<<Overview of the Bible

    "How can you believe a Bible that is full of contradictions? It is, after all, filled with obvious discrepancies ..."

      This skeptical statement assumes that the Bible disagrees with itself, and that God could not have inspired a fallible document. If the Bible did contain demonstrable errors, it would show that at least those parts could not have come from a perfect, all-knowing God this conclusion is true. But the initial premise --that the Scriptures are full of mistakes--is not true.

      Certain passages at first glance appear to be contradictory, but further investigation will show that this is not the case.

      Before we address specific concerns in the scriptures, let's discuss the issue of fairness. We must always begin by giving the author the benefit of the doubt. This is the rule in other literature, and there should not be different rules applied to examining the Bible. Unless we can prove the author wrong, we must assume he is correct.

      Next, what is a contradiction? The law of non-contradiction, which is the basis of all logical thinking, states that a thing cannot be both "A" and "non-A" at the same time. In other words, it cannot be both raining and not raining at the same time.

      One would have to demonstrate a violation of this principle from Scripture in order to prove a contradiction. Two statements may be different without being contradictory.

      For example, Matthew relates how two blind men met Jesus at Jericho. Mark and Luke mention only one. However, neither of these statements denies the other.

      Josh McDowell gives the following example:

"Suppose you were talking to the mayor of your city and the chief of police at city hall. Later, you see your friend,Jim, and you tell him you talked to the mayor today. An hour later, you see your friend, John, and tell him you talked to both the mayor and the chief of police.

"When your friends compare notes, there is a seeming contradiction. But there is no contradiction. If you had told Jim that you talked only to the mayor, you would have contradicted that statement by what you told John.

"The statements you actually made to Jim and John are different, but not contradictory. Likewise, many biblical statements fall into this category."

Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers, p. 31

      Sometimes, two passages appear to be contradictory because the translation is not as accurate as it could be. A knowledge of the original languages of the Bible can immediately solve these difficulties. All languages, including Greek and Hebrew, have their peculiarities that make them difficult to translate.

      For example, Paul's conversion as recorded in Acts:

"The men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man."

Acts 9:7, KJV

"And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me."

Acts 22:9, KJV

      These statements seem contradictory, but the Greek verb for "hear" is not the same in both accounts. In Acts 9:7, the construction expresses sounds reaching the ear. It does not indicate any understanding. The construction in Acts 22:9 describes a hearing which includes mental understanding. Our English translation is simply not as expressive as the Greek, but the passage is not therefore contradictory.

      Details may be left out of a biblical account. Again, this does not make the account contradictory. Something may not be explained thoroughly, but that does not make it wrong. We can speculate on the details that were omitted and offer explanations, which may or may not be accurate. However, a plausible explanation does prove that the passage is not necessarily contradictory.

"When a possible explanation is given to a Bible difficulty, it is unreasonable to state that the passage contains a demonstrable error. Some difficulties in Scripture result from our inadequate knowledge about the circumstances, and do not necessarily involve an error. These only prove that we are ignorant of the background.

"As historical and archaeological study proceed, new light is being shed on difficult portions of Scripture and many 'errors' have disappeared with the new understanding. We need a wait-and-see attitude on some problems."

Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers, p. 32-33

      The following is a summary of principles for understanding apparent discrepancies in the Bible:

●          1. The unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable.

●          2. Fallible interpretations do not mean fallible revelation.

●          3. Understand the context of the passage.

●          4. Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones.

●          5. Don't base teaching on obscure passages.

●          6. The Bible is a human book with human characteristics.

●          7. Just because a report is incomplete does not mean it is false.

●          8. New Testament citations of the Old Testament need not always be exact.

●          9. The Bible does not necessarily approve of all it records.

●          10. The Bible uses non-technical, everyday language.

●          11. The Bible may use round numbers as well as exact numbers.

●          12. Note when the Bible uses different literary devices.

●          13. An error in a copy does not equate to an error in the original.

●          14. General statements don't necessarily mean universal promises.

●          15. Later revelation supercedes previous revelation.

Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 47

Multiple authors theories

      The Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) were supposedly written by Moses, yet many passages regarding Moses are written in the third person, rather than the first. Also, the Pentateuch contains the death of Moses. Critics assume such incongruities indicate that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. There are several reasons this need not be the case.

