Five Big Rocks (part three)

This is the third in a series of articles exploring five major hurdles I encountered to faith in Christianity, culminating in my deconversion:

1. The Problem of Evil
2. The Problem of Communication
3. The Problem of Scriptural Errancy
4. The Problem of Theological Incoherence
5. The Problem of Religious Toxicity

Read on...and get ready to rock on!

3. The Problem of Scriptural Errancy

The third rock is closely related to the second one, but I believe it deserves to stand on its own. Put simply, there are numerous factual, historical, textual, theological, and moral errors in the Bible—errors of such number, degree, and character as to cast serious doubt that the Scriptures are truly the work of a superior intelligence to that of man.

I have found that most mature Christians are not shocked by the common Biblical discrepancies brought up by unbelievers. After all, there is a whole segment of the Christian book market aimed at inoculating believers against such attacks on the integrity of Scripture, with books starting at 5 lbs, 3 inches thick. Like many readers, I grew up on John Haley’s Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, and Norm Geisler’s When Critics Ask. Soon after I was baptized, my Dad gave me a well-worn copy of Haley’s handbook to equip me to handle the skeptic's arguments. I vaguely remember at the time being in awe of both the size of the book and the number of discrepancies it dealt with. However, whatever tiny seeds of doubt this engendered were quickly squashed by the excitement of my newfound faith and my increased involvement in church ministry.

I will say right from the outset that I am not a big fan of picking Biblical texts apart to find the minutest mistakes. Maybe it was my smart-aleck friend back in middle school who soured me on this kind of critical spirit. As a consequence, the present article will not be taking issue with where Cain got his wife (I can accept that it was his sister) or why rainbows appeared for the first time after Noah’s Flood (I can accept that some measure of poetry is used in Bible stories—-after all, who can resist a rainbow for a happy ending?).

Having said this, the Bible's scientific and factual errors are some of the easiest to spot. By now, everyone should know about the classic rabbit who “chews the cud” (Leviticus 11:6; Deuteronomy 14:7). Lesser known is Jacob’s hair-brained method of breeding spotted animals, in apparent defiance of the laws of genetics (but according to Genesis 30:37-43, it worked). John has previously written about the strange cosmology of the Hebrews, complete with its novel view of a firmament in the heavens, a flat earth, and a geocentric universe. A great many stories in the book of Genesis were preceded by the myths of Sumerian culture, from which the Torah borrows quite liberally. The situation is little improved when we come to the New Testament. Here demons are believed to cause epilepsy and muteness (Mark 9:17-22; Matthew 9:33) and an evil eye is feared for its bewitching powers. All this is indicative of primitive, pre-scientific worldview and outright superstition. If the Bible has no credibility in earthly matters, how can it be trusted in spiritual matters?

Other glaring errors take the form of contradictions and discrepancies. Did David take 700 or 7,000 horsemen from Hadadezer? (cf. 2 Samuel 8:3-4; 1 Chronicles 18:3-4). Did Solomon’s horse stalls number 4,000 or 40,000? (cf. 1 Kings 4:26; 2 Chronicles 9:25). Was Ahaziah 22 when he began to reign or 42? (cf. 2 Kings 8:26; 2 Chronicles 22:2). How old was Jehoiachin when he began to reign—8 or 18? (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:9; 2 Kings 24:8). How about Jesus healing the blind man Bartimaeus as he was leaving Jericho (Matthew 20:29)....or was it he healed as Jesus entered Jericho? (Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35). One might attribute these problems to a scribal error and dismiss them with a smirk. Fine. The big question is, why weren’t these obvious mistakes corrected millennia ago? They would have been easy to correct had someone actually known the correct answer! Of course, none of this would matter so much were it not for the fact that evangelical Christians claim the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible word of God.

