Contradictions in the Christian Testament

Many people today identify themselves as Christians; however, they insist that every word of the Bible is literally true — that the Bible is not merely theology, but that it is a history textbook and a science textbook. As some evangelicals say, the Bible is “the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God.”

You, as an ordinary, rational person, may find it easier to let these fundamentalists believe their nonsense. The problem with this laissez-faire attitude is that it cedes Christian doctrine to the fundamentalists' heresy. The Bible is not a science textbook; the world is not flat, the sun does not revolve around the earth, pi does not equal three, and rabbits do not chew their cud like cows, to name a few of the Bible's many mistakes. (Click here for a partial list of some of the Bible's more egregious errors.) The Bible is not a history book; Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and David are among the hundreds of characters in the Bible who may never have existed in the “real world.”

This does not mean that the Bible is fiction. One of the worst mistakes made by fundamentalists is assuming that anything that is not literally true must be false. A myth is any “story, recurring theme, or character type that appeals to the consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals or by giving expression to deep, commonly felt emotions” (American Heritage Dictionary). The story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree in 1742 is a myth; it never happened in the real world, but was invented by a parson named Mason Locke Weems in 1806. This myth is still today taught as if it were history because it embodies the cultural ideals of the United States: honesty, openness, humility, selflessness, and having “no desire to hold onto my power.” (The exact opposite of the ideals exemplified by George W. Bush and his neocon Busheviks.)

The Bible contains mostly myths, along with songs, poems, pseudohistory, letters, folk tales, novelettes (about Joseph and Esther), and even a fable (Judges 9:8-15). It is not a history textbook — history as you and I understand the word was invented by a man named Gibbon in the eighteenth century CE, less than 300 years ago. This does not mean that the Bible is false. The Bible is true; it's just not factual. Just because the “massacre of the innocents” (Matthew 2:16) never happened in historical fact (every historian in the world would have written about it in outrage and revulsion; no historian mentions it) doesn't mean that Jesus wasn't special.

Here are a few of the many contradictions in the Christian Testament. When a fundangelical starts ranting to you about how every word of the Christian Testament is literal history, absolute fact, ask that person to explain:

