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Topic: Is The Bible Full of Contradictions?

Scepticism Regarding Other Prophecies

by Darrel Cline

As we continue with our study of the objector's reasons for rejecting the biblical witness, we come to the next of his "evidences" of Matthew's "faulty" appeal to prophecies. The following in normal type are his words. My response is in bold type.


2. The "slaughter of the innocents" (Jeremiah 31:15)

Matthew says that Herod, in an attempt to kill the newborn Messiah, had all the male children two years old and under put to death in Bethlehem and its environs, and that this was in fulfillment of prophecy. This is a pure invention on Matthew's part. Herod was guilty of many monstrous crimes, including the murder of several members of his own family. However, ancient historians such as Josephus, who delighted in listing Herod's crimes, do not mention what would have been Herod's greatest crime by far. It simply didn't happen. The context of Jeremiah 31:15 makes it clear that the weeping is for the Israelites about to be taken into exile in Babylon, and has nothing to do with slaughtered children hundreds of years later.

Here our objector pontificates "It simply didn't happen." Amazing what our twentieth century, omniscient historian knows. He knows what happened and didn't happen in Bethlehem in early 4 B.C! His proof? "...ancient historians such as Josephus, who delighted in listing Herod's crimes, do not mention what would have been Herod's greatest crime by far." Greatest crime by far? Nonsense! Our objector, claiming to be omniscient, overlooks two or three major issues.

First, Matthew does not tell us how many babies were killed by Herod's troops. He simply records that Herod sent troops to kill all the babies that were in Bethlehem and its environs from two years old and under. For this to rate as his greatest crime by far, he would have had to have killed a fair number of baby boys. But, how many did he have killed? Two would have met the criterion of the prophecy. Three would have been more than enough. Four would have been far more than enough. Five would have been far more than the prophecy required. But, how many would it have taken to catch the attention of the ancient historians? Our objector knows nothing at all about whether the murder of those babies would have even rated sufficiently high enough to catch the attention of historians. But, he knows enough to tell us adamantly, "It simply didn't happen." Reader of mine: keep asking yourself one question; "What is the hard evidence?" What ancient historians recorded is what ancient historians recorded. No one can say what they would have recorded if this or that was a fact of history. This is simply a vacuous argument from silence.

Second, we are told nothing about whether Herod let it be known what he had ordered, or whether he had his men operate as secretly as possible. Bethlehem didn't rate very high in those days, and "wild tales" coming out of it about several baby boys being killed by troops would not necessarily have ever taken root as facts in the eyes of most historians. We have "historians" today who are denying the Holocaust, and that concerned millions, not just three or four. Our brilliant objector is of the same meaning type as these revisionist historians who want to whitewash Nazi Germany.

Third, ancient historians have not gone on record as having much to say about many of the things that happened in Judea. If we are going to ignore the historians whose writings happen to be in the Bible, we won't know much of anything that happened in those days. Consider Josephus for an example. How much does he say about the Christ? Passing mention. Nothing else. Passing mention indicates He caught Josephus' attention, but not enough of it to motivate him to record any of His activities. But, no matter, our omniscient guru has spoken: It simply didn't happen.

Likewise, the easy dismissal of Jeremiah completely ignores the facts as they relate to "meaning types". The greatest illogic about our objector so far is that he seems to think that Matthew was a complete idiot who wrote stuff that no one would buy into at all unless they also were complete idiots (which our objector clearly wants us to believe, but which, if we believed him, would make us the idiots instead of Matthew). It is far more likely that Matthew's use of the Old Testament was comparable to that which was current in his day. Don't forget, Matthew knew his life was on the line by proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. Raving lunatics often do crazy things, but Matthew doesn't write like a raving lunatic; rather, he writes like a man attempting to persuade contemporaries that he has a point--and no one in his right mind would have that goal and then shoot himself in the foot by using the Bible of the people in a way that they could not understand. Just because our late, great, omniscient one doesn't understand it only means that his education is seriously lacking because it didn't include enough on how the religious folks of the first century used the Word of God. What has our objector put on the line? Anything at all?

