What do we make of apparent scriptural inconsistencies?
Original YT playout date: 22 August 2010
Some Christians pretend that the apparent scriptural inconsistencies just don’t exist, they try to ignore them and read on or brush them under the carpet. It is a way of faith, but not a way of very strong faith.
On the other hand, It is better if we can try to see what it is that the apparent inconsistency is intended to be saying to us. Maybe it is an error of translation in some versions, in which case we can go back to the original languages. This obviously doesn’t apply to the Book of Mormon, where you can’t do that. However, I don’t recommend treating that as scripture anyway. Or the Qur’an for that matter, where you also wouldn’t need to refer back to the original language as Muslims are supposed to be reading in it anyway, so that the nonsense doesn’t become evident on translation. How weak a faith is that, by the way?
Don’t expect to understand everything, but expect that in God’s time you will understand
So accept that some things appear to our logic irreconcilable, and try to work out what that teaches. There are doctrines, for example the doctrine of the Trinity, is a reconciliation of such apparent inconsistencies. If these seeming inconsistencies were not there to be reconciled, we wouldn’t have such a strong base for the doctrine.
The discussion here doesn’t start at that point, but develops in that way after a few minutes. Enjoy.
Kyle Davison Bair (Master of Divinity in The Bible & Teaching, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) wrote this piece on Quora and has kindly allowed me at my request to share it with my audience as a guest post, please check out his site and his books, which seem to be absolutely first rate.
This is going to be fun.
The darkness at the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion gives us solid proof — either of the Bible lying or the Bible recording a remarkable truth. The Bible describes two spectacular events on the day of Jesus’ Crucifixion.
Listen to how Mark describes the first: “And when the sixth hour had come, there wasdarkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33 NIV).
If darkness covered the entire land, it would be visible to more than those in Jerusalem. Everybody around the Roman Empire should have seen something, if it was real.
The second event likewise would be visible everywhere. Joel prophesied it and Peter quoted it:
“This is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel: […] ‘I will perform wonders in the sky above […] The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ […] Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know.”
(Acts 2:16, 19–22)
A blood moon occurs during a lunar eclipse. As with the darkness, it should be widely visible, if indeed it happened during Jesus’ crucifixion — as Peter indicates it did.
If we find nothing in the historical record, then it appears the Bible lied.
But do find this in the historical record — well, then things get interesting.
So what do we find?
Thallus was one of the first to write about the darkness at the time of the Crucifixion, writing at about 52 AD/CE. His original work has been lost, but Julius Africanus, an historian who wrote around 221 A.D., quotes Thallus to disagree with him:
‘On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.’
Both of Thallus and Julius attest to the darkness as a real event, so much so that they can bicker about the cause.
Phlegon, a Greek historian and author of a detailed chronology in 137 AD/CE, wrote:
“In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (33 AD/CE) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.'”
This one is especially handy, as it corroborates the exact year and time of day for the darkness, as well as and the earthquake.
Africanus also wrote a five-volume history of the world c. 221 AD/CE. His account is particularly noteworthy both for its length and for his credibility; he had impressed Roman Emperor Alexander Severus so well with his historical rigor that he was put in charge of the Emperor’s library in the Pantheon; in other words, he was the most well-known, influential, and well-resourced historian in the Empire.
While I quoted him briefly above to highlight Thallus’ contribution, Africanus’ full paragraph adds a great deal more detail:
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period.”
This one additionally is valuable given that it mentions the resurrection of the dead and again the earthquake, in addition to the darkness.
Tertullian (second century) also provides a remarkable attestation, writing:
“At the moment of Christ’s death, the light departed from the sun, and the land was darkened at noonday, which wonder is related in your own annals, and is preserved in your archives to this day.”
Not only does Tertullian attest to it, but he appeals to how well-recorded the event is in established historical archives of the time. This is perhaps the most significant attribution, given that he cites how extensively the event was recorded and appeals to the public records to prove his point.
The darkness, then, is well-established.
What then do we find about a blood moon?
It turns out that a lunar eclipse did happen on exactly the day the darkness was recorded: April 3, 33 A.D./C.E.
A view of the partial lunar eclipse on August 7, 2017 as seen from Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit and copyright: Leonard Ellul-Mercer.
The precise data on the partial lunar eclipses of April 3, 33 A.D./C.E.
This blood moon during the day of Jesus’ Crucifixion was so well-known that writers in the early church appealed to it frequently.
Skeptics have long scoffed at these details in the Bible. But like most details in the Scriptures, when you dig into the research, you find the claims verified.
The Bible is not a book of cleverly-invented myths. It records real events that happened in real history. The more we press into the individual details, the more we find them verified.
People criticise Christians for saying atheism is a religion, set of dogmas or a belief. Atheism is indeed a belief. Saying it isn’t is mere denial of the obvious reality. If I do not know whether a cat in a box is alive or dead, it is not a question of it being both, it is a question of which of these alternatives you believe. One will prove to be correct, but up to that point, both believe. The one who says the cat is dead is not able to say he has fact on his side in view of the absence of evidence of life. The cat is in the box.
If God means, as He tells us He does, to save a people based on their choice in faith and love, then forcing them into faith by parading himself means that the criteria would not work and we would be forced back onto works salvation. In such a case we would need to be good, and there obviously is a problem with being good. I can’t do it and neither can you. That’s why the whole world from Creation onwards contains a structure whereby we may in good conscience believe that the Creator came into Creation to take the punishment so that we could be forgiven based on belief, and so does the Bible. The Bible contains things which invite you to either dismiss it in scorn or to try to see things through the eyes of God. We are told truth in a way that the proud will find it only too easy to reject, while at the same time they readily absorb the lies of the world, from abiogenesis through to the idea that Satan is not controlling politics. The faithful on the other hand find it easy to believe God’s word, and are ultra skeptical about the lies of the world.
So both are belief systems. One is a belief system whose proponents know or ought to know is a belief system, the other is a belief system many of whose proponents think is honest science.
When you say “defensible”, if you mean by that something that can be answered for, then all faith is to a degree defensible as faith is its own defence. If you mean empirically proveable, as in something I can test by experiment, then the case is not strong. You get all kinds of arguments about how could Moses have known this or that, but in the end it comes down to what Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice”.
God has made a world in which in some places you might see ten thousand penguins on a beach but the right mother hears the voice of its own chick and the chick recognises its own mother. When you have read the Bible and heard in it the voice of God to your heart, then this is a stronger case for inspiration than worrying about how to understand this verse if it seems to contradict that verse, etc etc. The way that God speaks to YOU in the prayerful reading of the Bible, this is God’s word to you. In order to get a balanced view it is a good idea to read the whole Bible, which creates a complete and internally congruous view of the development of the idea of salvation, from the law given to one nation, via prophets, judges, then kings, and the continual failure of people to keep a law that reflected the holiness of God, if only at times symbolically, through to an actual physical incursion of the Creator into His own creation, becoming one of us, and then sacrificing Himself to pay the ransome for our sins, enable an exit route from sin into atonement, resurrection and eternal life. This is the message that the Bible has and it is not the message of any other book other than books based on it.
If this be the meaning of life – and I find no better meaning anywhere on Earth in anything else, and all other explanations of what this life is for do not ring true to me – then the place this is revealed is in Scripture and I believe and defend that the Bible is therefore the inspired word of God, authorative, and containing sufficient for me to know so that I can believe the essentials needed to believe in order to find myself covered by the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ.