Contradictions Within The Bible

Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.03.29

This is the original version of this page. To see the updated version, click here.

This page is a subsidiary of my What About The Bible? page, which discusses some of the problems I found in the Bible during my years as a fundamental, Bible-believing literalist. The subject of contradictions grew too long and thus warranted its own page.

Because I grew up convinced that the Bible was literally true and inerrant, some of its built-in problems eventually caused me to doubt its veracity. One category of problems is contradictions. There are many passages in the Bible that seem to contradict one another. Some of them aren’t really contradictions, as we shall see, but others actually are.

Please keep in mind that I was not sifting through the book looking for contradictions. I was studying to be a minister, reading the Bible daily for my own education, and these kept popping out at me.

OT God Versus NT God

One of the first contradictions that became apparent was how God’s personality had changed from the ancient Hebrew text to the relatively new and enlightened Greek writings of the New Testament authors. One God was angry and fitful, undependable, merciless, hard-nosed. He kept changing his mind, and was susceptible to persuasion. He seemed more interested in the odor of burnt animals than in the behavior or motivation of his people. He encouraged the wandering tribes of Israel to commit genocide on several occasions, instead of having them teach other nations about the one true God. But in the New Testament, He’s apparently had a change of heart for the better. Now He is merciful (though the cruelty still shows through), wise, forgiving, loving.

Just to pull two passages at random (though they are representative), let’s look first at Genesis 6:5-8 and 8:20-21, and then I John 4:7-21:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created — and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground — for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord... [After the Great Flood:] Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.’ ”
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (emphasis mine)
In the first passage, God changed his mind three times: once to regret that He’d ever created humanity and therefore should destroy it (Gen. 6:6), then again to allow Noah and his family to survive, and thirdly to regret having ever destroyed it and promising never to do it again — this last apparently brought on by the smell of animals set afire (Gen. 8:21). If I had read this in ancient times, it might not have seemed so strange, but I was in Oklahoma City in the 1980s, where burnt sacrifices were not common and God was not supposed to change his mind.

In the second passage, “there is no fear in love” because “fear has to do with punishment” — which seems exactly like what the OT God wanted. He wanted us to fear punishment, in fact commanded us to fear punishment. As I grew older, this dichotomy reminded me of parents who were overly strict and corporal with their first child, but then loosened up with the second child, leaning more on positive incentives and encouragement than on spankings or other physical discipline.

For a time, I accepted (and propagated) these explanations.
Don’t think that Christians haven’t noticed this. They have. Theologians and apologists long ago came up with a variety of explanations. One school of thought points to the various expressions of God’s “love” in the OT as well as descriptions of his wrath in the NT. “They’re not that different”, they’ll say. For a time, I accepted (and propagated) these explanations.

One thing no Christian will deny is that the rules changed from the OT to the NT. For example, we no longer have to offer burnt sacrifices — presumably because Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. And we no longer kill sinners by throwing stones at them. Where there’s great disagreement is on which Old Testament laws were dismissed by the New Testament. So, how do you decide which OT rules are still in force and which ones aren’t? For every preacher or theologian with an answer, you can find one with a different answer.

For example, some will insist the NT didn’t supercede the OT. They’ll quote Jesus as saying he hadn’t come to abolish the Law or Prophets, but to fulfill them. Others, however, will insist that Jesus’ death on the cross did away with the OT, and they’ll quote Colossians 2:13-14, especially in certain versions, which says Jesus “wiped out the written Law with its rules” (NIRV), and “The Law was against us. It opposed us. He took it away and nailed it to the cross.”

Wouldnít it have been easier to just spell out in the New Testament which OT laws were going to remain in force?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to just spell out in the New Testament which OT laws were going to remain in force? The Old Testament listed all the laws at least twice, repeating itself quite a bit. Surely there was enough room in the NT to scribble a few sentences: “No more burnt offerings, because Christ died for your sins. No more violent punishments for sins; just forgive people and move on. All those laws about cooking, hair-cutting, garment-making, not gathering wood on the Sabbath, etc.? Those are done. Basically, be nice to people.” And list a few specifics.

