Harmonizing internal biblical conflicts:
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
There are literally hundreds of pairs of passages in the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament) that
have been identified as being in apparent conflict. Most can be readily
harmonized. That is why we feel that it is useless to try to evaluate
biblical inerrancy and errancy by comparing apparent discrepancies
between or among passages. It is our opinion that a better way to study
errancy and inerrancy is by examining biblical themes. A few are:
||Cain's wife: Genesis mentions that Eve gave birth to Cain and
Able. Later, Cain married a woman. Skeptics often ask where the wife came
||Genesis 4:1: "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she
conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the
||Gen 4:17: "And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and
This puzzle is easily solved. At the time that Genesis was written,
women were held in such low esteem that they didn't even bother to mention
that Eve might have had one or more daughters. So Cain could have
married his sister. Since the Mosaic Law had not been handed down at the
time, this was neither sinful nor illegal.
||Bashemath's father: The book of Genesis identifies two men as
||Genesis 26:34: And Esau was forty years old when he took to
wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the
daughter of Elon the Hittite:
||Genesis 36:2-3: Esau took his wives of the daughters of
Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the
daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; And Bashemath
Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth.
It was common in ancient biblical times for women to adopt a new name
when they married. Esau may have had two wives who adopted the name
Bashemath. It is a pretty name, meaning "fragrant and pleasing." It
sounds like a rather strange arrangement, but it could have happened.
||Bats are not birds: Both Leviticus And Deuteronomy include bats in a list of birds that
one must not eat:
||Leviticus 11:13-19 states: "And these are they which ye
shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they
are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray.....and
the lapwing, and the bat."
||Deuteronomy 14:11-18 states: "Of all clean birds ye shall
eat. But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the
ossifrage, and the ospray...and the lapwing, and the bat."
It is well known that the bat is now classified as a mammal, not a bird.
However "bird" in ancient Hebrew may have a different meaning from
"bird" in current scientific usage. It is quite possible that the ancient Hebrews defined a bird or fowl
to be any animal with wings that can fly. Bible authors can be expected to
use their own society's definition of the term "bird." Scientists
may have later changed the definition. However, the statement remains true
according to the meaning of the word when the
books were written (In the 15th century BCE according to most religious conservatives; perhaps during the 6th century
BCE according to most liberals).
||Camels have split hooves: In Leviticus 11, God is said to
have given Moses and Aaron a list of animals which were either suitable
or forbidden for human consumption. Land animals were acceptable if they
chewed their cud and had a split hoof. Camels were a forbidden
||Leviticus 11:2-4: ...."These are the beasts which ye
shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever
parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among
the beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat
of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the
camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is
unclean unto you."
The camel in fact does have divided hooves. But, unlike cows, sheep
goats and deer whose hooves are completely parted at the bottom to form
two separate horny pads, the camel's hooves have only partially split
hooves. Thus, in the Bible, camels were not considered in the same class
as those other animals which were permitted to be eaten. Camels were not
kosher. The phrase "divideth not the hoof" in verse 4 could be
interpreted as meaning that camels do not have completely divided
More apparently conflicting passages:
||Rabbits do not chew their cud: Eating rabbits and coneys was
also prohibited in Leviticus 11 because they were perceived as chewing
their cud but, not having a cloven hoof. This is a very popular passage
used by skeptics of biblical inerrancy to "prove" that the Bible
contains errors, because both rabbits and coneys do not actually chew
||Leviticus 11:5 states: "And the coney, because he
cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you."
||Leviticus 11:6 states: "And the hare, because he
cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you."
The Syrian coney is commonly referred to as the rock badger. Skeptic
Jeffrey Justice points out that the word translated as "cheweth"
is the Hebrew word "`alah" which means "ascend up" (Strong's
word 5927). 2 Thus, "cheweth
the cud" would be more accurately translated as "brings up the
cud." He comments that cattle and all other "...true ruminants
have chambered stomachs." 2 Food initially goes into the first chamber and is later regurgitated --
brought up again into its mouth. The animal then chews its cud; the food
is broken down mechanically before it goes into the next chamber of the
stomach where chemical digestion takes place. Rabbits and rock badgers
do not have a multi-chambered stomach; they do not chew their cud.
