Discussing with an Inerrantist

The interaction over the claim that the Bible has no contradictions within it, at times can be ferocious, fascinating, frustrating, and funny.

The typical dance in this charade is for the skeptic to claim “Contradiction!” laying out two (or more) apparently differing portions of Scripture. The inerrantist then jumps in with an explanation, asserting “Resolution!” They each banter back and forth, with graduated verbosity, citations, and hand-waving, while continually proclaiming “Contradiction!” or “Resolution!” respectively.

It can be as amusing as children arguing: “Window Seat! Because I called it, I got it!” “Then I get the Video Game!” Each is certain that the verbal announcement has set the matter in stone as unassailable as a law of nature. And, on occasion, as a parent I am forced to veto the declarations made, and re-distribute seats and games accordingly.

My children are stunned to learn that the verbal proclamations were not sacrosanct. “But I called it!”

It is the same in this debate. Simply labeling something as a “Resolution!” or a “Contradiction!” does not make it so. No—no matter how many times, nor how forcefully it is stated. “Calling it” does not count.

That is why I continually and constantly ask for a method to determine a contradiction. Rather than waste our time, using our labels, and not progressing the matter forward a millimeter.

When I ask for this method, I begin a new dance. A different jig. Most times, it appears that the inerrantist has never been asked this question and has never considered what method to use. They appear to be so familiar with the old steps of “This is a Resolution!” and stringing together a series of possibilities, bolstered by analogies, that my asking for a method throws them off their cadence.

As this point we stumble a bit. The inerrantist attempts to re-start the song of “Resolution!” and when I won’t dance, begins to engage in the more demanding task of coming up with a method to determine what is or is not a contradiction within the Bible.

I offer my method that if a neutral jury would feel it is more likely to be a contradiction, based upon the facts and the human condition then it is, but that is immediately rejected. We certainly cannot have a skeptic setting the tunes by which we dance!

Eventually a method falters out. Inerrantists are not stupid. They are well aware that if the method is too exacting the Bible will fail. Based on my history, apparently my “neutral jury” is one such method that is too probable to produce results the inerrantist cannot live with, so the method must be less than that.

Unfortunately, the method is normally minimal, such as “any logical possibility,” that it renders just about any work conceivable as inerrant. While it retains the Bible’s ability to be non-contradictory, it also makes the very human endeavors such as newspapers and Yellow Pages equally as non-contradictory.

I point out that by using this method; the inerrantist has won the battle but lost the war. The Bible is non-contradictory, but so is everything else. The Bible loses any uniqueness, and becomes as ordinary as could be. “Inerrancy” is as much support for divinity of the Bible as the fact it is written on paper. In other words—none.

And then the inerrantist wanders off (and sometimes I do), with the inerrantist muttering under their breath, “Resolution. Resolution. Who needs a method when we have resolutions?” I presume off to find some skeptic that is more willing to dance to the stomp and flurry of “Contradiction! Resolution!”

Recently I was bemoaning this request for a method, utilizing the names of the disciples as the example of the contradiction, and Dave Armstrong entered the fray with a “Resolution!”

After tussling a bit back and forth, a method to determine a contradiction emerged: “Examine the proposed contradiction and see if there is an explanation that can account for it. The explanation must be more plausible and more believable than the opposing view of a contradiction.”

Simply put, the claims of the contradiction are proposed, the claims of the explanation are proposed and whichever is more plausible and more believable determines the outcome. Now, the issue as to “Who?” makes the determination of plausibility has been left unresolved. I would propose a neutral person (such as Jew, a Hindu or a Taoist who has no stake in whether the New Testament has a contradiction or not) but Dave Armstrong is not certain that such a neutral person exists.

(Personally, I think most neutral people generally expect contradictions in a variety of stories, and there is a fear that by using a neutral, they are far more likely to naturally determine contradiction. Again, this does not bode well for the inflated claims for the Bible if it cannot even withstand regular, normal human scrutiny. But I digress.)