One other interesting tidbit, which I didn’t realize until later, is that the Old Testament is almost entirely silent on the subject of Heaven (Daniel 12:1-3 being a major exception). Those who followed the Lord in those days expected to go to Sheol, somewhere in the belly of the Earth. Cobbling together a bunch of scriptures, it looks like Sheol (Hades, the Grave, etc.) was divided into compartments, one for sinners and one for the righteous. It wasn’t until much later that the concept of Heaven arose. Modern Christianity gets its depiction of Heaven mostly from the last couple of chapters of Revelation.

I learned to accept this apparent dissonance between the two testaments, just as I accepted other teachings that later made little sense to me. But as I later read passages from other religious writings — from outside Christianity, I discovered something startling: the Old Testament sounded just like other religions’ writings from the same time period, while the New Testament was written in language just like others of its time, and framed with different ideas than the old.

The God of the Old Testament seemed just like the ancient gods of other nearby cultures, demanding burnt offerings, going to war against neighborhing tribes, often acting capriciously and often unexplainable. The God of the New Testament resembled more modern thought, perhaps borrowed from the Greeks and Romans.

It seemed less and less like the completely whole book I’d been taught, and more like two collections of writings. Even within each testament, there were differences in not only style, but also in ways of thinking. If one unchanging God inspired every word, then why did it feel like several dozen men wrote it in vastly different time periods and circumstances and with varying beliefs?

God Is Seen/Heard/Felt Or Invisible Spirit?

The Bible is full of passages where people saw the Lord, touched him, heard him. Yet in other places, he cannot be seen, touched, or heard.

A few examples of the former: In Exodus 33, Moses demanded of God: “Now show me your glory.” God explained that no one could see his face and live, but allowed Moses to see his back (Exodus 33:20-23). Just a few verses earlier in the same chapter: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Nine chapters before that (Ex. 24:9-11), seventy-four people, including Moses, “saw the God of Israel” and even described the “pavement” that was “under his feet”.

In Gen. 3:8-10, Adam and Eve heard God “as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” Later in Genesis (32:24-32), Jacob physically wrestled with “a man” who later admitted he was God. (Notably, “the man” was unable to beat Jacob in actual wrestling, and instead cheated by using his godlike powers to injure Jacob’s hip.) In that instance, Jacob said he “saw God face to face”.

But John 1:18 is very adamant that “No one has ever seen God”, and I Timothy 6:16 agrees “no one has seen or can see” God. God is also “invisible” (I Tim. 1:17).

These are outright contradictions.
These are outright contradictions and demonstrate how the idea of god had changed. God used to be something like a super-powerful, super-longlived human, who sometimes walked around like a person, talking and wrestling with folks, but later he was understood to be a completely different kind of being — something more philosophical, ethereal, spiritual.

The best explanation I ever heard for this is still pretty poor, and is based on the assumption that the Bible cannot be wrong: Since the Bible cannot be wrong, and it says no one has ever seen God and anyone who looks upon him will die, then no one has ever seen god and anyone who looks upon him will die. Period. Therefore, any time it says someone saw God, they were actually seeing a very toned-down version of a physical manifestation. In other words, they didn’t really see God.

This is weak tea, and they know it, because the Bible actually says these people saw God, but the audience for this explanation is primarily people who already believe.

God Grows Weary?

Isaiah 40:28 assures the reader that “the Lord is the everlasting God... He will not grow tired or weary...” But we all know the story of Creation, where God rested “from all his work” and “from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen. 2:2-3). The Bible goes further (Ex. 31:17) and says that God was “refreshed” by his rest.

The only explanation I’ve seen is that the original Hebrew word for “rest” can also mean “to cease or stop”. So, apologists will say, God really didn’t rest; he just stopped. This, however, does not explain how he was “refreshed” by the rest.

