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Inconsistencies in the Hebrew Bible

Yesterday I started answering a question about whether the problems in the Hebrew Bible were as significant as those in the New Testament, and my response was: Yes! Even more so! In yesterday’s post I talked about the problem with the manuscripts. In this post I’ll talk about internal discrepancies and contradictions. Rather than write the whole thing out, though, I’ve decided just to include a chunk that deals with the issue from my Introduction to the Bible, which is due out in the Fall. Here I am talking about what 19th and 20th century critical scholars discovered with respect to discrepancies within the Pentateuch, leading to the theory that the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture actually derived from four major sources, written at different times, that have been spliced together, creating internal problems.


The internal tensions came to be seen as particularly significant. Nowhere were these tensions more evident than in the opening accounts of the very first book of the Pentateuch, in the creation stories of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Scholars came to recognize that what is said in Genesis 1 cannot be easily (or at all) reconciled with what is said in Genesis 2. These do not appear to be two complementary accounts of how the creation took place; they appear to be two accounts that are at odds with each other in fundamental and striking ways. Read them carefully yourself. Make a list of what happens in chapter one, then a list of what happens in chapter 2, and compare your lists. Among other things you will notice the following:

  • According to Genesis 1, plants were created on the third day; only later, on the sixth day, were humans created. But not according to Genesis 2. There we are told that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground” before there were any plants or herbs on the earth (2:4, 7).

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Historical Problems with the Hebrew Bible: The Exodus Narrative
Problems with the Hebrew Bible Manuscripts



  1. Avatar
    Adam Beaven  April 4, 2015

    Dr Ehrman,

    isiah 53:5 says :

    nrsv :

    But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
    upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.

    jewish translation:

    But he was pained because
    of our transgressions,
    crushed because of our
    iniquities; the chastisement
    of our welfare was upon
    him, and with his wounds
    we were healed

    do you agree that the word “wounds” and “bruises” doesn’t mean blood?
    do you agree that one cannot conflate “wounds” and “bruises” with the word ” blood” ?

    if you agree, then does that mean isaiah 53 says NOTHING about blood atoning for sins?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 4, 2015

      Yes, Isaiah 53 is not specifically about shedding blood.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  April 5, 2015

        Dr Ehrman

        i just require a little clarificiation.

        isaiah 53 doesn’t say that human blood = atonement for sins, right?
        i note it doesn’t even say that one has to believe that blood was shed for ATONEMENT of sins.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 6, 2015

          I don’t think Isaish 53 is referring to someone’s death by shedding blood will bring an atonement for sins in the way the Christian church has always interpreted the passage.

  2. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  May 11, 2016

    New International Version
    The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

    i don’t understand this text
    is the blood used as some kind of repellent? does it have magical power ?

    or is it used because the angel of death might mistakenly kill the the hebrews if they don’t paint their houses with it?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2016

      Yes it’s apparently simply a demonstration that blood sacrifice wards off evil, in this case in a legendary tale where the angel of death sees whom not to injure.

  3. Avatar
    Juju_114  May 22, 2016

    I was told that there were two different greek word just like the one stated as follows as follows:
    “The Hebrew words for “vegetation” are different in the two passages. Genesis 1:11 uses a term that refers to vegetation in general. Genesis 2:5 uses a more specific term that refers to vegetation that requires agriculture, i.e., a person to tend it, a gardener. The passages do not contradict. Genesis 1:11 speaks of God creating vegetation, and Genesis 2:5 speaks of God not causing “farmable” vegetation to grow until after He created man.”

    • Bart
      Bart  May 24, 2016

      That’s a clever argument; here are some Hebrew scholars on the blog who may want to respond. I will point out though that the point in Gen 2 is that there was yet no watering of the soil so there couldn’t yet be any vegetation; that does seem to contradict Gen 1.

  4. Avatar
    Flagman  May 23, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Just joined your site today and love what you are doing with it. Among many other books, blogs, etc., I am also working my way through “Misquoting Jesus” as I have been undergoing an extensive deconstruction process for the last 5 years, which was officially begun when I resigned as an elder (over ECT) in the church we were a huge part of for 15 years. I was a lay leader, but am also a Moody (82) graduate. To the point, I hold no presuppositions as exempt from examining. Of course I have to deal with pushback more and more, often from those close to me. One dear friend insists I watch the following and I was wondering if you are familiar. If so, what do you think of their scholarship?
    “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus”

    Thanks for your work and your time.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 24, 2016

      I’m not familiar with the site. But I can say with good confidence that we simply don’t have extra-biblical evidence of an Exodus (as described in the OT)

  5. Avatar
    SHameed01  March 6, 2017

    Professor personally I totally agree with you that the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 are in contradiction of one another. However my question is when Genesis 2 talks about the sequence of creation it uses the word “And” before mentioning what “God” did next when during the creation process. Does the word used for “And” in Hebrew mean “And then” or does it simply mean “And”? The reason why I am asking is Christians may argue that Genesis 2 is just giving a list of things “God” did during creation and the sequence is not to be understood in chronological order but list order.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2017

      “And” just means “and,” but it can mean “and then.” the problem is that Genesis 2 uses other terms as well, such as “before….” or “when … was not yet”

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