Factual Errors and Internal Contradictions in the Bible

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Internal Contradictions
Factual Errors
Unfulfilled Prophecies
On Dragons and Cockatrices


I don't have the incentive to properly study the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus and the occurance of his miracles. This would entail learning Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew and studying the ancient texts (at least). I say this because we must take the word of "experts" with a big grain of salt because they have a high chance of being biased. In other words, I would rather find out as much as possible for myself.

The Bible is believed by Christians to be the Word of God, as recorded by men. And as such, is absolutely free of errors or contradictions. Further, the discovery of errors in the Bible would seem to cast doubt upon the whole work of the Bible. But it is important to realize that this would not "prove" that Christianity is untrue. This subject seems tractable to me, as far as I can go with the current English translations.

In my studies of the Bible, I've come across some contradictions that I find difficult to reconcile. Henry M. Morris takes the viewpoint that there are what seems to be contradictions, but upon closer scrutiny they can be resolved. He goes a little further in also saying that God put them there in order to inspire discourse and study of the Bible.

There is no doubt, however, that it is easily possible to find a great number of apparent discrepancies in the Bible. Critics have been discovering and exploiting these for many generations. Most of these problems have been explained and reconciled long ago by conservative scholars, but the answers are commonly ignored and the same old supposed contradictions continue to be paraded by such critics.

Since the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God, and since there really are many of these superficial contradictions, it seems evident that God must actually have had reasons for allowing them in the Scriptures...

Certain possible reasons can be suggested. In the first place, the existence of so many apparent discrepancies certainly disproves the notion of collusion or intentional deception on the part of the writers... Real people, separated by great spans of time or distance, simply don't write of their own volition in concert such as this, and perfect agreement would naturally generate suspicion.

But, furthermore, they also stimulate Bible study!... (Henry M. Morris, Ph. D. Many Infallible Proofs, Evidences for the Christian Faith 1974 Creation Life Publisher, Inc. pp. 212-213.)

Morris' advice for resolving alleged contradictions is as follows: (1) read the passages in context with regard to the time and circumstances, (2) understand that the Bible uses parabolic language and figures of speech (Psalms is written in poetry, for example), (3) make sure that the passages do not emphasize smaller but different aspects of a much larger concept, (4) critically examine the particular translation one is using ("Thou shalt not kill" in Exodus 20:13 should have been rendered "Thou shalt not murder"), (5) realize the Bible was not written for scientists, and often uses approximations and common terminology. A good example is I Kings 7:23, which seems to say that pi is three.

I've placed apparent contradictions next to each other, with comments and possible explanations below them. Note that all quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible, except where noted.

Internal Contradictions

...and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:16) Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, ... (Luke 3:23)

According to Morris (Many Infallible Proofs p. 62) it is Jewish custom to consider one's father-in-law as a father, which would explain Joseph's two fathers. I find this somewhat lacking, however, because we see that the lineage converges further up at King David, which would indicate that Joseph and Mary were related.

I've also heard that one of the lineages describes the line of Mary, while the other describes the line of Joseph. Strangely, though, they both end in Joseph.

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)

One reconciliation of these passages is that he tried to hang himself, but was unsuccessful, so he jumped off a cliff that was on his property. (Or that he hanged himself near a cliff, and the rope broke.) But the first passage doesn't say that he tried to hang himself, and mentions nothing of his body bursting open. Likewise, the second passage says that he fell head first in a field, not down a cliff.

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah." (2 Samuel 24:1) Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)
Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:12) Do not repay any one evil for evil. (Romans 12:17, likewise Matthew 5:39)

I have heard the explanation that a person who is harmed should not harm another in return, but rather the community should serve the punishment. And the Romans commandment is for personal affairs, while Exodus is a community law. But the second passage makes no qualifications. I can think of another simple command: "...love your neighbor as yourself..." (Leviticus 19:18). Can this statement also be conditional?

... Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, ... (2 Samuel 21:19) .. Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, ... (1 Chronicles 20:5)
Morris says,
One possible solution to this problem would be to assume there were two giants named Goliath, one of whom was slain by David. The other was then slain by Elhanan, who also slew his brother. There were two Elhanans of Bethlehem (II Samuel 23:24), so why not two Goliaths of Gath? ... It has been argued very effectively by Old Testament scholars that the apparent discrepancy in this case with II Samuel 21:19 arose by a copyist's error in the latter. One other possibility, with some support in Jewish tradition, is that Elhanan was another name for David and Jair another name for Jesse. In any case, there is certainly no proof of a contradiction. (Morris Many Infallible Proofs pp. 225-226)
Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46) When he received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, ... (1 Corinthians 2:15) Therefore judge nothing... (1 Corinthians 4:5)

Christian response: Finish the second quote "...before its appointed time." These two can be reconciled as, "The spiritual man judges all things, but not before their appointed time."

They were also the chief officials in charge of Solomon's projects -- 550 officials supervising the men who did the work. (1 Kings 9:23) They were also King Solomon's chief officials -- two hundred and fifty officials supervising the men. (2 Chronicles 8:10)

Factual Errors

A bat is not a bird. Note that this isn't just an arbitrary classification that the Western and European world has created. A bat is a bird as much as a Cocker Spaniel is a cat.

These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, ... any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat (Leviticus 11:13-19)

You may eat any clean bird. But these you may not eat: the eagle, ... any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. (Deuteronomy 14:11-17)

Rabbits do not chew their cud (bring up previously swallowed food to chew). They do eat their own dung, but I have heard that there is a Hebrew word for that which would have been used if that was the meaning.

The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; ... (Leviticus 11:6)

Insects, as part of their definition, have six legs. (Spiders are arachnids, not insects.)

All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: ... Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket, or grasshopper. (Leviticus 11:20-22)

Snakes don't eat dirt.

So the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, ... You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust..." (Genesis 3:14)

Camels have split hooves.

There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. (Leviticus 11:4)

However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. [1] Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. (Deuteronomy 14:7)

The earth isn't stationary as once thought.

... The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. (Psalms 93:1)

... The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. (1 Chronicles 16:30)

He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. (Psalms 104:5)

Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. (Joshua 10:12)

Note that the first reference to "world" may mean "the way things are", and that in the last reference "earth" may mean "land". In the context the writer discusses clouds, winds, waters, and mountains, which seem to support this view.

These passages were used by the Church to convict Galileo of heresy.

The earth is not flat, as once thought. It has no corners at all, and "ends of the earth" is not typically interpreted as from outer space. (Besides, what would be the ends? Why should the magnetic poles be "ends" as opposed to the axis of rotation?)

... he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12)

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, ... (Revelation 7:1)

Oh Lord, ... to you the nations will come from the ends of the earth... (Jeremiah 16:19)

... and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. (Daniel 4:10-11)

The first quotation is rendered as "four corners" in the King James Version. I have heard that this is a mistranslation of the original Greek.

Diseases are not caused by demons, unless medicine is exorcism.

One viewpoint is that Satan is the root cause of bad things such as disease. But it is quite apparent that at least in these cases demons were the actual cause.

Prayer does not cure sickness, or we would have no need for doctors.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up... (James 5:14-15).

Unfulfilled prophecies

God promises that the Jews will never lose their land or be disturbed again.

And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies... (2 Samuel 7:10-11)

And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies... (1 Chronicles 17:9-10)

God promises that David's throne will be established forever.

"Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." (2 Samuel 7:16)

"I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever." (1 Chronicles 17:14)

"And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever." (1 Chronicles 22:10)

Christian response: In the context of 2 Samuel 7:16 and 1 Chronicles 17:14, David's throne refers to Jesus, who is from the line of David. In this sense, God's throne is established forever.

