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Is the Bible Full of Contradictions?


The Bible claims to be God’s inspired Word. The Greek term for “inspiration” in 2 Timothy 3:16 means “God-breathed.” The Bible consistently testifies that it has one divine Author. Why, then, is there a continual attack on the inspiration of the Scriptures?

The Battle over the Bible goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It was here that the serpent called into question the Word of God. He first called it into question and then fully denied its truthfulness (Gen. 3:1, 4).

The Attack on the inspiration of Scripture is not primarily intellectual. The rebellious nature of man does not subject itself to God’s Word (Rom. 8:7). The issue is primarily moral and spiritual. The Scriptures also predict a falling away from the truth, or apostasy, in “the latter times” (1 Tim. 4:1), the age between the first and second coming of Christ. In our own land we have seen schools that were founded to train leaders to know and to proclaim God’s Word radically change; they now employ faculty who vehemently oppose the teachings of the Bible. Even some organizations that were founded to proclaim the gospel are today Christian in name only.

I remember riding in a car with a very intelligent student who attended the same secular university that I did. I shared my faith with him, and he told me that his father had taught the Bible for many years at church. His father had told him the Bible was full of contradictions. I asked him to give me an example, but he was not able to do so.

In 1930 Bible teacher Paul Rader offered a thousand dollars to anyone who could come up with a single proof that the Bible has ever been contradicted by a demonstrated scientific fact. No one ever took him up on the offer. There is a distinct difference between hypothetical theories and proven facts (Luscher, Wenn das Wort nicht mehr soll gelten, Pflug Verlag).

Let us notice some examples of alleged discrepancies that have been cited as contradictions. In Genesis 15:13 the Israelites are said to have been in Egypt 400 years, while Exodus 12:41 gives the number as 430. In his sermon before the religious leaders, Stephen quoted Genesis 15:13 and gave the number as 400 (Acts 7:6). One explanation may be that the Genesis passage simply rounded the number off. It is also possible that the Genesis text referred to the time the Israelites were enslaved and mistreated. Exodus 12:41 may state the actual length of time the Israelites lived in Egypt—430 years—but they were not enslaved for that entire period. They enjoyed a short time of prosperity under Joseph.

Some may see a contradiction in the way God viewed His creation. Genesis 1:31 says God called the creation very good, but Genesis 6:6 tells us He was grieved at His creation and determined to judge it. A reader with a modicum of Bible knowledge will immediately recognize the different contexts of the two statements. The one is previous to the sin of men; the other is subsequent to the Fall. An awareness of the contexts clears up the alleged contradiction.

Another alleged contradiction concerns the statement that God dwells in chosen temples (2 Chron. 7:12, 16), supposedly in conflict with Stephen’s declaration that God does not dwell in human temples (Acts 7:48). The context of Acts 7 shows that God’s presence has never been limited to His manifested presence in the tabernacle and temple. And now God’s people are regarded as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19)!

Some have seen a contradiction in the two accounts of Creation. In Genesis 1:11-12 vegetation is said to appear on the third day, but Genesis 2:5 appears to say that there was no vegetation until after the creation of Adam.

The problem lies in the failure to differentiate between a contradiction and supplementation. For example, the creation of man and woman is stated in Genesis 1:27, but the details are elaborated in 2:18-23. Likewise, Genesis 2:5 provides more detail about the creation of vegetation on the third day (Ryrie, What You Should Know about Inerrancy, Moody.) The reference is to a different kind of vegetation that required human care to cultivate it.

Some have questioned where Cain got his wife. Genesis 5:4 says Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters. The only way Cain could have obtained a wife was to marry his sister (4:17). Does this contradict the later commands not to marry a near relative (cf. Lev. 18:1-18)? Obviously, the command was not in effect at the very beginning, because no other option was available. Later, when human genealogy had branched out, marriages were to be formed out of more distant relationships. The genetic hazards of close inbreeding would not have been a factor at the beginning of the human race.

According to Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus seemed to say prayer should be a private matter while elsewhere Paul exhorted men to pray everywhere (1 Tim. 2:8). In the context Jesus was talking about the abuse of public prayer. A person who prays only to be seen by men in public is not praying. Paul was instructing Timothy about the need for true prayer in public worship.

Some critics not only attack the Scriptures and God’s truthful character but also impugn other aspects of His moral perfection. The Bible says God is a God of truth, who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). Disputing this view, critics point out that God sent a deceiving spirit into the mouths of prophets, causing them to tell a lie and deceive Ahab (1 Kings 22:20-23).

