Why you Don't Go to Church Anymore
“The fundamental problem is that the Bible makes extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence.” John David Conner
“I’m an atheist because I’ve read it.” T-shirt slogan
“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts I do understand.” Mark Twain
“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever achieved.” Isaac Asimov
Christians believe that the Bible was written by men whom God selected to accurately convey Judeo-Christian history, laws, morals, and spiritual belief structure. The same is true of the disciples’ preaching: it is actually God talking. “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:20) The writers were essentially transcribing whatever God encouraged them to include, and wanted them to write; the true author is not the human being who is credited with writing, but rather the credit goes to God. And of course if the all-knowledgeable God said it or wrote it, it must be true, even if it violates science and common sense or if it contradicts itself. Christians really believe that God put two (or maybe seven) of each animal on Noah’s ark (including, somehow, kangaroos and penguins).
God may be the author of the Bible, but he was not a careful writer. Christians acknowledge that there are a lot of questions about what God meant by such and such a story or passage. He has not plainly revealed his message to man, even though presumably he could have. Many, many passages in the Bible can convey multiple meanings, and it angers people when others understand a sentence or tale differently than they do. Wars have been fought over subtle differences, and families have argued with each other until the point of breaking them apart. If the Bible is the word of God and if he is omniscient, as it says, then he must have known this would happen, and that makes him liable for the confusion, fighting and killing in his name. Strike one against God.
I don’t suggest we throw out our Bibles. To the contrary – I recommend we read them carefully with eyes wide open. ALL of it, not just the nice parts. Then ask yourself: how does this book affect your thinking about God? Now that you’ve seen him close up, is he worthy of your worship? Is he a being you should admire, or even like? Will you dedicate this life and any future ones to this guy?
Christians hold the Bible to be infallible, completely error-free. If the Bible says something happened, it must have happened, precisely in the way the Bible lays it out. But what if the Bible tells a story twice and the details are different? What does the seeker of religious faith make of that? If God is all powerful and wants earthlings to know the truth about him and his preferences and rules (if for no other reason than to give people the basic rules so they could obey him), why was he not more careful? Humans are quite capable of writing something accurate and understandable. Why can’t God? If he can but didn’t, why did he choose not to?
The existence of so many contradictions is the most powerful demonstration of the fact that the Bible is not perfect as claimed. It contains mistakes. The contradictions are sometimes about small things, like the number of horsemen David took with him. They are also about big ones like who can get into heaven, and religious policy. The Bible is simply not all true. In addition to direct contradictions, God does about-faces on rules, or else is so vague about them that the writers are confused and write them down in muddy language. There are contradictions in both the Old and the New Testaments.
Why does the existence of contradictions matter? They are evidence that the Bible cannot be completely true. And if it has mistakes in it, how do we know what to believe? Also, if some parts are untrue, it cannot be divine in origin, at least not from a god worth worshiping.
One argument from the Christian side must be dealt with before we move on to the contradictions themselves: Christian apologists argue that eyewitnesses were telling the truth from different perspectives and just because they do not agree on all the details does not mean they disagree. The problem is that much more than a change of perspective takes place in the Biblical contradictions. As Jonah David Conner points out, “If I tell you at the scene of a hit-and-run accident that the driver was an elderly man in a blue car and another witness says it was a teenager in a red truck, that does not constitute a mere change of perspective; it is bad testimony. Someone does not know what they are talking about. Someone is simply wrong.” Numerous examples of such clashing statements can be found in the Bible.
In the beginning …
The Bible’s contradictions start with the first sentences. It is, of course, the origin story: how the physical universe, including humans, came to be. The preachers don’t tell you about it, but the fact is that there is not just one story of creation, but two, and they don’t agree with each other. Let’s start our look at contradictions there by juxtaposing them bit by bit against each other. The two versions are found at Genesis 1:1 -- 2:3 and Genesis 2:4 – 2:25.
God’s name is Elohim. No, it’s not, it’s Yahweh.
