Does The Bible Contain Contradictions?

by Robert Driskell · Print Print · Email Email

One of the skeptic’s favorite tactics is to attempt to foster doubt concerning the reliability of the Bible.  Many times they do this by claiming that the Bible is full of contradictions.  They claim that one cannot trust the Bible because it says one thing in one place and says a completely different thing in another place.  Even Bible-believers realize that, if there were even one true contradiction in the Bible, then the Bible could not be the Word of God.

But, does the Bible contain contradictions? This author stands on the authority of the Bible as God’s Holy Word.  I have heard, and found wanting, many of the supposed ‘contradictions’ that ‘prove’ the Bible could not be the Word of God. There are always good and sensible resolutions to these objections.  God makes no mistakes; the Bible is God’s Word; therefore, His Word contains no contradictions.

Contradictions: defining a contradiction

Now, one may disagree with what the Bible says; one may consider some of the accounts contained in the Bible to be myths or make-believe; however, this is not the same as saying the Bible contains mistakes or that it contradicts itself.  Believing or not believing is a personal choice; a contradiction is something that can be verified or falsified.

A contradiction can be stated in this way: a proposition and its negation (symbolically written, “A and not A”) at the same time and in the same relationship.  There is actually a Law of Non-contradiction that states that a contradiction cannot be true: “It is impossible to have A and not A at the same time and in the same relationship.”  Dr. Jason Lisle writes about this law, “The last part of this law is crucially important. Obviously, A and not A could be true at different times.  And this resolves a number of alleged Bible contradictions.  They could even be true at the same time if the relationship is different” (Ham, p. 13). 

The Unbeliever’s Philosophy

The biblical skeptic seeks to point out errors in the Bible in order to support his or her rejection of the Bible or convince others that the Bible is not trustworthy.  Nevertheless, the Bible tells us clearly that, even as they attempt to discredit the Bible, they know the truth, but are willfully suppressing it (Romans 1:18-20).  Because their hearts are blinded by unbelief (2 Corinthians 4:4), and because understanding has not been given to them by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14), they look for reasons to call the veracity of the Bible into question.  Because they search with blinded eyes, they will see contradictions where none exist.  Then, they are quick to point out the, “…glaring inconsistencies,” “self-contradictions,” and “manifest discrepancies” of the Bible, and incessantly urging these as so many proofs of its untrustworthiness and of its merely human origins” (Haley, p. 2-3).  If the Bible truly is “full of contradictions”, as atheists would have us belief, then neither they, nor you and I, need believe the Bible to truly be God’s Word.  So, let us investigate.

To the skeptic

There are many, many good responses in print from thoughtful Christian apologists who take seriously the accusations that the Bible contains contradictions.  They have looked carefully, and thoroughly, at those accusations and have provided valid, reasonable rebuttals.  However, many of those skeptics who claim the Bible is ‘full of contradictions’ also choose to ignore any reasoned evidence against their claims.  They willfully bury their heads in the sand when confronted with rebuttals.

This author stands on the authority of the Bible as God’s Holy Word.

This author stands on the authority of the Bible as God’s Holy Word.

The Bible tells us that God provides the conditions, and opportunities, for anyone to know Him in a close, personal way (Acts 17:26-28).  Still, the choice remains ours to make…either to reject God and carry on, unforgiven, in our own sinfulness, or to give our lives to Him in obedience, receive forgiveness, and share an eternal existence with Him forever.  Sadly, many of those who claim the Bible contains contradictions, would rather hold onto their pride rather than admit they are wrong, repent of their sins, and receive the salvation God offers through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

To the believer

It is my hope that every true Christian believes the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God; however, if there are believers who do not trust the Bible as such, I would encourage you to investigate the reasons for your doubt, and find good, solid answers for your questions.  As David O’Brien writes, “No honest question or doubt can ever harm the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (O’Brien, p. 15). God’s Word can more than withstand the scrutiny of men, and has for some time now, and there is so much to gain, in this life and the next, from studying its contents.

False ‘Contradictions’

Most alleged contradictions in the Bible stem from one, or more, of these common reasons:

Only the original manuscripts were perfect.  The original writings of the Prophets and Apostles were free from error; we can be certain of this due to the science of textual criticism which assures us that any mistakes that have been made in the copying of the Bible are minor and affect no doctrinal teachings.  Most of these types of variations show up in differing numbers, differing names, or different word phrasing in several manuscripts.

