Biblical "Problems" and "Contradictions"

Helen Fryman Setterfield
The Barry Setterfield Library

March 11, 2000

(a) the bat is a bird (Lev. 19:19, Deut. 14:11, 18)

We have an unfortunate tendency to see things through our own eyes and figure that those who don't see things the way we do are wrong. The Linnean taxonomic system, and our more extended one, were not only not known to the ancient Hebrews, such distinctions would have served them no purpose and thus would probably not have interested them. If one notices in the verses cited, as well as many other places in the Bible, the animals are classified by locomotion. Flying animals were classed with birds, including bats. Swimming animals were classified with fish, including whales and dolphins. The only problem with verses such as these is our own myopic ethnocentricity.

(b) Some fowls are four-footed (Lev. 11:20-21)

This is present in the King James Version, otherwise known as the Authorized Version. Somewhere in the versions that had come down and from which the KJV was translated, there was an apparent change of words here. The word in this verse, which is translated by the KJV as "fowl" is owph, or op. While the normal translation for this is "bird" or "fowl," it can also be translated as "winged" or "winged creature." In the meantime, the modern translations have had the advantage of access to much older manuscripts than the KJV translators had. These older texts did not have the word owph in this passage, but instead, had the word seres, which is a rather generic word for "creatures," and is interpreted according to context. Thus, the most precise translation of that verse might be "All flying creatures that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you..." In this context, "insects" is the obvious translation, especially as the following verses, defining what is meant, are referring specifically to insects.

(c) Some creeping insects have four legs. (Lev. 11:22-23)

As in the first objection, regarding bats and birds, the response here is that the classification had to do with locomotion. Animals which did not walk or hop on two legs were "four-legged". This also differentiated the insects from the birds, as both the words owph and seres were general enough to be able to apply to both. That the number four was used idiomatically can also be seen in Proverbs, in verses such as 30:15: "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!'" Thus, grasshoppers, spiders, and centipedes would all be classified as "four-legged." They were not two-legged. But, like birds, they flew.

(d) Hares chew the cud (Lev. 11:6)

The clue here is in the meaning of 'cud.' Rabbits and hares pass two kinds of stools. One is feces. The other is a mucous-covered green pellet which the rabbit will re-ingest, licking it off its anus. These are generally passed in the early morning hours. If cud is defined as being only what a ruminant, or animal with a special stomach division which brings up food for chewing, can have, then rabbits and hares do not chew the cud. However if cud is defined as undigested matter which is re-ingested, then rabbits and hares certainly do chew the cud. Here again we have a grouping which includes a unique group with a general group, in much the same way bats were included with the birds. It makes perfectly good sense seen from their point of view.

(e) Conies chew the cud (Lev. 11:5)

The word for coney here is shaphan, or sapan. The Strong's' Concordance lists it as a kind of rock rabbit and thus probably the coney, or hyrax. In other words, the precise meaning of this word is not known.

(f) Camels don't divide the hoof (Lev. 11:4)

Please find the following explanation here:

There are two things that tell if an animal is kosher. Firstly its hooves are completely parted at the bottom to form two horny pads, and secondly if it chews the cud. Cows, sheep, goats and deer are the common animals that have both these features and so these are kosher. Pigs, whilst they do have split hooves do not chew the cud are so are not kosher, likewise camels while they chew the cud only have partially split hooves and so are also not kosher.

Cow/Sheep Camel Horse

(Split hoof) (Partially split hoof) (Non split hoof)

(g) The earth was formed out of and by means of water (2 Peter 3:5 RSV)

Yes, it was.

(h) The earth rest on pillars (1 Sam. 2:8)

This word in 1 Samuel 2:8 is translated "pillars" in the KJV and "foundations" in the NIV and others. The word in the Hebrew is masuq. It is used only twice in the Bible. Let's look at the way it is translated in each of these Bibles the only other time it is used, in 1 Samuel 14:5:

KJV: "The forefront of the one was situated northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah."

NIV: "One cliff stood to the north toward Mic mash, the other to the south, toward Geba."

The word masuq means "something narrow," which the KJV translators decided would be like a column, or pillar. However the Bible was ahead of the scientific knowledge of that time, for the rocky crust of the earth is indeed narrow. It is also our foundation and we are situated upon it.

(i) The earth won't be moved (1 Chron. 16:30)

It is still exactly where it should be in space -- in the only possible orbit which will sustain life as we have it. It has not been moved out of where it should be. It should be noted that this verse does not say that the earth itself will not move. It will not "be moved" which means forced out of where it should be.

(j) A hare does not divide the hoof (Deut. 14:7)

By taking this one out of context the implication is that the verse says a hare has a hoof. The Bible does not say that. The verse should be read in context. The point is being made that clean animals -- those which can be eaten -- have BOTH a split hoof and chew the cud. The hare, although it does one, does not have the other. Text without context is pretext.