But, for the record, let's consider why Matthew appealed to Jeremiah 31:15 as an evidence that Jesus was the Christ. What is the meaning type in Jeremiah 31:15? In the context, Ramah has become a staging point in the territory of Benjamin where the captives of Judah are being amassed to go into foreign captivity. It is a point not far from Bethlehem. Rachael, the mother of Benjamin, is pictured as a meaning type of all of the mothers of the captives who are being taken away. Just as Benjamin was originally named "son of my sorrow", Rachael is now presented as inconsolable because her children are being taken away. This was happening because of a wicked king who refused to follow God, so, in that sense, he is responsible for the loss. Thus, the type of meaning established by Jeremiah is that of inconsolable mothers whose losses have been produced by a rebellious king who has rejected God's instruction. This is precisely the same type of meaning as developed in Bethlehem at the time of the coming of the Son of the promises. Because the king in Jerusalem hates the Son of deliverance, the mothers of Bethlehem find themselves bereaved and inconsolable. However, just as in Jeremiah 31, the overall context is one of hope in which Yahweh promises to bring the captives back, so the birth narrative of Matthew is designed to show that the virgin's Son is the essence of the hope of Yahweh's promises of a regathering of the captives.

Now, on to Hosea...

(Hosea 11:1)

Matthew has Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod, and says that the return of Jesus from Egypt was in fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:15). However, Matthew quotes only the second half of Hosea 11:1. The first half of the verse makes it very clear that the verse refers to God calling the Israelites out of Egypt in the exodus led by Moses, and has nothing to do with Jesus. As further proof that the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt never happened, one need only compare the Matthew and Luke accounts of what happened between the time of Jesus' birth and the family's arrival in Nazareth. According to Luke, forty days (the purification period) after Jesus was born, his parents brought him to the temple, made the prescribed sacrifice, and returned to Nazareth. Into this same time period Matthew somehow manages to squeeze: the visit of the Magi to Herod, the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt, the sojourn in Egypt, and the return from Egypt. All of this action must occur in the forty day period because Matthew has the Magi visit Jesus in Bethlehem before the slaughter of the innocents.

Besides our objector's ignorance of meaning types (which ignorance enables him to dismiss Hosea 11:1), he has another serious problem: he refuses to think. Consider this scenario. Jesus is born in a stable belonging to an innkeeper on a given night. The next day, Joseph manages to find a house to rent (this isn't the problem some would like it to be because the inn was full of folks interested in renting a place for not more than a night or two, not folks looking for houses in which to live) to get his family out of the stable and to give Mary a comfortable place to recover from the process of giving birth. Both of them know that, all things considered, they might as well stay in Bethlehem until after the time of her purification because the alternative is to go home to Nazareth and then pack up and return to Jerusalem in about six weeks. Why bother? Joseph is a skilled carpenter and he can get some work for a few weeks in Bethlehem.

So, Joseph sets his family up in a rented house. The night after they get settled, they get unsettled because some mighty rich men show up at their door seeking to know if the Messiah has been born. Remember, the Magi could easily have set out on their journey long before Jesus was born, and their visit to Herod could have just as easily occurred while Joseph and Mary were experiencing the birth of their son in a stable. At any rate, the Magi are there and they bring some pretty pricey gifts with them. Then, that same night, they leave and Joseph is warned to get out of Bethlehem because Herod is going to try to kill Jesus. How much time has lapsed? Less than 3 days.

Then, how long did the flight to Egypt take? It was about six times as far from Bethlehem to Egypt as it was from Nazareth to Bethlehem, so we might guess somewhere around two weeks. Joseph has plenty of cash reserves because of the wealth of the rich men who visited, so he doesn't have to walk. But, just about the same time they get settled into a place in Egypt, the news comes that Herod has died. Hurrah! We can go home! So, pack up and leave again. With plenty of money, we aren't talking here about having to poor-boy it and go the slowest way possible. So they go back and get there in time to fulfill the law regarding purification. But, while they are in Jerusalem fulfilling that law, they hear that Archelaus has taken the reigns of power, so Joseph says, "We have to get out of here right away!" So, they pack up and take off for Nazareth.

Reader of mine: there is nothing in my scenario that is impossible to corollate with the record of the text. Our objector wants this to drag out for months so that he can say "It simply didn't happen." But, all we have is his word for that, and he has shown us nothing so far to substantiate that he has anything more than an axe to grind. Certainly, he has put forward no proof of anything yet that denies the record of Matthew. If he wasn't so bent on finding objections, he would be able to see how hollow his arguments have been to date.

