Bible Difficulties

  • “We find the Bible to be nauseating, historically inaccurate and replete with the ravings of madmen. . . We find God to be sadistic, brutal and a representation of hatred.”

  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, quoted in the Washington Post, 'The Atheists' Cold Case Gets Warmer,' First of two parts, by Paul Duggan, Monday, August 16, 1999).

The Third Day

"Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again." (Matthew 20:18-19).

It is often objected that if the Lord was crucified on 'Good Friday' and raised on Easter morning, then He was not in the grave three days but one and a half:

  • “Jonah and the whale are also made into a sign and type. Jonah is Jesus, and the whale is the grave; for it is said, (and they have made Christ to say it of himself, Matt. xii. 40), 'For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' But it happens, awkwardly enough, that Christ, according to their own account, was but one day and two nights in the grave; about 36 hours instead of 72; that is, the Friday night, the Saturday, and the Saturday night; for they say he was up on the Sunday morning by sunrise, or before.”
  • (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter II).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorEpiscopal bishop John Shelby Spong concurs: "No one who would count the time from sundown on Good Friday until dawn on Easter Sunday could possibly get three days and three nights. The time was literally thirty-six hours. Two nights and one day is the maximum one can arrive at even in Matthew's version of the Easter event." (The Easter Moment, John Shelby Spong, Kindle location 1988). Are the critics on to something?

Why three days and three nights? The Jewish custom is to count partial days as whole days:

"This is taken to signify then that part of a day is equivalent to a whole day. But has he not stated this once already?" (Babylonian Talmud, Nazir 6a).
"Rami b. Hama demurred: Why indeed should she not count it, and why should not we also count it,  seeing that we have an established rule that part of a day is regarded as the whole of it?" (Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 33a).
"From this we have learned three things: First, that a mourner must not wear shoes; second, that a remote-information mourning is customary for only one day; and, third, that a part of the day is considered as a whole day." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Ebel Rabbathi, Chapter XII, A, Kindle location 36151).

To give an example, Josephus counts eight days from sabbath to sabbath, where we would count seven:

"He divided them also into courses: and when he had separated the priests from them, he found of these priests twenty-four courses, sixteen of the house of Eleazar, and eight of that of Ithamar; and he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from sabbath to sabbath." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 14.7)

While stated as an established rule, this custom was apparently not universal, rather some teachers were known to count partial days as whole days and some apparently not, causing potential confusion: "Seven days? Have we not learned eight? Abba Saul is of the opinion that a portion of a day counts for a whole day, and the seventh day enters into the computation of both." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Katan, Chapter III, Kindle location 30991).

The new course of priests go on duty at the same moment as the departing course of priests leave, then serve for part of Saturday. Then Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Next Saturday, they are on duty part of the day, until the new course of priests arrive: that adds up to eight days, not seven, although it is an even week. We interpret 'three days' to mean '72 hours.' We add up partial days by hours, dividing by 24 to arrive at total days. But the Jewish chronologists, considering that God in the creation narrative of Genesis counts days from 'evening' to 'morning,' are unwilling to allow a variable, relative start to the day, but only the fixed start assigned by God. If an event occupies even part of that God-ordained time span, it is counted as a day. Not everyone, of course, embraces this convention: "Am I, therefore, to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth passed, not three days and three nights, but one day and two nights, not in the sea but on the earth, not alive but truly dead in a grave in a rock?" (Fragments of Reimarus, The New Belief, Section XXXV, Kindle location 433). The convention, however, is consistent, meaningful, and well-defined.

How long is Israel to eat unleavened bread? Seven days?: "Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD." (Exodus 13:6). Josephus makes it eight: "Whence it is that, in memory of the want we were then in, we keep a feast for eight days, which is called the feast of unleavened bread." (Josephus, Antiquities, Book II, Chapter 15, Section 1). This could be a case of inclusive counting, where, as above, exactly a week comes out as eight days, counting partial days as wholes. It could also be however that Josephus is folding the feast of unleavened bread into the passover, counting both as starting on 14 Nisan: "As now the war abroad ceased for a while, the sedition within was revived; and on the feast of unleavened bread, which was now come, it being the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] when it is believed the Jews were first freed from the Egyptians, Eleazar and his party opened the gates of this temple, and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it." (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter 3, Section 1).

It matters because of what was prophesied to happen on the 'third day:'

"Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight." (Hosea 6:1-2).

Jesus awaited resurrection for part of Friday, the entire day Saturday, both evening and morning, and a part of Sunday. It's something of a mystery that some people want to make Saturday a day of holy convocation, given that this was the day Jesus was dead and in the grave! Whether to count a partial day as a whole day is a convention. If agreed upon and used consistently, the accusation of irrationality or inaccuracy is beside the point.

As another example of the idiom, see Esther 4:15-16: “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: 'Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!'” Compare with, “Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.” (Esther 5:1). Notice it isn't said, 'they decided to cut the period of the fast short;' they didn't cut it short, even though by our way of reckoning 'on the third day' is short of three days and nights. To us, the start point of a 'day' is arbitrary, but to scrupulous Bible students it is not, it is assigned by God in the first chapter of Genesis. Since the starting point is not arbitrary and cannot be moved, fragmentary days must be counted as days.

The Rabbis followed through consistently on this template of counting fragmentary bits of time as wholes, for instance years: "The rabbis taught: A king who ascends the throne on the 29th of Adar must be considered to have reigned one year as soon as the first of Nissan comes, but if he ascends the throne on the first of Nissan he is not considered to have reigned one year until the first of Nissan of the following year. From this we infer, that only Nissan is the commencement of years for kings (or the civil New Year); that even a fraction of a year is considered a year; and that if a king ascends the throne on the first of Nissan, he is not considered to have reigned one year until the next first of Nissan, although he may have be elected in Adar." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Tract Rosh Hashanah, Volume IV, Section Moed, Kindle location 15189). Now, certainly one can respond, 'That's wrong, a year is 365 days, just as a day is 24 hours;' what one cannot say is, 'I don't understand what they are saying.'

