Are There Contradictions in the Tanach?

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © May 15, 2014 (latest update June 29, 2017)

Recorded Live on Facebook

Why this study was written:

Most traditional Christians believe in the "inerrancy" (i.e. the absence of any error and/or contradiction) of the sixty six books of the Christian Bible (i.e. the Jewish Tanach and the Christian New Testament). Critics often cite the obvious contradictions found in the New Testament as evidence that their claim of Divine authorship and preservation is not accurate. Biblically knowledgeable Christians of course have ready, although mostly unconvincing, answers for these allegations that they, if not their detractors, accept as successfully defending New Testament inerrancy. As one example only: After Judas' betrayal, the Pharisees bought Potter's field and Judas went and hung himself (Matthew 27:5). This contradicts that "Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out" (Acts 1:18-19). Critics note that falling in a field would not cause such a dramatic death. Likewise, Matthew says the Rabbi's bought the field not Judas, lest blood money be placed into the Temple coffers, while Luke says in Acts that Judas bought the property before falling his death in the field. The text does not mention a rope breaking and such a fall would have had to be from a very high place to have such an impact on the body. Falling from a tree would not do this.

Since many Christians proclaim the necessity of biblical inerrancy and that "God said it, I believe it, that settles it," some say that the entire Christian religion must be considered false. While it be so for the extreme "true Believers," I disagree with this assessment. The obvious existence of contradictions in their texts does not necessarily confirm the falseness of their religion. Scriptural integrity is only part of religious conviction. The contradictions in the New Testament (and they certainly exist) pose serious but not terminal issues for Christian doctrine. While Christians are "a people of a Book," theirs is primarily a faith based religion. Al Qua'ran certainly has its share of contradictions as well.

My dear friend Noach enjoys debating doctrine and beliefs (as do I) and sent me the following examples of alleged contradictions within the Tanach (i.e. the Jewish 'Old Testament') for my perusal and comment. If there are contradictions in the Tanach do they pose the same type of issues for us Jews as the Christians confront?

This was the impetus of this study. Our two religions are very different.

Judaism and Christianity vary widely in their views concerning the Scriptures. Judaism is very diverse of course and I would never presume to speak for any other Jew. The following is my opinion only. It reflects how I see these proposed contradictions and their possible resolution.

For Jews the Torah (i.e. the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) is "G-d breathed," to use that terminology, which we normally wouldn't. Those writings are viewed as "thus sayeth the Lord," so to speak. The rest of the Tanach varies as the texts themselves say. When the Prophets are writing for instance they or their chroniclers are reporting events in their own words. When the prophets say, "thus says HaShem" etc. those are words of Divine utterance. The rest of the Tanach is 'inspired' but not necessarily 'Divine utterances'. Likewise with the Psalms and other sections of the Writings. In most cases they are written by holy people inspired by their relationship, need, desire, love, etc. of G-d, but their words are their own. Contradictions in human writings, even when the authors are inspired, is to be expected. And yet there are few if any of these to be found in the texts of the Hebrew Bible. When they do appear, we seek to explain them as well. Some will accept our explanations, some will offer others, and some will not accept any. This is the way of humans. We are an inquisitive and cantankerous bunch!

Exploring such questions is very important nonetheless. Such honest examinations in part gave rise to our Oral Traditions like the Talmud, in which the sages and rabbis debate and determine our understandings as Jews. Throughout the millennia our sages have carefully dissected every passage in the Tanach seeking ever deeper wisdom and insights into the diverse texts and their teachings.

What follows is my attempt to answer numerous challenging questions about alleged contradictions. Mostly these replies will be my own but in some cases I will also include the answers of our sages. Your Comments are invited.

The Verses From My Friend Noach:

This is the list of contradictions I was sent. I know there are rabbinical answers to these texts: Here's the list I'd like your opinion on as to their make up. Nothing to spend too much time on, mind you. Man was created equal, male and female. Gen.1:27. Woman was created as a companion to the man only after he rejected the animals. Gen.2:18-24.

Man was created after the plants. Gen.1:12, 26. Man was created before the plants. Gen.2:5-9.

The birds were created out of the water. Gen.1:20. The birds were created out of the land. Gen.2:19.

The animals were created before man. Gen.1:24-26. The animals were created after man. Gen.2:19.

On the first day, G-d created and separated light and darkness. Gen.1:3-5. On the fourth day, G-d again created and separated light and darkness. Gen.1:14-18.

G-d encouraged reproduction, Gen.1:28. He said it was an unclean process, Lev.12:1-8 (Note that bearing a daughter is more unclean than bearing a son).

G-d was pleased with his creation. Gen.1:31. G-d was not pleased with his creation, Gen.6:6.

Adam was to die "the day" he ate the forbidden fruit, Gen.2:17. Adam lived 930 years, Gen.5:5.

