When I was 4 years old, I thought my dad was a superhero. He could do nothing wrong. Later on in life I discovered that he was indeed human – not as inerrant as I first imagined. His humanness did not deteriorate our relationship, in fact it enriched it. I discovered that I could learn as much from his mistakes as from his successes. Such a relationship in which imperfections are acknowledged requires a certain amount of vulnerability, which is exactly what gives friendship greater depth.

There was a time when my relationship with the scriptures could be described as such a infant-superhero type. The Bible was inerrant in every way … and to have discovered it to be otherwise would have destroyed my little infantile world.

At that time I enjoyed reading books and watching videos that explained away the contradictions in the Bible. There were a lot of these books and videos because there seemed to be a lot of contradictions. I gleefully smiled as the teachers made fun of the people who suggested that such contradictions existed. I was comfortable in, and determined to protect my ‘superhero’ relationship with the scriptures.

There was however a nagging question at the back of my mind: why were these explanations so numerous and so complex that no one person could ever remember them all. The logic used was often suspect and I honestly felt that I could do a better job at constructing a logical argument for some of the seeming contradiction. And so my study of the scriptures intensified. To make a better argument for its inerrancy I also had to familiarize myself with the claims of those fools who believed there were errors. Slowly but surely I began listening to the opposite side of the argument. It took a while for me to acknowledge this … but I found their arguments simply more honest.

Part of the doctrine of inerrancy is its insistence that there are no real contradictions in the scriptures, for in fact it has only one author – God – who is consistent in Himself and truthful in every statement He makes. This places a tremendous burden on the scripture, for if it contains even one error, one contradiction, one statement that can be proven to be less than God’s own infallible word, the whole doctrine would collapse.

In today’s topic we will look at one instance of contradictory scriptures.

Let’s begin with the genealogy of Jesus on his father’s side. It should be rather short because his mother was a virgin. Just as the Emperor Augustus and many of the other Caesars, it was rumored that Jesus did not have an earthly father. For some reason though both Matthew and Luke still considered it important to record the genealogy of his earthly father, Joseph. The problem however is that they present us with completely different genealogies. (When referring to Matthew or Luke, I refer to the gospels called by those names)

Please take a moment and read them here:

Matthew 1:1-17

Luke 3: 23-38

These are two completely different genealogies. Both cannot be correct, but the doctrine of inerrancy says that both are correct so an explanation had to be found. One of the most widely accepted arguments (accepted by inerrantists) is that Mathew gives us the ‘legal’ lineage of Joseph and Luke gives us the ‘biological’ lineage of Mary, not Joseph. It would have been an interesting proposition if it was not for Luke 3:23 that explicitly states that we are dealing with Joseph’s genealogy. So the most persuasive argument for denying that there is a contradiction, is directly invalidated by the text itself.

To demonstrate this contradiction further, let me ask a simple question: according to Luke 3:23, who was Joseph’s father?

Heli.

And now according to Matthew 1:16 , who was Joseph’s father?

Jacob.

Is this a contradiction?

Yes it is.

In addition, you would have noticed that Matthew places emphasis on the number fourteen. It has long been acknowledged that Matthew is most Jewish in its content and style. For the Jews of that time numbers had very specific meanings. For instance seven was considered the symbol for perfection. Fourteen, being seven times two, might have been considered doubly perfect. Or it might have been that the numerical value of the name David was fourteen. Whatever the reason, the writer considered it important to show that every fourteenth generation something very significant happened.

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Mt 1:17)

I can appreciate the author’s intention within the literary context that he functioned in. In the context of the doctrine of inerrancy, however, this presents a real problem. Why? Because we have access to the old testament manuscripts on which Matthew’s author based his calculations and from these texts we can see that he had to drop three generations between David and Babylon to get to the number fourteen. (1)

Another small problem is that the last set of fourteen generations … only contains thirteen names. An unmistakable mistake.

Presented with such seeming imperfections, one can either search and find fantastic and imaginative explanations for why it is not what it plainly seems to be – a mistake. Or one can recognize what the author intended to communicate and that these authors did not in any way try to conform their writings to our standards of perfection or the Chicago statement of inerrancy. What the author of Matthew tried to communicate with the number fourteen – that Jesus was indeed the descendant of David – was more important than getting the facts right. Personally, I have also come to acknowledge that the authors were human and therefore mistakes were made such as miscounting the names in the last set of fourteen.

This was only one example out of many thousands. The sheer numbers of such errors and contradictions speak volumes as well. There are a few other interesting differences between Matthew and Luke’s stories of Jesus’ birth as well.