Perhaps the most serious form of Scriptural errancy comes in the form of moral incongruence from—-of all characters—-God himself! The same God who “so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son” to save it (John 3:16), who is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) is the God who is responsible for atrocities worthy of a whole new series of horror films (Tarantino, are you listening?). Atrocities like the global flood sent by God (if the story is taken at face value) to maliciously drown every man, woman, child, and animal (Genesis 7:4). What Christian hasn’t been shocked by the methodical cruelness of Yahweh, as he commands the Israelites to go from city to city, exterminating whole races of people along the way (Deuteronomy 20:16), until the land of Canaan is claimed as their own? Here we read of the most vicious, hateful, and bloodthirsty acts of aggression in the entire Bible targeted towards men, women, and children (Joshua chapters 6, 8, 10, 11).

While historians are skeptical about the exact nature of the Canaanite conquest and liberal Christians seek to spiritualize these passages, one problem won’t go away: how can you reconcile—-even as fiction—-such savage acts of destruction with the familiar ethic, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)? Either the God of Christian theology is schizophrenic or there is a serious moral flaw in his character. Remember, we're judging by his OWN standards, here! (By the way, Jim Benton has written an insightful series of articles here, here, here, here, and here analyzing the questionable moral underpinnings of Scripture.) It is entertaining to watch the most conservative of Christians become moral relativists in the processes of trying to defend Jehovah’s genocidal tendencies (not to mention his endorsement of human slavery). Exit reason, enter cognitive dissonance.

I haven’t even begun to comment on the other categories of Biblical errancy, such as false prophecy, impossible promises, conflicting spiritual ideas, and problems in the transmission and translation of key texts.

For the fair-minded Christians among us, I ask: how long of a leash are you willing to give the Bible for its misstatements, contradictions, and inconsistencies? How many errors do you need to be confronted with before you realize that the "Good Book" is human, rather than divine, in origin? Indeed, the Bible can be explained more satisfactorily through natural, rather than supernatural, means.


46 comments:

zilch said...

This is indeed the stumbling block that made Christianity a non-starter for me, back when I was a teenager and looking around for The Truth. It seemed obvious (and still seems obvious- doesn't it?) that if a book is inspired by God it should be inerrant, at least barring mistakes in translation. If it isn't inerrant, how are we to know what's right and what's wrong in it?

And accepting, as many moderate Christians do, that the Bible is not inerrant, but still believing it to be inspired by God, always seemed a copout to me. Sure, I'm willing to admit that there's a good deal of wisdom in the Bible, some of which is worthy of emulation, but it's not The Truth.

Evie said...

Thanks for another fine entry in this series. I've enjoyed it immensely.

I think many evangelical Christians are biblically illiterate. Oh, yeah, they applaud Martin Luther for the "priesthood of believers" idea and his quest to get copies of the scriptures, in languages they actually understood, into the hands of believers, but they don't often engage in deep study of the Bible themselves. They accept, intellectually, that they don't need priests to mediate between them and god, and they readily embrace that as an invitation to pray directly to God with confessions, petitions, etc. And they know that, should they ever really want to do so, they can read the bible for themselves. But most don't have or make the time to do their own bible study, so they end up relying on their pastors, bible study leaders, etc., to do the heavy lifting for them. They've settled for a de facto priesthood, even though they reject the notion of de jure priesthood.

Additionally, preachers are able to get by with selectively focusing on their favorite scripture passages and topics and completely ignoring huge chunks of scripture throughout their careers. Many of them are probably unaware of discrepancies like those you've touched on in this post because they've never read most of those passages themselves. When was the last time you heard a sermon taken from the book of Habakkuk? Probably when you were in seminary and it was the assigned text.

Even the materials published for use in church bible study groups are selectively focused. Consequently, one can be deeply engaged in congregational life and bible studies for decades and never encounter most of the bible. I don't want to imply that there's a vast conspiracy to keep evangelicals ignorant and docile (then again, who knows?). The social and political dynamics at play are not that simple. But I do think that if more people really interrogated the scriptures and their church doctrines, they would end up joining the ranks of the non-theistic. Christians aren't stupid, they're just uninformed.

Shygetz said...

And accepting, as many moderate Christians do, that the Bible is not inerrant, but still believing it to be inspired by God, always seemed a copout to me.

I like to point out that the same can be said of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would much rather my children take their morality from there, so why should the Bible gain any more respect for that?

Master Jedi Dan said...

