By Nick Brzozowski
"The Bible is full of contradictions."
I have heard that my whole life. Some days, it has freaked me out. Are there really contradictions scattered across the Scriptures? Am I supposed to hold on to faith despite what my brain tells me?
This is for anyone like me who thinks it is time to have some courage. I figured, it is about time I stare those fears in the face and take a look at the contradictions myself. No more avoiding the Boogie Man.
Luckily for me, the first site I came across from Googling “Contradictions in the Bible” gave me a wealth of examples. (My blog post is basically a response of this one).
After giving their 15 examples of contradictions, the author concludes with this quote:
What is incredible about the Bible is not its divine authorship; it’s that such a concoction of contradictory nonsense could be believed by anyone to have been written by an omniscient god. To do so, one would first have to not read the book, which is the practice of most Christians; or, if one does read it, dump in the trash can one’s rational intelligence — to become a fool for god, in other words.
Does someone have to “dump in the trash can one’s rational intelligence” in order to trust in the Bible? Let's take a look!
The Sabbath Day
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” — Exodus 20:8
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” — Romans 14:5
The first observation studious Bible readers should notice is that the first is written in the Old Testament and the second in the New Testament. Here, it appears that we have an actual shift in ethics from one age to another. Theologians recognize both continuity and discontinuity between the two testaments.
When you notice this shift, you can actually uncover something fascinating happening as it relates to the Sabbath. You see, the Hebrews were told to keep the Sabbath, not as some arbitrary command, but because the Sabbath symbolized a greater reality. In Hebrews 4, we see that there is a more ultimate rest beyond physical rest - you could call it a soul rest.
The Permanence of Earth
“… the earth abideth for ever.” — Ecclesiastes 1:4
“… the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” — 2 Peter 3:10
Now, here is an example of pulling a verse out of context. The full verse in Ecclesiastes 1:4 reads, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (NIV). In context, the writer is not making a scientific prediction or prophecy. He is simply making a comparison. People keep dying, but the earth doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It is also worth noting that this is Wisdom Literature, which is often poetic. Using the word “forever” might just be a poetic exaggeration.
Now, about 2 Peter 3:10, fire does show up often when the New Testament is talking about future judgement. I’m not totally sure if that is meant to be taken literally. There is a lot of symbolism in the prophecies about the end times.
“… I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” — Genesis 32:30
“No man hath seen God at any time…”– John 1:18
I actually love this example! I think this is a great example of the mystery of the Trinity, shown in the pages of the Scriptures. Throughout the Old Testament, God is revealed through various attributes (people see the glory of the Lord or the name of God is personified or the angel of the Lord appears).
Here in Genesis 32:30, Jacob wrestles with a man who happened to be God. I mean, it is just begging the reader to scratch their head! How can God be in the form of a man? That is not answered until we encounter Jesus. In fact, John 1:18 is actually making that point! No one has seen God, except Jesus is making him known!
“… Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God…” — Leviticus 18:21
[In Judges, though, the tale of Jephthah, who led the Israelites against the Ammonoites, is being told. Being fearful of defeat, this good religious man sought to guarantee victory by getting god firmly on his side. So he prayed to god] “… If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” — Judges 11:30-31
[The terms were acceptable to god — remember, he is supposed to be omniscient and know the future — so he gave victory to Jephthah, and the first whatsoever that greeted him upon his glorious return was his daughter, as god surely knew would happen, if god is god. True to his vow, the general made a human sacrifice of his only child to god!] — Judges 11:29-34
Is God really against human sacrifice, if Jephthah did it?
Here, there are two things you have to know. First, theologians make the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive. When you are reading, are you reading something that God is commanding or even suggesting (prescribing) or is it a story in which you are simply reading the facts (descriptions)? This is distinction critically important if you want to have any clue how to apply the Bible. Leviticus is prescriptive, but Judges is descriptive.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. When you read about Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, doesn’t your heart drop? How is that in any way acceptable or descent? But, that's the point. Judges is describing a time when people did horrible, disgusting, barbaric things, thought that they were pleasing God. The book of Judges is showing just how much people missed the point.
The Power of God
“… with God all things are possible.” — Matthew 19:26
“…The LORD was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” — Judges 1:19
This one was a fun one for me. On the one hand, it says right there that God could not do it. On the other hand, do you really mean to tell me that God could part seas, raise the dead, and create everything by his mere word, but he can’t deal with one battle? Really?
Maybe we need to look a little closer. Some translations simply say that “they could not drive out the inhabitants.” That could work.
But, I think we could also accept that God could not do something. Let’s get philosophical for a moment here. We are totally fine saying that all things are possible with God and imply that this does not include logical impossibilities — no, God cannot create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it!
