I have often heard, even from preachers, that if a Christian is approached by a skeptic claiming that the Bible is full of contradictions, the skeptic should be challenged to produce an example. While this may work for some, eventually the Christian will be met by a skeptic who can produce many examples of what certainly appear to be contradictions. There really are a number of examples that can be produced. In my last post, I claimed that the coherency of the Bible points to its single divine Author, but that argument seems to be destroyed by these examples. How, then, can a Christian deal with these apparent contradictions?
As usual, our worldview will determine our approach. An atheist has no problems with contradictions in the Bible. If there is no God then God did not reveal Himself in the Bible and any book written by so many and varied authors over so long a period would be expected to contain many contradictions. Therefore, they have no reason to even attempt reconciliation between seemingly contradicting passages. A growing number of Christians claim that the Bible does not teach inerrancy and does have some contradictions, but that it is still the word of God bearing His authority. These would make their case for inspiration based on other evidences. Hence, these will seek reconciliation in some cases, but easily give up in others. Those of us, however, that do believe the Bible teaches its own inerrancy and that its coherence is good evidence of God’s inspiration of the Bible, will seek to find ways to reasonably reconcile the contradictions. If the Bible is not breathed out by God, then there should be many examples of contradictions that can be demonstrated to be beyond reconciliation. If the contradictions can be reconciled, then this lack of real contradictions would be very difficult to explain by naturalistic processes and so present good evidence for God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible.
We must then begin by asking if the Bible teaches its own inerrancy. I have shown that the Bible clearly claims to be the revelation of God. This inspiration is seen to extend to the very words of the human authors (II Samuel 23:2; Acts 4:24; Matthew 5:18) resulting in a perfect communication from God (Psalm 19:7-9; John 17:17). Since God is perfect in knowledge (Job 37:16; Psalm 147:5) and unable to lie (Titus 1:2), then the Bible must be without error. Those who hold that God appealed to the ignorance of contemporary thought by using their wrong concepts in communicating to them exhibit a low view of the veracity and ability of God. If, then, the claims of the Bible are correct, and the Bible is without error in the autographs, there must be solutions to the problem of contradictions.
An investigation into contradictions should begin by defining a contradiction as two or more statements that cannot be logically reconciled. Many ideas are considered contradictory which, when carefully considered, are not actually contradictory. For instance, the fact that one man was healed or one person was at a particular place does not contradict a different account that states there were more. The first account concentrated on a particular individual never indicating that that individual was only one, whereas the other account gave fuller, but not contradictory, information informing the readers that there were others there as well. One must also consider the contexts of the alleged contradictions. James’s view of justification expressed in the second chapter of James is often considered to be contradictory to Paul’s view of justification. However, when one considers the context, especially the problems being addressed by both men, the accounts become complementary and not contradictory giving a complete view of justification. Historical context should be considered as well. The accounts of the length of reigns of rulers in the historic books of the Old Testament, for example, seem to contradict until co-regencies and the differences in the way Judah and Israel counted the year when kings began and ended their reigns are considered. Furthermore, our argument is based on the autographs. Since few, if any, manuscripts agree in every word or letter, there are certainly errors in manuscripts. Now, the Bible has been marvelously preserved so that no doctrine or essential accounts have been affected. The problem of manuscripts have been highly exaggerated and wrongly stated by men such as Bart Ehrman; however, Hebrew numbers, for instance, are notoriously easy to transcribe wrongly. This probably explains some of the alleged discrepancies in the length of reigns and numbers in battles. Closely related to this is idea is the fact that the Bible we have in English is a translation. Sometimes supposed contradictions in English are not contradictory in the original languages. Types of literature found in the Bible must also be taken into account. The Gospels, for example, are not the same genre as modern biographies but are treatises intended to bring the readers to faith in Jesus Christ. The events and teachings in Christ’s life are not arranged in exact chronological order but in an order designed for the purpose of the authors. In fact, the differences between the Gospel accounts are exactly what one would expect from independent eye-witnesses and show that there was no collusion in their writing. Therefore, differences in the order of events found in the Gospels should not be considered contradictory. Finally, for something to be a contradiction, the accounts must be shown to be truly irreconcilable. Sometimes several possible reconciliations are possible. We do not know which exact one actually resolves the contradiction (after all, we were not there), but we can show that the accounts can be reconciled and so are not truly contradictory. Therefore, we do not have to prove that a possible solution is the actual solution to show that a contradiction can be reconciled.
One problem that is often raised in discussions concerning contradictions is how contrived the solutions seem to be. We do indeed need to be careful to find solutions that are actually logical and possible. However, how contrived a solution seems to be can be rather subjective. An atheist could claim that any possible solution is contrived. We do not have to prove to every skeptic to their satisfaction that a solution works to be able to accept that the solution shows that the supposed contradiction can be reasonably resolved and so not a proven contradiction. After all, the convincing of skeptics is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.
Obviously, I cannot cover every possibility in this post. I certainly do not know the answer to every possible example. However, I can point the reader to sources to use for dealing with the problem. Along with technical commentaries and books on inerrancy, there are a number of large, scholarly works that deal specifically with biblical discrepancies such as Hard Sayings of the Bible by Kaiser, Davids, Bruce and Brauch; The Big Book of Bible Difficulties by Geisler and Howe; and the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer. Furthermore, there are a number of apologetic web sites that deal with contradictions such as posts by SLIMJIM dealing with discrepancies on the Domain for Truth website and the videos dealing with contradictions on the Inspiringphilosophy You-Tube channel.
When a person carefully considers the above information and actually studies the Bible instead of some compiled list of alleged contradictions, especially considering its formation, the nature of the Bible as God’s revelation becomes clear. There is no other body of literature compiled from such varied sources over so long of time that exhibits anything like the coherence, including freedom from provable contradictions, that is exhibited by the Bible. Once again, the paradigm of God’s revelation better explains the amazing coherence of the Bible than a naturalistic paradigm.