Contradictions in the Bible

QUESTION: Are there contradictions in the Bible?


Contradictions in the Bible will vanish as we continue to study it. Since Scripture brilliantly interprets Scripture, consulting all the texts on any disputed subject will clarify one's questions. We must not stop believing all the Bible just because something particular in it puzzles us. Scientists would never continue studying if questions, apparent contradictions, or challenges to previously-held views put an end to their research. Indeed, they see such conundrums as logical, necessary steps to further learning. Yet, these same people often reject the Bible because something they read confuses them or contradicts their long-held opinions.

Here are some considerations regarding contradictions in the Bible:

  • Carefully consider the contexts in which the apparent contradiction exists. Those contexts include New Testament versus Old Testament perspectives. The New Testament offers the full and ultimate meaning of Old Testament accounts.

    The classic example is the Apostle Paul's interpretation of Moses putting on the veil after his second visit to Mount Sinai. Compare Exodus 34:29-35 with 2 Corinthians 3:13-18. Those contexts also include teachings of Jesus. His demand that we mentally eliminate any source of temptation from life has been incorrectly used to mean one must literally and physically sever an offending limb or eye (Matthew 5:29-30). His teaching that we must not retaliate in personal relationships (Matthew 5:38-42) has been incorrectly used to oppose wars, to prevent indictment of criminals and to allow any freeloader with the gall to demand we surrender hard-earned money to him.

    Those contexts also include apostolic teaching. For example, in Galatians 6:2, Paul commands us to carry each other's burdens, then in 6:5 says each person should carry his own load. No inconsistency exists if we understand that each Christian is accountable for his own life so long as he has it under control; but when sin so burdens us that we are led astray, God expects others to come alongside us and help lift the load.

    Two principles help us here. First, every text must be read in its context. For any verse, containing a single thought, can mean anything -- true or false. Second, an invalid interpretation may be made of Scripture, but that invalidates only the interpretation, not the Scripture.

  • Understand that all the writers agree in essence and differ only in details. This is especially important in studying the Gospels. Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 both record Christ's healing of the centurion's servant. A contradiction is removed if we understand that the centurion may well have come to Jesus once he saw Him arrive outside his house. Luke records that arrival.

    An important point here: if the Gospel accounts agreed in every detail, collusion would be rightly charged. However, critics are so anxious to convict the Bible of fraud that they consider as proof of inconsistency personal details that serve the writer's purpose. Critics fault the Gospels when they agree in essence and when they disagree in detail. God will reveal any fact needed to prove the validity of His word, but nothing to satisfy our curiosity or remove our objections. The Bible assumes God's existence, but God won't tolerate critics assuming the Bible's guilt until it proves innocent. No less a scholar than Will Durant, himself a skeptic, admitted that if the tests applied to New Testament books were applied to ancient writings, none of them would be considered true.
Please consult Norman Geisler's book Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pages 74-80, for further details.

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