Does the Bible have contradictions?

by Matt Slick
4/10/2017

A lot of people think that the Bible has contradictions in it and, therefore, it cannot be trusted. But, that is not the case.  instead, the Bible is a single, coherent work that has been inspired by God in all of its graphic illustrating contradiction 66 books. Though it is ancient, it is not outdated. Though it was written on three continents, in three languages, over 1400 years, it contains a consistent and harmonious message.

But, that has not stopped critics from citing what they consider to be contradictions. For example, they might quote James 2:24 which says "that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."  Then, they contrast it with Romans 4:5 which says, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." Is this a contradiction? On the surface it would appear to be, but when we look at the context of each passage, we see it is not. Romans 4 is talking about justification before God (Rom. 4:2).  James is talking about justification before people (James 2:18).  The context of each makes it clear and there is no contradiction.  This kind of problem is perhaps the most common found among critics of the Bible. They very often take verses out of context and set them against each other.

What is a contradiction?

First of all, in order to know if something is a contradiction we must first define what a contradiction is. Quite simply, a contradiction occurs when one statement that is said to be true contradicts another statement that is also said to be true, when both statements are referring to the same thing.  So, it would be a contradiction if I said, "Yesterday I went to the store" and I also said, "Yesterday I did not go to the store."  I either went to the store yesterday or I did not go to the store Yesterday. Both statements cannot be true. They contradict each other.  So, whenever I come across someone who says the Bible has contradictions, I like to ask the person if he can first define what a contradiction is. Very often, they get it wrong.

We see in the Bible different statements around the same topic that do not necessarily agree exactly, but are not contradictions. For example, how many angels appeared at the tomb of Jesus, one or two?  Matt. 28:1-2 says that "...an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it."  But, John 20:12 says that Mary Magdalene "he held two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying."  If you read the texts carefully you will see that one statement does not make the other statement impossible. First of all, if there are two angels present, then we know that there's at least one angel present as well. Second, when describing the function of one angel without mentioning another, that is not a contradiction. It is simply a difference in focus.  Third, logically speaking we can see that when we read the context, one angel was sitting outside the tomb, and there were two angels inside.  There is no contradiction because one statement does not make the other impossible.

How to solve Bible Contradictions

Solving alleged Bible contradictions is basically simple. The first thing you do is read the context. By far the majority of supposed Bible contradictions are not a problem when context is examined. Pay attention to who was speaking, what is being said, and if there is a shift in topic or focus.  However, when you come across something where immediate context does not solve the problem, then it is sometimes necessary to do more study and look into related topics.  Such is the case with whether or not God is seen in the Old Testament are not.  Let me explain.

In Genesis 17:1 it says, “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless."  Yet, in Exodus 33:20 it says, "But He [God] said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Is this a contradiction? Again no.  But, looking at immediate context does not solve the problem. In this example we must look further.

We see that there are many places in the Old Testament where God is seen (Genesis 18:1; Exodus 6:2-3; 24:9-11). We also see that there are places where the Bible says God cannot be seen (John 1:18; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16).  But, in our example here, all we need to do is more research. In so doing we discover that God is a Trinity.  in other words, God consists of three distinct, simultaneous persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, when we look at the words of Jesus in John 6:46 we see that he says, "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.”  Likewise Paul the apostle says in 1 Tim. 6:16 that God dwells in "unapproachable light whom no man has seen nor can see."  So, we conclude that it is God the Father who is not seen, as the context of both verses reveals. So, we understand then that God, the totality, the Trinity, and in particular the person of the Father, is never seen in the Old Testament. However, we know that it is the pre-incarnate Christ who was seen in the Old Testament.  After all, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden and since Jesus said it was not the Father (John 6:46), then we conclude it must have been the pre-incarnate Christ.

Textual Variants

Textual variants happen. This means that in the copying method of the documents of the Bible, occasionally various copyist errors have crept in. Does this mean that the Bible is full of contradictions? No, it does not. First of all, inspiration deals with the original documents, not the copies. Second, with copies we can see an incredible amount of accuracy when we compare biblical manuscripts with each other.  Textual variance, as they are called, which consist of copyist errors, comprise less than 1/2% of all the Old and New Testament.  In those areas where variants need to be examined, we have an of redundancy in other copies and when we look at context of various issues, we find that supposed "contradictions" quickly fall away.

Now, this article is not intended to be an exposition an analysis of textual variants. But the reality is they occur. But it is also equally true that the Bible has been incredibly well preserved and that suppose contradictions quickly disappear when we examine context, use logic, consider the redundancy and reliability the biblical documents in order to solve various problems.

Conclusion

Therefore, we can conclude the Bible does not have contradictions in it. It is an extremely well preserved and truthful revelation from God.

 

 

Inside CARM

What is a contradiction?
A contradiction occurs when two (or more) different statements on a topic cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.  For instance, let's look at the statements "I am walking my dog," and "I am not walking my dog."  Both statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way.

Is The Trinity A Philosophical Contradiction?
Many people who reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity do because of confusion and misunderstanding. They think we are saying the Bible teaches that God is one person and God is three persons at the same time and in the same way.

Law of non-contradiction
The Law of non-contradiction is one of the basic laws in classical logic. It states that something cannot be both true and not true at the same time when dealing with the same context.
 

Bible Contradictions

What Jesus said:
Matthew 5:21–22, "You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

What Paul Said:
2 Timothy 3:16–17, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

Dictionary

  1. Being Is (B is) = The Principle of Existence.
  2. Being Is Being (B is B) = The Principle of Identity.
  3. Being Is Not Nonbeing (B is Not Non-B) = The Principle of Noncontradiction.
  4. Either Being or Nonbeing (Either B or Non-B) = The Principle of the Excluded Middle.
  5. Nonbeing Cannot Cause Being (Non-B>B) = The Principle of Causality.

    (Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.)

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.