      For one, an author need not inscribe with his own hand, especially in the case of a leader. Books could have been, and often were, dictated. As Josh McDowell points out in Evidence, what person would deny Hamurabi's authorship of Hamurabi's Code, simply because his hand did not chisel it into stone?

      Second, Moses could have written of himself in the third person, as did Josephus (first century AD, The Wars of the Jews); Xenophon (fifth century BC, Anabasis) and Julius Caesar (first century BC, Gallic Wars).

      It is true that the account of Moses' death was a later addition to Deuteronomy, traditionally attributed to Joshua.

"Chapter 34 is demonstrably post-Mosaic, since it contains a short account of Moses’ decease. But this does not endanger in the slightest the Mosaic authenticity of the other thirty-three chapters, for the closing chapter furnishes only that type of obituary which is often appended to the final work of great men of letters."

Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 224

     Those who argue for multiple authorship of the Pentateuch identify differences in writing styles and divine names as reasons for dissecting books, chapters, and even sentences. A later editor, it is theorized, pulled together these varying accounts. The major "identified" sources follow:

●          J source = Author used Yahweh (Jehovah) to refer to God

●          E source = Author used Elohim to refer to God

●          P source = Priestly tradition - author wrote about laws, ceremonies

●          Other sources help fill in some of the gaps

      Thus critics dissect which author wrote which portions of the Pentateuch, sometimes dividing a single verse between three authors.

      It is theorized that the accounts of three different documents regarding the naming of Isaac have been included in Genesis. Genesis 17:17 (P-source) says Sarah laughed when told she would have a baby. Genesis 18:12 (attributed to J-source) says Abraham laughed with disbelief. Genesis 21:6 (E-source) says they laughed with joy at his birth. Thus the name Isaac, which means laughter. Critics say these three authors each had a different story to explain the origin of Isaac's name. Is it really too much to believe that both Abraham and Sarah laughed with disbelief when they were individually told that Isaac would be born, and that later they laughed with joy at his birth?

      This story, as all others dissected into their respective "authors," is incomplete when divided into three different stories. No single source tells a complete or even comprehensible story.

      William H. Green, The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, gave an illustration of the arbitrary division of scripture. He took Jesus' parable of the prodigal son and subjected it to the same treatment to which the documentarians were subjecting some of the Pentateuch narratives. Here are his results (phrases in parenthesis Green attributes to a fictional "redactor"):

Repetition and alleged contradictions

      Critics' assumption: Since no author would have reason to repeat the same story twice, the repetition of certain narratives (parallel accounts) indicates more than one author at work. Those that are contradictory are obviously the work of a redactor or editor who wove together two different accounts of the same story (interwoven accounts). Since he could not decide for himself which account was accurate, he included both so the reader could decide for himself.

      However, this need not be the case. There are many other explanations for repeated accounts of the same incident. In many cases, the Hebrew style (also popular in many other writing styles) was to give a general account, then give a more detailed account. Some English writing styles also follow this pattern. Often, the biblical accounts are offered by different witnesses and are thus different, but not contradictory. In still other instances, the repetitions accounts are not repetitions at all, but true accounts of separate events that have similar details. Thus contradictions are natural, even necessary. Examples of each of these follow:

Repetitious accounts are sometimes different stories with similar details.

Example: Abraham's lie concerning his wife/sister;

      The Bible records that Abraham told this lie two different times, and his son, Isaac, repeated the incident. Critics argue that the incident happened just once, but was recorded three times because the editor could not decide which one of his sources was accurate. However, this is not an editor's error, or proof of several authors recording the same story without accuracy. The event happened three times. Considering them variations of the same event assumes that men never make the same mistake twice, and that sons never make the same mistakes as their fathers. Bad assumption! Both Isaac and Abraham lied to a King Abimelech. This fact has been cited as proof that it is actually the same account, since it was the same king. However, not only were the same names often used for fathers and sons, but this was most often the rule for kings.

A general account followed by a more detailed account

Example: Genesis 1 and 2

      Other times a story is retold (as the creation story) twice, once to introduce the subject and once to expand upon it or offer more details. We do this in our own language and culture.

