Are There Contradictions in the Bible?
What does the word inerrant mean? One dictionary offers the following definition: “Exempt from error; free from mistake; infallible.”
The late Dr Edward J. Young, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, stated: “The derivation of the word ‘inerrant’ is clear. Errare is the Latin infinitive which means ‘to wander,’ and the concept of erring implies a departing or going astray from the truth… The word ‘inerrant’ simply denotes the quality of freedom from error, and it is in this sense that the word is applied to the Holy Scriptures. The inerrancy of the Scriptures, then, implies their freedom from any error of doctrine, fact or ethic. To state the matter in a slightly different way, every assertion of the Bible is true, whether the Bible speaks of what to believe (doctrine), or how to live (ethics), or whether it recounts historical events [accurately]. On whatever subject the Scripture speaks, it speaks the truth, and one may believe its utterances”
(The Bible: The Living Word of Revelation, 1968, 103,104).
In other words, “inerrancy” demands that the Bible speak infallibly on matters of science, geography, history as well as on questions of faith, salvation and theology. The current “inerrancy” debate has continued unassuaged for almost a century.
Both sides can’t be right, can they? Isn’t it high time we looked honestly at the biblical revelation itself? I said, honestly.
For, far too long Christians have been content to read into the Word of God their own preconceived ideas and beliefs which they have inherited from previous nascent religious traditions. Presumptuous Constantinian churchianity has fast become an irrelevant backwater. Clichés have replaced a grasp of true biblical doctrine. Inarticulate slobberdrool has usurped authentic discipleship. Religion, if it is anything, is (as eloquently articulated by J.A. Froude), “the dominion of absurdity.”
Most Christians today are both biblically and theologically bankrupt.
This is not just the assessment of those of us associated with BRI. Some of the most profound Christian theologians (like
Carl F.H. Henry) and philosophers (such as Jacques Ellul) have said the same thing. This deplorable condition exists primarily because the Christian Church during the days of the emperor Constantine literally jettisoned anything and every-thing considered “Jewish” from the thinking of the Christian community. Israel was unceremonially replaced in God’s economy with the Church.
Replacement theology, always just below the surface of the Gentile Church, was finally born during the period of
Augustine in the late fourth/early fifth century. Articulated in the original ‘Satanic Verses’ — ‘The City of God’ — this Gentile theology was penned during a time of great spiritual darkness and apostasy. The outcome was that first century beliefs of the Jews were discarded in favour of a Babylonian ‘no frills’ brand of sensuous, pagan churchianity, accomp-anied by a romanticised perversion of the horrors of Golgoleth (perverted to “Golgotha”/”Calvary”).
Changing currents in the study of the Jewish people of the first century of our Common Era, and especially of the suspiciously silent period dominated by the Fifth Procuratorship of Judaea, make it hard enough for specialists to stay abreast of new findings. For student and scholar alike, and other specialists in complementary fields, it becomes virtually impossible. Today, as we hurtle toward the first years of the new millennium, our prayer is that the Bible can be properly assessed in the light of modern research by those who claim to be educators of the Christian masses. But not all biblical educators are honest men. Scholars they may claim to be, but scholarship has a strange way of sometimes hiding, and not always illuminating, the truth.
Being economical with the truth has been a charge often levelled in the direction of those who have been tempted to strut about as little Napoleonic Pontiffs telling us what we can or cannot believe. Frankly, it would come as a surprise to us at BRI to discover that any Christians realised that the annals of the church reveal that a belief in reincarnation was rife in the early ‘Yeshua Party,’ and that it was once part of Christian dogma until a cabal of bishops at a council at Constant-inople as late as 553 C.E. voted the transmigration of the human soul, as a legitimate concept, out of Christianity. The bottom line seems to be that continued acceptance of, and adherence to, the doctrine of reincarnation was not an economically viable proposition as too much revenue could rather be made by Indulgences through the substitution of a refined doctrine of purgatory.
The plain truth is, of course, that the Bible is a collection of man’s wisdom (inspired to be sure by the holy Spirit of God) but the record still reflects man’s growth in understanding of a variety of subjects, not the least the nature of immortality.
As a prime example of what we are discussing, the Bible incorporates not just one view of the afterlife, but three. And all of them can be held together equally in a balanced tension. (BRI students may access the private member’s BRI/IMCF International Internet Yeshiva Discussion Board lectures on immortality entitled Is Man the Phoenix? to see this to be the case.)
