Does the Bible contradict itself?
Most Christians will answer that question with an emphatic “No.” Contradictions in the Bible are seen as a crack in the foundation of Christians. Therefore there cannot be any in God’s Word.
But what I’ve seen is that this fear keeps many Christians from looking too closely at what’s actually going on in the Bible. To make matters worse, when a Christian brings up a question about a contradiction in the Bible, they are often just shut down and told to just have faith.
I think we ought not be afraid of difficult and messy questions. After all, if what we believe is true then it should hold up to scrutiny.
So, what I want to do in this blog post is dive into this often ignored question and look at what certainly appears to be contradictions in the Bible. We’ll get into specifics in a minute, but first we need to do some defining of terms.
Biblical Contradictions vs Differences In The Bible
If you were to do a google search for contradictions in the Bible you would find list after list with supposed contradictions. But many of these “contradictions” on these lists aren’t contradictions, rather they are differences in accounts.
There’s a difference between contradictions and differences. And more importantly, differences don’t equal contradictions.
And that should be expected. The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books written by around 40 authors over many generations. But a difference doesn’t necessarily equal a contradiction.
So let’s look at some examples of these differences.
In John 20:1, John records one woman that comes to Jesus’ tomb. While in Matthew 28:1, Matthew records two women. Still yet, in Mark 16:1, Mark records three women. This difference doesn’t discount the historical accuracy of the text. It’s a difference not a contradiction.
Here’s another example, Matthew 27:5 says that Judas hung himself following selling Jesus out. While Acts 1:18 says, he fell to the ground and burst wide open. Again this is a difference, not a contradiction.
There’s many more examples, but the point is that difference in accounts doesn’t make the Bible less credible.
Think of it this way. If you and I watch a football game together, or witness an accident, or describe something we both saw, we will come up with different versions of what we saw.
We tell stories from our point of view. Many contradictions are just different accounts, from different perspectives, or different variations of the same story.
In the examples earlier, the accounts of how many women were at the tomb doesn’t contradict itself. A contradiction would be Mary Magdalene went to the tomb by herself. No one else was there. But Matthew never said that the other women weren’t there, he just highlighted that Mary Magdalene was there. That’s a difference, not a contradiction
In the second example, a contradiction would be Matthew stating Judas died from hanging and Acts saying Judas died from jumping off a cliff. Matthew never recorded how Judas died, just that he hung himself. He very well might not have died from hanging. The rope could have snapped, and he fell to his death as Acts records. It’s a difference, not a contradiction.
The point of this is when we come across something in the Bible that doesn’t jive, we first have to give it a deeper look. Most of the time it’s a difference in account, not a contradiction.
But what about contradictions? Does the Bible contradict itself? Let’s look at some examples and see what we should do when we come across one.
Examples Of Contradictions In The Bible
Let’s look at some examples of commonly pointed out contradictions in the Bible. We will start with the accounts in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles which are often pointed to as containing contradictions. These books record the same events, but sometimes the numbers don’t line up.
1 Chronicles 18:4 records that David took 7,000 horsemen, whereas 2 Samuel records only 1,700 horsemen. 1 Chronicles 19:18 says David killed 7,000 charioteers compared to 2 Samuel 10:18’s meager 700. 1 Chronicles 21:5 records 1,100,000 drew the sword to fight and 2 Samuel 24:9 records only 800,000 drew the sword.
If these numbers were close we would probably just chalk it up to a counting error. But when the difference is so drastic it’s hard to ignore.
Some claim the author was all about inflating the numbers. But in other areas the author of 1 Chronicles records smaller numbers than 2 Samual. The issue with this example is that there’s no clear agenda or any consistency to these issues.
So what do we do with these contradictions in the Bible? Critics will point to these few times the numbers don’t match and claim the Bible is inaccurate because these contradictions in accounts. But we shouldn’t ignore that the vast majority of the time the numbers do align. In fact they align way more than they don’t.
When we read the Bible we bring our 21st century way of thinking into it. But the problem is the Bible was written thousands of years ago, and the world was much different then. Today we want exact and precise numbers and anything off the exact is considered wrong.
But we need to get out of our 21st century mind for a minute. Think about when you are having a conversation with a friend about a road trip. They might ask, how far are you traveling? You say 800 miles. In reality, you are actually trading 756 miles. But 800 just sounds better and the point of the story is still there. It’s very possible that in this instance that is what is happening. Sometimes we have to read by the rules of normal conversation, not a precise account. But the reality is we don’t know for sure why these differences are present.