Let this 'Bible Difficulty' serve as exemplar for those numerous problems raised by atheists where they are objecting to some characteristic or convention of the Hebrew or Greek languages, in which the Bible is written. When you go into a restaurant in the United States and ask for pie a la mode, they give you a slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream on top of it. Why should tacking the French phrase for 'in the fashion' onto the word 'pie' get you a scoop of ice cream? Because that's what it means. Complaints about the presumed etymologies of Bible words misfire, because even if the actual etymology is as stated (which is not generally verifiable), God is bound by the conventions of the language He condescends to use much as is any other speaker. He need not defend the convention of counting fractional days as integer days against rival conventions, nor need we, in repeating His words. That is how it was done. The fact that we do it differently is vaguely interesting, no more.

Sky Dome

No such structure as a solid sky-dome is anywhere described in scripture, yet the atheists remain convinced that, even if it's not there, it darn well ought to be.

Holy, Holy, Holy


Cain's Wife

"And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch:" (Genesis 4:17).

Of necessity, his sister, though some have suggested, a niece, assuming a prior marriage between brother and sister.


Holy, Holy, Holy


Slavery is very near to a universal human institution. It is not the invention of any one civilization but was at one time found on all continents. Certainly God never established or endorsed it, as is sometimes claimed; to the contrary, the law hedges and circumscribes this universal ancient institution with time-limits and redemption obligations. Moses enslaves few (and those convicted thieves), but liberates many at the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.

If the atheists want to make a charge they can defend, they can point out that Moses' legislation on slavery falls short of total abolition, which is true. Moses did not prohibit slavery, but he does discourage, curb and constrict it. In nations which had heard the gospel call, a cry went up to abolish it. Now the atheists, building upon a foundation they never laid, use the moral indignation people feel against this now thankfully extinct institution against Moses. Moses' restrictions on this institution cut deeper than some people think. Entering into the dark ages, the 'Christian' monarchs of Europe felt obliged to limit the right of Jews to own Christian slaves...because so many of these slaves were converting to Judaism in order to achieve freedom! The term of involuntary servitude permissible for an Israelite was limited to six years:

  • “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.”
  • (Deuteronomy 15:12-15).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorA fair look at the evidence does not justify a conclusion that the Bible is pro-slavery, as is alleged:

"This government of God was tried in the U.S. when slavery was regarded as a divine institution. The pulpit of that day defended the buying and selling of women and babes. The mouths of the slave-traders were filled with passages of Scripture, defending and upholding traffic in human flesh." (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, The Best of Robert Ingersoll, p. 37).

It was once commonly understood that the law of Moses hedged slavery about with restrictions, including a time-limit of six years: "I confess, we find among the Jews, as well as other nations, that men did sell themselves; but, it is plain, this was only to drudgery, not to slavery; for, it is evident, the person sold was not under an absolute, arbitrary, despotical power; for the master could not have power to kill him, at any time, whom, at a certain time, he was obliged to let go free out of his service; and the master of such a servant was so far from having an arbitrary power over his life, that he could not, at pleasure, so much as maim him, but the loss of an eye, or tooth, set him free, Exod. xxi." (John Locke, Two Treatise of Government, Book 2, Chapter IV, Kindle location 2021). When was this forgotten?

The secular legal theorist Montesquieu credits the abolition of slavery in Europe to Christianity: "Plutarch, in the Life of Numa, says that in Saturn's time there was neither slave nor master. Christianity has restored that age in our climates." (Montesquieu, the Spirit of the Laws, Kindle location 3701). What a strange mistake, if in fact, as the atheists allege, Christianity is favorable to slavery. But why, then, was it first abolished in Christian Europe rather than elsewhere?

How do the atheists transform a book one of whose central narratives tells of the liberation of God's people from slavery in Egypt into a pro-slavery tract? With help from the Southern slave-owners. This is one joint project where all Satan's spawn play their part. The atheists want to say 'the Bible sanctions slavery' because this discredits the Bible, whereas the apologists for Southern slavery want to say 'the Bible sanctions slavery' because this means the South were the 'good guys' in the Civil War, and the North the 'bad guys.' So these two seemingly dissimilar groups come together as one on this point. See:

"Did the Christian apologists for slavery in the antebellum South have the advantage over the abolitionists when it came to their debates on the subject of slavery? Again, there is no question: 'The God-fearing southern people turned to the Bible to justify slavery, and the Bible did not disappoint them. Their theologians rent the abolitionists, at least on the essentials, in their war of biblical exegesis. . .Thornwell and his fellow southern divines argued—and, I regret to say, demonstrated—that the Old Testament established slavery as ordained of God and that Jesus, who spoke not one word against it and did not exclude slaveholders from the church, reaffirmed the sanction.'" (Douglas Wilson, Black and Tan, Kindle location 848-852).

So they say. But is it true? What saith the scriptures?:

Mustard Seed

"Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." (Matthew 13:31-32).

Jesus liked to tell stories using homely examples familiar to country folk. The mustard seed is an example of something that starts out small but ends up big, like the Kingdom of Heaven. The mustard seed is the smallest seed the Lord's farmer neighbors would have had personal experience in handling. It is objected, that while this may be the smallest seed his hearers would have handled, it is not the smallest seed the botanist can isolate under his microscope. But one must wonder, what good would pointing this out have done? Does talking about a seed of which his hearers would have had no knowledge serve the Lord's purpose, of making theological points through familiar agricultural examples? And mightn't writing the gospels in 'legalese,' anticipating every possible objection and exception, have rendered obscure and unusable what was intended as a help and guide to the simple?

