Is It Really Contradictory?
‘ADAM and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel and then took a wife. Where did he get his wife?’ Did you ever hear that question? It is possibly the one most commonly raised by people who claim that the Bible contradicts itself. Do you know the answer?
The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve had many children, not just two. “The days of Adam after his fathering Seth [another son] came to be eight hundred years. Meanwhile he became father to sons and daughters.” (Gen. 5:4) With that information, from where would you say that Cain got his wife? Yes, he must have married one of his sisters. Today this might be dangerous for any children born to such closely related parents. But near the beginning of human history, when mankind was so much closer to perfection, it was not a problem.
This question illustrates one reason why some think that the Bible contradicts itself: they do not have all the facts. When they have the complete picture, such seeming contradictions disappear.
Other individuals point to different Bible accounts of the same event and say there are contradictions. For example, in Matthew 8:5, 6 we are told: “When [Jesus] entered into Capernaum, an army officer came to him, entreating him and saying: ‘Sir, my manservant is laid up in the house with paralysis, being terribly tormented.’” Then he asked Jesus’ help. However, the parallel account in Luke says: “He sent forth older men of the Jews to [Jesus] to ask him to come and bring his slave safely through.” (Luke 7:3) One account says the officer himself asked, whereas the other says he was represented by elders of the Jews.
Does this seem contradictory? If so, then consider what is said at Acts 7:47. There we are told that King Solomon built a temple for Jehovah in Jerusalem. Now, did the writer mean that Solomon himself built the temple? Or was the actual work done by many workmen, while Solomon authorized and organized it? Of course, the latter is the case. Similarly, this military man spoke to Jesus, but he did it through Jewish intermediaries. There is no contradiction in the two accounts. They are merely giving different viewpoints of the same event.
There are many so-called contradictions of this kind. But they are really examples of reporting the same event from different viewpoints. If all Bible writers said exactly the same thing, it would strongly suggest that they had copied one another. The fact that they write from different viewpoints proves that there was no collusion, while the fact that they all tell basically the same story shows that they are telling the truth.
IS THE BIBLE SCIENTIFIC?
Sometimes the problem lies in what people think the Bible says. For example, in 1633 the Catholic Church condemned Galileo for saying that the earth revolved around the sun. According to Newsweek magazine, they now view this as an embarrassing mistake. Why did they make the mistake? One reason given in the New Catholic Encyclopedia is that Galileo’s new teaching contradicted the Bible. In other words, not only the Catholic Church but the Bible, too, was wrong. Is this correct?
The answer is No. The Bible is not a science textbook. Its main purpose is to tell us about God, his purposes and his dealings with mankind. But it is not unscientific. It sometimes mentions things having to do with natural laws, and often what it says is similar to what scientists tell us today. Why, then, did the Catholic Church feel that Galileo’s teaching contradicted the Bible?
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, one Scriptural account they pointed to was in the book of Joshua. There we read that on one occasion the Israelites were in battle and were defeating their foes, but the approach of night threatened to rob them of total victory. So Jehovah, by a great miracle, prolonged the day in order that they could complete their victory. The record says: “Accordingly the sun kept motionless, and the moon did stand still, until the nation could take vengeance on its enemies.”—Josh. 10:13.
Does that scripture say that the earth does not revolve around the sun? Or were the inquisitors stretching its application too much? Surely, the Bible writer here did not intend to give a scientific statement about planetary motion. Rather, he tells us what the Israelites saw. They saw the sun stand still in the heavens—whether this was brought about by Jehovah’s interrupting the rotation of the earth or in some other way.
Similarly today, we say that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. Does that mean we do not believe in the revolving of the earth around the sun? Of course not. We are merely describing events as they appear to us.
Hence, Galileo’s problems were not caused by what the Bible said. Rather, they stemmed from what people read into the Bible.
Another misunderstanding appears in the book World Without End, by Roger Pilkington. The author says: “All the writers of the Old Testament regarded the Earth as a flat plate.” Once again, the Bible is made to appear to contradict science. But does it?
Consider two scriptures that contain descriptions of the earth. One says: “[God] is stretching out the north over the empty place, hanging the earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:7) The other says: “[God] is dwelling above the circle of the earth.”—Isa. 40:22.
