Not So Deep Thoughts

Home      55 Reasons Why The Bible Is Not A Perfect Text
60 Reasons Why the Bible Is Not A Perfect Text
 
Written by Joe Pettit

Keep in mind that I am trying to persuade a reader of this list that the Bible is not the inerrant and literal words of God.  I am not trying to prove such a conclusion.  The clever, although usually very implausible, use of verbal and historical gymnastics can probably get around most of the problems on this list.  However, such acts of contextual and verbal contortion are always far less persuasive than the simple and single conclusion that the Bible is a human text that is responding to God in often profound, but also inconsistent, contrary, and necessarily flawed ways.

Note: Most of what follows is a discussion of New Testament texts.  I simply have not studied the Jewish scriptures as much as I have Christian texts.  Also, some of the problems may seem insignificant, and they probably are, but the point is that even insignificant problems should never appear in a text that is literally and inerrantly from God; that is, they should not appear in a perfect text, whereas their presence in profound but flawed human texts is easy to explain.

[Sources: Most of the following is heavily dependent on Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, and on Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005]

Textual Problems Often, the texts of the Bible themselves are difficult, and likely impossible, to reconcile to each other.  This is easy to explain if they were written by many different fallible people at many different times and places.  It is very difficult to explain if the texts are from God.

1.  The Order of Creation: In the first chapter of Genesis, animals are created before humans (1:20-24, 1:26-27), but in the second chapter, man is created before the animals (2:7, 2:19).

2. The Iniquity of the Father: In Exodus 34:7 we are told that the iniquity of the father will be visited upon the children and upon their children “unto the fourth generation.”  But in Ezekiel 18:20 we are told that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.”  Moreover, Ezekiel explicitly repudiates the Exodus interpretation.
 
3. Noah and the Flood: Upon careful examination, it becomes clear that there are two stories of Noah and the flood and that these stories have some rather significant differences.  Most of us are familiar with the version that has Noah bringing one pair of every animal on to the Ark (7:8-15), where it rained for 40 days and forty nights (7:4, 8:6), and that after 54 days (two weeks after the 40 days were over) the waters had receded enough that the dove released by Noah did not return.  However, there is another version of the story where Noah takes seven pairs of every “clean” beast (7:2) and only one pair of every unclean beast; where it first rains for 150 days, and then takes 10 months for the first mountain tops to appear.  Also, rather strangely, Noah and his family enter the Ark twice; once at 7:7 and then again at 7:13.  There is a fine demonstration of how the two different versions of the Noah story are woven together at http://www.energion.com/rpp/flood.shtml.
There is one additional problem with the Noah story.  It is almost identical to another flood story told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a text much older than the account of Noah.  In the Epic we read of a man warned by a god to build a boat because another god who is tired of the noise of humanity is going to destroy every human being.  After the man’s boat comes to rest on a mountain, he releases a bird three times (just like Noah), only he first releases a dove, then a sparrow, and then a raven (Noah actually releases a raven as well at 8:7, we just never hear or read about it).  The man sacrifices on a mountain to the god who saved him, just like Noah.  It is difficult to avoid concluding that the authors of the Noah stories were “influenced” by the Epic of Gilgamesh.
4. Many Languages, or One? In chapter 10 of Genesis, we get a long account of the many peoples and many languages that descend from Noah and of the many lands that they occupied (10:5, 20, 31-32).  However, after this, we are told in the set up for the Tower of Babel story that whole land had only one language and that they all managed to settle on only one plain (11:1).
The Tower of Babel story is strange for at least one more reason.  God decides to destroy the tower and scatter the people, confusing them through many languages, because the people's unity of purpose and language was such that "nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (11:6).  This seems rather petulant, and not very God-like.  In fact, it sounds exactly like the God who threw Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because of the possibility that Adam and Eve would eat of the tree of life and live forever like gods (see    below).

5. Not Isaiah: Mark 1:2-3 refers to a text “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah.”  However, that text never appears in Isaiah, but is rather a combination of texts from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1.  This problem was recognized by early biblical scribes and so we have later versions of the text that read, “As it is written in the prophets.”

6. Abiathar vs. Ahimelech: In Mark 2:26 Jesus refers to the time when David entered the Temple to eat the Bread of the Presence when Abiathar was high priest.  However, in I Samuel 21:1-6 we read that it was Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father, who was the high priest.

