28 October 2014

Guest Post: Apparent Contradictions #2, by Berend de Boer

This is the second guest post by Berend de Boer. For this post, I invited him to have the floor to discuss contradictions that he thinks I should remove from the Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Berend created a website called "The Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered", where he has went through the entire SAB with his comments, alongside mine, explaining his stance on the relevant verses.

Here's an example page from his website.

It took him 7 years to complete, so it's pretty clear that although he's a believer, he does really know his Bible. So let's hear what he has to say. So far he's given me 5 explanations of contradictions. I'm going to post them one at a time so we can examine them here at the blog.

Is marrying or not marrying good?

Mr. Wells claims another contradiction in comparing 1 Corinthians 7:1 with Proverbs 18:22. 1 Corinthians 7:1 says:

It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

And Proverbs 18:22 says:

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing.

Let's turn this into a syllogism:

  1. All who marry do well (Proverbs 18:22).
  2. All who do not marry do well (1 Corinthians 7:1).
  3. Therefore we have a contradiction.

Hearing the conclusion, most people would say:
“huh?” This is an example where there is nothing wrong
with the premises. The problem is that the conclusion does not
follow. It's a so called “non sequitur.”

As an Euler circle it looks as follows:

The diagram demonstrates there is no contradiction: both things
are good, one does not come at the exclusion of the other.

To make this into an actual contradiction we would need premises like:

  1. All who marry do well.
  2. All who marry do not well.

And the corresponding Euler circle:

From this diagram it is immediately clear we would have a
contradiction. But this is not something the Bible claims.


Victor said...

See, I think he might be onto something. It says that finding a wife is good, but it's also good not to touch women.

So, what you do is you get married but never touch your wife!


(this also explains all those toe-tapping conservative Xians who are visibly married and parade their wives on the campaign trail and/or pulpit but get caught schtupping guys on the side - it's okay, though, because they're not touching women!)

Steve Wells said...

Maybe I'm missing something here, Berend, but I have nine verses that are involved in this contradiction, and yet you only mention two. Why is that?

But as for the two verses that you mention, I agree with Victor. Do your Venn diagrams and syllogisms suggest that a man should marry a woman but never touch her?

Unknown said...

Sorry, but this guy's little diagrams are really just annoying. We're way beyond that, pal.

Stephen said...

Even if every single apparent contradiction in the bible were resolved, would it compensate for the remaining ridiculous (eg, Jesus and the cursing of the fig tree) and disgusting (various genocides, for example) incidents in the book?
Steve Weeks

Steve Wells said...


What do you think Paul was trying to say about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7?

He begins by saying "It is good for a man not to touch a woman," and then says, "I would that all men were even as I myself." So it seems pretty clear that Paul thinks it is better not to marry.

To Paul, marriage is only for weaklings ("those who cannot contain"). If you can't resist the temptation to have sex, then go ahead and get married. "It's better to marry than to burn."

But his advice is clear enough: If you're not married, don't marry; if you are married, don't have sex. There's no time for it anyway since Jesus is coming. ("Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. ... the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.")

I'd really like to know your thoughts on this.

Yark Hutprancer said...

How do we skeptics deal with people like Berend? He is obviously intelligent. But it is clear from reading his work that he is simply an extremely devoted fan of the Bible no matter how wrong it might be, and he won't be budged. His explanations are so weak, contrived, stretched, and in many cases simply off base, they are laughable to a soundly rational mind. But his fanaticism and devotion will only allow his brain to justify the text rather than actually examine it. Seems totally hopeless to talk sense to these types.

RightMind said...

Please note the first part of v.1, "Now for the matters you wrote about:"

Paul's response to what the Corinthian church wrote to him (v. 1) starts with verse 2, "Nevertheless..."

Same pattern in 8:1, 12:1, etc....

So Paul did't say it is not good to touch women. Just wanted to clear that up.

Steve Wells said...

Thanks, Rightmind. You have a good point here. Paul allows for marriage, since "it is better to marry than to burn."

Still, it he makes it clear that it is better not to marry, as he says in verses 7 and 8. ("I would that all men were even as I myself ... I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.") And in verse 27, "Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife."

It's also clear that Paul thought that those who are married, shouldn't have sex -- There's no time for it, since Jesus is coming soon. ("The time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.")

To Paul, it was best not to marry. Only those who are too weak too completely abstain from sex, should marry. And even those that are married should avoid sex as much as possible.

Does that seem to be a fair summary of Paul's views in 1 Corinthians 7?

RightMind said...