(k) The rainbow is not as old as rain and sunshine (Gen. 9:13)

That verse does not say that, or imply it. If there were any rain before the Flood of Noah, it would have been over the seas and at night. No rainbow would have been seen. Genesis 9:13 refers to God setting the rainbow in the clouds, to be seen in the daytime. This is what was new. Rain over land in the daytime was not something that happened before the Flood. The implication here is of the drastic changes the earth had undergone atmospherically from antediluvian times.

(l) A mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds and grows into the

greatest of all shrubs (Matt. 13:31-32 RSV)

The mustard seed was the smallest seed used by the farmers in Israel at that time. Under favorable conditions it could grow more than ten feet in height. [NIV text notes]

(m) Turtles have voices (Song of Sol. 2:12)

This is made quite clear in all Concordances -- the reference is to the turtle dove. The word "dove" is used in the modern translations. The word is the exact same word used for turtle doves in all other passages. Who knows why the KJV translators chose only the "turtle" part?

(n) The earth has ends or edges (Job 37:3)

This is an idiom we still use today, and it is used the same way in Job. "The ends of the earth" has a meaning that has come down through the languages and cultures and should not cause any thinking person a problem.

(o) The earth has four corners (Isa. 11:12, Rev. 7:1)

Even our weathermen today agree with this! They are either north, east, south, and west, or, alternatively, north-east, north-west, south-west, and south-east. Again, the Bible uses the same idioms we do today and, again, no thinking person will find this difficult to understand.

(p) Some 4-legged animals fly (Lev. 11:21)

This was discussed in (b).

(q) The world's languages didn't evolve but appeared suddenly (Gen.11:6-9)

The time frame for the changing of the languages is not given in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible. The fact was that the languages were confused, branching off from the one original language. This might have happened miraculously in the space of moments or it might have taken some time after the Babel catastrophe drove people from the area. Again, the timing is not indicated here.

(r) A fetus can understand speech (Luke 1:44)

That is not what this verse says. This sort of comment is, however, typical of those who try to "prove" the Bible wrong. The passage states that when the baby inside Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary's voice, he jumped or leaped "for joy." The first thing that should be noted here is that there is no doubt about babies in utero being able to hear outside sounds. The second thing that should be noted is that this takes place during the miraculous happening of Mary's pregnancy with Jesus. That a baby in utero should react to the presence of the Lord is no more strange than any other person reacting to Him. Even those who deny Him are reacting quite strongly to Him.

Second List

(a) David took seven hundred (2 Sam. 8:4), seven thousand (1 Chron. 18:4) horsemen from Hadadezer

Modern translations, which have access to the older manuscripts, agree on seven thousand for both verses. This was probably a copyist error during the Middle Ages.

(b) Ahaziah was 22 (2 Kings 8:26), 42 (2 Chron. 22:2) years old when he began to reign

The correct age is 22, as listed in the Septuagint and the older manuscripts. Again, this was probably a copyist error in 2 Chronicles.

(c) Jehoiachin was 18 (2 Kings 24:8), 8 (2 Chron. 36:9) years old when he began to reign and he reigned 3 months (2 Kings 24:8), 3 months and 10 days (2 Chron. 36:9)

Most of the Hebrew manuscripts, taken from the Masoretic, show this discrepancy in the age of Jehoiachin when he became king. However the Septuagint, translated from paleo Hebrew to classical Greek several hundred years earlier by Hebrew scholars themselves, does not have this discrepancy and both verses list his age as 18 when he started to reign. The second part of this "problem" is simply silly. Three months and ten days would be referred to by most people as three months. Chronicles is simply a little more detailed here.

(d) There were in Israel 800,000 (2 Sam. 24:9); 1,100,000 (1 Chron. 21:5) men that drew the sword and there were 500,000 (2 Sam. 24:9), 470,000 (1 Chron. 21:5) men that drew the sword in Judah

The reason for this discrepancy is unknown. It may be related to a difference in the records each author had access to or it may be copyist error.

(e) There were 550 (1 Kings 9:23), 250 (2 Chron. 8:10) chiefs of the officers that bare the rule over the people

In 1 Kings 5:16 we are given 3300 foremen. Adding the number of chief officers in 1 Kings 9:23, we have a total of 3,850 men. In 2 Chronicles 2:2, reference is made to 3600 foremen, which, when added to the chief officers in verse 8:10 yields, again 3,850 men. This implies simply a difference in categorizing various ranks.

(f) Saul's daughter, Michal, had no sons (2 Sam. 6:23), had 5 sons (2 Sam. 21:6) during her lifetime

It's too bad this person was in such a hurry to mock the Bible that he or she could not get the second reference right. The second verse is 2 Samuel 21:8. There are two different translations of this verse in the old manuscripts, however NEITHER of them say that Michal had the five sons. The verse can read either

"...and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite."


"... together with the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab, whom she had born to Adriel....etc."

Now, if the woman was Michal, they were adopted sons, and possibly her nephews, as indicated in the first quote, which is from the King James. If the woman was Merab there is again no problem. Michal herself was childless.