By the way, a likeness, simile or metaphor need not be congruent in every possible aspect in order to be apt and serviceable:

"But the invention of comparisons will be easy if one can frequently set before one's eyes everything animate and inanimate, mute and articulate, wild and tame, of the earth, sky, and sea, wrought by art, chance, or nature, ordinary or unusual, and can amongst these hunt out some likeness which is capable of embellishing or proving or clarifying or vivifying. The resemblance between the two things need not apply throughout, but must hold on the precise point of comparison." (On Rhetoric to Herennius, Book IV, Chapter 48).

The critic who complains, 'The parable is unserviceable because believers are made of flesh and blood, not leaves and twigs,' has missed the boat (metaphorically speaking). The whole field of 'Bible difficulties' or 'Bible contradictions' follows hard on the heels of over-analysis. In some cases it is people of faith who lead the way into over-analysis; for instance some of the rabbis claimed that Hebrew was a divine language which God taught to man, a view which, if adopted, would certainly ramp up the significance of word etymologies. It's always a helpful test to inquire, do people read any other book this way, or only the Bible? Would those who heard the Mustard Seed parable in any other context demand that the 'smallest' seed must be the smallest discoverable, rather than the smallest which local agriculturalists would have handled?

This procedure applies across the board. For example, a proverb, to be useful and instructive, need not reflect a universal truth, but only a general truth. 'Waste not, want not,' cannot be rephrased unchanged as, 'No frugal person has ever been in need,' because this branch of literature deals in generalities. A single counter-example does not invalidate a sound principle, because, to borrow a maxim from the proverb-makers, 'One swallow does not a summer make.' Or to take another case, 'witness reports,' or 'news reports:' the reader's first resort is always to harmonization. The mayor of the town devastated by a tornado is reported as uttering a different sentence in the AP news report than in the Reuters report. But many people run their mouths all day long, and he might well have made both statements on different occasions. To demand, 'Well, which did he say? Did the major say, "We will rebuild," or "It's a tragedy"?' is foolish. If there is a time-line into which the witnesses' various reports can be fitted and fall naturally into place, the reader naturally and unself-consciously adopts it. In all other cases, this is always the first resort. It is only when harmonization fails that accusations of 'contradiction' or 'perjury' are heard. Only with the Bible stories do we encounter the imperious demand that harmonization must not even be attempted. So the Bible-believer should ask in response, 'Why? Why are the rules different here than elsewhere? And why must the 'smallest' seed be the smallest discoverable by the world-harvesting botanist, not the smallest among local cultivated varieties?'

If your interlocutor should reply, 'Because you propose that God wrote the Bible. Therefore the "smallest" seed must be the smallest known to God, not to man, much less to the farmers of that locality,' the Bible student should respond, 'You are on to something; certainly we find in the Bible a richness of interconnection beyond any found in merely-human literature,— but you have carried it too far. A parable seeks to bring a spiritual truth home, by recasting it in familiar, homely language. What is the merit in a parable that talks about things no one knows anything about?'


The law of Moses specifically recognizes polygamy:

"If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish." (Exodus 21:10).

Some Christians, such as the Munster communards and Joseph Smith, have concluded that polygamy is lawful. But there is no room left for polygamy in Jesus' teaching on marriage. Moses required a man who wants to end his marriage to give his wife a certificate of divorce:

"When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house." (Deuteronomy 24:1).

Jesus does not endorse this teaching, but attributes it rather to the hard-heartedness of the people. We learn from this that the law of Moses was not God's perfect plan for a utopian society, starting from Ground Zero, but a compromise between where the people were and where God wanted them to be:

"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." (Matthew 5:31-32).
"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9).

What is required is a remedy to soften the 'hard-heartedness' of the people, a medicine to cure flintiness, and this Jesus brought:

"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

Jesus' teaching on divorce goes beyond Moses to the order of creation. There is no more room left in this teaching for polygamy than for divorce, because "twain" is not 'twenty:'

"And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mark 10:3-9).

It's taken for granted in the New Testament that a man will have a wife and a woman a husband, not 23:

"Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." (1 Corinthians 7:2).

God had permitted, in Moses' law, usages such as polygamy and divorce to continue, though they were never His will for His people: "For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel..." (Malachi 2:16 NRSV). In the case of the king, Moses forbade multiplying wives: "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold." (Deuteronomy 17:17). Kings such as David and Solomon would appear to have honored this provision in the breach.

Multiply Wives Mohammed ibn Abdallah
Munster Communards Polygamous Bishops?
Demographics The Rabbis

Jephthah's Daughter

The Old Testament story of Jephthah's daughter has perplexed believers and delighted atheists:

  • “Read the story of Jephthah and his daughter, and then tell me what you think of a father who would sacrifice his daughter to God, and what you think of a God who would receive such a sacrifice. This one story should be enough to make every tender and loving father hold this book in utter abhorrence.”
  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Inspiration of the Bible, Fifty-third.).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorIt is possible that Jephthah did away with his daughter, as Agamemnon did with Iphigenia?:

"And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back. And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year." (Judges 11:30-40).

God hates child sacrifice:

"Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, that thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?" (Ezekiel 16:20-21).

Is it really likely that God would accept such a sacrifice? When Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord, she did not do away with him, but delivered him to the temple for service:

"And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head...For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there...But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod." (1 Samuel 1:11-1:27-28-2:18).

This seems more likely to have been the fate of Jephthah's daughter, than for Jephthah to do a thing the Lord hates. There were women who congregated at the tabernacle, perhaps for some sort of service:

"And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the looking-glasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." (Exodus 38:8).

