"The Bible is Full of Errors and Contradictions!"
This is a follow up from last week’s blog post, Can We Trust the Bible? As I sought to make the case that we can trust the Bible, some may still insist, “The Bible is full of errors and contradictions!”
A good question to ask someone who raises this objection is, "Can you name three?" Most people cannot name three, perhaps not even one. This is an example of a claim that people have heard but they have never investigated themselves to see if there’s any substance to it. In other words, people have adopted this view without doing their homework.
The statement that the Bible is full of contradictions is not only false, but there isn't even a single contradiction in all of Scripture. What we do find are paradoxes (seemingly apparent contradictions), difficulties, and other hard to understand passages. St. Augustine once said, "If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, the author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood." To put it another way, the mistakes are not in the revelation of God, but are in the misinterpretation of man.
Although human authors recorded the words, it is clear that all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and it’s impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Jesus said to the Father, "Your Word is truth" (John 17:17). In addition, Psalm 30:5 says, "Every word of God is flawless." So the Bible itself sets the stakes high claiming that it doesn't contain a single error or mistake.
Let’s remember, the Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors over a period of around 1,500 years. Each writer wrote with a different style, from a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose. Therefore, we should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only a contradiction if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be harmonized, or reconciled.
Just like last week’s post included 10 lines of argumentation (S.U.P.E.R.T.E.A.M.S.) for the truthfulness of the Bible, below are 10 categories for the most common reasons people mistakenly conclude the Bible contains contradictions. (SUPERTEAMS is mine, but these 10 categories are an adaption from the book When Critics Ask – A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe.)
Almost every attempt to point out an error in Scripture
will fall into one or more of the following categories:
Category #1 Not Understanding the Context of the Passage
When I have the privilege to teach kids the Bible, I use this very simple example that I hope is easy for adults and kids alike to grasp. Someone could actually say, "The Bible itself says, 'There is no God.'" The Bible does in fact say that. However, what I’ve done is cited only a portion of Psalm 14:1. The whole verse reads, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'". This is an extremely simplified version of this type of common mistake, but it illustrates the concept of context well.
Category #2 The Bible Uses Everyday Common Language
We experience this every day. After watching the weather report on TV, you wouldn't call in to inform the news station that the sun doesn't actually rise and set. Then go on to explain how the earth is actually revolving and rotating and that gives us the appearance that the sun is rising and setting. This is the language we use and we all understand what is meant by it. On top of that, the Bible is not a scientific textbook. People who read it that way are missing the point. At the same time, factual science and correct Biblical interpretation will never be at odds with each other.
Category #3 The Original Text of Scripture is Without Error, Not Every Copy
The Bible being inspired of God doesn't mean that every copy is inerrant. This may scare some Christians, but give it some thought. I could write a Bible verse - "Jesus wwept." Now I wrote that verse, but I wrote it wrong. Does that mean the original is also wrong? No. I made a copyist error, that's all. You would still understand its meaning despite the mistake I made. Due to the fact that there are so many manuscripts, we can look to the multitudes of manuscripts to determine which are in error, and therefore preserve the original message.
Category #4 Assuming that a Partial Account is a False Account
If one witness says that he saw an angel at the tomb, and another witness says he saw two angels at the tomb, how many were there? Answer: 2 If there were two angels there, then there was at least one. It just so happened that one of the witnesses reported seeing only one angel. If that witness had said that there was ONLY one angel at the tomb, then the skeptic may have a legitimate objection.
Category #5 The Bible Uses Multiple Literary Devices
Failure to realize that the Bible contains different styles of writing can cause lots of difficulties. It contains poetry, narrative, parables, similes, metaphors, satire, hyperbole and more. If we're not careful in our understanding of these figures of speech we can enter into all sorts of confusion.
Category #6 Confusing General Statements with Universal Ones
This is especially true in the Book of Proverbs. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6 Critics will point to the children of Job, Eli and David who each had some children that strayed from Godly principles. This verse is not an absolute guarantee, but a general guideline for child rearing. It is helpful to our daily life, but that's not to say that there aren't exceptions.
Category #7 Demanding Precise Citations
Every time an author, usually in the New Testament quotes an Old Testament author, the citation need not be exact. Many times the New Testament author gives the idea or meaning from the Old Testament without quoting it precisely. This is a perfectly acceptable way of communication.
Category #8 Assuming that Round Numbers are False
We need to give the same liberties to the biblical authors that we would the authors of our day. The biblical authors would sometimes use round numbers instead of exact precision to give us an estimate as they communicated certain accounts. Again, the Bible is not a textbook, and one shouldn't expect scientific precision when it's not demanded.
Category #9 Failure to Understand Progressive Revelation
A later revelation will supersede a former revelation. Antagonistic Bible critics will ask Christians why we eat shellfish, wear blended fabrics, or not comply with other Old Testament laws. This gets complicated, because it has to do with an understanding of different covenants and the biblical revelation as a whole. The simple answer is, we (those living today) are not those people, living at that time, under that civil government, under the old covenant during that time of theocratic rule. It's not that we just pick and choose which commands to follow and which ones to ignore. It has to do with understanding the difference between covenants (or dispensations) as well as having a biblical understanding of the law of God which exists in three main categories – civil, ceremonial, and moral.
Category #10 Assuming the Unexplained is Not Explainable
Skeptics used to say that the Bible contained myths because it spoke of the Hittite people who were not known by historians. Then the Hittite people's records were located in Turkey and it was revealed that the Bible had it right all along. Since there are currently other truths that we have yet to discover, and there remain biblical difficulties yet to be understood, it doesn't mean that the answer is not out there. If the Bible is true, there won't be a single discovery that will contradict what the Bible has already revealed within its pages. There hasn't been one yet.
On a personal note, I used to be skeptical in regard to the claims of the Bible. What I did was get a huge list of what people claimed to be errors and contradictions in Scripture, then I began working through that list with Bible commentaries, apologetic (defense) resources, and most of all prayer, and what I found was for every single apparent problem in Scripture there is a logical intelligent answer. Admittedly, some solutions were more satisfying to me than others, but the answers are there.
Here’s my conclusion: This is an issue of the heart. If you come to the Bible with a hard heart looking for problems with it, you'll be able to find what you believe to be errors and contradictions. In my personal opinion, God put apparent contradictions in Scripture to reveal the heart of the individual. If you want a reason to deny the Bible, you can find it. On the other hand, if you come to the Bible with the soft heart that God gives to those He’s drawn to Himself, He will reveal His truth to you in a way that is undeniable. I pray that for each reader of this article. Thank you for visiting and giving your time to this incredibly important issue.