In my previous article, I presented three examples of ‘New Testament’ writers producing bad interpretations of the ‘Old Testament’ prophets. The interpretations were so far off as to be absurd. Those were by no means the only instances of such absurd misinterpretations by ‘New Testament’ writers. One would do well to carefully check out each quotation he finds in the Christian scriptures. But the three were sufficient to make the point that the Bible’s writers were fallible men, not to be trusted as infallible authorities.
In this article, I’ll be pursuing this idea of Biblical fallibility farther by showing a few instances where the writers speak absurdities, or contradict themselves. Again, for a more complete look at this subject, you can look at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible and Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason.
First, from the ‘Old Testament’: did any human beings survive the Flood, other than Noah’s family? The accepted story (and one would think this is a ‘no brainer’) is ‘no’; only Noah’s family survived, by means of the ‘ark’. Genesis 7:21, 22 – “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.” But then there is the well known story, in Numbers 13, about Moses sending out spies to ‘spy out’ the land of Canaan. When the spies returned to give their report, Joshua and Caleb emphasized the good things, and reported that the difficulties would be nothing they couldn’t handle with ‘the Lord’s’ help. The rest of the spies gave a fearful report, though, and advocated not even trying to conquer the Canaanites. Why? Because “we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33). Who were these Nephilim? Genesis 6:1-4 says they were on the earth in the days before the Flood. They were the offspring of ‘the sons of God’ and ‘the daughters of men’, and some translations render ‘Nephilim’ as ‘giants’. So how could the descendants of these Nephilim be alive during the lifetime of Moses (who lived much later than the Flood), if God had destroyed ‘all flesh’ (including the Nephilim) with the Flood? Obviously either the story of a universal flood is wrong, or the story of the spies being frightened by the descendants of the Nephilim is wrong; they can’t both be right (though they could both be wrong).
Second, again from the ‘Old Testament’, Isaiah prophesied (in chapter 7, verses 5-7): “Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,’ thus says the Lord God: IT SHALL NOT STAND, AND IT SHALL NOT COME TO PASS”. 2 Kings confirms this in 16:5 – “Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz BUT COULD NOT CONQUER HIM.” Now contrast this with 2 Chron 28:5 – “Therefore the Lord his God gave him into the hand of the king of Syria, who DEFEATED HIM and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hand of the king of Israel who DEFEATED HIM WITH GREAT SLAUGHTER.” Now as ‘conquer’ and ‘defeat’ are surely synonymous terms, we obviously have a major contradiction here. One says Syria and Israel could not conquer Ahaz; the other says Syria and Israel did defeat Ahaz, and with great slaughter. Next, both accounts say that Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help against the confederacy of Syria and Israel, and sent treasures from the house of the Lord and the king’s treasury as tribute to the Assyrian king in order to ‘buy’ his assistance. Now notice that 2 Kings 16:9 says: “AND THE KING OF ASSYRIA HEARKENED TO HIM; the king of Assyria marched up against Damascus, and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin.” But 2 Chron. 28:20, 21 says: So Tilgath-pilnezer king of Assyria came against him [Ahaz], AND AFFLICTED HIM INSTEAD OF STRENGTHENING HIM. For Ahaz took from the house of the Lord and the house of the king and of the princes and gave tribute to the king of Assyria; BUT IT DID NOT HELP HIM.” One says the Assyrian king hearkened to Ahaz and helped him by conquering Damascus; the other says that the Assyrian king afflicted Ahaz instead of strengthening, and Ahaz’ tribute did not help his cause. And 2 Chronicles goes on to say that Ahaz was so distressed by his defeat, that “he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, and said, ‘Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.’ ” The author of 2 Kings seems to confirm the prophecy of Isaiah, but the author of 2 Chronicles seems to make Isaiah a false prophet! That’s a pretty major discrepancy for ‘Divinely inspired’ writings, I would think!
Now I’ll turn to the ‘New Testament’. Matthew 21 and Mark 11 both give the story of Jesus ‘cursing’ a fig tree because he couldn’t find any figs on it when he was hungry. First of all, consider the absurdity of the story as it appears in these accounts. Jesus is hungry, sees a fig tree, and wants to pluck some figs to eat. But unfortunately there are no figs to be plucked. Why are there no figs? Mark explains: “when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, FOR IT WAS NOT THE SEASON FOR FIGS” (Mark 11:13). Nevertheless, Jesus became so angry with the fig tree that he threw a childish (to put it mildly) tantrum and pronounced a curse on it: “may no fruit ever come from you again” (Matthew 21:19). Is that really the kind of character that causes you to admire someone? I suspect this story was the figment of someone’s twisted imagination. Perhaps Jesus merely pointed out that the fig tree was diseased, and would wither up so that it would never again produce fruit, but he certainly did not curse it in a fit of anger if he was the perfect person the Gospel writers wish to portray. But secondly, Matthew and Mark contradict each other in their accounts of this supposed event. In Mark’s Gospel, the story occurs in two stages. On his way from Bethany into Jerusalem, Jesus saw the fig tree and cursed it. Then he went into Jerusalem and drove out the buyers and sellers, and later went home for the evening. The next morning, on the way into Jerusalem again, the disciples notice that the fig tree has withered already and comment on it. That provided Jesus with the opportunity to teach about the power of faith. But in Matthew, none of the fig tree story occurs until the morning after Jesus drove out the buyers, sellers, and money changers. On the morning after that incident in the temple, Jesus got angry at the fig tree, cursed it, and it immediately withered before the eyes of the watching disciples! They commented on this amazing event, and Jesus taught about the power of faith. So did the story occur in one stage or two? Did the fig tree wither immediately, or did it gradually wither over the course of one day? In Mark’s account, it was apparently not withered when Jesus and his disciples went home for the night on the day in which Mark says Jesus cursed the fig tree. At least the disciples didn’t notice it then if it was withered already.
