Prove that the Bible is full of contradictions-- I double dare you!

Since I am not committed to a doctrine of inerrancy, it doesn't matter much to me that there are a number of contradictions in the bible when various writers mention the same event. Most of them are quite minor, the sort of thing one expects when oral tradition is passed along different tribal and family lines.

In a few cases, they signal different theologies and political agendas.

Nevertheless, two comments.

JJM said:
Are you referring to the two differing creation stories. To me, and remember this is only an interpretation, one describes the creation of humans while the other describes the creation of Earth.

I agree with your analysis, but there are still contradictory elements, notably the order of creation.

I'm sorry to say that you are mistaken in this "contradiction." Well actually I'm not sorry because it simply confirms my faith more but regardless of that this is not what the verses say. If you read the story you see that Josephs brothers threw him in a cistern and left him there. Judah upon seeing the Ishmaelites say to his brother "what is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with ourselves. After all he is our brother” (Gn 37:26-27 NAB) while his brothers where returning to the cistern to pull him out some Midianites pulled him out of the cistern. and took him to Egypt. When Reuben Returns to sell Joseph and Joseph isn't there he is upset. SO you see if you read these verses you find that Joseph wasn't sold at all but rather rescued before he could be sold. .

I am not sure this "contradiction" is mistaken. In any case, the full story still contains a contradiction.

Let's begin with Reuben. In vs. 19-20 the brothers plot to kill Joseph, but vs. 21 begins "when Reuben heard it..." This suggests that Reuben had not been part of the conversation until then. vs. 21 goes on to say that he successfully persuaded them not to kill Joseph, but to put him in the dry pit, and explicitly says "that he [Reuben] might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to their father" Note the last phrase.

Then comes the episode with the traders, and then Reuben returning to the pit and finding it empty.

Now the interpretation I always heard was that Reuben was not with the other brothers when the sale was made. Since it was his intent to restore Joseph to his father, clearly he would not have approved selling him to traders of any nationality.

Now vs. 27-28 [Judah says] "Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him for his is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

One question, of course, is who is referred to by the bolded "they". JJM's interpretation says "they" are the Midianites who simply pulled him up. But it could just as well be Joseph's brothers. The antecedent is ambiguous in English and I don't know if the Hebrew would be clearer or not.

In any case, the next part of the verse clearly states that Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, who took him into Egypt. Now if it was the Midianites who pulled him from the pit, it was the Midianites who then turned around and sold him to the Ishmaelites. I don't know much about trading caravans, but I just don't see that happening. Furthermore, it looks as if there are two trading caravans in the same place at the same time. Not impossible, but rather improbable away from a city or oasis.

Nevertheless, whether it was Joseph's brothers or the Midianites who pulled him from the pit, it is clear this verse ends with Joseph in the hands of the Ishmaelites and on his way to Egypt.

Problem is, when we get to vs. 36 it says "Meanwhile the Midianites had sold [Joseph] in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharoah's officials, the captain of the guard."

So we still have a contradiction as to who took Joseph to Egypt and sold him there.

To me, the most sensible and parsimonious explanation is that there was only one caravan. Joseph's brothers (minus Reuben) took advantage of its arrival to sell him. Reuben was not in on the sale and only found out about it when he went to rescue Joseph and found the pit empty.

As the story was passed on from generation to generation, the identity of the traders was disputed. Some said it was Ishmaelites, others said it was Midianites.

Eventually the stories of the oral tradition were written down. Notably two versions were written while the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were divided after the reign of Solomon. The Judean version said Ishmaelites; the Israelite version said Midianites. Sometime between the fall of Israel to the Assyrians (722 BCE) and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (597 bCE), these two versions were combined into one, and the editor, not knowing which was accurate (and perhaps not wishing to offend anyone) chose to keep snippets of both versions including the dual identity of the traders.

And that's why we have the Ishmaelites and Midianites morphing back and forth in the text of Genesis today.
Nogodnomasters said:
Compare Gen. 1:1-2:4 and Gen.2.5ff

My personal research indicates 2:4 is the beginning of second creation and not the ending of the first. There are differences between the two creations, with the first creation story being younger than the second text. This is a good place to break out your Wellhausen.

According to Richard Friedman (Who Wrote the Bible?) you are both right. The split between the two accounts is in the middle of verse four, like this:

2:4a "These are the genertions of the heavens and the earth when they were created." (end of first account)

2:4b "In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, ... (beginning of second account).

Jews, such as Philo of Alexandria re-interpreted the sacred books of the Jews to fit the Greek view of religion. The concept of the Logos entered into the Old Testament. The OT was mistranslated in a few places- deliberately I might add from Hebrew to Greek to represent new ideas.