Before creation, the earth was covered with water, a “dark, fathomless sea.” No it wasn’t; it was a vast barren desert without any water save for a mist.
On the second day he divided the waters in two and created heaven. No, in the second version he never parted the waters, and there is no mention of heaven.
The order of what was created when differs in the two creation stories. In the first version, the order is (1) water, (2) land (3) plants (4) animals (5) both man and woman. In the second version, the order is (1) land (2) water (3) man (4) plants (5) God sees that Adam is lonely and needs companionship, so he makes the animals. Unsurprisingly, this does not satisfy Adam’s needs, so (6) God takes a rib from Adam and fashions a woman.
“On the seventh day he rested.” Both versions agree on that. But we are not told why he is resting. Did he get worn out? But isn’t he omnipotent? Jeremiah 32:27 and Matthew 19:26 say yes, he’s all-powerful. There’s a contrary story at Judges 1:19, where God was able to drive out the inhabitants of a mountain but could not drive out those in the valley because they had chariots of iron.
Let’s take a look at some of the other contradictions. This is only a fraction of the actual number; the “Skeptic’s Annotated Bible” counts 471. Whether trifling or major, we have to question why they are there and what does it mean to us that they are. If a god is actually behind this book, why is it so inaccurate?
1. Has anyone seen God? Yes. Jacob, Moses Aaron, Isaiah and 70 elders of the temple have seen God. (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:10-11). No, no one has ever seen God. (John 1:18, 1 Timothy 6:16)
2. Genesis says that every king of Israel will be from the tribe of Judah. (49:10) That was untrue from the start. Israel’s first king was from the tribe of Benjamin.
3. What became of Cain after he killed his brother Abel? Either he became a fugitive and a vagabond (Genesis 4:16-17) or he settled down, married, had a son, and built a city. (Genesis 4:12)
4. "God knoweth the secrets of heart.” (Psalms 44:21). Then why does he test people on earth to see if they qualify for heaven?
5. Paul wrote several books of the Bible but unlike the gospel writers, he rarely quoted Jesus. In one of the few places where he did, he got it wrong. Paul reported that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Those words are never found in the gospels.
6. What were the twelve tribes of Israel? There are six contradictory lists: Genesis 49:2; Numbers 1:5-16; Numbers 13:4, Deuteronomy 33:6; Ezekiel 48:1-32; Revelation 7:6
7. Who threw Jonah into the water, for him to be swallowed by the whale? Sailors. (Jonah 1:15). Or maybe it was God. (Jonah 2:3)
8. God had Jeconiah’s enemies kill him and his mother and then ensure that he die without leaving any sons. (Jeremiah 22:25-30) This seems a bit strange since Jeconiah is listed in Matthew 1:12 as an ancestor of Jesus.
9. How old was Benjamin when his tribe migrated to Egypt? He was an infant (Genesis 44:20) No, he was an adult with 10 sons of his own. (Genesis 46:8)
10. Jesus’ own genealogy is the first thing reported about him – they are the first words in the New Testament. Must have been important to the writers of the gospels, no? Yet there is more than one version. Matthew 1 and Luke 3 both report Jesus’ ancestors, and the two don’t agree on anything, not even the name of Jesus’ grandfather. Matthew says it was Jacob; Luke says it was someone named Heli.
11. You know that near the time of Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem. Jesus was born along the way. What came next? Matthew says the family then went directly to Egypt, and stayed there until Herod died, at which time they moved on to Nazareth.. (Matthew 2:13-23). Luke has the family going from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and then “back” to Nazareth (when had they been there before?) No mention whatsoever of Egypt. (Luke 2:21-39)
12. Can we all go to heaven? At Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus (speaking of salvation) said that “he who seeketh shall findeth.” But at Luke 13:23-28 he said that “many … will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
13. Jesus: “For judgment I am come into this world.” (John 9:39) “I have not come to judge the world.” (John 12:47) Didn’t the writer notice that he has Jesus doing an about-face only three chapters apart?
14. Mark says that Thaddeus was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. (Mark 3:18) Luke and Acts don’t agree.(Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13)
15. How did Judas die? He hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5) No, he fell down and his bowels gushed out. (Acts 1:18)
16. What were Jesus’ last words? That varies widely depending on who you ask.There is remarkable lack of agreement. Mark reports no final words at all. Matthew has Jesus saying “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (a sentence which has stirred up great controversy – did God abandon Jesus at this critical time?) (27:46) In Luke, he said “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (23:46) John wrote that the words were “It is finished.” (19:30)
17. Matthew said there was an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death. He also said that a mass resurrection of saints occurred, during which the “angels went into the holy city and appeared to many.”(Matthew 27:51 – 28:15) None of these things happened in the other gospels. Also, if Matthew’s tale were true and earthquakes and angels showed up in Jerusalem, wouldn’t the historians and recorders of the day have reported it?Not a word.
18. The gospels disagree on who moved the stone away from Jesus’ tomb door so that Jesus could escape. Matthew says an angel opened it from the outside. Luke steps in and says it wasn’t an angel, it was two men and they opened it from the inside (how did they get in there?) Luke adds that the men were standing. In John there was just one man and he was sitting.
19. Who was at the tomb when Mary Magdalene arrived?
Matthew 28:2. One angel
Mark 16:5 One young man
Luke 24:4 Two men
John 20:11-12 Two angels
20. When Jesus exited the tomb, two people witnessed it. Or three, or something more than four, or just one. The divinely inspired gospels are in complete disagreement. Matthew says it was Mary Magdalene and another Mary – two. (28:1) Mark reports it was three – Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome. (16:1) Luke says it was two Marys, Joanna, James’s mother, and “other women,” which makes it something more than four.(24:10) John insists that it was one -- only Mary Magdalene. (20:1)
21. Did the women tell anyone what happened? Yes: They spread the news widely: “And they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest.”(Luke 24:24)No, they kept the secret: “Never said they anything to any man.” (Mark 16:8)
22. After the women, to whom did Jesus appear? That depends, once again, on who you ask. Matthew: eleven disciples. (28:16-17. Mark: just two disciples, in the country (16:12) Luke: Just two disciples, in the city (20:19) John: Ten of the disciples (wonder which one was left out) (20:19, 24) Paul: first to Peter, then to twelve disciples (twelve? That’s not possible – Judas was dead and hadn’t been replaced yet.) (1 Corinthians 15:5)
23. Where did Jesus appear to the disciples? Either 60-100 miles away, on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew) or in the country. (Mark) Or then again, maybe in Emmaus (seven miles away.) (Luke). Well, maybe it was in Jerusalem. (Acts)
24. How long did Jesus walk around on earth after he rose from the dead? Surely they paid attention and someone counted. Luke says it was one day (24:1-15) John counters that it was at least eight days. (2:26) Paul rachets it up to 40 days, quite a leap. (Acts 1:3)
Contradictions in Key Instructions
25. What to do, what to do? “Thou shalt not kill.”(Exodus 20:13) “Slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.”(Exodus 32:27)
26. Is it all right to call people names? Matthew says (at 5:22) that Jesus said that it was wrong to call someone a “fool,” and that those who did are in danger of hell. Matthew 23:17 catches Jesus calling the Pharisees “fools.” So in the end, Jesus ay have been condemned to hell.That must have surprised him.
27. Here’s an example of contradictions between the two testaments. Deuteronomy 7:10 says that “Yahweh destroys those who hate him.” But Matthew 6:44 says that you should “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Jesus’ choice was to tell his followers to kill all his enemies. (Luke 19:27)
28. Dancing is a sin. (Exodus 32:19) Or it isn’t. (2 Samuel 6:14)
29. Is it OK to make images? No. (Exodus 20:4) Yes. In fact, God wants to see them – he instructed the people to make five images of hemorrhoids.You read it right, hemorrhoids. (1 Samuel 6:5)
30. How should Sabbath-breakers be treated? They should be exiled. (Exodus 31:15) No, they should be executed. (Numbers 15:32-36)
31. Well, how should homosexuals be treated? Once again we see both exiled (1 Kings 15:12) and executed. (Leviticus 20:13)
32. Should Christians pray in public? Yes. (1 Timothy 2:8) No. (Matthew 6:6)
33. Now this is a strange one. Jesus was listing the Ten Commandments. Not once could he recite all ten. What did he say the sixth one is? In Matthew Jesus said it was “Though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (18:20) He was wrong – in fact, that’s not found anywhere in the Ten Commandments. Mark reports that Jesus said it was “Defraud not” (not even close). (10:19) In Luke he could only name five commandments, so at least this time he didn’t mess up the sixth one.