7. The Infancy Narratives: Although it is common merge the two stories from Mathew and Luke of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, they are rather difficult to reconcile.  In Luke, Joseph and Mary begin living in Nazareth, and then travel to Bethlehem for a census for which we have no historical record and which involves the absurd command to register in the city of one’s ancestors.  Mary gives birth to Jesus in a manger of an inn with no vacancies.  Shortly after Jesus is dedicated and Mary is purified, the family returns to Nazareth.  In Mathew, Joseph and Mary own a house in Bethlehem that the wise men enter.  Here, Joseph and Mary do not first live in Nazareth, nor must Jesus be born in a manger.  When Jesus is about two years old, he is visited by wise men.  Then the family flees to Egypt.  When they return they first head south toward Judea (confirming that Bethlehem is their assumed home) and only after Joseph is warned in a dream that Judea is not safe for the family do they instead go to Nazareth in the Galilee.

8. The Last Supper: Passover meal? In Mark 14, Jesus eats a Passover meal with his disciples.  In John 19:31, it is clear that Jesus is said to have been crucified and killed on the day of the preparation for the Passover meal, the day before the Passover meal.  Thus, the final gathering of Jesus with the disciples as John tells it could not have been a Passover meal.

9. Crucifixion: The Day of Passover vs. The Day of Preparation: Similarly, Mark has Jesus being crucified on the Passover; whereas John has Jesus being crucified on the day before the Passover.  This difference is not likely an error, but rather a theological move by the author of John who emphasizes Jesus as the Lamb of God, and so has him killed on the same day that lambs were sacrificed for the Passover meal.

10. 9:00 am vs. After Noon: Mark 15:25 tells us that Jesus was crucified at 9:00 in the morning.  John 19:14 tells us that at about noon Jesus is taken to be crucified.

11. The Genealogies of Jesus: Both Matthew (chapter 1) and Luke (chapter 3) present genealogies for Jesus, but a quick comparison indicates disagreements between them.  For example, is the father of Joseph Jacob (Matthew) or Heli (Luke)?

12. Joram vs. Uzziah: In Matthew’s genealogy, we are told that Joram is the father of Uzziah, but 1 Chronicles 3:10-12 we are told that Joram is Uzziah’s great-great grandfather.  Matthew’s likely reason for this change is that without it his scheme of significant things happening every 14 generations would not work.

13. The Names of the Apostles: While Mark (3:13-19) and Matthew (10:1-4) agree about the names of the twelve Apostles, Luke (6:12-16) leaves out Thaddeus and adds another Judas, the son of James.

14. The Order of Temptations: In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is tempted by the Devil three times.  However, the sequence of temptations is different.  In Matthew, the sequence is bread to stone, leap from the Temple, and worship Satan.  In Luke, the sequence is bread to stone, worship Satan, and leap from the Temple.  Some have suggested that this order is changed by Luke to emphasize the centrality of the Temple in the gospel narrative.

15. The Baptism of Jesus: All three accounts of the Baptism of Jesus differ, and do so likely to reflect the different theological interests of each evangelist.  In Mark 1:9-11, John does not object to Jesus seeking to be baptized by him, Jesus alone sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice speaks to Jesus alone (“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased).  In Matthew, John protests to Jesus, and the voice speaks to everyone, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  In Luke, John does not even baptize Jesus, he has already been imprisoned by Herod, and the Spirit descends on Jesus not while he is coming out of the water, but after he has been baptized and while he is praying.

16. The Temple Confrontation: Mark 11:15-19 tells of Jesus “cleansing” the Temple at the very end of his ministry, during his final visit to Jerusalem.  John 2:13-22 also tells of the Temple cleansing, but he places the event at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, three years before his final visit to Jerusalem.

17. Jesus and the Law: In Mark 7:19 Jesus “declared all foods clean,” thus overturning Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws.  However, Matthew 15:1-20 gives the same account as Mark 7:1-23 but leaves out this declaration about food laws.  Most scholars assume that Matthew was writing with Mark’s gospel in hand, and so he can be said to have deliberately left out this text, thus directly disagreeing with Mark.  Even if one does not accept that Matthew had Mark in hand, the fact that the text is not found in Matthew is not surprising since in Matthew Jesus declares complete commitment to the law (Matthew 5:17-18).

18. Divorce: In Matthew, Jesus opposes divorce for any reason “except on the ground of unchastity” 5:32.  However, in Mark (10:11) and Luke (16:18), Jesus opposes all divorce.
 
