Saturday, 2 June 2018

Can we trust the Bible? 2

At the end of the blog asking about the inerrancy of the Bible (can-we-still-trust-the-bible), there is an appendix with a number of apparent contradictions in the Bible. While I am not going to answer them one-by-one, I am going to mention a few basic principles that can help us see why most "Biblical contradictions" are nothing of the sort.

  1. Almost every event described in the Bible will only tell what was considered as the most relevant facts. We never tell a story including every single detail. Realising that some facts have been omitted, will go a long way to understanding many apparent "contradictions".
  2. Different parts of the Bible sometimes confirm what is written elsewhere (without meaning to) by providing missing information.
  3. Sometimes we simply do not know what information is missing. This is not a good reason to claim "contradiction".
  4. Much of the Bible is poetry. We should not read poetry as prose. Many so-called "contradictions" are simply a matter of not reading something as the genre it was meant.
  5. There are common usage of hyperbole in the Bible. This is especially true in the Hebrew parts of the Bible. An example (which I read today) is where it claims that Joab killed all the males in Edom, and then explains in the same passage how Hadad, the son of the Edomite king with some of his father's servants escaped to Pharaoh Shisak. "All" is often used to refer to "almost all" or "most" or "all that matter" or "all that they could" (1 Kings 11).
  6. In the same way, when describing what a king did, it is often referring to what his people or his high officials did or implemented. The above passage does not mean that David himself (or even Joab, leader of his army) killed every single Edomite male. But this was never understood in this way and it is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures to read it as such.
  7. Time plays a role. When somebody did not do something immediately it is often recorded as "they did not do it". E.g the women not telling the other disciples about what they saw does not mean that they never ever told anybody about it (otherwise, how could Mark even record it as happening?)! The importance of time when something happened, is often ignored by those who claim ¨contradiction".
  8. Similarly, place plays a role. What happened at one place with one group of people did not happen elsewhere (with another group of people). This is another source of many claimed "contradictions".
  9. Sometimes the Bible focus on one person (or small group of persons) without implying that they were the only ones there or that all of them reacted or acted exactly the same.  As an example, I have a book describing some parts of the life of the missionary "Praying Hyde". In it one colleague (Dr. Chapman) describe in a letter a period of prayer that he spent with this John Hyde and how it impacted himself and his work. There is no mention of anybody else. Then, in the very next paragraph, another colleague (Mr. Charles M. Alexander), who worked together with Dr. Chapman, describe to John Hyde's sister that he was at that meeting as well and that it was almost a whole day. Then at the end of the meeting, they called in a whole team of fellow workers to pray together. Are these two accounts contradictory? I trust that most people will see that it is not. But the Bible is frequently treated differently.
  10. Numbers are often rounded up or down. Similarly for time. A common example is where an event took some time and one author would record the time of the beginning of the event and the other the end or middle of the event (e.g. when did the women come to the tomb of Jesus). And of course, they did not have cell phones or wristwatches for exact time keeping. 
  11. The Bible often do not tell things in chronological order, but in geographical or topical order. This is another frequent reason for claims of "contradiction".
  12. There are some cases of textual corruption in the Bible (but the fact that we can identify them, already tells us something). However, they do not change the meaning of what the Bible actually teaches and are often just a side-note. The only two significant passages of which I know, is John 8:1-11 and the longer ending of Mark 16. For both passages James Snapp Jr ( has made a fairly strong case to their authenticity.

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