So I leave it to the reader of this blog entry. A poll, if you will. I cannot help the fact that many of you are not neutral, as you can see I was left with little choice. The question is simple—Given the various names of the Twelve disciples and the different circumstances around their calling (you will have to read my previous blog entry) and the explanation provided by Dave Armstong (link above): which is more likely? Contradiction? Or Explanation?

The music has come up; it is time to dance, I see.

The explanation given is not complicated: Jews of the First Century Palestine had 2 or 3 names. When one author recorded a particular disciple, another author happened to record a different name of the same disciple. An example would be my referring to a blogger named “John,” and Dave Armstrong referring to a blogger named “Loftus” when we both mean the same person.


One thing to be careful is utilizing analogies of a different time and society as compared to the period we are discussing. Simply because we, at times, call people solely by their last time, this is not necessarily analogous to how a Biblical author would have done so.

Jews did not assume family names (such as “Loftus”) until the 10th Century. Prior to that (and during the period we are discussing—1st Century) an individual would be known by his/her given name, and sometimes their father’s name would be added. For example “David ben Yaakov” (David the son of Yaakov). "Ben Yaakov" was not a family name, but part of his given name. His son's name, for instance, would not continue with the ending “Ben Yaakov,” but rather “Ben David” (the son of David). See here.

A Jew may have been referred to as “David” or “David ben Yaakov” but not just “ben Yaakov.” Comparing the analogy of “John” to “Loftus” is incorrect. While analogies can be useful, it would be better to utilize the information we have from the period and place of time that we are discussing.

Two names?

While the explanation provided asserts that Jews were known by 2 or 3 names, no citation, no point of reference, no further information was given as to demonstration of this claim. We have other writings from this time period which would give valuable insight; a prominent example—the writings of Josephus.

Reading Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, we come across the following names: “Joazar, who was the son of Beethus,” “Judas, a Gaulonite,” “Sadduc, a Pharisee,” “Judas the Galilean,” and “Ananus the son of Seth.”

However, we also see Josephus utilizing a singular name at times as well, such as “Herod,” “Philip,” “Antipater,” and “Alexander” often after already identifying them with the longer term.

In viewing other works prepared at the time of the Gospels, it would seem appropriate that writers would call a person by either their singular name, OR include their occupation (“the king” “the Baptist”) OR include their location, (“the Galilean”) OR by including their father’s name, (“son of Beethus.”) The one thing we do NOT see are other authors calling people by just “son of Zebedee” if they knew the first name.

This explanation, though, demands that it is MORE plausible that the authors did something contrary to their style, with no evidence to support that claim. Each of us has a certain style—a way of writing. If we write that way on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, it is more likely, more believable that (absent any evidence to the contrary) we will continue to write that way on Friday.

The authors of the Gospels display a propensity to list dual names, when known. In order for this explanation to work, it claims that the authors picked only one name. But that is contrary to their style! Look at the names of the Disciples:

Simon Peter (John 21:2)
Andrew, brother of Peter (Matt. 10:2)
James the son of Zebedee, son of Thunder (Mark 1:19 & 3:17)
John the son of Zebedee son of Thunder (Mark 1:19 & 3:17
Philip of Bethsaida of Galilee (John 12:21)
Thomas called the Twin (John 21:2)
James, son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18)
Thaddeus, also know as Lebbaeus (Matt. 10:3)
Simon the Cananite (Mark 3:18)
Judas Iscariot (John 12:4)

Judas, son (brother?) of James, (Possibly the “other” Judas) (Luke 6:16) (John 14:22)
Nathanael of Cana of Galilee (John 21:2)

What we see are numerous indications of the writers very freely listing more than one name of an individual, or listing the parentage, or listing a moniker such as “the twin” or “the Cananite.” (Again, very similar to Josephus.)

Initially, the inerrantist would seem to be pleased with the notion of two names, and the claim that one author could utilize one name, and another author a different name. However, in reviewing the actual writings and styling of the Gospel writers, we see that the authors do no hesitate, and repeatedly embrace the use of more than one name.

Is it more plausible, given the affinity of use of the other names, that an author of the Gospel would know the other name of the disciple and not use it? Or is it more plausible that the author did not KNOW any other name, so they only used the singular?