Now, in this particular story in Judges, theologians will speculate that maybe God couldn’t drive them out because of sin or lack of faith in the Hebrews. I actually buy that. On the one hand, God is perfectly capable of winning a little battle. But, on the other hand, he intends to partner with people to do his work. And if they are not cooperating in faith, he doesn’t want to respond. And if he doesn’t want to do something, then in some way he is not able to, since that does not align with his sovereign will.
Maybe you don’t buy that. That’s ok. Maybe there is another way of seeing it if you looked a little closer.
“…thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. ” — Exodus 21:23-25
“…ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” — Matthew 5:39
Again (just like the Sabbath), we have a seeming difference in ethics from Old Testament to New Testament. Does that mean that all these rules are arbitrary? I just don’t think so. With the Sabbath, we had a rule which functioned as a symbolic marker toward a spiritual reality. Here, I think something else is happening.
Imagine you have a nation with no laws. When someone steals, the victim retaliates ten times worse. When someone punches you, you stab them. In a context of anarchy, a simple law that limits retribution by requiring it be equal to the harm done — hence, eye for eye.
And that may be helpful for a justice system. But, is that really the best way we should treat one another. If limiting our retribution is good, how much better would it be to go all the way and forgive your enemy?
I think this is a great example of the New Testament further revealing God’s heart. The Old Testament is not wrong. It is simply not the full picture.
“This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.” — Genesis 17:10
“…if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” — Galatians 5:2
Circumcision is right there with the Sabbath — a practice required of the Hebrews to symbolize something, but is no longer required. What did it symbolize? Two things: First, it simply set the people of God apart from others. Second, it involved an area of the body associated with reproduction. This was a way of showing that God is in charge of everything, especially our legacy.
“Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of this mother…” — Deuteronomy 27:22
“And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter…it is a wicked thing….” — Leviticus 20:17
[But what was god’s reaction to Abraham, who married his sister — his father’s daughter?] See Genesis 20:11-12
“And God said unto Abraham, As for Sara thy wife…I bless her, and give thee a son also of her…” — Genesis 17:15-16
Leviticus and Deuteronomy are written after Genesis. If humanity really started with just two people (or at the very least, a small population), incest, unfortunately, would have been inevitable for a little bit there. Maybe, after a while, this is a rule that got added in at some point in the middle of history. Maybe DNA has gotten corrupted over time, making incest more dangerous today than back in the days of Genesis.
“A good man obtaineth favour of the LORD…” — Proverbs 12:2
Now consider the case of Job. After commissioning Satan to ruin Job financially and to slaughter his shepherds and children to win a petty bet with Satan. God asked Satan: “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.” — Job 2:3
Favor doesn’t always mean that God isn’t going to prevent any harm. God disciplines those he loves. In the case of Job, he seemed to have favor with the Lord!
The Holy Lifestyle
“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart…” — Ecclesiastes 9:7
“…they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not…” — 1 Corinthians 7:30
To find a contradiction between these two, you would have to assume that they both were trying to make a universal general principle for all time and all circumstances. At another place in Ecclesiastes, it even tells us that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. As far as contradictions go, this one is weak sauce.
“The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father…” — Ezekiel 18:20
“I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…” — Exodus 20:5
Now, this one is more challenging than the last. I think there is a lot to consider and meditate on, when it comes to communal and individual responsibility.
I tend to see both verses as offering truth to our current reality. Ask any psychologist whether or not one’s parents or grandparents have an effect on your life, and they will give an obvious, resounding affirmation. But, just because your parents affect you does not mean that you are responsible for their actions.
On the other hand, I think that us in the West tend to be a bit unbalanced. I don’t think we realize enough of how much we contribute to our community’s problems. Just because you did not own a slave doesn’t mean that you haven’t benefited in some way from the oppression of others.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” — James 1:13
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham…” — Genesis 22:1
I like this one. I think this is such an obvious contradiction about God that it invites us to meditate on it. In what ways does God tempt us and in what ways may God be unable to tempt us?
As you consider the narratives in the Old Testament, God tempted (or tested) characters. James would have been familiar with this. But, God tests to give opportunities to better trust and obey him, to strengthen the relationship. Satan, on the other hand, wants to see us fail. And I don’t think this distinction is arbitrary.
“Honor thy father and thy mother…”– Exodus 20:12
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. ” — Luke 14:26
Here, I think Jesus is making an exaggeration. It is a common figure of speech. There is no way that Jesus literally wants us to hate our father and mother. At another point, he is even giving the Pharisees a hard time for not honoring their parents.
Resurrection of the Dead
“…he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. ” — Job 7:9
“…the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth….” — John 5:28-29
There are a few options. In light of the rest of the Scriptures, Job is definitely wrong here. The book of Job is a narrative, which means that we are just hearing what people said - not that everything everybody said is always true. But, in one sense, it is true that we aren’t seeing zombies all the time. It doesn’t sound like the verse in Job necessarily needs to be taken as eternally focused. It could just be so far.
The End of the World
“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. ” — Matthew 16:28
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. ” — Luke 21:32-33
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armou