English meaning is supported by Davis.10

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #3

SCRIPTURE: Raising of Jairus' daughter Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:21-43; (Lk 8:40-56 PBM)
ERROR TYPE: Inconsistencies
DESCRIPTION: Inconsistencies in the narratives, where Mark says daughter is at the point of death, and Matt says that she has just died.
REPLY:

Mark's account is the longest of the three synoptic gospels and gives the most detail.  Matthew is the shortest account.  Both Mark and Luke include a message sent from Jairus' home indicating that his daughter had died.  Therefore it is clear that Jairus had left his daughter near death and came to Jesus with faith he could heal her, but not knowing if she had died until the word came to him that she was dead.  All three accounts show her as being dead before Jesus arrived with Jairus.  Thus, "Matthew omits the message from the house (Luke 8:49) and states the case briefly: she is just dead; the father had left her dying, and he thought perhaps that she was dead by the time he came to Jesus."11  Matthew's shortening of the account is probably pressured by the restrictions of scroll length, especially since he gave so much space to Christ's discourses.

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #4

SCRIPTURE: Timing of the triumphal entry, cursing fig tree, cleansing temple Mk 11:1-19; Mt 21:1-22
ERROR TYPE: Inconsistencies
DESCRIPTION: Inconsistencies in the narratives where in Mk it was the next day after the triumphal entry that these things happened, whereas it was immediately after these events in Mt.
REPLY:

Ted Stewart suggests the following solution:
  • Day one: Mark 11:1-11 and Matthew 21:1-11.
    • Mark and Matthew report Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
    • Mark, not Matthew, records Jesus' return to Bethany on day 1.
  • Day two: Mark 11:12-19 and Matthew 21:12-17.
    • Only Mark tells of the trip from Bethany to Jerusalem on day 2.
    • Only Mark tells of the cursing of the fruitless fig tree on the journey from Bethany to Jerusalem on the morning of day 2.
    • Both Mark and Matthew record that Jesus entered the Temple and drove out the money changers and merchants on day 2, though Matthew does not specify that it was on day 2 as Mark did.
    • At the end of day 2 Matthew specifies that they returned to Bethany, whereas Mark simply says they left Jerusalem.
  • Day three: Mark 11:20-28 and Matthew 21:18-23.
    • Mark and Matthew report that Jesus returned to Jerusalem on the day after the Temple cleansing.  Only Mark says this was day 3.
    • Only Matthew says Jesus cursed the fig tree that morning.
    • Only Matthew tells us that the fig tree immediately (instantly) withered after this curse and that the apostles were amazed.
    • Mark 11:21, however, reports a different reaction on the part of Peter when he saw the withered tree: "Peter remembered and said to Jesus, Rabbi, look!  The fig tree you cursed has withered.
    • "The fact Peter "remembered" the curse, implies that he was referring to Jesus' curse on day 2, not day 3."  Stewart adds, "Matthew and Mark supplement and complement each other's records, giving us a full picture of what happened, without contradiction."12

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #5

SCRIPTURE: Mt 27:9
ERROR TYPE: Wrong citation
DESCRIPTION: Actual citation is for Zechariah 11:13.  Instead, Matthew says it was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.
REPLY:

Mt 27:9-10 does not appear to be even a loose translation of Zech 11:13.  According to J. P. Lewis, the citation "...is independent of both the Septuagint and the Masoretic text."13  Since there is considerable dissimilarity in these two passages, it seems ill-advised to insist that Zechariah is the actual citation.  Lewis lists the following possible solutions:
Efforts at solving the problem of attributing the passage to Jeremiah include the following suggestions: (1) that there is a mistake in transcription; (2) that Jeremiah stands as a name for the group of prophets of which Jeremiah and Zechariah are a part; (3) that a later unlearned writer added the word "Jeremiah"; (4) that Zechariah preserves a statement from Jeremiah not found elsewhere; and (5) that the citation is composite, using material from both prophets and thereby attributed to Jeremiah. The solution to the question is not known.14

Since all the early manuscripts confirm "Jeremiah" in Mt 27:9, there in no ground to say Mt 27:9 does not refer to Jeremiah.  Therefore, it appears that this may be a conceptual/figurative fulfillment of prophecy rather than a literal fulfillment.  Perhaps the citation to Jeremiah is because of the material in Jer 18:1-6 and 19:1-14 about the potter's field, and how the broken pots were good for nothing, just like the children of Israel at the time of Christ's death.  Those people in Jeremiah's time sacrificed their sons to foreign gods in the potter's field.  And they sacrificed God's Son too.  Perhaps it was this material coupled with the citation in Zechariah to which Matthew was referring.  If so, it would be reasonable to attribute this to Jeremiah, as he is the more prominent of the two prophets.  Certainly Mark does this in 1:2-3, where he quotes Mal 3:1 as well as Isa 40:3, but attributes it to Isaiah since he was the more prominent prophet.15

