Bible Contradictions Question

Bible Contradictions Question

A co-worker tells me he doesn’t believe in the Bible because there are so many contradictions in it.  What should I tell him?

(The following directly comes from the Apologetics Press two-volume book by Eric Lyons, The Anvil Rings.  I highly recommend it as a study that deals with supposed contradictions within the Bible.  It contains much more information needed to know to answer the charge of supposed scriptural contradictions than what I have listed below.)

First, ask him if he has an “innocent until proven guilty” attitude toward the Bible.  A teacher cannot justifiably assume that a student who makes a perfect score on a test without studying for it in fact cheated.  He may have received all the information elsewhere at another time, or perhaps he learned everything well enough that he didn’t need to study at home.  He may have even got lucky and guessed correctly on the questions he didn’t know.  In our daily lives we generally consider a person to be truthful until we have evidence that he or she has lied.  The same rule should apply when we read a historical document or a book, including the Bible.

Bible Contradictions

Many things on their face seem to be contradictions. Yet, context and study show this not to be the case.

Next, ask him if he allows possibilities to suffice as solutions for supposed contradictions.  If we believe the Bible is innocent until proven guilty, then any possible answer should be good enough to nullify the charge of error and contradiction.  Not just any answer, but any possible answer.  When you study the Bible and come across passages that may seem contradictory, you don’t necessarily have to pin down the exact solution in order to show their truthfulness.  You need only show the possibility of a harmonization between passages that appear to conflict in order to negate the force of the charge that a Bible contradiction really exists.

For example, who was present when David at the showbread?  Christ says Abiathar (Mark 2:25-26), while Samuel says Ahimelech (1 Sam. 21:1).  Did Jesus contradict Samuel?  Not necessarily.  Perhaps the two names belonged to the same man (like Peter who was also called Simon Peter, Simon, and Cephas.)  Perhaps Jesus didn’t mean that Abiathar personally ministered to David, but that the event with David and the showbread occurred in his lifetime (“in the days of”).  Notice also that Samuel refers to a priest named Ahimelech, while Christ mentions a high priest named Abiathar.  A priest was not the same as a high priest, so two different men in two different offices could have been mentioned in both accounts.  Any of these possibilities suffice to negate the charge of a contradiction.

Also, ask him if he understands that a genuine contradiction must refer to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense in the same time but in different ways.  One of the main problems in a discussion concerning alleged contradictions is that most people do not understand what constitutes a genuine contradiction.  Nothing can both be and not be.  A door may be open, or a door may be shut, but the same door may not be both open and shut at the same time.  With reference to the door, shut and open are opposites, but they are not contradictory unless it be affirmed that they characterize the same object at the same time.  So it is very important that one recognizes that mere opposites or differences do not necessitate a contradiction.  For there to be a bona fide contradiction, one must be referring to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense at the same time, but in different ways.

Suppose someone says, “Terry Anthony is rich,” and “Terry Anthony is poor.”  Do those two statements contradict each other?  Not necessarily.  How do you know the same Terry Anthony is under consideration in both statements?  Maybe Terry Anthony in Texas is rich, but Terry Anthony in Tennessee is poor.  The same person, place, or thing must be under consideration.  Plus, the same time period must be under consideration.  Terry Anthony could have a fortune in his youth but then lost it all in a stock-market crash.  At one time he was rich, but now he is poor.  Also, the statements must be talking about the same sense.  Terry Anthony could be the richest man alive, but he is poor if he is not following God.  On the other hand, he could have no money whatsoever yet still be rich in spiritual blessings.

Keeping these principles in mind, it’s easy to see that Luke did not contradict himself by describing the death of James in Acts 12 only to describe James as a church leader in Acts 15…because the James in Acts 12 is a different James than the one in Acts 15.  Likewise, the ark of Genesis 6 is not the same ark of Joshua 3.  God seeing that everything he made was very good (Gen. 1) does not contradict him being sorry that he had made man (Gen. 6), because the events of Genesis 6 took place hundreds of years after the events of Genesis 1.

Finally, ask him if he understands that supplementation does not equal contradiction.  Suppose you are telling a story about how you and a friend went to a Braves game.  You mention what great defense the Braves played, and your friend talks about their clutch hits in the final innings of the game.  Is there a contradiction because your friend talks about their offense but you mention only their defense?  No, he is simply adding to (supplementing) your story to make it more complete.  That happens in the Bible a lot.  Matthew 27:57-60 says Joseph put Jesus in the tomb, while John 19:38-40 says Joseph AND Nicodemus did so.  Contradiction?  No, because John is simply supplementing Matthew’s account.

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