Contradictions in the Bible

Genesis 1-11 

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Thursday, 21 September 2017 14:04

Contradictions in the Bible | God changing His mind

Written by Gabriel Baicu
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Another problem in Genesis chapter 6 is the one found in verses 5-7. Does God Change His Mind? According with the mainstream Christian view God is immutable, unchanging in His person, His perfections, His purposes, and His promises. At the same time, there are several biblical texts that suggest the idea that sometimes God changed His mind over the course of history. One of those texts is found in Genesis chapter 6: 

“5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ 8 But Noah found favour in the sight of the LORD.” (Genesis 6; 5-8 NRSV)

 The LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” is one of the most intriguing texts of the Bible. What does a Christian expect? God is Omniscient and He knows the future before it happens. When He created the universe, He knew that mankind would fall by disobedience and that such behaviour would attract countless sufferings and death. God decided to create the universe and mankind regardless of the collateral damages. He had taken incredible risks and responsibilities because beside what is great He also created the occasion for pain and death. 

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 God should have known that mankind wasn’t prepared to discern between good and evil and that it would surely cede when confronted with Satan’s temptation. God had created man as a very curious being, curiosity being the engine of his or her interest in reality. The human beings were in fact not free to choose between good and evil because ignorance is an obstruction for the freedom of choice. Man and woman have reacted naturally according to their innate essence and absolute obedience isn’t in human nature. God created human nature and as far as He kept mankind from knowing good and evil, man and woman could have made only incompetent decisions. 

Adam and Eve had missed basic education which was replaced by God’s authority and harsh warnings. How could they understand the meaning of death if even modern human beings have difficulties when trying to grasp it? In the context of the book of Genesis, for Adam and Eve death didn’t mean anything because they didn’t see anyone dying. If death wasn’t present in the creation Adam and Eve just couldn’t have grasped that notion. If death had been present before the human Fall, Apostle Paul was wrong in saying that death came into the world through Adam and Eve’s sins. 

The appearance of death as a real phenomenon on Earth would have happened after God had mentioned death to humankind, according to the apostle Paul, but that is inconsistent with logic. For Adam and Eve, the promise of knowledge and the likeness of God would have had a meaning because they had the occasion to see or at least to hear Him. At the same time, the word “death” contained in God’s warning to them would have been meaningless. 

Did God not know what the history of the human races would have been before creating mankind? Either He knew and created mankind according to that knowledge or He didn’t know and human behaviour came as a surprise for Him. From Genesis 6; 5-8, the second version seems to follow. What are the possibilities? God had a plan and in this project He knew that mankind would disobey Him, but also in this plan God decided beforehand that He would kill people and animals at a certain moment in the future. The Flood would have been planned by God at the same time as the creation of humankind, and people had to learn from the experience of the Flood and to become righteous. Did God not know that humankind would not learn anything and that the world would become even worse after the Flood? 

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If God had known that mankind would fail morally, but in spite of that He created them and after that He killed most of them through the Flood, and in the end He will condemn the majority of humankind to hell, the conclusion is that God’s plan itself failed. 

The development of humankind from moral to immoral, proposed by the book of Genesis, is a reversed reality because true evolution is from an initial immoral, instinctual way of life to a higher moral standard. Moral life didn’t diminish from perfection to imperfection, as the Bible says, but it developed in the opposite sense, toward an increase in morality and toward higher ethical standards. People became more conscious in time about the necessity of defending moral values in order to protect the health of the social environment. 

Did God have a plan for all He was doing or did He sometimes regret what He did, as Genesis chapter 6; 5-8 states? Did God’s remorse also enter into His plan? Did God anticipate that He would be sorry for the creation of mankind? If the remorse had been anticipated by God and it was a part of the plan, why was humankind punished through the Flood? Was this destruction an element of the plan also? A plan in which God would have needed to liquidate the majority of the human population on Earth and many animals in order to save few human beings at the end of the world couldn’t have been conceived by a loving God. A loving God would have chosen a minimum of collateral damages but according to the Bible He generates huge destruction. 

Either God had accepted the future state of humankind before creating it or He had created human beings with the clear intention to destroy their majority at a certain time. In the first option the Flood doesn’t make sense and in the second one God cannot be equated with love as some texts of the N.T. maintain. 

In Genesis chapter 6, God’s remorse seems to be authentic and not only a tactic applicable in His war with Satan. God had regretted the creation of humankind and that looks like a change in His mind. God created humankind but He regretted its creation after a while. That description given by the book of Genesis looks like a lack of both planning and of the knowledge of the future. Either way, not knowing the future beforehand or planning inefficiently, or not planning at all, is far from what the Christian apologetics believe about God. 

