Q&A: Inconsistencies and Contradictions in the Bible?

From Issue: R&R – April 2023


“My son, who we raised to believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, became liberalized some years ago. He claims that there are ‘thousands of inconsistencies and contradictions’ in the Bible. After some discussion, I at last challenged him to give me a list of ‘inconsistencies and contradictions’ that he considered significant, and I would try to give him an answer as to why they are not what he claims. He only respects theologians and scholars who have a Ph.D. in Greek or Hebrew. Please find his allegations below, taken from his email. Thank you for your willingness to help!”

#1: 1 John 5:7-8 is often referred to as the Johannine Comma because it was also obviously added by a later scribe and was not included in our most reliable and oldest manuscripts. The removal of this passage has two implications: (a) on the divinity of Jesus, and (b) on the existence of the trinity (see point #2).


It is true that the Comma Johanneum is spurious.1 However, neither the divinity of Jesus nor the existence of the Trinity is at stake, since both of these doctrines are taught in other passages that are not under dispute. The deity of Christ is taught repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, the Gospel of John is devoted entirely to the topic (see the thematic statement in 20:30-31), as is Colossians with its forthright affirmation: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (2:9, NIV). The doctrine of the Trinity is clear from such passages as Matthew 3:16-17 and 28:19.2

#2: John 1:1-18 is often called the Prologue of John’s gospel. However, the passage is missing from most of our oldest and most reliable manuscripts. Its absence could significantly impact the theological understanding of Jesus as God and who has existed from the beginning with the Father.


I am puzzled at the claim that the prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) is “missing from most of our oldest and most reliable manuscripts.” That is simply not true. There are scattered textual variants3 within that pericope, but the section itself is not missing from the “oldest and most reliable manuscripts.” For example, in Codex Vaticanus, Luke ends at the bottom of the 2nd column. John begins at the top of the 3rd column and contains John 1:1-14 (vss. 14ff. continue on the next page). See Figure 1.

What’s more, the discovery of p66 and p75 only strengthens the case for the deity of Christ in John 1:18. Both of those papyrus manuscripts (which date from the 2nd/3rd centuries), have theos (God) instead of uios (son), as indicated in the NASB: “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him”—a tremendous affirmation of Christ’s deity.

#3 Regarding Jesus’ humanity, there is significant evidence that numerous passages were added by later scribes in an effort to bolster the tenet of Jesus’ humanity in response to certain docetic “heresies” (specifically Marcion) during the 2nd century.

(a) In Luke 22:43-44 Jesus is said to be in agony in prayer to the point where his “…sweat became like drops of blood…” Most textual critics believe this is an addition to articulate Jesus’ humanity. It is also missing from most of our most reliable manuscripts.


It is true that Luke 22:43-44 has strong manuscript support against its authenticity (although a majority of the committee for the UBS Greek Text decided to retain the passage due to its evident antiquity). However, once again, neither the humanity nor deity of Christ is jeopardized by this passage, whether the verses are genuine or not. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus, being God, became flesh (John 1:14). So I fail to see how the addition of verses by well-meaning scribes that emphasize Jesus’ humanity in any way jeopardizes the authenticity of the New Testament.

(b) Luke 22:17-19, another well-known account of Jesus’ humanity (which also has some doctrinal implications regarding salvation), is Luke’s account of the last supper. Most of our oldest Greek manuscripts, as well as many Latin translations, render the passage, “And taking a cup, giving thanks, he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves, for I say to you that I will not drink from the fruit of the vine from now on, until the kingdom of God comes.’ And taking bread, giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body. But behold, the hand of the one who betrays me is with me at the table.’”

However, after Jesus says, “This is my body…” later manuscripts have added (and these additions are now reflected in most of our current translations) “‘…which has been given for you; do this in remembrance of me’; And the cup likewise after supper, saying ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you.’”

The absence of this passage de-harmonizes the gospels, removes Jesus’ institution of Communion, removes Jesus’ claim that it’s his blood that saves us, and removes one more “evidence” of Jesus’ humanity. The fact that the validity of this passage is suspect poses a problem for many theologians.


The UBS Greek Text committee supports the longer reading as genuine in Luke 22:17-20. As Metzger noted: “the longer, or traditional, text of cup-bread-cup is read by all Greek manuscripts except D and by most of the ancient versions and Fathers.”4 Even if verses 19b-20 should be omitted, they in no way alter New Testament teaching, since almost the same words occur in 1 Corinthians 11:24b-25. The cup-bread-cup sequence was aptly explained over a century ago by Sir Frederick Kenyon,5 and neither the inclusion nor omission of 19b-20 “de-harmonizes the gospels.” Nor do they “remove” the Lord’s Supper, since the same is taught in Matthew 26:26ff., Mark 14:22ff., and 1 Corinthians 11:23ff. Nor is Jesus’ claim that His blood saves us removed, since the same is affirmed elsewhere repeatedly in the New Testament, including Matthew 26:28, 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:25, and 1 Peter 1:19. And, again, Jesus’ humanity is hardly jeopardized. Read John 6:51, Colossians 1:22, Hebrews 10:5, 1 Peter 2:24, and 1 John 4:2-3.