The name of "The Lord" was known in the beginning. Gen.4:26; Gen.12:8; Gen.22:14; Gen.26:25. The name of "The Lord" was not known in the beginning. Ex.6:3.

G-d preferred Abel's offering to Cain's, Gen.4:4, 5. G-d shows no partiality. 2 Chr.19:7; 2 Sam.14:14.

Three: G-d asks Cain the whereabouts of his brother, Gen.4:9. G-d goes to see what is happening, Gen.18:20, 21. G-d is everywhere and sees everything, Prov.15:3; Jer.16:17; Jer.23:24.

It didn't rain before the flood, Gen.7:4. There was rain from above and below, Gen.8:2.

Two pairs of each kind were to be taken aboard Noah's ark, Gen.6:19, 20; Gen.7:9, 14-16. Two pairs and seven pairs of some kinds were to be taken aboard, Gen.7:2, 3.

Noah entered the ark during the Flood, Gen.7:7. Noah entered the ark after the Flood, Gen.7:12, 13.

There were many languages before the tower at Babel. Gen.10:5, 20, 31. There was only one language before the tower at Babel. Gen.11:1.

Abraham married his half-sister and was blessed. Gen.11:29. Incest is wrong. Deut.27:22; Lev. 18:9; Lev. 20:17.

Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and Phichol, Gen.21:22, 27, 32. It was Isaac who made the covenant with Abimelech and Phichol, Gen.26:26-28.

Hebron was the name at the time of Abraham, Gen.23:2. Hebron was named differently Josh.14:15.

Jacob's name was changed at Peniel, Gen.32:28-30. Jacob's name was changed at Padanaram.Gen.35:9,10.

Isaac's servants dug a well at Beer-shebah, Gen.26:32, 33. Abraham dug a well at Beer-shebah, Gen.21:29-31.

Esau married two Hittite women, Gen.26:34. Esau married three Canaanite women, Gen.36:2, 3.

Bashemath was a daughter of Elon the Hittite, Gen.26:34. Bashemath was a daughter of Ishmael, Gen.36:3.

Luz was renamed Beth-el, Gen.28:19. Luz was a different place than Beth-el, Josh.16:2.

G-d renamed Jacob and called him Israel, Gen.35:10. G-d forgot the new name, Gen.46:2.

Eliphaz had six sons, Gen.36:11,12. Eliphaz had seven sons, Gen.36:15,16. Eliphaz had seven different sons, 1 Chr.1:36.

Dan had one son, Gen.46:23. Amazingly, this one son produced over 62,000 military-age males by the first census, Num.1:38,39.

Moses married a Midianite, Ex.3:1. Moses married an Ethiopian, Num.12:1.

All the beasts died in plague number six, Ex.9:6. All the beasts received boils in plague number seven, Ex.9:10, All the beasts were hit with hail and fire in plague number eight, Ex.9:25. All the beasts lost their firstborn in plague number ten, Ex.12:29. All the plant life was destroyed by hail, Ex.9:25. All the plant life was destroyed by locusts, Ex.10:15.

G-d instructs the Israelites to spoil the Egyptians and plunder their enemies, Ex.3:22; Deut.20:13-17. G-d prohibits stealing or defrauding a neighbor, Lev.19:11,13.

Moses' father-in-law proposed the idea of judges for the people, Ex.18:17, 24. Moses proposed the idea of judges for the people, Deut.1:9-18.

Jethro was the name of Moses' father-in-law, Ex.3:1. Ruel was the name of Moses' father-in-law, Ex.2:18. Raguel was the name of Moses' father-in-law, Num.10:29. Hobab was the name of Moses' father-in-law, Jud.4:11.

The priests were with Moses at Mount Sinai, Ex.19:22, 24. Moses appointed the first priests later in the wilderness, Ex.28:1.

Moses was great, Ex.11:3. Moses was meek, Numbers 12:3.

Moses was the only one allowed near G-d, Ex.24:2. Moses was not the only one allowed, Ex.24:9-11.

Moses condemned the making of an idol, Ex.32:19, 20. Moses made an idol, Num.21:9; 2 Ki.18:4.

The commandments were memorably given at the beginning of the wilderness trek, Ex. 19 and 20. The people appeared not to remember them later in the wilderness, Lev.24:12; Num.15:34.

Moses told the people they would pass over the Jordan that day, Deut.9:1. It was Joshua who took them over much later, Josh.1:1, 2.

The number of Israelites, excluding children, was 600,000, Ex.12:37. The number of Israelites, including children, was only 7000, 1 Ki.20:15.

Manna tasted like coriander seed and honey, Ex.16:31. Manna tasted like fresh oil, Num.11:8.

The Sabbath Day was to remember creation, Ex.20:11; Ex. 31:17. The Sabbath Day was to remember the sojourn in Egypt, Deut.5:15.

G-d details sacrificial offerings, Ex.20:24; Ex.29:10-42; Lev.1:1-17; Num.28:1-31. G-d says He did not order sacrifices, Jer.7:22.

