Welcome to Contradictions in the Bible

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Unlike many sites that have attempted to enumerate the Bible’s many contradictions, and in somewhat simplistic or even antagonistic terms, this site is devoted to explaining why there are contradictions in the Bible using modern biblical source criticism. As the term implies, this methodological approach to the Bible looks at the Bible’s sources, that is its once separate and individual texts—all of which were penned by more than 70 different authors, over a period of roughly 1,000 years, to vastly different audiences, and to address vastly different historical, political, and religious circumstances.

The Bible contains thousands of contradictions, from minute differences in narrative details to sweeping theological and ideological disagreements. This has been a well-known fact in the scholarly community for roughly three centuries! It is not debatable. What is debatable are the conclusions that one draws from this data or how to assess this data. But the textual data is unmistakable.

Starting January 01, 2013, I will post these textual data—a biblical contradiction a day! But more importantly I will explain how and why they came about, who wrote the texts that now contradict each other, to whom, when, and why these authors disagreed on the particular contradiction at hand. In sum, the Bible contains contradictions because the Bible is a composite text; it is composed from a vastly profuse array of different, and as we shall see competing, textual traditions, belief systems, and worldviews.

What usually happens in the pubic arena is that one’s personal or cultural values, beliefs, or theologies become more important than what is and is not printed on the pages of the Bible. In other words, the Bible is often vehicled to support this or that modern belief system, irregarldess of what the biblical texts actually say, why they say what they say, to whom they were written, aganst whom they were written, and prompted by what historical circumstance and conditioned by what geopolitical framework, ideology, or worldview….

Seldom do readers of the Bible actually think about the compositional nature of the text they hold in their hands. Many Jews and Christians are completely unaware that the Bible is composed of a vast collection of different texts, themselves composed from a variety of texts and traditions, all of which were written over a period of roughly 1,000 years, by varying authors, and under diverse historical circumstances and religious and political convictions. Many of the Bible’s books—or more precisely the texts and traditions that went into the composition of its books—went through lengthy periods of continual revision, often supplemented with other texts and traditions, and redrafted to suit an ever-changing audience’s political and religious needs. When the Bible as we know it was compiled, these different texts, traditions, and competing theologies were collected together. 99% of the contradictions currently in the Bible are the result of these different and competing texts having been combined together and authenticated as scripture by a later generation of readers. Distinguishing these individual texts and their unique messages, therefore, places a greater emphasis on the individual texts of the Bible, their authors, audiences, reasons for composition, etc., than that which is symbolized or invoked by the word “Bible” itself. It asks us to read and understand these once separate texts on their own terms, within their own literary and historical contexts, long before the Bible was ever created. That’s the task we will be pursuing here. Come join me in this textual and historical adventure….

I will be posting other preliminary posts about the Bible’s compositional history before we examine our first contradiction.

2 thoughts on “Welcome to Contradictions in the Bible

  1. A fundamentalist who demands a literal translation of the Bible as the “way to know” God is committing a serious error in that he or she is shrinking God down to a book, a very good book, a very powerful book, a very inspiring book, but a book nonetheless.

    A Biblical skeptic who demands a literal translation of the Bible as the “way to know” if the Bible is an inspired work of the spirit of God is committing a serious error in that he or she is using the same mindset as the fundamentalist to refute a true reading of the Bible.

    Both the fundamentalist and the Biblical skeptic are not on the forefront of any true discussion about the Bible’s “truth” of God’s existence, but in their self-made basements of ignorant biases.

    No “scholar” can teach the other persons about such things as whether or not the Bible was written through the spirit of God and, therefore, contains revelations of truth.

    Only a “mystic” has this authority, for he or she has “seen” and “heard” what the “scholar” is blind and deaf to.

    The so-called “contradictions” in the Bible are further proof that it was written through inspiration and not as some contrived plan to promote an agenda. This type of writing I just read above before I wrote this comment.

    1. Joe,
      This is the type of dialogue I hope to foster here. If I may, although I admire your critique of the above positions, they all inherently rest on presuppositions, and I might say, misconceptions. One of the things I’m interested in is talking about the “givens” any reader has prior to coming to the biblical text. You note well that, in the case of the fundamentalist, God in theological, ontological, or metaphysical terms cannot, or is not, or should not be boiled down to the character of God in a Book. But then you yourself exhibit the same presupposition in your mystic/scholar divide. In other words you presuppose what the Bible is, and who actually reveals what the Bible is, before actually engaging with the texts, the authors who authored them, their audiences, the historical circumstances that prompted these authors to say what they said, etc. A mystic can tell you NOTHING about who authored the numerous texts that now make up this Book, to whom, under what historical circumstances, using what texts if any as sources and against what other texts or traditions he wrote, etc. I’ll grant you this: the mystic may lead you to know God, but what does that have to do with knowledge of the Bible. In other words, what’s the presupposition here that you’re harboring?

      Here is one of the fundamental issues I find interesting. How do we read and understand the Bible (for that’s what we’re really talking about) if due to a later generation of reader’s needs, concerns, and (mis)perceptions this collection of conflicting texts was conceived and labeled as the Holy Book, and that label itself imposes a whole new interpretive framework on what were once separate individual texts written for specific purposes and audiences that are now lost due to this later over-riding interpretive framework, which in the end even imposes ideas of divine authorship? Through this later interpretive framework? Or should we try to understand these texts on their own terms, listing to their unique messages, conflicts with other writers that are now book–ended together in this book, etc.? The mystic can tell us nothing of these. So getting back to the idea of presuppositions, isn’t what is implied, symbolized, invoked in the title “Bible” the strongest and least visible of presuppositions? To be continued….

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