It is important that we stand firm on the whole bible as the inspired, breathed out ‘Word of God’, that it is perfect and without error. If we start to doubt any part of it, however small, it will start to erode our confidence in the rest of it. It would be like a tiny chip in a car windscreen that can hardly be seen, but if left untreated grows until the whole windscreen smashes the moment you hit a bump in the road.
Bible Difficulties and Apparent Contradictions
Bible difficulties, or apparent bible contradictions, do exist. The opponents of Christianity often use them in their attempts to discredit Christianity. Sometimes these attacks undermine the faith of Christians who either don’t understand the issues or don’t have the resources to deal with them. If somebody states that the bible is full of contradictions, when pressed they can rarely name any! You can be sure that bible difficulties have certainly not been overlooked. There are whole books given over to attempting to explain these difficulties and there is a reasonable explanation for all of them.
Opponents of Christianity will cite what they consider a bible contradiction or difficulty by comparing one verse to another (or more) as they appear to disagree with each other. In doing so, several verses are often referenced as being contradictory or problematic. To overcome these apparent contradictions it is important to study these verses through a decent translation, look at the conflict and then if still not fully resolved, go to the original Hebrew and Greek and see if the words (and meaning) have been translated correctly. A decent study bible will list any apparent anomalies with a satisfactory answer. I have compiled a few apparent contradictions below and a possible answer to each one. These have mostly been gathered from an excellent site called www.carm.org which has a much fuller answer if you want to delve deeper.
Has anyone seen God or not?
The following verses suggest people have seen God:
“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1)
See also: Genesis 18:1, Exodus 6:2-3, Exodus 24:9-11, Numbers 12:6-8, Acts 7:2
Has not seen
“But He [God] said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:20)
See also; John 1:18, John 5:37, John 6:46, 1 Timothy 6:15-16,
It is evident above that God was seen. But, considering the “can’t see God” verses, some would understandably argue that there would be a contradiction. One explanation offered is that the people were seeing visions or dreams; however the problem with this is that the verses cited above state that people saw God, and that He appeared as God Almighty (Exodus 6:2-3).
At first this is difficult to understand. If these verses mean what they say, then we naturally assume we have a contradiction. Actually, the contradiction exists in our understanding, not in the bible (which is always the case with alleged biblical contradictions).
The solution is simple: All you need to do is accept what the bible says. If the people of the Old Testament were seeing God, the Almighty God, and Jesus said that no one has ever seen the Father (John 6:46), then they were seeing God Almighty, but not the Father. It was someone else in the Godhead. I would suggest that they were seeing the Word before He became incarnate. In other words, they were seeing Jesus.
If God is a Trinity, then John 1:18 is not a problem either because in John chapter one, John writes about the Word (Jesus) and God (the Father). In verse 14 it says the Word became flesh. In verse 18 it says no one has seen God. Since Jesus is the Word, God then, refers to the Father. This is typically how John writes of God: as a reference to the Father. We see this verified in Jesus own words in John 6:46 (above). Therefore, Almighty God was seen, but not the Father. It was Jesus before His incarnation. There is more than one person in the Godhead and the doctrine of the Trinity must be true.
Why are there different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 ?
Both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain genealogies of Jesus. But there is one problem–they are different. However, there is no discrepancy because one genealogy is for Mary and the other is for Joseph. It was customary to mention the genealogy through the father even though it was clearly known that in this instance it was through Mary. Breaking up genealogies into male and female representations was acceptable in the ancient Near East culture since it was often impolite to speak of women without proper conditions being met: male presence, etc. Therefore, one genealogy is of Mary and the other of Joseph–even though both mention Joseph. In other words, the Mary genealogy was counted “in” Joseph and under his headship.
It is absurd to think that the early Christians were unaware of this very obvious difference. They knew the cultural context and had no problem with it, understanding that one was of Joseph and the other of Mary.
A fuller explanation can be found in the CARM link above.
The Mustard Seed
Modern critics will take the example of Jesus teaching on the mustard seed in Mark 4 as a factual error in the bible. Here are the verses:
“Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
Critics are very quick to point out the mustard seed is NOT the smallest seed on earth. In fact, there are many seeds that are smaller than a mustard seed. So how can Jesus, Lord and God over all, not know this?
Do we have a problem here? No!! It’s important to read the text carefully. Jesus is talking to a group of people who were living in an agricultural society. His listeners were farmers! He doesn’t say that the mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth. He says that the mustard seed “is the smallest seed YOU plant in the ground”. He is referring directly to the seeds that they were using in their day to plant their gardens: “it grows and becomes the largest of all GARDEN PLANTS…”
How did Judas die?
Let’s look at one more example of an apparent contradiction between the gospel accounts. Matthew records the way that Judas killed himself following his betrayal of Jesus:
“So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5)
This account seems to contradict Luke’s description in the Book of Acts:
“With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.” (Acts 1:18-19)
Now if these accounts are taken very strictly, there does appear to be a contradiction. Did Judas give back the money or spend it to buy a field? Did Judas hang himself or did he fall to his death? Well, remember that whenever you see two ‘competing’ versions of an event, you need to ask yourself, “Am I reading two different perspectives of the same event? Is it possible that BOTH accounts are accurate and each eyewitness is only recording the part of the event that was of particular interest to him or helps him to make a specific point about the event?” When you apply this approach to the story of Judas, the differences fade away. First, you need to spend a minute doing a little research into the gospel of Matthew. The very next verse gives us a little more information:
“The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.” (Matthew 27:6-8)
Now things are becoming a little clearer for us. Put the two eyewitness accounts together and see what they say. Judas threw the money into the temple and left. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. Judas later went away and hanged himself in this very field that was purchased with HIS money. After he was dead, his body eventually fell from the noose and there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. There is no contradiction or error here. When you have two separate accounts of the same event, remember that just because one eyewitness only records a portion, it does not mean the writer is not aware of the other part!
The bible stands alone as a book that has stood the test of time and is still changing lives today. Next time I hope to cover how we interpret the bible and apply it to our lives.