34. Another key question: Is all scripture inspired by God? The stock answer is yes. (2 Timothy 3:16) But First Corinthians says no, and reiterates it for emphasis. (7:12, 7:25)
35. Does God approve of slavery? Well, you could say no. (Deuteronomy 15:9-10) But Exodus 21:18-27 gives instructions on how to deal with them.
36. Is circumcision required? Yes and no. In Acts, Timothy gets circumcised, by Paul himself. Paul wanted to take Timothy with him on his journeys, and the prerequisite, it seems, was circumcision. (16:1-3) But Paul reverses himself in Galatians, where he writes that “if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” (5:20
37. To judge others or not to judge others: Judge not. (Matthew 7:1) Judge away. (Leviticus 19:15)
38. Does God love everyone? Of course. (John 3:16) Nope. (Leviticus 20:23)
39. Does God forgive sins? We all think he does (e.g. 2 Chronicles 7:14) but Joshua says no: “Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.”(24:19)
40. Jesus said “not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 7:2) Paul disagrees: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13)
41. How many animals were on Noah’s ark? Genesis 6:19: Two of every kind. Genesis 7:2: Seven of every kind (“Of every clean beast thou shall take to thee by sevens…”)
42. The length of Noah’s flood: “The flood was 40 days upon the earth.” (Genesis 7:17). Genesis 8:3: “After the end of the 150 days the waters were abated.”
43. Abraham’s father, Terah, was 70 years old when Abraham was born (Genesis 11:26) and he died at age 205 (11:32). But per Acts 7:4, Abraham did not leave Heran until after Terah died. That would mean that Abraham was 135 years old when he left Haran. Yet according to Genesis 12:4, Abraham left at age 75. Who is telling the truth?
44. When building the temple, the princes and chiefs gave thousands of talents of gold. The coins were called “daries,” supposedly after King Darius. Problem? Darius lived 500 years after the temple was constructed.
45. How many animal stalls did Solomon have? 40,000 (1 Kings 4:26) No, only 4,000 (2 Chronicles 9:25) Either way, that’s a lot of dung to move around.
46. David bought a threshing floor (whatever that is). How much did he pay for it? 50 shekels of silver (2 Samuel 24:24) or 600 shekels of gold? (1 Chronicles 21:25) That’s quite a swing in price.
47. How many children did Michal have? “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” (2 Samuel 6:23) Or maybe she had some after all: “But the king took the … five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.” (2 Samuel 21:8). They may have gotten her motherhood wrong, but at least the writer gave her a name in the verses, a very unusual thing for a woman.
Contradictions in God’s Personality
48. Does God change his mind? “For I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6) “God is not a man, that he should lie, neither is he the son of man, that he should repent.” (Numbers 23:19). But then again, “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” (Exodus 32:14)
49. Is God good or evil? One the one hand, “The Lord is good to all.” (Psalms 145:9) And on the other hand, “Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device upon you.” (Jeremiah 18:11) Perhaps it’s not them, but Isaiah, who is right, and God is both: “I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
50. Is God peaceable or bloodthirsty? Romans 15:33 calls him the “God of Peace.”But Exodus 15:3 says he is a “man of war.”
51. Well, was Jesus peaceable? “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” (John 14:27) Just when that seems plausible, Matthew comes along and reports that Jesus said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword.” (10:34) And Luke claims he said “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (22:36)
Christian doctrine says the Bible is inerrant. Take a look – it is plenty errant.