|"Sometimes the solutions to biblical differences reveal just how precisely the writers have communicated the events that have occurred."
What is a Contradiction?
Are there contradictions within the Bible?
Skeptics often pose the question “How can one believe a Bible that is full of contradictions?” The question assumes that the Bible is filled with so many obvious discrepancies, it would be foolish to trust it.
However, while certain
passages, at first glance, may
appear contradictory (as can
the testimonies of any two
honest witnesses in one legal
trial), further investigation
may show otherwise.
What constitutes a contradiction?
The law of contradiction,
which is the basis
of all logical thinking, states that a thing cannot be both a and non-a at the same time, in
the same place, and in the same manner. It cannot be both
raining and not raining at the same time in the same location.
If one can demonstrate a violation of this principle in the
Bible, then one can prove a contradiction. For example, if the
Bible said that Jesus died by crucifixion both at Jerusalem and
at Nazareth at the same time, this would be a provable error.
When looking at possible contradictions, it is important
to note that two statements can differ from each other without
being contradictory. It can be easy to confuse contradiction with difference. For example:
Suppose you talk to the mayor of your city and the chief
of police at city hall. Later, you see your friend, Jim, and tell
him you talked to the mayor today. An hour after that, you
see another friend, John, and tell him you talked to both the
mayor and the chief of police. Your friends compare notes,
and there seems to be a contradiction — but there is not.
Since you had not told Jim you talked only to the mayor, you
did not contradict what you told John.
The statements made to Jim and John were different,
but not contradictory. Neither statement denies the other;
rather, they are complementary. Many biblical statements fall
into this category, and people sometimes think they find errors
in passages when actually, they simply do not read the
When two passages are taken out of context, alleged contradictions
can be found in almost any document, including,
for example, the Encyclopedia Britannica. In one article, which
discusses the persecution of Christians, the encyclopedia reads:
"Persecution of Christians first arose in connection with converts among the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem." (This event occurred sometime between A.D. 30–35.).
Yet, another article regarding Christian persecution in
the same encyclopedia reads:
"The first persecution, that of Nero, was related to a devastating fire in the capital in A.D. 64."
On the surface, this seems to be a direct contradiction:
How can the first persecution of Christians be both before
A.D. 35 and in A.D. 64? However, when each passage is studied
within its original context, the intended meaning becomes clear,
and the contradiction disappears. In reality, A.D. 30–35 is when
the Jews first began persecuting Christians, and A.D. 64 is when
the Roman authorities first officially persecuted them.
For the most part, the contradictions presented by many
Bible critics tend to be nothing more than innocent misunderstandings,
manipulations of archaic words, or a failure to
give the text a fair chance to prove itself. To clarify such alleged
contradictions, all relevant facts must be considered (if
possible), and then a conclusion should be drawn providing
the simplest possible explanation.
Here are possible solutions to some frequently published
alleged biblical contradictions:
Genesis 1 (God creates plants, then animals, then man and woman)
Genesis 2 (God creates man, then plants, then animals, then woman)
- After chronologically tracing the creation of the universe
in chapter 1, the theme narrows in chapter 2 to focus on man’s
place in the universe. Genesis 1 is meant to be a step-by-step
historical account, while Genesis 2 is more of a summary.
Reading the two passages should easily convince anyone of
this. Genesis 2 is not concerned so much with time frames, but events. If one carefully reads the events in Genesis 2 (in
the NIV), one would see that as man is mentioned, it is noted
that the Garden had already been created. When animals are
brought into the picture, this is similarly noted.
Matthew 27:5 (Judas hangs himself)
Acts 1:18 (Judas falls headlong, his bowels gush)
- How did Judas die? The Book of Matthew says he hung
himself. The Book of Acts says he fell down and burst. A logical
explanation is that after Judas hung himself and was eventually
cut down, his body fell headlong and burst open. Why
would his body have “burst open” falling down in a field unless
it was in some state of decomposition?
Acts 1:18 (Judas purchased the field with the 30 pieces of silver)
Matthew 27:6-7 (The chief priests purchased the field with the 30 pieces of silver)
- The account states that Judas received a reward of 30 pieces
of silver for betraying Jesus, but afterward tried to return it to
the chief priests who gave it to him. When they refused, Judas
threw down the money and went to hang himself. The chief
priests then picked up the money, according to the account,
and decided to buy a potter’s field with it. Since Judas’ reward
money was used to purchase the field where he was buried, he
was thus ultimately the real buyer of the field. Acts 1 is a quick
summary of the events after the resurrection of Jesus, and the
statements made are not out of line with the style of writing.
Luke 17:34 (Jesus’ final return “in the last
days” will be during the nighttime)
Luke 17:30–31 (Jesus’ final return “in the last
days” will be during the daytime)
- To the natural mind of Luke’s time, these words of Jesus
must have sounded like a contradiction. People would have
thought, How could a single event occur simultaneously in the
day and in the night? Such a statement must have appeared
just as impossible and contradictory in the first century as it
does now. Of course, it is now understood that it could be a
daytime event for those on one side of the globe, while the
event could occur simultaneously in the night for those living
on the other side of the planet.
Any attorney who has faced the task of piecing together
apparently conflicting courtroom testimony can understand
how difficult it is to reconcile an apparent contradiction between
two witnesses. The Cambridge-educated Sir Norman
Anderson, who lectured at Princeton University, was offered
a professorship for life at Harvard University, and served as
dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of London, states:
I must confess that I am appalled by the way in
which some people — biblical scholars among them
— are prepared to make the most categorical statements
that this story cannot possibly be reconciled
with that, or that such and such statements are
wholly irreconcilable, when a little gentle questioning
of the witnesses, were this possible, might well
have cleared up the whole problem. Sometimes,
indeed, a tentative solution may not be very far to
seek even without such questioning, although the
suggested reconciliation cannot, of course, be
proved; and in others there may well be a perfectly
satisfactory solution which evades us.
Concerning the New Testament Gospels in particular,
Lee Strobel, former award-winning legal editor of the Chicago
Tribune, points out, “Ironically, if the gospels had been
identical to each other, word for word, this would have raised
charges that the authors had conspired among themselves
to coordinate their stories in advance, and that would have
cast doubt on them.” Craig Blomberg, who is widely considered
to be one of the foremost authorities on the biographies
of Jesus, affirms, “If the gospels were too consistent,
that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses.”
A classical historian, German scholar Hans Stier, says
that agreement over basic data and divergence of details suggest
credibility, because fabricated accounts tend to be fully
consistent and harmonized. “Every historian,” he wrote, “is
especially skeptical at that moment when an extraordinary
happening is only reported in accounts which are completely
free of contradictions.”
In fact, sometimes the solutions to biblical differences
reveal just how precisely the writers have communicated the
events that have occurred; such differences can actually become
confirmations of the Bible’s minute accuracy and trustworthiness.