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"Sometimes the solutions to biblical differences reveal just how precisely the writers have communicated the events that have occurred."

Chapter 5:
What is a Contradiction?
Are there contradictions within the Bible?

Skeptics often pose the question “How can one believe a Bible that is full of contradictions?” The question assumes that the Bible is filled with so many obvious discrepancies, it would be foolish to trust it.

However, while certain passages, at first glance, may appear contradictory (as can the testimonies of any two honest witnesses in one legal trial), further investigation may show otherwise.

What constitutes a contradiction? The law of 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 the same place, and in the same manner.[1] It cannot be both raining and not raining at the same time in the same location. If one can demonstrate a violation of this principle in the Bible, then one can prove a contradiction. For example, if the Bible said that Jesus died by crucifixion both at Jerusalem and at Nazareth at the same time, this would be a provable error.

When looking at possible contradictions, it is important to note that two statements can differ from each other without being contradictory. It can be easy to confuse contradiction with difference. For example:

Suppose you talk to the mayor of your city and the chief of police at city hall. Later, you see your friend, Jim, and tell him you talked to the mayor today. An hour after that, you see another friend, John, and tell him you talked to both the mayor and the chief of police. Your friends compare notes, and there seems to be a contradiction — but there is not. Since you had not told Jim you talked only to the mayor, you did not contradict what you told John.[2]

The statements made to Jim and John were different, but not contradictory. Neither statement denies the other; rather, they are complementary. Many biblical statements fall into this category, and people sometimes think they find errors in passages when actually, they simply do not read the passages correctly.

When two passages are taken out of context, alleged contradictions can be found in almost any document, including, for example, the Encyclopedia Britannica. In one article, which discusses the persecution of Christians, the encyclopedia reads:

"Persecution of Christians first arose in connection with converts among the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem."[3] (This event occurred sometime between A.D. 30–35.).

Yet, another article regarding Christian persecution in the same encyclopedia reads:

"The first persecution, that of Nero, was related to a devastating fire in the capital in A.D. 64."[4]

On the surface, this seems to be a direct contradiction: How can the first persecution of Christians be both before A.D. 35 and in A.D. 64? However, when each passage is studied within its original context, the intended meaning becomes clear, and the contradiction disappears. In reality, A.D. 30–35 is when the Jews first began persecuting Christians, and A.D. 64 is when the Roman authorities first officially persecuted them.

For the most part, the contradictions presented by many Bible critics tend to be nothing more than innocent misunderstandings, manipulations of archaic words, or a failure to give the text a fair chance to prove itself. To clarify such alleged contradictions, all relevant facts must be considered (if possible), and then a conclusion should be drawn providing the simplest possible explanation.

Here are possible solutions to some frequently published alleged biblical contradictions:[5]

Genesis 1 (God creates plants, then animals, then man and woman)
Genesis 2 (God creates man, then plants, then animals, then woman)

  • After chronologically tracing the creation of the universe in chapter 1, the theme narrows in chapter 2 to focus on man’s place in the universe. Genesis 1 is meant to be a step-by-step historical account, while Genesis 2 is more of a summary. Reading the two passages should easily convince anyone of this. Genesis 2 is not concerned so much with time frames, but events. If one carefully reads the events in Genesis 2 (in the NIV), one would see that as man is mentioned, it is noted that the Garden had already been created. When animals are brought into the picture, this is similarly noted.[6]

Matthew 27:5 (Judas hangs himself)
Acts 1:18 (Judas falls headlong, his bowels gush)

  • How did Judas die? The Book of Matthew says he hung himself. The Book of Acts says he fell down and burst. A logical explanation is that after Judas hung himself and was eventually cut down, his body fell headlong and burst open. Why would his body have “burst open” falling down in a field unless it was in some state of decomposition?

Acts 1:18 (Judas purchased the field with the 30 pieces of silver)
Matthew 27:6-7 (The chief priests purchased the field with the 30 pieces of silver)

  • The account states that Judas received a reward of 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus, but afterward tried to return it to the chief priests who gave it to him. When they refused, Judas threw down the money and went to hang himself. The chief priests then picked up the money, according to the account, and decided to buy a potter’s field with it. Since Judas’ reward money was used to purchase the field where he was buried, he was thus ultimately the real buyer of the field. Acts 1 is a quick summary of the events after the resurrection of Jesus, and the statements made are not out of line with the style of writing.

Luke 17:34 (Jesus’ final return “in the last days” will be during the nighttime)
Luke 17:30–31 (Jesus’ final return “in the last days” will be during the daytime)

  • To the natural mind of Luke’s time, these words of Jesus must have sounded like a contradiction. People would have thought, How could a single event occur simultaneously in the day and in the night? Such a statement must have appeared just as impossible and contradictory in the first century as it does now. Of course, it is now understood that it could be a daytime event for those on one side of the globe, while the event could occur simultaneously in the night for those living on the other side of the planet.

Any attorney who has faced the task of piecing together apparently conflicting courtroom testimony can understand how difficult it is to reconcile an apparent contradiction between two witnesses. The Cambridge-educated Sir Norman Anderson, who lectured at Princeton University, was offered a professorship for life at Harvard University, and served as dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of London,[7] states:

I must confess that I am appalled by the way in which some people — biblical scholars among them — are prepared to make the most categorical statements that this story cannot possibly be reconciled with that, or that such and such statements are wholly irreconcilable, when a little gentle questioning of the witnesses, were this possible, might well have cleared up the whole problem. Sometimes, indeed, a tentative solution may not be very far to seek even without such questioning, although the suggested reconciliation cannot, of course, be proved; and in others there may well be a perfectly satisfactory solution which evades us.[8]

Concerning the New Testament Gospels in particular, Lee Strobel, former award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, points out, “Ironically, if the gospels had been identical to each other, word for word, this would have raised charges that the authors had conspired among themselves to coordinate their stories in advance, and that would have cast doubt on them.” Craig Blomberg, who is widely considered to be one of the foremost authorities on the biographies of Jesus, affirms, “If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses.”[9]

A classical historian, German scholar Hans Stier, says that agreement over basic data and divergence of details suggest credibility, because fabricated accounts tend to be fully consistent and harmonized. “Every historian,” he wrote, “is especially skeptical at that moment when an extraordinary happening is only reported in accounts which are completely free of contradictions.”[10]

In fact, sometimes the solutions to biblical differences reveal just how precisely the writers have communicated the events that have occurred; such differences can actually become confirmations of the Bible’s minute accuracy and trustworthiness.


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