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 Consequently, Genesis chapter 6; 5-8, is either an inadequate way of presenting God or speaks about another Being than the Reality portrayed by Christian commentators, a Being doomed to failure similar to humankind. 

The text from Genesis chapter 6; 5-8 can be also a pure invention of the author aimed to motivate the alleged Flood, and this inadequate motivation shows that the book of Genesis isn’t inspired by God. 

Let’s see what the arguments of the Christian apologetics about God’s remorse in Genesis chapter 6 are. There are many texts in the Bible which affirm that God doesn’t change His mind such as: Numbers 23:19, I Samuel 15:29, Psalms 33:11; 102:26-28; Hebrews 1:11-12; Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17. 

There are also passages in which God “appears” to change His mind. The following is a text in which God changed His mind: 

“11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, ‘O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ‘ 14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” (Exodus 32; 11-14 NRSV) 

To me this text looks very strange. What did God try to do with Moses? Was it a game or something serious? Did God need someone to remind Him about His own oath? Did He not know human nature and its vulnerability? This is not the image of God which we are used to contemplating in the Christian teachings. God ready to destroy an entire population and convinced to do otherwise by a man. Christianity is about God convincing humankind to be meek but not the other way around. In this story, Moses convinced God to prove self-restraint. The whole story is in contradiction with what makes God the Almighty God. The God that we are taught about during catechisms is much different than what the Bible says about Him. Here is another text about God changing His mind:

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“10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3; 10 NRSV) 

In the case of Jonah, the repentance of the population of Nineveh explains God changing His mind. This is understandable and is a very different situation to the one happening in the desert which involved Moses. In the latter, God’s decision wasn’t conditioned by a change in the attitude of the Jewish people and it was a pure punitive action for disobedience. In the former, the punishment was conditioned by a change in human behaviour. Another example of God changing His mind is in Amos: 

“3 The LORD relented concerning this; ‘It shall not be,’ said the LORD. 4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: the Lord GOD was calling for a shower of fire,* and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said, ‘O Lord GOD, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’ 6 The LORD relented concerning this; ‘This also shall not be,’ said the Lord GOD.” (Amos 7; 3-6 NRSV) 

God changing His mind in Exodus 32 is explained by the biblical apologists with the allegation that He had submitted people to a test. God wouldn’t have wanted to destroy the Jewish people but He intended to try Moses’ reaction about such a possibility. This is a very thin explanation. Could Moses have been so indifferent about his people to endorse God’s decision to annihilate his family, his friends, and his people? Such a thing would have been a very unlikely development. In point of fact, God had proposed a similar convention to Moses that He had with Noah, but Moses didn’t accept that proposition. There is a big difference between Moses and Noah because the latter was less concerned with his brothers’ and sisters’ fate. Nevertheless, the repetition of the same motif degrades somehow the credibility of both stories, giving to both of them the aspect of a fictitious literary work. 

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The solution given by the apologists of a literal reading of the book of Genesis in this case is highly objectionable for several reasons. First of all, God is expected to have known Moses before giving him a mission in the interest of the Jewish people. God wouldn’t have needed a test to know Moses’ response to a certain situation because He is All-knowing. When God tested Abraham, the challenge was used as a metaphor for the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. The episode with Moses lacks a clear metaphorical sense. This kind of test doesn’t make sense in the biblical context. Comparing with Noah, even if he had failed such a test because he didn’t object to the destruction of the majority of humankind, Noah would have been considered righteous. Moses was righteous also without his defence of the people. 

More importantly, the text in Exodus 32 cannot be considered to be a test because God had already acted as He said upon the Jewish people, but on a smaller scale. 

"20 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: 21 Separate yourselves from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment. 22 They fell on their faces, and said, ‘O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one person sin and you become angry with the whole congregation?’ 23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 24 Say to the congregation: Get away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” (Numbers 16; 20-24 NRSV) 

According to Numbers God wanted to destroy the whole congregation because of the sins of Korah and his company. Moses didn’t agree with such a solution, considering it unfair. Did Moses have a more acute sense of justice than God? Moses asked God the following question: ‘O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one person sin and you become angry with the whole congregation?’ God was really angry, and in His anger He didn’t consider justice, according with the book of Genesis. Moses has reminded God about justice and only after that speech did He change His mind. The motif of God killing entire congregations or even nations for the sins of some people is found again and again in the Bible. What kind of justice was that? Some commentators would answer that God did whatever He wished. This isn’t an acceptable solution because God being righteous, He should have done only what was right.

