Alleged Bible Contradictions
Perhaps the most frequently cited reason why individuals reject the Bible’s claim of inspiration is because of presumed contradictions in Scripture. It is alleged that the Bible writers made numerous mistakes in their writings, often contradicting what another biblical penmen wrote. A plethora of books and websites dedicated to trumpeting “Bible contradictions” have been published. What is important to keep in mind is that, If it is true that the Bible has contradictions in it (which I do not believe), this would be a big deal. If the Bible writers - or to put it another way — if God contradicts Himself, not only would He be guilty of being illogical, but He would also be guilty of a lie in one of the two contradictory statements…
REASONS WHY THIS SUBJECT COMES UP
There are a few reasons why people bring apparent contradictions to our attention:
A brother or sister has a genuine concern about two passages they think seem to be contradictory and cannot resolve. An unbeliever is ignorant of the facts and is merely parroting what he/she has always heard about the Bible. Someone, because of moral or emotional reasons, does not want to submit to God, so they allege there are contradictions so they can continue in their unbelief and rebellion.
Our goal today will be to give us some tools to be able to deal with these passages which are brought to our attention.
DEALING WITH THE ALLEGED CONTRADICTIONS
There are two things we need to remember as we especially interact with the skeptic regarding their accusations against scripture:
First, the one making the claim that the Bible is full of contradictions is the one who bears the burden of proof to show that there is certainly a contradiction. The Bible writers are innocent until proven guilty in this area. Just because someone asserts there is a contradiction does not make it so. They need to bring the evidence! In our daily lives, we generally consider a person to be truthful until we have actual evidence that he or she has lied.
One scholar argued regarding approaching any author or book, The “assumption must always be that the author has not contradicted himself. This rule is observed in dealing with secular authors. At what pains, for instance, have not editors [gone through] to bring about agreement between seemingly conflicting statements in the writings of Plato! The principle by which they were guided was that no contradiction must be assumed unless all attempts at harmonizing fail. That is in accordance with the dictates of fairness. Let but the same amount of good will be manifested in the treatment of the difficult passages in the Bible” (words in brackets ([ ]) added for clarity). It is usually a negative bias that leads men to do this with the Bible but no other work of antiquity! And honestly, if they were really interested in the answer regarding how a certain alleged contradiction is resolved, all they have to do is Google it! They could have the answer within minutes if they wanted it.
The second point we must remember before dealing with alleged Bible contradictions is: all that needs to be shown is that there is one possible way to resolve it. This point was also made in this quote I just read. The reason why we come to the conclusion that a certain work has a contradiction is that we have already gone through the effort to make sure there is no possible way to resolve the problem. If there is one way, then the alleged contradiction is resolved.
WHAT IS A CONTRADICTION?
To have any meaningful discussion on most subjects, it is important to define our terms correctly. We need to make sure that we are talking about the same thing when we use the word “contradiction.” And when we define what we are talking about correctly, right away some of the arguments made by skeptics would be taken out of the way.
The Law of Non-Contradiction is one of the fundamental principles/laws of logic and reasoning. In layman’s terms, this law states that two opposing propositions or statements cannot both be true if they are being spoken about the same person, place, or thing at the same time and in the same sense. Once again, if two opposing statements are being spoken about (1) the same person, place, or thing, (2) at the same time, and (3) in the same sense (or respect), then a genuine contradiction exists. If it does not meet all of this criteria, a contradiction does NOT exist.
For example, take the following two statements:
Jason is rich Jason is poor
It is impossible for me to say that Jason is both rich and not rich (poor) at the same time and in the same sense. However, if one of the three variables I mentioned are not true or are unknown, a person cannot logically contend that a contradiction exists.
Can we be sure that we are talking about the same person? It could be that the first statement is talking about myself and the second statement is talking about a different man named Jason. Do we know both statements are speaking about the same time frame? It may be the case that both statements are talking about me at two different periods of time. One may be talking about me before I started working, and the other may be talking about after I got a job. Do we know that the word “rich” is being spoken of in the same sense? It may be the case that the terms “rich” and “poor” are being used in different senses. The first statement could be referring to me being rich spiritually and the second statement could be saying I am poor physically.
If it is the case that both statements are talking about me at the same time, and they both are talking about my economic status physically, then it can be said that a contradiction exists. But if, as we are trying to be honest with the text, we cannot answer all of these questions with ‘yes,’ then it cannot be proven a legitimate contradiction exists between the two statements.
With these things said, using this criteria, let’s look at some examples of passages in the Bible that are often pointed to by skeptics as contradictions.
1. IS THE SAME PERSON UNDER CONSIDERATION?: vs. : Did James Die Or Not?
According to , “Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Only three chapters later, however, Luke recorded that James was alive and well at the Jerusalem council (.)—an event that took place well after the death of James. How could both and be correct? How could James be dead and alive? The simple (and hopefully obvious) explanation is that and are referring to two different men—both of whom were named James. The James who lost his life at the hands of King Herod was one of the original twelve apostles, the brother of John (), the son of Zebedee (). The James of was the Lord’s half brother, the author of the book of James (; ; ).