The answer to this puzzle is found in a complete reading of the text. It is true that God sent the deceiving spirit to control the prophets and give wrong advice, but He then sent the Prophet Micaiah to clearly warn Ahab about the deception. However, Ahab rejected the warning. One who rejects God’s truth makes himself vulnerable to deception. If we foolishly and willfully reject God, we open ourselves up to error. We see how this will happen in the future under the antichrist (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9-10).

Is there a historical error in regard to the numbers of people killed by a plague as recorded in Numbers 25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:8? The former passage gives the number as 24,000, while the latter has 23,000. Note, however, that Paul said 23,000 were killed in a single day. The additional deaths may be a result of those carried out by the judges on additional days.

Second Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 are parallel accounts. One states that the Lord moved David to take a census of Israel, while the other declares that it was Satan. Who was it? Could not both have been involved? A clear example of both God’s and Satan’s involvement in one event is discernible in 2 Corinthians 12:7. In the matter of the census, Satan acted in line with David’s self-will but only by God’s sovereign permission. The two accounts are complementary, not contradictory.

If you look for complementary truths, you will have no problem solving many other apparent difficulties. These include such parallel accounts as the healing of the blind men at Jericho. Matthew states that two men were healed, while Mark and Luke focus on one of the men. However, they do not say only one. Similarly, it is not hard to see how Acts 1:18 complements Matthew 27:5 with regard to the details of Judas’s death. He did hang himself, but his body fell and broke open.

How you understand alleged discrepancies will depend on how you approach the Bible. An analogy may help. Jesus Christ is declared to be the perfect, sinless Son of God. Let us suppose that after a critic has examined all of His actions in the Bible, he concludes that because Jesus cursed the fig tree for having no figs, He must have sinned. It is then just a small step to claim that the teaching on the sinless Christ is in error. This is analogous to saying that an apparent difficulty in a Bible text means that we should disregard the teaching that God’s Word is inspired and without error.

Many so-called problems are solved when sound principles of interpretation are employed. The most basic hermeneutical principle is the analogy of faith. It is based on the truth of inspiration, which logically implies that two inspired statements do not contradict each other. We should not interpret a passage so as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. In other words, we should let the Bible interpret itself.

What would happen if we based our entire Christology on John 14:28? We might infer that Jesus is less than God. This will never happen if we interpret it in light of the clear teaching of such passages as John 1:1; 5:18; 8:58; 10:30, 33, 36; 12:44-45; 14:9; and 20:28. We can distort the Bible only if we are willing to deny clearly revealed facts.

The principle of complementary truths is simply based on the truth that God does not say everything about a subject each time He mentions it. This is crystal clear if you look at Proverbs 26:4-5! It is also clear if you look at the relationship between sin and sickness in John 5:14 and keep in mind the necessary complement of John 9.

The beauty of God’s Word comes from seeing it in its proper balance. The truth of God’s sovereignty is not contradicted by the truth of man’s responsibility but rather balanced by it. We could say the same about God’s justice and His grace. If all we knew about man was the truth of his total depravity, we might miss out on human dignity and worth derived from the balancing truth that man is fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image. If we focused only upon our responsibility to witness to all, we might wrongly conclude that another’s salvation is completely up to us. This truth needs to be balanced by the truth that it is the Spirit who draws men to Christ.

It is not that the Bible does not challenge our entire being as we seek to understand it. However, it is clear enough to be understood so that we have all we need for salvation and daily living. Diligent study is required, for God may use apparent difficulties to prompt us to seek Him. All parts of the Bible may not be equally clear, but “most of the great controversies of Christian doctrine have grown out of attempts to define what the Scriptures have left undefined” (Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, Zondervan).

What about copyists’ errors? Critics will say that the doctrine of inspiration applies only to the original auto-graphs—and we do not have those. This is true, but God has preserved 100 percent of the truth of the original autographs in the amazingly accurate copies that we possess. No other book of antiquity comes even close to the Bible in regard to the number of copies that have been preserved and the early dates of these copies. Not one doctrine is ultimately affected by any manuscript dispute. “The remaining problems of translation affect the Bible no more than a tiny streak of sandstone would detract from the marble beauty of the Parthenon” (Hodge, Theology, Eerdmans).

God has given us abundant evidence that the Bible is the very Word of God. It not only claims to be, but the consistent testimony of thousands of people declare its positive transforming work in their own lives. One would be very foolish not to seriously consider the Book that has influenced history and civilization more than any other book or combination of books in the world.