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  • Writer's pictureRick LoPresti

Contradictions

The Bible is the written word of God (2Tim 3:14-17, 2Pet 1:19-21). It validates itself (Heb 6:16-18). It needs no defense. There are many reasons we can trust the Bible. That issue is covered more thoroughly in the book "Why Believe?" by this author which is available on amazon.com and through this website. However, God gives us the power of choice. We can put our faith in Him or we can refuse to. Those that refuse to try to find objections to the Bible. One common one is that it contains contradictions. Some people have even compiled long lists of alleged contradictions. Some of them are easily resolved with proper study by sincere people who are seeking truth. Others are more challenging and require more thorough examination. This article is not an attempt to address every one of them. It is an overview of principles we can use to guide us in our pursuit of truth.

One example of alleged contradiction is when there is more than one account of the same event and there are differing details. People often point to the four gospels, especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke, because they record many of the same events. We should understand that different details are not automatically contradictions. In fact, we should expect that. If four witnesses testify in court and give the exact same details using the exact same words, it would be a good reason to suspect that the witnesses were coached. This addresses the allegation that the writers got together and coordinated their accounts.

Some apparent contradictions are resolved by knowing that some accounts are summaries or brief accounts that do not include every detail. It would be impossible for the Bible to include every detail of everything. John wrote about the life of Jesus Christ and concluded that it could not all be written down (Jn 20:30-31, Jn 21:24-25). Partial information is not necessarily a lie.

Some issues can be cleared up by knowing that there are many literary styles and devices employed in the Bible. There is history, poetry, prophecy, etc. There is allegory, idiom, figure of speech, poetry, symbolism, etc. Directly related to this is that there are many human writers (about 40) which lived in different times (over 1,400 years) in many different places. Again, different does not automatically mean contradictory.

The New Testament contains many quotations of the Old Testament, and some of them do not appear to be exact. There are several reasons for this. Some are a paraphrase. Some are an application that has a slightly different context than the original citing. For example, in the study of prophecy we find that some prophecies make reference to more than one point in time. Also, the Old Testament was written in mostly Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek, so there are differences in language. The quotations do not pervert the meaning. We can look up the original citation to get its context and see its meaning as well as the application.

People try to raise the issue of translations to attempt to invalidate the Bible. This is a complex issue, but it can be summarized sufficiently. The original manuscripts no longer exist, at least in part because of the materials they were written on. However, for the Old Testament there is the Masoretic text of which there are thousands of matching copies that were very meticulously done by scribes under very strict rules. Both the Old and New Testament have what is called the received text. When the King James Version of the Bible was translated there were about 5,000 copies of this text that matched. Now there are over 20,000 of these texts, and they harmonize. There is no other ancient document that comes anywhere close to this substantiation. There are many modern translations. There are differences in them, and some translations are better than others, but this is not sufficient reason to reject them all. The Dead Sea scrolls validate these manuscripts as do other discoveries.

Just because something is recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of the behavior. That is a confirmation that the Bible is true. The common practice in secular history is to only document successes. Military and other failures were usually left out of the records. The Bible shows the successes and failures even of its heroes. This not only shows us its validity, it shows us that the perfect God involves imperfect people in His workings.

Many alleged contradictions are not substantive. They do not pertain to the moral teachings and principles of the Bible, but rather minute details such as numbers of soldiers in an army. Sometimes those numbers are rounded or are estimates.

People's motives are highly relevant. Are they sincerely seeking truth, or are they set on disproving the Bible? Sometimes people show themselves to be insincere by refusing to consider valid answers to their objections. They may also employ inconsistent logic or circular reasoning. They apply one standard to the Bible, but do not apply it to all other literature. They deny God and the Bible and forget that you can't prove a negative. Some that have set out to disprove the Bible ended up becoming believers. They had to come to the conclusion that an honest evaluation of the evidence shows that the Bible is true.

Some critics say faith and logic are opposites, but that is not Biblical faith. God does not require what some may call blind faith. We are to use our minds logically. Jesus said we are to love God with all our mind (Mk 12:30). The Lord was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5). That is part of what is called the Shama. Shama (or sometimes shema) is a Hebrew word that is translated hear, but it means more than hear audibly. It means to hear with our intellect and understanding with an intent to do what God says. We are to examine arguments and be ready to address them (2Cor 10:4, 1Pet 3:15). Some say Christians are to only engage their heart, not their mind. The words heart and mind are interchangeable in the Bible.

There are two kinds of what is called criticism. This does not mean to criticize and find fault but to critique. Lower criticism is examining the text of the Bible for accuracy. Higher criticism is examining the Bible by history and culture. It good to know the historical and cultural settings of the events of the Bible, but we do not interpret the Bible by culture. We interpret culture by the Bible. In the last 200 years or so, higher criticism has come to mean trying to find ways to invalidate the Bible, either by trying to explain away the miracles by coming up with natural explanations, or by trying to invalidate the entire text by arguing against its moral values. Our goal should be finding truth, not justifying and excusing ourselves, even when truth exposes our lies (Rom 3:4).

There is nothing wrong with examining these issues, and we should be knowledgeable about them. However, when we are just seeking to justify ourselves through flawed carnal reasoning (Rom 8. 1Cor 1-2), and we are seeking to find excuses to dismiss God's authority over us, we need to humble ourselves and repent. Relying on our limited and flawed understanding alone without the help of God is foolish. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).

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