As we get further from the ancient culture in which the Bible was written, it becomes more difficult, in some ways, to interpret what certain things mean. Just think how much culture has changed in the last 100 years… women weren’t even granted the right to vote until 1920! So, reading biblical text that was written thousands of years ago takes some research to comprehend its meaning for us today.
When an unbelieving person opens the Bible, without the Spirit of God leading them into truth, it’s understandable why they might notice things in the Old Testament, for example, that not only seem harsh, but contradictory to what they think is fair or just.
In contrast, there are some concepts that are more clearly understood, like when Jesus taught to “love your neighbor as yourself” and some other moral teachings. As far as understanding of the Ancient Near East (ANE) customs and practices, that takes some study, and some people don’t want to work that hard.
Consequently, there is a lot of attack on the Bible as a God-given authority; critics claim there are contradictions in the Scriptures that lead them to think it’s not a book that’s inspired at all. Many claim that the Bible is written by men describing myths and is full of errors.
Burden of Proof
The “Burden of proof” rests on the critic; the one making the claim needs to show how they came to that conclusion. If someone says the Bible has contradictions, respectfully ask them to name one? Most people just spout off claims they may have heard through the grapevine without the ability to back those claims up.
However, criticism is not a bad thing! It should motivate us to dig deeper and learn new things. Often if someone can point to an alleged contradiction, there are textual problems that a good commentary can resolve 90% of the time. If you don’t already have one, get a study bible that includes commentary notes at the bottom of challenging passages.
So, what are some examples of these supposed contradictions?
There is the “Mustard Seed” issue. Some complain that the mustard seed isn’t the smallest seed, as Jesus said in Mark 4:31. Apparently, there is an orchid flower seed that is the smallest seed.
BUT IN CONTEXT, Jesus was referring to seeds in a garden, seeds that yield a crop; comparing that to a seed man sows in the field (Matt. 13:31). He goes onto to say that the Kingdom of Heaven will grow like a mustard plant, which can easily overtake a garden.
It’s imperative that Scripture is not taken out of context, otherwise you can make it mean practically anything you want. There is no good substitute for comparing Scripture with Scripture. We must see how certain words are used elsewhere in the Bible for clarification. Taking things out of context creates misunderstandings of meaning. As an example, in Matthew 5:42 it says: “Give to him who asks you…” Does that mean we must give anything to anyone who asks? Without context, it would be challenging to know.
Genealogical Problems (Gen. 5)
Who even spends much time reading the genealogies? I guess some do! Counting back, some critics complain the wording concludes humanity began 4004 BC. This is at odds with archaeological evidence. It’s important to note that ancient genealogies differ. Records were not kept the same as they are today. For example, sometimes sons-in-laws are listed as “sons.” Often, women were not counted in the genealogies.
There are also differences in Jesus’ lineage, as listed in the Gospels. Jesus lineage includes Luke’s version, who cites His lineage through Mary; Matthew gives the descent from Joseph.
No errors are in the genealogies, if you understand how these things were recorded in the ANE.
Scribes occasionally made simple errors by adding or subtracting a zero while copying, misspelling names or adding words like “The Book of Saint John,” versus “John’s Gospel.” These errors are counted as textural variances, where one copy “varies” from another. None of these errors effect any essential Christian doctrine.
As an example, an error that textural critics have caught is in 1 Kings 4:26, where it says that Solomon had ‘40,000’ stalls of horses for his chariots; yet 2 Chronicles 9:25 says that he had ‘4,000’ stalls. It’s clear that an extra zero was added or subtracted in copying.
Do these mistakes change what we know of God? Of course not. These are the so-called “errors” that are made out to be as a mountain when they’re not even close to being an ant hill.
Principle for Resolving Bible Difficulties
Don’t assume the unexplained is unexplainable. For instance, critics used to claim that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Old Testament) because no writing existed at that time. Now due to recent discoveries, archaeologists have found alphabet inscriptions in Sinai Turquoise mines, dating writing pre-Moses, 2ndMillennium BC.
And remember that partial reports aren’t false reports. Cold Case Detective, J. Warner Wallace examined eye witness testimonies for decades in the murder cases he worked. Because of his experience with how people report things, he knows that eye witness accounts differ in places. He applied that understanding to the Gospel writers when examining if their truth claims were authentic. They did differ in places, which validates their testimony, according to Wallace. Why? Variances show the individuality of eyewitness accounts. If a witness fails to mention another part, that doesn’t make the record false. Here’s an example:
• Matt. 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
• Mark 8:29, “You are the Christ.”
• Luke 9:20, “The Christ of God.”
All three gospel writers say basically the same thing but word things a bit differently. That doesn’t invalidate the truth of the statement. If everyone said everything the exact same way, it’s likely that skeptics would be quick to conclude perhaps the gospel writers were merely copying each other.
And just because it’s in the Bible, doesn’t mean God approves of it. We must remember that the Bible records human behavior, telling stories of people’s failings and faults, in addition to their triumphs of faith.
Recommended Reading/Sources for further clarification/study:
1. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties (Baker Books, 2008)—difficulties compiled over a 30-year study concludes the Bible has no errors
2. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 1982)
3. FREE online Bible commentary: BibleHub.com
4. Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace
“People can spend a lifetime criticizing the Bible or they can allow the Bible to criticize them.”Norman Geisler