Finally (for this article, at least), consider the resurrection and ascension accounts in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Actually, they are so confusing and contradictory that it is impossible to put together any coherent account of the events. I’m not going to try to list all of the variations; instead I’ll concentrate on how much time elapsed between the resurrection and ascension as told by the various writers, and where the ascension occurred. The ‘accepted’ version is that given in the book of Acts, which was supposedly written by Luke. In that account, Jesus spent 40 days following his resurrection showing “many convincing proofs” of his being alive, and teaching concerning the kingdom of God. Then, while he was with the disciples on Mt. Olivet not far from Jerusalem, he was lifted up into heaven. However, in the Gospel of Luke, the ascension occurred on the same day as the resurrection, rather than 40 days later. Consider that in Luke 24, verses 1-12 describe the events at the tomb in early morning of the first day of the week – including the women who were there running back to tell the 11 apostles what they had seen and heard, and Peter running to the tomb to check out their story. Then verse 13 says: “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem”. Jesus appeared to them, though they didn’t recognize him, and started talking to them about what had been going on in Jerusalem. They explained to him about the crucifixion of Jesus, whom they had hoped would prove to be the Messiah, but now those hopes seemed to be dashed. Jesus then is supposed to have shown them from the scriptures that the Messiah had to die and then rise again. As they approach the village of Emmaus, they invited Jesus (though they still didn’t recognize him) to stay with them for the night. While they were eating supper, Jesus ‘blessed’ the bread, they suddenly recognized who he was, and Jesus disappeared from their sight. Verse 33 then says: “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together”. They began to discuss what had occurred on the journey to Emmaus, and verse 36 says: “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them”. He proved that he was physical, not a ‘spirit’ by showing his hands and side, and eating a piece of fish. Then he taught them for a while, and after he was finished teaching, verses 50 and 51 say: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany [close to Jerusalem, in the Mt. Olivet range], and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” So all of these events happened on the same day, in the area of Jerusalem, according to the Gospel of Luke. Was this really the same person who wrote the Acts account of a 40 day separation between the resurrection and ascension? And did the Holy Spirit inspire both (conflicting) accounts?
But things get worse. While Mark seems to agree with the Gospel of Luke that all of these events took place on the same day in the vicinity of Jerusalem (if one accepts Mark 16: 9-20 as legitimately belonging to the Gospel of Mark), Matthew contradicts this by stating that Jesus instructed the women at the tomb to tell his ‘brothers’ to go to Galilee, where he would meet them (28:10). Verse 16 says that the eleven disciples obeyed, going to a mountain in Galilee where Jesus met them and gave them his ‘great commission’. Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus ascended immediately after commissioning them, but Matthew doesn’t mention the ascension (neither does John). I suppose, though, that since this is where Matthew ends his Gospel, we can assume that this is when and where he believed the ascension occurred (if he believed in it). Since it would take the disciples a few days at least to get from Jerusalem to Galilee, this account contradicts Luke (and Mark) both as to time and place. John throws a bit more confusion into the situation, since he says (in 20:26) that Thomas didn’t get to see the resurrected Jesus until a week after the resurrection. (This itself contradicts Luke, who says that Jesus appeared to “the eleven” on the day he rose from the dead – 24:33 – as well as the two Emmaus disciples and the ‘companions’. The ‘eleven’ would have to be all of the disciples except Judas Iscariot, thus including Thomas). This meeting with Thomas occurred in Jerusalem, in the same house where everyone had been gathered the previous week. Then some time after this meeting, Jesus met the disciples again by the Sea of Tiberias (which is another name for the Sea of Galilee), so now they are in Galilee – requiring that at least a few more days had passed since the meeting with Thomas. John, though, does not mention the ‘great commission’ or the ascension. John’s account may be compatible with the Acts account, but it certainly doesn’t match up with Mark and Luke, who have everything occurring on the same day; and Luke says that the disciples continued in Jerusalem after that same day ascension, not leaving room for any events in Galilee.
Such a contradictory hodge-podge group of accounts simply cannot be considered authoritative, the object of unquestioning faith.