The Bible includes a variety of such factors that merit our consideration, especially as it relates to the unfolding of historical events. It contains, as an example, two very different accounts of the initial meeting of David with Saul. Any Sunday school student knows that Saul knew David who strummed his lyre for the mad king, but in the other incident their meeting is on the field of battle involving Goliath of Gath! Ezra (who compiled a canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, saving some documents and ruthlessly destroying others) collected two popular traditional accounts from the divided states of Israel and Judah. He then proceeded to weave them together as one official document. This brilliant intertwining of the two traditions, one cherished by the northern kingdom of Israel and the other close to the heart of the southern kingdom
of Judah, was a clever ruse to give some stability in faith to a hopelessly segmented nation coming to terms with the consequences of civil war. The unity of the faith was guarded, at least for a time. Certainly, we come across similar compilations of different traditions in the question of the death of Goliath of Gath (II Samuel 21.19; 1 Chronicles 20.5) and in the sin of king David in his numbering of Israel (II Samuel 24.1; 1 Chronicles 21.1).
As far as the Messianic Scriptures of the Yeshua Party are concerned, the writings of the Apostle Paul also reveal a series of stage-by-stage knowledge growth spurts. When one examines the attitudes of the apostle regarding male-female relationships in his early writings, and compare these sexist crippling views with those more highly evolved attitudes contained in his later final letters we see that husbands and wives are by that time on an equal footing and are subject to mutual submission, not hierarchical advantage. This principle of progressive revelation holds true with Paul on a variety of subjects, including some often overlooked social factors linked to his doctrine of the second advent. Those who would seek to disagree with this assessment need their heads read by a psychiatrist as in my opinion they are in dangerous waters as far as their sense of reality is concerned.
Unpopular though it may be to admit it, the Bible is nonetheless man’s word containing the Word of God. True, Peter
wrote “that no prophecy of the Scripture is of its own origination. For the prophecy came not at any time by the exercise of the will of man: but men of God spoke as they were moved by holy Spirit” (II Peter 1.20-21). And Paul recognised that the Word of God was breathed out onto the parchments (II Timothy3.16 Greek). Yet while this is true, men still wrote down in their own words and in their own way their perception of what the Spirit had revealed to them.
Proof? Evaluate the following texts, but prior to so doing let us comment on the fact that biblical contradictions — which do exist — come in basically four types.
Firstly, there are those which are essentially due to scribal error in copying from a previous manuscript [ms] text or a translator’s preference for a variant reading from a minority text (which, although obscure, may be authentic).
Secondly, there are contradictions due to an apologist and/or adaptionist approach. Luke’s sermon on the plain is probably the correct incident for Yeshua’ lecture about the beatitudes (Luke 6.17ff), while Matthew desires Yeshua to be the new Moses as he places him, like the original Moses, on a mountain (Matthew 5.1ff). When comparing Luke’s account with Matthew’s this principle begins to stand out over and over.
The occasion of Pilate washing his hands at the trial of Yeshua is clearly apologetic, for this is a Jewish custom, not a Roman custom (Matthew 27.24). It is difficult to believe that Pontius Pilate, historically described not only as arrogant and ruthless when it came to matters involving Jewish public unrest and political disturbance, would be so accommodating to the Jewish authorities when we read of his temperament in contemporary accounts. There was no love lost between the representative of Imperial Rome and the Jewish people.
The adaptionist case is seen in the healing incident during which an ill person is lowered through a roof to get to Yeshua due to crushing crowds. In Mark’s chronicle desperate men strenuously dig through a mud thatch roof (Mark 2.3-8 Gk) but in Luke’s account they effortlessly remove tiles (Luke 5.19 Gk). Luke has adapted to his Gentile audience for his readers would not have known what was meant by a mud thatched roof!
Thirdly, we have the more problematic. Example: Yeshua clears the Temple. We all agree it happened — but when? At the conclusion of His ministry as made clear in the Synoptic Gospels and which incident evoked a revolution which helped put the nails into His wrists and feet (Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19), or was it in fact at the very start of His ministry (Jn
The Bible is not “one” book — it is several books linked together by man’s inadequacy of human expression as presented in his various “scientific” disciplines as he submits to Deity. Man’s disciplines and man’s submission in honour to God is ever little more than half-hearted, even in his best state and motivated by holy Spirit.