      Critics say Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other with two different and irreconcilable accounts of creation. Disagreements about the order of creation and the concept of God provide the main fodder for this argument. The first account of creation clearly gives the order. The second only indicates that the earth and animals had been created previous to the events discussed in chapter two. When God brings the animals that had been created before Adam, it is not an indication that Adam preexisted those animals.

      Critics also argue that God is portrayed very differently in chapters one and two, thus demonstrating a different author for the two accounts. The argument goes something like this. The God of Genesis 1 is a transcendent God, as indicated by the actions attributed to him, God "called, saw, blessed, deliberated, worked, rested, created"

      Genesis 2 reveals a more anthropomorphic God, God "fashions, breathes, plants, places, takes, sets, brings, closes up, builds, walks", he is much more "human" than the God in Genesis 1, thus the argument that Genesis 2 is written by a different author.

      In reality, Genesis 1 describes the creation of the world. Genesis 2 details and further describes the specific creation of Adam and his immediate environment in the Garden of Eden. As for the argument that God is more "human" in chapter 2, man in his finite mind cannot express ideas about God in anything but anthropomorphisms. Calling, thinking, working, and resting are no less human qualities than breathing, planting, placing, and walking.

      The two accounts of creation are not only compatible, but depend upon each other. The second chapter tells of "when the Lord God created the heavens and the earth," but says nothing about that creation, jumping straight to the creation of man.

"It must be emphasized that we do not have here an example of incompatible repetition. We have an example of a skeletal outline of creation as a whole, followed by a detailed focus on the final point of the outline--man."

Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 496

Different eyewitness accounts of the same event

Example: Four gospels

      There are many examples of different accounts of the same story appearing in the Bible. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are full of such accounts in the lives and wars of the kings of Israel. The writings of the Prophets offer additional insights into these events.

      Probably the most obvious instance of this occurring is in the four gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. They do so from four different perspectives, differing greatly in their accounts, and also overlapping in many areas. The accounts, though different, are not contradictory.

Rarity of words/lateness of words

      This subject or rare words or words thought to be of later origin was discussed in the section on archaeology. To summarize, it is hard to prove a word is late. The fact that it is used rarely or even only once does not indicate that the word was unknown. In fact, the rule is the opposite. The fact that it is found in earlier writings indicates the word is earlier than formerly thought, not that the writing is later.

"Three thousand Old Testament words appear less than six times; fifteen hundred occur but once. Certainly a greater knowledge of Hebrew literature and conversation would establish many of these as everyday Hebrew terms. Similarly, no one would argue that words like 'invasion' (1 Samuel 30:14), 'jumping' (Nahum 3:2) and 'lance' (Jeremiah 50:42) are rare in English, yet they are found only once in the English Bible."

Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 126-127

Specific "contradictions" in Scripture

Book of Judges: Account of the death of Sisera.

      Judges 5:25-27 is supposed to represent Jael as having slain Sisera while he was drinking milk. Judges 4:21 says she did it while he was asleep. However, a closer reading of the former scripture reveals that it is not stated that he was drinking milk at the moment she killed him. In fact, the Judges 5 reference occurs in a poetic song extolling Jael's deed. The poetic structure leaps quite naturally from one event to the next, including Sisera's meal and later death.

Genealogies in Matthew and Luke

      Both Matthew and Luke give a genealogy for Jesus. However, the family trees are not identical. Critics say this proves the gospel narratives cannot be inspired.

      This apparent contradiction is most easily explained in that Matthew showed Jesus' legal lineage, through his foster father, Joseph. Luke, who makes special reference to the fact that Joseph was only thought to be Jesus' father, but actually was not, traces Jesus' lineage through Mary.

Peter's denial of Jesus

      The gospels all record Peter's denial of Christ before his crucifixion. However, Mark's gospel seems to be slightly different. The others record Jesus telling Peter the denial will occur three times before the cock crows. Mark records Jesus telling Peter he will deny him three times before the cock crows twice.

      So what was it? Once or twice? According to Josh McDowell and Don Stewart in their book Answers, it is quite reasonable that Christ made both statements. Mark, however, records the story in more detail. This is natural, since Mark's gospel was written under the influence of Peter.