(c) Luke 24:12 has been added in most recent manuscripts though this passage is not present in our oldest manuscripts. Additionally, the style of the writing is significantly different than the rest of Luke. Not only does the passage evidence Peter’s belief that Jesus had risen, but also provide strong evidence that Jesus was human.


Luke 24:12 is supported overwhelmingly by the external evidence, including p75 (3rd century), the “Big Three” (Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, and Sinaiticus), as well as a host of other uncials, minuscules, and versions. So the claim that it is “not present in our oldest manuscripts” is mistaken. The difference in style is explicable on the grounds that both Luke and John received essentially the same information from the Holy Spirit. After all, John 20:3-6 reports the same details. Certainly, no reason exists to conclude that Peter’s belief in the resurrection or Jesus’ humanity are in jeopardy. Peter witnessed several post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in addition to the Luke 24:12 incident, e.g., Luke 24:34,36ff.; John 20:19,26; Acts 1:9,22; 1 Corinthians 15:5.

(d) Luke 24:51-52 is also not present in our oldest manuscripts. The style of writing is significantly different than what most scholars consider to be the “original” Luke. The absence of this passage decreases the argument for the humanity of Jesus as well reducing the argument for Jesus’ resurrection.


Luke 24:51-52 is, once again, supported by the most prestigious Greek text. Both verses are supported by p75 as well as Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and a host of other Greek manuscripts, versions, and patristic writers. Writing style is somewhat subjective. But, again, the main point is that the doctrines of Jesus’ humanity and resurrection are in no way jeopardized by either the inclusion or exclusion of these verses.


Observe carefully: The solutions to these differences are detectable. Even if we were unable to decide between two readings of a passage and determine with certainty which one was the original, we know we have the Word of God—since the original reading is one or the other of the readings. The fact is most variants are solvable. But even if they were not, be reminded that absolutely no doctrine of Christianity is at stake in any textual variant. The vast majority of textual variants involve minor matters. The rest do not affect doctrine as it relates to one’s salvation. Even in those passages where an important doctrine might be deemed involved, that doctrine is affirmed in other passages where no variant is involved. I repeat: no doctrine of the Christian religion that has anything to do with salvation is in jeopardy due to the existence of textual variants. We can say with complete confidence that we have the New Testament as God intended. The Bible has not been corrupted.

The foremost textual critics of the last 200 years—the very men who are most familiar with this subject and who literally devoted their lives to poring over Greek manuscripts and becoming experts in textual criticism—have forthrightly declared the truth on this entire affair. Here are a few:

“[T]he superstructure of religion may be built with full hope and confidence that it rests on an authentic text.”6

“The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the N.T. affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice.”7

“All the authority and value possessed by these books when they were first written belong to them still.”8

“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.9

“[T]he great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed…. [T]he words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament.10

Did you catch that? Westcott and Hort, prominent textual critics at the end of the 19th century, declared that—even at that time—we could confidently affirm that we have 999/1000ths of the original New Testament intact. The remaining 1/1000th is of no doctrinal consequence. Nothing has occurred since that time that alters their conclusion. The millennia-old allegation that the Bible contains “thousands of inconsistencies and contradictions” is simply not true. Case closed.


1 For an excellent treatment of this variant, see Guy N. Woods (1962), A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude (Nashville, TN:  Gospel Advocate Co.), pp. 324-326.

2 For a discussion of the Trinity, see Kyle Butt (2015), “The Trinity,” Reason & Revelation, 35[10]:110-112,116-119.

3 I.e., conflicting readings between manuscripts involving a word, verse, or verses. For more on this subject, see Dave Miller (2019), “Has the Bible Been Transmitted To Us Accurately?” Reason & Revelation, 39[10]:110-113,116.

4 Bruce Metzger (1975), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Societies), pp. 173-174.

5 Sir Frederic Kenyon (1912), Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Macmillan), second edition, p. 349.

6 Ibid., p. 369.

7 F.F. Bruce (1975 reprint), The New Testaments Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), pp. 19-21.

8 J.W. McGarvey (1974 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate), p. 17.

9 Sir Frederic Kenyon (1940), The Bible and Archaeology (New York: Harper & Row), pp. 288-289, emp. added.

10 B.F. Westcott & F.J.A. Hort (1885), The New Testament in the Original Greek (London: Macmillan), pp. 564-565, emp. added.


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