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #6

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:2
ERROR TYPE: Historically inaccurate.
DESCRIPTION: The census under Quirinius was held in A.D. 6, although Luke's Gospel places the census before the death of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C.
REPLY:

"According to Josephus (Antiq., 17:13, 15; 18:1,1) Quirinius became governor of Syria A.D. 6, when he took a census in Judea, which excited the opposition related by Luke in Acts 5:37."16  This might appear to be an inaccuracy on Luke's part since Jesus was born several years earlier than 6 A.D.  However, it is clear that Luke knew the exact timing of this census because of what he wrote in Acts 5:37.  In addition, the known accuracy of Luke as an historian should make us assume that he is not wrong in what he wrote.  Dr. Ash summarizes potential solutions as follows:

  1. A damaged inscription in the Lateran Museum appears to refer to Quirinius, and indicates that he served for two terms.  However, that does not solve the problem since it is known that Saturninus and Varus served from 9 B.C. until 4 B.C. as governors of Syria.
  2. The census may have begun during Quirinius' first office in 10 B.C., but was delayed in Palestine until the time of Jesus' birth in 6 B.C.  Historical research do show that Augustus Caesar did order a census of Roman citizens in 8 B.C. and in 6 A.D.
  3. The word translated "governor" was a general term that could refer to any ruling office.  This opens the possibility that Quirinius could have held some other office that was connected to the census when Jesus was born.17

In addition to these contributions from Dr. Ash, an alternative reading of 2:2 in the ESV Bible is, "This was the registration before..."  This is based on the translation of prootee, which can mean first, before (earlier, formerly), prominent, best, or most important,18 and it is clear from Swanson's reference that all these translations of prootee are used in the New Testament.

Obviously the final answer is not in at this time, but the remarkable accuracy of Luke should not be forgotten here.

"ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #7

SCRIPTURE: Acts 5:33-39
ERROR TYPE: Historically inaccurate.
DESCRIPTION: Gamaliel's speech refers sequentially to uprisings by Theudas and Judas, but Josephus shows that Judas came before Theudas (Antiquities of the Jews 20.97-99).
REPLY:

Dr. Ash, commenting on Theudas in Acts 5:36, writes the following:

The only man known by that name from secular history is mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities XX. v. 1), but his revolt came about A.D. 44, after Judas, and indeed, after this speech by Gamaliel. Some have argued that the author of Acts, inventing this part of Gamaliel's speech, was caught, due to ignorance, in a serious anachronism. But Luke was a careful historian, and we prefer to think Gamaliel may have referred to another rebel named "Theudas", not mentioned elsewhere. Josephus notes that there were "10,000 other disorders" transpiring at this period. This could have been one of them.19

Again, the remarkable accuracy of Luke should not be forgotten here.

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #8

SCRIPTURE: Lk 4:16-30; Mt 13:53-58; Mk 6:1-6.
ERROR TYPE: Incorrect sequence of events.
DESCRIPTION: Luke shows that Jesus' return to his home synagogue occurs at the beginning of his ministry.  But Matthew and Mark show that it comes some time later.
REPLY:

Coffman, in his commentary on Mark 6:2, says the following: "This was the second rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, the first being recorded in Luke 4:15ff. Matthew 13:54-58 is parallel to this account of the second rejection."20
In Stevens' and Burton's A Harmony of the Gospels, they clearly show that the rejection in Luke 4:16-30 is the "First rejection at Nazareth," and that the "Second rejection at Nazareth" is recorded in Mt 13:54-58 and Mk 6:1-6a.21
Gospel Parallels shows a similar distinction in their outline.22

McMillan in his commentary on Mark says the following:
Considering the elements that make up this situation, it would not be impossible that such an incident occurred more than once. There seems to be a definite individuality to the record of a similar incident in Luke (Luke 4:16-30). There seems to be no common agreement among commentators as to whether the Lukan passage represents a variation of this same incident or the record of another different but similar encounter.23

Therefore, it seems reasonable to view Luke's account as the first rejection, and the accounts of Matthew and Mark as the second rejection.

