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A Perfect Work of Harmony?
by Farrell Till


1993 / January-February



In the second issue of TSR (Spring 1990, p. 14), we raised the question of harmony in the Bible in a short article with the same title as this one. A frequent argument that bibliolaters use in their vain attempts to prove the inerrancy doctrine is that the Bible is so harmonious in content that only divine inspiration could explain its remarkable consistency. In his article "Why I Believe in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures" (Autumn 1992), fundamentalist minister Dave Miller said that "the Bible has been consistently... demonstrated to possess the unequaled characteristic of internal consistency" (p. 3). In Christian Courier, editor Wayne Jackson rhapsodized the achievement of "some forty different persons" who had written "in three different languages" over a span of "1,600 years" and yet had "produced a volume of sixty-six books that is characterized by such an amazing unity and beautiful continuity as to be inexplicable on the basis of human origin" ("The Holy Bible--Inspired of God," May 1991, p. 1).

If this often repeated claim were true, it would constitute formidable evidence for the divine inspiration of the Bible, but, as objective students of the Bible know, it is a claim that doesn't even come close to being true. Biblical apologists like Gleason Archer, John Haley, William Arndt, and George DeHoff have published volumes of far-fetched, how-it-could-have-been explanations to what they sanctimoniously call "alleged Bible discrepancies," the implication being that the discrepancies aren't real but only "alleged." In his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties , Archer listed in the index over 2,000 "difficult" scriptures that he had addressed in the book, and there would be no way to estimate the number of independent periodicals and bulletins like Christian Courier that devote much of their publishing space to defending the harmony of the Bible. Inerrantists, however, apparently can't see the absurdity of preaching the "amazing unity and beautiful continuity" of a book that has required the publication of so many volumes and periodicals to defend and explain its harmony.

The truth is that the Bible, rather than being remarkably consistent and harmonious in its themes, is a book riddled with discrepancies and divergent theological views. Although unity of theme, as I noted in my response to Miller's article (Autumn 1992, p. 5), was undoubtedly a criterion considered by the councils and conferences of rabbis and clerics who arbitrarily made canonical decisions, the selection processes were nevertheless imperfect in that they failed to produce a Bible free of discrepancies.

An excellent example of divergent political and theological philosophies is the one that I presented in my original article on this subject. The writer(s) of 1 and 2 Kings obviously believed that Jehu's massacre of the royal families of Israel and Judah was sanctioned by Yahweh, the tribal god of Israel. As early as 1 Kings 19 , Yahweh commanded the prophet Elijah to anoint Jehu king of Israel (v:16). The actual anointing did not occur, however, until Elijah's successor Elisha sent a "son of the prophets" to Ramoth-gilead with instructions to anoint Jehu king of Israel. In executing the command, the prophet said this during the ceremony:

Thus, saith Yahweh, the God of Israel, I have anointed thee king over the people of Yahweh, even over Israel. And thou shalt smite the house of Ahab thy master, that I may avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of Yahweh, at the hand of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:6-7 ). Jehu then led an armed force against Jezreel and massacred Joram, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, king of Judah, who at the time was visiting his kinsman Joram (2 Kings 9:21-24 ). After having Jezebel, Joram's mother killed, Jehu then ordered the decapitation of Joram's seventy sons (10:6-8 ) and the execution of all principals in Joram's government (10:11 ), as well as 42 servants who had attended Ahaziah on his royal visit (10:12-14 ). As if this were not enough bloodshed, Jehu later deceived all the prophets, priests, and worshipers of the god Baal into gathering for a sacrificial ceremony during which he sent a force of 80 armed men into the house of Baal to massacre everyone in attendance.

After all of this blood had been shed, the writer(s) of 2 Kings said this of Jehu's actions at Jezreel:

And Yahweh said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, thy sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel ( 10:30 emphasis added).

This statement is plain enough that anyone should understand it. Whoever wrote it clearly thought that Jehu had done Yahweh's will in the Jezreel massacres. The writer even went on to chronicle the reigns of the four generations of the house of Jehu who succeeded to the throne of Israel after Jehu.

All four of these were described as kings who "did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh" (13:1-2 ; 13:10-11 ; 14:23-24 ; 15:8-9 ), yet the clear implication of the writer was that Yahweh had permitted them to reign to fulfill his promise to Jehu that ended the passage cited above. So when Zechariah, the fourth generation of these kings, was overthrown in a rebellion, the writer said, "This was the word of Yahweh which he spake unto Jehu, saying, Thy sons to the fourth generation shall sit upon the throne of Israel. And so it came to pass" (15:12 ).

