When a skyscraper in a large city needs to be demolished specialists come in, study the blueprints of the building, plant a large amount of explosives at key points, and attempt to bring the building down in its own footprint. It is called an implosion. The first places explosives are positioned are the large support structures that begin at the foundation and, typically, run up through the structure. When these key supports are destroyed, gravity takes over and the building comes down.
Jesus Christ, in conjunction with the facts of the gospel, is the foundation of Christianity (Matthew 16:16-18; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 15:3, 4). The inspired Word of God, the Bible, is the pillar of Christianity that rises from the foundation and is the support for every saint. Since this is the case, enemies of God have continued to lay explosives on the column of inspiration in the form of alleging contradictions in the pages of Holy Writ. This is far from a new tactic, and will no doubt continue throughout the course of human history. For Christianity to stand the Bible must be without a single contradiction; if it is found deficient of contradictions, then all will be held accountable to obey.
Detractors, skeptics, and haters of God fail to view the Bible correctly. George W. Dehoff considered inspiration in his book Alleged Bible Contradictions Explained. He wrote, “The Bible is God’s word throughout and yet it is man’s word throughout. It is not of man as to its source and does not depend on man as to its authority but it is by man as to its medium” (Dehoff, 17). This concept is supported by 2 Peter 1:21, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (Scriptures are KJV unless otherwise noted)
So the question is: Are there contradictions in the Bible? First, it must be understood what constitutes a true contradiction. Aristotle defined it thus, “That the same thing should at the same time both be and not be for the same person and in the same respect is impossible.” In short, a thing cannot be and then not be at the same time. Many things in life seem to be a contradiction, when in fact they are not. A door is either open or closed, it cannot be both at the same time, but a door can be open at one time and closed at another time. Also, it is possible that there is more than one door and that one door is open while the other is closed. If the Bible is studied in this way, that will eliminate the vast majority of alleged contradictions. An honest contextual study of any contradiction will dispel any legitimate question.
Second, it must be understood that differences of perspective, supplemental information, and word choice do not constitute contradictions; quite the opposite. These differences speak to the uniqueness of each penman and that the authors were not in collusion.
Third, when it is alleged that there are “hundreds of thousands” of contradictions in the Bible, this is usually referring to readings. A reading is a small difference from one copy to another. For instance, if in one copy of the New Testament an “i” was dotted, but in another copy it was not, that would constitute a reading. Where is the contradiction? Only the original autograph was completely without mistakes of this sort, it is to be expected that hand-made copies would contain such mistakes, but an “i” not having a dot above it in no manner compromises the truth contained therein.
Whereas there are hundreds of supposed contradictions, space will only allow for the attention of two specific examples. These examples represent the kinds of assertions posited by the skeptics.
The first contradiction under consideration is of a trivial nature. All four Gospel accounts discuss the inscription that Pilate had the soldiers nail above Jesus’ head while he hung on the cross. Matthew 27:37 records, “This is Jesus king of the Jews.” Mark 15:26 says, “The king of the Jews.” Luke 23:38 has, “This is the king of the Jews.” And then John writes, “Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews.” One might think there is great difficulty in resolving these accounts. However, both Luke and John write that the inscription was written in three different languages, namely Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Luke 23:38, John 19:20). It must be admitted that there is no such thing as a word-for-word translation. There are always going to be slight differences, not in concept, but wording. This would be the main reason for the difference. The next reason for a difference would be the authors perspective and the intended audience. Matthew was writing primarily to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Greeks, and John to the early church constituting many cultures. This fact is adequate enough to account for the differences. But further, it is possible that each language said something just a little different, more than mere translation differences. It is possible that the Hebrew added “this is;” the Greek contained, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and the Latin simply said “king of the Jews.” This would in no way be contradictory; in fact, it would give the full picture of the inscription.
The second supposed contradiction is of a doctrinal nature in which the same requirement, faith, is said to be essential to salvation and not to be essential. Romans 1:17b, “The just shall live by faith” wrote the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome. He also told the Philippian jailor all he needed to do in order to be saved was to believe (Greek – πιστευσον; usually translated faith) in Acts 16:31. And yet, James 2:24 seems to say the very opposite, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” The fallacy found in pitting these two concepts against one another is that they are opposites, when, in fact, they are not. Faith as used by Paul in Romans deals with the system of belief whereas James is concerned with one’s personal belief that can only be expressed through the means of works. When Paul told the jailor the he needed to believe in order to be saved, the record does not say, “all you need to do is believe.” Paul’s use of belief here would be a synecdoche, a figure of speech where a part of something represents the whole. Every language contains words that have the same sound and spelling, yet used in different contexts, the word can mean something different or be representative. Therefore the context is the key to the definition of the word in that specific instance.
Those that do not like to retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:28) strive in vain to destroy the Bible. Their primary weapon is an accusation of contradiction contained in the Inspired Word. Each allegation can be explained clearly or at the very least have plausible explanations in differences. In the end though it is the words of Jesus that will judge the world (John 12:48).
Byran Hatcher is the minister for the Cape Fear church of Christ in Fayetteville, NC
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