The "All of the Above" Strategy for Resolving Contradictions

Frequently I see Christians responding to Biblical contradictions with byzantine explanations. For example, consider how Judas died:

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5) (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out...) (Acts 1:18)

I've seen explanations which involve all kinds of improbable occurrences. The most common is that he hanged himself on the field that he bought, and after a while his dead body fell down and his intestines spilled out. The argument is that one writer chose not to present some facts, while the other chose not to present others.

This argument does not work. First, most explanations like this involve highly unlikely sequences of events. See, for example, the different attempts to harmonize the resurrection accounts, which sometimes have the women going to the cave several times. Second, this argument is unevenly applied when interpreting the Bible. Using this argument, I could say that there were actually 15 commandments, and Moses just didn't present the extra 5 to the Jews. Third, there is often no justification for such an interpretation. In nearly all cases in which the "all of the above" approach is used, there is nothing in the text to indicate that the whole story wasn't being told. Fourth, how do we know that all the authors didn't leave out some fact? As one person on Usenet put it, why not say that Jesus was resurrected several times, and each account is for a different resurrection?

As a non-Christian, I find the "all of the above" approach really disappointing. It's disappointing to see a Christian cling desperately to obviously ludicrous explanations, instead of applying intellectually honest critical thinking to the issue. Many Christians seem unwilling to admit that there are some problems with the Bible, and then consider the significance of that fact.

The books of the Bible were written by a bunch of people two thousand years ago. We don't know who they were for sure, and for most books we only have tradition to tell use who the authors were. Because we can't trace the origins of the "raw material" of the Bible, we can't really know for sure if they are divinely inspired. And when the books were compiled into the Bible, they weren't suddenly blessed as inerrant. And the later translations were definitely not inerrant either--see the differences between the King James version and the New International version, for example.

Why shouldn't there be some small errors and mistranslations, after nearly two millenia of reproduction of the Bible? Even if the Bible contains errors, it doesn't mean that the whole thing is bogus. Christians seem to want the safety of inerrancy, like a child refuses to believe that their parent once told a lie. It's time to give up this safety net, admit that the Bible has a few problems, but realize that it only forces us to think a bit harder about what it says.

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