Spiritual Growth

Are there contradictions in the Bible?

Rachel Streich

My worn Bible looks like it has lasted a lot of days. Inside the tattered cover, I’ve read both comforting words and passages that felt difficult; they just didn’t make sense. At times, I’ve kept turning the pages, moving on instead of working through my confusion. But when you do pause to ask questions about contradictions, Scripture stays reliable.
 


      

Trusting the Bible

   

A few words help explain why you can trust the Bible, with all its challenging parts. 

Infallible: The Britannica Dictionary defines the word “infallible” as “Not capable of being wrong or making mistakes.” The Bible has no flaws or contradictions in its original manuscripts. Every sentence perfectly communicates God’s truth. Its authenticity has been proven through time and aligns with historical events.

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6, English Standard Version)

Inspired: The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, meaning that God worked through human authors to write the words He intended in the Bible.  

Cru uses these terms in its statement of faith to describe its view of the Bible:

“The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was written without error (that is, it is inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.”

You can depend on the Bible, just as you rely on God. He is trustworthy, and He gives people faith in His words. That results in approaching Scripture with an attitude of expectant discovery rather than suspicion.

When you run into parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, take the opportunity to search and study more. Below are a few examples of places in the Bible that seem to contradict each other. As you read the explanations, you’ll learn approaches you can take when you find difficult passages in the Bible.

 

   

Spreading the news of Jesus’ resurrection

   

The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8, New International Version)

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (Luke 24:9, NIV)

​​Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, NIV)

The third verse from the Gospel of Mark seems to contradict the women’s outspokenness. But does it? Both Matthew and Mark tell about the women feeling afraid and astonished when they discovered Jesus had risen from the dead. They did fall silent, but it was temporary, as the ESV Study Bible notes. The women told others later. Each of the Gospel accounts tells an angle of the resurrection story. They serve to validate what took place, supporting one another instead of contradicting.

 

   

Battle Numbers

   

But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. (2 Samuel 10:18, NIV)

But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven thousand of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. (1 Chronicles 19:18, NIV)

These passages tell the same account of the Battle of Helam, between Israel and Aramea, as Alan Scholes explains in his book, “The Artful Dodger.” But the numbers of Arameans who died differ from each other. According to the ESV Study Bible, “The difference is probably due not to a discrepancy in the original manuscripts but to a scribal error in the later transmission of the text of either book.” As noted earlier in this article, the original manuscripts of the Bible do not contain errors. Yet, the people who produced copies of the Bible could make small mistakes, as likely happened in this case. References like study Bibles can help you understand differences like this.

 

   

Faith and works

   

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26, NIV)

The relationship of God’s unearned gift of salvation and doing good things might seem confusing. However, the Bible as a whole shows that good works demonstrate faith. If you have faith, you will do good works. It helps to seek out other places in Scripture, in this case, verses like 2 Timothy 1:9, to see what message the entire Bible supports.

 

   

Revenge

   

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:23-25, NIV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39, NIV)

At first glance, the individual verses could seem like they contradict each other. But if you look deeper into their context, you see that they actually support each other and the larger story being told throughout the Bible. 

In the Exodus passage, God was forming His new nation, the Israelites, setting up rules and laws that were meant to keep people safe and be just. These show that wrong done against a person has consequences. And that people couldn’t just hurt those around them and have no accountability for their actions. God is revealing who He is and His desire, as well as the need we have, for justice through these instructions.

The passage from the Book of Matthew takes place after Jesus came into the world. In it, he is instructing his followers to a different way of living than the one in Exodus. This change is part of the larger story being told by God throughout the Bible. Now that Jesus is here, things are different. 

Why is that? Because God provided what the law He set up in Exodus required by sending Jesus to be the payment for the sins of everyone. By Jesus taking our consequences upon himself, God is making it possible for everyone to be a part of His people, not only the Israelites. And in this new tribe, He is calling His followers to be governed by a higher law, one of radical love for even our enemies.  

Because of Jesus, instead of repaying evil with more evil, God calls and empowers His followers to respond to the evil done to them with the same forgiveness and grace He gave to them through Jesus. It doesn’t mean He no longer is a God of justice, but it means that justice, for those who believe in and obey Jesus, has been provided and should change the way we live.

 

   

Sabbath

   

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8, ESV)

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. (Romans 14:5, ESV)

In Romans 14, the apostle Paul explains that there are non-essential matters related to the Christian life that people do differently, like eating certain foods and observing holidays. It’s not clear whether or not Paul is talking about the Sabbath, but Jesus said that people are ultimately free to observe the Sabbath in their own way, rather than seeing it as a strict rule (Mark 2:27). Jesus has authority over the law, as explained in the previous section. He gives people the ability to keep a rest day as they live for him.

 

   

Family relationships

   

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, NIV)

For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:35-36, NIV)

It might seem like Jesus defies the idea of honoring parents and says that you should oppose your family members. But if you read the words surrounding Matthew 10:35-36, especially the paragraph after it, you’ll find that Jesus is really telling people to love Him more than anyone else. So when it comes to choosing to follow what your family is asking you, how they're telling you to live or gaining their approval — when it is in conflict with what Christ is asking you to do or how He commands those who follow Him to live — you must love God more and choose to follow Him. But it is possible for you to put Jesus first in your life while still showing respect for your family members and obeying your parents’ good guidance.

 

   

Disassociating with evil

   

I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked. (Psalm 26:4-5, ESV)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2, ESV)

Jesus gathered and spent time with sinners, but he did not act contrary to what David, the writer of Psalm 26, is saying. David means that he doesn’t follow the ways of people doing evil and doesn’t join them in their wrongful actions. Instead, he walks in faithfulness (v. 3), meaning he lives rightly, according to God’s ways. The New Living Translation of the Bible says, “I refuse to join in with the wicked” in Psalm 26:5. Looking up different translations of Scripture can help you understand what a passage is really saying.

 

   

Punishment for sins

   

"See, it stands written before me: I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps - both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,” says the Lord. “Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied me on the hills, I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds." (Isaiah 65:6-7, NIV)

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10, ESV)

Throughout the Bible, God shows that people who choose to continue in sin without asking for forgiveness will receive the just consequence for their actions. In Isaiah 65, that’s what God said would happen to Israelites who turned away from Him. Psalm 103:10 might seem to contradict God’s repayment for evil, but when David uses the word “us,” it means people who follow God. When sinners come to Him, he forgives them.

 

   

Earth lasting

   

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. (Psalm 104:5, ESV)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35, NIV)

In Psalm 104:5, “the Hebrew word for ‘forever’ (olam) often simply means a long period or an indefinite time,” as explained in “When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties” by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. This verse shows that the earth is stable. However, along with Ecclesiastes 1:4, a similar verse, it is not saying that the earth in its current state will always exist. God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:1).

 

Conclusion

   

It’s important to think deeply about the Bible and read with a learner’s mindset. Make sure you’re reading the passages and sentences surrounding a verse to understand what it’s really saying. Look for explanations to the parts that don’t make sense and for the truth that God reveals. Also, remember that you can seek help. Talk to a close friend or your pastor about Scripture that you’re struggling with. Resources online, books or commentaries can help as well. Ask God to continue to teach you and give you an open mind as you study His Word.

If you’d like to know more about how to share Christ, your faith or the Bible with others who don’t yet believe in God, check out this page.

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