Bible Contradictions: A Primer
by D. Adams March 23, 2007
by D. Adams March 23, 2007
Are There Bible Contradictions?
Most Christians are aware of the claims skeptics espouse about apparent Bible contradictions. However, are these contradiction claims valid? The first thing to recognize is that the Bible has 40 authors spanning of a period of 1500 years. We need to realize that during this elapse of time we often find different cultural settings. The Bible is a work of progressive revelation, not an instant compilation. With 40 authors, the literary forms and writing styles will vary. Within these two themes, it's important for the reader to understand the need for a study in ANE (Ancient Near East) culture, historical-grammatical method of interpretation, etymology (word study) and literary forms just to name a few.
The critical error is made by the skeptic when s/he uses only one verse, and then takes another verse elsewhere in the Bible to make the contradiction seem valid. This would be the equivalent of taking an elliptical (partial quote) statement and juxtapose (side by side comparison) it with another elliptical statement either from the same author or another author writing on a similar topic. The context is found within the chapter, not necessarily the verse. Let’s look at a projected contradiction and work through the passage systematically.
Acts 20:35 "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
The skeptic makes claim that this quote from Jesus cannot be found in the Bible. Although this verse is similar to Matt 10:8 “Service and generosity should be abundant” no other verse can be found where Jesus made this statement. First, we have to remember the culture. The culture at that time was mostly composed of oral tradition, and floating traditions that are called agrapha. The term “agraphon” is defined as a saying that was not written down in the canonical gospels. This can be just one of the dangers with anyone adhering to the “Solo Scriptura” approach to theology. Solo Scriptura means scripture alone, without the need, or use of traditions. This is not to be confused with Sola Scriptura—which allows tradition, and outside sources to find truth about the scriptures or Christianity.
This is a fine example of the importance of the study of ANE cultures. If you are a history buff, the Bible will keep you busy for a life-time of diligent studies. For every question or objection raised by the critics, or skeptics there is an answer to be found. I highly recommend visiting the Tektonics website for all of your difficult verses, or Biblical studies. You can find the website at: http://www.tektonics.org
Here is a list of importance when addressing scripture:
- Study the chapter—not an isolated verse
- Study the author and his use of literary forms
- Find the meaning of the author—do not assume an interpretation
- Look at the context of the chapter, who is this spoken to
- Study the culture and time setting—make use of their surroundings
- Make use of commentaries
- Use Lexicons to decipher Greek and Hebrew terms (crosswalk.com)
- Find parallel verses on the subject (Use of Concordances)
- The Bible is translated from other languages
- Words have more than one meaning—study the surrounding context
The list is not exhaustive but it will give you some of the guidelines that need to be addressed before the contradiction can be made valid. Just as a real estate agent will tell you the most important selling point is location, location, location, the most important thing for us to remember is context, context, and context. If you have not obtained the E-Sword e-Bible I highly recommend downloading this program. It offers different translations, lexicon, dictionary, commentaries, and study notes. You can find this free program at: http://www.e-sword.net/
If you enjoy critical study of the texts I highly recommend picking up a version of the NET Bible from bible.org. This Bible has 60,932 notes (textual critic, and study notes). I recommend this Bible translation for anyone studying theology, or wanting a more critical approach to the scriptures.
As Christians we approach the Bible for our source of authority, while using a historical-grammatical methodology, or a systematic theological process approach to scripture interpretations. We also should utilize various sources of extra-Biblical writings from early Church fathers, up to modern day theologians, Bible commentaries, lexicons, and authors for inspiration or insight. The Church appellations, creeds, or denominational beliefs are not always our source of authority--they merely summarize our beliefs. Scripture should be the delimiting source in determining the foundation and articulation of our beliefs.
In closing, the critic or skeptic may offer an apparent contradiction—however the question arises, did they really find a contradiction?