Inerrancy 2: Alleged Bible Contradictions

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In the first message, I looked at the Biblical doctrine of Scriptural Inerrancy, and why it is so important to the Christian faith. However, many people reject this idea because of seeming contradictions in the Bible. Several discussions I have had on this subject led me to do some research, the result of which is this article, which will conclude our study of inerrancy.

As I previously discussed, the Bible itself repeatedly affirms its own inerrancy. With this in mind we must assume that any apparent contradiction must have a logical explanation. Kenneth Kantzer writes; "The faith of some is hindered by what seems to them to be false statements or self-contradiction. We need, therefore, to clear away such false obstacles to faith. If there remains any obstacle to faith, it should be the stumbling block of the cross, or the cost of discipleship rather than an imaginary obstacle that could easily be eliminated. In spite of what we sometimes hear, God never asks us to crucify our intellects in order to believe." (From the forward to Gleason Archer's book,"Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties" page 8, Zondervan Corporation,Grand Rapids Michigan,1982)

One of the key texts in discussing this issue is 2 Timothy 3:16, which tells us that "ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God..." The word "inspiration" literally means "God breathed." Isn't that beautiful? God "breathed" His Word to us! Although our modern versions may not carry the same weight as the originals, God has seen to us that we accurately have His Word today. Josh McDowell writes "No one manuscript or translation is inspired, only the originals. However, for all intents and purposes, they are virtually inspired since, with today's great number of manuscripts available for scrutiny, the science of textual criticism can render us an accurate representation. Therefore, we can be assured that when we read the Bible we are reading the inspired Word of God." (A Ready Defense" page 177,Here's Life Publishers Inc.San Bernidino,California,1990)

I will now look at a few of the alleged discrepancies in the Bible, along with the explanations. Obviously, for time and space reasons, this study will not be exhaustive. If you have a concern about an apparent contradiction not covered here, consult the books recommended at the end, as well as good Evangelical commentaries and Bible dictionaries.

1)IN SOME CASES,A WORD OR PHRASE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN TRANSLATED AS ACCURATELY AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN, or sometimes the Hebrew and Greek words didn't have an exact English equivalent. This is why I recommend that every Bible student own good word study tools, such as Strong's Concordance and Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.They are very helpful when dealing with these matters.

An example of such a situation occurs in Acts. When Paul had his dramatic encounter with God on Damascus road. Acts 9:7 states that Paul and his traveling companions heard the voice of God. However, in Acts 22:9, Paul says that only he, not his companions, heard the voice. How can both statements be correct? The Greek verb translated "to hear"can also be translated "to understand" (see Strong's #191.)Therefore, they all HEARD the voice, but only Paul UNDERSTOOD the message.

2)IN TRANSCRIBING THE TEXT, SOMETIMES MINOR TEXTUAL VARIANCES OCCURRED. Suppose a college professor wrote a paper, asked everyone in his class to copy it, then destroyed the original. The students doing the copying would occasionally make typographical errors.There would be misspelled words, misplaced punctuation, etc.However, when the copies were compared to each other, the mistakes would be easy to spot, and the class could know beyond any doubt that they had the exact message the professor wanted to convey.

This is similar to the way the Bible was distributed in ancient times. From the very beginning, the Scriptures were copied, copied,and then copied some more, until copies had been sent all over the world! While it is true that we do not have the original Bible documents today, we have thousands of manuscripts which date back to the earliest periods in church history. By comparing them, Bible translators were able to know with precise accuracy what the original manuscripts said.

However, in some cases, these copyist's errors did come through into some English translations. An example of this would be the number of horse stalls King Solomon owned. 2 Chronicles 9:25 says he had 4000, while 1 Kings 4:26 lists the number at 40,000. In reality, this discrepancy only appeared in a few manuscripts of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament.) It was not in the originals, and therefore, is not a contradiction at all.In light of this, many modern translations do not have this discrepancy.

3)ONE DESCRIPTION OF AN EVENT MAY INCLUDE DETAILS THAT ANOTHER ACCOUNT DOES NOT. The most obvious example of this would be each Gospel's unique discriptions of the events following Jesus' resurrection. Many skeptics are quick to point to these as glaring contradictions in Scripture. However, this is not the case at all. Additional details of an event are supplementary, not contradictory.

The notes on Matthew 28 in the Scofield Study Bible combine all four narratives to produce a very helpful time line of the post-resurrection events;

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, start for the sepulchre, followed by other women bearing spices.The three find the stone rolled away, and Mary Magdalene goes to tell the disciples (Luke 23:55-24:9; John 20:1-2.)Mary, the mother of James, draws nearer to the tomb and sees the angel of the Lord(Matthew 28:2.) She goes back to meet the other women following with the spices. Meanwhile, Peter and John, informed by Mary Magdalene, arrive, look in, and go away(John 20:3-10.) Mary Magdalene returns weeping, sees the two angels, then Jesus(John 20:11-18,) and goes as He bade her to tell the disciples. Mary (mother of James and Joses,) meanwhile, has met the women with the spices and, returning with them, they see the TWO angels (Luke 24:4-5; Mark 16:5.)They also receive the angelic message, and going to seek the disciples, are met by Jesus (Matthew 28:8-10.)

4)SEEMINGLY CONTRADICTORY ACCOUNTS OF AN EVENT MAY IN REALITY BE ACCOUNTS OF SIMILAR, BUT SEPARATE EVENTS. Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52,and Luke 18:35-43 all contain accounts of blind men healed by Jesus at the edge of the city of Jericho. Matthew describes the healing of two blind men as Jesus left Jericho, In Mark, one of the healed blind men's name-Bartimaeus-is given, and he is also healed as Jesus and His disciples left Jericho. If these describe the same event, the presence of a second person is again, a supplementary detail, not a contradiction.

However, Luke's account describes Jesus healing a blind man as He ENTERED Jericho. Some assume that this refers to one of the previously mentioned events, and that this is a contradiction.

However, it must be remembered that Jericho was a very large city of about 100,000 people, and that eye disease was very common in that part of the world. I see no reason to doubt that Luke describes a totally separate event from the one(s) described by Matthew and Mark.

(Note; another possible explanation is that Jericho was divided into "old" and "new"sections. It is possible that Jesus and His disciples were leaving one, and entering the other when the healing(s) occurred, therefore leaving open the possibility that these could indeed all be referring to the same event.)

This has been a fascinating and rewarding study for me, and I pray it was for you, also. God has not left us in the dark. He has lovingly provided His Word for us, and wants to see it become a living reality in our lives. The inerrancy debate can really be summarized in two very simple questions.Is God not powerful enough to keep His Word pure? Would His love, providence, and integrity permit Him to do otherwise? When we understand these basic attributes of God's nature, accepting the trustworthiness of the Bible is easy.

In closing, I will again quote Josh McDowell; "Solutions to apparent Bible contradictions provide confidence that other alleged conflicts also have solutions. Often the solutions reveal just how precisely God has communicated to us in the Bible. Apparent contradictions become assuring confirmation of the Bible's minute accuracy and trustworthiness.("A Ready Defense,"page 133)


"Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties" by Gleason Archer

"Does the Bible Contradict Itself?" by W.F.Arndt

"Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible" by John W.Haley

"A Harmony of the Gospels" by Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry

1999 JHB


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