The following is my latest response to commenter mikespeir at DaylightAtheism regarding a post titled On Inerrancy. I was unable to post it because the host, Ebonmuse, decided the thread was "going nowhere" and closed comments. I disagree, and the discussion need not be limited to myself and mikespeir. As always on my blog, anyone with anything to say is more than welcomed to get in there and speak up. I've no fear of dissenting opinion and feel the way to reach common ground is often to allow both sides to exhaust themselves.
Foundation of Sand is an essay that offers several examples of alleged contradictions in the Bible. Here’s three more that I think fail.
In Part I, I showed that zero contradictions exist in the Bible’s criteria for salvation. We used the following definition of contradiction: From Wikipedia, “[A] contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. It occurs when the propositions, taken together, yield two conclusions which form the logical inversions of each other.” I feel it’s reasonable to say a contradiction can be represented by the following formula:
(x) + (-x) = contradiction.
Even the most unyielding Fundamentalist cannot deny the incontrovertible fact of difficulties and apparent contradictions in the Bible, but in all fairness it must be pointed out that from the standpoint of logic and critical scholarly analysis, difficulties are not synonymous with errors. Here’s an easy way to see how this works. Let’s say you and your friend witness a robbery in which there were three robbers. Your friend was at one end of the street in front of the bank and you were at the other end near their getaway vehicle. Your friend sees all three robbers run out of the bank with the loot and take off down the street, disappearing from his view. Then, one of the robbers gets a bad feeling that the getaway is going to fail; so he ditches his loot and takes off running down an alley. A wino finds the ditched loot and happily makes his way to the liquor store. By the time the robbers arrive at the getaway vehicle, you see two robbers, not three. During the police report, your friend states for certain that there were three robbers who took off on foot, while you state for certain that there were only two. Your friend admits that he never saw any getaway vehicle, while you maintain there was. A third person comes up and reports that he saw a wino find a bag of money, something which neither yourself nor your friend can testify to. Note that although we have several difficulties and apparent contradictions here, all three witnesses are one hundred percent correct in their statements.
There are many situations like this in the Bible, particularly related to the gospels, with typical charges including conflicting statements of Bible writers regarding the accuracy of crucial historical events such as the birth or death of Jesus. The test scholars apply to documents to check for contradictions and errors is known as the internal evidence test, and it deals basically with discrepancies within a given document. In my opinion, related to factual matters, the Bible passes the internal evidence test with such flying colors that I will not address the subject in great detail here, but for the sake of demonstration one example will be included for study. For those who wish to research the issue more fully, see Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties as a great starting reference on the subject. For specific arguments, refer to the index of false arguments
In one of many arguments to establish the New Testament as unreliable historically, Mangasarian brings up what he feels to be a discrepancy between accounts of what took place during the time immediately after Jesus’ birth.
Matthew records that after Jesus was born, Magi from the east came to visit him and present gifts. Prior to finding Jesus, they approached Herod and asked if he knew where the newborn ‘king of the Jews’ was. (Matthew 2:2) Herod, disturbed, told the Magi to report back to him when they found the location of the newborn ‘king of the Jews,’ no doubt a political move. The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, while Mary and Joseph were warned in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt. It is important to point out that the length of time the Magi stayed is not specified in Matthew’s account. Luke then records that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to be presented as was the Jewish custom of the time. Are the two in conflict, as Mangasarian claims?
Mangasarian writes, “It is impossible to reconcile the flight to Egypt with the presentation in the temple…Luke says nothing about this hurried flight. On the contrary, he tells us that after the 40 days of purification were over, Jesus was publicly presented at the temple, where Herod, if he really, as Matthew relates, wished to seize him, could have done so without difficulty.”
Luke indeed does write that after the 40 days of purification required by Jewish law were over Jesus was presented at the temple. So what exactly does Mangasarian contend? He is arguing that since Herod wanted to kill Jesus, there is no logical way in the world that Mary and Joseph would have presented Jesus in the temple, because Herod could have seized him. In theory it sounds logical. However, Mangasarian omits to mention Matthew 2:7,8 in which Herod originally told the Magi to report back to him to disclose the location of Jesus so he could worship him. However, the Magi never returned to Herod. It was not until two years later that Herod realized the Magi had ditched him. It was then that Herod “…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16) Why, otherwise, would the edict include the detail of two years? In other words, I’m contending that the three could’ve slipped in for purification right under Herod’s nose, while he was waiting for the Magi to return.
So, at the time Jesus was being presented at the temple, 40 days after his birth, Herod was still waiting for the Magi to return and tell him where Jesus was. Herod may or may not have been engaging in an active search for the baby Jesus, his edict had not been decreed. Mangasarian forms an irrational conclusion from a faulty premise. The faulty premise is that ‘it is impossible to reconcile the flight to Egypt with the presentation in the temple.’ This, as just demonstrated, is not true. At the time Jesus was presented in the temple, Herod was waiting for the Magi to return. It was not until two years after Jesus had been born that Herod gave his murderous orders.
So, the likely scenario is that Jesus was born and presented in the temple forty days later, and shortly thereafter, Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt. Mangasarian’s faulty conclusion is that ‘this inconsistency is certainly insurmountable and makes it look as if the narrative had no value whatever as history.’
Mangasarian has made better arguments against the New Testament. The only inconsistency in this case Mangasarian’s inaccurate interpretation of scripture.