Thanks for the reply Steve. I guess my reply was simply regarding the use of 1 Cor. 7:1 in the post and how it was implied that Paul said that, however, that verse is reiterating what was conveyed to Paul, not his own statement. Regarding your summary, I would have to disagree given that this was written in a real historical setting and time period and has to be understood in that situation and time and not directly or primarily transferred into our century.

"But I say this as a concession, not as a command." Paul's statement of concession (v.6) or allowance refers to the period of abstinence in v. 5. In the flow of the writing, Paul states that period of abstinence is a concession (not something he commanded), and following that train of thought gives his desire or wish that all believers would give their lives exclusively like he did, YET "each has his own gift" (V.7). The exclusive singleness is a "gift from God" as is marriage. So Paul did not state the abstinence was a command, but an allowance, yet Paul wished "as all were as I myself am."

I don't see any disapproval or weakness as v. 2-4 and v. 9 give marriage as the means and outlet to enjoy sex, and it agrees what the rest of what the bible says about the goodness of marriage. So Paul does see the benefit in not marrying (noted as a gift), and there are advantages of singleness, but it is not normative and since people lack self control, marriage is the proper outlet.

Also, the v. 27 ("Do not seek a wife") you mentioned is in the context of the "impending [or present] distress" v.26, which is the drive leading Paul to give his conclusions.

But ultimately I have said enough, I really don't intend to "troll" but just originally wanted to point out with my first comment the misuse of verse 1. Thanks again for your reply.

Berend de Boer said...

Yark: he is simply an extremely devoted fan of the Bible no matter how wrong it might be

The point is Yark that it seems very hard for the sceptics to point out what exactly is wrong. Any time we ask them to put forward their statements into logic, it fails.

You just have a list of personal attacks, not a single refutation of the point I'm addressing put forward as a logical argument.

Berend de Boer said...

Steve: I have nine verses that are involved in this contradiction, and yet you only mention two. Why is that?

You list them under two heads, so in order to stay under the required number of words, I just addressed one under each head. But for the argument it doesn't matter.

Berend de Boer said...

Steve Weeks: Even if every single apparent contradiction in the bible were resolved

I'm glad you consider that a possibility!

Richard said...

These Venn diagrams make for a very unconvincing argument.

All who marry do well / and all who don't marry do well? If they both are true statements then everyone is doing great no matter whether they marry or not. So why did they even discuss marriage if it is so completely unimportant?

The fact that they appear in different books of the Bible shows that the authors of those individual books had different ideas about whether marriage is a good thing.

Stephen said...

Berend: "I'm glad you consider that a possibility!"

Happy to indulge. Of course, it's a remote possibility. But, as I said before, elimination of the contradictions (should it be done) doesn't validate the rest of the book. Or verify the existence of any god.
Steve Weeks

Pelsia Perez Chen said...

"Berend de Boer" is a sophist. He knows it. He defends the indefensible. I know, he will invoke "Ad Hominem" to defend himself. It's okay; in the end, HE KNOWS. He is a hired hand - one too logical to believe in all this nonsense, defending it nonetheless.

Say what you may baby...YOU KNOW IT'S ALL CRAP. YOU KNOW IT!

Patrick Painter said...

Bernard claims to have solved the contradiction by summarizing the two passages into “marrying is good” and “not marrying is good”.

Logically, if "marrying"=A, and "good"=B we have:
A->B and, (marrying leads to good, or is good)
~A->B (not-marrying leads to good, or is good)

Regardless of the truth position of A (marrying), we have B (good, probably implying that this aspect of life is good). This is certainly possible, and is not necessarily a contradiction. However, leaving the argument like this is absurd, as these two passages are saying nothing about A, as we get B regardless. It is a tautology, not a logical argument. Limiting the passages to their face value statements, we cannot glean any useful information about marrying from them.

Since we want information about A (marrying), we should instead ask "Which is better, marrying or not marrying?". Logically, we are asking is A>~A or is ~A>A.

The verse in Proverbs is unequivocal in stating that finding a wife, i.e. marrying, is a good thing. This implies that marrying is better than not marrying (A>~A). Otherwise, why say anything about marrying at all?

Paul instead says that he wishes that others were like him, i.e. not married. In fact, marriage should only be used to satisfy the flesh in a God approved manner. In this case, it is implied that not marrying is better than marrying, and that marriage is merely a fallback position for those that incapable of controlling their sexual urges.
In simpler terms (~A>A>C, where C="sex outside of marriage"). However, C is not the subject of this debate, and that still leaves ~A>A.

In this way, we find the contradiction. The Bible has implied arguments for both A>~A and ~A>A.