Presuppositional Discrepancies.  This ‘contradiction’ is caused by someone whose mind is already made up concerning some issue on which the Bible disagrees with the reader’s preconceptions.  For instance, the Bible says that the world was once covered in water by a great flood.  A naturalistic scientist would say that there is no evidence for this flood.  However, what that scientist is really doing is bringing his or her preformed opinion (that there was no flood) to the text of the Bible and declaring the Bible to be wrong.  Once again, one may choose to not believe the Bible, but one should at least deal with the text.

Incorrect Context.  Many times, Christians are guilty of making this mistake when trying to make sense  of the Bible.  The words of the Bible were not written in a vacuum; they were written in particular places, at particular times, in particular situations, by particular people.  All of this should be taken into consideration when searching for the meaning of a text.  Also, there are many different genres of writing in the Bible.  One does not read poetry the same as one reads a historical account.  One does not read a prophetic vision the same as one reads a genealogy. 

When one is carefully (and prayerfully) endeavors to discern the meaning of the biblical text, many errors of interpretation can be avoided and many alleged contradiction simply vanish.

Conclusion

The Bible, as God’s Word, contains no contradictions.  The skeptic’s claim to the contrary stems from their desire to prove the Bible wrong, or to convince others that it is wrong in order to appease the guilty conscience that exists in every man and woman who does not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  The believer, on the other hand, should never fear the skeptic’s accusations, because the Bible, being the very Truth of God, contains no lies, untruths, or mistakes.  Anyone can disarm the claims of the skeptic with but a small amount of prayerful research.  As Christians, we owe it to God to equip ourselves to be able to defend the truthfulness and authority of His Word.

Related reading: How Do We Know the Bible is True

Resources – Haley, John W. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Whitaker House, 1992. Ham, Ken. Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Master Books, 2010. O’Brien, David E. Today’s Handbook for Solving Bible Difficulties. Bethany House, 1990.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits March 3, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Hi Robert,

I guessed who the author of this great article was before I ever scrolled down to your name…;-) What an important subject and one that I’ve dealt with frequently in the past.

One of the ploys of the committed atheist is to say that, “There is no proof for God’s existence” rather than saying that, “God does not exist”, for it is easier for the atheist to disprove a positive(as the Christian shows their proof for God’s existence) than for the atheist to prove a negative(that God does not exist).

We need to be as wise as these serpents (but as harmless as doves) in our approach also, IMO, when speaking to the committed opponents of inerrancy…, your topic.

We need to use their approach and state that, “There is no proof of contradictions in the Bible”(forcing the atheist to show us his examples…,allowing us to show him his mistake) , rather than to state that, “There are no contradictions in the Bible”(wherein the atheist can simply reply, “prove it!”).

We must remember that a simple plausible explanation of a seeming contradiction, is enough. This places the burden of proof that it is a contradiction back upon those making the claim.

Example:

Skeptic/inquirer:

“How come the Bible states that Jesus was supposed to be in the grave three days and three nights(Mt 12:40) when the church says He was buried on Friday and rose on Sunday? That is only two nights.”

My answer. The year in which Christ died had Passover in mid-week, Wednesday, which was a “preparation day”, before an annual Sabbath. The annual Sabbath(called the First Day of Unleavened bread), occurred on Thursday of that week. Jesus was “cut off” in mid-week, Wednesday, was in the grave, Wednesday night,Thursday night and Friday night, and rose on the weekly Sabbath(Saturday), appearing to the women, early in the morning, on the first day of the week(Sunday).

He was in the ground(grave) therefore three days and three nights, just as He said. I would tell them that I have many secular historical records and NT and OT references to verify this dating, which I do.

It doesn’t matter if you or they agree with me. My point is that I have given a plausible explanation to the skeptic. It is upon his head then to prove to me that there still exists a contradiction with the Words of Jesus, spoken in Matthew, and the actual timeline I just demonstrated historically, in which Jesus was in the grave.

You have brought up such an important point Robert. That is, that we Christians need to study these purported contradictions, and the explanations given by Christian writers, so that we will be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within us.