"A possible reconstruction would be the following: Jesus reveals to Peter that before the cock crows, Peter will deny him three times. Peter, as was his way, probably objected loudly to this idea that he would deny his Lord. Jesus then in turn repeats his earlier prediction, along with a further note that before the cock crows twice, Peter will deny him three times."

Josh McDowell, Don Stewart

Time of Christ's crucifixion

      Mark records Christ was crucified in the third hour (Mark 15:25), while John records Pilate presenting Jesus to the Jews in the sixth hour, then turning him over to be crucified (John 19:14).

      According to Jewish reckoning, the third hour was 9 a.m. Thus the sixth hour would have been noon.

      The most reasonable possibility is that John is using a different method of reckoning time than Mark. The Romans calculated the day from midnight to midnight. Thus John's sixth hour would have been 6 a.m., the time of the last trial and sentencing, giving time for the events leading up to the crucifixion, which Mark places around 9 a.m.

      According to Josh McDowell, there is good evidence that John used the Roman method of computing time. In John 20:19, the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead is considered part of that same day. For the Jews, the new day would begin with sunset.

Was Jesus in the tomb three days?

      According to Matthew 12:40, Jesus prophesied that, just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so he would be three days and three nights in the earth.

      However, Christ was crucified and buried on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. This accounts for two partial days, one full day, and two nights.

      Mark 8:31 records Jesus as saying he would be raised after three days. In Matthew 16:21, he says he will be raised on the third day. These expressions were used interchangeably.

      According to Josh McDowell (Answers), Matthew 27:63 gives weight to the idiomatic usage of these interchangeable phrases. After the Pharisees tell Pilate of the prediction of Jesus, "After three days I will rise again," they ask for a guard to secure the tomb until the third day.

      The expression "one day and one night" was an idiom the Jews used to indicate a day, even only part of a day. This is evident in 1 Samuel 30:12-13 and Genesis 42:17.

"The phrases 'after three days' and 'on the third day' are not contradictory, either to each other or with Matthew 12:40, but simply idiomatic, interchangeable terms, clearly a common mode of Jewish expression."

Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, (Answers, p. 181-182)

The death of Judas

      According to Matthew, Judas hanged himself. Through Mark, Peter tells us he fell and was crushed by the impact of falling head first. But Matthew does not say that Judas did not fall; and Peter does not say that Judas did not hang himself. And Peter did not say that Judas died by falling head first. He says that his body eventually fell headlong and burst apart. This could have occurred long after he died.

      Here's Josh McDowell's possible reconstruction (from Answers): Judas hanged himself on a tree on the edge of a precipice that overlooked the valley of Hinnom. After he had hung there some time, the limb snapped or the rope gave way and the body fell down the ledge. Such precipices are extremely common in the Hinnom valley.

Did Matthew know his prophets?

      Matthew relates how Judas threw his thirty pieces of silver into the sanctuary before committing suicide, and how the money was used by the priests to buy a potter's field. Matthew concludes by saying that this action fulfilled what the prophet Jeremiah had said.

      The prophecy appears in Zechariah 11:12-13.

      Various solutions have been offered. One, that Matthew is referring to an oral prophecy that was not written down, or a written prophecy that has since been lost and was not included in the canon. Another, that a copyist made an error, and the original text read "Zechariah."

      But a more probable solution is that Jeremiah was the first book in the ancient rabbinic order of prophetic books, according to the Talmud. Matthey was quoting from a collection of books, collectively referred to by the title of the first book, "Jeremiah." The same thing occurs in Luke 24:44, where Psalms is used to refer to the entire third division of the Hebrew canon.

      Perhaps the best explanation is that Matthew is combining two prophecies, one from Jeremiah and one from Zechariah, and mentions the major prophet in reference. Jeremiah mentions buying the field (32:6-8). Zechariah adds the details of the thirty pieces of silver and the money thrown on the temple floor.

"There do occur in the Bible different perspectives of the same event, different emphases in retelling incidents and other apparent discrepancies. There have been difficulties in translating the original Hebrew or Greek text. There have been a host of misinterpretations of biblical passages. Nonetheless, when twentieth-century Christians open the Bible, they are reading the inspired, preserved, reliable Word of God. 'The grass withers,' said Isaiah, 'and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever' (Isaiah 40:8)."

Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Don't Check Your Brains at the Door, p. 47)




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