It also brings up the question of various English translations of the Bible, almost all of which say “rested” instead of “ceased” (I found only three translations that chose the supposedly better word in Gen. 2:2-3). Who knows Hebrew better, us or the folks who translated the Bible into English? Also, didn’t God know ahead of time that few readers of the Bible would be reading it in the original manuscripts?

God Satisfied With His Works?

Genesis 1:31 depicts a God satisfied “with all that he had made”, but 6:6 says he “regretted” making humans and thus decided to kill all of them, and every plant and animal as well.

For us humans, it would not be contradiction. I can be satisfied today when I complete a project, and then regret it later, when I realize what I did wrong. But for an almighty God who knows the future, it is indeed a contradiction. To date, I have never seen a good explanation around this.

The explanation most often given is that God is reacting to human sinfulness: he gave us free will, and is saddened any time we use that free will to sin. Many seem to accept this, despite the answer itself raising more questions than it answers. God himself created the capacity and desire to sin, but is sad when people do it? God foreknew that humans would become exceedingly wicked within a few generations, but didn’t intervene until the only solution he could think of was to drown everyone? God was satisfied with all that he had made, despite knowing it would all fall apart very soon (exceedingly soon for a being who is eternal)?

And even if the “explanation” didn’t raise these other questions, it still doesn’t explain how God could be satisfied with all of creation and then later regret it, if he exists eternally and knows all things.

God Is Omnipresent & Omniscient?

Christian doctrine is pretty solid on this point: God knows everything, from the beginning of time until the end of time, and has always known it. And he is everywhere, at all times. There are countless scriptures to bear this out, including Proverbs 15:3 (“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”), Psalm 139:7-10 (describes how God is everywhere, in the heavens, in the depths, on the far side of the sea), and Job 34:21-22 (“His eyes are on the ways of mortals; he sees their every step. There is no deep shadow, no utter darkness, where evildoers can hide.”)

However, there are scriptures that indicate otherwise. In Gen. 3:8-9, Adam and Eve hid from God, and God asked where they were. Gen. 11:5 says God “came down to see” the city and tower that the people were building (Babel). In Gen. 18:20-21: “Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’”

The first one could be explained easily, that Adam and Eve only thought they were hiding from God; of course he knew where they were. The next one could simply be a figure of speech. But the last one is the Lord himself speaking, as if he has no idea what’s going on in Sodom and Gomorrah; just what he’s heard from complainants. “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me” is not indicative of someone who knows exactly what’s going on, someone who has forever known that this would happen.

There is no way to explain it away.

God Is All-Powerful?

The Bible regularly repeats the refrain that God is all-powerful. As a couple of examples, take Jeremiah 32:27 and Matthew 19:26. There are many other such passages.

However, there are also passages which indicate strongly (without inline explanation) that God is not all-powerful. As previously mentioned, Jacob once wrestled with “a man” that turned out to be God. During that wrestling match, “the man saw that he could not overpower him”, and only won by magically causing a permanent hip injury. Afterward, the man (God) told Jacob: “you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” I have only ever heard/read one explanation for this, which is that God must have chosen to not use his power. But this is not what the passage says. It says God could not — did not have the ability to — overpower Jacob. If it had meant he didn’t want to, it would have said would not or just flat-out “God was restraining himself” instead of giving the impression that God in human form was just a man.

Also relevant is the confusing story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. In Genesis 17, God promises Abraham: “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you...” This promise is apparently fulfilled in Joshua 21:43:
“So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
But, just a few chapters later, at the beginning of the book of Judges, it turns out that “all their enemies” had not been driven out. Some of the Canaanites were still in the land. The Lord continued to send the Israelites into battle against the various tribes who still lived in Canaan, including in the city of Jerusalem. Victory after victory ensued, but by verse 19, the military efforts began to fail, despite the Lord being “with” the army.
“The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.”
A few verses later, Israel’s army failed to drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem. They also failed to defeat the people of Beth Shan, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, or Megiddo, “because the Canaanites were determined to live in that land.” They did press them into slavery. The rest of the chapter lists further peoples and towns that Israel could not subjugate, despite the Lord being with them and despite the earlier assertion that all the enemies had already been driven out.