Now, what about the type of meaning in Hosea 11:1? It is easy. Israel is the beloved son of Yahweh who has been sent to Egypt because of the sins of the offspring of the recipient of the promises and Yahweh summons him out of Egypt. By the virgin birth, Jesus is the beloved Son of Yahweh Who must descend into Egypt because of the sins of the offspring of the recipients of the promises and Yahweh summons Him out of Egypt. By appealing to Hosea, Matthew is clearly telling us that Israel has a Redeemer Who has walked in Israel's footsteps and has come to deliver him just as God delivered him out of Egypt when He first established this type of meaning.

And that brings us to the pinnacle of our objector's argument...


Since the prophecies mentioned above do not, in their original context, refer to Jesus, why did Matthew include them in his gospel? There are two possibilities:

  1. The church says that the words had a hidden future context as well as the original context, i.e., God was keeping very important secrets from His chosen people.
  2. Matthew, in his zeal to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, searched the Old Testament for passages (sometimes just phrases) that could be construed as Messianic prophecies and then created or modified events in Jesus' life to fulfill those "prophecies."

Actually, there are three problems here. First is the fact that if the objector's objection had any validity at all, Matthew wouldn't have had a snow ball's chance in Hell of persuading anyone that Jesus was the Christ because he was obviously quoting verses that didn't have anything to do with the Christ. Second is the fact that the prophecies in their original context do refer to the Christ by way of meaning types. And third, there is another possibility that our objector doesn't want to acknowledge--probably because he doesn't have a clue as to how to understand biblical meaning types. This possibility is this: Jesus taught His disciples how to understand the biblical text. Luke 24:45 says that He opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. It is no secret that the biblical authors continually refer to the blindness of those whose antagonism toward God is so great that if He says "blue", they scream, "No! Red!" In the wisdom of God, man by wisdom does not know God; only in the humility of genuine repentance does the truth dawn.

Fortunately for those who really want to know the truth [what does our objector know about really wanting to know the truth?], Matthew made a colossal blunder later in his gospel which leaves no doubt at all as to which of the above possibilities is true. His blunder involves what is known as Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey (if you believe Mark, Luke or John) or riding on two donkeys (if you believe Matthew).

This is not either/or. If one writer says He rode on a donkey, there is no denial in the statement that He rode on more than one. The statement that He rode on a donkey positively establishes that he rode on a donkey, but it does nothing to disestablish the possibility that he rode on more than one. If I say, "I have ridden a horse", there is nothing in the statement that proves I have only ridden one particular horse. Likewise, if a writer says that someone sat on "them", there is nothing in the statement that precludes the someone from sitting first on one and then on another. There is a reason for this. Both Mark and Luke tell us that the disciples were to get a colt "upon which no man has sat". Matthew tells us that the disciples were to get both the unridden colt and the colt's mother. Since the procession was to begin at the Mount of Olives and wind into Jerusalem, it is not beyond possibility that Jesus sat upon the older, stronger animal for the initial portion of the ride in order to spare the younger, weaker animal from having to carry His weight for too long a time. It was, apparently, important to Jesus that He be identified as Messiah while on the younger animal "upon whom no man sat". Again, there is no necessity in the records that we pit Matthew against the other three. His was just the more detailed account of actual happenings. The desperation of our objector is again revealed. He simply will not allow any scenario but his own.

In Matthew 21:1-7, two animals are mentioned in three of the verses, so this cannot be explained away as a copying error. And Matthew has Jesus riding on both animals at the same time, for verse 7 literally says, "on them he sat."

Since it is fundamentally impossible for anyone to sit on two donkeys of different ages and heights at the same time, no matter how big a posterior they might have, Jesus could only "sit" on them one at a time. Our objector apparently has never tried to sit on two donkeys at the same time--probably for good reason: he knows he cannot do it and he thinks Matthew is such a fool that he would present something as occurring which everyone knows is impossible. This is simply another example of deliberate desperation. The text says that "they placed garments upon them (both animals) and He sat upon them". There are two possibilities here: they placed garments on them and Jesus sat upon them (the garments); or, they placed garments on them and Jesus sat upon them (the animals). This puts our objector in the place of trying to make Matthew out to be a fool on the basis of one possible interpretation which is really not even viable. In the first place, the text could as easily be saying Jesus sat on the garments as saying Jesus sat on the animals. And, even if it was intended to say that He sat on both animals, there is nothing in the sentence that requires the impossible of Him--to sit on them at the same time. This is such a childish literalism that I can not believe our objector has given this any thought at all. If Jesus sat on one for a while and then on another, the historical record "He sat on them" is accurate and possible.

