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The Philosophy of Christianity! April 19, 2005

Posted by roopster in Bible, Christianity, church, faith, God, Jesus, Religion, spirituality, Theology.
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I grew up with the teaching that the Bible contains no contradictions. I remember picking up a book once that explained the alleged contradictions in the Bible and was surprise by its size. I was also disappointed by the number of hoops that the authors went through to discount these alleged contradictions.

I want to share one example that I discovered when reading a series of my favorite passages of scriptures.

Mark 12:28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Matthew 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Luke 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

In Mark’s account (Mark is believed to be the oldest gospel), the teacher of the law seems to be a seeker of truth. In Matthew and Luke’s account, he is combative. Luke’s account is also a variant of the other two.

One explanation is, of course, that these are different incidents. However, they do, on the surface, appear to be different views of the same story. It is also interesting to note that Matthew and Luke’s bias against the Pharisees (see this previous post for my thoughts on this issue) seem to come through.

The reality is there are contradictions like this throughout the Bible. As I mentioned before, a casual reading of Genesis 1 and 2 will give you two different creation timelines that cannot be easily reconciled. This leads one to believe that they were accounts written by 2 different authors that were later compiled into the book of Genesis.

I believe that as Christians, we sometimes focus on minors and forget the majors. To me the important thing is to grasp the concept being communicated in the above quoted verses instead of trying to write papers on how they do not contradict because we do not want to have to declare the Bible as being flawed.

My personal belief is that outside of all the dogma of Christianity, lies a philosophy of how we should live our lives that if we follow, leads us to a life of peace, contentment and living in harmony with our environment.

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Comments»

1. Zacchaeus - April 29, 2005

Roop,

Nice to have found you – thanks to M-I-T’s site.

We definitely itch in the same place(s)

Cheers,

Zac.

2. Roopster - April 29, 2005

Zac,

You have a great blog. I added you to my list of blogs (shortened your name.. hope you don’t mind).

Paul

3. Monk-in-Training - April 30, 2005

Roopster,You want a bang up contradiction?The two Genealogies of Jesus, both say they are of the Christ, however both are different. Oh, one is of Mary and one is of Joseph! (of course the text does not say that anywhere) However one has the Messiah descending through a cursed king (Coniah) so that is a failed lineage, the other has the Messiah descending from an incorrect son of David. Sigh, what a mess! ;)As I said in another post on this blog; Modern textual criticism has provided us with the knowledge that, though minor differences are in the record, the main witness to the Word of God, Jesus is clear enough to speak to our hearts and save our souls

Perhaps we should look past the book and see the Word, the Son, and do as He did.

4. Roopster - April 30, 2005

M.I.T.,This was such a difficult transition for me to make. Freedom from this line of thinking has been great. I am now not consumed with obvious contradictions and errors, and I believe I’m now beginning to understand a few of the basic concepts of Christianity.Paul

5. HeIsSailing - April 20, 2007

Roopster sez:
” believe that as Christians, we sometimes focus on minors and forget the majors. To me the important thing is to grasp the concept being communicated in the above quoted verses instead of trying to write papers on how they do not contradict because we do not want to have to declare the Bible as being flawed.”

I have put many examples of egregious contradictions on my site, and this is the standard response. This may be true, but at some point you really have to draw the line, don’t you think? The stories you put here are acceptable to me. The Resurrection Stories of Jesus however are beyond the pale and cannot be harmonized, in my lowly opinion. But that line is not at all objective.

6. roopster - April 20, 2007

HIS,

Are we in disagreement here? I believe I was saying that we do not need to spend wasted energies writing apologetics on why these verses DO NOT contradict when in reality they do. We should just simply accept the Bible as flawed and try to understand the intent of the scripture and move on.

Is that what you interpreted my statement to read?

Paul

p.s. I say “I believe I was saying….” because recently I’ve been actually re-blogging blogs I wrote back in 2005.

7. Jason - April 20, 2007

I’ve been in so many conversations today about the Bible. I can’t do anymore.

