Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions

You’ve probably seen lists of Bible contradictions. Here are my favorites. Play along at home and see which of these are your list, too.

My focus here is just on contradictions in the Bible. These are mostly clashes between two sets of verses in the Bible, but some are the Bible clashing with reality.

There are lots of contradictions that I find trivial. For example, Ahaziah was 22 (or 42) years old when he became king (2 Kings 8:26 vs. 2 Chronicles 22:2). Or that Solomon had made a basin that was ten cubits in diameter and thirty in circumference (1 Kings 7:23). The contradictions on this list are much more fundamental attacks on the Christian message.

1. Christians sin, just like everyone else (or do they?)

Everyone knows that no human except Jesus lived a sinless life. The Bible says:

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

This is standard Christian dogma, but things get confusing when you read the opening verse of Job, which says of Job, “This man was blameless and upright.” Even as his life was going to hell because of Satan and God’s little experiment, Job was vindicated in his belief that he had nothing to apologize for.

We see another example in Noah, who was also “blameless” (Genesis 6:9).

But the sinless net goes a lot wider than that, because (plot twist!) ordinary Christians don’t sin.

No one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him (1 John 5:18; see also 1 John 3:6, 3:9).

So, which is it—are all people sinners, or are Christians the exception?

Addendum: But why worry about sin? Every one of us is already saved.

Paul draws a parallel between the man who got us into this mess (Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit and gave mankind Original Sin) and the one who got us out (Jesus, whose perfect sacrifice saved us all).

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

We didn’t opt in to get the sin of Adam, and we needn’t opt in to get the salvation of Jesus. No belief is necessary. Paul assures us we’re good.

2. The women spread the word of the empty tomb (or did they?)

Women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus and returned to tell the others.

The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:8).

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others (Luke 24:9).

Or did they? Mark has a different ending.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)

And that’s how the original version of the gospel of Mark ended.

3. All Christians are united in what they believe about Jesus (right?)

[Jesus said,] I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (John 17:20–23)

I appeal to you . . . that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

That’s a nice thought, but has any prayer failed more spectacularly? Christianity is more than just Roman Catholics and Baptists and Methodists and maybe a few more—there are now 45,000 denominations, and Christianity is fragmenting at a rate of two new denominations per day. (h/t commenter Greg G.)

4. No one can see God (or can they?)

No one has ever seen God (1 John 4:12).

No man has seen or can see [God] (1 Timothy 6:16).

But Adam and Eve saw God. So did Abraham and Moses:

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1).

The Lord would speak to Moses’ face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).

5. God’s rules keep changing

God made an “everlasting covenant” with Abraham, but then he tore that one up and made another one with Moses.

The New Testament continues the confusion. It can’t decide whether to look backwards and honor existing law or to tear it up yet again, because it says both. First, Jesus commits to existing law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17–18)

But then the book of Hebrews weaves a legal case that argues that Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek, which ought to take priority over the existing priesthood in the line of Aaron. Here it quotes an Old Testament declaration of God to justify a new covenant.

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. (see Hebrews 8:6–13)

Jesus is a dramatic change to Judaism, and there must be some logic to justify Christians changing their worship day, dropping the sacrifices, worshiping a new guy in addition to Yahweh, and so on. That rationalizes away one problem, but the overall problem—the various substories don’t fit together in the overall plot—remains. (More: “The Bible Story Reboots. Have You Noticed?”)

What are your favorite Bible contradictions? These can be two sets of verses that are contradictory, or the clash can be the Bible vs. reality. And these aren’t just trivial contradictions where “It’s a typo—big deal” would be an answer. These seem to strike at foundational Christian claims.

6. Faith saves (or do works save?)

Protestant Christianity often emphasizes that faith alone (sola fide) justifies God’s forgiveness. Many verses support this.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:28).

That seems clear enough until we find the opposite claim elsewhere in the Bible. The clearest example to me is the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25, but there’s more.

Will [God] not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Proverbs 24:12)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? (James 2:14).

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done (Matthew 16:27).

The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Revelation 20:12)

For something so important as getting into heaven and avoiding hell, the New Testament is surprisingly unclear.

Addendum: Or maybe it’s repentance that saves . . . or maybe baptism?

What if it’s repentance?

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).

Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).

Or baptism? It was so essential a ritual that Jesus did it.

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4).

