What is the most fundamental contradiction in the Bible?

One of my part time hobbies is to venture in to Christian chat rooms and start quoting biblical contradictions.

On one of my recent escapades, I was told that the “so called contradictions” I was coming up with were petty, and none of them effected the fundamental message of the Bible.

That got me thinking, what is the most fundamental contradiction in the Bible?

While I know that most die hard fundies would argue that there aren’t any contradictions in the Bible, period, I was wondering what some, or most other people view as the biggest inconsistency contained within the sacred text?

Could it be this one?

God CAN be seen:

“And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my backparts.” (Ex. 33:23)
“And the Lord spake to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend.” (Ex. 33:11)
“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Gen. 32:30)

God CANNOT be seen:

“No man hath seen God at any time.” (John 1:18)
“And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live.” (Ex. 33:20)
“Whom no man hath seen nor can see.” (1 Tim. 6:16)

Well, if you’re including the New Testament, there are some pretty basic philosophical contradictions:
[ul][li]God is merciful and forgiving; yet God holds everyone accountable for the sins of Adam and Eve, for which the punishment is eternal torture.[/li]
The death of God’s only begotten Son, which takes away the sentence of eternal torture, is supposed to have been the supreme sacrifice; yet God’s Son was only dead for 3 days, and God and his Son both knew He would only be dead for 3 days, which doesn’t exactly sound like much of a “sacrifice.”[/ul]

This is not really a contradiction. The former verses are not meant to be taken literally. God doesn’t have literal “backparts” or a “face” for that matter.

I’m not going to address every contradiction that comes up in this thread (and certainly not any OT-NT contradictions), becuase I agree that there are verses that, taken literally, DO contradict each other. However, Jews have an oral tradition explaining these contradictions. I don’t, however, expect anyone buy our explainations.

Zev Steinhardt

If one believes that the bible is literally true, and one believes in the law of non-contradiction, then any contradiction in the bible is fundamental. I.e. any contradiction at all ought to require us to reject the whole thing. All contradictions are fatal.

If one approaches the bible as an agglomeration of historical and allegorical truths, along with some good stories and beautiful poetry, then one can probably resolve any contradiction. Apparent contradictions are superficial, or accidental, or not important to the message. For instance, I would point out that your visible God seems to exist in the early OT, and your invisible God is the God of the later OT and NT (though it seems obvious that Jesus was visible). That indicates that there are two different perceptions of God, one supercedes the other; not that there are two different Gods, or that God contains a contradiction. Or, I could point out that there might be two types of seeing: photons hitting our retina causing signals in our brain, and signals induced directly in the brain by God.

If one does not believe that contradictions are fatal, then there may be multiple actual contradictions still allowing one to accept the bible. There are logical systems that allow contradictions without making reasoning impossible. Don’t laugh; it’s not obvious that contradictions don’t exist in the actual world (whatever we mean by “actual”).

kg m²/s²

I just started reading a book by Madeleine L’Engle on the idea of the role of story in various things.

Quite simply, one of her main premises is that there are things too profound to be said in explicit literal language, for which the proper medium is story (fiction) and myth.

The Bible is a prime example of such things.

BTW, Tracer, the presumption is that Jesus did not know that He’d rise from the dead in three days – He had to take the idea on faith. Which kind of puts a different perspective on His willingness to undergo the Crucifixion, doesn’t it?

My ignorance of the Bible is staggering, so I may not have this right, but this has always sounded like a contradiction to me:

God makes Adam and Eve. One of their children (Cain) kills another of their children (Able). Cain then wanders off and ends up in a far away land full of people. Who the heck are these people? I know people supposedly lived much longer according to the Bible, but long enough for A&E’s other children to propagate into whole societies in other areas?

If I’m misunderstanding the scripture here please fill me in…

That’s only a contradiction Sgt. J, if one insists that the bible is all literally true, and that it is the only truth.

If one accepts that there may be truths not contained in the bible, then it is quite reasonable that God created others besides Adam and Eve. In fact, it’s reasonable to presume that something like that must have happened (based on later biblical evidence). I don’t think the origin of Cain’s friends troubles even fundamentalists. This is the God, after all, who made everything and made a big flood and destroyed armies and parted seas and impregnated a virgin.

If one accepts the Adam and Eve story as allegory, then there is not really a problem. That’s not to say that there can’t be a kernel of truth in allegory (in this case, the kernel of the “fall” is important to much of Christian theology).

kg m²/s²

I have particular difficulty with this explanation.

Assuming a literal interpretation: We, as humans, are judged by God for what Adam and Eve did. If He created others besides them, it must be the case that not everyone is descended from A&E, therefore, not everyone should be subject to His Divine Wrath over what they did.

Of course, there is that whole Noah episode; Noah was a direct descendant of A&E (I’m guessing), so everyone after the flood is an A&E descendant.

That still doesn’t explain why all of the “other people God created” should have been punished for what Adam’s line did.

Even allegorically, I don’t see what is gained by the assumption that there were “others” besides Adam and Eve. Unless it is also to be assumed that all of God’s creations did the same thing…which might lead one to doubt the infallibility of the Creator.

Let me try and clear it up a bit.

Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel.

They had other sons & daughters as well (Gen 5).

There is no “date” on the Cain/Abel story.

It states that Cain went to the “land of Nod.” It does not indicate that it was already populated (just as we have a land of Antarctica which [not counting the scientific teams there] is unpopulated). Cain goes there after he murders Abel with his wife (a sister, obviously), builds a city and populates it.

Zev Steinhardt

*Originally posted by tracer *
Well, if you’re including the New Testament, there are some pretty basic philosophical contradictions:
[ul][li]God is merciful and forgiving; yet God holds everyone accountable for the sins of Adam and Eve, for which the punishment is eternal torture.

It’s only a contradiction if you assume that such forgiveness is unconditional, which it isn’t. It’s contingent on repentance.

Remember, in order to present a contradiction, the text must state two mutually exclusive and irresolvable terms. That is, it must simultaneously say “A” and “not A.” One might ponder the exact sense in which the terms “mercy” and “forgiveness” are being used, and the implications thereof, but the theological difficulty that you described does not constitute a contradiction per se. (Additionally, one must also consider the other aspects of God’s character, such as justice. One could draw any number of unwarranted conclusions by focusing on one aspect to the exclusion of the entire person.)

Additionally, the Book of Romans quite clearly dictates that all humans are sinful (verses 3:23 and 6:23), so it’s overly simplistic to say that we are punished for the sins of Adam and Eve. Also, while various verses do depict Hell as a terrible, hellfire-ridden place, theologian J.P. Moreland makes a case for such imagery being symbolic. According to his view, Hell is a place of torment, but not torture. (I’m not prepared to accept his view unconditionally, but he does make an interesting case.)

**[li]The death of God’s only begotten Son, which takes away the sentence of eternal torture, is supposed to have been the supreme sacrifice; yet God’s Son was only dead for 3 days, and God and his Son both knew He would only be dead for 3 days, which doesn’t exactly sound like much of a “sacrifice.”[/ul] **[/li][/QUOTE]

Once again though, that’s a theological difficulty, but it’s not a contradiction per se. We should be very careful about how we use that term.

I agree that the value of such a sacrifice may not be evident, and that this is a matter which merits theological study. Such a discussion would cover an entire volume, though. For the purposes of this particular discussion, I would simply like to emphasize that it’s not a contradiction in any precise sense of the word.

Darwin’s Finch, I don’t think I’m competent to try to defend a biblical literalist interpretation of the fall, so I think I have to withdraw my supposition. On the other hand:

Maybe you missed the allegory. There’s no assumption that there were “‘others’ besides Adam and Eve”. There were literally no Adam and Eve. They were all “others” besides Adam and Eve.

Perhaps there was sometime (but no, not a single instance), when our cognitive capacity became such that we were able to be fully self-aware. A certain kind of moral choice became available to us at that time that was not accessable before then. And we made the wrong moral choices. There’s no escaping the observation that we quite frequently make the wrong moral choices, doing harm to others.

Personally, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about our fallen nature other than to observe that fallen appears to be the default state for mankind, and we all need to do a little bit of something to rectify that.

kg m²/s²

Well, if you believe in the literal truth of the Bible, there’s this one:

  1. God creates day and night on the first day. (Gen. 1:3-5)
  2. God creates the sun on the fourth day. (Gen. 1:16-19)


Well, maybe it was just kind of “cloudy” looking for three days, because God was busy trying His hand at various prototypes of the lightbulb.

Eventually, He was like, “Wait a second… I’m GOD, medammit, I can do better than this!” So he came up with the sun, and decided to leave the petty inventions like the lightbulb to us mere mortals. :wink:

Or maybe His concept of day and night were simply “Time to be awake and doing stuff” and “Time to go to sleep”.

But then He had to figure out how the people would know the difference, how we’d know when it was time to get our asses up and start milking the cows.

So then he was like, “I know! I’ll make this giant bright gob in the sky…”

Oh, the possibilities are endless… :stuck_out_tongue:

Spoke, it was obviously the light of all the giant supernovas that illuminated earth on the first three days!

Polycarp wrote:

Matthew 20:19, Mark 8:31, Mark 10:34, and Luke 18:33 all have Jesus telling the disciples, before He is crucified, that He is going to rise from the dead after 3 days.

Where did this “presumption” that he didn’t know come from?

I understand the point of the story: Man is sinful, and has been pretty much from the beginning. I’m simply stating that the explanation often given for Cain’s wife (there were “others” besides Adam and Eve) is unsatisfactory. Even if we go for a non-literal interpretation, along with this explanation, the question will be raised as to why, if only some humans were initially disobedient toward God, are all humans necessarily sinful?

Given that, zev’s explanation makes sense, but many literalists probably object to it because it introduces the taboo of incest.

Which, to me, shows just what kind of problems you can run into by adhering to strictly literal interpretations.

Huh? How could you possibly get around it? Of course Adam’s children cohabited with their siblings. Who else was there?

Zev Steinhardt

Precisely, Darwin’s Finch. Recommended reading: Job: A Comedy of Justice, by Robert A. Heinlein – set in a universe where the Bible is literally true – but not the whole truth.

Or perhaps you’d enjoy the anecdote that I cadged from Madeleine L’Engle:

A conservative literalist Christian couple decided to read through the Bible together. As they got into the New Testament, they had a baby boy, and when they finished, he was about four years old. They decided to start over, to read it aloud with him. As they read the account of creation in Genesis 1, his eyes got bigger and bigger. “What did you think of that story,” the mother asked, “God making everything in the world in just six days.” “Wow,” the boy answered, “and just think – he did it all with just his left hand!” “Why do you think that?” his mother asked. The boy replied, “Because it says that Jesus was sitting on his right hand!”

Instant Classic. Sig worthy.

Oh yeah,

I agree with auntie em. She is very wise and stunningly beautiful.