Another example of a contradiction in the Bible that’s often pointed to is Joshua 10:40 in which the Bible says Joshua took the whole land and left no Canaanite alive. But later on in Joshua 13:1-7 we see that some Canaanites were still alive.
If we read it as a textbook spewing facts this would be a contradiction. But if we read Joshua 10 as a statement of victory that contains some rhetoric overemphasizing the victory, it makes more sense. If Joshua 10 is saying they experienced an overwhelming victory as an exaggeration it makes sense. We use the same principle when our team wins a game by a large margin. We destroyed them. Well, no they weren’t actually destroyed, it’s an exaggeration to show how badly they were beaten.
There’s other examples of contradictions in the Bible, but they are more or less the same as the above. I want to move onto what we should do when we run into contradictions in the Bible.
Here’s the reality, there are contradictions in the Bible that we don’t have answers for. We can offer reasonable solutions, but there’s nothing solid. However, There is no difference or contradiction in the Bible that damages the integrity of the message.
Critics often overemphasize these contradictions. They will point to one small issue of discrepancy but ignore the VAST majority of agreements. There isn’t one major contradiction in the Bible. The integrity, clarity, and congruency of the Bible is incredible. Unparalleled in any other book. And I would argue impossible to achieve without divine inspiration.
When you see a contradiction look at what impact it makes on the overall message of the Bible. If you do that you will find that the answer is often minimal. In the major and crucial parts of Scripture, there is unprecedented harmony.
For another great article on contradictions in the Bible check out: Preston Sprinkle, What To Do With Contradictions
Read The Bible Properly
Not only are contradictions overemphasized, but a proper reading of the Bible is ignored. When we pull verses out of context we can make it say just about anything.
I’ve read through many lists of apparent “contradictions” in the Bible that people have published. The problem is the vast majority of these contradictions aren’t contradictions. They come from a poor reading of the Bible that rips verses out of context.
When we read the Bible we need to understand what we are reading, and we need to practice good Biblical hermeneutics, which simply means to read the Bible in the way it was intended to be read.
The vast majority of contradictions would be cleared up if we just read the Bible properly. I’m not going to dive into how we can do that in this blog post. But I’ve written several on how to read the Bible linked below.
For more check out:
How To Read The Bible (the 5 best tips)
How To Start Reading the Bible (the 8 best tips)
Stop Taking The Bible Out Of Context (and how to avoid it)
Best Bible Translations (how to choose the best one)
Where To Start Reading The Bible (the 4 BEST places to start)
Who Wrote The Bible? (the POWERFUL truth)
So, Does The Bible Contradict Itself?
Each person should examine the Bible to see for themselves if it’s trustworthy. Each person should ask the question, “does the Bible contradict itself?” We don’t need to defend it, it can do that itself. We shouldn’t feel the need to have an answer for every single apparent contradiction in the Bible.
There are some contradictions in the Bible that we simply don’t have answers for. But none damage the integrity of the Bible.
But let me give you a little more reason to trust in the Bible.
There are passages that seem like contradictions. And I say seem because we cannot prove it… Yet. There’s some that we don’t know, archeology hasn’t discovered, or God hasn’t revealed. I don’t know why. But I also don’t feel the need to answer every question.
Here’s why I don’t feel the need. The list of apparent contradictions in the Bible is shrinking. Things that were once considered contradictions are now being revealed as history.
For example in Acts 13:7 Sergius Paulus is mentioned as proconsul of Cyprus. Critics have long contended that the title was wrong, rather he should be called propraetor which was the common title of the day. For a long time, there was no answer to this apparent contradiction. However, archeologists later discovered coins on Cyprus with the inscription “Paulus the Proconsul.” Contradiction solved.
Here’s another one. In Daniel 5:1 Belshazzar is named king of Babylon. The problem is every historian knew that Nabonidus was king at this time. For a long time, this was one of the most blatant contradictions that critics would point to. That is until an inscription was discovered known as “Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus.” This inscription states that Nabonidus went away on a long journey. During that time he left the kingdom in the hands of his son, Balshazzar. Again, contradiction solved.
The point is, the apparent contradictions that exist are just that, apparent. There is a good chance that over time we will solve more, and more of these contradictions will be solved.
New evidence will be found, archaeology will confirm the accuracy of the Bible. Maybe not all of them. Some are probably buried too deep in the desert somewhere. But that’s okay. The Bible stands on its own. It’s got a good track record. And stands way beyond the accuracy of just about every other book. The few apparent contradictions don’t hold a candle to the mountain of congruent passages and stories. The Bible as a whole is in agreement and a few passages here and there should not cause us to throw the rest out.
Let’s hear from you! What are your thoughts? How would you answer the question, does the Bible contradict itself?
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