Bible contradictions: why they matter, and why they don’t

This has been out for a while now, but here’s a stunning chart commissioned for Project Reason by Sam Harris attempting to map out contradictions in factual claims of the Bible. It was apparently based on a very different project by someone mapping out correlations and connections in the Bible.

See the entire PDF.

Explains Suzanne Labarre,

The organization here is pretty simple. You’ve got bars at the bottom representing the 1,189 verses of the King James Bible. White’s for the Old Testament, gray’s for the New Testament. Then a red arc links all the verses that contradict each other.

I haven’t checked all these out. Labarre cites as an example conflicting testimony as to Abraham’s age when Ishmael was born. I imagine that several of these contradictions are only apparent, and that a great number more of them will be treated as though there were only apparent by inerrantists.

This chart was no doubt intended to be paraded about as a great reason to dismiss the Bible altogether, but that’s unnecessarily reactionary. How foolish we’d be if we distrusted and discarded every thing in this life which could be shown to be fallible (cars, anyone?).

All of these sorts of conflict come as no surprise to those of us who reject inerrancy, and shouldn’t trouble anyone who recognizes the organic nature of the Bible’s construction. I agree with Thom Stark, John J. Collins, and others who argue that the Bible is, and was always intended to be, “an argument with itself,” and its authors disagreed on matters far weightier than Abiathar’s precise familial relationship to Ahimelech.

I think Labarre’s succinct “moral of the story” serves as a useful caution against views of the Bible that fail to regard its importance as secondary to the reality of God Himself to which its authors pointed:

So to anyone who thinks the Bible’s the last word on anything, remember this: It isn’t even the last word on itself.

We cannot but expect the Bible to be human, through and through, and leave God Himself to be the only one upon whom all our hopes must rest. “Let God be true, and every man,” writer of Scripture or not, “a liar” — or at least, “frequently mistaken.”

H/T @CircleReader

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  • I looked at some of the contradictions. Some are pathetic examples and only go to show that some atheists have an even more faulty understanding of the Bible than hardcore inerrantists do.

    • Yeah, as I mentioned above, this is always to be expected. Atheistic
      Bible critics (in the popular, not academic sense) are certainly not
      likely to look even a millimeter beneath the surface of an apparent
      disagreement. Yet I’ve noticed that digging very far below the surface
      to reconcile different perspectives from different authors is usually
      an unwarranted excavation. 🙂

  • Good post. I like the way you come at it rationally and don’t throw up you hands and get defensive. There could be contradictions. Doesn’t mean we throw it out.

  • Anonymous

    It should be noted that the original project was done by visualizer Chris Harrison in collaboration with with Christoph Römhild, pastor of North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Germany. The “moral of the story” that they took away from this study was quite different from this recent quest for atheistic zingers — they noted the “interconnected nature of Scripture” that made the Bible “almost look like one monolithic volume.” ( http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/scivis/winners_2008.jsp)

    I’m not sure that either algorithmic textual analysis or snappy one-liners can do justice to either the unity of the witness of Scripture, or to the diversity of its witnesses.

  • Similarly, there’s no reason to fear throwing out the bath water if there’s no baby in the tub to begin with.

  • lonesomecowboy

    Wait a minute. This is an omniscient and omnipotent god giving mankind the most important message they will ever receive (according to believers). I think one flaw, inconsistency or contradiction, no matter how tiny, pretty much blows that theory out of the water. And if you’ve got some other evidence of god’s existence except your bible, I’d love to see it, I truly would.

    • This is an omniscient and omnipotent god giving mankind the most important message they will ever receive (according to believers). I think one flaw, inconsistency or contradiction, no matter how tiny, pretty much blows that theory out of the water.

      There is indeed something troublesome in the thinking you identify: if one supposes that God purposed to use the Bible to convey that essential message, He seems to have dropped the ball. This is a big reason I don’t believe the Bible wasn’t intended as God’s message to humanity; it was humanity’s message about God. I think God’s greatest message (the supremacy of love) is clear enough to all, Bible or no Bible.

      And if you’ve got some other evidence of god’s existence except your bible, I’d love to see it, I truly would.

      “Evidence” is too easy to produce. If you mean exclusive evidence, data that can serve only as evidence for the theistic side of the debate and as such constitutes of evidence against the atheistic side of the debate, I doubt there is anything that will convince you of that; I also doubt you have much by way of that sort of evidence for atheism, either.

      • PD

        Funny, I thought we already established “Innocent until convicted guilty” Just like you do not carry with you evidence of being innocent, you should not be asked to provide evidence for non-theism.

        • I’m not asking for that evidence.

          But don’t kid yourself: not believing something despite evidence constitutes a positive belief, and does require answers. You’ve got to account for existence, or for the belief that existence doesn’t require an explanation. It’s a bum game.

    • Amina

      Its called the Noble Quran (the final revelation sent to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by Allah (God) : ) read it and research islam it wouldn’t hurt I highly recommend for anyone who wants paradise Subahanallah! http://Www.Islamcan.com

  • Gwenne

    Sad for all the wars fought, people who have died prematurely for religious reasons, and no peace, no appreciating LIFE itself each day you have of it, as religions create dividing lines, that’s all for
    We vs. Them. There is no Utopia or an international language like Esperanto, dreams of a world where all are ONE until the earth ceases to exist one day probably by Man, more than any asteroid.