A little later in Judges (Ch. 3), it’s explained in hindsight that the Lord had left these nations in Canaan intentionally “to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands” and to “teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience”.

As a believer, these stories troubled me, both as examples of poor writing and as unexplained contradictions. How could it say God had given the Israelites all the land he had promised them during the lifetime of Joshua, but then after Joshua’s death they still didn’t have that land? And if God was fighting with the soldiers, how could they not defeat iron chariots or lose to people whose only defense was their determination? How could an almighty being wrestle with a man and only win by cheating?

God Knows The Hearts Of Men?

In addition to knowing of events, God is supposed to know our thoughts and feelings too. Acts 1:24 has disciples praying: “Lord, you know everyoneís heart.” Psalm 139:1-4 says: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me... you perceive my thoughts from afar... you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely.” I Chronicles 28:9 adds, “the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.” He’s the world’s best mind-reader.

Surely, if the Psalmist and Jesusí disciples were correct, God already knew whether Abraham feared him; there was no need to terrorize Isaac just to learn something he already knew.
Yet there are times when God clearly didn’t know. In Gen. 22:12, God says to Abraham, after ordering him to kill his son Isaac, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Surely, if the Psalmist and Jesus’ disciples were correct, God already knew whether Abraham feared him; there was no need to terrorize Isaac just to learn something he already knew. In Deut. 8:2, Moses told the Israelites: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” But God already knew all that, right? So why did he really lead them through the wilderness for forty years? For fun? A little later, in Deut. 13:3, Moses almost repeats himself: “The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

One attempt I have often heard on this matter is still making the rounds: “Since God knows even the intent of the heart, then He knew what the intent of Abraham’s heart was... we can conclude that God was speaking to Abraham in terms that Abraham was familiar with... God makes statements often designed to reveal to us a truth that needs to be presented. In fact, God often asks questions He already knows the answer to.”

What if instead, you started with the parts where God didnít know the intentions of menís hearts, and used that to explain the all-knowing parts? Itís not as pretty, then.
As always, that isn’t an explanation, but a cop-out. Some years ago, I began to realize how commonly this strategy was used: “If part of the Bible seems to disagree with another part, then accept the part that backs our doctrine, and use it to explain away the other part.” The “explanation” is based on other verses that say God knows everything, including our intentions and thoughts. What if instead, you started with the parts where God didn’t know the intentions of men’s hearts, and used that to explain the all-knowing parts? It’s not as pretty, then.

The Four Gospels

Much has been written on the four canonical gospels — the four “books” in the Bible that purport to describe the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth — and how they relate to one another. In the world of Christian fundamentalists and biblical literalists, from whence I came, much of the writing focuses on explaining away the differences and contradictory parts.

I wasn’t in high school until I learned there had been other “gospels”, and that there had been severe disagreements in the early Church about which gospels were the true ones. This shook me, because I thought it should have been more obvious to those who lived closer to the time of Christ which ones were accurate.

And it wasn’t until going to Bible college that I learned that none of the four Gospels was likely composed by anyone who had actually met or even seen Jesus. Scholars differ somewhat on the guessed dates of writing (65-110 CE), but we know the earliest surviving complete copies of the gospels date to the 300s CE. Mark is often thought to be the earliest of the gospels with Matthew and Luke borrowing heavily from it.

What I studiously ignored for many years were the differences between the four stories of Jesus, or when I didn’t ignore them, I accepted the common explanations.

Who Is Joseph’s Father?

Matthew says Jacob was the father of Joseph (the husband of Jesus’ mother Mary). But Luke says Heli was the father of this same Joseph. Joseph cannot be the son of both Jacob and Heli unless both gay marriage and gay adoption were acceptable then (they weren’t). The rest of the genealogies differ as well.