As such, we have a choice of readings. We can ignore the implications of these passages, and take them at face value. If we do so, we have a tautology that gives us no useful information. If we accept the implications of the passages, then we have a contradiction. Either way, the Bible as a whole fails to give us a clear and concise answer on the matter of marrying.

Stephen said...

But, Patrick... you haven't expressed it in circles superimposed on other circles. That sort of invalidates your otherwise impeccable logic. ;-)

Help may be found at the Royal Society for Putting Things on Other Things:
Steve Weeks

Yark Hutprancer said...

Berend: You just have a list of personal attacks,

Not really. It was an honest assessment of your work and attitude. I don't classify that as an attack. And, no, it wasn't ad hominem since I didn't say your argument was bad because you are a bible devotee.

Berend: not a single refutation of the point I'm addressing put forward as a logical argument.

Yes. I wasn't attempting to refute your argument. I engaged in an aside.

Berend: The point is Yark that it seems very hard for the sceptics to point out what exactly is wrong.

That is patently untrue. Even believers have problems with the bible (I did when I was a believer) and do a fine job of pointing them out. If anyone is bad at something, it's believers with the convoluted mental gymnastics they are required to perform in order to attempt to answer the problems. "Family" Christian bookstores are full of commentaries and apologetics books that are apparently required (or they wouldn't have been written) in order to deal with the problems created by this allegedly perfect collection of ancient religious scrolls. If problems are so hard to point out, the believer community would just laugh and poo-poo doubters away. If we were truly bad at pointing out problems, you would only need reply to them with a short answer. You certainly wouldn't need diagrams.

Any time we ask them to put forward their statements into logic, it fails.

What exactly does it mean "to put forward" a statement "into" logic? Is that even a thing? Seems like you are misusing the words "statement" and "logic." A statement must follow logical rules to be comprehended by a listener. Mr. Wells' arguments might be weak (I don't think so), but his statements are logical enough to be comprehended. What exactly would he need to do to put them forward into logic? Is saying that skeptics can't put forward their statements into logic just a pretentious way of saying that their arguments are not logical?

Regardless, my point is that it simply doesn't matter how strong a skeptic's arguments might be. You know darned well that your devotion is utmost in your life. Whether or not there are actual real contradictions in your holy text are beside the point. Any real contradiction can be rationalized away with enough imagination. Even if there are outright untruths in your ancient religious scrolls, such as that Jesus cast demon into swine and sent them to their drowning, or that Moses heard a voice come from a burning bush, you, Berend, are going to your grave defending them. Admit it. As with the devoted Mormon and the devoted Muslim, whether or not their religious texts are worthy of abject devotion takes a back seat to their abject devotion.

Berend de Boer said...

Patrick: This is certainly possible, and is not necessarily a contradiction.

I think we may indeed arrive at the conclusion that Mr Wells employed a non sequitur: his conclusion doesn't follow from his premises.

But thanks for your substantial response (the only one). Without getting into a lengthy explanation, I think you should look at the context. There are cases where marrying isn't good. For example a verse Mr. Wells missed is Jeremiah 16:2: "Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place."

The reason for it is given in verse 4: "They shall die of grievous deaths."

So although it was permitted Jeremiah to marry, God told him what would happen to them, due to the war that would be coming.

So taking your statement: Limiting the passages to their face value statements, we cannot glean any useful information about marrying from them.

Apparently we can actually. There is a well-known story of a God-fearing person in the early 1900s who reading this verse was given the impression that this would happen to his wife and children, if he were to marry. So he decided not to. And indeed, he perished in 1953 in the flood that took the lives of almost 2,000 people in The Netherlands. Had he been married, his wife and children would have been killed too.

But to turn advise for a specific instruction into a general one is absurd. That is that Mr. Wells is doing.

In general marrying is good. But it's not a command. You don't do wrong if you don't marry. And in certain circumstances it may be better you don't.

That's what these verses are saying.

Stephen said...

What we're seeing here is an process of automatic denial of any argument that contradicts the support of a contradiction-free holy book. Any response to this is the figurative equivalent of pissing up a wet rope.

Sorry I can't be more substantial than that. ;-)
Steve Weeks

Patrick Painter said...


Thank you for responding. Let me provide you with a (hopefully) logical rebuttal.

1.) I have not presented my argument as thought marrying is a Biblical commandment, and I think we all can stipulate as such.

2.) Steve has not taken a specific instruction and turned it into a general one. The passages we were initially talking about are giving general instructions/advice.

3.) The passage is Jeremiah is a very specfic instruction. Jeremiah is not to marry in that time & place, it doesn't say never marry (and whether or not he did is immaterial). This passages offers no guidance on the matter of marrying for anyone besides Jeremiah. In fact, reading this passage and drawing a conclusion about anyone other than Jeremiah is absurd.

