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Contradiction Tuesday Pre-Launch

Tomorrow begins Contradiction Tuesday, a new feature on Josiah Concept Ministries that will spotlight alleged biblical contradictions and make some sense out of them.

The list I’m starting with comes to us from Jim Merrit of the Secular Web.  He lists over 60 alleged contradictions, which will keep me busy for over a year (given this is a weekly feature).

Jim has taken the most common replies to these perceived contradictions and did a preemptive strike, explaining why these responses fail.  So I’m doing a pre-preemptive strike to explain three things:

  1. Merrit doesn’t get the Bible at all
  2. Merrit is as stuck in his worldview as he accuses us of being, but is worse off because he doesn’t realize he is stuck in his worldview
  3. These only suffice as starters if the thought processes are developed a bit more

With that, let’s begin:

1. “That is to be taken metaphorically.”

In other words, what is written is not what is meant. I find this entertaining, especially for those who decide what ISN’T to be taken as other than the absolute WORD OF GOD–which just happens to agree with the particular thing they happen to want…

This reveals how black-and-white Merrit’s own thinking is.

If I say “Jim Merrit is dumber than a box of rocks,” then I must mean that a qualified psychologist administered an IQ test to a box filled with a statistically relevant sample of rocks from the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic classes of rocks, which scored higher on average than a similar IQ test administered to Mr. Merrit.

Or did that convey something entirely different?

Yeah, it conveyed something entirely different.  The Bible is no different than any other piece of literature — it contains similes, metaphors, poetic imagery, and numerous other literary devices.  The only reason that atheists force a black-and-white-no-literary-devices-allowed reading on the Bible is because that allows them to stretch the Bible to ridiculous proportions and then make fun of it.

Not allowing me to point out a metaphor is reductio ad absurdium.  There are metaphors in the Bible and you can determine them quite easily.  The key is context.

2. “There was more there than….”

This is used when one verse says “there was a” and another says “there was b,” so they decide there was “a” AND “b”–which is said nowhere. This makes them happy, since it doesn’t say there WASN’T “a+b.” But it doesn’t say there was “a+b+little green martians.” This is often the same crowd that insists theirs is the ONLY possible interpretation (i.e., only “a”) and the only way. I find it entertaining they they don’t mind adding to verses.

Several problems with this.

First, it is not considered a contradiction when one historical account says “There were 5 turkeys in the yard when Gilbert walked in, trying to select the right one for tonight’s dinner” while another says, “Two turkeys looked forlorn as Gilbert entered the yard; they knew it was Thanksgiving and one of them was going to get it.”

In any other case other except the Bible, people would harmonize that statement.  Two turkeys look forlorn; perhaps there were other turkeys but they didn’t look forlorn and that’s why the first source reported five turkeys while the second reports two.  This is not adding to the accounts; it is trying to figure out how they might be harmonized rather than automatically chalking it up to a total error.

Another, related observation: Who cares how many turkeys?  The point is that Gilbert is about to have Thanksgiving dinner and he’s going to kill the turkey himself!  The number of turkeys is incidental to the story, as are the numbers usually shown in biblical contradictions.

Second, it might be reasonable to assume a different way of reckoning quantities, especially since the Bible was written over such a vast period of time and occasionally by entirely different cultures (Israel under the judges was different than the United Kingdom, which was different than the Divided Kingdom, which was different than both the remnant preserved in Judah following the Exile and the intermixed Samaritans, all of which were different than the Hellenistic Jews that wrote about Jesus and none of those cultures exist today for us to ask about why some details seem to differ!).

Third, Middle Easterners on the whole are high-context folks.  They didn’t continually repeat details that were intrinsic to their culture the way our writings often do.

For example, when I write a series, parts 2 through the end always begin by reviewing and summarizing the part(s) that came before it.

In a related case, news stories are written in “inverted pyramid” style, with the least important details last.  In a developing news story, the final details at the bottom of the article often summarize the previous few days to reacquaint the reader with the story.

They didn’t ordinarily do either in the Bible.  They assumed the reader knew all of that stuff.  We would not, so “adding” to verses might be necessary in some instances if it can be reasonably argued that it’s necessary for our modern minds to comprehend something left unwritten based on writer and audience.

3. “It has to be understood in context.”

I find this amusing because it comes from the same crowd that likes to push likewise extracted verses that support their particular view. Often it is just one of the verses in the contradictory set which is supposed to be taken as THE TRUTH when, if you add more to it, it suddenly becomes “out of context.” How many of you have gotten JUST John 3:16 (taken out of all context) thrown at you?

Merrit’s defense seems to be that two wrongs make a right.  He is welcome to ignore context to make his point because Christians do it all the time to make theirs.

Well, no, sorry.  That doesn’t fly.  No one is allowed to take verses out of context.  I get just as mad at Christians when they do it.

This “two wrongs are right” defense means Merrit knows he has taken verses out of context, that “Read that verse in context” is a reasonable defense, and ultimately he doesn’t care that he’s being dishonest as long as he can make his point.

That’s deplorable.  Absolutely deplorable.

4. “There was just a copying/writing error.”

This is sometimes called a “transcription error,” as in where one number was meant and an incorrect one was copied down. Or what was “quoted” wasn’t really what was said, but just what the author thought was said. And that’s right–I’m not disagreeing with events, I’m disagreeing with what is WRITTEN. Which is apparently agreed that it is incorrect. This is an amusing misdirection to the problem that the Bible itself is wrong.

No one asserts that what we have of the Bible is inspired and inerrant — only that the autographs (the original copies) are.  So, when we say that a copyist error exists, and we can legitimately argue it, then there is no problem.

We admit that what we have of the Bible is sometimes wrong.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we know exactly which parts are wrong and why, and can usually track down the correct readings through other MSS or secondary sources.

5. “That is a miracle.”

Naturally. That is why it is stated as fact.

The problem here is worldview.  When Merrit spotlights a miracle as an error or a contradiction, he is really implicitly endorsing metaphysical naturalism and expecting us to do the same.

This is no defense.  Merrit is baldly asserting that his worldview is correct, ours it wrong, and he expects agreement.  He gets none from me.

6. “God works in mysterious ways.”

A useful dodge when the speaker doesn’t understand the conflict between what the Bible SAYS and what they WISH it said.

The stupidest and least cogent reply to any of these alleged contradictions.  You won’t read that from me.

Tomorrow, we will detail the first of Merrit’s alleged contradictions.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on December 5, 2011, in Apologetics, Bible Thoughts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. “The Bible is no different than any other piece of literature …”

    Ouch.

    If I were to make the point you were aiming for, I would have phrased it in this way: “Like other pieces of literature, the Bible contains similes, metaphors, poetic imagery, and numerous other literary devices.”

    Because the Bible is very different from any other piece of literature: it is the Word of God.

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