Matthew

Luke

Bethlehem is their home town. Nazareth is their home town.
Born at home – in a house. Born in a manger while visiting Bethlehem.
Visited by wise men from the east. Visited by shepherds
Has to flee Bethlehem and later settles in Nazareth. Goes back home to Nazareth

Both writers wanted to show that the birth of Jesus was in fulfillment of prophesies concerning a deliverer. Namely that Bethlehem was the town from which a deliverer would come and that a virgin would bear a child.

However, there was a problem. Everyone knew that Jesus was from Nazareth. And so Luke and Matthew found ways to locate Jesus in Bethlehem during his birth, but living in Nazareth from early childhood. Their stories are vastly different though and attempts to reconcile them always ends up in the absurd.

Why is all this important?

If the inerrancy theory is the framework with which you approach the scriptures, you could spend the rest of your life trying to reconcile contradictions and completely miss the essence of the message. Recognizing the differences is part of allowing each author to speak a unique message. Luke did not want to communicate the same message as Matthew. Can you see what happens when we recognize more than one voice in the scriptures? It is transformed from a one-dimensional instruction book, into a multi-dimensional conversation.

We have often encountered people who maintain their belief in inerrancy, theoretically, but have lost their love for the scriptures and simply don’t bother reading them any more. Compounding this problem are institutions that earn their money by functioning as giant nurseries. They have a vested interest in keeping their members in perpetual infancy. It is to their advantage to promote and maintain the infant-superhero relationship between their congregants and the Bible. To unveil what the scriptures actually are would require their members to grow up … and would make the nursery unnecessary.

Entering into a deeper friendship with the scriptures requires vulnerability. It means we need to acknowledge our own prejudices in reading them … and we need to recognize the very human element in the scriptures as well. Are we able to see the weaknesses and imperfections within another without losing respect? Could this be the very paradigm shift necessary to help enter into an altogether more honest relationship with the scriptures and therefore grasp their message more accurately?

Today we dealt with a scriptural contradiction: the difference between Luke and Matthew’s genealogies. We also looked at a straightforward factual error: claiming that there were fourteen generations between David and Babylon when in fact the source document puts the number at seventeen, and in another instance counting fourteen when in fact the list only contains thirteen names.

The conversation becomes even richer in the next article as we will consider theological differences between Biblical authors.


 

  1. 1 Chronicles 3: 10– 12 tells us that there were three generations between Joram and Uzziah. (Uzziah is called Azariah in this book – see 2 Kings 14: 21 and 2 Chronicles 26: 1.)

23 Responses to “The Vulnerability of Scriptures. Part 4 in The Scriptures Series

  1. Danu Vino on

    Excellent Andre! Loving this series!

    I would add, that the reason for Luke and Matthew adding genealogies is a cultural honor claim. By tracing the genealogy all the way back to Adam, they make an honor claim that would cause a 1st century Jew to pay attention to the message. It was also customary in the 1st century to hire professional genealogists to construct a genealogy to ascribe honor. Since only those of high honor had written genealogy, to have one for the messiah that the authors of the gospels speak of was necessary culturally.

    Reply
    • andre.rabe@gmail.com on

      Thanks Danu. Good point. It is also known that Matthew had a mainly Jewish audience in mind, so the connection back to David and Abraham is most important. Luke had a much broader audience and so Jesus’ genealogy is traced back all the way to Adam – showing his relevance to all mankind.

      Reply
  2. Matthew Distefano on

    Thanks for the article Andre. I briefly researched the “stock” answer inerrantists give vis a vis the the Matthew/Lukan genealogies and all seem to hinge on “Luke is giving us Mary’s genealogy.” Luke 3:23 “plainly” says otherwise. Thank you for pointing this out and bringing to light one such obvious contradiction that takes some gymnastics to get out of.

    Blessings.

    Reply
  3. Fran M. on

    Reminds me of this verse, “Great peace have those who love your law,and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

    Reply
  4. Lisa Hall on

    I once heard someone say this genealogy in Luke could be of Joseph’s mother? Is this a possibility? Aside from this, I am so thankful that I discovered your teachings on youtube.
    I was most recently blessed by your teaching on the faith of Jesus in “The one Faith” What a beautiful gospel! Praise the Lord! I laughed out loud to myself(headphones on) when you said we didn’t have to ask Adam into our hearts to receive sin into our lives. (Not an exact quote), but this is new Rhema for me that we are all included in the Salvation that God has wrought. I so appreciate you and Mary Ann and her beautiful songs and so thankful for the Really good good news that you are sharing. I hope to catch you next time you are in Texas, God bless you, Lisa Phipps Hall

    Reply
  5. wayne rogers on

    This series is our first steps on the road to Emmaus. Far from just an academic exercise to reveal or explain the contradictions and their sources I believe these articles are a Spirit fueled adventure that we’ve been invited to embark upon. Like long held scientific theories and laws we are going to see the earth is not as flat as we once thought. Jesus was the ultimate “deconstructionist”, and it’s amazing to find what He originally designed.