7. The different genealogies of Jesus

The Messiah had to be of the line of David (Jeremiah 33:15–17; Isaiah 9:7), so two gospels provide genealogies of Jesus to validate this requirement. The problem is that we only need to go back one generation, to Joseph’s father, to find a problem.

Jacob [was] the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah (Matthew 1:16).

Jesus . . . was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli (Luke 3:23).

There is just one unique male biological line that would terminate in Joseph, so at least one of these genealogies is wrong.

And it’s hard to imagine that an ordinary Joe like Joseph would have a reliable record of his genealogy going back generations. Worse, Joseph wasn’t the biological father of Jesus, so his genealogy is irrelevant. If being in the line of David is a requirement, then having a god for a father makes you ineligible.

The most common rebuttal is to say that the Luke genealogy is for Mary, but the text makes clear that it’s for Joseph. Anyway, why would you provide the genealogy of the parent from whom descent from David wouldn’t count? We’re seeing the incompatible clash of two ideas: Jesus inherits David’s throne and Jesus was the son of God.

8. Does God prevent harm to good Christians?

In response to a church shooting, where good Christians were doubtless praying to God but still got shot, Christian apologist Greg Koukl pushed back against the idea that anyone should be surprised. In fact, he assures us, Jesus promised persecution.

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13)

Koukl said, “There is . . . no rationale, no line of thinking that if God does exist that only good things happen to people, particularly people who believe in God, especially Christians.”

In fact, the Good Book precisely says that:

No harm overtakes the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble (Proverbs 12:21).

If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. (Psalm 91:5–10)

When Christians desperately praying for their lives in a church are gunned down, atheists are right to point out that this makes one question God’s existence.

9. When is the End?

A 2013 poll found that 41 percent of U.S. adults think that we’re now living in the end times. But ask for the precise date, and the standard response is to point to this verse:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mark 13:32; see also Matthew 24:36).

Harold Camping was hilariously wrong about his prediction of the Rapture® on May 21, 2011, and fellow Christians pointed to that verse. But Brother Camping had a comeback with this passage:

You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

But you, brothers, and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.  You are all children of the light and children of the day. (1 Thessalonians 5:1–5)

Some people won’t know, the children of darkness. But the enlightened ones will know. (Or not, if Jesus was correctly quoted.)

10. Jesus finds a new home for Mary. But why?

While on the cross, Jesus was concerned about his mother and made provisions for her to be taken care of after he was gone.

When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Woman, he is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “She is your mother.” And from then on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26–7)

That’s a nice gesture, but why was it necessary? Mary had other sons.

Tradition holds that James, the leader of the church and supposed author of the epistle of James, was the brother of Jesus. And then we have this:

Isn’t [Jesus] the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? (Matthew 13:55)

Mary had lots of sons who could support her.

11. Do people deserve punishment for their ancestors’ sins?

The Bible demands intergenerational punishment so that children must be punished for their parents’ sins.

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:5).

[God justified a calamity to the people:] It is because your ancestors forsook me (Jeremiah 16:11).

But the opposite claim is recorded in the Bible as well.

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).

Everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge (Jeremiah 31:30).

The one who sins is the one who will die (Ezekiel 18:4).

Where does this leave Original Sin? This is the idea that we’re born fallen and deserve hell because of Adam’s sin, which infects us all. What foundation remains for Original Sin if it is undercut by the Bible itself?

12. What day was Jesus crucified on?

The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) say that the Last Supper was the Passover meal, and that Jesus was crucified after the Passover meal.

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17)

Three verses later, Jesus is at the Passover meal, the Last Supper. But in John, the order is reversed: it’s the crucifixion and then the Passover meal.

Now it was the day of Preparation [the day of preparing lambs for the Passover meal], and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies [of Jesus and the two thieves] left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. (John 19:31)

A “historical account,” as the gospels are claimed by some to be, should get the order of important events correct, and the Passover meal and the crucifixion are both important events.

13. Who should the disciples convert?

At the end of the gospel story, Jesus has risen and is giving the disciples their final instructions.

Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

This is the familiar Great Commission, and it’s a lot more generous than what has been called the lesser commission that appears earlier in the same gospel:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5–6)

This was not a universal message. We see it again in his encounter with the Canaanite woman:

[Jesus rejected her plea to heal her daughter, saying] “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24–6)

You might say that a ministry with limited resources had to prioritize, but that doesn’t apply here. Don’t forget that Jesus was omnipotent.

Going back to the Old Testament, we don’t find an all-inclusive message there, either. The Israelites were God’s “Chosen People,” and God had harsh things to say about neighboring tribes.

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of Jehovah, not even in the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3).

God also forbids intermarriage with these foreign tribes (Deut. 7:3; Ezra 9:2, 10:10; Nehemiah 13).

Let’s revisit the fact that Matthew is contradictory when it says both “Make disciples of all nations” and “Do not go among the Gentiles [but only] to the lost sheep of Israel.” There are no early papyrus copies of Matthew 28 (the “Make disciples of all nations” chapter), and the earliest copies of this chapter are in the codices copied in the mid-300s.

That’s almost three centuries of silence from original to our best copies, a lot of opportunity for the Great Commission to get “improved” by copyists. I’m not saying it was, of course; I’m simply offering one explanation for why the gospel in Matthew has Jesus change so fundamental a tenet as who he came to save.

14. Jesus should’ve returned already.

Jesus promised to return within the lifetimes of those listening to him. This Apocalyptic message (Apocalypticism claims that the end times are very close) is found in the three synoptic gospels. It takes a passage in Isaiah 13 that predicts calamity for Babylon—that the sun and moon will darken, and the stars will fall—and repurposes it as a prediction of the end. It also predicts:

[All people on earth will] see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds. (Matthew 24:30–31)

The prediction ends saying that this will all happen soon.

This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (Matthew 24:34).

Let me emphasize those two points: “these things” will happen soon (within months or years, not centuries), and “these things” are obvious and world-destroying calamitous. The popular Christian response that this referred to the fall of the Temple won’t fly.

Earlier in the same gospel, we find other references to the imminent coming of the Son of Man:

When you are persecuted in one place [as you spread the gospel], flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)

Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28).

It’s been a lot longer than one generation. Jesus made a mistake.

15. Jesus promises that prayers are answered

Jesus says a lot about prayer, and he makes big claims for it.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:1).

Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24).

He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do (John 14:12).

Apologists say that Jesus isn’t like a genie, but they need to reread their Bibles. Jesus really does say, “Ask, and ye shall receive”—it’s in John 16:24. He says it without caveats. That promise has been tested uncountably many times, often by desperate people, but if Jesus answers, it’s indistinguishable from chance.

16. There are two incompatible Ten Commandments

You know the story: Moses got the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20. The list of commandments had the familiar rules—no blaspheming, no murder, no lying, no stealing, and so on.

Moses returns, only to find that the Israelites, impatient and anxious during his long absence, had made and were worshipping a golden calf, a familiar object of worship from Egypt.

Moses smashed the tablets in his rage, 3000 Israelites were killed in the opening round of punishment, and Moses eventually went back up for a duplicate set (Exodus 34), which was put in the Ark of the Covenant.

Except that it wasn’t a duplicate set. It’s a list that very few Christians are familiar with. For example, number 5 is “The first offspring from every womb belongs to me.” Number 7: Celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Number 10: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” This set is referred to as the “Ten Commandments” in Exodus, not the other set.

We can debate which set fundamentalists should try to illegally place on government property, but despite God’s assurance, these are two very different sets of rules.

17. There are two creation stories in Genesis

There are also two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. First is the six-day creation story that enumerates the things God created day by day, after which God rested. Next is an older creation story, the one about the Garden of Eden.

Apologists try to harmonize these two, saying that the Garden of Eden story is just an in-depth look at the last day of creation, but details in the two stories disagree. The 6-day story says that humans can eat from every tree, while the Eden story says that one is forbidden. The 6-day story has plants and animals before humans, while the Eden story has the opposite. And so on.

18. There are even two Flood stories

You see the trend: the Old Testament often has two different, incompatible stories. Each was too precious for ancient editors to discard, so both were jammed together somehow. The two Ten Commandments stories are separated by over a dozen chapters, the two creation stories are back-to-back, and they’re interleaved in the Flood story.

In Flood story #1

The older story, Noah takes seven pairs of all clean animals plus one pair of all the others. Once on board with his family, it rained for forty days and forty nights, and everything outside the ark was killed. Noah sent out a dove to scout for dry land. On the second try, it returned with an olive leaf. Back on dry land, Noah sacrificed one of every clean animal to Yahweh, and Yahweh promised to never again destroy life on earth (with a flood, anyway).

In story #2

God is named, not Yahweh, but Elohim, and specifics about the design of the ark are given. With just one pair of each animal plus provisions, Noah (now 600 years old) and family go into the ark. This time, the water comes, not from rain, but from “the fountains of the great deep” and “the windows of the heavens.”