(g) Lot was Abraham's nephew (Gen. 14:12), brother (Gen. 14:14)

The term "brother" used in Genesis 14:14 is the same term used for "relative" which is how the verse is translated in other versions. The King James, from which is the reference here, does not use the term "relative" once in the Bible. The word, however, in the Hebrew is 'ach, which is a primary root meaning close relative or even someone that bears a close resemblance. It generally indicates kindred, however. It is used 632 times in the Bible and is translated in a variety of ways depending on context.

Which gives me an opening to wonder how those who try to make these lists, mocking the Bible, can claim any kind of equality among men when they are willing to consider the Jewish people too stupid not to notice this "discrepancy" within two verses of each other. It rather seems to me that it is the person trying to tear down the Bible who is showing his or her own stupidity in not taking the few moments with a Concordance that is needed to check these things and not make a fool of oneself.

(h) Joseph was sold into Egypt by Midianites (Gen. 37:36), by Ishmaelites (Gen. 39:1)

The Ishmaelites WERE the Midianites. See Judges 8:22,24,26)

(i) Saul was killed by his own hands (1 Sam. 31:4), by a young Amalekite (2 Sam. 1:10), by the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:12)

Saul committed suicide. The young Amalekite of 2 Samuel, chapter 1, was trying to impress David and fabricated the story of killing Saul. His miscalculations cost him his life. The reference to the Philistines striking Saul down is a reference to the entire battle. Again, I am amazed at the implied insult "questioners" like this make to the Hebrews. They knew these stories by heart. This was their history. If there were really conflicts such as this implies, one would think that someone in all those generations would have noticed! Either that or, of course, these are really not conflicting accounts...

(j) Solomon made of a molten sea which contained 2,000 (1 Kings 7:26), 3,000 (2 Chron. 4:5) baths

The Septuagint does not have what we know as verse 26 of 1 Kings 7. Being the more ancient of the translations (comparing the Septuagint and the Masoretic), it is possible that the verse was added between the two translations, possibly as a note of explanation. The difference in the volumes would either be memory error from the person adding the verse or copyist error later.

(k) The workers on the Temple had 3,300 (1 Kings 5:16), 3,600 (2 Chron. 2:18) overseers

See (e) above. This has got to be embarrassing for the person who made this list...

(l) The earth does (Eccle. 1:4), does not (2 Peter 3:10) abideth forever

Ecclesiastes is poetry, first of all. Secondly, the comparison is being made there between the short lives of men and the continuity of the earth. Thirdly, the entire book is written from the point of view of worldly wisdom and its futility. The person who wrote this list would do well to pay attention to that. In contrast, 2 Peter is describing the end of the entire creation. This is not poetry but prophecy. There is no conflict between the two verses.

(m) If Jesus bears witness of himself his witness is true (John 8:14), is not true (John 5:31)

Jesus Himself qualifies His words in John 8:14, saying, "IF I testify about myself, my testimony is valid..." John 5:31 is dealing with the legal requirement of two witnesses. John 8:14 is dealing with the intrinsic truthfulness of what Jesus says.

(n) Josiah died at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29-30), at Jerusalem (2 Chron. 35:24)

The correct answer is probably in 2 Kings. It is the more detailed account. In addition, Hebrew has no past perfect tense, so the 2 Chronicles account could just as easily be interpreted "and he had died..." Some of the modern translations insert the word "where" regarding Jerusalem, but this word is not found in the Septuagint or in the King James Version, which is the one this list-maker seems to be referring to.

(o) Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain after six (Matt. 17:1, Mark 9:2), eight (Luke 9:28) days

Luke says "about eight days." Luke derived his material from interviews; he was not an eyewitness. The term "eight days" was idiomatic for a week, which was determined from Sabbath to Sabbath. Therefore something taking place on a Friday, followed by something else taking place eight days later on the following Sabbath , eight days later, would be considered a week. If Luke was told "about a week later," that would have naturally translated into "about eight days later," as a matter of idiom rather than counting.

Note from a respondent: If you look at Luke 9:37, it implies that it took them a day to come down the mountain, which was probably Mt. Hermon (tradition often says the Transfiguration took place on Mt. Tabor. However, there were buildings on top of Mt. Tabor at the time of Jesus, and so it is most probably not this mountain they climbed for this event.). It would therefore take a day, at least, to get up the mountain. Therefore on the sixth day they arrived at the base of the mountain, took a day to climb, and the Transfiguration would have been the next day.

(p) Nebuzaradan came unto Jerusalem on the seventh (2 Kings 25:8), tenth (Jer. 52:12) day of the fifth month.

Note from a respondent: There is no error here if one looks at the prepositions involved. 2 Kings says he came "unto" Jerusalem and Jeremiah states he came "into" Jerusalem. His arrival at and entry into Jerusalem were therefore different days. This is indicating the army was encamped about Jerusalem for three days before they entered and destroyed it.

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