Monthly Archives: December 2021

The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages

This is the second in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible. This time, I’ll be looking at passages that aren’t saying exactly the same thing as other passages, but are still awfully similar.

Why does the Bible have so many strangely similar stories? In some cases, it’s because the writers had this weird idea that history systematically repeats itself. So if they didn’t know enough about the life of Jesus or whoever they were writing about, they figured they could just look at stories about similar people in the earlier scriptures, and assume Jesus must have done the same things.

In both of the first two chapters of Job, Satan goes to see God along with the angels, God asks him where he’s been, Satan says he’s been roaming the earth, God asks him what he thinks of righteous Job, Satan says Job’s love of God is not unconditional, he tells God what he would have to do to get Job to curse God, God agrees to let Satan do that to Job, and Satan goes off to do it.

There are three different stories in Genesis where a man claims his wife is his sister so no one will kill him over her, then a king tries to take her for himself, and when the king finds out he’s being tricked into doing something wrong, he doesn’t get angry and punish anyone for some reason, but just lets the couple go on their way. This supposedly happened to Abraham twice, and then also to his son Isaac.

The books of Genesis and Judges both have stories where a mob surrounds a man’s house and tries to get him to let them rape his male guest(s), and the man doesn’t think that would be right, so he offers to let them rape his daughter(s) instead.

The Bible says Abraham and Isaac both had disputes over the ownership of wells in Gerar. Wives for Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were all found at wells. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had wives who were infertile at first, until God intervened. Abraham and Jacob both used a workaround where they had children with their wives’ servants.

In Genesis 28, God appears to Jacob and tells him he will have a huge number of descendants who will inherit the land he’s in. Jacob sets up a stone pillar, pours oil on it, and names the place Bethel. Then in Genesis 35, all that happens again. In Genesis 32, God gives Jacob a new name and claims that Jacob won’t be called Jacob anymore. Then three chapters later, he does it again.

Once in Genesis and twice in Daniel, a king has a troubling, cryptic dream about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the dream with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land. Then after this has already happened twice in Daniel, in the next chapter of Daniel, a king has a troubling vision of a hand writing cryptic messages about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the writing with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land.

In Genesis, Jacob pronounces blessings on each of his sons, and in Deuteronomy, Moses pronounces blessings on each of the tribes descended from Jacob’s sons.

Post-exodus parallels

Moses’s father-in-law praised God, who rescued Moses from the hand of the Egyptians, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.

In both Exodus and Numbers, there’s a story where God gets angry at his people for idolatry and wants to kill them all, some Levites help him kill some Israelites, and God rewards all the murderers’ descendants with a special status.

God had both Moses and Elijah stand in a certain place so he could show himself to them. It happened to Elijah after God asked him what he was doing there in a cave. Elijah explained his situation, and God told him to go out and stand where God was about to appear. After three similar sentences about where the omnipresent God wasn’t present, Elijah went where God was. God asked him what he was doing there at the mouth of the cave, as if he wasn’t the one who had just told him to go there, and Elijah explained his situation to God again. And then God told Elijah to go somewhere else.

Exodus 40 says “as the Lord commanded him” eight times after describing what part of the Tabernacle Moses was working on. Leviticus, 1 Samuel, and 2 Chronicles all have stories where God decides to punish people for making offerings to him.

Each of the first two chapters of Numbers has a long list of tribal leaders. Numbers 7 repeats 12 times in a row almost exactly the same description of an offering a leader brought. The only difference is what day it was, who brought the offering, and what tribe he was from. Then it repeats the same description of what they all brought yet again.

The daughters of Zelophehad asked Moses how the law should be applied to their unusual situation, and Moses consulted God and gave them an answer. But apparently God didn’t think of everything, because nine chapters later they had to come back and ask for further clarification.

The first 23 verses of Deuteronomy 2 mostly just keep saying the Israelites passed through a place uneventfully, because God didn’t want them to bother those particular people. That passage also includes a couple of very similar passages about the gianty peoples that used to live in various places, and how the current inhabitants of those places had destroyed all the gianty peoples.

The books of Joshua and 2 Samuel both have stories where a woman hides two spies from the men sent by the king who the spies’ boss is plotting to overthrow.

A later passage in Joshua gives monotonous descriptions of what Joshua did to the nations that lived in the land the Israelites wanted. Later, in Judges 2, God decides he’s not going to help them drive out the nations anymore, which is strange because earlier in the same chapter he mentions that he had already decided that. (Referring to what he said back here in Joshua, perhaps?)

When 1 Chronicles describes the territory the Kohathites got, it says something like “From the tribe of [tribe] they received [towns] together with their pasturelands” nine times.

Post-settlement parallels

Judges has two different stories where the Ephraimites get excessively offended because somebody didn’t ask them for help fighting his enemies. In another story in Judges, a man keeps repeatedly persuading his visiting son-in-law to stay a little longer, which goes on for several days.

The books of Judges and 2 Kings both have stories where someone slaughters their family before becoming a ruler, but one boy escapes. Abimelek and Saul were both kings of Israel who got not quite killed by the enemy, and requested that someone else finish them off.

The Bible describes Samuel and Jesus growing up in pretty much the same way. As a child, Samuel heard someone calling him at night, went and said “Here I am, you called me,” and was told to go back to bed, and then all that happened two more times before anyone figured out what was going on.

When Saul and David were enemies, someone pointed out that Saul was vulnerable, but David refused to harm him. He just stole something from Saul, and showed it to him to prove that he wasn’t trying to kill him. And Saul decided to stop trying to kill David. Then two chapters later, the same thing happened again.

When describing how some people were assigned duties, 1 Chronicles says “The [Nth] (lot fell) to [Name], his sons and relatives: 12” 24 times. There are more efficient ways they could have expressed that. Then two chapters later, when it’s listing some people who served David, it says “In charge of the [Nth] division for the [Nth] month was the commander [Name]. There were 24,000 men in his division” 12 times.

1 Kings and 2 Chronicles both conclude the story of Solomon in the same way, except the books they tell you to refer to for more information are different. Same with Rehoboam, and Abijah.

Post-split parallels

Two consecutive kings of Judah are introduced by saying they became king during the reign of Jeroboam of Israel and were descended from a woman named Maakah. Meanwhile, Jeroboam and one of his successors are both told by prophets that God chose them when they were commoners and made them kings, but since God’s chosen kings didn’t turn out to be good ones, God is now going to slaughter their whole families.

King Jeroboam was evil, so God chose Baasha to be king instead, and had him kill Jeroboam’s whole family. Then God realized Baasha was evil too, so he punished Baasha for what he had him do to Jeroboam’s family… by getting another new king to do the same thing to Baasha’s familiy. A few kings later, Ahab was also evil, so God chose Jehu to be king instead, and had him kill Ahab’s whole family. And later, God decided to punish Jehu’s family for what he had Jehu do to Ahab’s family.

Elijah and Elisha both did the same kind of food-multiplying miracles to help poor widows, and they both brought a dead boy back to life in the same weird way. Elisha also did the same kind of food-multiplying miracle to feed a crowd that Jesus did twice.

In both First and Second Kings, there are stories where Jehoshaphat the good king of Judah is strangely willing to be an ally to one of the evil kings of Israel, but he insists that the evil king find a prophet of God to consult. In between those two events, another evil king of Israel sends a captain with 50 men to summon another prophet of God, but the prophet gets God to kill all those men with fire, just because he can. Then that happens again, and then it almost happens again.

Three times, Elijah told his apprentice Elisha to stay where he was, and Elisha refused to leave him. And the first two of those times, some other prophets asked the annoyed Elisha if he knew that God was about to take Elijah away from him.

Mass-murdering maniac Jehu somehow repeatedly convinced his enemy’s messengers to join him, while accusing his enemy of not being peaceful enough.

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent a message to the people of Judah saying they shouldn’t depend on their God to save them, because no other nation’s gods had ever saved them from Assyria. Then in the next chapter, he sent a message to the king of Judah saying the same thing. (And this same repetitive story that was told in 2 Kings is later told again, in Isaiah.)

Later, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new king over those who were left. Then in the next chapter, Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided and destroyed the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new governor over those who were left. (This is after the king of Assyria besieged and captured the capital of Israel, took the king prisoner, and took the people into exile.)

Post-exile parallels

In both the third and the sixth chapter of Daniel, Jewish exiles living in Babylon refuse to obey the king’s decree for religious reasons, and are sentenced to death, but then saved by an angel.

Three times, the king of Persia offered to give his beautiful wife Esther anything she wanted, up to half the kingdom. And two of those times were at banquets. Then in the New Testament, at a banquet, Herod offered to give his sexy stepdaughter/niece anything she wanted, up to half the kingdom.

In the first six chapters of Ezra, Cyrus king of Persia sends some exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, which they manage despite opposition. Then in the first six chapters of Nehemiah, Artaxerxes king of Persia sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, which he and his people manage despite opposition.

Nehemiah 3 describes the people rebuilding the wall pretty repetitively: Next to him, half-district, made repairs, near his house, bolts and bars, blah blah blah. Ezra and Nehemiah also both got really mad at their people for intermarrying with other nations.

Luke and John both have stories where Jesus makes Simon Peter’s fishing efforts successful. Apparently those are supposed to be two different events, since Luke’s story is when Jesus first met Peter, and John’s story is after the resurrection.

Luke says Jesus sent his twelve disciples out to preach and heal people. He told them not to take much of anything with them, and to shake the dust from their feet when a town didn’t welcome them. Then in the next chapter, Jesus did the same thing, but with 72 disciples.

Jesus told two parables back-to-back that were about basically the same thing: Somebody sells everything he owns so he can buy something even more valuable that he just found.1

When Jesus went to see Lazarus’s family after knowingly delaying his visit long enough for his friend Lazarus to die, Lazarus’s sister Martha told him Lazarus wouldn’t have died if Jesus had been there. Then Lazarus’s sister Mary said the same thing.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages
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Who is God’s firstborn?

Of all God’s children, who is the firstborn? Paul says Jesus is God’s firstborn, having been there before he made anything else. But the gospel of John suggests that Jesus wasn’t created in the beginning, much less born. He was just always there. So the only way Jesus could be God’s firstborn would be if God had no other children before Jesus was actually born, 2000 years ago.

Is that really the case? The Bible says it’s not. Instead, it calls David God’s firstborn.

God also says Ephraim is his firstborn son, and Ephraim was born long before David. But wait, that same verse also says God is Israel’s father. And Israel was Ephraim’s grandfather. So Israel must be a son of God who was born before Ephraim, right?

Continue reading Who is God’s firstborn?
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The Story of Jephthah’s Sacrifice
The Stupidest Story in the Bible

The people of Israel angered their God again by serving other gods. So God let the Ammonites take over Israel, and he said he would never save his people again. But his people insisted on being saved, so the never-changing God, who never listens to sinners, changed his mind and appointed a new judge to save Israel: Jephthah, the leader of a gang of scoundrels.

Jephthah asked the Ammonite king why he was attacking Israel. The king explained that the Israelites had stolen the Ammonites’ land, and the Ammonites wanted it back. Jephthah was like, that never happened, what would you know about that? The king ignored him.

So Jephthah went to attack the Ammonites, which God had forbidden the Israelites to do. He promised that if God helped him disobey God in this way, he would give God whatever met him at the door when he came home, as a burnt offering. The all-knowing God knew what would happen if he did this, but he wanted that burnt offering. So he helped Jephthah destroy twenty Ammonite towns, and he didn’t warn Jephthah’s family to stay indoors.

Continue reading The Story of Jephthah’s Sacrifice
The Stupidest Story in the Bible
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Will all the mountains be removed when the heavens recede?

In the book of Revelation, the author has a vision of the future where the heavens are rolled up like a scroll, and every mountain is “removed from its place“. Then the next thing he sees is everyone hiding in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. How can they do that if the mountains aren’t there anymore?

Continue reading Will all the mountains be removed when the heavens recede?
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False prophets in the Bible

The Bible expects you to take the words of God’s prophets very seriously, because they speak for God. It doesn’t approve of all prophets, though, and it’s equally adamant that some prophets should be ignored. But even false prophets can do miracles and stuff. So how can you tell who the real prophets are?

The Bible provides a few different ways to tell which prophets you shouldn’t listen to. And it encourages us to test prophecies and reject every kind of evil. So let’s see how many of the prophets in the Bible are not actually true prophets of God, according to the Bible’s own criteria.

Some of the Bible’s prophet tests are not so useful: It suggests that if a prophet doesn’t acknowledge Jesus, his prophecies are not coming from God. But most of the prophets in the Bible lived before Jesus, so can we really expect them to acknowledge him? Well, we are talking about prophets, so maybe we should expect that of them. But still, there’s no way to know for sure that a prophet didn’t ever acknowledge Jesus. Maybe they did, but the Bible just doesn’t mention it. So that test isn’t going to be useful for evaluating prophets of the past. But don’t worry, the Bible has other methods we can use to spot false prophets.

Prophets the Bible specifically calls false

The most obvious way to tell that someone is a false prophet according to the Bible is when the Bible specifically says so:

Now that you have a good idea of what the God of the Bible thinks of false prophets, let’s see who else God’s law says should have been treated the same way…

Prophets of other gods

The Bible says if a prophet tells you to worship other gods, God did send that prophet… but he has to be executed anyway. So does anyone who claims to speak for other gods. That means these people should have been killed and not listened to:

  • Aaron was “Moses’s prophet“, but he made idols and encouraged the people to worship them.1
  • Balaam got the Israelites to worship the gods of Moab.2
  • Micah’s priest, who was also a prophet, served a guy who made his own household gods. And then when some other people convinced him to go with them and be their priest instead, he took those idols with him, so those people could worship them too.
  • The prophets of Asherah were brought along with the prophets of Baal when Elijah challenged them to prove that their gods were real. But for some reason it doesn’t say what the outcome was for the prophets of Asherah. If they had failed as well, you’d think the author would have been eager to report it… But even if their gods were real, the Bible still says prophets who speak in the name of other gods have to be killed.

Prophets who made false predictions

There are a ton of false predictions in the Bible, so that’s another easy way to spot false prophets. The Bible says if what a prophet predicts turns out to be false, God has not actually sent that prophet or spoken through him, and that false prophet must be killed. That makes all these people false prophets:

Continue reading False prophets in the Bible
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