There can be no doubt, then, that the author(s) of 2 Kings approved Jehu's actions in the massacre at Jezreel and considered him an emissary of Yahweh, who had been sent to execute judgment against the house of Ahab. A century later, however, the prophet Hosea had a different view. He opened his book with a pronouncement of judgment upon the house of Jehu in the latter days of Jeroboam, the third-generation of Jehu's descendants mentioned above:

(F)or yet a little while, and I [Yahweh] will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel (1:4-5).

Fundamentalists have made their usual how-it-could-have-been attempts to explain what Hosea meant, but the fact still remains that the author(s) of 2 Kings approved the Jezreel massacre and Hosea, a century later, pronounced judgment on the house of Jehu for "the blood of Jezreel." Why would a divinely inspired prophet pronounce judgment on Jehu's descendants for something that another divinely inspired person had praised in terms of having "execut[ed] that which is right in mine [Yahweh's] eyes" and having done "according to all that was in my [Yahweh's] heart" (2 Kings 10:30 )?

The only reasonable answers are that (1) neither writer was actually inspired, and (2) the two writers simply had divergent political and theological views about the Jezreel massacre. The second of these alternatives certainly explodes the myth of "amazing unity and beautiful continuity" in the Bible. Another biblical disagreement concerned the importance of sacrificial ceremonies. Almost from the very beginning, the Old Testament took a very serious view of sacrifices. The first murder resulted when Yahweh had respect for the bloody sacrifices of Abel but rejected the "fruit of the ground" that Cain had offered. In an ensuing argument, Cain killed his brother Abel (Gen. 4:2-8 ). After the Ark had landed on dry ground, at a time when (if the story is true) every animal on earth was an endangered species, Noah built an altar, took "of every clean beast and of every clean bird," and offered burnt-offerings to Yahweh (Gen. 8:20 ). This gesture must have pleased Yahweh who "smelled the sweet savor" (v:21 ), for he promised "in his heart" that he would not "curse the ground anymore for man's sake" or "smite anymore everything living" as he had just done in sending the flood (v:21 ). All through the rest of Genesis, we read how the patriarchs found favor with Yahweh through their animal sacrifices (12:7-8 ; 15: 8-11 ; 26:25 ; 31:54 ; 33:20 ; 35:1-7 ).

When Yahweh established his covenant with Israel (as the story goes), he included animal sacrifices as a part of it. After his face-to-face meeting with Yahweh on Mt. Sinai, Moses gave the Israelites instructions on proper procedures for the offering of sacrifices (Ex. 34:25-26 ). These laws were expanded later (Num. 6: 13-17 ; 7:84-88 ; 15:1-14 ). The book of Leviticus contains little more than detailed instructions in proper ceremonial procedures, many of them pertaining to the offering of animal sacrifices. These instructions were given with the solemn assurance that they were what "Yahweh had commanded Moses in mount Sinai, in the day that he commanded the children of Israel to offer their oblations unto Yahweh in the wilderness of Sinai" (Lev. 7:38 ). That these ceremonies were considered serious business is indicated in the story of Nadab and Abihu, both sons of Aaron, who tried to offer sacrifices in a manner not specifically prescribed by Yahweh. Their punishment was fire that came forth from Yahweh and devoured them (Lev. 10:1-2 ). All of this indicates that the author(s) of the Pentateuch considered animal sacrifices not just important but a Yahwistic command that had to be executed according to the letter. Why then did some of the prophets who lived centuries after the exodus and wilderness wanderings take a different view of sacrificial ceremonies? Yahweh said through the prophet Hosea, "For I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (6:6 ). Inerrantists, of course, will argue that Hosea was speaking of sacrifices offered by those who were disregarding the importance of inner purity in their personal lives; however, a psalm attributed to David, a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14 ), who had done that which is right in the eyes of Yahweh "all the days of his life" (1 Kings 15:5 ), said this of sacrifices: "For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering" (51:16 ). To want goodness more than sacrifice from the ungodly is one thing, but why would Yahweh, who was so pleased with Noah's sacrifice that he promised never to destroy man again, not delight in sacrifices from a man after his own heart? This is hardly unity so amazing and consistency so beautiful that they could be explained only by divine inspiration.

The prophet Jeremiah took the matter of sacrifices even further and denied that Yahweh had even commanded them:

My people, some sacrifices you burn completely on the altar, and some you are permitted to eat. But what I, the LORD [Yahweh], say is that you might as well eat them all. I gave your ancestors no commands about burnt offerings or any other kinds of sacrifices when I brought them out of Egypt. But I did command them to obey me, so that I would be their God and they would be my people. And I told them to live the way I had commanded them, so that things would go well for them ( 7:21-23, Good News Bible).