Deliberately? I don't doubt it. Was one of those deliberate alterations the fateful translation of "almah" (=young woman) in Isaiah 7:14 as "parthenos" (=virgin)?
barefootgal9 said:
Julien, I heartukt recommend to you the book "A Guide to Understanding the Bible" by Harry Emerson Fosdick -- I do hope it is still in print. I found this book extremely helpful, as it traces the course of concepts over TIME -- and shows how people's ideas of God, Man, Sin, etc., were gradually brought forward to more sophisticated levels of thinking via the successive teachings of the major and minor prophets of the Bible.

I think you will find an answer to this supposed contradiction when you realize that the Bible spans several thousand years of human development.


I think you'll find that discovering the Bible as a record of an unfolding historical process of God guiding humankind (starting with very barbaric by today's standards) towards a truer understanding of Him and our spiritual nature, such seeming contradictions as God wrathful vs God merciful will melt away in greater insights.

1 Corinthians 13

11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Oh, I am glad somebody said it. We fall too quickly and too easily into dualistic oppositions like harsh OT God vs. loving NT God.

In fact, all that the NT says about God's love is said in the OT too, and some of what the OT says about God's wrath and judgment is in the NT too---interestingly, most often in the words of Jesus himself.

The reality is much more complex than a sudden change from OT to NT. We need to remember the OT or Tanakh is itself a complex multi-leveled compilaton of texts written and collected over nearly a millennium and preserving oral traditions that go back another millennium or more. The Hebrew/Jewish people went through a lot of political and cultural upheaval during those years and that is reflected in differing theological views.

As refugees from Egypt and unsophisticated desert nomads invading the settled land of Canaan, YHWH was most important to them as their God of war---the LORD of hosts, who guaranteed them victory against their enemies. In times of peace, they often paid more attention to the local fertility gods who assured a good harvest. And they interpreted disasters, whether plague, locusts, famine, or defeat in war, as signs of divine anger for some fault they had committed.

Not until the reign of Solomon did they become truly established as a nation. But the monarchy brought a different social environment from the old tribal realities. Now the people were divided along class lines. The elite oppressed the poor, hounding them off their lands, using them as forced labour, selling them into slavery. It is these realities that give rise to the vision of God as a moral God who makes moral demands on the nation, as is articulated in the great social messages of Amos, Micah and 1st Isaiah. The wrath of God plays a big part in their message, but it is always a wrath directed against the wickedness of those in high places who abuse and oppress the weak and vulnerable. These prophets invented what is now called in Christian circles "God's preferential option for the poor." And Jesus' message is a direct continuation of the prophetical message. That is why Jesus is so rough on the Pharisees.

The Babylonian exile is another huge watershed. It was the crucible of the exile that finally and fully establishes monotheism among the Israelites. And it is from this time period one gets the beautiful messages of hope in deutero-Isaiah as well as his defence of monotheism. Pure monotheism also requires a change in one's vision of God. Especially if the one God is also seen to be a moral and righteous God. The problem of evil raises its head---together with the first appearance of Satan in the OT. It is in this time that the book of Job is written.

Wisdom literature is another development (indeed Job is part of the body of Jewish wisdom literature along with Proverbs and Ecclesiates). And beginning in the writings of Ezekiel and developing in the post-Exilic prophets and in the book of Daniel is the rich lineage of apocalyptic literature--so very well suited to the trials and tribulations of Judea's experience as a pawn between empires.

So it is really important in assessing OT texts to note which period of history they are from and how the writers of the time understood God's relation to Israel.

And another whole kettle of fish is how the biblical texts get interpreted differently in different time periods after they were written. But that's for another day.
I said:
Are you sure you got that right? IMO, taking responsibility for yourself and others is never easy.

Oh, I agree with barefoot girl or rather her boss. The right way IS the easy way when all is said and done. Though often it doesn't look easy at first. That is also the philosophy of Tao. When you truly follow the right way it turns out to be the easy way, because it is in accord with the nature of things. Fighting nature is always a losing battle.
barefootgal9 said:
In my own opinion, an "atheist" who is dedicated to living by the "Right Way" is much "nearer to God" than an avid religionist who, assuming for himself a priori forgiveness, does whatever he pleases and hurts many with his fire and brimstone condemnations of his fellow human beings -- including the reputation of God.

If those were the only two paths available, I'd no doubt still be an "atheist," too!

Indeed, BINGO! and Amen!

