How do Bible-believing Christians deal with all those contradictions in the Bible?
The Bible, while claimed by many to be the literally inspired Word of God, is chock-full of what at least APPEAR TO BE internal contradictions as well as statements that APPEAR TO contradict observed fact.
Anybody who believes in the Bible (uses it as a guidebook for life) but interprets it other than literally, this thread is not really directed at you. I have no intellectual problems with a less rigid, more questioning faith that can treat the Bible as a flawed human work.
Where I begin to have an intellectual problem is with the Christians who claim the Bible is perfect, 100% accurate, literally word-for-word Inspired By God[sup]TM[/sup] and containing not a single error. In other words, the Jack Chick approach to the Bible, although there are many far better men than he who have had the same approach.
My college-educated father is one of these, as is my brother. I was raised in a different household, so the concept of actually practicing Biblical Literalism is foreign to me. These people really do it, every day. They really believe that since God dictated the Bible, every last word, the Bible (in the original Hebrew and Greek autographs) is therefore necessarily perfect and entirely free from error.
Any perceived error or contradiction is, in principle, explainable or resolvable. The trouble is, the explanations and resolutions I receive from my family are becoming more and more unlikely. It pains me to see my father performing mental gymnastics in order to preserve his view of the perfection of the Bible. It really pains me when he offers up a pathetic “explanation” that we BOTH know is pathetic. He’s a smart guy and unfortunately his faith seems to require him to actively repress his intelligence at times.
Down to the meat of the OP. Here is a very short list (2 items) of supposed “contradictions” in the Bible, selected by me, with the “explanations” I have received.
How can an intelligent Christian (who believes in the perfection of the Bible) see these contradictions, accept the explanations, and be totally unperturbed in his faith in the Bible? Thinking along these lines utterly destroyed my faith in the Bible, and in the process, destroyed faith in the kind of religion that requires one to believe utterly in the factual, literal truth of all parts of the Bible, or any Holy Book.
I want to hear from Bible-believing Christians whose very faith depends on the 100% accuracy of the Bible. Taking a metaphorical or literary approach is really not germane to this discussion - it solves ALL these problems instantly, and maybe that’s philosophically the correct way to go, but it is not the path chosen by people I love and must talk to often. I’m related to a bunch of Bible-Totally-Inspired-By-God[sup]TM[/sup] people who are banging their heads against the wall trying to get through to me, and me to them.
Let’s start with my very favorite Biblical difficulty:
Pi = 3!
This old chestnut seems to have great irritation power on this board when it’s just casually mentioned (like I did a few weeks ago, in another thread), so let’s look into it.
“He then made the Sea of cast metal; it was round in shape, the diameter from rim to rim being ten cubits; it stood five cubits high, and it took a line thirty cubits long to go round it.” (1 Kings 7:23)
“He also made the Sea of cast metal; it was round in shape, the diameter from rim to rim being ten cubits; it stood five cubits high, and it took a line thirty cubits long to go round it.” (2 Chron. 4:2)
Obviously there is a problem: either the God of the Bible refers to special circles (for which Pi = 3), unlike the ones we know (for which Pi approximately = 3.1415927); or his cubits shift around in length from one part of the equation to another; or when God says “round” he means “somewhat round”; or the measurements given just aren’t entirely accurate.
Which of these explanations grates the least on the Bible-believer? I am told that the Bible is never wrong and never fudges. If it says 30 cubits, it means EXACTLY 30 cubits. If it describes something as round, it is an EXACTLY ROUND PERFECT CIRCLE. Given this mindset, I can’t work my way out of the puzzle. Does God fudge, does he lie, or does Pi really = 3?
(I suspect a reasonable explanation might be on the order of: “The ancients didn’t know the precise value of Pi. For them, using the value 3 was close enough, given the limitations of measuring equipment at the time. The metal Sea in the Bible looked round to the author, but obviously it was not a perfectly round circle, or the measurements of the diameter and circumference were slightly off, so that there really is no contradiction.” I must reject this explanation, because we are still talking about a 100% accurate Bible which was inspired word-for-word by an omniscient God. He said it was ROUND, darn it, and he said it was 30 cubits around and 10 across! Did he fudge, or didn’t he? Is there no word in Hebrew for “approximately”? Is it unreasonable to ask that a book that claims to be written by God, be really accurate?)
