Errors in the Bible
Here are a few examples (by no means all, but perhaps most) of what Christian Pharisees demand that we believe as “inerrant” fact:
- The Earth is a flat disk in shape, like a dinner plate, and rests upon mountain pillars.
The sun revolves around the flat Earth.
- “It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in.” — Isa. 40:22
- “God has [created the Earth as] a circle on the face of the [chaos] waters [between the Earth and outer space], at the boundary between light and darkness.” — Job 26:10
- “I [Lady Wisdom] was brought forth when [God] had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. When [God] established the heavens, I was there, when [God] drew a circle on the face of the deep.” — Prov. 8:26-27
- “The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” [Matthew 4:8]. (Even from the top of Mt. Everest, it is impossible to see the “kingdom” of Greenland, to cite just one example.)
- “God shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble.” — Job 9:6
- “The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at [God's] rebuke.” — Job 26:11
- “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I [God] who keep its pillars steady.” — Psalm 75:3
A metal dome,
- “On the day when YHWH gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to YHWH; and he [unspecified whether Joshua or God] said in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.’ And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.”
— Joshua 10:12-13
translated the “firmament” in the KJV, separates the sky from the chaos waters beyond. Holes
in the metal dome let rain in — in other words, the sky is a giant, upside-down colander.
Those who demand that you believe the
Bible is inerrant demand that you believe the Earth looks like this from space.
The stars are little lights in the sky that are capable of falling to Earth like meteorites.
- “And God said,
‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters [of Earth] from the [chaos] waters [of outer space].’” — Genesis 1:6
- “[God] walks on the dome of heaven.” — Job 22:14
- “Again, on the second day, you created the spirit of the firmament, and commanded it to divide and separate the waters, so that one part might move upward and the other part remain beneath.” — 2 Esdras 6:41
One day can last 930 years.
- “Immediately after the suffering of [66-70 C.E.] the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken [Matthew 24:29].” The Christian Testament's many predictions of the end of the world coming well before 100 C.E. are also erroneous.
Noah killed off all the okay-to-eat (“clean”) species of animal.
- “And YHWH God commanded the human, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” [Genesis 2:16-17]. The original text makes it clear that God is not speaking metaphorically or spiritually. Isn't it lucky that since death hadn't been invented yet, the human ("ha'adam," pronounced "ha ah DAHM") had no idea what God was talking about!
- “When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years.”— Gen. 5:3-4
Flying insects walk on all fours.
- “Two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah [Gen. 7:8].” Almost six weeks of rain pass, 40 days and 40 nights, followed by 150 days of floating; it was the first day of the 601st year of Noah's life [8:13]. “Then Noah built an altar to YHWH, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar,” pleasing God [8:20]. Let's say the whole Flood took seven months. While there may have been some babies for Noah to kill, what about cows (gestation 288 days, about 9.4 months)? Or elephants, which are also okay to eat (gestation 660 days, about 21.6 months)?
Inerrantists argue that Genesis 7:8 is contradicted by 7:2 — that Noah was instructed to take along one pair of unclean animals and seven pairs of clean animals. They also argue that well over two million animals, 150,000 worms, and countless billions of insects could fit into a box (an ark is a wooden chest) that was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall, and live together without eating each other, or defecating, for a minimum of seven months ( not counting onloading and offloading). They do not explain why God no longer performs this kind of big, flashy miracle — the kind that literal-minded, credulous believers imagine used to happen all the time, to people much less holy (including murderers [like Cain] and committers of incest [like Noah]) and much longer-lived (by hundreds of years) than themselves.
Rabbits and hares chew their cuds, just as cows do.
- “All winged insects that walk upon all fours are detestable to you [Lev. 11:20-23].” In fact, no insect walks on all fours. Insects have six legs, three on each side. (Spiders have eight legs. Centipedes and millipedes are not insects — in fact, they eat insects.)
Moses had body odor that was strong enough to kill.
- “The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you.” — Lev. 11:6
- “ Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cleft you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you [Deut. 14:7].” This is erroneous on a second count: Hares have cloven feet.
A ruminant is an animal with a chambered stomach. Cows, camels, giraffes, sheep, goats, and deer are ruminants, and Leviticus says anyone may eat them. Ruminants eat, then regurgitate their food from the first stomach, chew it a second time as "cud," and then swallow it a second time, whereupon it proceeds to a different chamber of the stomach. Neither lagomorphs (hares and rabbits) nor rock badgers are ruminants.
