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Does the Bible contradict itself?
Most people will answer that question with passion and confidence. If you’re a Christian it’s probably emphatically “no”, absolutely not, there cannot be any contradictions in God’s Word. A contradiction is seen as a crack in the foundation of Christianity. So the answer has to be no and fear keeps us from looking too closely for them.
On the flip-side, there are others who believe there are contradictions in the Bible. And yes, even Christians who love Jesus believe this. They say the Bible is written by man over thousands of years, so yeah, contradictions would naturally be in there.
So, what’s the right answer? Does the Bible contradict itself?
I would argue for a middle ground answer to this question. Certainly, there seem to be contradictions. We will look at some in a bit. But first, we need to do some defining.
Differences In The Bible vs Contradictions In The Bible
If you were to do a google search for contradictions in the Bible you would find list after list with supposed contradictions. But many of those “contradictions” on these lists aren’t contradictions, rather they are differences in accounts.
Differences don’t equal contradictions.
The Bible contains plenty of differences in accounts. A thorough reading will show you that. But a difference doesn’t necessarily equal a contradiction.
Examples of Differences in the Bible
In John 20:1, John records one woman that comes to Jesus’ tomb. While in Matthew 28:1, Matthew records two women. Still yet, in Mark 16:1, Mark records three women. But this is not a contradiction. That is a difference. The historical accuracy of the texts remains.
Here’s another example, Matthew 27:5 says that Judas hung himself following selling Jesus out. While Acts 1:18 says, he fell to the ground and burst wide open. Again this is a difference, not a contradiction.
Think of it this way. If you and I watch a football game together, or witness an accident, or describe something we both saw… We will come up with different versions. We will tell the story from our point of view. Many contradictions are just different accounts, from different perspectives, or different variations of the same story.
In the examples earlier, the accounts of how many women were at the tomb doesn’t contradict itself. A contradiction would be Mary Magdalene went to the tomb by herself. No one else was there. But Matthew never said that the other women weren’t there, he just highlighted that Mary Magdalene was there. That’s a difference.
In the second example, a contradiction would be Matthew stating Judas died from hanging and Acts saying Judas didn’t die from hanging, rather he jumped off a cliff. Matthew never recorded how Judas died, just that he hung himself. He very well might not have died from hanging, the rope could have snapped and he fell to his death as Acts records. It’s a difference, not a contradiction.
The point of this is when we come across something in the Bible that doesn’t jive, we first have to give it a deeper look. Most of the time it’s a difference in account, not a contradiction.
Preston Sprinkle wrote more on this here: Preston Sprinkle
Different Points of View In The Bible
When we read the Bible we have to recognize the point of view that a particular book was written from. The Bible was written by man through inspiration from God. Why’s that matter? Because we cannot discount the author’s point of view when reading the Bible.
More on who wrote the Bible here: Who Wrote The Bible (and why that question matters)
The Bible contains 66 different books. Written by dozens of authors. Over thousands of years. The Bible contains many different genres and each has a unique style and purpose. And each author penned their words from their unique point of view.
Maybe you are thinking… What does this have to do with contradictions? Well, actually a lot. Many of the contradictions that people will point to aren’t contradictions at all. They are just different points of view that the authors were writing from.
Because the Bible is written by man and inspired by God we have to look at where the words are coming from before drawing conclusions.
Paul’s writings, for example, show different tones, points of emphasis, and even (at times) shifting thinking. One could point at this and say AHA! The Bible contradicts itself! But in reality it’s not a contradiction, rather Paul is adjusting his writings to a different audience. The base truth is still the same, how he packages it is different. It’s a cultural difference, not a contradiction.
Pete Enns says it this way: “The writers of the Bible spanned centuries, lived in different times and places, faced different circumstances (personal and political), and responded to those circumstances from the point of view of their settings in life. A book that brings all of this under one cover is, of course, going to exhibit a lot of diversity.”
The point is that the words in the Bible are inspired by God, but they come from a human point of view. When dealing with apparent contradictions we have to keep that in mind. Is the passage we are reading contradicting the truth of the Bible or is it just a different cultural application?
I know what some of you are thinking… But what about the ACTUAL contractions?
We’ll get there in just a minute. But before we look at some let me say this. There is no difference or contradiction in the Bible that damages the integrity of the message. However, there are contradictions that we just don’t have the answer too.
