Introduction to Bible Difficulties and Bible Contradictions

by Matt Slick

Bible difficulties, or apparent Bible contradictions, exist. The opponents of Christianity often use them in their attempts to discredit Christianity. Sometimes these attacks undermine the faith of Christians who either don't understand the issues or don't have the resources to deal with them.

Opponents of Christianity will cite what they consider a Bible contradiction or difficulty by comparing one verse to another (or more) that seems to disagree with the first. In doing this, several verses are often referenced as being contradictory or problematic. Therefore, to make this section of CARM easy to use, it is arranged by verse for easy lookup. Since many of the same "difficulties" deal with one verse in opposition to another or even several others, I have listed all the verses addressed in the same answer. This makes the initial list look larger than it really is.  For example, how many animals did Noah bring into the ark? Genesis 6:19-20 says two while Gen. 7:2-3 mentions seven. Therefore, both verses are listed and both links point to the same answer.

The Originals are Inspired-not the copies.

What a lot of Christians don't know is that the autographs (original writings) are inspired--not the copies. The autographs are the original writings--the original documents penned by the biblical writers. The copies are copies of inspired documents. The copies are not themselves "inspired"; that is, they have no guarantee of being 100% textually pure. But don't worry, the Bible manuscripts are 98.5% textually pure. Only a very small amount of information is in question because we have repetitive facts, instructions, and information found elsewhere in the Bible. Nevertheless, through the copying method over the years, various textual problems have arisen. Following is a list of the types of errors that have occurred in copying the manuscripts. I've used English as examples instead of going into the original languages for examples.

  • Dittography--Writing twice what should have been written once. Example: writing "latter" instead of "later." "Latter" means nearest the end. "Later" means after something else.
  • Fission--Improperly dividing one word into two words. Example: changing "nowhere" into "now here."
  • Fusion--Combining the last letter of one word with the first letter of the next word. Example: "Look it is there in the cabinet . . . or Look it is therein the cabinet."
  • Haplography--Writing once what should have been written twice. Example: "later" instead of "latter." "Later" means after something else. "Latter" means nearest the end.
  • Homophony--Writing a word with a different meaning for another word when both words have the exact same pronunciation. Example: Meat and meet have the exact same sound but different meanings. Also, there and their and they're are another example.
  • Metathesis--An improper exchange in the order of letters. Example: Instead of writing "mast," someone writes "mats," or "cast" and cats."

Does this mean we cannot trust the Bible?

Does this mean that the Bible we hold in our hand is not inspired? Not at all. Inspiration comes from God; and when He inspired the Bible, it was perfect. Our copies of the original documents are not perfect, but they are very close to being so. The critics often erringly assume that even the copies are supposed to be perfect. But when we point out that God never said the copies would be perfect, they then ask how can the Bible be trusted at all?  Quite simply, it is redundant in its facts and information; and the amount of material that has any variation at all is so minute compared to the whole Bible that the Bible is considered to be almost 100% accurately copied. Furthermore, the copyist errors present no problems doctrinally.

Still, some will say that since there are, for example, copyist errors then we must throw out the entire Bible. But this argument is very weak. Are we to throw out a science textbook because there is a misspelled word or two in it? Does this mean that the whole book cannot be trusted? Of course not. Furthermore, compared to other ancient documents, the New Testament, for example, has far more textual evidence in its favor than any other ancient writing. Please consider the chart below.1

AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime SpanNo. of Copies
Homer (Iliad)900 BC400 BC500 years643
Ceasar (The Gallic Wars)100-44 BCA.D. 9001,000 years10
Plato (Tetralogies)427-347 BCA.D. 900 AD1,200 years7
Aristotle384-322 BCA.D. 1,1001,400 years49
Herodotus (History)480-425 BCA.D. 9001,300 years8
Euripedes480-406 BCA.D. 1,1001,500 years9
New TestamentA.D. 50-90A.D. 130
30 years24,000
 

If the Bible cannot be trusted as being reliable because it has only a small percentage of copyist errors, then neither can the above documents that have far less textual support be trusted. In other words, the critics (to be consistent) would have to reject the Iliad, The Gallic Wars, Plato's Tetralogies, Aristotle's works, Hoerodetus' history, and Euripedes' writings. Are the critics willing to disregard all those writings--which are far less well preserved--if they throw out the Bible as being reliable? They should if they are fair in how they apply their criticism. Since basically no one discards those writings as being so bad that they can't be trusted, why would anyone apply the double standard to the Bible . . . unless they have an agenda.

We can see that the Bible is an ancient document that has withstood thousands of years of transmission with remarkable accuracy and clarity--far more so than the great works of old listed in the chart above. We can trust it to be what it says it is: the word of God.

 

This article is also available in: Indonesia, 中文

  • 1. This chart was adapted from charts in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1979, p. 42 and 43.

 

 

 

 
 
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