The Book of Jasher was written at the time of Joshua, Josh.10:13. The Book of Jasher was written at the time of David, 2 Sam.1:17,18.

The Israelites were a numerous and mighty people, Ex.1:8, 9. The Israelites were few in number, Deut.7:7.

The Israelites had plenty of water to wash their clothes for purification, Ex.19:10. The Israelites had no water and rioted for a drink, Ex.15:22-24.

G-d was with the people, Ex.3:12. G-d was not with the people, Ex.33:3.

Aaron died on Mt. Hor, Num.20:27, 28; 33:38,39. Aaron died at Mosera, Deut.10:6.

After Aaron's death, the people journeyed from Mt. Hor to Zalmonah to Punon etc., Num.33:41, 42. After Aaron's death, the people journeyed from Mosera to Gudgodah to Jotbath, Deut.10:6, 7.

The Canaanites were utterly destroyed, Num.21:3. The Canaanites were left to trouble the Israelites for years, Jud.3:1,2.

Stones were taken out of the Jordan River, Josh.4:3. Stones were placed in the Jordan River, Josh.4:9.

The Nazarite vow is broken if one goes near a dead body, Numb.6:6-9. Sampson, a Nazarite, apparently did not break this vow, Jud.13:5; 15:8,15,16; 16:17. Samuel ministered to the "Lord", 1 Sam.3:1. Samuel did not know the "Lord". 1 Sam.3:7.

David killed Goliath, 1 Sam.17:49,50. Elhanan killed Goliath, 2 Sam.21:19-21. (Notice that the phrase "the brother of" has been added).

"G-d" caused David to number the people, 2 Sam.24:1. "Satan" caused David to number the people, 1 Chr.21:1.

Saul utterly destroyed the Amalekites, 1 Sam.15:20. David utterly destroyed the Amalekites, 1 Sam.27:8, 9. David destroyed the Amalekites - again - almost, 1 Sam.30:1,17,18.

G-d chose Saul to save the people from the Philistines, 1 Sam.9:15-17. Saul dies and the Philistines overrun the Israelites, 1 Sam.31:6, 7.

G-d chose Saul, 1 Sam.9:16. G-d repents for choosing Saul, 1 Sam.15:35. G-d doesn't need to repent, Num. 23:19.

Saul inquired of G-d but received no answer, 1 Sam.28:6. Saul died for not inquiring, 1 Chr.10:13, 14.

Saul killed himself, 1 Sam.31:4; 1 Chr. 10:4, 5. Someone killed Saul, 2 Sam.1:5-10. The Philistines killed Saul, 2 Sam.21:12. G-d killed Saul, 1 Chr.10:13,14.

Jesse had eight sons, 1 Sam.16:10, 11; 1 Sam.17:12. Jesse had seven sons, 1 Chr.2:13-15.

Saul knew David before the encounter with Goliath, 1 Sam.16:19. Saul did not know David until after the encounter with Goliath. 1 Sam.17:55-58.

Michal was childless, 2 Sam.6:23. Michal had five sons, 2 Sam.21:8.

David sinned in taking the census, 2 Sam.24:10,25. David's only sin, ever, was another matter, 1 Ki.15:5.

David paid 50 pieces of silver for the property, 2 Sam.24:24. David paid 600 pieces of gold for the property, 1 Chr.21:25.

No contradiction. The Talmud clarifies most such points. HaShem has truly blessed the Jewish people with such ongoing instruction.

His name was Solomon, 2 Sam.12:24; 1 Chr.22:9. His name was Jedidiah, 2 Sam.12:25.

Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses, 1 Ki.4:26. Solomon had 4,000 stalls of horses, 2 Chr.9:25.

Solomon had 3300 supervisors, 1 Ki.5:16. Solomon had 3600 supervisors, 2 Chr.2:2.

Solomon's "molten sea" held 2000 "baths", 1 Ki.7:26. Solomon's "molten sea" held 3000 "baths", 2 Chr.4:5.

The thing to remember is that even if there are a few discrepancies in the Tanach, it is over 3500 years old and remains an utterly awesome library for those seeking to know HaShem. We worship the Eternal HaShem, not a book. In addition to our mitzvot it is our enduring emunah (active faith) in HaShem that makes us free. Ultimately, it is deveikut, our unyielding attachment to the Holy One that secures our Redemption.

There are many searching questions about G-d. But it is only fitting and proper that this should be so. Indeed, such questions enhance the greatness of G-d and show His exaltedness. G-d is so great and exalted that He is beyond our ability to understand Him. It is obviously impossible for us, with our limited human intelligence, to understand His ways. Inevitably there are things that baffle us, and this is only fitting. If G-d's ways were in accordance with the limits of our meager understanding, there would be no difference between His understanding and ours, and this is inconceivable -- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov -- Likutey Moharan II, 52

Your questions, submissions to the list, comments, and corrections are sincerely invited.

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