No uncircumcised man will ever enter Jerusalem again.

Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. (Isaiah 52:1)

Christian response: Here Jerusalem refers to the Kingdom of God, as evidenced in Revelation 3:12, where it says that New Jerusalem (Kingdom of God) will come.


But what does all this mean? It does not mean that Jesus didn't exist, or that the God of the Bible is false. It only casts doubt upon the literal veracity of the Bible, and therefore also the statements that it makes about God. It's also important to note that the extent of the Bible's inaccuracy seems limited, casting only a little doubt on its overall truth.

From what I understand, its is believed that the original texts of the Bible were "written" by God through men. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD first began to select which texts to include in the Bible, and I hear that the Western version dates to about 392 AD. (What were their criteria? Were the other works less divine?) Since then, the book has been translated into several versions, of which the King James and the New International versions are most widely accepted. In 1250 AD it was divided into chapters by Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro, and in 1550 AD the chapters were divided into verses by Robert Stevens, a printer in Paris.


So how can the above inacurracies and contradictions be explained? The Bible says: "... his work is perfect..." (Deuteronomy 32:4), and that "All scripture is God-breathed..." (2 Timothy 3:16). The most liberal viewpoint is that the original texts were free of errors, and that these inconsistencies have been introduced by the numerous translations and copies made over the years (and fixed in later translations). The preface to the New Revised Standard Version has an interesting discussion of this, and we can see some evidence of corrections between the King James and New International versions of the Bible: (The King James passages on the left are contradictory, while the New International Version's passages are not.)

King James Version New International Version
And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. (1 Kings 4:26) Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses and twelve thousand horses. (1 Kings 4:26)
And Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen; ... (2 Chronicles 9:25) Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horses, ... (2 Chronicles 9:25)

Note here that the number of stalls was corrected, and horsemen was changed to horses. The NIV footnote for 1 Kings 4:26 says, "Some Septuagint manuscripts (see also 2 Chron. 9:25); Hebrew forty".

In the Hebrew Bible, I'm told that 1 Kings 5:6 says clearly 40000 (the last five verses in the fourth chapter are given to the fifth). "Four thousand" in modern Hebrew is "arba elef" (aleph, reish, beth, ayin), and "forty thousand" is "arba'im elef" (aleph, reish, beth, ayin, yud, mem-sofit). Different spellings are used depending on the gender of the noun. The difference between the 4000 and 400000 is two missing letters.

King James Version New International Version
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. (Genesis 1:20) And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." (Genesis 1:20)
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; ... (Genesis 2:19) Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. (Genesis 2:19)

Here the fowl have been corrected to indicate that they came from the ground, not the water. Also note the change in tenses from "formed" to "had formed", which causes the order of creation to match in both accounts. In this case the King James version is definitely mistaken. In Hebrew, formed and had formed are represented the same way, so the translators must have chosen the wrong one.

King James Version New International Version
So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? (2 Samuel 24:13) So Gad went to David and said to him, "Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? ..." (2 Samuel 24:13)
... Choose thee Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, ... (1 Chronicles 21:11) ... "Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, ... (1 Chronicles 21:11)

Here "seven years" became "three years". I've been told that in this context, the modern Hebrew for "seven" is "shiva shanim" (shin, beth, ayin; shin, nun, yud, mem-sofit), and that "three" is "shiv'im shanim" (shin, beth, ayin, yud, mem-sofit; shin, nun, yud, mem-sofit). Different spellings are used based on the gender of the noun. The difference is two letters.

King James Version New International Version
... and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, ... (2 Samuel 21:8) ... together with the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab, ... (2 Samuel 21:8)
Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death. (2 Samuel 6:23) And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. (2 Samuel 6:23)

I've been told that the Hebrew Bible has Michal (mem, yud, chaf, lamed), and that a possible spelling of Merab is mem, resh, beth or mem, reish, vaf. There are different letters after the first, but note also that a chaf looks like a reish with an extra stroke at the bottom.