Why does Matthew have Jesus riding on two donkeys at the same time? Because he misread Zechariah 9:9 which reads in part, "mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Anyone familiar with Old Testament Hebrew would know that the word translated "and" in this passage does not indicate another animal but is used in the sense of "even" (which is used in many translations) for emphasis. The Old Testament often uses parallel phrases which refer to the same thing for emphasis, but Matthew was evidently not familiar with this usage. Although the result is rather humorous, it is also very revealing. It demonstrates conclusively that Matthew created events in Jesus' life to fulfill Old Testament prophecies, even if it meant creating an absurd event. Matthew's gospel is full of fulfilled prophecies.

Since Matthew doesn't have Jesus riding on two donkeys at the same time, the entire argument that Matthew was Hebrew-challenged is moot. However, it is just as true that the Hebrew waw, which is often translated "and" as well as "even" is not unlike the Greek kai, which is also often translated "and" as well as "even". So, it is not an ignorance of the intricacies of biblical Hebrew that is at stake here. Rather, it is our objector's attempt to force only one option of meaning ahead of all others and not permit the others to be considered. Since neither Mark, Luke, nor John deny that the disciples got both animals (they only mentioned the one "upon whom no man sat", but this means nothing in terms of a contradiction), there is no proof that Matthew's knowledge of Hebrew has any bearing on the issue at all. Jesus apparently rode both animals--lending credence to the interpretation of the Hebrew waw as "and" instead of "even"--and that He rode both in no way denies what the other evangelists told us.

Working the way Matthew did, and believing as the church does in "future contexts," any phrase in the Bible could be turned into a fulfilled prophecy! [There is more truth here than our objector wants. Jesus is the spirit of prophecy and meaning types are far and away more crucial to language than he has ever considered! There are many things the Scriptures say that will find their ultimate meaning type in Jesus. That we don't understand them is a testimony to the need on our part for at least a modicum of humility.]

This is it? This is the objector's final proof? Hallelujah! Now we know for sure that he has no argument at all! If you didn't get his point, go back and read it again. He claims Matthew was so zealous to prove Jesus was the Christ, by fulfillment of prophecy, that he manufactured an event, in which he was an active participant, just to correlate with his ignorant misunderstanding of Zechariah 9:9. And this is the proof that we can't believe a word Matthew wrote. You don't know how happy this makes me. This ultimate weapon is a water pistol in a gang fight between boys with automatic handguns!

And now for our objector's conclusions...


From looking at just the birth accounts several conclusions can be reached, all of which will be further reinforced by examining other parts of the New Testament:

  1. The gospel writers contradict each other.
  2. The gospel writers rewrote history when it suited their purposes.
  3. The gospels were extensively edited to accommodate the evolving dogma of the church.
  4. The gospel writers misused the Old Testament to provide prophecies for Jesus to fulfill.
From the birth accounts alone, it is obvious that in no way can the New Testament be considered "the inerrant Word of God," or even "the Word of God, inerrant regarding matters important to faith and practice."

As we have shown along the way, all of these conclusions are like a wicker basket--they can't hold water! The Gospel writers have not been shown to contradict each other. They have only been set up as straw men with single meaning options that our objector has forced upon their words. The only thing shown is that our objector can come up with various possibilities of meaning that can be shown to be in contradiction with each other, but he lacks the ability to show that his possibilities are the only ones available, or even the more likely ones. The Gospel writers have not been shown to have rewritten history to suit themselves; rather, our objector has imposed his ignorance upon them to the point that he can't see what they are saying. There is no evidence that the Gospels were extensively edited. This is the domain of textual criticism and our objector hasn't put forward any evidence that this occurred. The Gospel writers didn't misuse the Old Testament. They simply understood language better than our objector. Thus, our objector has no basis for pontificating that the Bible is not inerrant. That he believes it is full of error is obvious; but his evidence is compromised by his dogmatic abuse of the real possibilities of meaning to the point that anyone who would take his word for anything is taking his life in his own hands. If you want to believe this tripe, be my guest. Your blood is on your own hands for buying a fool's argument with a wooden nickel.

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This is article #247.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.