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Another explanation proposed by the commentators for God changing His mind would be that when God threatened to destroy a nation, if that nation repented, He would have changed His mind. The only legitimate objection in such a case would be that in all nations some people would repent and others wouldn’t. To punish a whole nation even if not all people are corrupt is something specific for the Bible and is based on the principle that no-one is naturally pure in front of God and all human beings are sinners. The principle that humankind is impure is based on the story of Adam and Eve which is only a legend. If Adam and Eve are legendary personages what else would make humankind impure in God’s eyes? Human nature cannot be described as pure or impure, it is structured to allow human beings’ survival in this world. At the same time, human beings can improve themselves and the Christian solution for that is to change their nature, and that is possible only with God’s help. 

According to the book of Genesis, God didn’t create “pure” people but complex human beings endowed with curiosity and thirst for knowledge. God would have created human nature as it is today. Nonetheless, if Adam and Eve are only legendary personages their imaginary Fall couldn’t have changed human nature in any way, consequently humankind is what it is following God’s creation through evolution. That means that human provenance is linked with the entirety of nature, and because human beings were originally a kind of animal; they followed the instincts imbedded in their nature and not high moral principles. 

At the same time, according to the Bible, there always were people considered to be righteous in God’s eyes, for example Abel, Noah, Lot and his family, Job or David, and that shows that even human nature cannot be seen as irremediably lost. How can we admit the existence of righteous people in the O.T. if Adam and Eve had a sinful nature after the Fall? If we take for granted the story of Adam and Eve the presence of righteous people would be inexplicable following humankind’s Fall. Many Christian commentators maintain that the human nature created by God changed dramatically after the Fall. If this would be the case no righteous people would have been found on Earth after that event because that would have been against human nature. Nevertheless, the Bible speaks about a small number of righteous people in a generation. 

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 Only Noah and his family have been righteous, all other human beings were unrighteous. What would have generated righteousness in the attitude of few human beings as opposed to the majority of humankind? Probably, faith in God would be the most common answer. At the same time, there isn’t any reason why only one person and his family would have been considered to have faith in God, therefore to be righteous if, according to the book of Genesis, humankind already started to call for His name. This doesn’t make sense because calling the name of God is an act of faith. (Genesis 4; 26) 

The puzzle is the number of human beings which would have kept the faith in God between Adam and Abraham, which was very small. Only Noah from an entire generation of many, many human beings had been righteous. One would expect more than one man being righteous amongst hundreds of thousands or even several million human beings. The story is unbelievable if we take into consideration the small percentage of good people amongst humankind in a certain historical time. A minority of good people amongst a majority of corrupt ones would be understandable but only one man on the entire earth is doubtful. Noah was a human being, not the Son of God coming from heaven, therefore his unique situation amongst the population of the earth is inexplicable. As a matter of fact, without a law there wasn’t any objective criteria to know and to judge righteousness. We don’t know how righteous Noah would have been but unlike Moses he didn’t try to dissuade God from His decision to destroy the earth through the Flood. 

Why didn’t God reveal Himself to other human beings instead of destroying them? God would have preferred to annihilate the majority of human population instead of revealing Himself to it. This is the logic of the book of Genesis which isn’t based on realities but on a legend which casts a very dark image of God, but that illustration most probably doesn’t correspond with His character. 

The rationale about the changing of God’s mind in the case of the creation of humankind belongs to the context of the legend, and within the limits of that, because Noah also is only a legendary character about whom the Bible doesn’t give detailed information and he isn’t a real personage. This conclusion can be drawn from analysing the story of the Flood. 

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God had created humankind in His likeness and blessed them and He declared that all His creation was very good. After a while God changed His mind and from being blessed humankind became cursed and He decided to destroy beings that were like Him and who once were very good. Did God bless humankind only for a while? In chapter 1 of the book of Genesis God had asked humankind to multiply and to subdue the earth. This is the biblical text: 

“28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1; 28 NRSV) 

In those conditions the curse that followed after a while is a pure fantasy. The entire story of Adam and Eve is a legend but the way in which that legend develops shows us that God cannot be accused of things that He never did in reality. He never blessed Adam and Eve because they never existed and He never sent a Flood to destroy the majority of humankind. If He had done one of those things the other one would have been in total contradiction with the other. 

