DEALING WITH THE ALLEGED CONTRADICTIONS

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1 Apologetics Series; Lesson 2 i / Eastside Pittsburgh Church / 10/12/14 Scripture Reading: 2 Peter 3:10-18 Perhaps the most frequently cited reason why individuals reject the Bible s claim of inspiration is because of presumed contradictions in Scripture. It is alleged that the Bible writers made numerous mistakes in their writings, often contradicting either what another biblical penmen wrote or some known historical, geographical, or scientific fact. A plethora of books and websites dedicated to trumpeting Bible contradictions have been published. If it was true that the Bible has contradictions in it (which I do not believe), this would be a big deal. If God contradicts Himself, not only would He be guilty of being illogical, but He would also be guilty of a lie in one of the two contradictory statements There are a few reasons why people bring apparent contradictions to our attention: 1. A brother or sister has a genuine concern about two passages they think seem to be contradictory and cannot resolve. 2. An unbeliever is ignorant of the facts and is merely parroting what he/she has always heard about the Bible. 3. Someone, because of moral or emotional reasons, does not want to submit to God, so they allege there are contradictions so they can continue in their unbelief and rebellion. For the sake of time (so I don t preach for an hour), our goal today will be to give us some tools to be able to deal with these passages which are brought to our attention by the first two groups of people. (If you would like to know how I usually deal with the third group of people, I plan on adding some extra notes to my sermon manuscript which you can read online at your convenience). DEALING WITH THE ALLEGED CONTRADICTIONS There are two things we need to remember as we interact with the skeptic regarding their accusations against scripture: First, the one making the claim that the Bible is full of contradictions is the one who bears the burden of proof to show that there is certainly a contradiction. The Bible writers are innocent until proven guilty in this area. Just because the unbeliever asserts there is a Page1

2 contradiction does not make it so. They need to bring the evidence! In our daily lives, we generally consider a person to be truthful until we have actual evidence that he or she has lied. One scholar argued regarding approaching any author or book, The assumption must always be that the author has not contradicted himself. This rule is observed in dealing with secular authors. At what pains, for instance, have not editors [gone through] to bring about agreement between seemingly conflicting statements in the writings of Plato! The principle by which they were guided was that no contradiction must be assumed unless all attempts at harmonizing fail. That is in accordance with the dictates of fairness. Let but the same amount of good will be manifested in the treatment of the difficult passages in the Bible (words in brackets ([ ]) added for clarity) 1. It is usually a negative bias that leads men to do this with the Bible but no other work of antiquity! And honestly, if they were really interested in the answer regarding how a certain alleged contradiction is resolved, all they have to do is Google it! They could have the answer within minutes if they wanted it. The second point we must remember before dealing with alleged Bible contradictions is: all that needs to be shown is that there is one possible way to resolve it. This point was also made in this quote I just read. The reason why we come to the conclusion that a certain work has a contradiction is that we have already gone through the effort to make sure there is no possible way to resolve the problem. If there is one way, then the alleged contradiction is resolved. WHAT IS A CONTRADICTION? To have any meaningful discussion on most subjects, it is important to define our terms correctly. We need to make sure that we are talking about the same thing when we use the word contradiction. And when we define what we are talking about correctly, right away some of the arguments made by skeptics would be taken out of the way. The Law of Non-Contradiction is one of the fundamental principles/laws of logic and reasoning. In layman s terms, this law states that two opposing propositions or statements cannot both be true if they are being spoken about the same person, place, or thing at the same time and in the same sense. Once again, if two opposing statements are being spoken about (1) the same person, 1 Arndt, William (1955), Does the Bible Contradict Itself? (St. Louis, MO: Concordia). Page2

3 place, or thing, (2) at the same time, and (3) in the same sense (or respect), then a genuine contradiction exists. 2 If it does not meet all of this criteria, a contradiction does NOT exist. For example, take the following two statements: 1. Jason is rich 2. Jason is poor It is impossible for me to say that Jason is both rich and not rich (poor) at the same time and in the same sense. However, if one of the three variables I mentioned are not true or are unknown, a person cannot logically contend that a contradiction exists. Can we be sure that we are talking about the same person? Do we know both statements are speaking about the same time frame? Do we know that the word rich is being spoken of in the same sense? If so, then there is a contradiction. If not, then no contradiction exists. If we do not have all of these facts, then it cannot be proven that a contradiction exists. It could be that the first statement is talking about myself and the second statement is talking about a different man named Jason. It may be the case that both statements are talking about me at two different periods of time. And it may also be the case that the terms rich and poor are being used in different senses. The first statement could be referring to me being rich spiritually and the second statement could be saying I am poor physically. Let s look at these ideas with three examples of alleged contradictions in the Bible that skeptics bring up. We will see that some are easier to respond to than others. 1. IS THE SAME PERSON UNDER CONSIDERATION?: Acts 12:2 vs. Acts 15:13: Did James Die Or Not? According to Acts 12:1-2, Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. Only three chapters later, however, Luke recorded that James was alive and well at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13ff.) an event that took place well after the death of James. How could both Acts 12 and Acts 15 be correct? How could James be dead and alive? The simple (and hopefully obvious) explanation is 2 Lyons, Eric, Dealing Fairly with Alleged Bible Contradictions [Part II]; Page3