One more thing: I don’t think I can argue anymore with those who don’t believe the Bible is the inspired word. I think I’ll reserve my arguments for those who believe that to be the case, but who don’t read it and interpret wholistically (not harmonizing, but dealing with the contradictions and figuring out what even the contradictions say about the God.

Does anyone think that the church fathers who compiled all of this stuff together were so ignorant that they didn’t realize the contradictions? And if they were so horrified by the contradictions why didn’t they just compile it all together in a harmonized account? The fact that they did not means that the contradictions have something to teach us and it probably has very little to do with science or history!

8. roopster - April 25, 2007

Jason,

I’ve been in so many conversations today about the Bible. I can’t do anymore.

Hang in there. The Bible is a big book (don’t let those micro-thin pages fool you) and it requires a lot of defending.

Paul

9. amandalaine - April 27, 2007

“obvious contradictions and errors” ?

I am not a Bible scholar but I would be interested in seeing a few posted. Any examples (specifically)?

Thanks.

10. amandalaine - April 27, 2007

So I just read Genesis 1 and 2. What’s the big contradiction?

11. Jason - April 27, 2007

Genesis 1 and 2 tell two different stories of the creation. If you look, you will notice that there is a significant break around chapter 2, verse 4.

There are many who would argue that these contradictions somehow make the Bible illegitimate. One must wonder, however, why those who originally compiled the book of Genesis included both stories in the text. One would think that – even though they were ancients – that they would have removed one of the stories in favor of the other. But they did not do this. Obviously, there were principles in both stories that they assumed were incredibly important to the life of faith and Hebrew theology. Thus, they included both stories. Those of us who are Jews or Christians can learn much about the multi-faceted nature of God by studying both stories in tandem and asking what qualities both stories teach us about the character and person of God.

Some the contradictions as problematic. I see them as one of the beauties of scripture.

Eugene Peterson in his excellent book “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” discusses the two accounts and pulls out some of the more salient points that are to be taken from these supposedly contradictory texts.

12. amandalaine - April 28, 2007

Thanks Jason. I checked out that passage and still don’t see it. Could you clarify?

Thanks again.

13. roopster - April 29, 2007

amanda,

It has more to do with the order of creation. Write it out and you’ll see. Here’s a link to a Christian apologetics site that attempts to explain the discrepancies:

http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2194

Paul

14. amandalaine - April 29, 2007

Thanks Paul,

That was helpful. I have to say I don’t see a contradiction so I must be missing something. I read the link and also the passages a couple times (and I did write it out as you suggested).

Anyway, you should post about contradictions (if you haven’t already). That would be interesting. From my perspective, contradictions are a big deal (although I know you think they’re ok).

15. roopster - April 30, 2007

Amanda,

Are you sure you want to explore that rabbit hole? Once you start, there’s no turning back. 🙂

Let’s start with a few from the Gospels. We can expand to more philosophical ones later as those are the issues that really trouble me.

1) Read Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Why are they differences in the genealogies of Jesus?

2) Read Matthew 8:5-8 and Luke 7:1-7. Did the Centurion ask Jesus directly to help his servant?

3) Read Matthew 9:18, Mark 5:22-23 and Luke 8:41-42. Was Jairus ‘ daughter alive when Jesus approached?

4) Take The Resurrection Challenge

Paul

16. amandalaine - May 1, 2007

Thanks.

I believe those are genealogies from the two different sides (Joseph and Mary) so they better be different.

Your second example – I agree with you – it doesn’t line up.

Your last example seems fine to me – meaning I don’t see a contradiction. In the Mark passage you just have to read a little bit farther (vs 35) then it lines up.

I’ll check out the resurrection challenge later.

Thanks!

17. roopster - May 1, 2007

Amanda,

Your second example – I agree with you – it doesn’t line up.

We finally found one 🙂 Now what does this mean? You stated above:

From my perspective, contradictions are a big deal (although I know you think they’re ok).

Paul

18. amandalaine - May 1, 2007

Still thinking. 🙂

Is that your only one?

19. Jason - May 1, 2007

Roop and Amandalaine,

Don’t have a lot of time. I’m between a morning of work and an evening of meetings, but some quick thoughts . . .

