We have all faced it – someone with whom we are sharing the good news of Christ says, “I don’t believe the Bible! It is so full of contradictions!”
That can easily take the wind from our sails. How does one answer a person who claims that the Bible is full of contradictions? Perhaps even more difficult than the objections of another person is the nagging doubt created within our own hearts when we read two passages of Scripture that appear to be beyond reconciliation. Too often we shake off the question and bury it under a resolve to return at a later time to study it more thoroughly. Unfortunately we often never return to the matter, perhaps because we are uncertain how to approach such a study.
In the series of posts to will follow it is my intention to present principles that will guide the student of the Bible into how to handle apparent contradictions in Scripture. I say “apparent” because I come to this study with the conviction that the Scriptures are the infallible, inerrant Word of God. The Scriptures are incapable of teaching error or deception; they are not liable to be proven false or mistaken. They very words of God are breathed out by God, individually and in their entirety (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
This stand may open me to accusations of bringing presuppositions to my study. To this charge I answer, “You are right. I do bring presuppositions to this study. But so does the person who claims the Bible is full of errors.” The ultimate question is, after drawing from a thorough study of the Biblical texts and having been guided by sound principles of interpretation, what does the burden of proof tell us? We must also recognize that our study is not simply a scientific and factual pursuit. Ours is also a philosophical and moral quest.
It is philosophical because we must answer larger questions such as: Are miracles possible? Does God exist? Is the Spirit capable of breathing forth the very words of God?
It is also a moral quest because our will enters the picture long before we would like to suppose. Jesus said, “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). Ultimately my knowledge of the Divine intent of Scripture depends upon my prior willingness to bow submissively to whatever God may say there. Am I willing to do whatever God tells me to do? That is the first question that must be answered in all Bible study.
How, then, can we approach what appear to be contradictory statements within Scripture? Consider the principles that I will present in the posts to follow. Not all apply to every question we wrestle with, but thorough mastery of them all will aid us in choosing which principles do apply to our specific questions.
In the meantime, let me say that I didn’t dream these things up on my own. The following resources have helped me formulate these principles I’ll set forth. You’ll find them helpful as well.
- Archer, Gleason L., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982).
- Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968).
- Hodges, Louis Igou, “Bibliology,” THE 604, Columbia Biblical Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina.
- Kaiser, Walter C., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996).
- Little, Paul E., Know Why You Believe (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1967).
- McDowell, Josh, Evidence That Demands Verdict (San Bernadino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979).
- McQUilkin, J. Robertson, Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983).
- Ramm, Bernard, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1970).