19. Wither the Fig Tree? There is a very strange story told about Jesus and a fig tree, but it is told differently by different evangelists.  In Mark, Jesus comes across a fig tree “in leaf,” but he curses it because he was hungry and the tree had no fruit on it (11:13-14).  Yet, Mark also notes that “it was not the season for figs,” so cursing it for not having any fruit seems somewhat harsh.  Moreover, the tree did not wither as a result of Jesus’ curse until the next day (11:20-21).  Matthew tries to clean up the story a bit, first by having the tree wither right away in front of the disciples (21:19), and, second, by not leaving out the part about it not being the season for figs.  But even Matthew places the story just before Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover, so even in Matthew’s version, it is still too early for the tree to have any figs on it.  Luke goes even further to clean the story up, taking Jesus out of the story entirely, and converting it to a parable about a fig tree that fails to bear fruit for three years, so the owner of the tree orders it cut down, only to be told that the tree should be given one more year to bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9).
 
20. Fathers: To Honor, or not to Honor? At one point in the Matthew, Jesus tells his followers to call no one their father on earth, because they have only one Father in heaven (23:9).  However, earlier in the same gospel, Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they fail to honor their fathers, with the excuse that they are giving honor to God instead (15:4-7), something strikingly similar to what Jesus later instructs his followers to do.  Of course, Jesus was not the most consistent on the question of parents, sometimes counseling followers to honor their parents (Matthew 19:19, Mark 7:10, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20), but other times telling his followers that they must hate their parents (Luke 14:26), and that he has come to divide sons from fathers, daughters from mothers, and daughters-in-law from mothers-in-law (Luke 12:53, Matthew 10:35), the last not being that difficult to begin with.

21. One or Two Animals on Palm Sunday? In Mark’s account of Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt, and only one colt (11:7).  In Matthew’s account, Jesus rather oddly manages to sit on two animals, described by Matthew as a donkey and a colt.  Not only is this a curious image (I have never seen a Palm Sunday drawing of Jesus on two animals), it is based on a misreading of the literary parallelism employed by the author of Zechariah 9:9, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  No scholar thinks that this text is referring to two different animals, but Matthew obviously did, and so rewrites Mark’s account so as to be, given Matthew’s reading of the text, more consistent.

22. Agitated vs. Calm Jesus: The gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus portray Jesus in very different moods.  In Mark, Jesus is said to be “distressed and agitated” (14:33).  He is silent on the way to be crucified, and the only thing he says on the cross is a cry of desperation and abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34). In Luke, Jesus is much calmer in the garden (except for the sweat blood which is almost certainly a later addition to the original text).  Jesus talks to women while Simon is carrying the cross of Jesus (23:28:31), instructing them not to weep for him but for themselves.  Jesus asks God to forgive those who crucified him (23:34).  He declares with confidence to one of the thieves being crucified with him that, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43).  His last words are not a cry of desperation and abandonment, but a very confident, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46).  Here the point is not just that the words of Jesus are different, but his mood in Luke is the complete opposite of what it is in Mark.
 
23. Barabas: Murder or Bandit? In Mark (15:7) and Luke (23:19) we are told of a certain Barabas who had committed murder in an insurrection (presumably against Rome).  Pontius Pilate gives the people the choice of having Barabas or Jesus released, and the people choose Barabas, a murdering insurrectionist…or was he?  In Matthew, Barabas is just a “notorious prisoner” (27:16), and in John he is merely a “bandit” (John 18:40), someone who robs people on the road.

24. Today in Paradise: As just noted, in Luke, Jesus tells a thief being crucified with him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43).  But Jesus cannot be in Paradise on that day if he does not rise from the dead until the third day (Luke 24:7).

25. Tearing of the Temple Curtain: In both Mark (15:38) and Matthew (27:51) the temple curtain is torn in two after Jesus breaths his last breath; that is, after he dies.  However, in Luke (23:45) the temple curtain is torn before Jesus declares, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

26. Galilee or Jerusalem?  In Mark 16:7, the risen Jesus tells Mary to tell the disciples that they will meet Jesus in Galilee, and in Matthew 28:7 the two Marys are told by an angel that the risen Jesus is going to Galilee, and then in 28:10, Jesus himself says the same thing (keep in mind that Galilee is a territory quite far from Jerusalem in Judea, in fact it is north of the territory of Samaria, which is itself north of Judea).  However, in Luke 24:36-49, Jesus meets the disciples in Jerusalem and the disciples return to Jerusalem.  Jesus then leads the disciples to Bethany, very near Jerusalem, and ascends into heaven.  At no point does Jesus tell the disciples to go to Galilee, nor does he meet them there.