The daughter of Jephthah may have joined this congregation. As a parallel, admittedly imperfect because taken from the idolatrous practices of the nations, consider the Sicilian girls devoted to Venus:

"Eryx, a very lofty mountain, is also inhabited. It possesses a temple of Venus, which is very much esteemed; in former times it was well filled with women sacred to the goddess, whom the inhabitants of Sicily, and also many others, offered in accomplishment of their vows; but now, both is the neighborhood much thinner of inhabitants, and the temple not near so well supplied with priestesses and female attendants." (Strabo, Geography, Book VI, Chapter II, Section 6, p. 412).

These young girls were not killed, though devoted, but given alive to the goddess, to serve as her temple attendants. The reader may object, that young girls devoted to Venus did unspeakable things, though it is not so stated of this group. Readers so concerned may prefer this batch of young maidens, consecrated to the chaste Athena:

"And indeed it is no long time since the Locrians have ceased sending maidens to Troy,
'Who without upper garments and barefooted,
Like slave-girls, in the early morning swept
Around Athene's altar all unveiled,
Till old age came upon them with its burdens,'
all because Ajax violated Cassandra." (Plutarch, Plutarch's Morals, On Those Who are Punished by the Deity Late, Section xii).

In obedience to an oracle, these people devoted young girls to service in Athena's temple, which evidently consisted in part of menial chores connected with keeping the temple establishment running. Hannah's example of devoting Samuel shows that this manner of thinking was not alien to Israel.

Another example, albeit in a pagan context, is Daphne, dedicated but not killed:

"Thereupon the Epigoni took the city and sacked it, and capturing Daphne, the daughter of Teiresias, they dedicated her, in accordance with a certain vow, to the service of the temple at Delphi as an offering to the god of the first-fruits of the booty." (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Delphi edition, Kindle location 6107).

She turned out to have a talent for the work; Diodorus says that she "wrote oracular responses of every sort, excelling in their composition. . ."

The atheists, of course, have their own inimitable way of thinking: "At the end of this time she meekly returned, and Jephthah cooked her." (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 276). But child sacrifice was forbidden by the law.

Ex Nihilo

The Bible teaches that God created the world from nothing:

"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (Hebrews 11:3).

But this posed a problem for nineteenth century science, which posited that matter was eternal and indestructible. Those steeped in the thought-forms of nineteenth century materialism could scarcely even formulate the concept of creation ex nihilo:

  • “The real question is, in the light of science, in the light of the brain and heart of the nineteenth century, is this book true? The gentleman who wrote it begins by telling us that God made the universe out of nothing. That I cannot conceive; it may be so, but I cannot conceive it. Nothing in the light of raw material, is, to my mind, a decided and disastrous failure. I cannot imagine of nothing being made into something, any more than I can of something being changed back into nothing. I cannot conceive of force aside from matter, because force to be force must be active, and unless there is matter there is nothing for force to act upon, and consequently it cannot be active. So I simply say I cannot comprehend it. I cannot believe it. I may roast for this, but it is my honest opinion.”
  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture on the Mistakes of Moses).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorAt a time when nineteenth century science taught that matter was eternal and indestructible, this Bible concept of creation ex nihilo was offered as a patent demonstration of the fallacy of the Bible. But then they dropped that in the twentieth century, and instead of the indestructibility and eternity of matter began to talk about E=MC2. Not missing a beat, the atheists and agnostics began to explain why this new and unexpected state of affairs also proved that God did not exist! For their own reasons physicists and astronomers began to talk about the 'Big Bang,' when matter came into existence. Therefore this 'Bible Difficulty' is a bit dated, though in its hey-day it seemed like a powerful argument against the Bible.

An odd survival of 'eternal matter' is found amongst the Mormons, owing to the happenstance that Joseph Smith read a book written by a proponent of this idea. It has never been part of Christian orthodoxy; the Bible does not teach that God created from pre-existing matter, but "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (Hebrews 11:3). The idea is by no means distinct to Christianity; even if someone thinks 'eternal matter' can be shoe-horned into Moses' creation narrative, it cannot be found in, "I beg you, child, look at the sky and the earth; see all that is in them and realize that God made them out of nothing, and that man comes into being in the same way." (2 Maccabees 7:28). The student of the history of science comes to discover that science, far from providing a magic window into the world-as-it-is, is a human activity, distinctly culture-bound; its findings become dated and quaint in fairly short order. 'Eternal matter' is a curiosity of times past.

Rainbow Sign

After the flood which destroyed mankind except for eight persons, God ordained a sign to reassure humanity this event would not recur. God showed Noah the rainbow sign:

"And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth." (Genesis 9:11-17).

Where is the difficulty? The difficulty is this: the rainbow is caused by the refraction of sunlight through water droplets. Why is that a difficulty? Are not the sun and the water droplets God's own, as well as the rainbow they produce? Yet the agnostic Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll insists the rainbow is not available for God to use as a sign of the covenant, because it is already taken, by the meteorologists:

  • “Then Noah opened the window and got a breath of fresh air, and let out all the animals; and then Noah took a drink, and God made a bargain with him that He would not drown us any more, and He put a rainbow in the clouds and said: "When I see that I will recollect that I have promised not to drown you." Because if it was not for that He is apt to drown us at any moment. Now can anybody believe that that is the origin of the rainbow? Are you not all familiar with the natural causes which bring those beautiful arches before our eyes?”
  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture on the Mistakes of Moses).