Other Contradictions

If there are other contradictions within the stories of the calling of the disciples, it makes it more likely and more plausible that the names themselves are contradictory. If the authors were obtaining information from different sources, or creating legendary history of their own, we would expect differences in more than just the names; we would expect differences in the surrounding events themselves (for verses see previous post)

Problem of Order
- According to Mark and Matthew, the first disciples called were Peter and Andrew together.
- According to Luke, it was Peter first, then Andrew later.
- According to John, it was Andrew first, then Peter later.

Problem of When
- According to Mark, Matthew and Luke, the calling(s) took place AFTER John the Baptist was thrown in Prison.
- According to John, the calling(s) took place BEFORE.

What were the disciples doing?
- According to Mark and Matthew, Peter and Andrew were fishing; James and John were mending their nets with dad.
- According to Luke, Jesus used Peter’s boat as a platform to preach, then did a miraculous catch of fish with James and John. Who have been elevated to partners with Peter. James and John’s dad, servants and mending are all absent. So, too, Andrew.
- According to John, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, who brought Peter to Jesus.

Where were Peter and Andrew from?
- Bethsaida. John 12:21 Edited to add: "and John 1:44"
- Capernaum. Mark 1:21-33 and Luke 4:31-38

Given the vastly different tales surrounding the calling the disciples, is it MORE likely that the names would be different as well, or less likely?

But let’s dig into the common explanations for the names themselves, shall we?


The explanation given is that Levi and Matthew were the same person. The authors just used different names.

Imagine Jesus meets three men—Levi, Nicodemus and Zacchaeus. We then read a list of twelve disciples and these three specific names are not listed. What is the more plausible explanation: that they didn’t make the cut, or that their names were changed?

Yes, I am aware of the timing of Nicodemus and Zacchaeus after the calling, and Jesus’ parallel words of “Follow me” to Levi. But think about it. Mark tells of an encounter with a Levi, and then his name does not appear on the list. Luke tells of an encounter with a Levi, and his name does not appear on the list. John does not tell of an encounter, nor of Levi, nor of Matthew.

If all we had were those three Gospels, the contradiction would not even appear! The most plausible and most believable explanation would be that the Levi fellow never became one of the Twelve. The only reason we have a contradiction is because of the Gospel of Matthew.

I presume my readers are aware of the Synoptic problem, and Markan priority. In a nutshell, I hold that that author of Matthew and the author of Luke utilized the written Gospel of Mark in preparing their own Gospels. The author of Matthew tended to remove the difficult languages, or implications when copying Mark. (Part of the basis of Markan priority is that it includes more difficult concepts regarding Jesus, and later works “smoothed them out.”)

(One such example in our own tale is the confrontation at Levi’s table. According to Mark, the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees both confront Jesus at Levi’s house. Mark 2:18. To take away the difficulty of these two entities working together, Matthew removes the Pharisees from asking the question. Matt 9:14. Luke removes the disciples of John. Luke 5:33. Go figure.)

I contend it is more plausible that to make Levi a certainty as a disciple, the author of Matthew inserted “Matthew” in the stead of “Levi” to resolve what he viewed as a difficulty.

Item One: In Matt 10:3, Matthew lists the twelve disciples. (He is well-aware of the number, as he just mentioned “twelve disciples” two verses previously.) He is careful to note that the “Matthew” who is listed is “Matthew the tax collector.” But why emphasize this fact? He had just finished listing the tale of Matthew the tax collector! He doesn’t list “Andrew the fisherman.” Or any other occupation.

The author is placing special emphasis on the fact that this was “Matthew the tax collector” as in the person listed previously. As if he needs to bolster the claim that the previous tale of the tax collector resulted in the “Matthew” of the list of disciples he is copying from Mark.

Item Two: You are told that “Levi, son of Alphaeus” is a disciple. His name has been changed. Which one is the most plausible to correlate to Levi?