27. One Day or Forty Days? In Luke 24:51, Jesus is carried up to heaven on the day of his resurrection.  In Acts 1:3 it is made clear that Jesus stays with the apostles for forty days before he is lifted up to heaven.

28. Death of Judas: In Matthew 27:3-10, we are told that Judas hangs himself after trying to return the pieces of silver that he was given for betraying Jesus.  In Acts 1:18-19, we are told that Judas bought a field with this money, and that “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.”

29. Not in Jeremiah: Matthew 27:9 refers to a text about thirty pieces of silver and the potter’s field as being found in Jeremiah.  However, no such text exists in Jeremiah.

30. What’s Missing Here? The gospel of John is noted for its very different portrayal of Jesus.  This difference is all the more dramatic when one notes that the entire core of the synoptic gospel accounts is missing.  In John there is no birth in Bethlehem, no baptism by John, no temptation by the Devil, no proclamation of the Kingdom of God, no exorcisms, no parables, no transfiguration, no last supper with bread and a cup, no prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, no trial before the Sanhedrin.  With so much missing, the safest conclusion is that John is almost exclusively a “theological” interpretation of Jesus, will little interest in actual historical events from his life.

31. Too Many Signs: In John 2:11, Jesus performs his first “sign,” and he performs his “second sign” at 4:54.  However, in John 2:23, we read that “many people believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.”  How can Jesus be doing multiple signs after his first sign, but before his second sign?

32. The Land of Judea: In John 2:23 Jesus is in Jerusalem.  In John 3:22, Jesus goes “into the land of Judea,” but Jerusalem is the capital of Judea, and so Jesus is already in the land of Judea.

33. The Sea of Judea? In John 5:1, Jesus is in Jerusalem healing, which he does for the entire chapter.  John 6:1 begins with, “After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.”  But the Sea of Galilee is more than 60 miles to the north, and Jesus had not already been on one side of it so that he could then be said to go to the other side.

34. Where Are You Going? In John 13:36, Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?”  In 14:5, Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.”  Then, strangely, at John 16:5, Jesus says “But, now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?”

35. Titles Only After the Resurrection?  Multiple texts suggest that the titles used to describe Jesus, especially “Son of God,” were applied to him only after and as a result of the experience of his resurrection.  Thus, Paul describes Jesus as, “descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).  Similarly, Luke writes in the Acts of Apostles, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (Acts 13:32-33).

36. Whence Timothy? Acts of the Apostles indicates that Paul goes to Athens without Timothy and Silas (Acts 17:10-15), meeting up with them again only after arriving in Corinth (18:5).  In 1Thessalonians, Paul himself makes clear that Timothy remained with him in Athens and that Timothy then is sent to Thessalonica, not Corinth (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).  This is the first of multiple instances of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles presenting information about Paul’s ministry that disagrees with the actual words of Paul himself.  The easy way to explain these differences is that Luke did not actually know Paul’s ministry well enough (he likely never met Paul) to be accurate in everything that he wrote about Paul; whereas, we have every reason to believe that Paul himself would provide an accurate account of his actions.

37. To Meet or Not to Meet with the Apostles: Paul writes in Galatians that he did not meet with the Apostles for three years after his encounter with the risen Jesus.  Instead, he went out into the desert (Galatians 1:15-18).  However, in the Acts of the Apostles, it is written that after a few days of preaching in Damascus, Paul escapes from the city and goes next to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles (Acts 9:19-27).

38. Mission to the Jews or the Gentiles? In Acts, Paul’s sermons, with one important exception, are addressed to Jews.  Additionally, Paul is always going to synagogues in Acts.  However, in his own writings, Paul describes his mission as being one directed at Gentiles (e.g., Romans 1:5, Galatians 1:16), not Jews, and not once does Paul indicate in his own letters that he preached in a synagogue.

39. Pagan Ignorance or Knowledge of God: In the one speech in the Acts of the Apostles that Paul delivers to non-Jews, he makes a theological claim that is directly at odds with the position taken by Paul in his own writings.  In Paul’s speech in Athens as presented in Acts, Paul states that the pagans have been ignorant of God (Acts 17:23, 30).  However, in his letters to the Romans, Paul is emphatic that pagans are “without excuse” because God has been known to them from the very creation of the world (Romans 1:18-21).

