We’ll conclude our look at Bible contradictions. Here are the final five (part 1 is here).
16. There are two incompatible Ten Commandments
You know the story: Moses got the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20. The list of commandments had the familiar rules—no blaspheming, no murder, no lying, no stealing, and so on. Moses returns, only to find that the Israelites, impatient and anxious during his long absence, had made and were worshipping a golden calf, a familiar object of worship from Egypt.
Moses smashed the tablets in his rage, 3000 Israelites were killed in the opening round of punishment, and Moses eventually went back up for a duplicate set (Exodus 34), which was put in the Ark of the Covenant.
Except that it wasn’t a duplicate set. It’s a list that very few Christians are familiar with. For example, number 5 is “The first offspring from every womb belongs to me.” Number 7: Celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Number 10: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” This set is referred to as the “Ten Commandments” in Exodus, not the other set.
We can debate which set fundamentalists should try to illegally place on government property, but despite God’s assurance, these are two very different sets of rules. (More here and here.)
17. There are two creation stories in Genesis
There are also two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. First is the six-day creation story that enumerates the things God created day by day, after which God rested. Next is an older creation story, the one about the Garden of Eden.
Apologists try to harmonize these two, saying that the Garden of Eden story is just an in-depth look at the last day of creation, but details in the two stories disagree. The 6-day story says that humans can eat from every tree, while the Eden story says that one is forbidden. The 6-day story has plants and animals before humans, while the Eden story has the opposite. And so on (more).
18. There are even two Flood stories
You see the trend: the Old Testament often has two different, incompatible stories. Each was too precious for ancient editors to discard, so both were jammed together somehow. The two Ten Commandments stories are separated by over a dozen chapters, the two creation stories are back to back, and they’re interleaved in the Flood story.
In Flood story 1, the older story, Noah takes seven pairs of all clean animals plus one pair of all the others. Once on board with his family, it rained for forty days and forty nights, and everything outside the ark was killed. Noah sent out a dove to scout for dry land. On the second try, it returned with an olive leaf. Back on dry land, Noah sacrificed one of every clean animal to Yahweh, and Yahweh promised to never again destroy life on earth (with a flood, anyway).
In story #2, God is named, not Yahweh, but Elohim, and specifics about the design of the ark are given. With just one pair of each animal plus provisions, Noah (now 600 years old) and family go into the ark. This time, the water comes, not from rain, but from “the fountains of the great deep” and “the windows of the heavens.” Water had covered the earth for 150 days when Elohim made the water recede. This time it was a raven that helped scout for dry land, and they were back on dry land after a year in the ark. God told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”
A leading explanation of the Old Testament’s many story pairs is the Documentary Hypothesis. It answers a lot of questions and proposes four original documents that were merged to make the Pentateuch, the Bible’s first five books. Read more on the two Flood stories and the Documentary Hypothesis here.
19. Resurrection contradictions
Forty percent of the gospels focus on the last week of Jesus’s life, from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the crucifixion, resurrection, and final teachings, and they differ on many points.
A popular Christian response is to say that just because only Matthew wrote about the dead coming out of their graves and walking around Jerusalem doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. (Yeah—the other gospel writers must not have thought that Jesus causing the dead to reanimate and walk around Jerusalem, seen by many, wasn’t worth writing about.)
Or that just because John says “Mary Magdalene went to the tomb,” that doesn’t mean that many other women weren’t also with her as Luke says (“Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them”).
Or that just because only Matthew has Jesus riding on two donkeys, that doesn’t mean the other gospels’ reference to just one disagrees. (Yeah, it pretty much does.)
Or that Paul’s reference to 500 eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus might’ve been compelling to him, but it wasn’t worth writing about in any gospel (more).
From who Peter denied Jesus, to Jesus’s last words, to who the women saw at the tomb, to whether Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus or not, to how many days Jesus stayed after his resurrection, the various accounts differ. (More here.)
20. Jesus forgets the plot
At some point the three persons of the Trinity—Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—agreed that Jesus should live as a human on earth. Jesus was born as a divine being (except in Mark, where he becomes divine with his baptism) and lives out a life that ends with crucifixion. Just before that, he prayed with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. To the few disciples with him, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Then he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [he’s referring to the upcoming crucifixion] be taken from me.” He prays this three times. The story is the same in Mark, and in Luke, an angel strengthens Jesus.
Why did Jesus go off-script? He was part of the Trinity that decided this, so how could he be second-guessing the plan now?
We can look for a human comparison. It wouldn’t be surprising for an ordinary human to have second thoughts before a suicide mission, but in this story we’re talking about a god. Even if agony were a thing that he could perceive, why would an omniscient being question a plan that he knows is perfect?
The puzzle vanishes if we reinterpret the Jesus story as legend.
But wait! There’s more!
which has been around long enough
to have become respectable.
— J. B. R. Yant
Image via Drew Saurus, CC license