1. Andrew
2. Philip
3. Bartholomew
4. Matthew
5. Thomas
6. James the son of Alphaeus
7. Thaddaeus
8. Simon the Canaanite
9. Judas Iscariot

I am uncertain how we would ever come up with anything but person No. 6 – James son of Alphaeus. “Son of Alphaeus” would certainly seem to point to the same person as the most plausible choice. (Apparently I am not the only one. The copyist of Codex Bezae inserted “James” in lieu of “Levi” in the Markan tale of the tax collector.)

Yet what does the author of Matthew do, when copying Mark? He removes the reference “son of Alphaeus” when referring to Matthew, but NOT when referring to James. Apparently to remove any inference or question as to whom the tax collector could be.

To sum up, three gospels do not create any contradiction in this regard. Only the Gospel of Matthew introduces this problem. The author deliberately adds language to highlight the relationship between the tax collector and Mark’s list, the author deliberately deletes language to remove any confusion as to who the tax collector is, and the author does not note an additional name for Levi of Mark, despite doing so for other disciples.

Not only is it plausible this is a contradiction, I would think it more believable that it was a deliberate act when we take into account the modifications he must intentionally be performing on the Gospel of Mark.

Or is it more plausible that Levi and Matthew were the same, and the author of Matthew failed to note the alternative names. The author of Mark failed to note the alternative names. And the author of Luke failed to note the alternative names.


Lebbaeus. Great Example of exactly what we are talking about. Many early manuscripts (primarily the Western Text) refer to this disciple as “Lebbaeus.” One name. Other manuscripts (Alexandrian) refer to this disciple as “Thaddaeus.” One name.

Later copyists, seeing the error, assumed that this disciple had two names—“Lebbaeus” and “Thaddaeus” and introduced the error of “Lebbaeus, also known as Thaddaeus” in order to resolve the apparent problem! This mistranslation was continued into the Textus Receptus, and therefore continued into the KJV.

However, now that textual criticism, availability of manuscripts, and improved sharing of information has occurred, it is realized that there was only one name. Scholars decided it was more plausible that there was only one name, and an error entered into the translation. That is why the newer versions only have “Thaddaeus” in Matt. 10:3 whereas the KJV continues with “Lebbaeus, also known as Thaddaeus.”

I should repeat this, to emphasize it. Two different names were given to a disciple. It was determined that this was a resolution, introduced to resolve a contradiction. It was determined that it was more plausible that the disciple only had one name. link

But, to consider the explanation as it stands…

The man of many names! Hold on to your seat. Mark calls him just “Thaddaeus.” Matthew indicates he is also called “Lebbaeus.” This explanation claims Luke uses one of his other names, being “Judas.” But the KJV translates, in Luke, Judas being the son of James, whereas in Acts 1:13, he is the brother of James. Since there is a “Jude” who is also a brother of James, and wrote…well…the Book of Jude, he is ALSO associated with this name. Which “James” this person is a brother/son of is left unclear.

We have Thaddaeus aka Lebbaeus aka Judas aka Jude who is either the brother or son of James, which could be James, the brother of Christ, James the brother of John, James the son of Alphaeus, or some other James. If it is James the son of Alphaeus, Matthew aka Levi is ALSO the son of Alphaeus, making Levi the brother of Jude!

Confused? What is more plausible? The simple fact that this is a different name by a different author for the same person, or that we have this round-robin circle of names, which are conveniently not included as it suits the inerrantist?

I propose that the Gospels developed in varying communities that had differing stories about Jesus and his disciples. The Gospel of John refers to “another Judas” so it is very likely there was a tale circulating about two (2) Judas’ within the Disciples. The author of Luke has taken it upon himself to “correct” any misunderstandings (Luke 1:1-4) (including the events surrounding Peter’s calling) and one of them was to insert the second Judas into Mark’s list.

Again, Luke has the same propensity to title people with two names (“Simon Peter,” “Judas Iscariot”) and if Judas Thaddaeus was this disciple’s name, there would be no reason to NOT to list both names.

We have an author that is willing to modify and enhance the Gospel of Mark. We have a name strangely disappear, and another appears in its place. Which is more plausible, a merry-go-round of names and relatives as an explanation, or a contradiction?