Inerrantists claim that rabbits and hares practice “refection,” a
little-known phenomenon in which an animal eats its own feces. (Apparently inerrantists are unable to tell the difference between feces and cud, which makes this writer determined to avoid their dinner parties.) Sadly, rock badgers are neither ruminants nor practitioners of “refection.” Inerrantists have no explanation for why the Bible erroneously says rock badgers are ruminants OR for why, under their "refection" theory, the Bible can't tell the difference between cud and feces. Remember: the authors of the Bible were less advanced than we are; they were NOT stupid.
Comets are evil.
- “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.”
— Exodus 17:8-13
This is hilarious! Imagine Moses played by Moe Howard, with Aaron and Hur played by Larry and Curly. This is one of the many ancient texts, laboriously inscribed onto tanned animal skins three thousand years ago, that inerrantantists claim are as factual as "the sun rises in the east."
Ahaziah was two years older than his father, Jehoram.
- “They are wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.” — Jud. 1:14
Pi equals exactly three.
- (A) "[Jehoram] was thirty-two years old when he began to reign [Judah]; he reigned eight
years in Jerusalem, [and then he died at the age of 40] to the regret of no one. . . .
The inhabitants of Jerusalem made [Jehoram's] youngest son, Ahaziah, king as his
successor. . . . Ahaziah was 42 years old when he began to reign".
— 2 Chron. 21:20-22:2. If 2 Chronicles is as perfect and inerrant as God is, Jehoram was born around 882 BCE, and his son Ahaziah was born around 884 BCE, two years before his father was born.
2 Kings 8:26 tells us,
“Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign” — not 42 but 22. Which is inerrant, 2 Kings 8:26 or 2 Chron. 22:2?
Zechariah and Jeremiah were the same person.
- 1 Kings 7:23: “Then [Solomon] made the molten sea [i.e., an enormous vat]; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim [i.e., approximately 180 inches in diameter]. A [rope] of thirty cubits [in length, i.e., a circumference of 540 inches,] would encircle it completely.” In fact, ten cubits in diameter would result in a circumference of 565.49 inches, or 31.42 cubits, so the 30-cubit rope would be 15.49" too short to encircle it completely — more than a foot. A circumference of 30 cubits means a diameter of 171.89 inches, or 9.55 cubits, so the distance brim to brim would be 8.11 inches shorter than Solomon's rope.
(Legislators in Indiana in 1897 came close to passing a law dictating that pi equal 3.2 exactly, undoubtably after much argument about the presumed thickness of Solomon's vat's walls (inner diameter versus outer circumference). To make the legislators' math work, the vat's walls would have had to be at least NEGATIVE 5.625 inches thick at their widest! A diameter of 180" times 3.2 gives us a circumference of 576 inches (vat walls 8 inches THINNER than the vat's 540-inch circumference). A circumference of 540" divided by 3.2 gives us a diameter of 168.75 inches, or almost a foot too narrow to match the Bible. Luckily, the innocent students of 1897 were saved by a passing math teacher, one C.A. Waldo.
(Waldo declined an introduction to the learned Ph.D. who had written the legislature's law, which was well on its way to being enacted before Waldo intervened. Waldo said "he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.")
If there ever was a King Solomon in "the real world," he was born in approximately 1005 BCE and reigned approximately 970-930 BCE. (Not surprisingly, 1 Kings 1-11 contradicts both 2 Samuel and 2 Chron. 1-9 on many vital points.) Could it possibly be that almost 3,000 years ago, when the highest level of writing technology was clay tablets and tanned animal skins, the priests of YHWH cared less about factuality than today's Christian Pharisees do?
Mustard has unique properties.
- “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’” — Matt. 27:9-10
In point of fact, Jeremiah says nothing like this. The closest the Hebrew Scriptures come is Zechariah 11:12-13: “I then said to them, ‘If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ So they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. Then YHWH said to me, ‘Throw it into the treasury — this lordly price [only about four thousand dollars in today's money] at which I was valued by them.’ So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of YHWH.” Notice that the shekels were weighed rather than counted. (The Latin word expendere means "to weigh"; the Greek word drachma originally meant "handful.") Zechariah wrote around 530 BCE, centuries after money had been invented but centuries before the value of the metal a coin was made of was divorced from the value of the coin itself. For hundreds of years, the talent was the shape and size of a cannon ball, and weighed anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds.