Onward. Let’s talk about the genealogy of Jesus. If Jesus were my Lord, I’d be interested in His ancestry, and I’d read in Matthew Chapter 1 that his genealogy runs like this, for the first 14 generations into the past:
Seems straightforward. Everybody has only one father, so it’s hard to be ambiguous about a patrilineal genealogy. Of course, according to other parts of the Bible, Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father (apparently, Jesus didn’t have a biological father). But I think according to OT prophecy the Messiah must have certain characteristics in his genealogy - like descent from King David - so right away, it looks like a “fudge” to me that Joseph is given as Jesus’ father in both genealogies. (If I claimed direct descent from King Henry VIII, what would you all think if I used my stepfather’s ancestry to prove the claim?) However, so long as all the genealogies are consistent in using Joseph as Jesus’ father, this problem can be set aside.
And sure enough, over in Luke Chapter 3, the genealogy is given again. This time we have:
That’s 14 generations back, I think. Now, I’m listing these names from recent to past in both genealogies, for clarity. That’s not the way the Bible has it - in Matthew, the genealogy is given from Abraham forward, but in Luke it’s given from Jesus backwards.
Still, shouldn’t we see more than just a passing similarity in the two genealogies? Either the laws of human biology were very different in Biblical times, or someone has the facts mixed up. Why, there’s hardly a name in common on the two (partial) lists. I wish I could use an HTML table in this post to make that fact crystal-clear; it’s pretty striking to me.
Would a Bible-believer please tell me what’s up with that? My father, who reads the Bible every day, had never even heard of the above contradiction until I mentioned it. He had to do some research and get back to me, and came back later with a story about how when Luke says “Heli,” he REALLY means “Jacob,” which is a variant of the name. And so, down the line. Also, he mentioned that the two genealogies had different purposes: to show different aspects of the ancestry of Jesus. With all respect: WTF? Jesus had only one patrilineal ancestry. There is no shade of meaning when talking about who your father is, and who his father was, etc. There’s only one answer to the question, and it sure looks to me like the Bible just plain got it wrong at least once.
I must accept that my own father believes this series of unbelievably lame (and self-contradictory) “explanations” for such a glaring problem in the Bible. Myself, I’m forced to draw one of three conclusions:
- God made terrible mistakes when talking about the ancestry of Jesus;
- Human writers made terrible mistakes on this subject, and God let the mistakes appear in the Bible;
- Heli and Jacob really are the same person, Matthat = Matthan*, Eleazar = Levi, Eliud = Melchi, and so on, down the line; and God saw fit to dictate to one Gospeller or the other in some sort of bizarre cypher code when talking about Jesus. There is no contradiction; faithless people just think there is, and I need to pray harder.
*Plausible, but raises the question: Why can’t God, in Holy Writ, spell the name of Jesus’ great-grandfather consistently?
I’m shaking my head at the fact that intelligent people like my own family STILL believe in the 100% inerrancy of the Bible. Guess what, folks: it’s full of errors. Lots of them.
Prove me wrong. If Bible-believers can dispose of the two problems I lay out, under the logic and evidence standards of this message board, I will salute you. But then I can go on to provide many other apparent problems; I could start (if it hadn’t been done to death already) with the implication of Biblical Literalism that the universe is around 6,000 years old. Yep, Dad believes that too, which means the commonly accepted conclusions of astronomy, geology, biology, anthropology, paleontology, etc., are all off-limits for discussion. In his mind, humans and dinosaurs coexisted, Noah’s Flood laid down the entire fossil record, and the stars were created with “light on the way.”
I hope I can be forgiven by most of the folks on this Board for my obvious impatience with this kind of thing. Most of the time, it just makes me angry. Today, it’s making me really sad.