-What is more interesting about the genealogies than their differences are some of the “racier” and non-Jewish women who show up (Rahab and Ruth, for example).
-Who cares if the centurion asked for the servant to be healed? We have here two religious literary works with a discrepancy in detail. The discrepancy is only important to the extent that it might show us something unique about the nature and character of God or something unique about his relationship with us.
-Same goes with Jairius’ daughter. If one is holding up a traditional standard of “truth” and ruling out passages because they are contradictory, then, yes, you have problems. BUT if the Bible reveals a truth that is more “truth” than historical accuracy, then the contradictions do not become weapons that fight against faith. The contradictions can become the very tools that drive us more deeply into our knowledge and relationship with Jesus.

Roop, so far you have looked at differences between the synoptics, but the differences between the synoptics and John are glaring. Do these contradictions (which are really big ones) prove that the Bible is not accurate OR do they make the Bible a book that is even more alive and instructive for those who are following in the ways of Jesus. I have found the contradictions to endlessly feed and nurture me in new and deeper ways as a follower of Jesus as opposed to destroying the Bible’s worth and value as the book of my faith.

20. Roopster - May 1, 2007

Jason,

I tend to agree with you. Amanda is approaching the Bible as a book free of contradictions and stated that they are a big deal to her. My goal was simply to find one that we could agree was a contradiction then go from there.

Amanda,

There are more contradictions in the Bible that you would care to count. If you read the books addressing these “alleged” contradictions, they are as big as the Bible itself and they do jump through many many hoops to prove there are no contradictions. In some cases, the contradictions can be negated but in others – not really.

However, I believe our discussion started with the premise that contradictions were no big deal to me but were to you. As I stated above, I was just trying to come up with one small one that we can agree is a contradiction then see what that means. Whether it’s one or a thousand, it really doesn’t matter if we’re addressing inerrancy of scripture. It’s either totally inerrant or it’s not. There’s really no middle ground (as I see it).

The question you have to ask yourself once you go down this rabbit hole is does it negate your faith or does it, like with Jason above, nurture you to a “new and deeper ways as a follower of Jesus.”

Paul

21. amandalaine - May 2, 2007

Wanted to get back to you. Cool discussion.

I am busy the next several days but will return… later. So, I’m not jumping ship, I’m just way too busy the next several days. 🙂

Thanks!

22. amandalaine - May 4, 2007

All right. I’m back. Paul, you practically issued a challenge to me. However, it’s one that matters so I wanted to take my time on it. Also, I wasn’t going to make up my mind based on only one perspective; I was talking to other people. And, last, I really was busy the last several days; I unfortunately didn’t have time to blog.

Ok, if a contradiction appears, no matter how small, does that mean the Scripture ceases to be inerrant? This depends on your definition of inerrancy. And that’s mostly what I was thinking through. The proponents of inerrancy couldn’t possibly be unaware of the difference in the two retellings of the centurion story. While I haven’t had the time to research inerrancy, I feel that that’s a correct conclusion. (Later, I hope to research inerrancy.) You, Paul, and others, feel comfortable ditching the idea of inerrancy. I’m not there yet. I want to check out the other side(s) more carefully. It doesn’t make sense to make big decisions quickly. That, and this book has been around for 2000 years – these difficulties aren’t new.

Another issue is that we never defined terms. Inerrancy should have been defined (which may have removed our above conversation) and same with “contradiction” and “inspiration”. (We didn’t address inspiration but I feel that plays a major role in this discussion.) However, your original post wasn’t on these topics – I was the one who took us down the rabbit trail – so perhaps that’s why we haven’t done that yet.

Since 3 of your 4 examples, Paul, didn’t stand up to a basic test, I have to ask: why did you present them? Were you unaware that they weren’t contradictions?

The resurrection challenge – I’ve read that over. Again, many of their “contradictions” aren’t contradictions. A few may be. I have yet to look over it fully. I noticed they didn’t have a place to respond; I wish they did.

Jesus’ lineage – I’ve always heard that it’s a good thing those non-Jews, etc, were in the list. How is this a problem?