Colonel Ingersoll will not allow God to act through secondary causes; yet why not? By the rules he here lays down, any sign or token ordained by God to memorialize His covenant with man must be produced by a direct and immediate miracle, outside of the course of nature, not by any naturally occurring process. But why?:

Byzantine Icon PantocratorThis complaint is the inverse of Colonel Ingersoll's usual objection. As the reader of Ingersoll's Lectures is aware, whenever the Bible records that God works a miracle, Colonel Ingersoll complains that that is not what usually happens. He dwells upon how unusual a circumstance it is: for instance, how unlikely it is that such a large number of people could follow Moses through the wilderness out of Egypt, where would they ever get food, why couldn't God provide a balanced diet rather than just manna, etc. He will not allow God to work a miracle and do what is outside the normal course of nature, but neither will He allow God to use the common course of nature for His purposes!

Through the Fire

"When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods." (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).

When the children of Israel came into the promised land, they were commanded by God to extirpate the people already living there, the Canaanites. No human being can lawfully reach such a verdict concerning an entire race; but God, the righteous judge of all the world, had weighed these people in the balance and found them wanting. Their culture was built around a practice which would make even Hitler blanch: burning alive infant children as an offering to their gods. The atheists cry, 'genocide'! But in some jurisdictions in the U.S., a mother and a father who had been convicted of incinerating their own children would be eligible for the death penalty, given the cruelty and depravity of the act. Is God a monster, as is alleged, for reaching the same verdict as the justice system of certain American states?

The atheists practically foam at the mouth when the judgments against these nations come to their attention:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: 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." (The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, p. 51).

Is the charge justified? Or does God retain the right to judge His world?

Eating Lobster

Atheists advance the argument against Christianity, 'But you eat lobster.' Christians, you see, do not keep kosher, a circumstance which is to atheists an insoluble conundrum. Why not, when the Bible so commands? This will come up, for example, when a Christian quotes the stark Old Testament commands against homosexuality; this argument even made it onto the TV show, 'The West Wing.' The looked-for outcome of this argument is a bewildered look on the face of the Christian disputant; that never happens, of course, when this party is Bible-literate, rather, he starts rattling off Bible verses explaining why Christians do not keep kosher. This is not the response the atheist seeks, so he turns away. But this conflict occupies a central place in the Book of Acts. The New Testament is remarkably transparent about this very serious difference of opinion which nearly blew the church apart almost before it got started.

Byzantine Icon PantocratorWhy don't Christians keep kosher? During Jesus' earthy ministry, He only rarely encountered Gentiles; He said, "But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24). Although He had taught His disciples, "And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?" (Mark 7:18-19), they had not yet made the connection that that had anything to do with keeping kosher.

This issue came to the fore when Peter was invited to the home of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile. He was reluctant to go, but God sent Him a vision:

Eating Lobster Moral Law
Ceremonial Law Universal Law
Sabbath Keeping The Talmud
Law of Love

Byzantine Icon PantocratorIt is God the Holy Spirit who cleansed the unclean foods, not the will of man. Moses' law, not a universal law laid down for all people at all times and in all places, was part of a covenant between God and the people of Israel. On the one hand this law was nailed to the cross: "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross..." (Colossians 2:14). On the other hand the law is holy: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." (Romans 7:12). The moral law remains an invaluable guide to the mind of God, while the ceremonial law has achieved the goal toward which it was designed to point, namely the sacrifice of the lamb on the cross. Jesus said that not a jot nor tittle would pass from the law until all was fulfilled:

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18).

What was fulfilled on the cross was the end, not by abrogation, but by completion and achievement of its goal, of the ceremonial aspect of the law: the temple sacrifices and priesthood. Considerable latitude was left in the church for individual liberty in these matters:

A Jealous God

The God we serve is a jealous God:

"For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:. . ." (Exodus 34:14).

The new atheists mock God for His anxious love:

"God's monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god resembles nothing so much as sexual jealousy of the worst kind, and again it should strike a modern moralist as far from good role-model material.. . .God has only to turn his back for a moment and the Children of Israel would be off and at it with Baal, or some trollop of a graven image." (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 276).

Deist Ethan Allen thought that jealously implied ignorance, and thus cannot characterize the omniscient God: "Jealousy can have no existence in that mind, which possesses perfect knowledge, and consequently cannot, without the greatest impropriety, be ascribed to God, who knows all things, and needed none of the admonitions, advice or intelligence of Moses, or any of his dictatorial prayers." (Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man: Or a Compendious System of Natural religion, Chapter VI, Section IV).

God's jealousy was a stumbling block also to television personality Oprah. For that matter it was a stumbling block to the old atheists, who saw in this divine character trait evidence of bad character:

  • “God, as we have seen, is jealous of nature and man; He wants man to honor, love, and serve Him alone; He wants everything else to be nothing and Himself alone to be something; in other words, theism is jealous of man and the world and begrudges them any good. Envy, ill will, and jealousy are destructive, negative passions. Atheism, on the other hand, is liberal, open-handed, open-minded; an atheist acknowledges every being’s will and talent; his heart delights in the beauty of nature and the virtue of man: joy and love do not destroy, they are life-giving, affirmative.”
  • (Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Lecture XXX).

William Jennings Bryan Home

Is God's jealousy symptomatic of a petty, small-minded, unloving character? Or is it a symptom of love?:

Cry of Dereliction

To atheists, Jesus's cry of dereliction upon the cross is sufficient answer to His claim of Deity:

  • “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
  • (Matthew 27:46).

Darkness Too Pure
Psalm 22 Suffering Servant
Say It and Mean It Quest for the Historical Jesus
Ends of the Earth

The Binding of Isaac

Is the binding of Isaac a moral horror that proves there is no God?:

  • “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
  • (Genesis 22:1-2).