Joseph, you have to go further into the text to understand these things. I don't think you've quite done your research...

David took seven hundred (2 Sam. 8:4), seven thousand (1 Chron. 18:4) horsemen from Hadadezer;

The Hebrew word used for 700 horsemen can be also translated COMPANIES. (Strongs Number H505 as well as Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) According to the custom of the time, there were 10 men to every company. Which means that 2 Samuel maybe referring to the properly translated 700 Companies which would equal 7000 men, uhm, as in the 7000 men mentioned in 1 Chronicles. Much like the English language, the adjectives describes the noun in the sentence however it seems that even though the word horsemen was used in both passages, the actual translation could be determined by the number used. With 700 being used in 2 Samuel then the Hebrew word parash would be translated 700 companies of horsemen which would equal 7000 men as mentioned in 1 Chronicles 18:4.

The rest of the problems you mentioned in your post could probably be easily answered with more research. The above answer was taken from here, and there are several more answers in that post concerning issues like this.

Note that I am not a theist, but an agnostic atheist who gets annoyed when people don't do their research.

Andrew said...

The problem with your list of reasons for your "deconversion" is that it is not really consistent with the reasons given in your book.

Joseph said...

Um, Andrew, I didn't write a book.

John W. Loftus said...

Master Jedi Dan, I didn't look too closely to your link, but I do agree that many claims of these kinds are not well researched out. My contribution on this topic was linked by Joseph and can be found here.

Cheers.

Joseph said...

Hi, Master Jedi Dan (sure you're not related to our "Dan"? Your profile is unavailable). First off, I have a hard time believing that you are an "atheist agnostic" if you think that "the rest of the problems you mentioned in your post could probably be easily answered with more research." You're clearly giving the benefit of the doubt to ability of Christian apologetics to come up with an explanation for every discrepancy. Note that an easy answer isn't necessarily the correct explanation.

Now, to your explanation of the two different "David's men" passages, the link you sent me is a jumbled mess. However, you do give what seems to be a plausible interpretation of the scriptures in question. I am happy do some more digging into the question (I'm assuming you have some scholarly resources to recommend?) and am more than willing to admit citing it in error. Hey, you're on a roll! Why don't you go ahead and refute the rest of the factual, scientific, and moral discrepancies I mentioned?

GordonBlood said...

Um first of all I think we can safely assume Andrew though John wrote this Joseph. To your points themselves, that the bible has errors was for me at first a problem, I was taken to a fundamentalist sunday school so even though I knew nothing about the ressurection or the historicity and stuff like that i was taught that the bible was inerrant. By the time I entered university I finally decided to actually look into things and see if there was any truth to be found in the Christian religion. That the bible has errors concerning numerical amounts of persons or dates, science etc etc should not really surprise us. God never promised the Israelites that he would make them master historians or cosmologists. I do believe however that if one believes strong biblical inerrancy is necessary for the Christian faith to be true (id love to see that put into logical form, because it would have God only knows how many holes in it) than your points hold. Even concerning the morality point we would expect an ancient near eastern group like the Israelites to speak of their God in what today may be repulsive language, but what God showed us in the form of Christ was his true nature clearly revealed when the people were ready (and physically capable) to not be so bloody savage and aggressive. Now why God did not make his nature clearer earlier is a fair enough question but one has to suppose that without constant supernatural intervention they would just write about him conquering their enemies. The very fact that Jesus was called the messiah considering that the messiah was supposed to be a militaristic ruler is perhaps God wanting to make it clear that hes not a big fan of people arrogantly and dogmatically saying what God is like and what God will do, those are my essential thoughts on the matter.

John W. Loftus said...

Remember, it only takes one error to demolish the doctrine of inerrancy...

Joseph said...

Hi, Gordon. I appreciate your perspective on this as a moderate Christian. I take no joy in denouncing the Bible and would actually be happy to accommodate your view of things, but I think it would be a greater leap for me than accepting the traditional Christian doctrine of inspiration. For one, if we acknowledge that there are substantial errors in the Bible (of which I only touched on a fraction), then how are we supposed to know when God is truly speaking or not through Scripture?

