How to Handle Bible Contradictions

Here is a very well written and exhaustive explanation on how to handle alleged Bible contradictions. This post was originally posted on Domain for Truth.

After dozens of posts dealing with specific Bible contradictions I thought I write on how to handle Bible contradictions.  Here in this post there are three sections: Before Interpreting the Bible, While Interpreting the Bible and Thinking Beyond Bible Contradictions.

Before Interpreting the Bible

The best medicine is preventative medicine.  Likewise the best solution to resolving Bible contradiction is to not make the mistake of misinterpreting the Bible that leads one to come up with alleged Bible contradiction.  Here’s two important “preventative medicine:”

  1. Study the Laws of Logic.  Why?  I think besides studying the Bible every Christian should study the laws of logic to think more clearly.  Or at minimum every Christian should read up on Critical thinking.  There’s many instances in my evangelism where a skeptic offer a claim of a Bible contradiction where it can be easily resolved by simply observing that the claims given are not even logically contradictory.  So read a book on logic.  Or at least have them around as reference.  Need a short volume? Here’s my review of Logic, by Gordon Clark.  Someone in my church once said that logic textbook was as dry as chewing wood.  Here’s a link to a college level course on logic if you want lectures in MP3 with powerpoint presentation.
  2. Study Hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation.  It deals with the principles that one use or should use to interpret a written text.  Since the Bible is a written document, hermeneutics is important.  Like logic, the more conscious one is with these principles and rules the more it helps one to avoid making wrongful contradictory interpretation in the first place.  Not sure of where to begin?  Check out our Veritas Domain Hermeneutics Outline Series: Course Level One, Two and Three.  Level one is a basic introduction.  Level two looks at literary forms in the Bible such as Laws, Prophecies, etc and also how to interpret them.  Level three looks at the biblical covenants in Scripture that often is the foundation and lens to understand what is going on with redemptive history.  Read books on hermeneutics.  Read books such as Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook.  You will be blessed by them.  Buy them and have them in your personal library as resources.  Plan to read one book a year on biblical interpretation.

While Interpreting the Bible

I found it helpful to ask the following questions.

  1. What does the text mean?  Before one try to solve a Bible contradiction, the best thing to do is to find out what does the passage means.  I find that sometimes some apologists can be so quick to try to harmonize passages and solve a Bible contradiction that they end up still misinterpreting the text.  It seems the best approach is to find out what the passages really mean and then go from there.  Often seeing what the passages really mean would reveal how the verses are truly not contradictory.
  2. Are the passages and claims in question really mutually exclusive?  Or to put it another way, is it truly the case that it must be one or the other claim must be true when they can be both true?  Ask this question to diagnosed whether or not the passages and claims are truly contradictory.  As an example of how this is helpful see our response to the question “What was Sodom’s sin?” and “When did Jesus receive his beating?
  3. Is this an issue of figure of speech?  Sometimes the issue is a non-issue once one understands the role of figure of speech such as hyperbole, symbolic language and metaphors.
  4. Is there something in terms of cultural background that I’m missing that explains the texts?  Sometimes what seems odd or paradoxical is suddenly illuminated by the understanding of the social and cultural background of the Scripture.
  5. When is the timing of the alleged contradiction in question?  Remember its not a contradiction if something changes over time.  For instance, it is not a contradiction when someone claims to be twenty years ago and a year later claims to be twenty one years old.
  6. Are there other ways they are misinterpreting the text?  For more possible ways one can twist the Scripture see our Frequent Mistakes Skeptics Make with Alleged Bible Contradictions.

I’m sure more questions can be added to the above.  Again I found those questions personally helpful when I approach Bible contradictions.

Here’s some further thoughts:

  1. If possible examine the passage in the original language.  I realize not everyone knows the languages of Hebrew (for the Old Testament) or Greek (for the New Testament).  Nor is every pastor, theologian or scholar equally strong in both.  Yet there are times when knowing the original language resolves any ambiguity that the English translation (or other language translations) might have.  I found this to have been helpful when answering the question “How many men were possessed with demons at the country of the Gadarenes?” and “How did David kill Goliath? And did he killed him twice?
  2. Seek help from other teachers and resources.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  Sometimes it is helpful to see what others have done in tackling contradictions.  Don’t forget that God gives us teachers; so take advantage of God’s gracious gift for the church today!  There’s websites such as Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM) which have sections on their website answering Bible difficulties.  There’s also books like Gleason Archer’s New Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties and Norman Geisler’s When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties.  But use these works and resources with discernment; always tests them with Scripture to see if they are faithful to the text.

Thinking Beyond Bible Contradictions

Some parting thoughts:

  1. What about alleged Bible contradictions that I can’t resolve?  Christian theology acknowledges that man is finite and does not know everything.  So don’t be surprised if you can’t solve some contradictions right away.  Also there’s room for paradoxes as defined as seemingly apparent contradictions.  I want to be careful here in how I am saying this: There’s no real Bible contradictions at all, but sometimes what people identify as contradictions are paradoxes (appearing to be contradictions).  At times we might not be able to see how the paradoxical claims relate in a way that satisfy to our minds but Christians must trust in God that He is rational and has it figured out, even when we are don’t have a ready solution at hand.
  2. Worldview matters concerning alleged Bible contradictions.  Discussing Bible contradictions doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Presuppositional apologetics is conscious of how worldviews shapes one’s interpretation of what are evidences, facts, and the laws of thoughts.  Debating and dialgoue about Bible contradictions presupposes the existence of the laws of logic.  As Greg Bahnsen and Cornelius Van Til have argued, only the Christian worldview can account for the laws of logic.  So its worth exploring whether a skeptics’ worldview can even make the laws of logic intelligible.  If their own worldview destroys the laws of logic, then there’s no place for them to even critique and say the Bible is problematic by being contradictory in the first place.  Of course worldview apologetics doesn’t take away the place of examining alleged Bible contradictions and refuting them.  But we must not forget that worldviews are important and that if one is arguing for a particular worldview or the rejection of a worldview based upon the claim that the Bible has contradictions, then Presuppositional apologetics must be brought to bear.  For more on Presuppositional apologetics check out the Free Greg Bahnsen Apologetics Course from Gospel Coalition.  See it in action as applied to the author of the Skeptic Annotated Bible here: Skeptic Annotated Bible Author’s Self-Defeating Worldview.
  3. Pray.  Don’t forget to pray even as you working through resolving Bible contradictions.  Do all thngs for the glory of God, so do your apologetics well to the glory of God by working hard and also praying.  Enjoy Him even as you are resolving Bible contradictions!  So pray.  Pray to the Lord for wisdom.  Pray to the Lord for guidance.  Pray to the Lord to reveal the truth by the Spirit’s illumination of His Word.  But praise Him also as well when you see the beauty of Scripture.  Praise Him when alleged Bible contradictions are resolved and shown to be in harmony.

I pray this would help God’s people!

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