This story above all others repels those bound for a different destination:

"By the standards of modern morality, this disgraceful story is an example simultaneously of child abuse, bullying in two asymmetrical power relationships, and the first recorded use of the Nuremberg defense: 'I was only obeying orders.'" (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 275).

Mount Moriah Problems
Mount Calvary Only Begotten
Traditional Jewish Interpretation Detractors


Commonly cited as a blown prophecy by 'Jesus Seminar' types, is the promise that some standing right there in front of Jesus would see His Kingdom in its glory:

"Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." (Matthew 16:28).

"And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark 9:1).

"But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:27).

Is this a blown prophecy, or was it fulfilled right on time, right on the dime?

Byzantine Icon PantocratorEnd times prophecy in general can be perceived as a source of difficulty, as by Deist Ethan Allen:

"The apostle Peter, at the first Christian pentecost, objecting to the accusation of their being drunk with new wine, explains the prophecy of the prophet Joel, who prophesied of the events which were to take place in the last days, as coming to pass at that early period; his words are handed down to us as follows: "But this is that which is spoken by the prophet Joel, and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."

". . .It may however be supposed, that St. Peter was a better judge of the accomplishment of the prophecy than I am: well then, admitting his application of the prophecy of the last days to take place at the first pentecost; it being now more than seventeen hundred years ago, they consequently could not have been the last days.

"Still a query arises, whether every of the prophecies, which were predicted to be fulfilled in the last days, must not have been accomplished at that time; or whether any of the prophecies thus expressed are still to be completed by any events which may in future take place; or by any which have taken place since those last days called pentecost; or whether any prophecy whatever can be fulfilled more than once; and if so, how many times; or how is it possible for us, out of the vast variety of events (in which there is so great a similarity) which one in particular to ascribe to its right prediction among the numerous prophecies?"

(Ethan Allen. Reason, The Only Oracle of Man / Or a Compendious System of Natural Religion, Chapter VII, Section I (Kindle Locations 1074-1088).)

It is certainly true that compiling a 'Master Calendar' of prophesied events is one of the most daunting challenges for Biblical interpretation. But that is not because we do not have the right interpretation; rather, we have the right interpretation, but are not sure which one it is! The 'Master Calendar' is not itself revealed in the Bible, rather readers must fit every new event they read about: the millenium, the rapture,— into place alongside of every other event. It is a certainty that these events will take place, but in what order they will take place is open for speculation. Since virtually every possible iteration of these events has been proposed at one time or another, pre-millenialism, amillenialism, post-millenialism, with the their varied subdivisions,— one such 'Master Calendar' must be correct, but each has its difficulties and strengths. Presumably, had God wanted us to know the 'Master Calendar,' He could have revealed it directly.

What Peter in error by at least seventeen hundred years, as Ethan Allen alleges? No, there is a 'Law of Prophetic Perspective,' similar to the motorists' experience in approaching a mountain range. What had, at a distance, seemed an undifferentiated lump is shown, at close range, to be a sequence of ridges and valleys. There are two advents of the Lord; many of the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled at the first advent, others await fulfillment. In answer to his question, it does seem that, Biblically, a prophecy can be fulfilled multiple times. The difficulties inherent in cultivating this particular vineyard of Bible interpretation are no argument against the Bible, only testimony to our, at present, incomplete and imperfect information:

Jewish Trial

For political reasons, the so-called 'Jewish trial' reported in all four gospels is very controversial, and it is considered virtuous to disbelieve it. Is there anything problematic about these consistent and mutually supporting accounts? Does the Talmud contradict, or confirm, the gospel account?:

Christ Presented Before the People, Rembrandt van Rijn


Ever since the 'Enlightenment,' miracles have been regarded as, not a testimony to the truth of the gospel, but rather as dead-weight dragging down the gospel account. Is this rational?:

An Example Immutable God
Cautionary Note The Enlightenment
Benedict de Spinoza Pinball Machine
David Hume Natural Explanations


It is surprising how often you find, amongst the atheists, the argument presented that, 'these two views disagree; therefore both are false.' This is bad logic: the correct analysis is, 'these two views disagree; therefore both cannot be true; either both are false, or one or the other is true.' Nevertheless this is an evergreen argument against the Bible, presented here by Deist Ethan Allen, in the form 'self-professed prophets disagree; therefore, no prophecy can be trusted:'

  • “Whoever examines the writings of the prophets will discover a spirit of strife and contention among them; they would charge each other with fallacy and deception; disputations of this kind are plentifully interspersed through the writings of the prophets; we will transcribe a few of those passages out of many: 'Thus saith the Lord to the foolish prophets that follow their own spirit, and have found nothing, they have seen vanity and lying divination, saying the Lord said, and the Lord hath not sent them, and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.' And in another place, 'I have not not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken unto them, yet they prophesy.' Again, 'I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed, yet they are the prophets of the deceit of their own hearts.' . .It being the case that there was such a strife among the prophets to recommend themselves to the people, and every art and dissimulation having been practiced by them to gain power and superiority, all which artifice was to be judged of by the great vulgar, or in some instances by the political views of the Jewish Sanhedrim, how could those who were contemporaries with the several prophets, distinguish the premised true prophets from the false?”
  • (Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man, Chapter VII, Section II).

Ethan Allen
 Reason the Only Oracle 
of Man

One helpful little trick: if the prophet proclaims peace when there is no peace,— that is to say, if the prophecy proves false,— then he is not a true prophet of God. This 'argument' against Biblical religion nevertheless remains popular today:

Four Feet

Atheists object, that God's word asserts that insects such as locusts and grasshoppers have four feet, rather than the six of common observation:

"Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind. But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you. . .And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten. Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination." (Leviticus 11:21-42).