I have quoted this passage in a modern English version so that the meaning will be clearer than it is in the versions that use 17th century English. According to Jeremiah, Yahweh plainly said that he gave no commands concerning burnt offerings and other sacrifices when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and that flatly contradicts passages already cited in this article and others too numerous to list. Animal sacrifices were the very foundation of the religion that Yahweh allegedly revealed to the Israelites through Moses. In his typically far-fetched fashion, Gleason Archer explained the problem posed by Jeremiah's statement by claiming that the prophet meant only that "no sacrificial requirements were made by God to the Israelites" until after they were out of Egypt (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 272). In other words, Archer limits Jeremiah's statement to the time that the Israelites were in Egypt proper and therefore contends that the prophet was not alluding to sacrificial commands that Yahweh later gave to the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness.

If ever an inerrantist stretched credulity to the limits to explain away an "alleged Bible discrepancy," Archer has done so here. For one thing, the territory of Egypt at that time (as it does today) stretched into the Sinai region, so when the Israelites were in the wilderness, where the writer of Exodus claimed that Yahweh gave commands concerning sacrifices (20:24-26 ), they were still in Egypt. It is therefore more probable that Jeremiah was referring to an era or a period of time that involved both the exodus and the wilderness wanderings.

This interpretation is more consistent with the original text. In Hebrew, Jeremiah literally said, "I did not speak to your fathers nor command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt about the matters of burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Hendrickson's Interlinear Bible). The expression "in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt" is in the KJV, ASV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NAS, RBV, NAB, AB, and other versions including the Holy Spirit's favorite, the Septuagint. It is customary to use the word day in the sense of an era rather than a literal twenty-four-hour period. Determining if Jeremiah meant the word in this sense should be as simple as examining other places where he used the expression "in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt."

A good place to begin would be chapter 11 , where Yahweh said through Jeremiah, "Cursed be the man that heareth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt" (v:3-4 ). According to Archer's logic, this statement would have to mean that Yahweh made his covenant with the Israelites on the very day (twenty-four-hour period) that he brought them out of Egypt, but in fact the covenant was not made until the events recorded in Exodus 20 , the very chapter that Archer referred to as the time and place in the Sinai wilderness when Yahweh first spoke to the Israelites concerning sacrifices. Later in the same chapter, Yahweh, speaking through Jeremiah again, said, "For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice" (v:7 ). We find no such protest recorded in Exodus that Yahweh made on the very day or even before the Israelites left Egypt, but Yahweh made many such protests to the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 15:26 ; 19:5-6 ; 23:20-22 ; Dt. 11:27 ; 27:10 ; 30:1-2 ). "In the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt," then, must have referred to an era associated with the journey from Egypt to Canaan rather than to the actual time it took the Israelites to leave Egypt proper. In Jeremiah 31:32 , Yahweh again referred to the covenant that he made with the Israelites "in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt," and again in 34:13 , Yahweh said, "I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." As noted above, however, Yahweh's covenant with the Israelites was not made on the very day that they left Egypt but later when they were in the Sinai wilderness. So twice again, the prophet Jeremiah obviously used the expression in question to mean the period of time associated with the exodus and the wilderness wanderings. Why then must we believe that he was referring only to the time that the Israelites were in Egypt proper when he said that Yahweh did not speak to the Israelite fathers about burnt-offerings and sacrifices in the day that he brought them out of the land of Egypt?

Another flaw in Archer's theory is his claim that Yahweh made "no sacrificial requirements" of the Israelites while they were in Egypt. Recognizing the flaw, Archer dismissed the passover instructions given to Moses on the eve of the exodus on the grounds that the passover "had nothing to do with offerings on an altar" (Ibid). Nevertheless, the passover was considered a sacrifice and was so designated in the instructions that Moses gave to the Israelite elders and in his renewal of the instructions in the wilderness: And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of Yahweh's passover ( Ex. 12:26-27 , emphasis added). And thou shalt sacrifice the passover unto Yahweh thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which Yahweh shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there.... Neither shall any of the flesh, which thou sacrificest the first day at even, remain all night until morning. Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which Yahweh thy God giveth thee; but at the place which Yahweh thy God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun... (Dt. 16:2-6 , emphasis added).

So even if Archer is right in his interpretation of what Jeremiah meant by "in the day that I brought them [the Israelites] out of the land of Egypt," he is wrong in claiming that God made "no sacrificial requirements" of the Israelites while they were in Egypt. To argue that Jeremiah was referring only to sacrifices that involved altars is a resort to arbitrariness, because he included no such qualification in his statement. He said (without qualification): "I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices." If he had intended this as a reference only to altar sacrifices, then why didn't he stop with burnt-offerings? The fact that he went on to say "or sacrifices" must mean that he had in mind more than just altar sacrifices. So Archer's resolution of this problem turns out to be just another futile attempt to preserve the inerrancy doctrine.
 



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