I would think a series on this web site(is there one?) giving the most commonly cited “contradictions” in the Bible with easy to use answers for your readers, would be really helpful. If not, perhaps links to books or web sites explaining the common questions and answers for the Christian concerning the most commonly cited ‘contradictions” in the Bible.

Blessings,

DocReits

Reply

Robert March 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Doc,
Always good to read your comments, they are informative and challenging. I agree with you whole-heartedly; my article just skimmed the surface of this topic, there could indeed, and probably should, be several more articles written concerning alleged contradictions in the Bible and how to refute them. Too many people, Christians included, are swayed by the claims of those who attack the Bible simply because we are unprepared to defend the veracity and authority of the Word. As I mentioned in my article, the Bible is God’s truth, and as such, can withstand any and all scrutiny and criticism.

Your solution to the “three days in the grave” does indeed put the burden of proof back in the lap of the Bible-denier. It is easy for them to claim that the Bible has contradictions, but it is impossible for them to prove it…most won’t try.

Always enjoy reading your comments, Doc. I’ve told you before that I wish more people would think as deeply about the things of God as you do. Keep it up.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Tony Reese March 8, 2014 at 10:39 am

Very good article. May I ask, if there are any books you recommend on disproving common, or uncommon, supposed contradictions? I would like to learn as many as possible as I often run afoul of Muslims and Atheists that claim the scriptures to be erroneous, mostly on the internet.

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Jack Wellman March 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

Thank you Tony for your comment. This may be one of the best books written by one of the greatest theologians living today by R.C. Sroul called “Scripture Alone.” we must also understand that no Muslim or atheist is ever convinced by argument but the Holy Spirit reveals who God is and we can pray for our friends. The link for the book is at: http://www.ligonier.org/store/scripture-alone-paperback/ and thank you for caring enough about knowing the Bible is certain and without error. Here is another article that might help that we have written at: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-do-we-know-the-bible-is-true-is-it-really-the-word-of-god/

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Tony Reese March 9, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Thanks brother Wellman. I’ll look for that book soon.
And, yes, we all must pray that our lost brothers and sisters will finally receive Jesus and the truth of God’s word.

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Mr A Cotton March 11, 2014 at 11:25 am

There is no contradictions in the bible,but their are misinterpretation`s.
When King James did the bible he hired the best number of interpreters he could find which was about 60.
Each interpreted the documents then it was passed to the next interpreter. This was done about 60 times to get the bible right has king James wanted.
Sadly their were error`s by the four Evangelists Matthew,Mark,Luke,and John,and the interpreters.
Marks version seemed the most accurate,because the others seemed to take part`s of Marks version,and use it in their own version.
Example- Before the cock crow Matthew 26:34
Before the cock crow twice Mark 14:30 We all know it was 3 times.
Judas died he went away and hung himself Matthew 27:5
Judas went head long and his bowels gushed out Acts 1:18
I know about the Judas one. Judas went away and hung himself,but the rope or the branch was weak so he fell down on the sharp rocks below and his bowels gushed out.
They are separated in the bible,and put over has two different events when there was only one.
This is what the unbelievers jump on.
Did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a Donkey,Ass,or a Colt.
I used to know this one it`s something to do with the Colt.
It`s only natural if people see an accident,and there are four witnesses each one would tell you their version of the accident,but they would all agree if one of them said that a child caused the accident. You would get reactions like, he I did not see a child,and another one said yes I saw the child has well.

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Robert March 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Hello again, Mr. Cotton (Anthony),

Good to hear from you again. Yes, it’s true, there have been many misinterpretations of the Bible, but that in no way means there are any deficiencies with the Bible itself. The Bible is God’s Word; as such, it contains no errors.

The four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) made no mistakes when they wrote their record of Jesus’ life and teachings. I’m not sure where you heard that, but it’s simply not true. We have enough ancient manuscripts to be quite confident concerning what the original writers wrote.

Now, this still doesn’t mean that people have been, and still are, mistaken about what the Bible MEANS, even if they know what it SAYS. There have always been, and will continue to be, those who claim the Bible contains errors, and no matter what answer you give them, they don’t accept it; however, the Bible still stands up to any and all criticisms of this type. God’s Word will never fail.