Part of the problem here seems to be the telegraphic style, part a matter of naming conventions. When God condescended to speak to man, He did not invent a divine Esperanto purged of all the difficulties of existing languages, such as their ambiguity:

  • “But no language is so copious as to supply words and phrases for every complex idea, or so correct as not to include many equivocally denoting different ideas. . .When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”

  • (The Federalist Papers, Federalist No. 37, Kindle location 3173).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorSymbolic logic sought to make an end-run around the ambiguity inherent in all human languages by creating their own, but even this desperation tactic did not work out. This inevitable obscurity is defused in God's word by abundance, richness, and redundancy; if it is said enough times, any ambiguity inherent in language is overcome. It would appear that Moses is grouping the creature's appendages as 'two' plus 'four' rather than 'six:'

"And these Aristotle calls the leaping parts; and though he attributes to the locust six feet, as does also Pliny, yet he takes the two leaping parts into the account; whereas Moses distinguishes those two from the four feet; and so Austin observes, that Moses does not reckon among the feet the two hinder thighs with which locusts leap, which he calls clean, and thereby distinguishes them from such unclean flying creatures which do not leap with their thighs, such as beetles; and so the Jewish writers always describe a clean locust as having four feet, and two legs, thighs, or knees." (John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, Leviticus 11:21).

If this was the naming convention then in place, that the grasshopper has four 'feet' but two other appendages not referred to as 'feet,' but rather as legs above their feet, then it seems innocuous enough. What counts as a 'foot' versus what counts as a 'leg above the feet' cannot have any unarguable, obligatory definition, even though we tend to say 'six feet.'

Is it possible there is one salvation plan available for men, salvation by faith, and a completely different one, salvation by child-bearing, reserved for women? Some commentators think so, like Bart Ehrman:

The Census

Luke records a census mandated by the Emperor Augustus which required inhabitants to register themselves at their own proper place of residence. That this emperor, the first to reign undisturbed, had an interest in population statistics is known from other sources; after Augustus' demise, Tiberius produced an 'inventory' of the empire's resources, written in the late emperor's own hand:

"They [the Senators] raised heir hands to the gods, to the statue of Augustus, and to the knees of Tiberius, when he ordered a a document to be produced and read. This contained a description of the resources of the State, of the number of citizens and allies under arms, of the fleets, subject kingdoms, provinces, taxes, direct and indirect, necessary expenses and customary bounties. All these details Augustus had written with his own hand. . ." (Tacitus, Annals, 1.11).

The innocent observer might wonder where Augustus got the information he wrote out by hand, if he never conducted any census, as they say he did not. Luke describes the circumstances of this census, the first in its sequence. Some readers take his mention of governor Quirinius as specifying that Quirinius himself conducted the census, but this is over-interpreting. It is normal for ancient historians to specify a date by reference to a known term of office; for instance, of the archons at Athens. There was no universal dating system such as we take for granted, and so mentioning who held a noteworthy office at the time, for example who were the consuls at Rome, can accomplish the goal:

  • “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
  • “This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
  • “So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
  • “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.”

  • (Luke 2:1-5).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorIsrael had good reason to care what tribes resided where; the law of Moses imposes a detailed system of land tenure. This system cannot have been fully functional at the time, because the northern tribes had been removed and the land resettled. It was reconquered and reattached to Judaea under the Hasmonaean monarchs; but what was the status of its inhabitants? Whether Roman law as applicable to the census was completely compatible with Moses' regulations would require some study to ascertain.

Mary and Joseph probably thought they had good reason to get moving. Contrary to atheist representations, Luke does not say Augustus required everybody to get moving; can they possibly think no one in that world grew up in the same house in which they were born? You can find people today who did that! And citizens of one place who had moved were able to update their status, just as we would today. But Joseph and Mary did not do this. Realizing that where they went was to the city of David, and that David's descendants had inherited no small claims, the kingdom is probably the key to why and where they got moving.

This vitriolic language these people use should by itself be enough to clue the reader that there's a problem:

  • “However, because the sole purpose of a census was taxation, Roman law assessed an individual's property in the place of residence, not in the place of one's birth. . .Luke's suggestion that the entire Roman economy would periodically be placed on hold as every Roman subject was forced to uproot himself and his entire family in order to travel great distances to the place of his father's birth, and then wait there patiently, perhaps for months, for an official to take stock of his family and his possessions, which, in any case, he would have left behind in his place of residence, is, in a word, preposterous."
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 53).

Byzantine Icon PantocratorThere are several problems with this analysis, including the fact that no possible interpretation of Luke's evidence or of the comparable evidence from Egypt suggests that "every Roman subject" would be obliged to "travel great distances." For one thing, he is forgetting that he, following John Dominic Crossan and others, promotes the idea that this was a static, inert 'peasant' society in which hardly anyone ever moved from the place of his birth. Now this in itself is preposterous, because the actual Rome empire was a mobile society. But why are these people allowed to make up imaginary circumstances, and then toss them aside when they no longer suit their purposes?

Any residual uncertainties of time and place are not of sufficient magnitude to find error in Luke's account. Josephus does not mention this census, but if we are to eject from history all the things that Josephus fails to mention, we're in trouble. The atheists ought to retire this one. As is the general trend, the more information that becomes available about the New Testament period, the more credible the gospel authors appear.

Easter Morn

Critics of Christianity believe they find ammunition in the Easter accounts of the four gospels, because: "Yet in the narrative of the Moment of Easter or the details of Easter, there is an unsettling and confusing sea of contradictions." (John Shelby Spong, The Easter Moment, Kindle location 1767). It must be admitted that the sequence of events on Easter morn is a genuine puzzle even for the reverent Christian reader. To the skeptic, it is his trump card. Secular Bible scholars insist the differences in these four accounts are irreconcilable contradictions, not details differing according to viewpoint; 'Bible contradictions' are their bread-and-butter after all. The accounts can be harmonized, but some people insist, not that this cannot be done, but that it should not be done: "Forced harmonizing is worthless. The tendency today, however, is is the opposite — to force the New Testament writings into disharmony, in order to emphasize their individuality." (John Wenham, Easter Enigma, p. 128).

"Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb." (Matthew 28:1). "Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen." (Mark 16:1). "Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared." (Luke 24:1). "Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb." (John 20:1).

Luke's "they" refers back to the prior verse; he had suggested these women were from Galilee: "And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." (Luke 23:55-56). The key to creating a 'Bible contradiction' is to insert 'only:' 'Only Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.' However there are also genuine difficulties; how has the angelic message become so badly garbled in Mary Magdalene's report to Peter? Though she is running the assigned errand in informing the disciples, far from transmitting what the angels instructed the women to say, she offers a 'conspiracy theory:' “Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.'” (John 20:2). She may not have realized they were angels, as scripture says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." (Hebrews 13:2). If angels are obvious in all cases, one cannot entertain them unawares!

The conventional greeting card image of an angel is rather unmistakable, but also somewhat unbiblical. The closest I can come to it are the winged women of Zechariah 5:9, whoever they were, "Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were two women, coming with the wind in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven." (Zechariah 5:9). The seraphim of Isaiah 6 have three pairs of wings, and the cherubim of Ezekiel 10:10 have likewise a distinct appearance. That an angel's announcement can be met with skepticism is clear from Luke 1:18-20; Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, was taken by the angel for a skeptic. Whether an angel should be believed in all cases is unclear, from 2 Corinthians 11:14: "And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14). Paul, in Galatians, specifically instructs his people not to believe an angel who says the wrong thing: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8).

The high priests' faction had already raised the possibility of Jesus' disciples stealing the body; did Mary fear this was an advance warning of a 'false flag' operation, where to discredit the Jesus movement, His enemies would engineer a shabby little road show, first removing the body, then triumphantly restoring a decomposing body after His followers had allowed themselves to express excitement? What she had objectively seen were two young men in dazzling white clothes, and she may have been of a paranoid turn of mind, so as to wonder who their employer was. Or did she simply assume laying the Lord in the garden tomb was a temporary expedient to avoid violating the Sabbath? This first encounter, all sources concur, was a dry hole. Part of the confusion stems from erroneously identifying Mary Magdalene's later conversation with angels with this first group visit, which violates not only the synoptic data but even John's own sequence. There is a math puzzle involving missionaries and cannibals who must be transported across a river, under the condition that the cannibals can never outnumber the missionaries at any place or they will devour them. Although the would-be puzzle solver resists moving cannibals back over the river when the whole goal is to get everybody on the far side, this must be done to solve the puzzle. Like it or not, there are comings and goings at the tomb.

Mary may not have been convinced the young men were indeed angels, or she may have understood they were and still disbelieved them. If the latter, this Bible oddity offers an adequate explanation for the gnostics' choice of Mary as one of their preferred revealer figures. She frequently appears in this role in gnostic literature. They, too, viewed some heavenly inhabitants (including the living God Jehovah) with considerable skepticism!

Caspar David Friedrich, Easter Morning

One factor needlessly tending to replicate 'Mary's' is the old idea of her perpetual virginity. Discarding that as unfounded, then Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the mother of James and Salome become one and the same person, an advance in parsimony. The accounts are different, but the idea that there is any irreconcilable contradiction between them requires the addition of a condition, that each evangelist intended to give an exhaustive list, rather than that he intended to list those witnesses from whom he had personally heard testimony, etc. One striking feature of all these accounts is the prominence of women witnesses; the Rabbis discouraged testimony from women: "Said Ula: Even as regards witnesses he must be excluded by the following a fortiori argument, thus: An Israelitish woman is not eligible as a witness — a slave, whom is not an Israelite and cannot even intermarry with an Israelitish woman, is it not logical that he should not be eligible as a witness?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 10, Trace Baba Kama, The First Gate, Chapter VIII, Kindle location 44348). Whatever the editorial agenda of the gospel writers, influencing their selection of incident, they are constrained by fact, they are not inventing ideal witnesses.

The reader who delves into the field of 'Bible Contradictions' will discover that the rules for discovering such 'contradictions' are different from any other field of inquiry: "Who, in reading two narratives of the same event, would think of charging one or both of the authors with error or falsehood, because one omits what the other mentions, or one tells concisely, but with substantial agreement, what the other relates in detail, so as to indicate not only what was done, but also how it was done?" (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book XXXIII, Chapter 7, Complete Works of Saint Augustine, Kindle location 184880). A contradiction, if such is to be found, should be two reported events which cannot both have occurred, not a different selection of events; in this latter study, one is simply looking at editorial choices which all reporters make. The gospel records each offer information that supplements the others, filling in the blanks, not confuting unless the reader demands them so to do: "In their differences they are complementary, not contradictory." (B. Ward Powers, The Progressive Publication of Matthew, p. 240).


Byzantine Icon Pantocrator Promoting the concept of Bible Difficulties up to the next level, we come to the 'Bible Contradictions.' The atheists are firmly convinced, not only that there is such a thing, but that they abound:

"Flit back a few centuries, and there is no contemporary evidence even for the existence of Jesus Christ, arguably the most influential man in history. Most of our tales about his life were written in the decades after his death by people who had never met him. Today, we would seriously question that, if it were presented as historical evidence. Even the accounts that Christians rely on, the Gospels, are inconsistent and have irreversibly mutated over time." (A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford, p. 2).

Are they on to something, or do they fail to deliver the 'Bible Contradictions' they keep promising?: