|Series Theme: Apologetics|
A series that helps consider the foundations for faith
Contents for Overview:
• the nature and purpose of this page
1. What is a Contradiction?
• simple definition.
2. What is a Paradox?
• awareness of the difference
3. What is a Contradiction of Meaning?
4. What is a Contradiction of Fact?
5. What are Supposed Contradictions in the Bible?
• summary of how to resolve supposed contradictions
Many people think that the Bible is full of contradictions. We hope by the time you get to the end of this page you will see that it isn't.
We include it because if bears on the way we approach the Bible, and should give us both confidence and a greater desire to read the Bible with understanding.
We include it here because it is one of those subjects which generates the superficial comment we've referred to on page 1, but here it's about the Bible. The person who says, “Well, the Bible is full of contradictions", is almost invariably someone who has read little or none of the Bible, and are just parroting someone else's comment.
It is worth considering the subject of contradictions, if for no other reason to support and back up what we said on page 1 about ‘Thoughtless Thought'. To say, "The Bible is full of contradictions" without thoroughly checking the situation is simply thoughtless!
Warning! You will need to think about these issues if you want to preserve your intellectual integrity! There is a lot here and we will be adding to it.
1. What is a Contradiction?
A contradiction is where two things conflict with or oppose each other.
Simple examples of contradictions would be:
It is important to identify what is a contradiction and distinguish it from what may appear to be a contradictions at first sight but which, on investigation, is not one.
2. What is a Paradox?
We should distinguish between a contradiction and a paradox.
A paradox is a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement which is yet true.
Examples of paradoxes may be:
Examples of Biblical paradoxes are:
God is One, and yet three persons.
Jesus is described as both a lion and a lamb.
Jesus is also described as a servant and a ruler.
A paradox is often resolved by defining the terms being used.
A contradiction may not exist when we examine the details.
3. What is a Contradiction of MEANING?
As we have indicated above a paradox is not a contradiction.
A paradox is where there are two opposite things that are both true
A contradiction of ‘meaning' would be if one source said ‘God is good' and another said ‘God is evil'.
Where there is an apparent contradiction of meaning in the Bible, it is almost invariably resolved by checking the meaning of the apparently opposite ideas.
We should also note that merely because we do not understand the meaning of a teaching or prophecy, it does not mean that it is wrong. The student's role is to find the meaning and not simply criticise what seems strange, or different.
Now in the above incident, the reports seem completely different but are not contradictory. It just happened that the two reporters focused on different elements of what happened. Nothing said by Report A contradicted the report of Reporter B.
It would be a contradiction if one reporter said, 3 silver cars were involved and another reporter said 4 cars, 2 silver, 1 red and 1 blue were involved. That is a contradiction.
Contradictions are not necessarily involved when:
The Lion handbook - The History of Christianity noted:
"The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper shrewdly comments, 'The truth of the incident is attested by the rational discrepancy of the evidence.' "
- i.e. an argument that difference of viewpoint produces reasonable and acceptabel 'apparent' discrepancies.
Contradictions are involved when two sets of data specifically exclude each other.
Watch when you read the Gospels, for instance, and observe different sets of information that usually are easily reconciled.
b) Contradictions by Silence?
We also need to note that absence of material outside the Bible does not mean that information given within the Bible is inaccurate or wrong.
It simply means that archaeology has simply not yet found such evidence.
There have been a number of instances through the years where the Bible has made some historical reference and historians have said, “The Bible must be wrong because there is no outside evidence of this,” only for that evidence to be literally unearthed years later.
Similarly there have been dating implications in the Bible which have gone against perceived expert opinion as to the dates of particular historical instances, only for the experts to find subsequent knowledge that has made them revise their dates in line with the Bible.
c) Contradictions by Interpretation
Because the writings of the Bible documents are spread over nearly two thousand years and are written by writers in the Middle East with a completely different culture to our own, it is necessary sometimes to understand the cultural approach of the writer to overcome what might otherwise appear as a contradictory or mistaken presentation of historical information.
d) Contradictions by Presuppositions
Seeing a contradiction because of our own presuppositions is very common.
As we suggested in respect of atheistic scientists on page 1, a prior belief that denies the existence of God or the nature of God, is just that, a ‘prior belief', and as such is not founded on the evidence but on an individual's bias, probably brought about by some prior emotional life experience.
Observing a person's presuppositions and why they have them, is an important part of assessing the integrity and credibility of a critic.
A presupposition is something presumed beforehand as a basis for argument.
Most people have presuppositions, but as suggested above, they are often based upon family or life experiences rather than empirical data or logical processes. What goes on in the mind is not always straight forward! Our first example below shows this.
5. What are Supposed Contradictions in the Bible?
The following are a variety of ways that people sometimes suggest there is a contradiction when in fact there isn't.
a) The question of prophecy
Liberal theologians have challenged the apparent dating of certain books of the Bible because, they say, they speak of events that don't occur until many years later. There is a contradiction, they say, between what the Bible says, and what is possible.
The rejection of the concept of prophecy, being a revelation from God speaking of future events, presupposes that God either doesn't exist or doesn't speak, or doesn't know the future.
The so-called contradiction is actually in the mind of the investigator, the critic with presuppositions that deny certain possibilities even before examining the evidence.
b) The question of cultural style
There are several areas where culturally writers of that time were different to modern reporters.
The first was the practice of forming genealogies. The writers simply sought to give a general line that showed roughly how ‘A' came from ‘B' and so weren't terribly concerned if they didn't pick up all the names.
The second was the practice of rounding up numbers. More often than not, a writer would simply round up numbers. It was rather like us, instead of saying 4925, saying, ‘about 5000'.
The third area appears when writers are quoting the O.T. in the N.T. Our Old Testament comes from the Hebrew but there was a version of it called the Septuagint (LXX) which was a Greek translation produced between the 1st and 3rd centuries BC, which was highly accredited and which N.T. writers often used to quote O.T. prophecies.
Although some words may be different, the sense is always the same.
(It may be worthwhile here, reminding ourselves that both Old and New Testaments which we have today in English are translations. We will deal with this later in detail, but it is worth noting that some differences are merely those of the translators and not of the original writers. Where there are questionable words, these are noted at the bottom of the page in your Bible)
c) The question of text snatching
A general rule of interpreting the Bible is read it in context – don't snatch words out of context – and read any part in the light of the whole.
A silly example of this would be to quote part of Psa 14:1 – There is no God.
Does the Bible say that? Of course not! In fact the whole of the sentence actually reads, The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'
Obviously there are a multitude of verses you could do that with.
d) The question of understanding
The more you will read Scripture, the more you will understand it.
This is especially helpful when you come across teaching which, at first sight, appears contradictory – and there are some! As you examine more fully what you are reading you will realise that there is in fact no contradiction.
Example 1: Saved by faith or by works
James 2:14 a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
Rom 3:28 we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Reconciliation: The apostle Paul in Romans was maintaining that to receive salvation from God you simply needed to believe what He said. Once you believed you were saved by God. James, you'll see from the context, was concerned to see that his readers lived out the salvation they had received from God.
Salvation is received by faith (Paul's point) and then has to be lived out in practical everyday living for the rest of our time on earth (James' point).
Example 2: God doesn't change his mind.
Num 23:19 God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind .
Thus a principle is laid down. (also 1 Sam 15:29 & Psa 110:4)
We find two things happening:
a) Wanting His heart to be revealed
Ex 32:14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened .
The context here shows God discussing with Moses what He will do with the rebellious people of Israel. We find a similar thing a number of times in Scripture with different people.
It is as if God wants to test them to bring out what they feel to see if it corresponds with His own heart. It is not His desire to bring judgement but He threatens it and waits to see if His servant will argue against it, to come to the real place of God's heart.
b) Being changed by a change of heart
Ezek 33:15 if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die', but then he turns away from his sin and does what is just and right - if he gives back ….and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die.
The principle here laid down can be applied widely. God may intend judgement but when there is repentance He relents. It is not that He has changed His mind about the original situation – it has changed with the repentance.
e) The question of objectives
Example 1: Kings v Chronicles
When we look at the two sets of books we find different ways of recording the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah.
Chronicles records only the southern kingdom kings and seems to follow the line of David.
Kings follows the two kingdoms and reveals more of the covenantal aspects of their relationships with the Lord.
As you read the two sets of books, note the things that stand out to you that make them different and see the different objectives of the writers.
Example 2: Synoptic versus John
The first three Gospels (Synoptic Gospels) are very similar. They have identical verses and verses that are unique to them individually.
John's Gospel covers a few similar subjects but apart from the overall subjects (ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus) is very different.
It is suggested that John was written many years later than the others.
John had no desire to simply repeat what the others recorded, but as he had matured as a Christian leader and looked back and pondered on what he had seen in those three incredible, life-changing years with Jesus, he began to realise the significance of many of the things Jesus has said which the earlier writers had not picked up.
Thus he only uses miracles as ‘signs' pointing to who Jesus was, and he picks up much of imagery language that Jesus has used, especially in the ‘I am' sayings.
The first three Gospels cover the basic detail seen from different perspectives, but nevertheless the same.
John in no way contradicts the first three but writes with much, much deeper understanding of who Jesus was – the glorious Son of God who had come down from heaven and his clear objective is to portray him as such, with an insight that only come with the years.
Lesson: Learn to read in detail, noting differences (but no contradictions) and seeing the different objectives the writers had in writing.
f) The question of accepted behaviour conflicting with teaching
The Bible doesn't necessarily approve all that happened. The fact that it may teach one thing but record the opposite happening needs to be understood.
Example 1: Rahab the prostitute lying to save the Israelite spies.
The Bible is against lying, yet lies in this situation (Josh 2) saved the Israelites, and Rahab is later commended for her faith.
NB. This should never be confused with a person purposely doing wrong as a wilful act of sin.
Example 2: Slaves
The Bible notes the fact of slaves at that time in history and the Law legislated for fair dealing in slaves who were to be released at regular intervals.
We may see slavery as a denigrating of men and women but under the Law it was recognised as a way that a man who had fallen into hard times could put himself into service to recover.
In the New Testament we don't find Jesus speaking out against slavery because he knew that world conditions were not yet right to be changed.
g) The question of developing life and revelation
Rules of interpretation recognise that there is a development in history and in revelation.
Example 1: Ethical Law development
Thus in the times of early civilisations, God's law declared, if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Ex 21:23-25). What we should emphasise that it was ONLY eye for eye etc. In other words it was a restraining law, stopping revenge multiplying the come-back.
When Jesus taught his disciples many years later we find, You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Mt 5:38 ,39).
Example 2: Sacrificial Law development
In the O.T ., as a picture of what was yet to come, the Jews were required to bring sin offerings into the Temple to deal with their sins.
In the N.T. that is no longer required of us because Jesus has himself become an offering for our sin (see Hebrews)
Example 3: Land versus Kingdom
Many of the O.T. laws were to do with God's kingdom expressed in a physical nation living in a physical land.
In the N.T. the ‘ kingdom of God ' refers to God's reign wherever it may be in the world, expressed through many different peoples in different geographical location.
h) Promises come with Conditions
Critics sometimes jump on promises of God which do not seem to being fulfilled.
Realise that most promises come with a condition which is specific, or implied within the context that the promise was given.