  1. Which genealogy is correct, Matthew's (1:1-17) or Luke's (3:23-38)? Why did Matthew say he was listing 42 generations and then list only 41 (including Jesus)?
  2. Whom did an angel appear to, Joseph (in a dream, Matt. 1:20) or Mary (in the “real world,” Luke 1:20:26-38)? If angels told BOTH Joseph AND Mary that Jesus would be the greatest thing since the discovery of fire, why did “his family” think he was crazy and try to put him away? (Mark 3:20-21, 6:4-6)
  3. Was Jesus born:
    1. during the reign of Herod the Great, who died on March 12, 4 BCE?
    2. or while Quirinus was governor of Syria, and ran the first census — in 6-7 CE? (Bonus question: Historians tell us that the Romans forbade anyone to travel to his home city for a census. Censuses were held for the purpose of finding people to tax, not to fulfill obscure prophecies in a subject nation's religion. Ask your fundamentalist to explain why Joseph is portrayed as breaking Roman law.)
  4. Did John the Baptizer recognize Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:29,36), or didn't he (Luke 7:18-23)? If John baptized for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 3:11), why did Jesus want to get baptized? If the Fourth Gospel is right, why didn't John become Jesus's disciple? — wasn't the Messiah good enough for him?
  5. Who were The Twelve?
    1. Simon/Petros; Andreas (Andrew); Iakobos bar Zebedaios (James bar Zebedee); Ioannes bar Zebedaios (John bar Zebedee); Philippos; Thomas; Ioudas ish Kerioth; bar Tholomaios; Maththaios; Jakobos (Lewis/Levi?) bar Halphaios; Thaddaios; and Simon the Kananite (Zealot)? (Mark 3:16-19)
    2. Simon/Petros; Andreas (Andrew); Iakobos bar Zebedaios (James bar Zebedee); Ioannes bar Zebedaios (John bar Zebedee); Philippos; Thomas; Ioudas ish Kerioth; bar Tholomaios; Maththaios the tax collector; Jakobos (Lewis/Levi?) bar Halphaios; Lebbaios Thaddaios; and Simon the Kananite (Zealot)? (Matthew 10:2-4)
    3. Simon/Petros; Andreas (Andrew); Iakobos bar Zebedaios (James bar Zebedee); Ioannes bar Zebedaios (John bar Zebedee); Philippos; Thomas; Ioudas ish Kerioth; bar Tholomaios; Maththaios; (Lewis the tax collector); Jakobos (Lewis/Levi?) bar Halphaios; Ioudas bar Iakobos; and Simon the Kananite (Zealot)? (Luke 6:13-16)
    4. Simon/Petros; Andreas (Andrew); Iakobos bar Zebedaios (James bar Zebedee); Ioannes bar Zebedaios (John bar Zebedee); Philippos; Thomas the (Jesus's) Twin; Ioudas bar Simon, man of Kerioth; Ioudas; and Nathanael of Kana? (John)
    5. Mary the Magdalene (all four gospels); Mary the mother of Jesus (all four gospels); Mary the mother of Iakobos (Mark 16:1); "the other Mary" (Matthew 28:1); Mary of Rome (Romans 16:6); Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11); Claudia (2 Tim. 4:21); Joanna (Luke 8:3); Julia, and Nereus's sister (Romans 16:15); Junia (Romans 16:7); Prisca (Romans 16:3, 1 Cor. 16:19, 2 Tim. 4:19); Susannah (Luke 8:3); Salome (Mark 16:1); Tabitha (specifically named as a disciple in Acts 9:36); "and many other [women]" (Luke 8:3)? (Bonus question: If the Bible is true, Jesus had many female disciples and apostles; Paul even said that Junia was an apostle who was senior to him in Christ (Romans 16:7). So why do fundangelicals insist that women are inferior and must “graciously submit” to male domination? Where in the Christian Testament does Jesus recommend domination of anyone by anyone else?)
  6. When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, were they forbidden to take staffs (Matthew 10:9-10, Luke 9:3-5), or did Jesus specifically give them permission to carry staffs (Mark 6:8)?
  7. Did the Last Supper take place on the first day of Passover (Mark 14:12, Matthew 26:17, Luke 22:7) or one day earlier (John 19:14)? (Bonus question: Was it most people's Passover, or was it the Passover of the Essenes, which began two days earlier than the “regular” Passover?)
  8. Did Ioudas hang himself (Matthew 27:5) or spontaneously explode (Acts 1:18)? Was where he died called the “Field of Blood” because of Matthew's “blood money” or Luke's explosion? Paul says that Jesus appeared to “the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5), and Mark (14:20) makes it clear that “the Twelve” included Ioudas. Did Jesus appear to Ioudas's corpse, or did Ioudas kill himself upon learning that Jesus was NOT dead? In Matthew 19:28, Ioudas was one of the disciples whom Jesus told would sit on a throne and rule one of the twelve tribes of Israel. (Which would be a pretty neat trick, since ever since Assyria conquered Israel in 722 BCE, Judaism only had two tribes.) Why would Jesus, a highly intelligent man, take a viper into his bosom and promise him a governorship?
  9. For his trial, was Jesus taken first to the high priest (Mark 14:43, Matthew 26:57, Luke 22:54) or to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest (John 18:24)?
  10. Who gathered to question Jesus, and when?
    1. The high priest “and all the chief priests, the elders, and the religious lawyers” gathered after Jesus's arrest (and after their minimum four cups of Passover wine, and in direct violation of Jewish law). (Mark 14:53)
    2. Caiaphas, the religious lawyers, and the elders were gathered before Jesus was even arrested. After the arrest, they were joined by the chief priests and all 72 members of the Sanhedrin — after their minimum four cups of Passover wine, and in direct violation of Jewish law. (Matthew 26:57)
    3. "The assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and religious lawyers" gathered the day after Jesus was arrested — on the holiest day of the year, and (once again) in direct violation of Jewish law. (Luke 22:66)
    4. Only Annas, a former high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas, and Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, questioned Jesus. (In direct violation of Jewish law.) (John 18:12-28)
    Judaism's elders had no role in its government. The gospel writers, who wrote from Caesarea Philippi (Syria), Alexandria (Egypt), Antioch (Turkey), and Ephesus (Turkey), assumed that if their elders played an important role in their government, everyone else's did too.
  11. Why was Luke the only one to say that Jesus was questioned by Herod Antipas (23:7-11)?
  12. Was Barabbas guilty of insurrection and murder (Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19), or merely robbery (John 18:40)? (Actually, “robbery” MEANT “insurrection” in the first century, at least as far as Pilate was concerned.)
  13. Who put the robe on Jesus, Roman soldiers (Mark 15:17, Matthew 27:28, John 19:2) or Herod Antipas (Luke 23:11)? Why doesn't Luke mention the crown of thorns?
  14. According to Matthew (27:51-53), at the moment of Jesus's death there was an earthquake, and “many” people were resurrected. However, all these zombies stayed quietly in their tombs for three days, after which they came out of their tombs and appeared to many. This must have been EXTREMELY dramatic. Why don't the other canonical gospels mention it? Why doesn't Josephus, Tacitus, or any other historian mention it? (Doesn't this story sound as if it was made up by the Weekly World News?)
  15. Who found the open tomb? Was it:
    1. Mary the Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)?
    2. Mary the Magdalene and “the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1)?
    3. “The women who had come with him out of Galilee,” including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Yakobos, and at least two other women (Luke 23:55, 24:1 and 24:10)?
    4. Or was Mary the Magdalene all by her lonesome (John 20:1-4)?
  16. Whom did Mary and her friends find at the tomb? Was it:
    1. a young man in a white “linen” (Mark 16:5)?
    2. an angel (Matthew 28:2-4)?
    3. two men in dazzling apparel (Luke 24:4)?
    4. Jesus himself (John 20:4-14)?
  17. Whom did Mary and possibly four to ten other women tell about the empty tomb?
    1. No one (Mark 16:8)?
    2. Did they run and tell the male disciples (Matthew 28:8)?
    3. Did they tell “the eleven [male disciples] and all the rest” (Luke 24:9)?
    4. Or did Mary simply announce, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18)?
  18. Did Jesus ascend to heaven from Bethany on the day he was resurrected (Luke 24:51) or forty days later from Mt. Olivet (Acts 1:3)? Or did he imitate a yo-yo?
  19. In Romans 3:19-4:25, Paul tells us that no one can get right with God just by doing good deeds; people are “justified by God's grace as a gift . . .a person is justified by faith apart from works.” In James 2:14-26, we learn that what Paul says is impossible; faith without works is “dead.” Which passage of the Bible is true?