Much as inerrantists would like you to believe otherwise, Jeremiah and Zechariah were not the same person. Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the Babylonian Exile; Zechariah lived roughly 100 years later, and uttered prophesies of hope after the return from exile and during the rebuilding of the Temple.
Inerrantists usually ascribe the misquotation to oral tradition — that is, they claim that Jeremiah said it, but that it was never written down until Zechariah quoted Jeremiah, presumably through ESP. And then for the next 500 years, everyone wrongly thought Zechariah said it, until the author of the gospel of Matthew provided the correct citation. Which we must believe or the Bible contains errors, and if it contains errors, it's not the holy word of God and might as well be thrown into the nearest dumpster.
Occasionally, inerrantists stitch together a word here and a word there from Jeremiah, and call it a valid source. To which I say, stitch together a word here and a word there from Zechariah 5:5 and Zechariah 10:2: “That is” + “utter nonsense.”
Matthew tells us (1:1-17) there were 42 generations from Abraham
to Jesus, inclusive, and then lists only 41 generations.
- “God's Perfect World is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” [Matthew 13:31-32]. Fact one: there are many smaller seeds — for example, orchid seeds. Fact two: mustard grows into a bush, not a tree.
Thirty-nine hours equal three days.
- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and Tamar, Perez, Hezron,
Aram (seven), Aminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz and Ruth, Obed, Jesse,
King David and the woman from ("daughter of") Sheba (14), Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asaph,
Jehoshaphat, Joram, Uzziah (21), Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amos, Josiah,
Jechoniah (28), Salathiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim (35),
Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph and Mary, Jesus (41).
According to Luke, Jesus thought the Hebrew Scriptures were
all about him.
- “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth [Matt. 12:40].” Jesus died at approximately 3 p.m. on Good Friday and was greeted by Mary Magdalene (possibly accompanied by “the other Mary,” Joanna, and/or Mary the mother or wife of James) just after dawn on Sunday — approximately 40 hours, rather than 72.
The end of the world will come well before 100 C.E.
- “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you —
that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the
psalms” — i.e., all of the Bible that was available in the first century — “must be fulfilled [Matt. 24:44].” Nothing written explicitly about Jesus of Nazareth appears in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Jesus quotes scripture that doesn't exist.
- " Truly I tell you, this generation [i.e., those standing around and
listening to Jesus preach] will not pass away until all these things have
taken place." — Matthew 24:34 is a typical example of the many, many "little apocalypses" in the Christian Testament. Literally dozens of citations exist where Jesus, Paul, or one of their followers predicts that the world will end within a few years of his first-century prediction.
Isaiah and Malachi were the same person.
- “Let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
In the Hebrew Scriptures, living water comes from God, not from believers in God. Whatever Jesus may be quoting, it isn't in the Bible.
All pesky little details (statistics, etc.) are to be ignored.
- “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight [Mark 1:2-3].’” The gospel of Mark was written around 70-75 CE.
- “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says YHWH of hosts [Malachi 3:1].” The prophet Malachi [this may be an alias; it means “my messenger”] probably lived between 500-450 BCE, well after the return from the Babylonian Exile.
- “A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of YHWH,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God' [Isa. 40:3].” The prophet Isaiah proclaimed his message between 742 and 701 CE, during the period when the Northern Kingdom was conquered and annexed by the Assyrian Empire, roughly 100 years before the Babylonian Exile.
- “This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight [Matthew 3:3].”’” The gospel of Matthew was written around 85-90 CE, 10 to 20 years after the gospel of Mark, and was based on Mark (and Q, and proto-Matthew).
Matthew, who was a rabbi, was obviously aware that Mark was erroneously attributing Malachi's words to Isaiah when he pointedly provided the correct words. Inerrantists tell us that even though Matthew believed Mark had made a mistake (as indeed he had), you and I must believe he did not.
Abiathar was his own son.
- The Bible is replete with statistical discrepancies. Did David kill 700 Arameans (2 Sam. 10:18) or 7,000 (1 Chron. 19:18)? Did he buy a threshing floor for 50 shekels of silver (2 Sam. 24:24) or 600 shekels of gold (1 Chron. 21:25)? Did 24,000 die in a plague (Num. 25:9) or did 23,000 (1 Cor. 10:8)? Did God say that Abraham's descendants would be enslaved 400 years (Gen. 15:13) or 430 (Ex. 12:41, Gal. 3:17)? Did God ask for a census of Israel (2 Sam. 24:1-2), or was it Satan (1 Chron. 21:1-2)? (Conservatives really put non-conservatives down when they say, oh, God must have made Satan do it.) Was humankind the last thing God created (Gen. 1:26) or the first (Gen. 2:7)? Did Abraham move to Canaan before his father died (Gen. 11:32, 12:4) or afterward (Acts 7:4)? These are only a few of the Bible's dozens of discrepancies.
