Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
CHRISTIANS view the Bible as a gift from God. They read it with pleasure and benefit. On the other hand, certain individuals argue that the Scriptures contain contradictions and therefore are unreliable.
For that matter, whether persons are opponents of the Bible or have sought to understand it and have simply been unable to reconcile seeming discrepancies, they may share the same opinion. They may believe that the Bible does indeed contradict itself. Yet, what does careful research and thought reveal?
ARE THEY DISCREPANCIES?
When encountering difficulties in reading the Bible, critics are all too ready to take a negative view, jumping to conclusions. Those who treasure the Bible as God’s gift to man, however, are positive in searching out the answers. Consider how the harmony of scriptures can be explained.
Who sold Joseph into Egypt? Genesis 37:27 says that Joseph’s brothers sold him. But the next Ge 37 verse 28 states: “Now men, Midianite merchants, went passing by. Hence they [half brothers of Joseph] drew and lifted up Joseph out of the waterpit and then sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces. Eventually these brought Joseph into Egypt.” So, did Midianite merchants take Joseph from the pit and sell him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt? No, even Joseph later confirmed that his own brothers had sold him, saying: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.” (Gen. 45:4) So what are we to conclude? Either that the Midianites (who were related to the Ishmaelites) were also called Ishmaelites or that the Midianite merchants were traveling with the Ishmaelite caravan. And Joseph was sold to them by his brothers.
How many Israelites died for having immoral relations with the daughters of Moab and for engaging in the false worship of the Baal of Peor? The apostle Paul stated: “Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them [Israelites in the wilderness] committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day.” (1 Cor. 10:8) However, with reference to the same incident, Numbers 25:9 reported: “And those who died from the scourge amounted to twenty-four thousand.” Possibly the number slain was between 23,000 and 24,000, so that either round figure was satisfactory. On the other hand, the book of Numbers especially mentions the fact that “all the head ones of the people” who had an attachment to the Baal of Peor were killed by judges. (Num. 25:4, 5) There may well have been 1,000 of these “head ones,” making a total of 24,000 when added to the 23,000 mentioned by Paul. The apostle wrote under divine inspiration and, hence, did not err. Also, whereas 23,000 apparently were direct victims of the scourge from God, all 24,000 in general experienced Jehovah’s scourge inasmuch as they all died under God’s decree of judgment.—Deut. 4:3.
When King David improperly registered the people, how many armed men were there in Israel and Judah? According to 2 Samuel 24:9, Israel had 800,000 men and Judah had 500,000. However, according to 1 Chronicles 21:5, there were 1,100,000 men of Israel and 470,000 men of Judah. It is unwise to consider this a scribal error, for the two accounts may have reckoned the numbers from different viewpoints. For instance, possibly members of the standing army and/or their officers were counted, or omitted. Also, different methods of reckoning may have resulted in a variation in listing certain men, that is, as to whether they were under Israel or Judah. First Chronicles 21:6 mentions that Levi and Benjamin are not registered in among them, whereas no such notation is made in Second Samuel, also suggesting, therefore, such a variation.
How much did David pay for the threshing floor where he built an altar to Jehovah as the means of ending the scourge provoked by David’s registration of the people? Apparently Araunah, or Ornan, the owner of the threshing floor, offered the place, along with cattle and wood implements for the sacrifice, without any charge. But David insisted on paying, and 2 Samuel 24:24 shows that he purchased the threshing floor and the cattle for 50 silver shekels. However, 1 Chronicles 21:25 speaks of David’s paying 600 gold shekels for the site. It appears that the writer of Second Samuel dealt only with the purchase of the altar location and materials for the sacrifice made at that time, and that the price he refers to was restricted to these things. Contrariwise, the writer of First Chronicles discussed matters with regard to the temple later built on that site, and he associates the purchase with that construction. (1 Chron. 22:1-6; 2 Chron. 3:1) The entire temple area being quite large, apparently the sum of 600 gold shekels applied to the purchase of that large area rather than to the small portion required for the altar first built by King David.
HARMONIZING TEXTS IN THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES
Some individuals contend that there are discrepancies in the Gospel accounts regarding Jesus Christ and elsewhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures. But here again alleged discrepancies can be resolved. Consider just a few examples to show that various texts in the Christian Scriptures harmonize with one another.
From how many men did Jesus expel the demons who took possession of a large herd of swine that thereafter rushed over a precipice and drowned in the Sea of Galilee? The Gospel writer Matthew mentions two men. (Matt. 8:28) But Mark and Luke refer to only one. (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27) Doubtless Mark and Luke center attention only on one demon-possessed man because his case was the more outstanding of the two. Perhaps he was more violent and had suffered longer under demon control than had the other man. Afterward possibly that one man alone wanted to accompany Jesus. Rather than allowing this, Jesus directed him to make known what Jehovah had done in his behalf. (Mark 5:18-20) In a somewhat parallel situation, Matthew spoke of two blind men healed by Jesus, whereas Mark and Luke mentioned only one. (Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35) Since Jesus’ conversation evidently was directed particularly toward one person in each instance, Mark and Luke did not mention the fact that another demoniac and another blind man were present. Yet, Matthew’s Gospel account is not incorrect because he gives these details.
Who bore Jesus’ torture stake? The apostle John said of Jesus: “Bearing the torture stake for himself, he went out” of Jerusalem. (John 19:17) However, Matthew, Mark and Luke say that ‘as they were going out, Simon was impressed into service to bear the torture stake.’ (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) Actually, Jesus Christ did bear his own torture stake, even as John recorded. But, in his condensed account, John did not add the point that later Simon was impressed into service to carry the stake. Hence, the Gospel accounts harmonize on this matter.
How did Judas Iscariot die? Matthew 27:5 says that Judas hanged himself. However, Acts 1:18 states: “Pitching head foremost he noisily burst in his midst and all his intestines were poured out.” Whereas Matthew appears to deal with the mode of the attempted suicide of Judas, Acts describes the results. Viewed together, it appears from the two accounts that Judas tried to hang himself over some cliff, but either the rope or the tree limb broke so that he plunged downward and burst open on the rocks below. Such a possibility is certainly conceivable, in view of the topography around Jerusalem.
IT IS GOD’S WORD OF TRUTH
Undoubtedly, after examining just a few examples that show the harmony of the Scriptures, you will agree with the psalmist who said to God: “The substance of your word is truth.” (Ps. 119:160) Similarly, Thessalonian Christians of the first century received “God’s word” with appreciation. The apostle Paul wrote: “Indeed, that is why we also thank God incessantly, because when you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God, which is also at work in you believers.”—1 Thess. 2:13.
Likewise today, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses view the entire Bible as God’s Word of truth. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) They read and study it diligently in order to be able to talk on the Bible, to share its lifesaving message with others. A good understanding of true Scriptural doctrines frees one from superstition and false religion. (John 8:32; Rev. 18:4) Application of the Bible’s moral laws and principles result in a happy, satisfying life right now, with the prospect of eternal life in God’s promised new order. So, gain and maintain a ‘tight grip on the word of life,’ as found in the Bible and enjoy a precious relationship with Jehovah God, mankind’s greatest Friend.—Phil. 2:14-16.