Two Bible Contradictions
Matt. 27 vs. Acts 1
By Dr. Niclas Berggren
There are Christians who believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. This note shows that they are wrong in this belief, since there is a contradiction between a passage in 27th chapter of Matthew and the 1st chapter of Acts. If the Bible were without error, there could be no contradiction at all.
Let me begin by stating the two passages which contradict each other. (If anyone is interested in taking a look at how other translations render these passages, go to The WWW Bible Gateway.)
Matthew 27:3-10 (KJV): “3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. 5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. 6 And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. 7 And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. 8 Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. 9 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children ofIsrael did value; 10 And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.”
Acts 1:16-19 (KJV): “16 Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. 17 For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. 18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it was known unto all the dwellers atJerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue,Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.”
How do these verses contradict each other?
- In Matthew, Judas threw away the money to the priests before dying, then he went to hang himself. After that, the priests bought a field. In Acts, Judas used the money himself to buy a field.
- In Matthew, Judas threw away the money before dying, and then a field was bought. In Acts, the field was bought before Judas died.
- In Matthew, he died by hanging himself, whilst in Acts he fell headlong and his bowels gushed out.
How could an inerrantist Christian respond to these three points? Let me speculate on some possible counter-arguments.
As for point 1, one could infer that when Acts says that Judas bought the field, what is meant is that the priests bought the field on his behalf. This, however, is not permissible, since if one is allowed to change the meaning of the language, no significant discussion about the actual meaning of anything can be conducted. In ordinary language, we do not say that “this man purchased a field for $100” if someone else purchased it for their own usage with money thrown away by its original owner. Clearly, from Matthew, Judas did not give any order for the priests to buy a field for his money, and even if he did, why would they obey him, who they despised?
As for point 2, it seems hard to come up with a counter-argument, since the past tense is used in Matthew (“went and hanged himself”), implying that the execution of the deed had taken place before the purchase of the field. Meanwhile, Acts clearly presents the case where the field is bought prior to his dying (indeed, since he is said to have bought it himself!).
As for point 3, it is logically possible that the story in Acts is consistent with Matthew in terms of the method of dying, but it seems highly unlikely, from how his death is described. If one is to find consistency, one must include many things not in the text. Amongst other things, one wonders how the bowels could gush out simply from his having died by hanging, and one also wonders how he could fall headlong in a field, and where the tree came from (normally, there are no trees in the middle of a field).
Note that it suffices for only one of the three stated contradictions to hold for there to be a contradiction.
To conclude, the case for there being a clear contradiction between Matt. 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18 is strong, and hence the view that the Bible is without error is incorrect. For the serious implication of this conclusion, see my essay “The Errancy of Fundamentalism Disproves the God of the Bible”.
Let me add an additional item of interest. In Matt. 27:9-10, it is asserted that the prophet Jeremy (Jeremiah) uttered a prophecy regarding Judas, but no such statement is found in the book of Jeremiah. Instead, a similar statement is found in the book of Zech. 11:12,13. Again, we note that the Bible seems quite untrustworthy.
1 John vs. 1 John
By Dr. Niclas Berggren
This brief note documents a second contradiction in the New Testament (for the first, click here), thus undermining the view of some Christians, that the Bible is perfectly without error. We begin by taking a closer look at the two passages (for a check-up of different translations, go to The WWW Bible Gateway).
- 1 John 1:8, 10 (KJV): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
- 1 John 3:9 (KJV): “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
What do these two passages, both directed to believers, say? The first one states that Christians are not without sin, and the second one that Christians are without sin. This is a clear contradiction, in that both these statements cannot both be true.
But is it possible for the Christian inerrantist to offer some possible re-interpretation such that the contradiction disappears? I shall take a closer look at four such attempts.
First, one may question that “born of God” refers to being a Christian. If it means something else, then the first passage may still be said to hold as a general description whilst the second one merely refers to some specific case, dealing with a subset of Christians “born of God”. But this interpretation is flawed, since 1 John 5:1 (KJV) defines the term in question: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Surely, all Christians are implicated.
Second, one may attempt to change the meaning of some of the terms. Such an attempt has been made by one modern translation, the NIV, which renders the second passage in the following manner: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he is born of God.” Now, on this reading, it seems as if the two passages are not necessarily contradictory. Perhaps the second passage now does not say that a Christian is without sin but that he has given up a life of sinning for one in which he may occasionally sin, but where sin is not a habit. Alas, for the Christian, this attempt is also a failure, for four reasons.
- The NIV operates on a suspicious translating principle, presented in its preface. On the one hand, it is admitted that changes of the wording – even insertion of words not in the original texts – are commonplace, and on the other hand, the scholars were all committed to the idea that the Bible is infallible. Hence, that means that if they identified a contradiction, they felt free to alter the text, in opposition to the original text, so that their a priori determination, that there are no contradictions in the Bible, was upheld. (One wonders if they have pondered upon Rev. 22:18, 19.) Clearly, such manipulative practices are not to be trusted, especially in light of almost all other translations, which are in agreement with the KJV quoted above.