You are absolutely right when you say that four people viewing an accident will report different aspects of the accident. However, there reports should never contradict one another. It would take too long to go into here, but there are good solid answers for the alleged contradictions you mentioned in your comment. (Maybe I can find the time to get some answers and get back to you soon). God bless you brother.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Dee May 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I would like to make a comment about the bible if I may. I believe the bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. As we know the bible is a compilation of books and passages of scripture written by ancient apostles and prophets. And from their original writings they were pure, and contained the full gospel of Christ. However, the adversary was also at work trying to distort the truths of the gospel. Through the many translations some of the passages of scripture were lost and changed. This is why the bible has many interpretations because some of the original gospel truths were taken out of it. But because God knew this would happen he provided another means of scripture that many Christian don’t know about, which is the Book of Mormon, and which is another testament of Jesus Christ. This book actually supports the bible and aids in revealing some of those truths which were lost in the bible. Because of this I have gained a greater knowledge about God and understanding of the bible.

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Robert May 6, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Dee,
First, thank you for reading and commenting. I believe that civil discourse is an opportunity to share one’s beliefs and to discuss one’s differences. It is in that spirit that I respond to your comment.

You wrote: “I believe the bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”
My response: I agree with your statement, but would also add that the Bible must be interpeted correctly also, not just translated correctly. If you will read the articles I have included below, I think you will see that God has carefully superintended the preservation of His Word down through the ages. By comparing all the copies we have, we know that there are very few differences (and none that affect any core doctrines) between the Bibles we have now and the original manuscripts.

You wrote: “This is why the bible has many interpretations because some of the original gospel truths were taken out of it.”
My response: This is simple untrue. I am believing that you are sincere and have simply been taught incorrect information; therefore, it is my hope that you will truly investigate the things I am presenting here. There are many reasons for the varied interpretations of some biblical passages; however, lost Gospel truths are not among them. As I mentioned before, the manuscripts we have today vary only minutely from the oldest manuscripts in existence. We can be sure that they say what God originally wants them to say. It is up to us to read them as those who would allow His Words to change us, not the other way around.

The veracity, or the lack thereof, of the Book of Mormon, and how it teaches substantially different truths about God, Jesus, and the nature of salvation, has been discussed quite frequently on this website and I have included many of those articles (and the discussions following them) below. If you would care to read them and then comment further, I would be happy to interact with you.

It is my hope that through our correspondence you would come to know the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ; thereby, learning the true means of salvation and submitting to the Truth of God’s Word, the Bible.

The comments following this article were very interesting:
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/are-there-still-prophets-today/

An article by one of the other writers on this site that directly addresses Mormon beliefs:
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/are-mormons-christian-what-do-they-believe-about-jesus/

A few articles supporting the trustworthiness of the Bible:
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/origin-of-the-bible-what-is-its-history/
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/why-the-bible-is-called-the-bible-is-it-really-holy/
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/why-i-trust-the-bible/
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-we-got-the-king-james-version-of-the-bible/

Dee, I pray that you will thoughtfully peruse these articles, and the comments following them. God bless you richly in your journey.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Carmen N March 17, 2015 at 11:31 am

Hi Brother Robert and Brother Jack,
I hope you are both growing in the knowledge of our Lord’s Word.

I hope this thread is still ongoing because I just happened to read these passages in my Bible reading today and saw it as two contradicting statements–verse 26:4 and verse 26:5. I am not looking for contradictions in the Word but I sincerely want to understand God’s Word.
King James Bible
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Proverbs 26:4
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. Proverbs 26:5

English Revised Version
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Proverbs 26:4
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. Proverbs 26:5

Also, my younger sister, and now I after listening to her, would like to understand why we should pray for all the things we need and “would like to have according to the Lord’s will,” if the verse below says that everything is already written in the book of life.
King James Bible
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:16
English Revised Version
Thine eyes did see mine unperfect substance, and in thy book were all my members written, which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16
New International Version
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16

I know that God wants us to pray… I guess we should just do it because He says so. We have an older sister who died from cancer in 2009, and my younger sister really believed for her healing. She says we should just pray the prayer that Jesus said to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 and be content since nothing else will happen that is not in His will, which of course is best, yet why does He says ask, knock and seek?

I want to love and seek and be in the presence of the Lord having no double mindedness but the more I seek the more the words in Ecclesiastes echos back at me, “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:1

Your Sister in Christ Jesus,
Carmen N

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Robert March 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Carmen,
Good to hear from you again. I am doing well and hope that you are also. I am sorry to hear about your sister. We must always remember that we live in a sin-cursed world and the effects of that sin continue to haunt and harm us. Was she a Christian?

