Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions

Great post here by James Warner Wallace

As a detective, I’ve learned to accept the variation I see between eyewitness accounts. I’ve interviewed witnesses of crimes (occurring just hours earlier), only to find what appeared to be significant “contradictions” between the accounts. It’s my job, as the investigator, to determine why the eyewitnesses appear to contradict one another, even though there is no doubt the event occurred and the witnesses were telling the truth. There are times when similar variations (or alleged “contradictions”) are observed in the Biblical accounts. It’s our job, as Christian Case Makers, to apply a few simple investigative principles to determine whether or not these differences impact the reliability of the accounts. I want to offer a few investigative principles and filters for investigating these alleged Bible contradictions. These principles are not outrageous or unusual. They’re not specific to the Bible. They’re not Christian tricks or devices used to cover up inadequacies. They are straightforward tools and approaches useful when examining any ancient document or piece of evidence. If we objectively examine the Scriptures with these principles in mind, we’ll not only grow in our understanding of the Bible, but we’ll better comprehend and resolve the difficulties:

Principle #1: Begin With A Fair Attitude

Imagine you’re driving down the street and you come to a stop sign. You don’t assume the sign is wrong. Even if you don’t see opposing traffic or you don’t understand the reason for the sign being at that particular corner, you still stop for the sign. Even if no other car shows up at the intersection, you don’t simply blow through the sign. You give the sign the benefit of the doubt. In essence, you don’t assume a street sign is wrong until proven right. When you begin to read the Bible and examine what it says, it’s important to start off with a fair attitude. You don’t need to treat it as something unquestionable and beyond examination, but you do need to afford it at least as much consideration as you would afford a street sign, a box of macaroni or a friend. Before you jump up and call it a liar, take a second to examine what it says fairly. The Example of Biblical Genealogies As an example, let’s examine Biblical genealogies. Some have tried to use the Biblical genealogical lists with a particular attitude about why God included the lists in the first place. Were they given to us to determine the chronological dating of the account or were they given to establish the rich heritage of the readers and their connection to God’s covenant? Our attitude will determine how we read the text. If they were written to provide dating information, we might determine the age of the earth, for example, by examining the genealogies in Genesis Chapter 5 and 10 and the lifespans offered by the text related to people in the genealogical lists. If this is the purpose of the lists, we would expect them to provide us with the proper, accurate genealogical sequences necessary to accomplish their goal. But what if our attitude about the purpose of the genealogies is wrong? Upon closer investigation, it’s clear Biblical genealogies are not as comprehensive as some would like to think they are. Biblical genealogies contain gaps. When someone is said to be a “father” of someone else, it often simply means he is an “ancestor”. In a similar way, when someone is said to be a “son” of someone else, it often simply means he is a “descendant”. This is why Jesus is called the “Son of David” when He is actually a distant descendant. This can also be seen in Matthew 1:8, where the Scripture says Jehoram is the father of Uzziah. If we look at 1 Chronicles 3:11-12, we can see three generations actually separate Jehoram from Uzziah. Clearly the word “father” is used to indicate “ancestor”. In addition to this, if we compare Genesis 10:24 to Luke 3:36, we discover Cainan has been omitted from the Genesis genealogy. There are undoubtedly other gaps as well, as the list of names is meant to paint the genealogy broadly without concern for chronological precision. It was God’s desire for us to understand the genealogical roots of our heritage, not the precise chronological age of the text or the planet on which we live.

Principle #2: Examine the Text in Its Context

Sometimes we need to look at every account of a specific statement or event in the Scripture to understand what actually happened. When we do this, we are reading the account in its proper context. Remember, “Any text taken out of context is a pretext (an effort or strategy intended to conceal something or prove a point not really there). So never read a single Bible verse, always read the entire chapter and all the other accounts available to us. The Example of the Mustard Seed As an example, many critics and botanists claim the Bible contains an error and this error actually came from the lips of Jesus Himself. They refer to the statement Jesus made related to the famous mustard seed: Mark 4:30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” Critics look at this statement and criticize the claim the mustard seed is the “smallest seed you plant in the ground”. They are quick to argue the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on earth. In fact, there are many seeds smaller than a mustard seed. So how can Jesus, Lord and God over all, not know this? Well, the critics aren’t reading carefully and they aren’t trying to understand what the original text is saying. Jesus was talking to a group of people living in an agricultural society. His listeners were farmers. He didn’t say the mustard seed was the smallest seed on earth. He said the mustard seed “is the smallest seed you plant in the ground”. He is referring directly to the seeds they were using in their day to plant their gardens: “it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants…” As a further demonstration of this reference to garden seeds, look at a parallel account in another Gospel: Matthew 13:31-32 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Careful reading (with an effort to understand what the original text truly says) will resolve the lion’s share of apparent “contradictions” or “errors” in the Bible.

Principle #3: Let the Bible Clarify the Bible

Most modern translations of the Bible include Scripture references in the margin of the Bible to help us make sense of difficult passages. Allow the Bible to explain itself by reading these additional passages. Allow the Bible to clarify itself:

To read on, click here:

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