Is This a Problem?

Posted: December 29, 2007 in Theology

I realize that there is a lot that you have to take on faith in the Bible. Most of us have heard of discrepancies here and there with this passage or another. Most of them don’t bother me a whole lot, but some of them are just hard to overlook.

I was reading a couple nights ago in Exodus about the plagues that the Lord brought on Egypt and their stubborn Pharaoh. I was deep into the plagues when I started to feel like I was reading a nursery rhyme. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you see if you can help me out with this…

In Chapter 9, God sends the destroyer or plague or whatever to destroy all of the livestock of Egypt. Then in the same chapter the Lord sends another plague (boils) to Egypt that cover people and all of the animals (that were supposedly killed in the previous plague). Next, the Lord sends hail that again kills the “dead” animals and strips all of the trees and beats down all of the crops. In the Chapter 10, the locusts come and eat up all of the crops not ruined by the hail that was suppose to have killed everything and already stripped the trees.

Its obvious that there could be some decent explanations to these issues. Maybe only pigs, cows, and horses were killed in first plague and the dogs and cats where the animals that got the boils and the hail on their heads. However, with no real record of the Israelites having ever been slaves in Egypt (outside of the Bible) or being the slave labor that built the pyramids or knowing which Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) it makes me kind of frustrated that the stories are so full of glaring problems.

Just some thoughts…I am still a Christian in case you are worried 🙂

  1. jearwood says:

    There are several different conclusions that can be drawn from the apparent conflict in Exodus 9. One possibility is that the whole story is fabricated and the author of Exodus was unable to keep his story straight. Personally I think that resolution is pretty weak because it’s not that difficult to keep major details of a fabricated story consistent. I think it’s fairly unlikely that the apparent conflict is due to careless oversight by the author.

    Other reasonable explanations include:

    1. With one exception, the bible does not say how long it was between the various plagues. We tend to think of the plagues as occurring one after another in a matter of days. It could have been months between the plagues, plenty of time for the Egyptians to replace their livestock. Had the Egyptian livestock died out and the Hebrew livestock did not, is it unreasonable to think that they would have seized the animals belonging to their slaves? The bible doesn’t say that this happened, and it would seem to be a detail the author would have included, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that it didn’t happen.
    2. Any English translation depends on a fully accurate translation of an ancient document written in an ancient dialect. The meaning of “all” in verse 6 may not be clear in the English translation. Perhaps the word “all” is meant in contrast to “none” or “not one” in the same verse. In other words, the author was emphasizing that all the the animals which were killed were Egyptian, while “none” of the animals that were killed belonged to the Israelites. This emphasis would makes sense, because it would be more “miraculous” if “some” of the Egyptian animals were killed, but “none” of the Israelite animals were, than if all of the Egyptian animals were and some of the Israelite ones were as well. In other words, animal plagues are not uncommon and not ordinarily thought of as divinely initiated , but a plague that differentiates between animals owned by people of different religions would be pretty miraculous.

    I don’t think Christians are called to undergo ridiculous mental gymnastics to believe in biblical inerrancy, but I also would not immediately assume a perceived conflict means the biblical narrative is fictional. Personally, I think that of the three possible resolutions to the apparent conflict that I mentioned, I think the possibility that the original author (or even subsequent authors) simply forgot by verse 20 what was said in verse 6 is the most unlikely.

    None of this proves that the exodus story happened, of course. Even a fable can be internally consistent. There are difficult passages in the bible, no doubt. I’m certainly not a Josh McDowell type of Christian apologist, but usually when my non-Christian friends and acquaintances point out some conflict in the scriptures, the issue is ambiguous at best. Often times, they are so eager to confirm their bias against biblical inerrancy they will disregard all plausible resolutions of the alleged conflict.

    I’d also point out that it’s not entirely correct that there is no real record other than the biblical account of hebrew slavery in and exodus from Egypt. There is a possibility that the Tomb of Joseph was found a few years ago ( ) and there is archelogical evidence of semitic people living in ancient Egypt. Some scholars think that the Ipuwer Papyrus is an Egyptian reference to the plagues, though there is a great deal of controversy about that. Certainly there is no indisputable non-biblical history of the Exodus or Hebrew slavery in Egypt, but there is no indisputable evidence about much of facts we know about the ancient world. Archeology has, for the most part, confirmed the historical authenticity of bible, much more than it has created new questions.

  2. agratto says:

    Good points. I realize that there are people that are confident that they have historical evidence to support Israel in Egypt. Another explanation is actually that Egyptian Pharaohs tended not to record their failures or defeats, so that is why Israel leaving might not appear in their records.

    Mainly I like stirring the pot and helping people question and research instead of having people refuse to learn. Many people struggle with Christianity because they had similar questions and nobody would answer them (thinking is hard work), instead they just got frustrated and told those people that you just have to have faith.

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