40. The Road to Damascus: In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is described three times (9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18).  Each account has differences from the others.  In chapter 9, Paul’s companions hear a voice but see no one, but in chapter 22 they see a light but hear no voice.  In chapter 9, Paul is knocked to the ground and his companions remain standing, but in chapter 26, they are all knocked to the ground.  In chapter 9, Paul is told to receive instruction from a disciple named Ananias, but in chapter 26, he is instructed by Jesus rather than Ananias.

41. Should Women Speak in Church or Not? In the 1 Corinthians, Paul affirms two different positions on the question of women speaking in church.  In chapter 11, Paul indicates that when women pray and prophesy, two activities done out loud, they should keep their heads covered.  However in chapter 14, Paul instructs women “to keep silent.  For it is not permitted from them to speak…For it is shameful for women to speak in church” (14:34-35).  Why would Paul first give instructions for how women should speak in church, and then forbid their speaking in church?  One very plausible explanation is that Paul did not write the texts from chapter 14, and the evidence for this is that the texts from chapter 14 appear in multiple Greek and Latin manuscripts of the Bible not after verse 33, but after verse 40; whereas the text from chapter 11 never changes location in the letter.  Additionally, if verses 34 and 35 are removed from the text, Paul’s discussion of prophesy flows seamlessly from verse 33 to verse 36.

Historical Problems While the Bible refers to some historical figures and events, its claims are sometimes historically inaccurate.

42. Quirinius and Herod the Great: Luke 2 tells us that the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was undertaken “while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (2:2) and both Luke and Matthew place the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great.  However, Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 C.E, ten years after Herod the Great died.

43. An Unknown and Absurd Census: Despite detailed records taken of the actions of Roman emperors, there is no record of a worldwide census taken under the time of Augustus.  Additionally, the census as described in Luke is simply nonsensical.  It asks people to return to the town of their ancestors who might have lived 1,000 years earlier, as David lived before Joseph, and the idea of registering people in a city different from where they really lived would render the census all but useless.  The two primary purposes of a census were for taxation and conscription.  However, one could not collect taxes, let alone keep track of who paid them, if one did not know where they lived when it was time to pay taxes, nor could one conscript people into the army if one did not know where they lived.  Given the supposed scale of this census (“all the world”), as well as the bureaucratic nightmare that it would represent, one would expect at least some mention of it in the contemporary accounts of the history of this period; yet, it is never mentioned in any text other than Luke’s.  The best explanation for this omission is that Luke invented the census as a device to get Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem; whereas Matthew simply has Joseph and Mary living first in Bethlehem (Matthew also does not mention the census), and then later moving to Nazareth.

44.  Slaughter of the Innocents: Matthew tells us that King Herod ordered the killing of all of the children around Bethlehem who were two years older or under (Matthew 2:16).  However, this is event is not found in any contemporary history of the time (e.g. Josephus).  The most likely explanation for this silence of the historical record is that Matthew invented the story.  Just as Luke invents a census not found in historical accounts in order to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, Matthew invents the story of the slaughter of the innocents to add yet another similarity between Jesus and Moses (Exodus 1:22).  Like Moses, Jesus escapes a slaughter of innocents, he comes out of Egypt, and he delivers the law on a mountain (Matthew has a sermon on the mount, whereas Luke has a very similar sermon on a plain, the opposite of a mount).

45. Charges of Blasphemy: In Mark, during his trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, Jesus he is asked if he is the Messiah, and he answers, “I am” (14:61).  At this point, both the high priest and the Sanhedrin accuse Jesus of blasphemy.  However, within Judaism at the time, it was not blasphemous to refer to oneself as the messiah, the Son of God, or the Son of Man.  We have accounts of other people being referred to by these terms, and there is never a corresponding charge of blasphemy.  What does seem clear is that the author of Mark thinks that the Jews would have found such a claim to be blasphemous, but this is a mistake.

46. Jewish Washing of Hands: In Mark 7:3-4, there is a reference to “the Pharisees, and all the Jews” who “do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands” (Mark 7:3-4).  However, ancient Jewish texts make clear that Mark is just wrong in claiming that the Jews did this.