Critics often overemphasize these contradictions. They will point to one small issue of discrepancy but ignore the VAST majority of agreements. There isn’t one major contradiction in the Bible. The integrity, clarity, and congruency of the Bible is incredible. Unparalleled in any other book. And I would argue impossible to achieve without divine inspiration.
When you see a contradiction look at what impact it makes on the overall message of the Bible. If you do that you will find that the answer is often minimal. In the major and crucial parts of Scripture, there is unprecedented harmony.
So, Does The Bible Contradict Itself?
With that in mind let’s look at some contradictions. We will start with the accounts in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles which are often pointed to as containing contradictions. These books record the same events, but sometimes the numbers don’t line up. Critics will point to the few times the numbers don’t match, but ignore the fact that the vast majority of numbers do align.
Chronicles, for example, records a number 10 times higher than in the other books. Some claim the author was all about inflating the numbers. But he wasn’t doing that because in addition Chronicles records a lower number 7 times. The issue with this example is that there’s no clear agenda or any consistency to these issues.
Some of these number discrepancies can be explained by a differing culture. For example, in 1 Chronicles 21:5 states that Judah had 470,000 soldiers, but when you flip to 2 Samuel 24:9 says Judah had 500,000. In our culture that would be considered a contradiction. If these were your bank account balances you would want to know which one was true.
But we need to get out of our 21st-century mind for a minute. Think about when you are having a conversation with a friend about a road trip. They might ask how far are you traveling? You say 800 miles. In reality, you are actually trading 756 miles. But 800 just sounds better and the point of the story is still there. It’s very possible that in this instance that is what is happening. Sometimes we have to read by the rules of normal conversation, not a precise account. But the reality is we don’t know for sure why these differences are present.
Another example often pointed to is in Joshua 10:40 in which the Bible says Joshua took the whole land and left no Canaanite alive. But later on in Joshua 13:1-7 we see that some Canaanites were still alive. If we read it as a textbook spewing facts this would be a contradiction. But if we read Joshua 10 as a statement of victory that contains some rhetoric overemphasizing the victory, it makes more sense. If Joshua 10 is saying they experienced an overwhelming victory as an exaggeration it makes sense. We use the same principle when our team wins a game by a large margin. We destroyed them. Well, no they weren’t actually destroyed, it’s an exaggeration to show how badly they were beaten.
We Don’t Need To Defend the Bible
I believe every person should examine the Bible to see for themselves if it’s trustworthy. I don’t need to defend it, it can do that itself. We shouldn’t feel the need to have an answer for every single apparent contradiction in the Bible.
But let me give you a little more reason to trust in the Bible.
There are passages that seem like contradictions. And I say seem because we cannot prove it… Yet. There’s some that we don’t know, archeology hasn’t discovered, or God hasn’t revealed. I don’t know why. But I also don’t feel the need to answer every question.
Here’s why I don’t feel the need. The list of apparent contradictions in the Bible is shrinking. Things that were once considered contradictions are now being revealed as history.
In Acts 13:7 Sergius Paulus is mentioned as proconsul of Cyprus. Critics have long contended that the title was wrong, rather he should be called propraetor which was the common title of the day. For a long time, there was no answer to this apparent contradiction. However, archeologists later discovered coins on Cyprus with the inscription “Paulus the Proconsul”. Contradiction solved.
Here’s another one. In Daniel 5:1 Belshazzar is named king of Babylon. The problem is every historian knew that Nabonidus was king at this time. For a long time, this was one of the most blatant contradictions that critics would point to. That is until an inscription was discovered known as “Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus”. This inscription states that Nabonidus went away on a long journey. During that time he left the kingdom in the hands of his son, Balshazzar. Again, contradiction solved.
The point is, the apparent contradictions that exist are just that; apparent. There is a good chance that over time we will solve more and more of these contradictions will be solved. New evidence will be found, archaeology will confirm the accuracy of the Bible. Maybe not all of them. Some are probably buried too deep in the desert somewhere. But that’s okay. The Bible stands on its own. It’s got a good track record. And stands way beyond the accuracy of just about every other book. The few apparent contradictions don’t hold a candle to the mountain of congruent passages and stories. The Bible as a whole is in agreement and a few passages here and there should not cause us to throw the rest out.
Let’s hear from you! What are your thoughts?
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