Does the Bible contradict itself?
More than a few people have written books or hosted websites to say that they lost their faith after seeing how often the Bible contradicts itself. Some have spent a lot of time compiling lists of apparent discrepancies in both Old and New Testaments.
Collections of alleged Bible contradictions are apt to include statements like:
How can anyone believe in a Book that tries to get away with saying at the same time that:
God is one (Deut. 6:4)
God is three (Matt 28:19)
We don’t need to be afraid of God (1Sam. 12:20-22;1 Jn 4:18)
We do need to be afraid of God (1 Sam. 12:24-25)
God loves his enemies (Luke 6:35)
God hates his enemies (Psalm 11:5,6)
God’s anger is brief (Psalm 30:5)
God’s anger is everlasting (Matt. 9:44-48)
God is impartial (2 Chron. 19:7)
God favors some over others (Isa 66:2; Gen 12:1-3)
Some people compile lists like these and call them proof of contradiction. But there is another way to see them. That’s to view such opposites as important contrasts of truth. In that sense, we can freely admit that,
The Bible is full of “studies in contrast”. Some of us have even tried to make the case that all truth is in tension. Whether that overstates the case may be hard to confirm or deny. But it is readily apparent that a great number of ideas in the Bible complement and counterbalance one another.
When such pairs of truth get out of balance, the results can be dangerous. But when rightly considered, pairs of “opposites” help us find boundaries, balance and richness of wisdom.
Being convinced that the Bible is full of studies in contrasts rather than real contradictions is no reason to take these “tensions” for granted.
Dangerous Religious Groups— teach false doctrine built on half-truths.
Young believers— are apt to overemphasize one side of truth, to the exclusion of the other.
Personal blind sides— incline all of us toward that “side of the coin” that seems most consistent with our own temperament, plans or experience.
Personal moral choices— causes many to look for problems with the Bible as a way of attempting to avoid its moral influence. This factor prompted an author who has written a classic on the subject to say,
“Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them”
(Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible John W. Haley)
So how then do we explain the healthy tensions and contrasts to someone who really wants to understand the Bible? If we really are convinced that the Bible is not full of self-contradiction how can we explain the fact that those who want to go to war with the Bible have such an easy time coming up with ammunition?
Maybe we can begin by offering four categories of studies in contrast:
1. Contrasts that reflect tensions of Divine mystery–
Isa 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (His ways include but are not limited to “revealed/Bible truth”
2. Contrasts based on ironies of principle–
Matthew 5:1-12 3 “Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth…”
3. Contrasts of wisdom and timing–
Ecclesiastes–3:1 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build…”
4. Contrasts of purpose and perspective–
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each provide their own account of the life of Jesus. The fact that they tell the story in different ways can be regarded as a problem. Or the differences of perspective can be seen as complementary perspectives that reflect their credibility.
Would be interested to know whether seeing such “differences” in the Bible as honest and helpful contrasts of perspective, purpose, wisdom, timing, irony of principle, divine mysteries, and overall truth in tension (rather than logical contradictions) resonates with you as an honest approach to the Bible?