The most common explanation offered is that Matthew’s genealogy is that of Joseph, while Luke is listing the ancestors of Mary. Of course, neither gospel makes this clear, and neither does any other passage in the Bible. Some apologists (example) assert that “Luke never said that Joseph was the son of Heli in the Greek”, saying that the original manuscripts omit the word “son”, something that was added into the English translations “so we can better understand it”. Really? If adding the word son was so we can understand it better, then why does it require removing the word son to actually understand it? I’m willing to take the word of scholars about what the Greek passage says, but what I’m not willing to accept is that an all-knowing God would require every future Christian to learn Greek or hang around with Greek scholars in order to understand the Bible. It was God, afterall, who created the various languages of the world, for the express purpose of: “so they will not understand each other”.

A more rational explanation is that neither author, or only one of them, knew the actual genealogy of Jesus. In other words, at least one of them was mistaken.

Jesus Equal To The Father, Or Lesser Than?

John 10:30 has Jesus saying: “I and the Father are one.” But just a few chapters later, in 14:28, Jesus says: “...the Father is greater than I.”

Read in complete context, this is not quite the contradiction that it seems at first. Other verses explain that Jesus and “The Father” are different aspects of the same God, but that Jesus, when he was sent to Earth was placed temporarily in a lower position of authority, even “lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:7). This doesn’t require knowledge of the original languages; just more careful reading of the entire New Testament.

It only raises the question of why this wasn’t spelled out more clearly instead of appearing to be a doctrine that developed over time.

Sermon On The Mount Or On The Plain?

Matthew records the well-known Sermon of the Mount in chapter five. It’s called this because “when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.” But in Luke, a very similar sermon is delivered from “a level place”, with Jesus standing.

This is not a contradiction. Nothing in the two gospels indicates that this was the same sermon. Jesus’ ministry is supposed to have lasted just over three years, as he “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues”. It is easy to conceive that he covered the same material on multiple occasions. If he had a consistent message to convey, it only makes sense that he would have delivered it more than once, in different places to different crowds.

But again, it calls into question the theory that the entire Bible was guided by an all-knowing God. Why have the same sermon in the Bible twice, worded slightly differently each time? This reminds me of the Old Testament listing many of the laws two or three times, often slightly differently each time.

God Has A Specific Dwelling Location?

2 Chronicles 7:12-16 depicts God telling King Solomon he has “chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices” and that he has chosen the temple as a dwelling place for “my eyes and my heart”. But in Acts 7:47-49, a man named Stephen, who was “full of the Holy Spirit”, explained that God “does not live in houses made by human hands” (referring specifically to Solomon’s temple).

Like some of the other alleged contradictions, this one isn’t quite so. The earlier passage doesn’t say the temple is God’s house or that an infinite God will somehow live in a stone building made by an earthly king. However, the differences in the two passages certainly seem to reflect different ways of thinking about God on the part of the authors. The earlier Hebrew writings often depict God being attached to physical places or objects, much like other religions of the time, while the later Greek writings see a much larger, less human-like God.

In other words, the two passages don’t necessarily contradict each other, but it is clear that God became more sophisticated over the millenia, coincidentally just as humanity’s ideas of gods became more sophisticated.

This same changing idea can be seen by contrasting I Kings 8:12 (“The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud”) and I Timothy 6:16 (“[God] lives in unapproachable light”). Looking at the context, these aren’t so much contradictions as they are representations of the god idea going through changes over the centuries. Verses like Psalm 18 show the ancient idea of gods being part and parcel with natural phenomena — earthquakes, thunderstorms, — providing physical strength to overcome enemies in battle, showing human characteristics like sadness, anger, favoritism, and jealousy, while the New Testament depicts a higher, non-Earthly being described by light and love, mystery and immutability.

God Doesn’t Change His Mind?