47. No Historical Reasons for Affirming Biblical Inerrancy: There are no historical reasons for thinking that the Bible is inerrant.  The authors of the text did not know each other.  There is no reason to believe that the authors were actual witnesses of the events recounted in the texts.  Originally, the gospels were written without any name attached to them, so we have no reason to believe that we know who wrote them.

Copying Problems If someone asks you if you believe in the Bible, you might reply, “Which one?”  As early as the second century, both Christian and non-Christian writers indicate that biblical texts were being changed to serve the theological purposes of those who use them.  Of course, if we assume that the actual authors of Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark available to them, and if we keep track of the ways that Matthew and Luke alter much of Mark’s text, most of the changes made by later copiers of the Bible are minor compared to changes made by some of the gospel writers themselves.

48. Which Copy? As Ehrman is now well known for claiming, we do not have the original copies of any of the biblical texts, nor do we even have copies of the originals.  We have copies of copies.  Additionally, not one of our oldest manuscripts of the Bible is identical to any other.  Not until the invention of the printing press do identical copies of the Bible become available.

49. The End of Mark: The two oldest copies of Mark end at 16:8 with an empty tomb, no resurrection appearances, two terrified Marys, and the words “for they were afraid.”  The last twelve verses of Mark are completely missing.  Additionally, these last twelve verses are written in a style and vocabulary that are different from the rest of the gospel.  Some early Christian writings that refer to the gospel of Mark make no mention of these last twelve verses.  For these reasons, most scholars agree that they are a later addition.  It may be worth noting that one of the most exclusivistic verses of all Christian scripture is found in this addition.  “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned” (16:16).  Happily, those of us who do not affirm such an exclusivistic understanding of Christianity can be confident that these words were not originally a part of the gospel of Mark.

50. The Woman Caught in Adultery: The story in the gospel of John of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), where Jesus famously says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” is entirely absent from the oldest copies of John.  Additionally, as with the end of Mark, the writing style and vocabulary present in this story are missing in the rest of the gospel.

51. Sweat of Blood: As has already been noted, the only place in Luke’s passion narrative that Jesus seems at all agitated or upset about the death that awaits him is the account of him sweating blood during his prayer on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:43-44).  However, the oldest and best texts of the gospel of Luke do not contain these verses, and there are additional literary reasons for doubting that these verses were original to the text.

52. Trinity vs. the Spirit, Water, and Blood: In the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, written in the 5th century, as well as in the King James Version, one finds the only explicit reference to the Trinity: “There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7-8).  Scholars refer to this as the Johannine Comma.  However, the text does not appear in a single Greek version of the Bible until the 13th century.  Instead, the Greek texts contain, “There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.”  Here, there is no reference to the Trinity.

53. Was Jesus God? In addition to the problems with the Johannine Comma, many other texts of the Bible used to support the belief that Jesus is God seem to depend on alterations in the text.  For example, 1 Timothy 3:16 refers to Christ as “God made manifest in the flesh, and justified in the Spirit.”  However, as early as the 18th century, scholars noticed that in Codex Alexandrinus, one of the oldest copies of the Bible, the text had been altered such that what became “God” was originally “who,” thus changing to verse to refer to Christ, “who was made manifest in the flesh.”  Similarly, Acts 20:28 refers to “the Church of God, which he obtained by his own blood.”  However, in Codex Alexandrinus and other copies, the text is “the Church of the Lord, which he obtained by his own blood.”  Finally, in the Letter to the Hebrews, most copies of the text refer to “the suffering and death of Jesus, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:8-9).  However in two copies of the text, one a manuscript that is a known copy of one of the oldest manuscripts available, the verse reads “the suffering and death of Jesus, apart from God.”  It is hard to think of Jesus as God if he died apart from God.  Additionally, early Christian writers like Origin, Ambrose and Jerome, refer to this different version of the text. None of these textual changes prove that Jesus is not God, but they do suggest that those who affirmed that he is God had no problem with altering the biblical text to support their claim.

Theological Problems Some of the most important differences in the biblical texts are theological in nature.  If we read these texts in a manner that ignores or explains away these differences, we fail to be informed and challenged by the theological claims made by the authors of the texts.

54. The Real Reason Adam and Eve Were Thrown Out of the Garden of Eden: We all know what the Bible says about why Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, right?  Ask just about anyone, and they will say that Adam and Eve were thrown out as punishment for their disobedience.  But what does the Bible actually say about this?

“Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22-24).

