Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Biblical "discrepancies"

Liberals and outright unbelievers typically alleged that Biblical narratives contradict each other. Various reasons are assigned to these contradictions: one Bible writer didn’t know what they other author wrote: each Bible writer was preserving different, divergent traditions; one Bible writer was consciously advocating a rival version of events.

Here are two sets of parallel accounts, which narrate two interrelated events:

1. Version 1A

1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, "Cornelius." 4And he stared at him in terror and said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea." 7When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

2. Version 2A

30And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' 33So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord."

3. Version 1B

9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." 14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." 15And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
17Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. 20Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them." 21And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?" 22And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." 23So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

34So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

4. Version 2B
4But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' 8But I said, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9But the voice answered a second time from heaven, 'What God has made clean, do not call common.' 10This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?"

If these variant accounts occurred in four separate books of the Bible, liberals would write learned monographs discussing the independent origin of each. They’d assign different redactors and different dates to each account. They’d reconstruct the community to which, for which, and from which, each account emanated. They’d recreate the socioeconomic situation of each target community. They’d delineate the distinctive theological agenda of each redactor. They’d meticulously tabulate the irreconcilable discrepancies between one account and a rival account. This would all be done with brilliant ingenuity and impressive erudition. "Fundamentalist" Christians who attempted to harmonize these accounts would be accused to special pleading.

But there’s only one problem: these four accounts occur in the very same book, back-to-back (Acts 10-11). They were meant to be read together. To contribute to the same overarching narrative.


  1. "Liberals and outright unbelievers typically alleged that Biblical narratives contradict each other."

    Lesson: Be neither a liberal, nor an unbeliever.

    Where it's frequently the case that there's not much difference between the two.

  2. Kudos on this one Mr. Hays. Though you know I have to stick a little jab in here now... (grin)...

    This was also a case in which St. Peter, through the message of the Angel/vision, nullified a part of the Old Testament Levitical Law. Immediately after receiving the vision, he was invited to Cornelius' place, a Gentile, and to just GO THERE (Acts 10:28) would have been unthinkable to the faithful Jew! St. Peter not only accepted the invitation, he ATE with them! ANY food prepared by Gentiles would have been considered "unclean" by faithful Jews. Peter was even confronted by the "circumcised believers" who asked how he could do such a thing! ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 'So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?' (Acts 11:9;17)

    I recently blogged on the question of St. Peter violating Levitical Law:


  3. "This was also a case in which St. Peter, through the message of the Angel/vision, nullified a part of the Old Testament Levitical Law."

    Actually it was God who did that. And it is recorded in scripture both here and at Mark 7:19. There is no authority here for Peter, let alone his self-proclaimed successors, to change any law whatsoever.

  4. Although there is someone who would presume to usurp God's authority over the law. Compare Daniel 2:21 with Daniel 7:25.

    Discuss amongst yourselves.

  5. The food laws, like Moses' law on divorce, was given because of the hardness of the Israelites hearts.

    The food laws were to teach the Israelites to treat the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit within. Accordingly, the idea was to be mindful of the relationship between what we eat, and what edifies the body - against what doesn't.

    Jesus did not violate this law, but kept it perfectly, because He understood it perfectly. Jesus Himself said that he did not come to abolish the law [Matt 5:17]. In fact He says it would be perfectly accomplished in Him (and in his followers since it would be written to their hearts) [Matt 5:18][Jer 31:31]. Paul also says as much in [Rom 3:31] when he says that faith (in Christ) did not overthrow the law.

    Jesus also distinguished between God's Law and man's [John 10:34]. Fact is that God's law is eternal, unchanging, and without shade or variation, since it reflects the law giver.

    Therefore, because He articulated the law more perfectly (correctly), and he provided an example of one in perfect conformance to the law [John 13:15], it's certainly fair to say that Jesus overthrew man's contemporary flawed understanding of it.

    This more perfect articulation is what Jesus meant when when he says "I am the light of the world." [John 8:12][John 9:5]. A thing, and an understanding of a thing, are entirely different as Jesus' life shows us.

  6. And Mark 7:19 and its accompanying self-interpretation is a witness to Scripture's self-interpreting nature, its perspicuity.

  7. Yes [Mark 7:19] shows us that the source of man's defilement is not what we eat. The same verse doesn't, however, speak to the issue of treating our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

    If we do defile our bodies through ingestion, it isn't what is being ingested that is the problem, rather it is that we are not respecting the bodies God has given us that is.

    Food, as [Mark 7:19] points out, is expelled naturally, whereas the evil devices of our heart, which causes us to ignore God's law remains.

    The verse [Mark 7:19] isn't saying "We can eat everything we like. We must continue to eat only the things that edify, out of respect for the body God has given us. But it is also not saying simply eating the right foods will save us either.

    That is what Jesus was pointing out.