Jason said...

I'll take on the rabbit and his cud:

The word translated "chew" is the Hebrew 'alah', and it's quite flexible in its usage. The word means "to bring up, to bring back, to revisit" and other such meanings. Note how it's used elsewhere:
Gen 2:6 "But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground."
Gen 32:24 "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day."
Pro 25:7 "For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen."
Therefore, 'Alah' is NOT specific to the process of regurgitation and it doesn't involve the idea of mechanical chewing; it is simply a phrase of general movement. Thus to assume that the passage refers to the precise action of a cow (for example) is to go way beyond the text based on a particular translation.

The word translated "cud" is a rare word used only in the dietary laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and there is no reason to assume that it refers exactly to the product of a ruminant stomach (which is what critics would like it to do).

The passages about the rabbit and hare simply state that they bring back their food and consume it again, which they do. There is no problem with these texts.

Joseph said...

Good detective work, Jason. I am well aware of this explanation. The fact remains, most scholars translate it as "chew the cud" because that is the most faithful translation in this particular instance. Apparently, it appeared to the Hebrews that the rabbit and the cow both chewed the cud, which is scientifically incorrect. It's a small point, but maybe not so small if you consider that author of Scripture is supposed to be the Master Scientist.

Jason said...

"Faithful translation" or not, we're examining the Hebrew, not the English. The passages about the rabbit and hare simply state that they bring back their food and consume it again, which they do.

Joseph said...

Jason, I don't think we can relegate the English translation to irrelevance. The fact is, scholars who know far more than you or I have consistently said the best rendering it "chew the cud." Anybody can get out a copy of Vine's and come up with their own understanding of how the Bible should be translated, but the situation is more complex than that.

Joseph said...

By the way, I would rather not sidetrack this debate on the hare-chewing-the-cud issue. I simply referenced it as a "class" Bible error, which one can say is just technically wrong. I also am willing to concede that the many examples of numerical discrepancies (of which I only mentioned a few--see the links) are a result of scribal error somewhere in the writing and copying process. My question is, how many of these errors have to accumulate before a Christian takes a second look at Scripture and realizes it is obviously a flawed work of men, not a work which was written with divine guidance?

Joseph said...

(read: "classic" Biblical error)

Shygetz said...

The passages about the rabbit and hare simply state that they bring back their food and consume it again, which they do.

Reading this passage makes it seem like you are saying that rabbits regurgitate or otherwise bring food out of their digestive track to rechew it. While you may not have meant this, just in case it is misread by another, rabbits do NOT regurgitate food. The poop out partially-digested pellets and then eat these pellets ("autocoprophagy").

If you claim that the verse means that Hebrews may eat animals that practice autocoprophagy or rumination and are cloven at the hoof, then pigs should be fine to eat. But they are specifically forbidden because they do not "chew the cud". Therefore, the Hebrew phrase that was translated to mean "chew the cud" cannot include autocoprophagy. The most parsimonious conclusion is that rabbits were included as cud-chewers because they look like they chew their cud.

Joseph said...

Precisely. Thank god for Shygetz.

Master Jedi Dan said...

Joseph, thanks for the reply. No, I'm not related to anyone else who comments on this blog. I've been reading it for a while but haven't commented yet. I'm also Master Jedi Dan over at the RRS. To address your point, no, the answers aren't simple, but I think that a well-educated person could sit down with a concordance and sort out most of the questions you listed in the post. I may try it this weekend and do something useful with my time...but no, I don't believe in God because of both personal experiences and because Christians don't really seem to believe in the Bible either.

Brother Crow said...

This debate between Jason and Joseph goes to the problem of communication. I get weary of hearing pseudo-bible scholars defend inconsistencies by referring to the original language and its nuances and how a word can mean many things and yada yada. (Being too harsh here, gordonblood?) Why did GOD, the WORD, He who knoweth all things, decide to reveal himself through a people who were so goofy as to mistake a rabbit for a cow and a language so convoluted that a single word can mean "chewing cud", "eating poop", "rising mist" and "breaking of the day." And who knows what else? Sounds like some very biased "scholars" in the past came up with every conceivable possible meaning of a word and slapped it on there like mayonnaise to cover all possible challenges.

the problem is communication. If the English bible is so ruined, why did god allow the message of salvation, morality, spiritual growth, etc. to be relegated to such a flawed and possibly misunderstood document? Does not say much about god.