Now, this is a problem for lots of reasons.  First, Adam and Eve are not cast out of the garden for disobedience, but rather because God is worried that they will live forever.  Second, the image of God here is not very glorious.  God comes off as rather petty, and worried about status.  Third, the account suggests that no atoning sacrifice from Jesus is necessary for us to have eternal life; instead, just a bite from the tree of life.  Finally, it does make one wonder where the garden is today.  If God could have just gotten rid of it, why bother to set up the cherubim and a flaming sword at the entrance?

55. Son of God: Both within the Bible, and within Jewish theology, the phrase “Son of God” is used to designate a human being.  For example, “I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7).  This text from Psalm 2 is especially interesting because in one of the earliest copies of the gospel of Luke, these are the words the Spirit speaks to Jesus after his baptism, suggesting that Jesus “becomes” a Son of God, or is given that title, on the day of his baptism.

56. Miracles or No Miracles: In John, Jesus performs many miracles, or “signs,” and we are told both at the raising of Lazarus (11:15, 42) and at the original end of the gospel (20:30-31), these miracles are explicitly linked to helping people believe.  However, in Mark (Mark 8:11-12) and Matthew (12:38-39, 16:1), Jesus explicitly refuses to perform miracles so that people may believe.

57. Atonement or Injustice?: Both Mark and Matthew understand the death of Jesus as an atonement, “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).  Luke, however, omits all such language from his gospel (including Mark 15:39).  If we assume that Luke has a copy of Mark while he is writing his own gospel, something the author of the gospel himself suggests (Luke 1:1-3), then Luke has not just failed to present an atonement understanding of the death of Jesus, he has deliberately rejected such an understanding.  The only time one finds atonement language in Luke is at the last supper when Jesus says, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19), and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (22:20).  However, in one of the oldest Greek manuscripts of Luke, as well as multiple Latin versions, this language of atonement is entirely missing, suggesting an addition to the original in order to make it more consistent with the Mark and Matthew.

58. Is the End Near? The two earliest accounts of Jesus, the letters of Paul and the gospel of Mark, both indicate a belief that Jesus will be returning very soon.  In Paul’s oldest letter, 1 Thessalonians, a major problem that Paul must address is a concern of the members of the church that some members of the church have died, but Jesus has not yet returned (4:13-18).  It is hard to understand this problem arising unless Paul had given the Thessalonians reason to believe that the return of Jesus was imminent.  In Mark, Jesus at his trial tells the high priest he will “see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).  However, not only was the return of Jesus not imminent (he hasn’t yet returned), even by the time the gospel of Luke is written the emphasis on the imminent return of Jesus is eliminated.  Thus, instead of having Jesus declare that the high priest would see Jesus coming with the clouds of heaven, Jesus now says “from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69).  Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus explicitly tells the parable of the pounds because the people “supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (19:11).  Thus, in Luke, Jesus himself denies any immediate coming of the kingdom.

59. Why Bother With Economic and Social Justice? Related to the problem of whether or not the end is near is the question of whether or not Christians should worry about issues of economic and social justice.  Such concerns are not present in Paul (e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:17-24), but they are very present in Luke (e.g. 6:20-26).  The difference in emphasis can be explained by the different understandings of whether or not the return of Jesus, or the coming of the Kingdom of God, is imminent or not.  If, as Paul thinks, it is imminent, then there is no point in worrying about economic and social justice, as such things will soon be taken care of by God.  If the end or kingdom is not imminent, as Luke thinks, then Christians will have to concern themselves with these matters.

60. An Inerrant Bible Is Not Necessary For Faith in God and Jesus: Perhaps the most important reason not to affirm that the Bible is a perfect text is that one wastes too much time trying to come up with ways of making the texts fit together when one could be proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  To be sure, different traditions exist as to what that good news is.  Briefly, my own understanding of this gospel, good news that I think can be found in an imperfect Bible, goes something like this.  Jesus proclaims the good news that:

         The sins of one’s past cannot stand between a person and the mercy and love of God

         No religious (Temple) or cultural institution (beliefs about the poor, the sick, women, etc.) can stand between a person and God’s love and mercy

         It is important that even the most religious people not become overconfident that they stand in God’s favor

         The experience of the resurrection of Jesus is a divine affirmation of the gospel of Jesus, despite the apparent defeat of Jesus on the cross

         This good news is true whether the coming of God’s kingdom is near or far