King James Version New International Version
Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, ... (2 Chronicles 36:9) Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, ... (2 Chronicles 36:9)
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, ... (2 Kings 24:8) Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, ... (2 Kings 24:8)

"Eight" was corrected to "eighteen".

King James Version New International Version
... I make peace, and create evil: ... (Isaiah 45:7) ... I bring prosperity and create disaster; ... (Isaiah 45:7)

Which translation is more accurate?

Snails do not melt.

King James Version New International Version
As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: ... (Psalms 58:8) Like the slug melting away as it moves along, ... (Psalms 58:8)

How close are the Hebrew words for snail and slug? Are there unique words for these two creatures? Does the original text actually say "melt"?

An all-knowing God would never have to repent.

King James Version New International Version
And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. (Exodus 32:14) Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (Exodus 32:14)
It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: ... (1 Samuel 15:11) I am grieved that I have made Saul king, ... (1 Samuel 15:11)
... for he is not a man, that he should repent. (1 Samuel 15:29) ... for he is not a man, that he should change his mind. (1 Samuel 15:29)

Morris says that God is immutable, and can not change his views regarding sin and righteousness. But his outward appearance as interpreted by man can be seen as "repentant". (Morris Many Infallible Proofs p. 218.)

I've been told that the ancient meaning of repentant was not the same as it is today. One can see this in the differences between the translations of the following:

King James Version New International Version
And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Genesis 6:7) So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth -- men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air -- for I am grieved that I have made them." (Genesis 6:7)

There are obviously differences between the King James and New International versions. Further, many of the differences seem to resolve contradictions from the older King James translation. I don't know Hebrew, but would be curious as to how the words appear in the original text (four vs. forty, slug vs. snail, three vs. seven, Michal vs. Merab, etc.).

I would suspect that some if not all of the discrepancies are a result of poor translation in the King James version, which brings up an interesting point. Are the translations "God-breathed"? What about copies of the original works? How do we know that all surviving copies are accurate reflections of the original?

It is not possible that every contradiction is a result of mistranslation of the surviving texts. Take for example:

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah." (2 Samuel 24:1) Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)

The Hebrew Bible has four letters for God (yud, hei, vaf, hei) in 2 Samuel, and three letters for Satan (shin, tet, nun-sofit) in 1 Chronicles.

One must conclude that the original texts contradict each other to some extent.

On Dragons and Cockatrices

In the King James version, there is frequent mention of dragons and cockatrices, as well as a reference to a unicorn. As far as I could tell, all but one of these instances was revised in the NIV Bible to refer to animals that actually exist. (In that one case, the dragon was the devil.)

A dragon is usually thought of as a large reptile with scales, claws, a tail, and wings, often said to breathe fire. A cockatrice is a snake with the power to kill with a glance, hatched from a cock's egg. A unicorn is a horse with a single, straight horn, often having a goat's beard and a lion's tail.

Reference King James NIV
Isaiah 34:7 "Unicorns" "Wild oxen"
Isaiah 11:8 "cockatrice'" "viper's"
Isaiah 14:29 "cockatrice" "viper"
Isaiah 59:5 "cockatrice'" "viper's"
Deuteronomy 32:33 "dragons" "serpents"
Nehemiah 2:13 "dragon well" "jackal well"
Job 30:29 "dragons" "jackals"
Psalms 91:13 "dragon" "serpent"
Psalms 148:7 "dragons" "great sea creatures"
Isaiah 34:13 "dragons" "jackals"
Isaiah 43:20 "dragons" "jackals"
Jeremiah 9:11 "dragons" "jackals"
Revelation 20:2 "dragon" "dragon"

Did the original texts actually describe these fearsome creatures? Or is there a generic word for "really scary and unusual creature"? Are there Hebrew words for lion, viper, jackal, etc.? The frequent use of dragon seems to imply a common Hebrew word in the original text.

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