Skeptics note that rabbit's jaw movements do appear to simulate
cud-chewing. Thus the very human author(s) of Leviticus probably assumed
that rabbits and coneys did ruminate, and subsequently put this error
into the mouth of God.
Some believers in biblical inerrancy argue that this passage does not
refer to chewing cud as is done by cattle. Rather, it refers to the
rabbits' practice of refection. Their digestive system is so poor that
they sometimes eat their own feces in order to extract the full
nutrition out of food by digesting it twice. Refection serves the same
purpose as rumination; both processes recycle partly digested food in
order to obtain the full value of the nutrients. They might argue that
the concept of chewing cud had a wider meaning in ancient times than at
the present. The Bible might have correctly classified rabbits and
coneys as ruminants because they were considered as such in ancient
times. This is analogous to the "bat as bird" problem above.
Other inerrantists argue that "chewing one's cud" had a third
meaning in ancient times. It referred to any animal that chewed its food
for a long period of time. Both rabbits and true ruminants do exhibit
this behavior. Thus, it was legitimate for the ancient Israelites to
consider rabbits as ruminants.
Still another possible explanation for the apparent error is that a
copyist's mistake might have been involved. Note that verses 5 and 6 are
identical except for the name of the animal. Some scribe might have
accidentally copied the cud chewing phrase from a previous verse and
overwritten the original text. The autograph copy of Leviticus might
have given a different rationale for forbidding the eating of rabbits
and rock badgers. Both may have been considered unclean animals because
they eat their own feces; the original version of Leviticus might have
stated this. Biblical inerrantists discourage this type of speculation.
Believing that a copying error has happened in one place in the Bible is
a slippery slope. Believers might question whether the Bible contains
other, much more important errors elsewhere in the text.
||King Ahaziah's death: Passages in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles
appear to differ concerning the details of King Ahaziah's death:
||2 Kings 9:27 states: "But when Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he
fled by the way of the garden house. And Jehu followed after him, and
said, Smite him also in the chariot. And they did so at the going up to
Gur, which is by Ibleam. And he fled to Megiddo, and died there."
||2 Chronicles 22:9 states: "And he [Jehu] sought Ahaziah: and they caught
him, (for he was hid in Samaria,) and brought him to Jehu: and when they
had slain him, they buried him..."
The first passages seems to indicate that King Ahaziah was wounded
while he was in his chariot going to Gur; he made it to Megiddo where he
died. The second passage seems to indicate that he escaped, hid in
Samaria, was captured, was returned to Jehu, and was killed and buried.
The two passages can be harmonized by assuming that the sequence of
events was as follows. Ahaziah:
||Escaped to Samaria,
||Was captured and returned to Jehu,
||Escaped via the garden house,
||Was wounded in his chariot while going to Gur.
||Made it to Megiddo, where he died
||Was buried by Jehu's men.
||King Josiah's death: 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles also appear to
differ concerning the details of Josiah's this event. They agree that he
was injured in battle and was later transported to Jerusalem. But they
disagree on whether he died in Megiddo or after arriving in Jerusalem:
||2 Chronicles 35:23-24 states: "And the archers shot at
king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am
sore wounded. His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and
put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to
Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his
||2 Kings 23:29-30 states: "In his days Pharaoh-nechoh king
of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and
king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had
seen him. And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo,
and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre."
This conflict appears to be due to a mistranslation shared by almost
all English versions of the Bible. 1 The Hebrew word "mēth"
which is generally translated as "dead" in 2 Kings 23:30 can also
be translated "dying" or "in a dying state." It seems that
Josiah was wounded in Megiddo and actually died in Jerusalem. Curiously, Young's Literal Translation states that Josiah was "putteth...to
death" in Megiddo, and that his servants later "caused him to ride
dying from Megiddo."
If there is an irresolvable
biblical conflict that you would like to see covered here, please E-mail us.
- Including the following Bible translations: 21st Century King James
Version, An American Translation, Jerusalem Bible, English Standard
Version, James Moffatt, King James Version, Living Bible, Modern Language,
New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, New
International Version, New Living Translation, New Revised Standard
Version, New World Translation, Revised English Version, Revised Standard
Version, and Today's English Version.
- Jeffrey A. Justice, "Chew on This... Again!," The Skeptical
Review, 1994, Number four. Online at: http://www.infidels.org/
Copyright 1998 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2014-NOV-12
Author: B.A. Robinson