A response to “A Contradiction For Each Of the 12 Apostles!”


Joe E. Holman has a moving account about his conversion to Christianity and reversal to atheism. The thing that struck me most is how little support he had during his struggle. His fellow preachers just pushed him away.

But when reading his article on Bible contradictions I started wondering. These contradictions are so basic, and his remarks so devoid of study that I wondered how much effort he put into resolving them. Anyway, here a response to each of them. Most of them are pointers to my The author of the SAB answered project.

Numerical contradictions

Mr. Holman makes two assertions:

  1. Apologists explain these numerical contradictions by saying these are copyists errors.
  2. We don't have copies without these errors, so who can tell if they were not already in the originals?

I'm not sure what apologists he has read, but if he had consulted John Gill (1697 - 1771) he would find that in only one instance the possibility of a copyist error was raised. In all other instances there are perfectly logical reasons for having a different number. And in that single instance we happen to have copies without this error.

The four alleged contradictions and my reply to them:

  1. How many horsemen did David take?
    - 700 or 7,000 horsemen?

    7,000 horseman, divided by 10 in a company, so we had 700 captains and companies, see 2 Samuel 8:4
  2. Which day of the month did Nebuzaradan come to Jerusalem?
    - seventh day or the tenth day? -

    He arrived on the seventh day, and started to burn the temple on the tenth, see 2 Kings 25:8.
  3. How old was Jehoiachin when he began to reign?
    - 8 or 18 years old?
    This is indeed most likely a copyist error, see 2 Chronicles 36:9.
    But although John Gill thinks a copyist error is the most likely, he also mentions a possibility without assuming a copyist error:

    Which may be reconciled by observing, that he might be made and declared king by his father, in the first year of his reign, who reigned eleven years, so that he was eight years old when he began to reign with him, and eighteen when he began to reign alone

    And note that we have copies in Arabic and Syriac which have the number eighteen in both places.
  4. How many valiant men drew the sword?
    - 800,000 or 1,100,000?
    Mr Holman makes some remark about typical solutions, without giving any evidence to who came up with such solutions nor that they are indeed typical. But the numbers are not hard to explain, one book gives the total number of available men, the other gives the number of available men excluding the standing army of 300,000 men, see 2 Samuel 24:9.

Factual contradictions

Mr. Holman assures us that the following are indeed contradictions. Well, let us have a look if these assertions stand up to scrutiny.

  1. Did Asa remove or leave the high places in tact?
    Both. He removed the high places where the Israelites sacrificed to the idols, but left intact the high places where they sacrificed to the Lord. See the extensive discussion at 1 Kings 15:14.
  2. Did Jesus command the twelve to take staves or no staves as they preached?
    They were allowed to take a single stave for leaning on while walking, but not a second one for defence, see Matthew 10:10

    According to Joe E. Holman Luke says that they were not allowed even a single stave, based upon the Greek text. And he is right, this would be a clear contradiction with Mark. So let's brush up our Greek. The Greek word for staff, singular, is rhabdos (ῥάβδος). The plural is rhabdoi (ῥάβδοι). In Greek, words also have a different ending depending on its usage, so we need to carefully compare words to see if we have a plural or not.
    There is an excellent Greek testament resource on the web, which allows us to compare various manuscripts. Let's first have a look at Matthew 10:10. On the left you see the King James translation, in the middle the Greek words that differ among manuscripts, and on the right the manuscript which have these differences. As one can see, some manuscripts use the singular stave, others have staves.
    Next, let's have a look at Luke 9:3. Again some manuscripts have the singular, some have the plural.
    So how come that Mr. Holman asserts that the Greek in Luke has a singular as the manuscript evidence just provided shows only some to have a singular. The most likely reason for that is that Mr. Holman uses a Greek text concocted by the enlightened professors of our enlightened days. They usually use phrases like based on “the best and oldest manuscripts” [Ed: snort]. Most translations in our days are essentially based the Greek Testament produced by Westcott and Hort in 1881. And that Greek is based on the Codex Vaticanus, rejected by the producers of Greek Testament editions during the time of the reformation, and the Codex Sinaiticus, Greek manuscripts found on a rubbish dump by Constantin von Tischendorf. It is no surprise to me that these copies would have internal contradictions.
    But the Greek manuscripts used by the reformers, and used by the King James translators, and known as the Textus Receptus and the Majority text manuscripts clearly have a plural in Luke: We read “ῥάβδους” there, the plural accusative of ῥάβδοι. I kindly suggest that Mr. Holman bases his Greek opinions on the majority text, the overwhelming number of manuscripts, which have a plural instead of basing himself upon a single Greek manuscript rescued from a trash bin.
    That Mr. Holman is able to cite various translations which have a singular in Luke is no surprise as modern translations are almost exclusively based on the Westcott and Hort text. Again I suggest he uses a trusted translation that uses the proper Greek manuscripts.

    Mr. Holman also addresses the explanation offered at the beginning of this discussion, namely that Jesus says to his disciples that they should take one staff, not two. Mr. Holman writes here:

    The claim sometimes used by Christian apologists that Matthew is commanding each person not to take more than one staff is ludicrous and false!
    Is it necessary for Jesus tell the apostles that they should only carry one staff a piece? This would be a very stupid lesson — it seems bizarre to imagine someone troubling themselves to carry two staves at any one time! Again, why would they take more than they need?