Also love your interpretation of the Flood.
I said:
In other words: works over faith. :)

No, quite the opposite in fact. There is nothing wrong with trying to live the right way or doing good works. In fact, if one is not doing such works it is a clear sign one is not on the right way.

But the motive is important.

The atheist who lives the right way can often be closer to God than a believer, precisely because her commitment to the right way is not based on belief in God or rewards for good works, whereas doing good works in order to gain brownie points with God is a constant temptation for a believer.

What the believer must strive for is to follow the right way in the same way the atheist does----simply because it is right and with no thought of reward. That is the sort of good work that is the fruit and evidence of a living faith, a saving faith.

But doing good works with an eye to gaining God's favour is an indication of bad motive and egotistic desires, not of faith. That is what Paul was condemning in the works-oriented keeping of the law by the Pharisees.
Ah, now that is an interesting perspective on the issue - not looked at it that way. :)
And that's why we have the Ishmaelites and Midianites morphing back and forth in the text of Genesis today.
nobody thinks to read rashi on verse 28, of course:

"This is a different caravan, and the verse lets you know that Joseph was sold many times." The sons of Jacob pulled 'Joseph from the pit,' and sold him to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites to the Midianites, and the Midianites sold him to Egypt."
i dare say it's even a bit simpler than coming up with a hypothesis of lots of different authors! occam, where's yer razor?

In my own opinion, an "atheist" who is dedicated to living by the "Right Way" is much "nearer to God" than an avid religionist
judaism agrees! that's why the noachide laws exist.


Really now--so many people have had their hands on the Bible it's very hard to believe there *wouldn't* be problems with the text (let alone interpretation). Everyone who already mentioned this has my vote: this does not at all lessen its value as a spiritual guide.

I know I don't really have much to add, here, but sometimes I can't help myself. :)

Other than that: I have assimilated so much information from so many differnt perspectives in this thread. I never dreamed there could be any place, virtual or otherwise, where people of different beliefs could come together and discuss their ideas, etc. without trying to rip each other apart. The only other place that came close was college.
Marsh said:
The issue: Does the Bible contradict itself?
I'm not one to impose rules on others, but for the purpose of this discussion I would like to propose that people post one of two kinds of responses: either a supported argument proving a contradiction, or a rebuttal of a stated argument.

The so-called Christian Bible cannot "do" anything because it is merely a collection of writings from two rather distinct religions. There are inconsistencies within the teachings of all religions and more importantly there are inconsistencies between the teachings of different religions.

The only reason for this is that the authors or redactors of those religious writings were in many cases not writing from practical experience. So religious writings always have contradictions but the theoretical account of the practical science of spirituality (how to transcend the I-feeling or I-consciousness) can have no contradictions.

I have found no contradictions within the original teachings of Jesus but plenty of inconsistencies between the words of the (many) different authors and redactors. These authors and redactors had quite a different agenda from that of Jesus and this explains the inconsistencies. I could illustrate this with one or two of the sayings of Jesus and show what the different redactors did to these sayings.
Marsh said:
The issue: Does the Bible contradict itself?
If Joseph is not Jesus' biological father, then how does Jesus possibly retain the lineage of Judah through him?

(It is not, so much, a case of the Bible contradicting itself but, rather, the Self contradicting the Bible.)
The bible is full Full FULL of contradictions. I'd say virtually every religious text is. But apologetics makes it impossible 'prove' such things. Under the right set of rules, I could prove the moon is made of green cheese.

The sad thing is, without the concept of inerrancy or divine influence, most religions would fall apart as philosophies or 'paths'. I won't name any names, though.
Mus Zibii said:
The sad thing is, without the concept of inerrancy or divine influence, most religions would fall apart as philosophies or 'paths'.

Something to look forward to..... :)
OMG - the moon is gorgonzola - as prophesised by the Atlanteans!
Karehndiujo Mohmid said:
Blue cheese.

It is made of blue cheese.

Infidel! :mad: :( Have you not read the Book of the Wisconsinites, where it is written 'thou shall say not that the moon hath been constructed by the almighty Theodore from blue cheese. Nay, hath it not been made clear that Ted favored green cheese, from the great three teated mammal of no name.' Woe unto the fool that...

Okay, that's not funny anymore.
Try proving that any religion isn't full of contradictions ... As for the Bible, if you think it isn't, why are there so many different variations of the Christian faith, reading from the same book? Does one actually NEED a definitive text? What is more important, is what the text contains, and even more importantly, being able to differenciate between what is, and what is not important. As for me, I believe God exists, but due to the way religions have been twisted by their followers, as a way of justify battling with another religion, I am not willing to back any specific faith until they are all willing to agree to disagree, not disparage and poach each others followers.