[Mere speculation, but one of Jesus’ brothers was named “Judas” Matt. 13:55. If Luke was saying this was “Judas brother of James {brother of Jesus}” was he trying to shoe in one of Jesus’ brothers into the twelve disciples?]

Finally, if Thaddaeus/Judas was the brother of James, we have the additional problem that Matthew fails to identify them as brothers. Matthew identifies Peter and Andrew as brothers. The Author identifies James and John as brothers. But then he fails to identify Thaddaeus and James as brothers. Is that more plausible? Or is it more likely that Matthew did not believe they were brothers.


The Gospel of John is the sole book to list (or even mention) Nathanael. Now, the Gospel of John varies a great deal from the Synoptic Gospels in other regards, and as already pointed out, varies regarding the calling of the disciples. But rather than recognize that all those contradictions, not surprisingly, also result in a contradiction of names, we foxtrot on regarding this explanation.

Since the claim is that some disciples had two names, but the other authors only listed one name, all we need to do is find a disciple listed by Mark, and plug in Nathanael as being his “second” name.

We can’t use Andrew, Peter, Philip or Judas Iscariot because they are used by the author elsewhere. Our favorite multi-named person—Thaddaeus--may already be in use as “another Judas” so he is out as well. But that leaves us a wide open field to pick from.

(Although this may appear as sarcastic, it really is not. This explanation is based on plausibility. What is stopping us from picking any name on the list? Nothing, really. That demonstrates how plausible this interpretation is, when we can be so loose with its implementation.)

Do you know that “Matthew” means “Gift of Jehovah” and “Nathanael” means “Gift of God”? While that seems a tempting match, the explanation goes with Bartholomew.

The reason is that “Bar” means “son” in Aramaic, so “Son of Tolmai” would be translated to “Bartholomew.” The claim is that the disciples’ FULL name was “Nathanael Bar Tolmai” so the author of Mark (with the authors of Matthew and Luke faithfully copying) only referred to “son of Tolmai” and not his first name. Hence, just “Bartholomew.”

The question that arises though is: At what point in time did the name “Bar Tolmai” become a first name of “Bartholomew?” See, if Bartholomew had already developed into a first name by this time, then the fact that its origin that it used to be a last name is useless. The question is not the etymology of Bartholomew, but rather when the name developed.

This explanation would appear to rely upon fact that at this point it had not developed into a “last name” of sorts. However, as pointed out long ago—this fails. Jews were not referred to by family names, nor surnames. This would be similar to having a list of “Jim Bob, Joe, son of Sam, Frank,…” In order for this explanation to be more plausible, it would need to be demonstrated that referring to someone as “son of Tolmai” without their first name was done in Judaism in the First Century.

To sum up, this explanation would claim that it is more plausible that this disciple’s full name is “Nathanael, son of Tolmai.” But Peter, who literally roomed with the fellow (Acts 1:13) only knew him by “son of Tolmai” and translated that to Mark? (But Peter knew “James, son of Alphaeus.”) Matthew, who also roomed with him, coincidentally also only knew him by “son of Tolmai” so when it came time to write the names of the disciples, could not come up with his first name?

Luke, who studied and investigated, never could find his first name? Only the author of John knew his first name (and where he was from.)

Is that plausible?

John 21

This is a chapter added on to the book of John. (John 21:24) Who and when remains a matter of some speculation. However, this author also mentions Nathanael, and apparently is familiar with other disciples listed in the Gospel of John.

Notice when listing the disciples in vs. 2 this author uses Peter’s full name “Simon Peter.” (The author(s) of the remainder of John alternate.) The author of chapter 21 uses Thomas’ full name of “Thomas, called Didymus” and gives us more name information on Nathanael than anywhere else—“Nathanael of Cana of Galilee.”

Is it plausible that this author would be reducing names, or only including one name, when they knew of another? I would contend not. They are demonstrating a style of using as much identifying information as possible.

But at this moment, the information provided drops off sharply. Next are the “sons of Zebedee” and then, no names whatsoever, “two other disciples.” It is implausible the author will use this much information in the first names listed, and then fade off to “and some other guys” if s/he knew their full names.

Most likely, the author had heard of “sons of Zebedee” being disciples, but did not know their name! Just as the author(s) of the remainder of John did not list them, this author did not know who they were either. Also, the author of John seems unaware that Andrew was also a fisherman. He is conspicuous by his absence from the fishing trip with his brother, Peter, back on the home turf.

Simply put, the author of Chapter 21 appears to know the same disciples as the book of John, with only the additional information of “sons of Zebedee.” It is more believable that they would include their names (in light of how the other disciples were named) if they knew them. It would be more plausible that the author did not know the names of the “sons of Zebedee” (considering who the author of the Gospel of John is claimed to be—this is remarkable!), as well as not knowing any other names for disciples, such as those listed by Mark, Matthew and Luke.

Early Church Writings

Although the Epistle of Barnabas refers to “the twelve,” no names are given. Barnabas 8:3. 1 Clement refers to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, but no other disciple is mentioned. The most interesting writing is from Papias and his writing on “Mary.”

Mark 15:40 refers to three women watching Jesus on the cross, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses, and Salome. John 19:25 also refers to three women, only the author lists Mary Magdalene, the sister of Jesus’ mother being Mary, wife of Cleophas, and Jesus mother. (The Gospel of John never gives Jesus’ mother a name.)

Oddly, this would mean that Mary, the mother of Jesus has a sister named Mary!

Because one of Mark’s disciples is “James the son of Alphaeus” Papias assumes this is the same as James the lesser, and therefore the Mary that was at the cross was the mother of James, wife of Alphaeus/Cleophas. There is a claim that “Cleophas” is the Greek for the Aramaic “Alphaeus” but this is problematic.

Papias writes that Mary, wife of Cleophas was the mother of James, Simon, Thaddaeus, and Joseph. He then writes that James and Judas and Joseph were the sons of an aunt of Jesus (presumably this Mary.) He goes on to repeat that this Mary was the mother of James the less and Joseph.

The names attributed to this woman are:


What is immediately evident is that if Luke felt that Judas and Thaddaeus were the same person, and entitles them to be “brother” (not “son”) of James, this resolves the Thaddaeus/Judas question of Luke. It leaves the Matthew problem, as well as whether this was the same person as “Jude.”

Levi, Bartholomew and Nathanael are left unresolved. However, Papias intriguingly indicates that another aunt of Jesus was the mother of James and John.

This opens the possibility that James, Levi/Matthew and Thaddaeus/Judas were brothers; sons of Mary & Alphaeus/Cleophas. That James and John, sons of Zebedee, were cousins to James, Levi and Judas. All five were cousins to Jesus.

Of course this all rests on the plausibility that the mother of Jesus—Mary had another sister named Mary, as well as another sibling who all named one of their boys “James.”

Or is it more likely there is confusion between each author among the James and Mary’s?


A question of believability. In the past we have seen attempts to resolve two names (Lebbaeus and Thaddaus) by claims that it was the same person with two names and it was more plausible that it was human error. We have varying accounts as to the time, place and order of the calling of the disciples. We have various names as well.

The resolution of “two names” actually hurts the proponent of inerrancy when viewed in light of how many times, and the propensity of the authors to use more than one identifying mark for a Disciple. The explanation leaves unexplained as to why the authors would do so with the two named persons.

We see with Levi/Matthew that the author of Matthew intentionally modifies Mark in order to force the correlation, resulting in contradictions as well as questionable family alliances elsewhere. Thaddaeus/Judas appears to be the fall person. His name could be Thaddaeus, or Lebbaeus or Judas or Jude or Joses, or Joseph or any variety thereof.

What is more plausible—that he had all these names, or that any name convenient is attributed to him?

Nathanael is the most problematic, and attempts to claim it was his first name to Bar Tolmei as a last name is unsupported by any other example in Jewish use. Coupled with the Gospel of John’s penchant to be different than the others, it is more believable that this was a different name.

I would hold that it is more likely than not, taking in the evidence, the names contradict.

And now my feet are tired from the dance.