Joseph, you are building a dang good foundation here with your rocks. Keep it coming!

John W. Loftus said...

In Joseph's defence he linked to several Biblical problems, and as such, they are included in his whole argument. Also, it's very difficult to prove an error when Christians use gerrymandering tactics to get around them. The question becomes what is more likely, that in order to show there is no error we should accept a complex solution to a problem, or that we take the words used in their primary, normal sense? I prefer the later, and in that sense there are indeed many errors in the Bible.

Joseph said...

Andrew, do you have a brain in your head? Please read who the author of this and my deconversion story a few months back on this same blog because you go making a bigger ass of yourself.

John W. Loftus said...

Andrew's comment was deleted. He's banned from DC for this and other comments he's been making today. We'll have an intelligent, respectful debate here, or none at all.

Jason said...

The passages about the rabbit and hare simply state that they bring back their food and consume it again, which they do. Whether or not they "chew" anything is irrelevant since the verse doesn't make any claim about whether chewing is involved.

The Hebrew phrase that was translated to mean "chew the cud" can include autocoprophagy because a different Hebrew word is used for pigs "chewing the cud" (11:7). Most likely the author recognized the difference between rabbits and pigs in "chewing the cud" otherwise the same Hebrew word could just have easily been used. Interestingly enough, the word "chew" in Lev. 11:7 is closely related to the act of "sawing" one's food, an apt description for pigs regurgitating and not coprophagy in rabbits.

Food for thought....

Ouch.

Joseph said...

master jedi dan, thanks for your response. There is a scholarly article on the use of the Hebrew words translated as "horse" and "horsemen" here (warning it's a dull read). About 8 pages into it, the author makes a point to say that he believes the discrepancy in numbers of horsemen in the two scriptures in question is due to a scribal error (which was kind of my point). I actually haven't heard anyone besides you advance the idea that horsemen should be translated "companies" in 2 Samuel 8:4. This particular scholar says it could even be more accurately translated "charioteers."

Shygetz said...

jason said: The Hebrew phrase that was translated to mean "chew the cud" can include autocoprophagy because a different Hebrew word is used for pigs "chewing the cud" (11:7).

Can you source this? Because the transliteration I'm using of the Hebrew Torah says for Lev 11:5 and 11:6 uses the word "GUrH" for "cud" and "L'a" for "chew". Lev 11:7 uses the same words ("GUrH L'a-YGUr", which is couched in the future tense, and is the source of the belief that when the Messiah comes the pig will begin to chew its cud). Both use GUrH for "cud" and L'a for "chew". Can you cite your source that says otherwise?

Jason said...

Looking at a concordance, 'alah (chews) is used in verse 5 & 6 but not 7 where it's garar (chews).

Joseph said...

There are two excellent articles dealing with Jason's explanation here
and here going into far more depth than I care to. I'm happy to admit that the weight of my argument does not rest on the relative scientific accuracy of Leviticus 11:6 (although I still believe it presents a sound technical argument against inerrancy).

Shygetz said...

Jason--are you using Stong's? Be careful when relying upon concordances; they (by necessity) take similar shortcuts as translations when trying to explain the Hebrew.

I see that Strong's states that the modification of "cud" is the verb for "cheweth not" (compare the Hebrew itself to the word for "cud"; you'll see it's not there.) I will stipulate for the moment that this is true and direct you to Lev. 11:3, where it states that you MAY eat of anything that "'alah" it's "gerah" (chews its cud, in the same terminology as Lev. 11:6) and is "parach" at the "shaca" or cloven at the hoof, which does include swine if you allow "'alah" to mean autocoprophagy.

Jason said...

Shy,

I think we've been looking at the wrong animal the whole time.

