This is a very common argument put forward by sceptics of the Christian faith. If it is true that the bible contains contradictions, then how can we trust it to be God’s authoritative word?
Many people have a vested interest in not believing the bible as God’s inspired word; if it is, they are in trouble!
This is a very important subject and one that needs careful analysis and understanding.
I agree that there are many difficulties with the bible, however I don’t believe there are any contradictions. Personally I find some comfort in these difficulties. I would find it hard to believe a book written thousands of years ago by different writers over hundreds of years if it were too ‘clinical’. Something wouldn’t be right. If a number of different witness statements are identical, there would be a high probability of “evidence doctoring”. The bible is ‘messy’ and I find that strangely comforting. I am also aware that it was written by people of a completely different culture and mindset to us in our present day modern civilisation, who have a very different value system.
So using the example of a crime scene, let’s examine the evidence:
We start with the understanding that the bible is only claimed to be perfect in its original form as we don’t have the original documents. Even though these documents were painstakingly copied, over the centuries there have appeared a few copyist errors. Amazingly though it is still understood to be over 98% pure and the only discrepancies are minor mistakes (nothing that would alter doctrine).
Other things we need to be aware of are:
The bible was not written by writers who sat with a pen and paper while God dictated to them verbatim. They had their own distinctive styles, characteristics and perspectives and God wonderfully guided and inspired them.
The bible can be inerrant and still allow the following features:
- Approximations. Was the feeding of the five thousand exactly that number? Could there have been 4,999? The writer was not intending to be precise, therefore an approximation like this would still be truthful. The same applies to measurements where distances are not given precisely.
- Everyday Speech. The bible was not written as a scientific textbook so phrases such as ‘the setting of the sun’, while not being factually accurate, are perfectly understood. Scientists who are fully aware that the earth travels around the sun still use this phrase today.
- Loose Quotations. In our culture we have a tendency to quote people exactly, whereas for many cultures in bible times it was only necessary to convey a correct representation of what a person said, rather than their exact words.
- Different (but not contradictory) accounts of the same event. We only have to take a look at the different accounts in the gospels to see that people saw events in different ways. This does not make them incorrect (just as long as they are not contradictory).
Inerrancy allows for these features and others such as; vague and imprecise statements, unusual grammar, popular expressions and the repetition of untruths for the purpose of correcting them (phrases such as “There is no God” in the Psalms).
God has ‘breathed out’ scripture through human authorship and we should not accept human error as inevitable. Jesus was human and yet was without sin. The bible in the same way was written by humans guided by God to write His perfect words.
“When anyone looked at Jesus they saw a man. He did not glow or have a halo around him. He looked like an ordinary human being. But in the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in his divine glory. In his mighty resurrection he also manifested his divinity. In the same way, the Scriptures look like ordinary writings, no different from any other. But they are more–as Jesus himself was more than a mere man. As Jesus, the Living Word, is both divine and human, the Scriptures, the Written Word, are both divine and human. Human beings were the agents of God’s Word. But behind the human agents is God himself. The Word is God-breathed, with the same breath that God gave life to Adam in Genesis 2.7. His breath is life itself.” (Don Samdahl).
This is an important subject therefore I am not going to rush through it. Next week I will continue with some examples of apparent contradictions and show you how they can be interpreted and understood. In fact if you know of any such apparent contradictions that have troubled you, please feel free to put them in the comments section below and I will investigate them for you.