    Reply
    • andre.rabe@gmail.com on

      Love your thoughts Wayne. … some beautiful thoughts from the road to Emmaus in a post to come. But have to share just one seeing that you brought it up. Interesting that their knowledge of the word left them sad … did not bring them into relationship with the risen Jesus. But an encounter with the resurrected Jesus changed the way they read the scriptures and caused their hearts to burn!

      Reply
  6. Belinda Scott on

    I heard a wonderful message by Anth Chapman from York UK, around that missing gen in the last 14; saying in fact we are the 14th. Christ in us. It made sense to me, not just to “tidy it up” but the reality of this. I love that God/the word is vulnerable- unless he is, how can we be?

    Reply
    • andre.rabe@gmail.com on

      I like that. And its exactly the factual imperfections that opens the possibility for such creative interpretations.

      Reply
  7. David Gallegos on

    I think this is such an awesome teaching. Since all Scripture is Inspired by God, then God has to be the author of contradictions. I believe the reason for the contradictions is for the simple reason that God encourages humanity to think outside the box unlike the narrow mindsets of religion.

    Reply
  8. Corné on

    Yes. It is interesting. However, I am not surprised. Yes. I also think God has intentionally allowed this…for He knows religion. Searching the scriptures…thinking that therein they find eternal life.
    People seem to worship scriptures. It can never replace a true relationship. This is how you get to know someone. Intimacy. Love relationship. And we HAVE the true WORD of God within us… the scriptures are dead without Him. The Spirit will lead us in ALL Truth, not the scriptures. Thx. I enjoy honesty….was always a question in the back of my mind.

    Reply
  9. Linda on

    Your teaching here is really bringing new light to the long held belief in the inerrant scriptures. I have always struggled, though ,with the tensions in scripture that show that there are conflicts. One question I have is that one of the basis for belief in the scriptures has been that the prophesies-spoken of so long ago have come true concerning Jesus as well as other prophesies, and therefore we know we can trust the scriptures. If what you are saying about the scribes writing things that were false is true, then what is to have stopped the authors of the Bible from making things up just to fit the prophesies, thus this one strong belief that the BiBle must be true, that (one) evidence of the reliability of the Bible is that it is backed by the fulfilled prophesies, must in itself be an errant statement? Thank you for any help that would unveil any more truth to this topic!

    Reply
    • Jean Clink on

      I am in a group of people studying Bart Ehrman’s latest book – How Jesus became God. Your point, Linda, about prophecy, is one thing that came to my mind to counteract what I am hearing from many of the people in the group. I look forward to reading any responses to it!

      Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Thank you Linda for your question … and Jean for reminding me.

      Three things to consider:
      1. Many prophesies regarding the Messiah have not been fulfilled. For many Jews this is the singular most significant reason for rejecting Jesus as Messiah.
      2. The expectation for a Messiah developed, meaning that distinctly different visions of who and what Messiah would be, developed. Prophesies were influenced by these different visions.
      3. So even in prophesy we see that there were multiple voices … and I have no doubt that God was involved in the conversation. However, conversation is very different from the notion of a supernatural download of inerrant information.

      It is indeed much easier to interpret scripture as prophetic fulfillment after the fact. Most Christians however, have only focussed on the prophesies that seemed to be fulfilled and ignored the prophesies that have not been fulfilled.

      Reply
  10. Vera on

    Hi Andre,
    For some reason I cannot reply to your previous article (#3, Originals to be destroyed), so I am writing my question here. Did you come to the conclusion that The Gospel of John was actually not written by the Apostle John? (Basing my question on you quoting Bart, note 3.) Just wondering. Thanks and hugs from Budapest!

    Reply
  11. Ashley on

    I learned that Matthew was the more likely gospel to give the genealogy of Mary because it is the one that list women’s names more frequently whereas Luke’s mentions no women. Luke also mentions several ancestors named Joseph and my understanding of the culture is that they used family names over and over. Maybe it’s wrong, but as I have come to understand it, the two genealogies are of Mary and Joseph, but Luke contains Joseph’s lineage. Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of David by different offshoots. This is not to say that there are no contradictions in the text. There are.

    Reply
  12. Andre Rabe on

    I might not have made this clear in the original post, so I will try again here. Both Matthew and Luke claim to present the genealogy of Joseph. Neither claim to present the genealogy of Mary – such speculation was invented later as an attempt to explain away the obvious contradictions. The truth is that the authors of Matthew and Luke did not conver with one another, but invented genealogies for specific theological reasons.

    Reply

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