4.) Your story contains logical fallacies. First of all, it is an argument by example. Specific examples are rarely proof in and of themselves. Have you researched enough people who interpreted this passage in this manner to see if there is truly a pattern?
Second, the story makes serious assumptions about the man's life. Hypothetically, let us assume that he marries, has kids, etc. Will he be living in the same place that was flooded? If enought time has passed, maybe his kids have moved out and he's visiting one of them and lives. Maybe his wife saves his life in the flood. Maybe his kids all die in World War II. Maybe, maybe, maybe. We just cannot know what his life would have been like, and drawing conclusions such as these is facetious at best.

5.) Let me reprhase your conclusion a bit. In general, marrying is good. Also, in general, not marrying is good. It may be good to do so in specific circumstances, and it may not be good to do so in specific circumstances. You don't do wrong if you marry. You don't do wrong if you don't marry.
(This is the tautology).

6.)However, if you want to know if marrying is better than not marrying...well that is where there is no conclusion, and we're arguing that the contradiciton exists.

Stephen said...

I've been married for longer (>32 years) than I've been unmarried (32 years), and I can attest that being married is better. No matter what the book says.
Steve Weeks

Berend de Boer said...

Patrick: Also, in general, not marrying is good.

That's the part I would disagree with. It is clear the Bible views marriage as good, and God even instituted marriage, and that before the Fall.

But there is no verse that says that marriage, in general, is not good. I.e. at the same level as that marriage is good.

From the negative point of view we have an actual commandment almost saying you have to marry: But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn (1 Corinthians 7:9).

That considerably limits the cases of those who are advised not to marry: you should be able to do it. It's forcefully put: "cannot contain".

So in that light we should see verse 1 of this chapter: "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman."

The Corinthians had asked Paul for advise: "If we do not want to marry, but devote ourselves to the Lord, is that wrong?" And this is Paul's reply. But he almost immediately limits this: it's not a command, it's not advise for all, it's advise for those who were seeking this particular thing, but he forbids even those we were seeking this if they do not have the gift for it.

This whole chapter should be read starting at verse 1. Not just lifting a few verses.

So also verse 7: "For I would that all men were even as I myself." The sentence does not end there, but he says it's a gift: "But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that."

Paul seems to quote from Numbers here. 70 people were selected to help Moses, but 2 of them didn't gather to Moses, but remained in the camp. Nonetheless the Spirit of prophesy came upon them, and we read: "And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. ... And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!"

Paul wishes that all were preachers, not in the sense that that would be logically possible, but indicating the extend of his desire to see more devoting their lives to the Lord if they had received the gift of abstinence.

So in conclusion: there is no general command not to marry, there is general "not marrying is good." It's limited, and the verses Mr. Wells quotes are a response to a specific question.

Berend de Boer said...

Always annoying when you cannot edit, sigh.

My last sentence "there is general "not marrying is good.""

should obviously read: there is no general "not marrying is good."

Patrick Painter said...


The logic holds. If marrying is good, and Paul says that not marrying is better, then not marrying is also good. In fact, marrying becomes a fallback position for those who cannot "contain". The number of people that can "contain", or would want to "contain" is immaterial to the logic.
This is a shift. Among the the Jewish tribes, preachers and should marry. Marrying goes from being unequivocally good to a fallback position (but still good!). Some have interpreted this and other passages to say that preachers should not marry.

Lastly, you have taken the unusual position that 1 Cor. is advice only for the Corinthians. This could be the case, but Paul does use the phrase "all men" in 7:7. I think this expands the scope.

Patrick Painter said...


I summation, here is what we have based upon the possible interpretations:

1.) A tautology (both marrying and not marrying are good, regardless of any other context)
2.) A contradiction (is marrying better than not marrying? We have two apparent answers).

The only thing I think that we can agree on is that the Bible expressly prohibts sex outside of marriage. As I stated in my original post, that is not relevant to the logical argument.

At this point, I think we can agree to disagree. I'll continue to read your posts, and even comment if I feel that there is something new to say.

Thanks for the argument, it has been fun and illuminating.

Berend de Boer said...

Patrick: Lastly, you have taken the unusual position that 1 Cor. is advice only for the Corinthians. This could be the case, but Paul does use the phrase "all men" in 7:7. I think this expands the scope.

I think I covered all your other arguments, but let me take away this misconception. I don't interpret this as advice to only the Corinthians.

This is case law: we have a specific instance of an issue, a question, and Paul answers that. By reasoning and analogy we may extend that to others than the Corinthians. So even today, if people have the gift of abstention, they do not have to marry.