© R. Paul Buchman 2010-2011
CONTRADICTIONS & DISCREPANCIES
in the CHRISTIAN BIBLES
Go to the "Sources" page for bibliographical info on all works cited here.
"Sources" also contains links to other skeptics' sites and to apologists' sites.
WHY THIS LIST?
Unlike many people, I had never had much faith to begin with, so it was easy for me to accept the atheist label at around age sixteen. I know that for some who find their way to atheism as adults, losing their faith can be quite difficult. To those in that process, to those experiencing a crisis of faith, to those on the fence, to those beginning to acknowledge their doubts, I dedicate this website.
I started this list as a hobby and, as I learned more, the project just kept growing. I became fascinated by the sheer quantity of discrepancies (or "difficulties," as the apologists say). There is seemingly no end to them. I probably could have documented another thousand but I stopped at 1001 so that I could work on another project.
This website could just as well have been called "Against fundamentalism." My purpose is to expose a large number of the contradictions and discrepancies in the Christian Bibles to disprove fundamentalist claims that every word in the Bible is true. This is similar to inerrantism, the idea that the Bible contains no errors. Some inerrantists will allow that the received Bible texts contain real discrepancies, but they are the result of copy errors of no consequence and that the original was inerrant.
Why am I concerned to try to combat fundamentalism? The reason is that many fundamentalists have become political and have tried, sometimes successfully, to undermine the separation of church and state. Some even want to replace our republican form of government with a theocracy. Fundamentalists have infiltrated many government agencies, including school boards, city councils, legislatures, and even the military. They must be combated. Theocracies are not noted for their devotion to civil liberties.
Early on, I decided not to put an item on my list without verifying it. That entailed looking up the verses in the King James Bible (KJV) to see whether they really conflicted. I am not an expert in Bible studies. I have no credentials in Bible studies or any related field, nor do I read any ancient language. I consider myself a student only. Many times after reading the verses referred to in a contradiction from someone's list (see the "Sources" page) I failed to see a contradiction, so I began reading them in context. Occasionally, I decided that, in context, the verses really did not conflict, so I did not add them to my list.
Sometimes I consulted other Bible translations, trying to understand verses that were unclear to me in the archaic language of the KJV. As a result, I started collecting Bibles as well as contradictions. I decided to get an English translation of the Old Testament called the Tanakh from the Jewish Publication Society. My thinking was that that version might be free of Christian theological bias. Realizing that the KJV was created for a Protestant readership, I decided to get Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles to avoid sectarianism. To my surprise, there was little variation in meanings among them.
After months of this kind of activity I got to know the Bible much better than I had before. I also began to notice other contradictions while researching the ones I had already collected. At that point I began adding my own items to the list. As the months went by and I learned more, not only about the Bible but about the history of Christianity, ancient history, and so on, I found that some of what I thought were contradictions were the product of my ignorance. In many cases I had to delete them from my list. But the Bible has virtually an inexhaustible supply of contradictions―I always had replacements waiting. Indeed, I have many more waiting now, just in case.
I have done my best to weed out the items that are clearly not contradictions or discrepancies. Also, in a list of this size, it is easy to include some duplicates or near duplicates by mistake. I have deleted as many duplicates as I could find but I can't guarantee that I found them all.
ORGANIZATION OF THE CONTRADICTIONS IN THIS LIST
1. History of the Jews
4. God's Nature
5. God's Laws
7. Miscellaneous Facts
In sections 1 - 3 (histories), I have tried to keep the contradictions in chronological order as best I could. In the other sections I grouped them by topic.
CODES USED IN THE TEXT
Rather than repeat the same verses for two or more different contradictions, I have sometimes grouped multiple contradictions supported by the same Bible verses. In those cases I have used color coding to make it easier to see where each contra occurs within the same set of verses. For example:
The Annunciation occurred before
/ after Mary
had conceived Jesus.
287. The Annunciation was given to Mary / Joseph.
LUK 1:30-31, And the angel said unto her, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS."
MAT 1:20, But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."
BIBLE TRANSLATION CODES
DR - Douay-Rheims (Catholic Vulgate; orig. transl. 16th & 17th centuries; this ed. uncertain date)
KJV - King James Version (Protestant; 17th century translation)
LXX - Septuagint (Eastern Orthodox; Old Testament only; includes apocryphal writings; 21st century)
NAB - New American Bible (Roman Catholic; includes some apocryphal writings; 20th century)
NIV - New International Version (Protestant; 20th century)
OAB - Oxford Annotated Bible (Ecumenical, New Revised Standard Version with apocrypha; 20th century)
TAN - Tanakh (Jewish; Old Testament only; 20th century)
Because I don't know any ancient languages, I must rely on translations to read the Bible. I used the KJV as my baseline, and referred to other translations when I thought it necessary. I chose the translations noted above because they represent Judaism and the three major branches of Christianity, in an effort to avoid sectarian bias. When the meaning of a verse is the same in every translation, I have confidence in it.
