Bible Discrepancies?

What about the apparent discrepancies in the Bible?

There are a few discrepancies in our Bible that cause some people to question its inerrancy, and consequently, whether or not it is truly God's word. The following discussion addresses some of the most popular of these discrepancies, and hopefully reinforces the notion that the Bible is indeed God's word.

Discrepancy # 1) Genesis 1:11-13 and Genesis 2:5:

Genesis 1:11-13 states that God created vegetation, but Genesis 2:5 says that there weren't plants on the earth yet.

Probable solution: These could easily be two separate accounts of creation. Genesis 1 describes how God created vegetation on the third day. Genesis 2 says, "When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth..." Genesis 1 seems to be an account of creation which focuses on the creation itself, while Genesis 2 seems to be a separate account of creation which focuses on the creation of Adam and Eve. Verse 4 says, "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created." This seems to verify that Genesis 2 refers back to Genesis 1, but there is not necessarily a discrepancy here just because a pre-vegetation stage is described at a point in the Bible which follows a description of a vegetation stage.

Discrepancy # 2)  25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:8:

Numbers 25:9 states that 24,000 died, while 1 Corinthians 10:8 says that 23,000 died.

Possible solution: These could be referring to two separate events.

Possible solution: This could be a transcription error. Perhaps the original manuscripts agreed.

Probable solution: In situations like this, I always ask myself if there is any way to interpret these passages in which they do not contradict each other; and, when the contradiction focuses on numbers, this is usually possible. Since 1 Corinthians 10:8 doesn't say that only 23,000 died, then it is possible that 24,000 died. If exactly 24,000 died as Numbers 25:9 says, then it is also true that 23,000 died as 1 Corinthians 20:8 says. This is an analytical argument, but I believe it is valid. This argument can also be applied to Galatians 3:17 and Exodus 12:40.

Discrepancy # 3) 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1:

2 Samuel 24:1 says that God caused David to conduct a census, but 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that Satan caused David to conduct a census.

Possible solution: This could be referring to two different events.

Probable solution: God could have caused Satan to incite David to conduct the census, there is no discrepancy here.

Discrepancy # 4) 2 Samuel 24:24 and 1 Chronicles 21:5:

2 Samuel 24:24 says, "So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them." 1 Chronicles 21:5 says, "So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site." This sounds like 2 Samuel 24:24 says that David paid fifty shekels of silver for something that 1 Chronicles 21:5 says he paid six hundred shekels of gold for.

Probable solution: The "them" in 2 Samuel 24:24 probably refers only to the oxen; i.e., David paid 50 shekels of silver for the oxen. However, the six hundred shekels of gold in 1 Chronicles 21:5 was paid for the site. Both could be true, so there would be no contradiction here. He paid fifty shekels of silver for the oxen, and six hundred shekels of gold for the site, and both accounts agree. Again, no true discrepancy exists here.

Discrepancy # 5) Matthew 10:9-10 and Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3:

It sounds like Matthew and Luke are saying that Christ told the disciples not to take a staff and sandals, but Mark says they can.

Probable solution: Reading closely, Matthew 10:9-10 says, "... take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals, or a staff; ..." Luke 9:3 says, "Take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic." While Mark 6:8 says, "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic." Again, the only apparent discrepancies here concern the staff and the sandals. The Matthew passage could be interpreted to mean that no extra tunic, extra sandals or extra staff are to be taken. This would imply that it is permissible to take a staff and to wear sandals, as the Mark passages says, but it would not be permissible to take an extra staff or an extra pair of sandals. Since the passage in Luke does not reference sandals at all, the only remaining discrepancy is that Luke sounds pretty adamant about not taking a staff. I would just have to chalk this one up as a transcription error made by some scribe by misapplying the appropriate grammatical rules of the Greek language concerning items in a list. I feel certain that the original manuscripts agreed.

Discrepancy # 6) Matthew 20:29-34 and Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43:

The passage in Matthew says that two blind men were healed, while Mark and Luke say that one blind man was healed (and Mark calls him Bartimaeus.)

Possible solution: These could be referring to two different events.

Probable solution: I again lean on my analytical / mathematical argument. I believe that two blind men were healed, but Mark and Luke are only documenting one. Mark and Luke do not say that only one blind man was healed, so (mathematically speaking) if two were healed, then it is also true that one was healed, so there is no contradiction. It is just that Matthew tells us more about the event. So this doesn't appear to be a valid discrepancy.

Discrepancy # 7) Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18

Matthew says that Judas threw the money into the temple, then hung himself, while Acts says that he bought a field with the money, and "he fell headlong, and his body burst open..."

Possible solution: The Bible scholars would probably argue that the priests later bought a field in Judas's name, since it was Judas's money, but I'm not comfortable with this argument.

Possible solution: This is a tough one, but, again, I think that it could be handled analytically. The following scenario would work: Judas bought a field with the money. He later felt guilty and insisted on returning the property to its original owner, and he demanded his money back. Then he went to the temple and threw his money into it. Then he went back to that same field and hung himself. When he hung himself, he did so in such a way (perhaps by jumping from a very high platform of some kind, with a rope tied around his neck or body) that the force of the fall or the rope caused his body to literally burst open. This way, it is true that he threw his money into the temple, and that he hung himself, and that he bought a field with the money, and that he fell headlong, and that his body burst open. This argument is a little weak, but I think it is as good as we can do if both statements are true.

Probable solution: My favorite solution to this situation has to do with the way we interpret the Bible in general. I believe that all scripture is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16) and inerrant. However, I do not believe that every time that the Bible tells us that somebody said something, then whatever that person said is true and inspired and inerrant. For example, while hanging on the cross, Jesus said, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?" but some of the people there said, "He's calling Elijah." Now, what the Bible tells us here is completely true, but it is not true that Jesus was calling Elijah. It is only true that some people said that he was calling, and they may have truly believed that he was. In other words, the Bible can document an account of an event, even if someone makes a statement that is not true. It is only the Bible author that is writing under inspiration. It is not true that all of the words of the third-person characters are inerrant.

What I'm getting at is that Matthew's statement is an inerrant statement concerning what happened to Judas, but Luke's statement in Acts is only inerrant concerning what Peter said. It could be that Peter made a statement that is not an inerrant fact, since the Bible doesn't claim that everything that Peter ever said is inerrant. On the other hand, if Peter himself had document this account under the inspiration of the spirit, then we could be sure that it was an inerrant fact. I believe that this is what happened here. Peter did say this, but this is not what happened concerning Judas. (Of course, this cannot be applied to the third-person words of Jesus in the gospels because Jesus made no such mistakes.)

I realize that this puts more of the historical narrative of the Bible at risk than what many people would be comfortable with (much of the book of Acts, for example). However, I still believe this to be the case, because the foundation of Christian doctrine is found in the epistles, which are all first-hand accounts.

Owen Weber 2009