Biblical Contradictions (Now With Pictures)

An infographic purports to show 439 contradictions in the Bible, but is there more to the picture than meets the eye?
Biblical Contradictions

Thanks to Aaron for directing me to this impressive-looking infographic. Commissioned by Sam Harris for his Project Reason nonprofit, it purports to visualize 439 contradictions contained within the Bible.

The bars that run along the bottom of the visualization represent the 1189 chapters in The Bible, with the length of each bar corresponding to the number of verses in each chapter. White bars represent the Old Testament and grey bars represent The New Testament. Each arc indicates a contradiction.

More info here as well.

Not surprisingly, folks have chimed in with plenty of comments and criticisms, e.g., pointing out that the infographic itself contains errors and duplicates, that it ripped off this infographic (which visualizes 63,779 cross references in the Bible), and that at least some of the contradictions listed aren’t contradictions at all.

The most vocal — and ornery — critique that I’ve found so far has come from — surprise! — pastor Douglas Wilson, who, in his inimitable manner, writes:

Let’s see. The name of this venture in high intellectual attainment is Project Reason. I am thinking that maybe they should rename it as Project Literacy, for that is where (it seems to me) the issue may lie.

Scripture tells us that a believing spouse ought not to leave an unbeliever simply because of that unbelief. You don’t need to worry that having an unbelieving spouse will pollute any resultant children, for the unbelieving spouse is sanctified with the result that the children are holy (1 Cor. 7:14). So, go ahead, stay married to that unbeliever if the unbeliever is content to remain married. And then, to throw us off completely, we have an account of salvation coming to the entire household of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31). Apparently, nobody has taught Sam Harris how doctrine ought to be derived from narrative, along with the corollary of how it ought not to be.

Now, all this is set up as a contradiction to the question posed in 1 Cor. 7:16, which encourages a believing spouse whose unbelieving spouse decides to leave them. We know about this because of an intervening verse, verse 15, a little something that we biblical expositors like to call ​“context.”

​“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15).

So when you look at that poster, with all those red arches proving that the Bible is a tissue of contradictions, just remember that #208 was one of those red lines. Tell yourself that Sam Harris thinks the Bible is unreliable because it tells Christian spouses to stay married to the non-Christian if the non-Christian wants to, and not to worry about it if they don’t. Most of us would call this different counsel for different circumstances, but for Sam Harris, it is a contradiction. This, under the banner of Project Reason?

Elsewhere, Arthur at Cyberpunk + Blue Twin writes:

The humanities — history, classics, literature, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, languages, and so on — are the first port of call for understanding texts, not least ancient texts. These are of course familiar domains of thought to Christians, a people of book and story (my current program of study broadly incorporates all of them).

What I’m saying, friend atheist, is that when you ask me explain some of those Bible contradictions, I’m not likely to launch into some obtuse, mystical claptrap. I’m going to invite you to consider how texts and stories work. I may well start by turning your attention to the texts and stories of our own culture: movies, novels, video games, music videos, and so on. The secrets of the Bible lie therein! Maybe, if things are particularly dire, I’ll recommend an undergraduate English major. And, by the way, I won’t try to convert you. I’ll simply attempt to demonstrate that ancient people thought differently to us.

[…]

But the Scripture Project’s blithe self-evidences hang in a fog of implicit value judgements. There’s a certain xenophobia here: unlike the ancients, who were slobberingly stupid, we moderns know best. The ancients who penned that Proverbs 26:4 – 5 contradiction — ridiculous! — must just have been too dumb to pick it up.

This is sheer obscurantism. Is there any desire to question what seems obvious to us, to consider other perspectives? This supposedly critical approach to the Bible is anti history, anti literature, and anti culture. It is an astonishing collapsing of horizons, an appalling myopia, shrinking the world down to the reach of my own two arms.

And finally, ​“Why Fast Company & Sam Harris need to do their homework”:

Christians do not believe that the Bible dropped out of heaven or was dictated to men who scribbled down furiously to catch every word from God. Christians believe that the Bible is both fully inspired by God and fully written by humans. Christians believe that scripture is inerrant in its original manuscripts, not the copies and translation.

Christian doctrines of scripture allows for the human elements of style to be present in the writing process and accounting for the inevitable human error that occurs in textual transmission.

Some of the supposed contradictions are because of obvious copying errors. But many of the others are because Project Reason doesn’t seem to know the basics of how to read an ancient text.

[…]

The Bible is filled with historic narratives, poetry, songs, apocalyptic literature, promises, stories, commands, wisdom literature, and letters. Interpretation should be influenced by the genre, not some fundamentalist everything-must-be-literal approach that we see in the chart.