I do have a final thought: if the Bible is errant (in whatever way you want to define that), why do you believe it? As you read this “errant” book, how do you know what to believe?

Here’s one response I received on the centurion story discrepancy.

—–

I would say that it looks like Luke was more interested in giving all the details of how this exchange took place. Where Matthew summarizes the interaction (collapsing the two conversations into one and simply stating that the centurion asked Jesus), Luke gives the detail that the centurion actually spoke by way of representatives (perfectly acceptable in a collectivist society) and that two different conversations took place–one that got Jesus heading toward the centurion’s home and another that convinced him to heal the servant without going to the home. It’s interesting to realize, too, that Luke is largely believed to have been written for a Gentile audience, and he clarifies that this Gentile respected the Gentile/Jew distinction by sending Jewish men to speak to Jesus on his behalf.

But all this is to say, I don’t think we need to be troubled by these differences in Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts. They are clearly presenting the same story, just emphasizing different features for their respective audiences. And it’s really important to keep in mind just how normal it was/is in a collectivist society for people to negotiate by means of a go-between. The representative speaking on behalf of someone is thought to take on that person’s role in the conversation. So with that it mind, looking at this from a first century Palestinian perspective, these subtle differences are not problematic.

—–

The above seems like a pretty logical and fair view to me. If a person is looking for a contradiction in the Bible, they certainly could use the centurion story accounts. Strictly speaking, it is a contradiction. However, on the other side, the above response seems entirely plausible. For me, therefore, these passages are not in contradiction.

Bottom line? You’ve brought up great points (obviously new to my mind). Many new thoughts for me! Contradictions are still a big deal for me. (But that term does need to be defined.) I have yet to find any in the Scriptures (but, as I have implied and stated, I have done no search – until recently – for contradictions in the Scripture). I hope to research the matter further.

🙂 That was pretty long.

23. roopster - May 4, 2007

Amanda,

I picked the ones I did because I’m currently reading Matthew for another project. Here’s the contradiction in the genealogies as pointed out by Thinking Ape of Holy Bananas Blog:

Might be worth pointing out a frivolous Biblical contradiction here:

“And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”- Matthew 1:16

“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” – Luke 3:23

Who was Jesus’ grandpa: Jacob or Heli?

How do you reconcile these 2 verses?

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 6:1 1″Be careful not to do your good deeds before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6), Jesus told us to pray this…

“Our Father…… LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATOIN”…

Yet James 1:13 states “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”

For everyone of these I quote, there’s a plausible explanation as I mentioned above. There are volumes of study addressing these issues.

However, as I mentioned before, my issues with the Bible are not these little contradictions, it’s the bigger philosophical ones beginning with this one I struggle with the most:

Is God a loving, compassionate, merciful, Father in heaven who cares infinitely about us or is he, as Dawkins put it, a “Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Paul

24. Heather - May 4, 2007

Amanda,

**The resurrection challenge – I’ve read that over. Again, many of their “contradictions” aren’t contradictions. A few may be** Actually, that’s not the Resurrection challenge. The challenge is to take the Gospels and the Corinthian verse and arrange everything in chronological order without omitting any details. The examples they listed were to show the different details available in each section.

**That, and this book has been around for 2000 years – these difficulties aren’t new. ** This is true. I believe Martin Luther wanted to remove the book of James, Revelation, and possibly Hebrews. I believe St. Augustine said that we couldn’t take the Genesis creation stories literally, so they had to become symbolic.

**I do have a final thought: if the Bible is errant (in whatever way you want to define that), why do you believe it? As you read this “errant” book, how do you know what to believe? ** I’ll answer this, as I don’t consider it to be inerrent. I consider it to be inspired, based on the cultural of that time, with much of it having an overarching, universal approach. (One such example of culture is Paul advising people to only get married if they couldn’t control themselves. Otherwise, it was best to abstain to be prepared for the Second Coming. This makes sense, given that Jesus’s followers expecting him back within their lifetimes. We can’t read it in such a way now). But the Genesis stories make me see it as inspired based on the culture, not as literal truth. There’s the fact that hell was literally below the earth, and heaven literally above — that can’t be take as ‘true.’ Same with Exodus, given that I don’t believe there’s been evidence for the Hebrews leaving Egypt, or all the plagues hitting Egypt.

