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Harmonizing internal biblical conflicts:

In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

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Some examples:

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:

bullet 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 from:
bullet Genesis 4:1: "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD...."

bullet Gen 4:17: "And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch:"

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.

bullet Bashemath's father: The book of Genesis identifies two men as her father:
bullet 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:

bullet 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.

bullet Bats are not birds: Both Leviticus And Deuteronomy include bats in a list of birds that one must not eat:
bullet 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."

bullet 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).


bullet 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 food:
bullet 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 hooves.

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More apparently conflicting passages:

bullet 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 their cud:
bullet Leviticus 11:5 states: "And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you."
bullet 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.

bullet King Ahaziah's death: Passages in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles appear to differ concerning the details of King Ahaziah's death:
bullet 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."
bullet 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:
bullet Escaped to Samaria,
bullet Was captured and returned to Jehu,
bullet Escaped via the garden house,
bullet Was wounded in his chariot while going to Gur.
bullet Made it to Megiddo, where he died
bullet Was buried by Jehu's men.

bullet 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:
bullet 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 fathers...."

bullet 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."

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Request:

If there is an irresolvable biblical conflict that you would like to see covered here, please E-mail us.

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Footnote:

  1. 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.
  2. Jeffrey A. Justice, "Chew on This... Again!," The Skeptical Review, 1994, Number four. Online at: http://www.infidels.org/

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Copyright 1998 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-NOV-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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