    The objection is somewhat confusing, but let us first establish that there were two different kind of staves: one for walking, and one used as a weapon. That staves were used for walking is clear from Mark 6:8 where the disciples were allowed the use of a stave. That there are also staves used as weapons is clear from Matthew 26:55 where Jesus says: “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me?” Clearly those staves were not for walking.
    The claim of Mr. Holman seems to be that if you have a single stave, you can use it both for walking and self-defence. There is no need to take two. But probably the two looked different. The stave for self-defence might have been more like a baton, while the one for walking might have been more a throw-away one, not strong enough to hit something. I've not been able to unearth much material about Middle Eastern staves in New Testament times, but Mr. Holman hasn't given us prove that all staves were identical either.

    The last thing I want to comment on is Mr. Holman's claim on shoes and sandals: “The same problem shines out when we consider how "shoes" are listed here as well. Is Jesus telling his disciples not to take an extra pair of shoes (sandals) ...?” It seems that Mr. Holman considers shoes and sandals to be the same thing. They're not. They were not allowed to take shoes, but they were allowed to take sandals. As John Gill comments:

    there was a difference between shoes and sandals, as appears from the case of the plucking off the shoe, when a man refused his brother's wife: if the "shoe" was plucked off it was regarded; but if the "sandal", it was not minded: this was the old tradition, though custom went against it. Sandals were made of harder leather than shoes, and sometimes of wood covered with leather, and stuck with nails, to make them more durable; though sometimes of bulrushes, and bark of palm trees, and of cork, which were light to walk with.
  3. In what city did Josiah die?
    Mr. Holman hints the correct solution in his comment: “actually Josiah died at Jerusalem and was only seriously injured on the battle field.” See also 2 Kings 23:29. But says Mr. Holman, this can't be because 2 Chronicles 35:24 says: “They brought him to Jerusalem and he died.” I think the interpretation of this verse as: “They brought him to Jerusalem, and when they arrived there, he died,” is perhaps incorrect. If we read this verse as “They brought him to Jerusalem and in the process of doing so, he died,” there is no contradiction at all.
    Mr. Holman also claims there's a contradiction on the burial place of Josiah: was Josiah buried in his own sepulchre or the sepulchre of his fathers? The meaning of “sepulchre of his fathers” is that the kings of Israel had their own burial place in Jerusalem. With some space to spare. In it Josiah had his own place. So there's no contradiction at all, Josiah just had his own sepulchre in the sepulchre of his fathers. An arrangement many of the monarchs of today still have.
  4. Who provoked David to number Israel and Judah?
    See 2 Samuel 24:1.
  5. Was the robe Christ wore before his crucifixion scarlet or purple?
    The word scarlet doesn't doesn't describe a colour, but a kind of weaving, see Matthew 27:28.
  6. Where did Jesus meet Bartimaeus?
    There might be some similarity in the two texts, but they describe two different occasions. In Luke 18:35 Jesus is entering Jericho. The blind man healed here is not Bartimaeus. In Matthew 20:29 Jesus is leaving Jericho, and at that time Bartimaeus is waiting for Jesus. This second healing happened after the first.

Principle contradictions

  1. Should we put away our swords or go and buy one more?
    Sword always means physical sword, right? Or perhaps not. See Matthew 26:52 and in particular Luke 22:36.
  2. Was Paul guided by inspiration before Ananias?
    The objection of Mr. Holman seems to be: “the apostle Paul admits he was wrong in speaking against the high priest. The Holy Spirit certainly did not come through for Paul here!”
    But is that true? The words spoken by Paul in Acts 23:3 are true. The law did not allow someone to be punished without cause. So does Paul admit he is wrong in Acts 23:5 when he says:

    I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

    Do we understand this to mean that:
    1. The apostle was ignorant who was the high priest.
    2. The apostle apologies for having spoken the way he did, because he was ignorant.
    But given Matthew 10:18-20 this interpretation is not likely. We should first of all note that the veil of the temple was rent. The times of the Old Testament were over. The sacrifices and priesthood were abolished. Paul only recognised Jesus Christ as priest. So the meaning of “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest” is that Paul did not recognise him for one, for two reasons: the priesthood was abolished, and secondly as a ruler he should have followed the law, which he didn't.
    So Paul speaks here ironically. So let us side with St Augustine and Calvin here:

    Therefore, subscribing to Augustine, I do not doubt but that this is a taunting excuse. Neither doth that any whit hinder, because plain speech becometh the ministers of the word. For seeing there be two sorts of ironies, one which is covered with subtilty and means to deceive, another which doth so figuratively note out the thing which is in hand, that it doth prick sorer; in this second, there is nothing which doth not well beseem the servants of Christ. Therefore, this is the meaning of the words, Brethren, I acknowledge nothing in this man which belongeth to the priest.

    So answering Mr. Holman when he says: “What happened to the promise of being given the right words to say before rulers?” Nothing happened to this promise. It was fulfilled. Paul spoke the right words.