I believe it because I’ve had experiences with God in my life. As has my family. There are elements that need to be downgraded, such as Paul’s marriage example. Or advice to the slaves, or women. But I also look at how the early churches knew what to believe, and for the first porition, it was based on personal experience with God. They didn’t have a Bible. It’s possible that the Gentile churches didn’t even have the Old Testament, though I don’t know about that.

25. amandalaine - May 7, 2007

Thanks for both of your responses.

Paul, a book I’m reading which I think you would really enjoy/appreciate, is The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. I highly recommend it. It touches on a lot of things you’ve brought up on your blog. I’m only half way through it. Again, I highly, highly recommend it. (It’s not an end all to questions, but it addresses some of the big ones – like the one you just raised – pretty well.)

Hell is literally below the earth and heaven above? I don’t remember that being in the Bible.

26. amandalaine - May 7, 2007

“For everyone of these I quote, there’s a plausible explanation.”

If there’s a plausible explanation, they’re not contradictions. So why do you act like they are contradictions?

I’ll drop the topic. I just kept thinking about it…. obviously. 🙂

27. Heather - May 7, 2007

Amanda,

**Hell is literally below the earth and heaven above? I don’t remember that being in the Bible.** That’s how the ancient cultures viewed the cosmos. It’s seen quite heavily in the Old Testament, with it’s use of ‘Sheol’ (which meant pit, grave, underworld. If you already know this, I apologize. I’m not trying to be condescending, it’s just easier to avoid misccomunication if I information bombard). The understanding at that time was that ‘Sheol’ was right below them, and that God lived above the firmament. (This is seen in verses that speak of God coming down from heaven, such as Genesis 11:5 or Elijah being lifted up to heaven). The ascenscion of Jesus is written from the belief that he was going right up to heaven — and a cloud hid them from view. The Phillipians verses 2: 10-11 says that all things beneath the earth will also bow.

Until the nature of the galaxy was known, the understanding was that the God of the heavens and the angels were up above us in the sky. And that is the viewpoint that the Biblical writers promoted. We could argue that today they must be taken metaphorically, but that is not how the writers intended them to be written, nor is that how they would’ve understood the verses.

28. roopster - May 7, 2007

Amanda,

Depends on your definition of “plausible” 🙂 How many hoops are you comfortable jumping through to prove the non-contradiction? I have my limits.

Great book… I referenced it in this thread:

https://seekism.wordpress.com/2005/03/23/hell-are-you-kidding-me/

Paul

29. carlton figg - November 3, 2007

Was the Bible inspired by God, as the Church will have us believe ? In that case, how does one explain the contradictions in the Book ? Does God contradict himself ? It does nobody any good to pretend to analyse or justify the contradictions, or to gloss over them,as is being done here. We can very easily shrug and say that such contradictions have been subjected to hundreds of researches — and who are we to ask questions ? But the simple and ugly truth is that there are glaring contradictions in the Bible which thousands and thousands of befuddled Christians cannot explain to their non-Christian friends. Mathew contradicts himself, as you can verify in Mathew 6:11 against Mathew 5:16. And, as pointed out earlier,
Mathew and Luke contradict each other as to the antecedents of Jesus Christ. Mathew (1:16) states that Jacob was the grandfather of Jesus. But Luke (3:23) says that Jesus’ grandfather was Heli. Remember, we are instructed to spread the Word — but how do we do that if the Bible itself is so obviously flawed ? This is not the fourth or fifth century, when people were mostly unread and heavily dependent on interpretations provided to them by the clergy. We are living in an enlightened age — an age in which people can themselves read the Good Book and point out the flaws and contradictions. Frankly, I don’t have an answer to this huge problem except to say that the wool has been pulled over our eyes long enough. And yes, I continue to believe in Jesus Christ — but as He himself said, let us have the truth so that the truth can set us free ! Let’s not make up stories as we go along until, in a later age, the stories that we tell today will sound as incredible as the stories they told us yesterday.


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