Fourthly, there are what we would term true contradictions. Similar inconsistencies as those involving the meeting of David and Saul, and those entailing the mysterious death of Goliath, are also to be found frequently throughout the four remaining Gospels in the Messianic Scriptures of the Yeshua Party. These virtual contradictions usually reflect nothing more than different elements accepted in divergent circles of the One Christian Faith. Jewish rabbinical thinking in the days of the Fifth Procuratorship of Judaea was ‘inerrantist’: that is, they viewed every word of Scripture as equally revelatory (Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals: Biblical Agendas, Justice and Spirituality, 1986, 19). Our Lord Yeshua rejected such a position, claiming that certain texts of Scripture revealed the will of God more perfectly than others (Matthew 23.23; Mark 10.4-9; John 7.22).
Consider questioning your “fundamentalist” pastor or priest concerning the following (and be prepared for vivid and fiery expostulations — yes, even among some of the “authorities” who emphasise a Gospel of “universal reconciliation”)
Acts 5.36-37 The uprising of Theudas during the Procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus (44/45 CE) a whole decade later than the time of which Gamaliel is speaking (Josephus, Antiquities, XX, 97-8). This fact is further complicated by the statement of Luke that he came prior to Judas of Galilee (6/7 CE). It is a glaring problem that won’t go away!
Matthew 8.26; Mark 4.39-40; Luke 8.24-25 Did Yeshua rebuke the disciples before or after He calmed the storm?
Matthew 5.32; 19.9; Mark 10.10-12; Luke 16.18 Saying there are no grounds at all for divorce is not the same as saying
porneia is the only grounds for divorce.
II Samuel 6.23 (Heb); II Samuel 21.8 (Heb) Michal had no child.
II Kings 8.25; 9.29 Ahaziah began to reign in the 12th year of Joram.
Genesis 25.1; 1 Chronicles 1.32 Keturah was Abraham’s wife.
Galatians 4.22; Hebrews 11.17 Abraham had only one begotten son.
II Samuel 24.9; 1 Chronicles 21.5 The number of fighting men of Israel was 800,000 and of Judah 500,000.
II Samuel 24.10; I Kings 15.5 David sinned only in the matter of Uriah.
II Samuel 24.13; 1 Chronicles 21.11-12 One of the penalties of David’s sin was 7 years of famine.
II Samuel 8.4; 1 Chronicles 18.4 David took 700 horsemen.
II Samuel 24.24; 1 Chronicles 21.25 David purchased a threshing floor for 50 shekels of silver.
Ps 89.35-37,44 David’s throne was to exist for as long as the sun.
Genesis 25.1-2 (note “then again”); Genesis 21.2; Romans 4.19; Hebrews 11.12 Apparently Abraham begat six more children after he was 100 years old without any interposition of providence.
I Corinthians 7.6,12; II Corinthians 11.7; II Timothy 3.16 All Scripture is inspired.
Numbers 12.3; 31.15-17 Moses was a very meek man.
Ex 7.10-12; 14.31; Deuteronomy 13.1-3; Matthew 11.2-5; Luke 11.19; John 3.2 A miracle is a divine proof of a divine mission.
Matthew 19.16-17 cf Mark 10.17-18; Luke 18.18-19 The question of “the rich young ruler” and Yeshua’s response to it in
Matthew’s account is substantially different from the question and answer in Mark and Luke.
Jeremiah 18.7-10; II Peter 1.19 Prophecy is certain.
Matthew 6.13; Jam 1.2 Temptation is to be desired.
Luke 22.3-4,7; John 13.27 Satan entered into Judas.
Matthew 27.6-7; Acts 1.18 The potter’s field was purchased by the chief priests.
Matthew 28.1; John 20.1 (‘two’); Mark 16.1 (‘three’); Luke 24.10 (‘three plus’) There was only one woman who came to the tomb.
Matthew 15.22; Mark 7.26 A woman of Canaan besought Yeshua.
Matthew 20.29-30; Mark 10.46-49; Luke 18.35-39 Two blind men besought Yeshua, or was it only one? As Yeshua approached Jericho, or when he already had departed, or was it when he was in the process of leaving?
Mark 1.12-13 (with surrounding texts); John 2.1-2 (with surrounding texts).Messiah was tempted 40 days in the wilderness immediately after his baptism. So where was he 3 days after his baptism — in the wilderness or some place else?