Whereas most contradictions I have found are internal to the KJV, some are conflicts between different translations. Where the latter is the case, I have noted the translation at the end of each verse using the codes listed above. I have also used non-KJV translations when the meaning of one or more verses was unclear to me in the KJV. Often another translation made the meaning clear.
I have used a new English translation of the Septuagint. The original Greek version was commissioned by the great library at Alexandria in ancient times. The library got 72 Jewish scholars, six from each tribe so the story goes, to complete the translation from Hebrew to Greek. The number was rounded off to 70 and thus referred to as LXX, which is 70 in roman numerals.
See "Translation Differences" in "False Contradictions" for an explanation of why comparison of different Bible translations is sometimes necessary, and for examples showing how they can be useful.
BIBLE BOOK CODES
To identify each book in my text, I have used the first three letters of the book name (GEN = Genesis), except when more than three letters are needed for identification. For example, Judges, Jude and Judith, require four letters each (JUDG, JUDE, JUDI), and Philippians and Philemon, require five (PHILI & PHILE).
If you see a code that you don't recognize, such as WIS, it probably refers to a book considered apocryphal for Protestants. For example, WIS = Wisdom of Solomon, which is included in the Catholic and Orthodox bibles. Likewise JUDI = Judith, TOB = Tobit, etc.
In cases of multiple books with the same name, the number precedes the name with no space between: Thus, the codes for 1 & 2 Chronicles are 1CHR, 2CHR; for 1 & 2 Maccabees are 1MAC, 2MAC, etc.
In the Septuagint, some books take different names than in the Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant Bibles. For example, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings are called 1, 2, 3 & 4 REIGNS, respectively, in the Septuagint. Likewise, 1 & 2 Chronicles are called 1 & 2 SUPPLEMENTS. 1 ESDRAS in the Septuagint contains portions of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and some additional material not found in any other Bible. 2 Esdras contains both Ezra and Nehemiah in their entirety. Where a reference to one of these books appears in the list of contradictions on this website, the name is spelled out, followed by "(LXX)".
Unfortunately, there is a 2 ESDRAS which appears in some Catholic Bibles but not all. This book is neither the same one as the 2 Esdras in the Septuagint, nor is it the same as any other book of any other Bible. It is additional text not found elsewhere. Reference to either on this website will be followed by the appropriate Bible code.
BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
Semi-canonical for Church of England; apocryphal for all other Protestants, Armenian Christians, and Jews; canonical for Catholics and Orthodox
2Azariah, Prayer of (22 verses added after Daniel 3:23)
Esther, additions to (10 verses added after Chapter 10)
2Song of the Three Young Men (41 verses added to Daniel after the Prayer of Azariah)
1Letter of Jeremiah (appended to Baruch)
1Susanna, Story of (appended to Daniel)
1Bel & the Dragon (appended to Daniel)
1 & 2 Maccabees
Sirach (aka Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach; aka Ecclesiasticus)
Wisdom of Solomon
Canonical for Orthodox, but none of the above
Manasseh, Prayer of(appended to Psalms after Psalm 151)
Psalms of Salomon
3 & 4 Maccabees
Canonical for Coptic and Ethiopic Christians only
are separate books in the Orthodox Septuagint (LXX).
2In the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, these verses are inserted between Daniel 3:23 and 24. There are also 5 additional verses between the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men.
3The Catholic 2 Esdras, which is part of some (but not all) Catholic Bibles, is not the same as the 2 Esdras of the Septuagint. The Catholic version is additional material, not found in Jewish, Orthodox, or Protestant Bibles. The Septuagint 2 Esdras contains the same text as Ezra and Nehemiah of the Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant Bibles. Note that 1 & 2 Esdras are called 3 & 4 Esdras in the Catholic Vulgate.
"B," "H," & "M" CODES
The major sources for my list of contradictions include William Henry Burr's book, Self-Contradictions of the Bible and John W. Haley's An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible.(See Sources for the complete citations.) For reference I created two codes: the "B" for Burr and "H" for Haley. The codes look like this: [B, 123] and [H, 345]. Sometimes you will see the B and H codes combined: [B, 123; H, 345]. This occurs when I found a reference to a contradiction in both books. The codes appear after the contradiction's title, in smaller and unbolded text. I have borrowed freely from both Burr and Haley.
"B" codes, such as [B, 27] refer to the ID number, 1 - 144, used for each numbered contradiction in William Henry Burr's book, Self-Contradictions of the Bible. So [B,27] would be the 27th item in Burr's list. I included these codes because Burr's list is all over the Internet, in many forms and usually without attribution. That is probably because it was first published anonymously. Burr's list is also part of The Bible Handbook published by American Atheist Press, and is attributed to "Anonymous" there also. Many copies of Burr's list found on the Internet have only 143 items, but the original has 144. The list of 1001 contradictions on this website includes all but three of Burr's 144 (22, 61, and 139). The reasons I left them out are explained here.
This is approximately what Burr's #27 looks like in his book:
Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. (Ex. 32:27.)
Thou shalt not kill. (Ex. 20:13.)
The following is what #27 looks like in my list:
698. It is / is not wrong to kill (murder). [B, 27]
20:13, You shall not kill.