Water had covered the earth for 150 days when Elohim made the water recede. This time it was a raven that helped scout for dry land, and they were back on dry land after a year in the ark. God told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”

A leading explanation of the Old Testament’s many story pairs is the Documentary Hypothesis. It answers a lot of questions and proposes four original documents that were merged to make the Pentateuch, the Bible’s first five books. Read more on the two Flood stories and the Documentary Hypothesis.

19. Resurrection contradictions

Forty percent of the gospels focus on the last week of Jesus’s life, from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the crucifixion, resurrection, and final teachings, and they differ on many points.

A popular Christian response is to say that just because only Matthew wrote about the dead coming out of their graves and walking around Jerusalem doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. (Yeah—the other gospel writers must not have thought that Jesus causing the dead to reanimate and walk around Jerusalem, seen by many, wasn’t worth writing about.)

Or that just because John says, “Mary Magdalene went to the tomb,” that doesn’t mean that many other women weren’t also with her as Luke says (“Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them”).

Or that just because only Matthew has Jesus’ riding on two donkeys, that doesn’t mean the other gospels’ reference to just one disagrees. (Yeah, it pretty much does.)

Or that Paul’s reference to 500 eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus might’ve been compelling to him, but it wasn’t worth writing about in any gospel.

From whom Peter denied Jesus, to Jesus’s last words, to who the women saw at the tomb, to whether Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus or not, to how many days Jesus stayed after his resurrection, the various accounts differ.

20. Jesus forgets the plot

At some point the three persons of the Trinity—Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—agreed that Jesus should live as a human on earth. Jesus was born as a divine being (except in Mark, where he becomes divine with his baptism) and lives out a life that ends with crucifixion. Just before that, he prayed with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.

To the few disciples with him, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Then he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [he’s referring to the upcoming crucifixion] be taken from me.” He prays this three times. The story is the same in Mark, and in Luke, an angel strengthened Jesus.

Why did Jesus go off-script? He was part of the Trinity that decided this, so how could he be second-guessing the plan now?

We can look for a human comparison. It wouldn’t be surprising for an ordinary human to have second thoughts before a suicide mission, but in this story, we’re talking about a god. Even if agony were a thing that he could perceive, why would an omniscient being question a plan that he knows is perfect?

The puzzle vanishes if we reinterpret the Jesus story as legend.

I recently summarized my Top 20 list of the Bible’s most damning contradictions. But wouldn’t you know it—like zombies that just keep coming, there are more!

These aren’t trivial contradictions—something such as the number of years of a king’s reign reported differently in two places. No, these are contradictions that can’t easily be dismissed.

Christian apologists have had 2000 years to notice the problems and come up with something, but that doesn’t mean their answers are satisfactory. If anyone points out that my examples here are wrong or misleading, I’ll correct them and identify the helpful reader.

21. Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, but everyone forgot

Some of these aren’t contradictions so much as plot holes—two plot elements that can’t coexist. This is an example.

The gospels clearly and repeatedly show Jesus predicting his death and resurrection. Here are just a few of more than ten examples:

[Jesus said,] “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will deliver Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. And on the third day He will be raised to life.” (Matthew 20:18–19)

Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

They know that Jesus will soon be crucified, and they know how long until he’s raised from the dead. But if everyone knows this, why then are they morose after the crucifixion? Why are women going to the tomb with spices, expecting to find a dead body?

Why does the empty tomb surprise them? And why wasn’t there a crowd to witness the miraculous event themselves—if not the multitudes that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday just a week earlier, then at least his inner circle?

You see what I meant about the plot hole—a good editor would’ve noticed that a straightforward consequence of Jesus’s many clear declarations about rising again would’ve brought people eager to see the promise fulfilled—or at least unsurprised when it was.

(h/t Debunking Christianity)

22. Jesus and the zombies

Clear your mind of that problem and let’s review the empty-tomb story from a different angle. The women visit the tomb of Jesus to apply spices to the body and are shocked to see the tomb empty. They run back to tell the male disciples (or not, according to Mark) who are likewise astonished.

Later that evening, Doubting Thomas, who surely performed more laudable actions in his life than just doubt, did what he’s best known for.

But why would it have been astonishing, on Sunday morning, to find Jesus risen from the dead? Remember this incident:

[At the moment of Jesus’s death,] the earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51–3)

Here’s the chronology. Jesus died on Friday evening, and at that moment many worthy dead people came to life. Jesus resurrected (he was to be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” [Matt. 12:40], which Friday evening to Sunday morning isn’t, but let’s ignore that), and then the newly undead people left their tombs to walk around Jerusalem. Next, the women found the empty tomb, and then word spread among the male disciples.

The gospels differ over whether the women were the first to see the risen Jesus at the tomb (Matthew and John), or the disciples were the first to see him Sunday night (Luke), or nobody sees him (Mark). Finally, a week later, Doubting Thomas saw Jesus.

Though the zombies are never connected to the Jesus story, the literary goal is easy to imagine. The resurrection of Jesus was the first fruits of his triumph over death, with the zombie resurrection in Jerusalem a demonstration to emphasize the point.

The problem is that surprise is an important part of this story, but no one would be surprised by a risen Jesus once they’d seen the crowd of undead. What’s one more, particularly when he was the instigator of the process? Word of the remarkable sight of the walking dead would’ve traveled quickly through Jerusalem.

When the women returned, breathless with the news of having seen Jesus (or just the empty tomb), the disciples would have replied that Jerusalem was crawling with zombies, so what’s one more?

Or, if that news hadn’t reached the disciples by the time the women returned, everyone in the city would’ve surely heard by the time Doubting Thomas finally saw Jesus a week later. Knowing of the zombies’ days earlier, how could Thomas have been surprised that Jesus had risen as well? Jesus showing his wounds and Thomas touching them for confirmation wouldn’t have happened.

About a wide range of Christian commentaries on this passage, Patheos blogger Neil Carter said, “Almost none of them think this really happened.” Nevertheless, the contradiction remains: Thomas, knowing about the zombies as everyone in Jerusalem surely did, would’ve dropped his demand that Jesus prove that he really rose from the dead.

23. Women brought spices to the tomb (or not)

The importance of spices from a plot standpoint is that they’re the motivation for the women’s visit to the tomb on the Sunday after Jesus’s crucifixion. You need to get someone there to discover the empty tomb.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:1–3)

Several commenters (and the author of Mark himself) have noted another plot hole: why would the women bother to make the trip with no way to roll back the stone at the doorway? The previous verse makes clear that the women had watched the burial and knew about the stone.

But set that aside. The gospel of John tells a different story about who applied the spices. Rewind to Friday afternoon:

With Pilate’s permission, [Joseph of Arimathea] came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 

Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. (John 19:38–40)

Seventy-five pounds of spices? Have you ever carried a 75-pound backpack or lifted a 75-pound weight at the gym? That sounds like an impractical weight and a pointlessly extravagant gift, but let’s set that aside as well. Now the story has men applying the spices. In John’s story, the women (or woman) go for no reason: 

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb” (John 20:1). No reason, that is, except as a literary prop to discover the empty tomb.

As an aside, note that a body encased in an enormous mound of spice bound in place with linen strips (I’m envisioning the Michelin Man oozing aloe and smelling of myrrh) is not what the Shroud of Turin image shows, and John talks about strips of linen rather than the Shroud of Turin’s long sheet, so John’s story can’t coexist with such a relic.

Depending on the gospel you pick, women go to the tomb to apply spices Sunday morning (but didn’t use them) or men successfully apply the spices Friday afternoon.

24. Peter’s denials

This example is of less importance, but it’s well known and shows yet another set of contradictions. At the Last Supper, Jesus said that his disciples will scatter once he is taken away, but Peter protests that he won’t. Jesus tells Peter that he will disavow him three times before the rooster crows, and indeed that’s what happens.

But read the accounts, and the story differs in each of the gospels.

  • In Mark, Peter is accused of being one of Jesus’s followers by a slave girl, then the same girl again, and then a crowd of people (Mark 14:66–71).
  • In Matthew, it’s a slave girl, another slave girl, and then a crowd of people (Matthew 26:69–73).
  • In Luke, it’s a slave girl, a man, and then another man (Luke 22:54–60).
  • In John, it’s a girl at the door, several anonymous persons, and one of the high priest’s servants (John 18:15–17, 25–27)

We can try out a popular Christian tactic and try to resolve contradictory accounts by claiming that they’re both true. For example,

  • there were wise men (Matthew) and shepherds (Luke) at the birth of Jesus,
  • there was one angel (Matthew and Mark) and a second angel (Luke and John) at the empty tomb, and
  • Mary Magdalene (John) and other women (the other gospels) went to the tomb.

