As a chaplain I hear all kinds of reasons why a person does or even does not believe in the Bible as God's Word. For the past few weeks I have been teaching a Bible study group. We have been going chapter by chapter through Understanding God's Word by David K. Bernard.(1) I highly recommend this book to all my readers. While I'm doing this study I wanted to write this and subsequent posts answering various objections made against the Bible.
In chapter three Bernard writes "Since the Bible is the Word of God, it does not contain internal contradictions."(1) This is a fundamental guideline for believers. Below, I will set some guiding principles for dealing with Bible contradictions and in subsequent posts look at examples that are used.
At some point, we must determine what sort of contradiction is being claimed about a particular text. The general laws of logic that would apply here are the law of identity (something is what it is), the law of non-contradiction (nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same sense), the law of the excluded middle (something either is or is not)(2) and the law of rational inference (proper conclusion based upon logical and reasonable evidence).
Examine the claim of the skeptic. Is what they claim really a contradiction? Or is the issue interpretive? Once a man slammed my KJV Bible on the table in front of us while uttering expletives suggesting he would not believe one word from it. After some time of talking with the man his disdain from Scripture originated in a misunderstanding of Scripture that he had heard from his mother. Since a child he was taught that Jesus would return in the year 2000.
It is also good to press the unbeliever to be more creative with their unbelief. If there was an answer to this "supposed" contradiction would they accept the answer? Many will say no and thus confirm that your answer would not matter anyways. This is another issue entirely. Biblical authority is at an all time low in our culture.
Use proper resources in your study (Bible lexicons, concordances, commentaries, encyclopedias, etc). There are thousands of tools to help one interpret Scripture that are freely available online or that can be acquired in physical form.
We should also examine our presuppositions or the set of assumptions about the Bible. Everyone has them. We get them from several areas (e.g. culture, upbringing, theological). Are our assumptions valid? Are our expectations legitimate? False expectations can lead to false conclusions. For example, do not expect the Bible writers to be digital machines in their writings. God moved upon men to write by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-22). The photocopier is also a recent development.
Do not ignore the style of the author or the genre of the book you are reading. To do so is to force meaning into the text and not allow the meaning to be read from the text.
We should also be open to being wrong about some things. The Bible teaches certain things very clearly and unquestionably. But for peripheral issues we should be open to learning and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In the next post we will examine some specific examples.
1 Bernard, David K. Understanding God's Word: An Apostolic Approach to Interpreting the Bible. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 2005 Click here to purchase.
2 Miller, Ed L., and Jon Jensen. Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.