Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
“IT IS impossible for God to lie,” declares the Bible. (Hebrews 6:18) So how could his book be filled with glaring inconsistencies and significant discrepancies and still be called the Word of God? It could not. ‘Why, though, the discrepancies?’ you ask.
As might be expected, in a book that for centuries was laboriously copied by hand and that needed to be translated into the popular languages of the day, some scribal variations crept in. But none are of such scope and weight as to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of the Bible as a whole. By careful examination, seeming contradictions can be shown to have an honest solution. All too often, people who claim that the Bible contradicts itself have not made a thorough investigation themselves, but they merely accept this opinion that is thrust upon them by those who do not wish to believe the Bible or be governed by it. “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation,” cautions the Bible at Proverbs 18:13.
At times, some object to the fact that Bible writers do not always seem to agree on matters relating to figures, order of events, wording of quotations, and so forth. But consider: If you were to ask several eyewitnesses of an event to write down what they saw, would all accounts coincide entirely in wording and detail? If they did, would you not be suspicious of collusion among the writers? So, too, Bible writers were allowed by God to retain their own particular style and language, while he saw to it that his ideas and pertinent facts were conveyed accurately.
Quotations from earlier writings might be altered slightly from the original statements to meet the needs and purpose of the new writer, while still retaining the basic sense and thought. The same could be said about groupings of events. One writer may follow a strict chronological order, while another may list the events according to their association with ideas. Omissions would likewise be according to the writer’s viewpoint and his condensation of the account. Hence, Matthew spoke of two blind men being healed by Jesus, while Mark and Luke mention only one. (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35) Matthew’s account is not contradictory. He is simply being more specific as to the number, while Mark and Luke focus on the one man to whom Jesus directed his conversation.
There were also different methods of computing time. The Jewish nation used two calendars—the sacred calendar and the secular, or agricultural, calendar—each starting at a different time of the year. Writers who differ in month and day when referring to the same event might merely be using different calendars. As Oriental writers seldom used fractions, parts of a year were counted as whole years. They were rounded off to the nearest whole number. Note this, for instance, in the genealogical records found in Genesis chapter 5.
But are there not texts in the Bible that say just the opposite of other texts? Let us consider a few that have been cited by some critics of the Bible.
At John 3:22 we read that Jesus “did baptizing,” while just a little further on, at John 4:2, the record states that “Jesus himself did no baptizing.” But as the rest of the text indicates, it was Jesus’ disciples who performed the actual baptisms in his name and under his direction. This is similar to the case in which a businessman and his secretary both can lay claim to writing a particular letter.
Then there is the text at Genesis 2:2 that records that God rested “from all his work.” Contrasting with this is Jesus’ comment at John 5:17 where he says that God “has kept working until now.” But as the context shows, the record in Genesis is speaking specifically of God’s works of material creation, while Jesus was referring to God’s works concerning his divine guidance and care for mankind.
Another seeming contradiction is found by comparing Exodus 34:7 with Ezekiel 18:20. The first text states that God would bring “punishment for the error of fathers upon sons and upon grandsons,” while the latter states that “a son himself will bear nothing because of the error of the father.” Why do these texts appear to be contradictory? Because they are taken out of context. Examine the surrounding material and setting. It then becomes obvious that when God mentioned punishment as coming upon not only fathers but also sons and grandsons, he was speaking of what would result to Israelites as a nation if they sinned against him and were taken into captivity. On the other hand, when mentioning that a son would not be liable for the error of his father, he was speaking of personal accountability.
Differences can be found, such as in the accounts of Jesus’ birth as recorded at Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. But do they indicate contradiction?
Have you ever read two biographies about the same famous person? If so, have you noticed that these biographies will differ without being necessarily contradictory? Often, it is because of the writer’s personal impressions or the sources he has used. It also depends on what the author feels is important to relate in his presentation, the angle he is developing, and having the audience in mind for whom the work is intended. Thus, accounts written with Gentile readers in mind would differ from those for Jewish readers, who already understood and accepted certain facts.
These are just a few examples of passages in the Bible that, without careful analysis, appear to contradict one another. But when carefully examined, keeping in mind the writer’s viewpoint and the context, they are not contradictions at all but simply passages that require additional research. Most people fail to put forth this necessary effort, however, finding it so much easier just to say: “The Bible contradicts itself.”
Deserving of Our Confidence
God’s holy spirit allowed Bible writers much leeway in writing their reports. (Acts 3:21) Thus, they were able to produce a colorful and graphic picture of what they saw. Their dissimilarities, however, actually establish their credibility and veracity, allowing no charge of deceit and collusion. (2 Peter 1:16-21) While writers differed in their method of presentation, all pointed in the same direction and had the same purpose: to show people what Jehovah God will do to make mankind happy and what humans for their part must do to receive God’s approval.—Proverbs 2:3-6, 9.
The Bible is a book that appeals to our power of reason. It is harmonious throughout. It does not contradict itself. All 66 books (1,189 chapters or 31,173 verses according to the King James Version) deserve our complete confidence. Yes, you can trust the Bible!
[Box on page 6]
If You Find a Bible “Contradiction,” Could It Be That:
◆ You are unaware of certain historical facts or ancient customs?
◆ You have failed to take the context into consideration?
◆ You have overlooked the writer’s viewpoint?
◆ You are trying to reconcile mistaken religious ideas with what the Bible really says?
◆ You are using an inexact or outdated Bible translation?
[Pictures on page 7]
Matthew said that two blind men were healed by Jesus. Mark and Luke mentioned only one. Is this a contradiction?