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #9

SCRIPTURE: John 2:13-17
ERROR TYPE: Incorrect sequence of events.
DESCRIPTION: John's gospel shows Jesus' cleansing of the temple at the beginning of his ministry, but the synoptic gospels show it during the last week of Jesus' life.
REPLY:

Frank Pack, in his commentary on  the Gospel of John, notes that there are significant differences between the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus' ministry found in John, and the cleansing of the temple found in the Synoptic Gospels at the close of his ministry.  He then says,

A common solution given today is that the cleansing at the close of Jesus' ministry is the only one which took place, and that John located that cleansing at the beginning of Jesus' ministry for purposes of his own. John's account, in other words, is not in its proper place chronologically. This overlooks the differences between the accounts and rests upon the assumption that there could have been only one cleansing.

He then argues that since Jesus' ministry was 3 years in length, there is no reason to think there wasn't 2 cleansings, and that the first cleansing was the reason for the early opposition by the Jews.24

Burton Coffman, in commenting on John 2:13, says the following:

The cleansing of the temple about to be related should not be confused with a second cleansing during the final week of our Lord's life on earth (Matt. 21:12f; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45). In this cleansing, Jesus made use of a scourge, but none was mentioned in the synoptic accounts of the second cleansing.25

In their commentary on John 2:13-22, the ESV Study Bible says this:

The first major confrontation with Jewish leaders in John's Gospel takes place on the occasion of Jesus' clearing of the Jerusalem temple at the Jewish Passover. (The Synoptic Gospels record a second, later temple clearing, just prior to the crucifixion; see Mark 11:15-19 par.).

Therefore, there is no adequate reason to reject the concept that the temple was cleansed by Jesus both at the beginning of his ministry and at the end also.

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #10

SCRIPTURE: John
ERROR TYPE: Incorrect sequence of events
DESCRIPTION: Vague, generalized complaint.
REPLY:

Clearly the Gospel of John is not like the Synoptic Gospels in some ways.  For example, John gives us a different view of Jesus from the beginning: Jesus is God.  However, the Synoptic Gospels give us a similar view at the end.  William Hendriksen, in his commentary on The Gospel of John, points out the striking similarities.  Hendriksen notes the following:
  1. There is not contradiction in doctrine.
  2. The general scheme of events is also the same in both cases.
  3. The "words of Jesus" as recorded in the Synoptics are not at all inconsistent with those recorded in the Fourth Gospel.
  4. Even on minor points it has not been established that the Fourth Gospel is in conflict with the Synoptics.26

Thankfully, the Gospel of John gives us a complimentary view of Christ, things that we that we need to know about him, things that we need to hear from him.  These wonderful things about Jesus do not in anyway conflict with the Synoptics.  But the picture of Jesus is so much fuller for the disciple of Christ after reading the Gospel of John.  Thank God for the Gospel of John!

ALLEGED BIBLE DISCREPANCY/CONTRADICTION #11

SCRIPTURE: Acts 9:1-18; 22:3-16; 26:9-18 (PBM).
ERROR TYPE: Inconsistent details
DESCRIPTION: Conflicting accounts regarding Saul's conversion.  This discrepancy is provided as a story about one of the students who observed the differing accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts.  The student thought that any inconsistency within a story was sufficient evidence to compromise his faith.  He found those pressing inerrancy of the Bible to be weakening his faith.
REPLY:

I have no assurance that the details of this story are real or fabricated.  The purpose is not to formally announce any specific alleged Bible discrepancy, but rather to tell fundamentalists that they are destroying peoples' faith by trying to defend the Bible.  At any rate, if this is a formal complaint regarding the differences in the accounts of Paul's conversion, those differences are not presented by Dr. Thompson.  The first account of Paul's conversion is found in Acts 9:1-18, and it is straightforward.  The second account in Acts 22:3-16 was presented by Paul as a prisoner to the Jews in Jerusalem who were trying to kill him.  The third account is in Acts 26:9-18 and was presented by Paul as a prisoner to King Agrippa and Festus, along with many high-ranking persons in the political and military realms.  These accounts are different because of the differing audiences and circumstances.  However, there are no contradictions between the accounts.  Rather, we get a fuller picture of what happened by reading all accounts.  Think about this: Luke is one of the most careful historians in history.  Do you really think that Luke was just throwing words around, doing whatever he liked?  Dr. Thompson is in essence saying that Luke was contradictory with Luke!  The fact that these accounts are not all the same reflect honest reporting, and this reflects reality instead of fantasy.