EXO 32:27, And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. (KJV)
"H"codes, such as [H, 123]; refer to the page number in apologist John W. Haley's book, An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. I used a PDF copy of the book. Please note that the page numbers of the PDF file differ from the page numbers of Haley's book. The reference codes that I use refer to the page numbers of Haley's book, not the page numbers of the PDF.
Haley was an apologist. He provided his contradictions for the purpose of debunking them. Ironically, it turned out that his book is a treasure trove of contradictions I have not seen elsewhere, and I have borrowed freely from his book as well. Haley's book is well worth consulting, for both apologists and skeptics. It is particularly useful because each contradiction is followed by some apologetics which try to resolve the contradiction. It also illustrates the fact that some apologists differ with each other, because in some cases Haley refers to more than one.
The following example is typical (the table lines do not appear in Haley).
But covet earnestly the best gifts. 1 Cor.xii.31.
brethren, covet to prophesy.
Thou shalt not covet . . . anything that is thy neighbour's. Ex.xx.17.
"Covet," in the first two texts, implies an earnest desire for that which is legitimately within our reach; in the last, it denotes an unlawful craving for that which properly belongs to another.
The "coveting" example from page 249 of Haley's book looks like this in my list:
718. It is / is not wrong to covet. [H, 249]
shalt not covet thy
neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his
manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any
thing that is thy
1COR 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
1COR 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
In addition to the B and H codes, I have used a few "M" codes, such as [M, 349]. These refer to the page number in Dennis C. McKinsey's book, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy. These references are only used when a contradiction appears in McKinsey but not in Burr or Haley.
One function of Christian apologetics is to explain, justify, and resolve "difficulties" or "hard questions" about the Bible. Difficulties may include alleged contradictions, discrepancies, conflicts, factual errors, logical errors, absurdities, anachronisms, failed prophecies, and anything else that casts doubt on the authenticity or inerrancy of the Bible. Reading apologists' writings is a good way to check whether an alleged discrepancy is plausible or not. I have changed my mind about several discrepancies after reading a good apologist's debunking of them.
Unfortunately, the reasoning ability of apologists is highly variable. Some apologists think that if an interpretation is merely possible, that is good enough to resolve an apparent contradiction. I could justify my interpretation the same way. The standard I have used on this website is higher than that. I think that an interpretation must not only be possible, but that it must also be plausible and/or probable to deserve consideration. In other words, there must be some reason to think that a particular interpretation might actually be the case. Sometimes an apologist's interpretation is convincing, sometimes not.
Whether or not apologists' explanations seem probable, there remains this impediment to Biblical inerrancy: Apologists think that all discrepancies have been refuted and that there are no errors in the Bible. For that to be true, apologists' interpretations for all the hundreds (thousands?) of discrepancies must be correct, and all the skeptics' interpretations must be wrong. How likely is that? Given that apologists are human, they are fallible. Moreover, they sometimes disagree with each other [see apologists for examples] just as theologians and any other group of humans do. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that at least one discrepancy exists in the Bible. However, that notion is anathema for most apologists and most will not admit to it.
Apologists sometimes use the following methods to validate their arguments:
"Just so." An explanation made up for no reason other than to resolve a contradiction or discrepancy. There is nothing in the text to support it. Another name for this is the ad hoc fallacy.
"Out of order." The Gospel authors did not necessarily record events in chronological order, so conflicts between two Gospels based upon differing sequences of events may not be conflicts at all. Sometimes they are right about this.
"Incompleteness." The Gospel authors did not record every event that occurred. Apparent errors of omission do not necessarily constitute a conflict with events which appear in one or more other Gospels.
"Different events." The claim is that sometimes, when two or more descriptions of an event appear to conflict, they actually refer to different events.
error." The original texts have been lost. The texts which we
now have were copied many times and human error crept in during the
copying process. This is likely true in many cases, but impossible to prove.
"Go back to the Greek (or Hebrew)." A claim that the original Greek or Hebrew word(s) support a certain interpretation, and that trumps the translation. The skeptic can use Strong's to help decide the matter.
"Telescoping." Writers of genealogies in the Bible sometimes left out one or more generations. The apologist claims that the omission was intentional for some reason.
"Double standard." Justifying an interpretation of one discrepancy for a certain reason, then not applying that reason to a different discrepancy, which looks like the same reason should apply.
"Dual nature." Jesus is both wholly human and wholly God. Apologists appeal to whichever nature resolves a difficulty.
"Trinity to the rescue." Like "Dual nature," the Trinity is a theological invention. Judicious use of the Trinity can get an apologist out of trouble (according to his own lights).
The above list is not exhaustive. It is intended to serve as an introduction to the kinds of tactics that apologists sometimes use, and to show that the skeptic must be alert and able to think critically about them. Click here for examples of these tactics as used by apologists.
There are many reasons why an apparent contradiction turns out not to be a contradiction at all. Some of the reasons are
verses taken out of context
misreading or misunderstanding the text
Click this link for examples of false contradictions.