can you believe a Bible that is full of contradictions? It
is, after all, filled with obvious discrepancies ..."
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 Ñ this conclusion is true. But the initial premise --that
the Scriptures are full of mistakes--is not true.
passages at first glance appear to be contradictory, but further
investigation will show that this is not the case.
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.
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.
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.
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.
McDowell gives the following example:
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.
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.
statements you actually made to Jim and John are different,
but not contradictory. Likewise, many biblical statements fall
into this category."
McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers, p. 31
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.
example, Paul's conversion as recorded in Acts:
men which journeyed with him stood
speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man."
they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid;
but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me."
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.
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.
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.
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."
McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers, p. 32-33
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
● 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
● 12. Note when the Bible uses different literary
● 13. An error in a copy does not equate to an
error in the original.
● 14. General statements don't necessarily mean
● 15. Later revelation supercedes previous revelation.
McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 47
Multiple authors theories
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.
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?
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).
is true that the account of Moses' death was a later addition
to Deuteronomy, traditionally attributed to Joshua.
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."
L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 224
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:
source = Author used Yahweh (Jehovah) to refer to God
source = Author used Elohim to refer to God
source = Priestly tradition - author wrote about laws, ceremonies
● Other sources help fill in some of the gaps
critics dissect which author wrote which portions of the Pentateuch,
sometimes dividing a single verse between three authors.
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
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.
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"):
and alleged contradictions
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.
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:
accounts are sometimes different stories with similar details.
Abraham's lie concerning his wife/sister;
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.
general account followed by a more detailed account
Genesis 1 and 2
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.
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
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"
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
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.
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
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."
McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 496
eyewitness accounts of the same event
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.
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.
of words/lateness of words
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.
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."
L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 126-127
Specific "contradictions" in
of Judges: Account of the death of Sisera.
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
in Matthew and Luke
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.
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.
denial of Jesus
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.
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.
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."
McDowell, Don Stewart
of Christ's crucifixion
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).
to Jewish reckoning, the third hour was 9 a.m. Thus the sixth hour would have been noon.
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
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.
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.
Christ was crucified and buried on Friday and resurrected on
Sunday. This accounts for two partial days, one full day, and
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.
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.
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.
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."
McDowell and Don Stewart, (Answers, p. 181-182)
death of Judas
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.
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.
Matthew know his prophets?
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
prophecy appears in Zechariah 11:12-13.
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."
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.
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.
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)."
McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Don't Check Your Brains at the Door, p. 47)