A few friends of mine and I were in downtown Charleston, asking people what they believed about Jesus. One young lady who we talked to said that she had seen some Bible contradictions, and I asked her for specifics. She didn’t have any, but she promised to tweet them at me later. She did (thanks!), and I’d like to take a few paragraphs to talk about these supposed contradictions.
Now the list that she sent me can be found here. I’m not going to deal with every single contradiction, because I don’t intend to write an exhaustive rebuttal here. Rather, I’d like to examine the general sentiment driving the contradictions, and try to help the reader spot whether a contradiction is actually such on their own. I hope this is more helpful than simply handing out fish. For the sake of being as rigorous and true to the original text as possible, and at the same time as clear in the modern vocabulary as I can be, I will be using the NASB and the ESV primarily. These are both word-for-word translations that strive to express the original text as clearly as possible.
First, let’s talk about what it means to be contradictory. The law of non-contradiction in formal logic states that ‘a’ and ‘not-a’ cannot both be true in the same way at the same time. This means that the state of affairs described cannot contain mutually exclusive statements. In other words, a cat cannot be both dead and alive at the same time in the same way. For a contradiction to exist in the Bible, that means that two verses must say that something was in two different and mutually exclusive states at the same time in the same way.
Now notice something: The narrative never commends the son of the Amalekite as a truthful man. It simply records what he reported to David. So did the man actually kill Saul? We don’t know. Did Saul fall on his sword? According to the narrative, yes. Could Saul have been mortally wounded but not yet dead when this man happened along? Certainly. Could this man have simply happened along and found Saul, and taken his jewelry, essentially looting his corpse? This outcome is also entirely consistent with the narrative that we read. The true intellectual laziness here is to assume there is a contradiction. An important principle can be learned here: Just because the Bible recorded something, doesn’t mean it endorsed it; just because the Bible records someone’s speech doesn’t mean their story is true. There’s no contradiction here.
I’ve talked about the claimed divergence in the creation account. Since there aren’t any chapter or verse breaks in the original text, this one has always struck me as an odd claim. The story is consistent from chapter 1 through chapter 3. First, we have a global creation, in chapter 1. It’s sequential, and uses a vocabulary consistent with a global scale. Then we zoom in on a particular day, in a particular region. In the section of text we regard as Genesis 2, there are specific place names — something lacking from chapter 1 — which indicate that we are dealing with a specific geographic region. Likewise, the word which is used for ‘earth’ is ‘erets,’ which is translated much more commonly as ‘land,’ and refers to a particular geographic region rather than the whole earth (more on the details of vocabulary used here). So again, chapter 1 is a global scope of creation, chapter 2 is a much more in depth look at the creation of mankind. This is not contradictory at all. For more on the Genesis account, read here.
On the nature of slavery in the Scriptures, read here. A brief summary is that slavery in the Bible was wildly divergent than the Western image the term invokes. There was not the same kidnapping and forced labor of the 17th century slave trade (the Bible actually says that people who do that are to be killed [Exodus 21:16]). Slavery afforded people with a place to stay and food to eat in exchange for labor. It was a type of servitude, and it was far better than languishing in poverty without work. The rules in the Bible about slavery were specifically to protect slaves from being taken advantage of, injured, or abused. Again, it’s not contradictory for the Bible to have rules regarding how slaves should be treated, and also have passages enjoining that the enslaved go free.
On stealing, let’s briefly say that stealing differs wildly from taking the reparations that the Israelites took on their way out of Egypt. What God gave to them was their rightful wage for the hundreds of years of forced labor and slavery much more consistent with the Western image. On Jesus ‘stealing’ a donkey, read here.
We can keep going, but for the sake of brevity, I’d like to sum up the main categories of ‘contradiction’ and how to avoid finding contradictions that aren’t there.
Non-factual statements probably come from bad information. The ‘eunuch’ is the perfect example in this case. How do we cure this? Get good information! If someone says that such-and-such is in the Bible, we should be careful to check that it actually is, rather than simply taking their word for it.
Statements taken out of context constitute a large majority of ‘contradictions.’ The David/Saul whodunit from our link is a prime model. We fix this by reading the passages in context. By simply putting those verses back where they came from, we see the ‘contradiction’ melt away.
Ignorance of rhetorical devices or culture would be my final category. This includes things like claiming that ‘Jesus stole a donkey!’ or ‘Jesus rose on the third day which contradicts what He said He would do!’ (For more on the harmony of the resurrection accounts, read here.)
So there is a very brief look at some of the ‘contradictions’ that are supposedly in the Bible. I hope this helps you, dear reader. The Scriptures are complex and variegated, but the one thing they are not is contradictory. The principles I’ve tried to demonstrate here are enough for you to dispatch the rest of the list on your own. Feel free to comment below with your results! I’d love to read what you’ve done, or help you work through any that are particularly interesting.