Now these scriptures were not written in order to give a science lesson. Their purpose was to help us to appreciate the majesty of Jehovah’s Godship. But would you say the picture that emerges—of a round earth hanging in empty space—is unscientific? Rather, it is a remarkable description of exactly what astronauts see when they travel in space. Mr. Pilkington simply was mistaken when he said: “All the writers of the Old Testament regarded the Earth as a flat plate.”
WHAT ABOUT MYTHS?
Other people have problems because some Bible narratives seem strange in this scientific 20th century. Today, nobody walks on water, feeds multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, raises the dead or instantly heals the sick. Therefore, these people feel that the accounts of such things in the Bible must be myths.
However, the Bible does not say that miracles were an everyday event in those days. They were startling and unexpected, ‘portents and signs’ proving that God really was backing up his servant Jesus. (Acts 2:22) Many people then were well educated, and they reacted much as we would do when they saw a miracle performed by Jesus or one of his followers by the power of God’s holy spirit. They were “struck with fear” or “filled with astonishment.”—Matt. 9:8; Acts 3:10.
It is noteworthy that even the enemies of Jesus did not deny that he performed miracles. They challenged the source of his power. They excommunicated a blind man who had received sight from Jesus. And once they tried to kill a man who had been resurrected by him. But they had to admit that the miracles themselves happened.—Matt. 12:24; John 9:30-34; 11:43-53; 12:9, 10.
Furthermore, hundreds of people saw Jesus alive after he had been publicly killed by Rome’s trained executioners. Some recorded their impressions in writings that we can read today. It affected many of them so much that their lives changed completely. They were now willing to die for their faith. Would a myth, or a figment of the imagination, have had such an effect?
True, such things do not happen today. But imagine if you were able to speak to people who lived in Jesus’ day, and you told them that you had seen a man walking on the moon, that you could speak with people living on the other side of the earth, that you or your friends had flown through the air, and that machines existed that could record things and perform complicated mathematical calculations. What would they say? That you were an imaginative storyteller! Such things did not happen in Jesus’ day.
Yet modern technology makes such marvels possible. And surely, the existence of an Almighty God makes all the miracles recorded in the Bible equally possible.
YOU CAN BELIEVE IT
A writer who examined many of the so-called contradictions and “problems” of the Bible came to this conclusion: “When we consider the real grandeur of the Bible and the power of its influence through the ages, the quibbling ‘errors’ which skeptics hope to prove in it pale into insignificance.” (Does Inspiration Demand Inerrancy? by Stewart Custer) This is true. Moreover, when all the facts are available, the “errors” prove not to be errors after all.
An Australian scriptwriter confesses that he was a “rationalist bigot” when it came to the Bible. Then he said: “For the first time in my life I did what is normally a reporter’s first duty: checked my facts. . . . And I was appalled, because what I was reading [in the Gospel accounts] was not legend and it was not naturalistic fiction. It was reporting. First and second-hand accounts of extraordinary events, and sometimes—in the case of Luke—the assembly of documentary evidence together with the results of interviewing eyewitnesses. Reporting has a taste, and that taste is in the Gospels.”
We encourage you to follow this man’s example and ‘check the facts.’ Read the Book and expose yourself to the “real grandeur of the Bible.” You will find that the Bible is not ‘irrelevant, unintelligible or uninteresting.’ It is a fascinating account of God’s dealings with mankind right from the beginning. It deals with today’s most up-to-date problems and gives counsel that is helping many to make a success of their lives. Furthermore, it has a message for this 20th century that cannot be ignored by those who want valid hope and purpose in their lives.
If you find the Bible difficult to understand, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to assist you in getting the information that it contains. Yes, the words of John Quincy Adams are still true: “The Bible is the book of all others, to be read at all ages.” It is still The book to be believed and followed, and especially so in this skeptical 20th century.
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WHERE DID CAIN GET HIS WIFE?
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DOES THE BIBLE SAY THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH?
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DID MIRACLES REALLY TAKE PLACE—OR WERE THEY ONLY MYTHS?
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MAN HAS DONE THIS. HOW MUCH MORE GOD CAN DO!