God, according to Christian doctrine and parts of the Bible, is unchanging. Number 23:19 tells us that “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.” James 1:17 assures us that “the Father of the heavenly lights” (God) “does not change like shifting shadows.” Mal. 3:6 agrees: “I the Lord do not change.” And, since Jesus is God too, let’s include Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” So, God doesn’t lie, change, or change his mind — ever.

Except all those times he did. The flood story (more on that) is a good example, and I mentioned it above.

When Jonah was sent to preach to Ninevah, the message God gave him was “Forty more days and Ninevah will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The king of the city and all the people acted immediately to show God how contrite they were, and “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10). God’s initial message did not include an “if”; just that the city would be overthrown.

In I Samuel 2:30-31, God reminds Eli of a previous promise (“I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever”), and then announces he will break the promise: “Far be it from me!”

2 Kings 20:1-6 relates the story of how God promised death to King Hezekiah: “Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Like the people of Ninevah, Hezekiah immediately prayed and begged for God to change his mind. So God changed his mind and promised to heal Hezekiah, and added fifteen years to his life.

The usual explanation for these stories is that God’s forebearance with humankind is conditional upon human behavior. In other words, he wasn’t lying and didn’t change his mind; his actions in these cases were dependent upon the human actions. What’s odd then is that the Bible didn’t come out and say that was the case. Just that he planned/promised one thing but later did/said something else.

God Will Judge Us?

A bunch of Bible passages refer to various post-life judgments. Revelation 20:11-15 describes every dead person being judged according to “what they had done”, as recorded in a book. Anyone whose name was not in the book was thrown into “the lake of fire”.

But in Job 34:23-24, it is recorded:
“God has no need to examine people further, that they should come before him for judgment. Without inquiry he shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place.”
This only feels like a contradiction, but isn’t really. Job just says God doesn’t need to have a judgment, not that he won’t actually do it.

On the other hand, reading more about the Judgment can cause a lot of confusion. According to the passage from Revelations above, some names are in the book and others aren’t; it seems like a simple process. But Jesus said:
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
So it’s not the simple process of finding out whether your name is in a big book; but you will also have to stand around while every word you said is evaluated. Jesus added that he will “separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”, based on whether they fed the hungry, housed strangers, clothed the poor, looked after the sick, and visited folks in prison. Even the Revelations passage above mentions people being judged for “what they had done”. James noted that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” People who teach will be “judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Also, Jesus said, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged”. Later in that same chapter, Jesus indicates there will be some time set aside for pleading your case at the judgment, and this is backed up by Romans 14:12 (“each of us will give an account of ourselves to God”) and by I Peter 4:5. In I Corinthians, it’s written that “the Lord’s people will judge the world” and “judge the angels” too, something you don’t hear too much about. Regardless of all the talk about words and actions, though, John 3:18 disagrees, saying that anyone who believes will not be condemned, and whoever doesn’t believe is already condemned; doing good stuff won’t matter if you don’t believe. Luke wrote that Jesus said the poor will go to heaven, and the rich won’t. Later in the same chapter, Jesus said you could get out of being judged by not judging others, that you could be forgiven by forgiving others. The prophet Jeremiah said God will search a person’s heart and mind, but will reward them for their conduct and deeds. That one was kind of a tease; you start to think — Oh! I’ll get points for good intentions — but no; it’s just what you do.

My point here is that the Bible is gravely inconsistent in how it describes the judgment that will allegedly follow our deaths.


Despite the existence of regular explanations for many of these contradictions (most of which fell flat upon further examination), I began to strongly feel that the Bible could not have been inspired by God on a word-for-word level. An omniscient being with the intent to instruct us through this collection of small books would not have included so many passages that either seem to or actually do contradict each other. He would have known how confusing it would be to the average acolyte, how many questions they would foster.

Some of the “explanations” require extra-biblical knowledge, knowledge of the original languages or a specific translation, or knowledge of ancient Hebrew customs. Did God not realize that the world would someday be filled with people who don’t speak ancient Hebrew, Latin, and Greek?

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