Matthew 1.14; John 1.43; 3.22-24 John is imprisoned when Yeshua goes into Galilee. Or was he?
Matthew 1.16; Luke 3.23 The father of Joseph, Mary’s husband, was Jacob. (Was Joseph himself an adopted child, which trained him for his later ‘father-role’ for Yeshua?)
Ex 2.14-15,23; 4.19; Hebrews 11.27 Moses feared Pharaoh.
Genesis 1.25-27; 2.18-19 Man was created after the other animals.
Exodus 9.3,6; 14.9 All the horses and cattle of Egypt died.
Leviticus 20.21; Deuteronomy 25.5 A man may marry his brother’s widow.
Genesis 22.1; II Samuel 24.1; Jeremiah 20.7; Matthew 6.13; James 1.13 God tempts man.
I Kings 22.23; 2 Thessalonians 2.11; Hebrews 6.18; Ezekiel 14.9 God cannot lie.
Genesis 22.2; Deuteronomy 12.10-31; Judges 11.30-32,34,38-39; II Samuel 21.8-9,14 God accepts human sacrifices.
Exodus 15.3; Isaiah 51.15; Romans 15.33; I Corinthians 14.33 God is warlike.
Genesis 3.8; 11.5; 18.20-21; Job 34.21-22; Ps 139.7-10; Proverbs 15.3 God is everywhere present, sees and knows all things.
Judges 1.19; Jeremiah 32.27; Matthew 19.26 God is all-powerful.
II Chronicles 7.12,16; Acts 7.48 God dwells in chosen temples.
I Kings 8.12; Psalm 18.11; 97.2; I Timothy 6.16 God dwells in light.
Matthew 28; Mark 16; John 21 cf Luke 24.49; Acts 1.4 Matthew, Mark and John all ascribe post-resurrection appearances of Yeshua in Galilee where he meets with the disciples. Yet immediately after the resurrection, Yeshua instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the holy Spirit.
If we are honest with these biblical texts, we must admit that facts are facts. Of course, I freely admit there well may be someone with a more powerful intellect than my own, who can readily enough bring forth straightforward, easy to comprehend solutions to these God-given challenges. This may very well prove likely to be the case. I would personally, and faithfully, hope so.
But in my humble opinion we are faced with some very serious issues of uncertainty. We at BRI hold therefore to a rather simplistic approach to the problem. For, I am reminded that Karl Barth — probably the greatest theologian of all time (next to Rav Shaul), was made a potential victim of ridicule by presumptuous evangelist Billy Graham, at the height of Graham’s popularity.
Barth had just released his voluminous and awesome series of commentaries on Romans, but hardly anyone could understand what he had authored. In his now infamous letter the impertinent Graham enquired of the noble Barth, “How do you know you’re even saved?”
Karl Barth wrote back a simple reply,
“Dear Mr Graham,
‘Jesus loves me
This I know,
For the Bible tells me so!’
Yours very sincerely, Karl Barth.”
The one basic factor we must not overlook in any serious desire for a solution to the problems confronted by us in pursuit of the answer to the inerrancy problem is this: The Sovereign Lord doesn’t demand that we be right all the time. Grace
means we are all allowed to fail.
Having said this, being called into God’s Family places us in relationship with ALL of those who claim to be His people. This cannot mean that we will all be in agreement all of the time. It would be a rather dull world were this the case. What it does mean is that in spite of our differences there will be a basic functioning union. All who confess Messiah, all who recognise Him for who He is, and who have been placed under His authority, MUST BE ACCEPTED as brothers and sisters in God’s Family, and in the ONE FAITH.
Healthy discussion, honest debate and unaffected argument (along with an openness to hear what the other side is saying, and possessing an authentic desire to believe the truth — even if the result is unpopular) these are unabashed criteria for the Messianic Believer. Not only so, but we must all remember that the truth we presently know and cherish will not be complete until a later date!
I readily and heartily acknowledge that Yeshua said there would be tares placed by the Dark Lord amongst the wheat, but He also made it abundantly clear that HE was the gardener!
So, in keeping with the simplicity of spirit displayed by Barth, and on behalf of the Yeshiva students of the BRI, I state that the holy Bible, although inspired by the holy Spirit, was written onto the parchments by fallible human beings subject to the constraints and restraints of their own day and age.
The Bible therefore contains the Word of God.
Inspired by the Spirit it remains, however, a very human literary garment that both hides — and reveals — spiritual infallibility.