Allowing for synonymous descriptions (Mark’s slave girl could’ve been John’s girl at the door, for example) and squashing these confrontations together, we have Peter denying Jesus to a slave girl, another slave girl, a crowd, a man, another man, and perhaps more. That’s a lot more than Jesus promised three.

More Damning Bible Contradictions: #25 Was Jesus Crazy or God?

Jesus is crazy

Too little is made of a surprising passage from Mark. Jesus was preaching in Galilee, and then:

When [Jesus’s] family heard about [Jesus being nearby], they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

The point of the story contrasts his actual family, who think he’s crazy, with his disciples, who have abandoned their professions to follow him.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mark 3:33–4).

Contradiction #25: Was Jesus crazy, or was he God?

The interesting thing here is his family calling him crazy. How was that possible when it was clear from other gospels that Jesus was divine? First, consider the evidence in Matthew.

  • Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant. He planned to divorce her quietly, but an angel appeared and told him, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20–24).
  • The magi followed a magical star that (somehow) pointed them to Bethlehem. (More on the Star of Bethlehem.
  • An expensive and time-consuming trip to worship the king of the Jews required expensive gifts: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11). Gifts worthy of a king would have dramatically improved this peasant family’s quality of life, though that is never evident.

And consider the clues in Luke’s very different nativity story.

  • Now it’s Mary who gets the celestial visitation, and this time it’s before the conception. The angel Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:28–38).
  • Shepherds are told by angels that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem and “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:8–18).
  • Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for “purification rites.” There they met Simeon; a devout man who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah. As he held Jesus, he praised God and said that the promise had been fulfilled (Luke 2:25–38).
  • At age 12, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Passover celebration to converse with the Jewish teachers. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46–51).
  • Luke makes clear that these events aren’t lost on Mary. It says that “Mary treasured up all these things” after hearing the shepherds and the angels (Luke 2:19) and after seeing Jesus with the teachers (2:51). After hearing Simeon identify Jesus as the Messiah, “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him” (2:33).

Not only are Mary and Joseph assured that their son is divine, but this isn’t a family secret. Word has spread far. The magi informed Herod’s court, and Herod killed infant boys for fear of a rival to the throne; the shepherds tell everyone they can about the angels’ message; Simeon publicly states in the Temple that Jesus is the Messiah; and the Temple teachers see his wisdom for themselves.

Making sense of the contradiction

Let’s return to Mark, where Jesus’s mother and brothers want to take charge of him because he’s crazy. Jesus can’t be both crazy and divine. But drop the requirement that these stories must harmonize, and the resolution is easy.

Matthew and Luke copy (sometimes verbatim) from Mark. In fact, 97 percent of Mark is copied by either Matthew or Luke or both. However, the nativity stories appear only in Matthew and Luke, and the “Jesus is crazy” story appears only in Mark. 

Mark threw the holy family under the bus to make the point that following Jesus is a higher calling than familial loyalty, but Matthew and Luke didn’t copy that story, perhaps because, as we’ve seen here, it conflicts with the clear evidence in the nativity stories that Jesus is different because he’s divine.

Mark and the other two synoptic gospels had different agendas. Remember that each of these gospels was written decades after the claimed death of Jesus. During this time, dynastic succession was typical. David’s son succeeded him as king, and Herod’s son succeeded him as king, so who would succeed Jesus?

(Let’s ignore that the End® was to have happened within months or a few years after Jesus’s claimed death and assume that the movement needed a new leader.) Jesus had no children, so a brother would be an obvious choice.

This created a doctrinal conflict between Paul, who hadn’t even met Jesus in real life, and the James/Peter faction, who installed James, the brother of Jesus, as a leader in the Jerusalem church. The gospel of Mark takes Paul’s viewpoint, so it’s motivated to undercut James by saying that James and the rest of Jesus’s family didn’t believe him. Matthew takes a more Jewish, pro-James’s view.

In this case, you must set two New Testament books against each other to find the contradiction. Another example of this is how spices were applied to the body after the crucifixion. The gospels of Mark and Luke say that women failed to apply spices on Sunday morning, while John tells us that two men were successful on Friday evening.

But then you have cases where the contradiction is in a single book. For example, John the Baptist wondered if Jesus was The One despite having seen the dove of the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus during baptism, and these stories are both in Matthew.

As usual, the puzzle neatly resolves itself with a natural explanation.

Credit: Patheos

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