By Wayne Jackson
Infidels frequently claim: “The Bible is filled with mistakes and contradictions!” Yet when they are challenged to cite such contradictions, critics will usually generalize by suggesting, “Oh, there are many of them.” Or else they will introduce a difference between passages, which will not, in fact, constitute a contradiction at all.
It ought to be initially observed that the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” surely must be applied to the Bible. As we normally assume a person to be truthful until it is demonstrated otherwise, so also, a book -including the Bible- should be assumed to be internally consistent until it conclusively shows itself to be self-contradictory.
THE NATURE OF A CONTRADICTION
Many people do not have an accurate view of what constitutes a genuine contradiction. This truth must be constantly emphasized: a mere difference does not a contradiction make! Well, exactly what is a contradiction? The law of contradiction is essentially this: “That the same thing should at the same time both be and not be for the same person and in the same respect is impossible.” Careful consideration of this rule will reveal that it is composed of several elements. When one is confronted with an alleged contradiction, for example, he must be absolutely certain that : (a) the same person or thing is under consideration; (b) the same time period is in view, and, (c) the seemingly conflicting language is employed in the same sense.
Let us apply these principles to the two following statements to illustrate our point: John is rich. John is poor. Do these statements contradict? Not necessarily. First, two different people named John may be under consideration. Second, two different time frames may be in view; John may have been rich, but became poor. Third, the words “rich” and “poor” might have been used in different senses; John could be financially poor, but spiritually rich! The point is this: it is never legitimate to assume a contradiction until every possible means of harmonization has been fully exhausted. Now, let this principle be applied to the Bible.
SAME PERSON OR THING
An infidel once gleefully announced that he had found a discrepancy in Scripture. When challenged to produce it, he suggested that whereas Noah’s ark with all of its inmates must have weighed several tons (Gen. 6), the priests were said to have carried the ark across the Jordan River (Josh. 3). The poor fellow did not even know the difference between Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant! Two different arks! The bible asserts that the sinner is saved by works, then again, that the sinner is not saved by works. Is this a contradiction? No, for the Bible speaks of different kinds of works. Salvation does involve works of obedience of Christ’s commands (Phil. 2:12, Jas. 2:14f), but it cannot be obtained by works of the Mosaic law (Rom. 3:28, 4:2f), or by human works (Eph. 2:9).
SAME TIME REFERENCE
The Bible records: “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31), and then: “And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Gen. 6:6). The unbeliever cites both verses and suggests that the Lord was simultaneously satisfied and dissatisfied with his creation. But the fall of man, and several hundred years of human history separate the two statements! Man was viewed in two entirely different time frames. Some have charged the Bible with a mistake in connection with the time of Jesus’ trial and death. Mark writes that Jesus was crucified at the third hour (Mk. 15:25), while John’s account has the Lord being tried at the sixth hour (Jn. 19:14). John’s record, however, was based upon Roman civil days, while Mark computed according to Jewish time. Thus, different time references were involved. There is no contradiction!
If the Bible is to be understood, it is imperative that recognition be given to the different senses in which words may be employed. Normally terms are used literally, but they can be employed figuratively as well. For instance, in Matthew 11:14, John the Baptist is identified as “Elijah,” yet, the forerunner of Christ plainly denied that he was Elijah (Jn. 1:21). These verses are easily harmonized. Though John was not literally Elijah, physically reincarnated, nevertheless he was the spiritual antitype of that great prophet; he prepared the way for Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk. 1:17).
Another implication of the law of contradiction is the concept that “nothing can have at the same time and at the same place contradictory and inconsistent qualities.” A door may be open; a door may be shut. But the same door cannot be open and shut at the same time. Here is the principle: opposites are not necessarily contradictory. Let this truth be applied to certain Biblical matters. Does the Bible contradict itself, as is sometime claimed, when it represents God as both loving and hating? No, for these words are used with reference to different objects. God loves the world (Jn. 3:16), but he hates every false way (Psa. 45:7), he thus responds toward such with either goodness or severity (Rom. 11:22). But there is no contradiction.
SUPPLEMENTATION NOT CONTRADICTION
A proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time. If one declares; “I have a son,” and then states, “I do not have a son,” he has contradicted himself. If, however, he says: “I have a son,” and then he announces, “I have a daughter,” he does not contradict himself, for he may have both a son and a daughter. This is an example of supplementation, and this is not a contradiction. Many so-called Bible discrepancies can be explained in this fashion.
The case of the healing of the blind men of Jericho, often cited as a Bible contradiction, represents an interesting case in supplementation (Mt. 20:29f; Mk. 10:46f; Lk. 18:35f). Two problems have been set forth. First, while Mark and Luke mention the healing of two. Secondly, Matthew and Mark indicate that blind men were healed as Christ was leaving Jericho, whereas Luke appears to suggest that a blind man was healed as the Lord drew nigh to the city. As these points are considered, remember this – if there is any reasonable way of harmonizing these accounts, no legitimate contradiction can be charged!
In the first place, the fact that two of the gospel accounts mention only one blind man, while the other mentions two, need not concern us. Had Mark and Luke stated that Christ healed only one man, with Matthew affirming that more than one were healed, an error would surely be apparent. But such was not the case. Obviously Mrk and Luke mentioned only the more prominent of the two blind men.
Secondly, there are several possibilities for harmonizing the accounts regarding where the miracles occured. A popular view among reputable Bible scholars is the fact that at the time of Christ there were actually two towns called Jericho. First, there was the Jericho of Old Testament fame (Josh. 6:1f), which, in the first century, lay largely in ruins. About two miles south of that site was new Jericho, built by Herod the Great. The Lord, therefore, traveling toward Jerusalem, would first pass through OT Jericho, and then, some two miles to the south-west, go through Herodian Jericho. The miracles, therfore, may have been performed between the two towns. Accordingly, the references of Matthew and Mark to leaving Jericho would allude to old Jericho, whereas Luke’s observation to drawing near to Jericho would refer to the newer city.
In dealing with so-called contradictions in the Bible, therefore, let these principles be carefully remembered:
(1) No contradiction exists between verses that refer to different persons or things.
(2) No contradiction exists between passages that involve different time elements.
(3) No contradiction exists between verses that employ phraseology in different senses.
(4) Opposites are not necessarily contradictions.
(5) Supplementation is not contradiction.
(6) One need only show the possibility of a harmonization between passages that appear to be in conflict in order to negate the force on the alleged Bible discrepancy.
(7) Finally, the differences in various scriptural accounts of the same events actually demonstrate the independence of the divine writers. They were not in collusion!
God, though using human writers in the composition of the Bible, is nevertheless its ultimate Author. And since the perfect God cannot be the source of confusion (I Cor. 14:33) or contradiction (Heb. 6:18), it must be acknowledged that the Buible is perfectly harmonious.
If seeming discrepancies are discovered, let us apply ourselves to diligent study to resolve them. But let us never foolishly charge God Almighty with allowing errors to be incorporated into His sacred Book!