Jesus ascended into heaven like a yo-yo.
- [Jesus said], “[David] entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” — Mark 2:26
- “David came to Nob to the priest Ahimelech.” . . . — 1 Samuel 21:1-6 and 2 Samuel 8:17 provide the story about how David entered the Temple and ate the bread of the Presence when Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar, was high priest.
Murder is in the eye of the beholder.
- Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven on the day he was resurrected (Luke 24:51) and forty days later (Acts 1:3). Inerrantists sacrifice the “plain meaning” of Luke, saying that it must be interpreted, to preserve the inerrancy of Acts. It's ingenious, but they cannot provide any useful protocols for anyone outside their little Christian Pharisee club to figure out which texts must be read for their “plain meaning” and which must be interpreted.
God has human body parts.
- “You shall not murder.” — Exodus 20:13
- God ordered Joshua to commit a massacre: “Joshua took Makkedah on that day, and struck it and its king with the edge of the sword; he utterly destroyed every person in it [including innocent women and children and even cattle and other property]; he left no one remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah as he had done to the king of Jericho. . . . YHWH gave [Libnah and Lachish] also and [their kings] into the hand of Israel.” — Joshua 10:28-32
- “They heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the
garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and the woman hid
themselves from the presence of YHWH God among the trees of the
garden.” — Genesis 3:8
- “I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established.” — Psalm 8:3. These are just two of the many references to God's body parts.
Christian Pharisees are committed to the principle that everything written in the Bible corresponds to external reality as you and I experience it — i.e., it's literal fact — unless it conflicts with the principle of inerrancy, in which case the “plain meaning” must be interpreted. For example, even crackpots who believe in intelligent design nevertheless believe that the Earth is a globe that revolves around the Sun, no matter what the Bible says about the Earth being a dinner plate on legs. Therefore the parts of the Bible that say the Earth is flat must be interpreted, while other parts of the Bible must be taken literally.
Which means that an argument that to ordinary, sane people looks as though Rube Goldberg thought it up — artifical and tortured — is “plain and obvious” to people who have committed themselves to the doctrine of inerrancy no matter what.
One problem lies in the definition of error. Goofs like mixing up Malachi and Isaiah are not a big deal to most people. However, inerrantists rarely make any distinction between an honest mistake and deliberate deception intended to lead someone astray from the truth. If Jesus said that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds (it's not) and then grows into the largest of trees (also erroneous), and he did it with the deliberate intention of misleading people about the nature of God's World, that would prove that Jesus could make mistakes. Gods don't make mistakes. Christian Pharisees say that Jesus was incapable of making a mistake, Mark 10:18 to the contrary (“Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’”). Therefore he must have been talking about a special kind of mustard plant that is now extinct. (Except, they're not supposed to say any such thing, since officially they are forbidden to believe in evolution.)
Fundamentalists claim that modern, evaluative ways of interpreting holy scripture are wrong because while conservatives “have always agreed that the writers of Scripture penned straight history,” those evil liberals “go beyond the accounts in Scripture to find out what lies behind
Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1976), p. 205.
Here's an example: In Mark 14:30, Jesus tells Peter that before the cock crows twice, Peter will have denied him three times. In Matthew 26:34, Luke 22:34, and John 13:38, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times before the cock crows once. Inerrantist Harold Lindsell says, well, what really happened is that Peter denied knowing Jesus six times, three before the cock crowed once, and three before the cock crowed
Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1976), pp. 174-76.
This process is called “harmonizing.” To “save” the truth of the scriptures, inerrantists construct an event that renders every biblical account untrue — in this example, Peter denied Jesus six times, and all four gospels report it incorrectly.
Fundamentalists charge that non-fundamentalists set critical reason above scripture, permitting themselves to decide what in scripture is true and what is myth, mistake, or propaganda. No conservative would ever do such a thing! Every word in the Bible is literally true. Except, of course, for those passages that inerrantists must “interpret.”
Sure. It's bad if non-Christian Pharisees do it, and it's good if Christian Pharisees do it. Everyone got that?
This page owes many of its citations, including its quotations of Harold Lindsell, to Paul J. Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980.