Fundangelicals twist themselves into knots trying to harmonize all these contradictions. It would be infinitely simpler if they could just accept that the Bible was put into writing between 1,700 and 3,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, many, many centuries before anyone dreamed up their definition of “truth.” The Bible was not written by a committee appointed by King James of England in the early seventeenth century CE. The Bible is not engraved on stone tablets and sitting in Jerry Falwell's garage, among the limousines and other luxuries that Jesus recommended for all his followers.

And more to the point, the Bible was not written by God and is not as infallible and inerrant as God is. Fundamentalists are guilty of bibliolatry — of worshiping the Bible as if it were indistinguishable from God.

Worse, they worship only their misinterpretations of the Bible while ignoring the rest. Take the issue of homosexuality. There are six verses in the Bible (out of 31,174) that can be misinterpreted as being against homosexuality; in fact, three of these verses are against homosexual rape, two of them forbid a physical impossibility (men not having vaginas), and one of them is a scare-tactics announcement of what happens to heterosexual men and women who engage in idolatry. (Click here for the full article.) The Bible contains 321 verses that condone slavery; instead of their rants against homosexuality, why do we never hear fundamentalists crying out to bring back slavery?

If God wrote the Bible, which version did “he” write? The original Hebrew, inscribed onto tanned animal skins around 920 BCE? The various copies that contain obvious clerical errors? The original Greek (including the letters that Paul thought he wrote), inscribed onto papyrus between 50 CE and 325 CE? The translation into Latin that St. Jerome thought he wrote? The translation into German that Martin Luther thought he wrote? The translation into English by the committee that thought it wrote the King James Version? Another translation into English that erroneous said, “Thou shalt commit adultery”? The translations into English that I thought I wrote?