From the creation of mankind until Moses’ Law there wasn’t any clear set of norms through which God’s moral standards would have been known by people. Where God’s Law wasn’t in function it wasn’t any responsibility of humankind before God and the nations survived by their own laws, before and after the apparition of Mosaic Law. The Jewish people had been guided initially by the Egyptian laws and after that directly by God through Moses, but other nations had their own religious beliefs and their laws. Those nations wouldn’t have been responsible before God because they didn’t receive His Law. 

It is not fair to despise humankind or human nature just because they haven’t been instructed by God in the past. Before the Mosaic Law many legal norms of human origin prescribed similar rules of conduct as Moses’ Law did at a later time. I also wonder if the way in which the book of Genesis says that the human races would have developed on Earth, through incest and polygamy, wouldn’t have been a possible cause for so much sexual immorality if that method of multiplication would have been real. It is hard to give a definitive answer because the story of Adam and Eve is only fairy tale, but generally speaking incest and polygamy can be causes of immorality.

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 What is here in contradiction is that God of the Bible sanctioned some causes of immorality which were incest and polygamy, but also punished harshly their effects. 

“7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” (Jeremiah 18; 7-10 NRSV) 

It is hard to believe that all individuals from an entire nation would have had an identical attitude about good and evil and that all of them would have changed their behaviour. What would have happened in the situation in which half of the people in a nation turned from evil but not the other half? Again, that black and white approach doesn’t cover all situations. People cannot be judged and punished en masse but they have to respond individually for their deeds in order to reach justice. Some individuals couldn’t have responded legitimately before God for the others’ wrongdoings. 

Didn’t God create all humankind? Did He create only the Jewish people? God had a covenant only with the Jewish people but He didn’t propose covenants to other nations. Why were the other nations judged harshly? People were condemned in blocks, good people together with the bad ones. If there had been righteous persons among Jewish people wouldn’t there have been such persons amongst other nations also? There isn’t any reason for which other nations wouldn’t have contained righteous persons together with unrighteous ones. The Bible presents a very strange way of doing justice, a kind of mass judgement which were applied unrightfully later in history to the Jewish people, also by the governments of some European countries. This is the way in which the O.T. depicts the history but most likely this isn’t the reality. Being just, God cannot be as wrathful as the O.T. depicts Him to be. 

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Another explanation for God’s change of mind which comes from commentators of the book of Genesis is that He can change His program or strategies but never His purposes or His plans. Here is an example of this kind of argument: 

“God promised to bring His people into the land of Canaan. Due to their unbelief the first generation did not possess the land, but the second generation did. When Jesus came He offered Himself to Israel as the Messiah. Her rejection has made possible the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, when God’s purposes for the Gentiles have been accomplished, God will once again pour out His grace and salvation upon the Jews. God’s program changes, but not His purposes (cf. Romans 9-11).”[1] 

Such an explanation cannot be used to explain the destruction of the majority of humankind through the Flood. God had to know that humankind would fall beforehand and the solution of killing so many people through the Flood wouldn’t have been an efficient one. The Flood could have killed human beings and animals but it couldn’t have been able to eliminate human nature and the sin. After the Flood the situation of humankind from a moral point of view wouldn’t have been superior to what was before. God from the book of Genesis should have known better, sin couldn’t have been eradicated through the Flood. 

In Genesis chapter 6 verse 3 God said: 

“3 Then the LORD said, ‘My spirit shall not abide* in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ (Genesis 6; 3 NRSV) 

This verse is not in conformity with what the book of Genesis says would have happened after the Flood. Noah lived nine hundred and fifty years and not one hundred and twenty years as he would have lived according to Genesis chapter 6: 

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“28 After the flood Noah lived for three hundred and fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.” (Genesis 9; 28-29 NRSV) 

 Other patriarchs also lived more than one hundred and twenty years, therefore Genesis chapter 6 verse 3 is in contradiction with other biblical texts also from Genesis. 

“10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was one hundred years old, he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpachshad for five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters.” (Genesis 11; 10-11 NRSV) 
“12 When Arpachshad had lived for thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpachshad lived after the birth of Shelah for four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters.” (Genesis 11; 12-13) 

    The book of Genesis contradicts its own assertions. If the human beings were destined to live for one hundred and twenty years there isn’t any reason for which they lived for hundreds of years. If God had set a limit for human life why wasn’t this limit respected? Human beings who lived for hundreds of years are an exaggeration if we accept the opinion of creationist commentators that after the alleged Fall human nature would have suffered a degradation. Most commentators maintain that human nature was badly affected by Adam and Eve’s Fall. At the same time, in spite of this supposed “degradation” human beings would have lived for hundreds of years, against God’s recommendation that they would reach only one hundred and twenty years. Such a situation doesn’t make sense. 

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