2. IS THE SAME TIME FRAME UNDER CONSIDERATION?
vs. : How Did Judas Die?
Through the years, the description of Judas Iscariot’s death has been one of the most popular alleged Bible contradictions cited by critics of biblical inerrancy. It seems as if every skeptical book or Web site that questions the integrity of the Bible lists Judas’ death as one of the most obvious inconsistencies in Scripture. Whereas Matthew recorded that Judas “went and hanged himself” after betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (27:5), Luke recorded that “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out” (). Because Matthew only mentioned Judas being hanged, while Luke mentioned Judas falling headlong and bursting open at his midsection, a “real” contradiction supposedly is evident.
The differences in these two accounts are easily (and rationally) explained when we consider that Matthew and Luke were referring to two different times. Matthew recorded the initial hanging of Judas, while Luke recorded what took place some time later (probably several days later). Soon after Judas took his life, his body would have begun the decomposing process. The decomposing process along with birds and animals eating at the body would cause it to fall, and when it hit the ground where “his entrails gushed out.” So here there is not a contradiction because the verses are recording what happened at two different times.
3. DIFFERENT SENSE: This is by far one of the more difficult of the alleged contradictions in scripture: vs : Who incited David to number Israel?
God did () "Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah." Satan did () "Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel."
The Hebrew verb translated “moved” (NKJV) or “incited (NASB), is identical in both passages. God and Satan’s actions are described using the same word. We obviously have the same event being spoke about, so do we have a contradiction? I do not believe so. One way to resolve the apparent contradiction is to say that the Hebrew word for “incite” is being used in two different senses. It is quite possible that God in His anger towards Israel, incited David indirectly by either permitting or commanding Satan to directly incite David to number the people. The word “incite” is being used in two senses; God “incited” David indirectly by using Satan as the one who is the one who directly incited him.
This type of argument is reinforced because of the fact that this kind of language is used all throughout the Bible. For instance, we are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus was baptizing people and then after this we are told that it was not Jesus, but His disciples who were actually doing the baptizing. Jesus was credited with the baptizing because His disciples were doing the work by His authority. Jesus indirectly baptized people through His disciples who were the ones directly involved in the work.
Another example is in the book of Job. The book shows us that it was Satan who directly afflicted Job and that God gave Satan permission to afflict him, but in 42:11, the narrator says that it was the LORD who brought the disaster upon Job. We are told that all of Job’s family came to him, and it says that “they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the disaster that the Lord had brought upon him.…” (, ESV).
It is not a contradiction to say that either one brought the affliction upon Job or that both God and Satan incited David to number the people.
WHAT IS NOT A CONTRADICTION?
Differences in a description of an event/Supplementary material.
This unfortunately, is one of the areas in which most believe the Bible is filled with contradictions, especially regarding the resurrection accounts, but just because there are differences between the accounts does NOT necessitate that there is a contradiction between the accounts. Some examples would be:
This happens often in parallel accounts given by different eye witnesses in the Bible. They at times focus on different things that happened during the account. One Gospel writer talks about two angels at the tomb, one speaks of one angel; the angel who spoke. Is there a contradiction? No. The one who speaks of two angels chose to give supplementary material that the other writer chose not to give.
Matthew says Joseph of Arimathea received the body of Jesus from the Romans, wrapped it, and buried it. John states that Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the body and buried it. Is there a contradiction? No, John gave some extra, supplementary information.
Mark and Luke say that Barabbas as an insurrectionist who murdered. John says that Barabbas was a robber. Is there a contradiction, or is it possible that both are true, but the gospel writers decided to focus on a different crime Barabbas was guilty of?
One other example of what is not a contradiction: Translational errors.
There are times in which two different Greek or Hebrew words are translated in a way that brings two passages into conflict. One example is in the NASB which says in that Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets and that says that he abolished the law through His death on the cross. One of the greek words means to destroy, demolish, or to tear down, and the other means to put aside or fade away or to release… But the NASB translates both as “abolish,” making it seem like the two passages contradict each other. Careful study shows that the two verses are not using the same greek word.
These are not contradictions no matter how often people want to use them to say the Bible is full of contradictions.
How sad it is that so many skeptics believe they have disproven the Bible and Christianity, when, in reality, they have merely ignored the context of the passage and twisted the biblical text to mean something God never intended (cf. ). I believe that if the negative biases are put aside and the Bible is treated fairly as any other ancient work, it would NOT have the kind of opposition that it does in this area. IN reality, the problem is that those who do not want to obey the Bible or those who disagree with what it says make accusations that they have not tested to justify their unbelief. But if you or I do have passages that we struggle with, I would encourage you to bring them to our attention.