- The Greek original text totally undermines this interpretation. The first part of 1 John 3:9 partly reads: “hamertian u poiei” which literally means “sin not commit”, whilst the second part partly reads “u dynatai hamartanein” which literally means “not he can sin”. The wordings “continue” and “go on” are nowhere to be found. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Old-Time Gospel Hour Edition) assists us in finding out what the Greek words stand for. First “poiei”: “to make or do (in a very wide application, more or less direct). Comp. prasso.” And if we look up “prasso”, we find: “to ‘practice’, i.e. perform repeatedly or habitually (thus differing from poiei, which prop. refers to a single act).” [italics in the original] Second, “harmatanein” is a verb which means “to miss the mark, i.e. to err, esp. to sin”. Thus, we see that the Greek explicitly destroys the suggested argument claiming that 1 John 3:9 refers to repeated acts or habits.
- Even if the two points just mentioned were incorrect (which they are not), one may wonder how one is let off the hook by the NIV translation. Consider the first part of the verse. It says that no Christian will continue to sin. What does “not continue” mean? It means that one stops doing something. If we sit in a car and say: “We will not continue any more”, that means that we stop our journey. It does not mean that we go a little longer from time to time in the near future – it means that we stop, period. Hence, it seems as if even the NIV, upon careful consideration, suggests that a Christian cannot commit sin. Also, the wording in the second part of the verse, that a Christian cannot go on sinning, implies the same thing: if we do not go on doing something, it means that we stop doing it entirely. It does not leave room for occasional lapses in the future. It implies that we have sinned in the past but that when we became Christians, that ceased altogether.
- Furthermore, one may question what habitual sinning is, exactly. Most Christians seem to have the idea that they do sin on a continual basis. This is confirmed in Rom. 7:19 (especially interesting translation in the NIV, for those who invoke that translation). So what is habitual sinning? One sin a year? One sin a week? One sin a day? Might one not divine that Christians differ vastly on this count, such that some Christians sin more than a non-Christian? Take, as an example, the sin of having sexual fantasies (see Matt. 5:27-30). Who seriously thinks that Christian boys and single men do not masturbate to sexual fantasies for years, possibly several times a day? Is that habitual sinning? If so, 1 John 3:9 states that the people who commit these acts are not Christians, for Christians cannot sin habitually. So even on the erroneous reading of 1 John 3:9, that it refers to habitual sinning, it does not really solve the problem, since most Christians probably sin habitually, on any reasonable definition of that term.
Third, it can be suggested that what 1 John 3:9 really takes into account is forgiveness, in the sense that even if a Christian commits a sin, in accordance with 1 John 1:9 he is cleansed and forgiven if he confesses it. In this sense, it could perhaps be said that a Christian, after having confessed a sin, is on record as not having sinned at all. But this actually violates what the verse says – that a Christian cannot sin – and it also fails to distinguish between an act of sin and a situation where the Christian has been forgiven for a sin. These are certainly not automatically equivalent. In fact, a Christian may commit a sin and not ask for forgiveness, which makes the suggested equivalence fallacious.
Fourth, is it possible that what 1 John 3:9 talks about is only one part of a Christian, namely, his born-again nature (his “spirit”), and that this nature cannot sin? This view is incorrect, for two reasons.
- Whilst the nature of a person may be sinful or not, the concept of committing a sin, as is discussed in this verse, necessarily entails a volitional act. Only a conscious act of the will can be deemed to constitute a sin. Someone’s nature, which is a condition, cannot sin – it can only be such as to induce sin. A sin requires free will, and the free will is an integrated part of a whole human being as such, superseding possibly conflicting natures. If this is held not to be so, it is also held that man does not have free will. Therefore, as most Christians claim that man has free will, it is wrong to suggest that the passage deals with the born-again nature of a Christian. If a Christian commits a sin, it is true, on the Biblical account, that his “old nature”, or flesh, may influence him to do so, but the actual decision to commit the sin is the result of that whole person’s will.
That this reasoning holds is obvious when considering 1 John 3:9 in conjunction with 1 John 5:1. The first verse states that “no one” who is born of God commits sin, and the second verse states that “everyone” who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Now the point here is to realize what it is that believes, since it is that thing which does not commit sin. Take a human being. Before becoming a Christian, he is without spiritual life – the only part of his nature is his flesh. But it is exactly that non-Christian person who begins to believe, without before having a born-again nature. That nature comes immediately after the belief (1 Pet. 3:18). Therefore, invoking reasoning by transitivity, the born-again nature cannot in itself believe that Jesus is the Christ and, hence, neither can it be what does not commit sin in 1 John 3:9. This view is reinforced by Rom. 7:25, which states that Paul himself serves the law of God and that he also serves the law of sin with the flesh. It is the whole person Paul, not his flesh, which commits sins.
- The problem with inferring that the verb “to sin” means that “a Christians ‘old’ nature, or flesh, sins” is that it is completely arbitrary. Since both passages discussed here use the very same Greek verb for “to sin”, are we at liberty to introduce a very restrictive interpretation of the word in one place and not in the other? This does not seem a very plausible Biblical principle of interpretation. Rather then, to be consistent we should render both 1 John 1:8, 10 and 1 John 3:9 such that they talk about the born-again nature of the Christian committing or not committing sin, rather than the Christian committing or not committing sin, as an autonomous, whole person. But then the contradiction remains.
To conclude, the presentation has shown that two passages in 1 John contradict each other and that suggested attempts to remove this contradiction fail utterly. Hence, the Bible contains yet a documented error, the implication of which is outlined in my essay “The Errancy of Fundamentalism Disproves the God of the Bible”.