After presenting his formal allegations against the Bible in order to try and defeat the concept of inerrancy, he makes this statement:

These problems are not insoluble.  More information might actually resolve many of these difficulties or future research might clarify specific discrepancies between the biblical narrative and our knowledge of secular history.  Often the answer involves the very simple matter of the genre of the writing.  The ancient writers worked with standard that are not our own.27

However, his comments do not appear to represent full disclosure.  Many of the references I have given are references from men who taught Bible at the same facility just a few years ago, and who published commentaries in the same Living Word Commentary series that Dr. Thompson contributed his 2 Corinthians and Hebrews commentaries to, and all were published from the same ACU Press.  Dr. Thompson knows these people and their writings.  But he did not include even a shred of their learning and scholarship to mitigate his allegations against the Bible.  The Living Word Commentary, with all its individual commentaries, are at this moment available at the ACU Library.  So much is already known concerning these alleged contradictions, and these answers to Dr. Thompson's allegations against the Bible are very suitable.  Why did he not mention this mitigating information from his own colleagues?  Every honest scholar I have read always mentions those who do not agree with him, and considers their positions and comments on their evidences.  Even Darwin in his On the Origin of the Species, openly admitted the weaknesses in his Theory of Evolution, and commented on those potential theory killers.  Why do we not find that kind of openness and honesty in this chapter of God's Holy Fire?

The goal of this chapter in God's Holy Fire is to remove from the reader the sense that the New Testament is authoritative for our lives and our worship today.  These are details that the authors don't think we need.  We just need to know that the Bible is inspired to save us, but not to instruct us about our 21st century morality or worship.

This is the face of Liberal Protestantism.

ENDNOTES:
  1. Cukrowski, KL, Hamilton, MW, Thompson, JW.  God's Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture.  ACU Press, Abilene, TX, © 2002, p 39.
  2. Heard, RC, "Genesis," in The Transforming Word, MW Hamilton (General Editior), Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, TX, ©2009, pp 108-109.
  3. Maunder, EW. "Astronomy", III, 3, "The Firmament", in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, General Editor, WB Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich, © 1939, 1956, Volume I, p 315.
  4. Willis, JT. The Living Word Commentary on the Old Testament: Isaiah.  Sweet Publishing Commpany, Austin, TX, ©1980, p 206.
  5. Brown, R., Driver, S.R., and Briggs, C.A. (2000).  Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Strong's, TWOT, and GK references Copyright 2000 by Logos Research Systems, Inc. (electronic ed.) (295). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.
  6. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.) (DBLS 2553, #2). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  7. Coffman, JB. James Burton Coffman Commentaries on the New Testament, (electronic edition), Matt 13:31-32, Published by ACU Press, © 1999.
  8. Lewis, JP. The Gospel According to Matthew, Part I, in The Living Word Commentary, Everett Ferguson, Editor, ACU Press, , © 1976, 1984 p 187
  9. Stewart, T. Apologetics II: New Discoveries that Confirm the Bible.  Sunset International Bible Institute, Lubbock TX, © 2001, p75.
  10. Davis, WH. Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Harper and Row, New York and Evanston, Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, ©1923, p 179.
  11. Boles, HL. A Commentary on The Gospel According to Matthew.  Gospel Advocate Co, Nashville, TN, 1936, pp 210-211.
  12. Stewart, ibid, pp 76-77.
  13. Lewis, JP, ibid., p 156
  14. Lewis, JP, ibid., p 156.
  15. NIV Study Bible, notes on Matt 27:9.
  16. Boles, HL, ibid., p 48.
  17. Ash, AL. The Gospel According to Matthew, Part II, in The Living Word Commentary, Everett Ferguson, Editor, Sweet Publishing Co, © 1972, p 52-53.
  18. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) (GGK4755). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  19. Ash, AL. The Acts of the Apostoles, Part I, in The Living Word Commentary, Everett Ferguson, Editor, Sweet Publishing Co, © 1979, copyright © assigned to Abilene Christian University 1984, p 91-92.
  20. Coffman, JB, ibid., on Mark 6:2.
  21. Stevens, WA, Burton, EDW. A Harmony of the Gospels for Historical Study. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, © 1904, 1932, pp 6, 8.
  22. Throckmorton, BH Jr.(Editor). Gospel Parallels: A Synopsis of the First Three Gospels.  Thomas Nelson & Sons, © 1949, 1957, 1967, pp xx, xxiii.
  23. McMillan, E. The Gospel According to Mark, in The Living Word Commentary, , Everett Ferguson, Editor,  Copyright © 1973 by R. B. Sweet Publishing Company, Inc. Copyright © assigned 1984 to Abilene Christian University, (electronic) Mark 6:1.
  24. Pack, F. The Gospel According to John, in in The Living Word Commentary, Everett Ferguson, Editor,  Copyright © 1973, 1977 by R. B. Sweet Publishing Company, Inc. Copyright © assigned 1984 to Abilene Christian University, (electronic) John 2:13.
  25. Coffman, JB, ibid. on John 2:13.
  26. Hendriksen, W. New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John.  Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, © 1953 by William Hendriksen, pp 12-17.
  27. Cukrowski, et.al., ibid., p 41.