The difference between camels, hares, coneys and pigs is "chewing the cud". The first three are mentioned as chewing the cud, while the last isn't. Why? Because rumination and coprophagy are common in camels, hares and coneys but not pigs, who don't re-consume any of their food. We can conclude then that pigs are unclean because they don't chew the cud (using the Hebrew definitions), either through regurgitation, rumination or autocoprophagy.

Shygetz said...

Because rumination and coprophagy are common in camels, hares and coneys but not pigs, who don't re-consume any of their food.

I'm looking for publically-available scholarly references, so you can see for yourself that you are incorrect without need for access to either a university library or a small farm.

In Nutrien Requirement of Swine by the National Research Council, it says:

"Synthesis of vitamin B12 by microorganisms in the environment and within the intestinal tract as well as the pig's inclination to coprophagy may satisfy..."

In Nutrition of Sows and Boars by W.H. Close, it says:

"It is very difficult to determine a dietary requirement of the sow because of the variability caused by coprophagy..." (emphases mine)

It is quite clear that pigs indulge in coprophagy, and so would fall under your definition of "chewing the cud". Sorry.

Jason said...

Very interesting. I can't access most of the online journals but I shall keep digging around to see what I can find. This is great!!

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

I am wondering if the largest of all the rocks isn't "The problem with grace"?

Joseph said...

MMM, could you please expound on that thought? If you're implying that perhaps I, and the other writers at DC, have a problem with the Christian doctrine of grace, well...I can only speak for myself. I was one of the clearests exponents of grace in a denomination that is not traditionally known for it.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hi Joseph! You asked me to expound - I wonder if there were no grace, then there would be no POE. If God were simply brute strenth, He would easily eliminate those involved in sin. But, I believe He values people and loves sinners. Not that He enables sin, but I would rebel and pursue it and override my conscience to do so. I'm grateful for grace - I'm not so sure others that I have hurt are so glad. That is the problem with grace - that God loves even those who mistreat us.

zilch said...

Very interesting. I can't access most of the online journals but I shall keep digging around to see what I can find. This is great!!

Jason- if you enjoy researching coprophagy, there's hope for you yet. Here's another link for your, er, delectation: about naked mole rats, which also practice coprophagy, and are also interesting in being eusocial; that is, they live in colonies with only one reproducing female, like ants and bees.

Steven Carr said...

2 Samuel 8:4
There were 700 'parash'

1 Chronicles 18:4
There were 7000 'parash'.

The words are IDENTICAL

Except one says 700 and the other says 7000.

What sort of idiot castigates people as doing bad research when they say that this looks like a contradiction?

If the Koran said there were 700 parash in one sura, and another sura said there were 7000 parash, can you imagine for one minute any Christian saying that there was not a contradiction?

I hate hypocrisy.

Jason said...

Well, I finally found my answer :) Anyone interested?

Joseph said...

No. I've about had it with that damn rabbit. I would be interested in what you think of the moral inconsistencies I mentioned, however.

Jared said...

Great series, Joseph.

The best point made here is by Brother Crow. Communication.

Skeptics aren't pointing at the inconsistencies and looking for answers on rabbits. We're trying to figure out why you actually think this 'god-inspired' bible in infallible. God should have sent Tony Robbins instead!

When Christians are faced with the concept of an [obviously] errant bible, they will provide a litany of interpretations. Methinks they dost protest too much!

But it's understandable, without this inerrant, god inspired bible, the faith begins to erode. So they will cling onto this attachment until somebody throws their hands up in frustation or they point to the sneaky 'preservation of truth' amidst the errors schtick.

Keep up the good work.

Jason said...

Any moral inconsistencies in particular?

Joseph said...

Yeah, gee, like the big paragraph in my article. I would cut and paste it verbatim, but that's not really necessary. Scroll up.

Shygetz said...

No. I've about had it with that damn rabbit.

Awww, joseph, everyone loves bunnies.

Willie said...

Where is part 4 and 5 listed? I cannot locate these blogs. Parts 1, 2, and 3 were excellent.

John W. Loftus said...

Wille, Joseph didn't finish them. I haven't heard from him and I don't know much else.