4 that Acts 12:2 and Acts 15:13 are referring to two different men both of whom were named James. The James who lost his life at the hands of King Herod was one of the original twelve apostles, the brother of John (Acts 12:2), the son of Zebedee (Matthew 4:21). The James of Acts 15 was the Lord s half brother, the author of the book of James (Galatians 1:19; Matthew 13:55; Acts 12:17). 2. IS THE SAME TIME FRAME UNDER CONSIDERATION? Matthew 27:5 vs. Acts 1:18: How Did Judas Die? Through the years, the description of Judas Iscariot s death has been one of the most popular alleged Bible contradictions cited by critics of biblical inerrancy. It seems as if every skeptical book or Web site that questions the integrity of the Bible lists Judas death as one of the most obvious inconsistencies in Scripture. Whereas Matthew recorded that Judas went and hanged himself after betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (27:5), Luke recorded that falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out (Acts 1:18). Because Matthew only mentioned Judas being hanged, while Luke mentioned Judas falling headlong and bursting open at his midsection, a real contradiction supposedly is evident. The differences in these two accounts are easily (and rationally) explained when we consider that Matthew and Luke were referring to two different times. Matthew recorded the initial hanging of Judas, while Luke recorded what took place some time later (probably several days later). Soon after Judas took his life, his body would have begun the decomposing process. The decomposing process along with birds and animals eating at the body would cause it to fall, and when it hit the ground where his entrails gushed out. So here there is not a contradiction because the verses are recording what happened at two different times. 3. DIFFERENT SENSE: This is by far one of the more difficult of the alleged contradictions in scripture: 2 Samuel 24:1 vs 1 Chronicles 21:1: Who incited David to number Israel? God did (2 Samuel 24:1) "Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah." Satan did (1 Chronicles 21:1) "Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel." Page4

5 The Hebrew verb translated moved (NKJV) or incited (NASB), is identical in both passages. God and Satan s actions are described using the same word. We obviously have the same event being spoke about, so do we have a contradiction? I do not believe so. A simple way to resolve the apparent contradiction is to say that the Hebrew word for incite is being used in two different senses. It is quite possible that God in His anger towards Israel, incited David in the sense that He permitted Satan to be the one who directly incited David to number the people. The word incite is being used in two senses; God incited David indirectly by using Satan, who is the one who directly incited him. Throughout the Bible, God s allowance of something to take place often is described as having been done by the Lord. For instance, in the book of Job, who is moved or incited against Job? Satan was the one who was against Job and wanted to do him harm so Job would curse God to His face, but in 2:3, God says this to Satan, he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause. When God uses Satan in Job s life, He still given the credit as being the One who brought all of the adversity to Job (42:11). Who afflicted Job? God or Satan? God did indirectly, Satan directly, just as in our passage speaking of David. 3 WHAT IS NOT A CONTRADICTION? Differences in a description of an event/supplementary material. This unfortunately, is one of the areas in which most believe the Bible is filled with contradictions, especially regarding the resurrection accounts, but just because there are differences between the accounts does NOT mean that there is a contradiction between the accounts. Let me give an example: I was on my way home from a Bible study in Oakland one day, and I drove up to a terrible accident on the parkway (of course after waiting in traffic for a long time). When I get home, I tell my wife that I saw this terrible accident, and I tell her about two cars in particular that I saw that did not even look like cars anymore because they were so mangled. Then we turn on the news to see a report about this accident, and to her surprise, my wife sees that this was a twenty car pile-up where many people lost their lives. 3 Got this argument from this website: Page5

6 In this example, we have two different reports of what happened which seem on the surface to contradict. I spoke about two cars that were mangled beyond recognition while the news report spoke of twenty cars being in this accident and about the lives being lost. But is there a contradiction? The answer is no. Both I and the news report spoke the truth based on the perspective that we had. I spoke about what I saw, but I decided to focus on only two cars out of the twenty. No reasonable person would say that there is a contradiction here, but for some reason, when approaching scripture, it is usually these kind of passages people point to and say there are contradictions. This happens often in parallel accounts given by different eye witnesses in the Bible. They at times focus on different things that happened during the account. One Gospel writer talks about two angels at the tomb, one speaks of one angel; the angel who spoke. Is there a contradiction? No. The one who speaks of two angels chose to give supplementary material that the other writer chose not to give. Matthew says Joseph of Arimathea received the body of Jesus from the Romans, wrapped it, and buried it. John states that Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the body and buried it. Is there a contradiction? No, John gave some extra, supplementary information. Mark and Luke say that Barabbas was an insurrectionist who murdered. John says that Barabbas was a robber. Is there a contradiction, or is it possible that both are true, but the gospel writers decided to focus on a different crime Barabbas was guilty of? None of these are contradictions. The different but truthful wordings in Scripture are exactly what a person should expect to find in a book composed of 66 smaller books written by approximately 40 different writers, who wrote to different people, at different times, and in different places with different purposes. However, the differences are not contradictions. They are only contradictions in the minds of those who want them to be contradictions; those who do not want to treat the Bible fairly. CONCLUSION How sad it is that so many skeptics believe they have disproven the Bible and Christianity, when, in reality, they have merely ignored the context of the passage and twisted the biblical text to mean something God never intended (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). I believe that if the negative biases are put aside and the Bible is treated fairly as any other ancient work, it would NOT have the kind of opposition that it does in this area. Page6

7 APPENDIX: DEALING WITH THE ATHEIST OR OTHERS WHO BRING UP CONTRADICTIONS BECAUSE OF EMOTIONAL AND MORAL REASONS There are usually two ways I would deal with the topic of alleged Bible contradictions with the hardened skeptic. First, I ask them an important question to show them their motivation for bringing up the alleged contradiction: If I were able to resolve all of these apparent contradictions and prove to you the Bible is true, would you believe in God and submit to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master? They, when being honest, will usually answer this question with a no. If they do, I tell them that I am not going to waste my time answering all of their questions if they are going to be intellectually dishonest in not following the evidence where it leads. Then I tell them if they really want an answer to this alleged contradiction to Google it. Second, I ask them an interesting question that shows them that they do not have a logical reason to even bring up logical contradictions from their worldview. Most atheists who bring up this subject are materialists. They believe that the physical and material world is ALL there is. What is interesting about this is that accusing the Biblical authors of a violation of the Law of Non- Contradiction actually contradicts their worldview. Even though they do not believe that immaterial entities exist, they live as though they do. When they say the Biblical writers are being contradictory, they are showing that they believe that an absolute law exists; a law that is universal, invariant (unchanging), and abstract (immaterial), that we are all morally obligated to follow if we want to have rational and logical conversation. Any reasonable or logical argument that someone may attempt to give to prove this law, along with the other laws of logic, do not exist requires their existence in the first place. These laws are not physical. They are conceptual. They cannot be seen under a microscope or weighed in a scale. You cannot go to the refrigerator and get a pound of logic. They are conceptual laws that guide logical thought processes. And these laws transcend location, culture and time. If we go forward a million years or backward a million years, the laws of logic still exist and apply, regardless of culture or location. The transcendent and timeless nature of logical laws necessitates that they pre-exist mankind. The law of non-contradiction was present before men were even here to discover it. The problem for the unbeliever is that they have no way to account for such a law (or any logical or natural law) from their worldview. Atheists think that they have a monopoly on reason and logic when they cannot even account for them in their naturalistic worldview. How can a person Page7

8 that believes the natural world is all there is account for these transcendent laws without the existence of a transcendent God? Conceptual laws require lawgivers. The only lawgiver that can account for non-physical, transcendent laws that pre-exist mankind must also be a non-physical, transcendent and pre-existent mind. This description fits the God of the Christian Bible. The transcendent Laws of Logic are simply a reflection of the nature of this absolute God; a reflection of His mind. A worldview that does not include a transcendent, eternal, unchanging mind cannot account for these laws, and they must borrow from a theistic worldview to use them. They will be a walking and talking contradiction; saying that they do not believe God exists all the while living as though they do believe He exists by appealing to such laws. Only when the atheist can prove that they from their worldview (instead of mine) can offer the accusation of being contradictory will I respond to their accusations (this never happens). i Resources used for this lesson: Dealing Fairly with Alleged Bible Contradictions [Part I]; Dealing Fairly with Alleged Bible Contradictions [Part II]; Transcendent Laws of Logic: Proof for God; Page8

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