As to the apparent contradiction between Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5, let’s take a closer look. On the surface, these verses do appear to contradict one another; however, when we look a bit closer, the differences become apparent. The main difference between them is seen in the second phrase of each verse. Verse 4 ends with, “…lest thou also be like unto him” (KJV) while verse 5 ends with, “…lest he be wise in his own conceit” (KJV). These verses highlight the truth that there will times when we should answer a fool and other times when we should keep our mouths shut. And we, guided by the Holy Spirit, will have to decide when to do what. If it appears that the scoffer’s mind is made up and all he or she wants to do is argue and be contentious, that is when we should not engage in discussion with him or her. If we do, we will end up frustrated and perhaps doing more harm than good for God’s kingdom. On the other hand, if the person appears sincere, perhaps simply mistaken, then we should lovingly, and prayerfully, attempt to lead them to the Truth. I hope this helps. I found this article very helpful in understanding the differences between these two seemingly contradictory passages: http://www.gotquestions.org/Proverbs-26-4-5.html

You wrote: “Also, my younger sister, and now I after listening to her, would like to understand why we should pray for all the things we need and “would like to have according to the Lord’s will,” if the verse below says that everything is already written in the book of life.”
I think the answer to this is that, even though God knows how everything is going to go and how it all works out, we don’t. As an example: we don’t know which persons we witness to will become Christians and who won’t; so we witness to everyone we can and pray for the best.

You wrote: “I know that God wants us to pray… I guess we should just do it because He says so. We have an older sister who died from cancer in 2009, and my younger sister really believed for her healing.”
We must remember that we are told to ask whatever we will; but, our prayers will be answered according to His will (“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” I John 5:14).

You also wrote that your sister said that, “… we should just pray the prayer that Jesus said to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 and be content since nothing else will happen that is not in His will, which of course is best, yet why does He says ask, knock and seek?”
I believe your sister is right and that we are to continue seeking, asking, and knocking so that our eyes, and our dependence, are always on Him. Think about this: what if we got everything we wanted and never had any problems, would we continue to lean on Him and trust Him or would we slowly turn our focus elsewhere? The pain and pressure of life tends to help focus our attention on God, Who alone can give us true help and comfort.

You wrote: “I want to love and seek and be in the presence of the Lord having no double mindedness but the more I seek the more the words in Ecclesiastes echos back at me, “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:1”
Remember that when the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote the phrase ‘vanity of vanities’ he was describing what life without God in it is like. When we are in a right relationship with God (loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, body, and strength) then our life is not a ‘vanity’ (or waste), it is full as it was intended to be.

Here are a few articles from What Christians Want to Know that might help you gain a fuller understanding of prayer and how it figures in our lives:
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/prayers-hindered-7-ways-to-obstruct-your-prayers-to-god/

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/can-we-change-gods-mind-with-prayer-a-bible-study/

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/what-does-the-bible-say-about-prayer-a-christian-study/

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/why-should-christians-pray-if-god-is-sovereign/

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-should-i-pray-a-biblical-analysis/

Carmen, I hope this has been, and will continue to be, helpful to you. Continue to trust God and seek Him and you will not go wrong.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

Reply

Carmen N March 17, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Thank you for your response. As always, the feedback is full of information that I shall peruse.

In answer to your question, I hope that my sister was a believer. We all believe in our own way. She was a fighter in more than one way. And I hope that at the end of her life on earth, she fought to be with Jesus Christ for eternity. Somethings she said and did makes me think she was a believer, and others that she wasn’t. Since I want to see her in God’s Kingdom, by faith, I will believe she was.

Not long ago, I was highly pessimistic about everything, worrying about everything, and being depressed about everything (something I have wrestled with throughout my entire adult life). I was going through a difficult situation at home and nothing seemed to make any sense. But as the new year roll around, I realized that without God, my life means nothing. Now I look for His guidance in everything and I want to believe in Him for all things.

Also my younger sister said that, “… we should just pray the prayer that Jesus said to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 and be content since nothing else will happen that is not in His will.”
And I was the one asking why “He says to ask, knock and seek?”

May God keep blessing you with words of wisdom to impart to us seekers.

Your sister in Christ,
Carmen N

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