Sunday, June 19

Does The Bible Contain Contradictions? (Part One)

For years, it has been claimed by many skeptics and critics that the Bible contains alleged contradictions. Since the Law of Non-Contradiction essentially states you cannot have A and Non-A both be true at the same time, one would be in error if a contradiction was truly found, and it would throw into question the historicity, accuracy, preservation, reliability, and inerrancy of the Biblical account. In past entries, we have attempted to establish a credible basis upon which the accuracy, preservation and historicity of the Biblical record rest. But if such contradictions exist, it would create an issue that could not be ignored. In this mini-series, we will attempt to examine these alleged contradictions - and try to reconcile these. 

Having recently come upon the website titled the "Skeptics Annotated Bible," The Truth Ministries examined much of these alleged contradictions, and for each one which was review, an answer was easily found. More often than not, these so-called contradictions were nothing more than a mere theological misunderstanding on the part of the accuser, or a historical misunderstanding - and in some cases, a misunderstanding due to translations. Understand that it is not our intention to answer each and every "contradiction," as there are around 6000 "errors, contradictions, and discrepancies." However, if the reader has a question which he seeks an answer to in regard to these, feel free to utilize our ministry email attached to the bottom of this entry, and we will answer when we can.

Note that it is admirable of the atheist owner(s) of the "Skeptic's Annotated Bible" website to include a "Good Stuff" section of things found within the Bible, and with most of the alleged contradictions, a link or sometimes several links are provided to answers given by Christians, notably certain Apologetics ministries. Now, let us examine some of these "contradictions" or "discrepancies," and answer as best as possible. Understand that just like everyone else, we do not have all the answers, but as an Apologetics Ministry, must do our best to provide the answers people seek.

One such "contradiction" is - How long does God's anger last? Psalm 30:5 says, "For his anger lasts only a moment...", along with Jeremiah 3:12, "I will not be angry forever...", and Micah 7:18, "You do not stay angry forever but delight to show your mercy." The "contradiction" appears through these: " have kindled my anger and it will burn forever" (Jeremiah 17:4), along with a reference to Hell and the forty years in the desert. How do we answer such claims? The length of God's anger is dependent upon what he or she has done, not what they have done to make it right - this is true with anyone. In terms of Psalm 30:5, here, the anger of the Lord is contrasted with His favor, as His desire is to save and give life - it is His anger over our sin that shows us the need for eternal life through Christ.

But the word itself is what calls the verse into question. If at one point God says His anger will last "forever" and yet at another says His anger lasts "only a moment," this appears to be a contradiction, right? Not exactly. The word "forever" in Hebrew is "owlam," which refers to a long duration. Essentially, the point is that "forever" and "eternally" in Hebrew have different meanings. When we read in English translations that something lasts "forever," it means only a long duration - not for eternity. This is not a contradiction, but a misunderstanding due to the Greek to English translations. As for the forty years in the desert, God had punished Israel as a result of their disobedience. The text itself (referring to Numbers 32:13) did not say that God was angry with Israel for the entire forty years. On the contrary, God daily provided Israel with food and watched over them in His protection.

Another alleged contradiction is in regard with the Tower of Babel. The skeptic claims that, since in Genesis 10:5 we read, "From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language. Verse 20 and 21 also mention "by their clans and languages." Yet in the following chapter we read, "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech." (Genesis 11:1) At first glance, this appears to be a contradiction - Genesis 10 refers to people separated by their clans and nations, yet Genesis 11 states that there was only one language, and that as a result of the Tower of Babel, "...the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:9).

How, then, can this contradiction be reconciled? Simply put, Genesis 10 is the "Table of Nations," a genealogy of the three sons of Noah - Japheth, Ham, and Shem - and their descendants. Genesis 10 and 11 do not follow chronologically with one another. Much like Genesis 1 and 2, though many claim there are two contradicting accounts of creation, both chapters merely build upon the next. Genesis 1 and 2 are supplementary and complimentary, with Genesis 2 expounding upon Day 6. As for Genesis 10 and 11, Genesis 10:5 makes reference to the spreading out of people, as does verse 25 referring to Peleg born during the division of the people through language. 

In other words, after ending each genealogy, Moses decided to begin the next chapter by expounding upon a major event which happened between after the Global Flood and the end of the genealogy. In fact, Nimrod, who was a key player in regard to the Tower of Babel, is mentioned in Genesis 10:8-10, "Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, 'Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.' The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad, and Kalneh, in Shinar." Shinar was the plain on which the Tower of Babel was built (Genesis 11:2), which is Babylonia. The fact that more than one language is mentioned at the end of each genealogy is another important factor to consider: this is not a contradiction of the number of languages. The Bible is clear that there was one language until after the Tower of Babel, and the previous chapter makes mention of this, then goes into more detail. This is not a contradiction, but another simple misunderstanding of the text.

Perhaps one of the easiest contradictions to answer is the following. The skeptic claims that there is a contradiction over who buried the body of Jesus, citing the following references: Matthew 27:57-60, "When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed." Mark 15:43-46, "Joseph of Arimathaea ... took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher" Luke 23:50-53, "Joseph ... of Arimathaea ... took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher" 

John 19:38-42 reads, "Joseph of Arimathaea ... took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus.... Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus...", and finally, Acts 13:27-29, "For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulcher." The skeptic's claim is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels) provide that it was only Joseph of Arimathaea who buried Jesus, with John conveying that it was both Joseph and Nicodemus, and finally, Acts claiming it was "...those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their leaders."

"For there to be a contradiction between the synoptic gospels and John's account of the burial, Matthew, Mark or Luke must indicate that Joseph buried Jesus alone, without any other present. None of them do. John gives us more information than the synoptics, adding that Nicodemus was also present. However, the information given in these 4 accounts is not contradictory. Acts 13 speaks Jesus' death and burial, and attributes his being laid in a tomb to "...those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their leaders..." I am unsure how the questioner considers this to be contradictory. Joseph of Arimathaea was "prominent council member" (Mk 15:43; Lk 23:50), and Nicodemus was a "Pharisee" and "ruler of the Jews" (Jn 3:1). It is also entirely possible that there were others who helped with the burial. None of the texts mention others, but none of the texts exclude the possibility either. There is no contradiction here."[1]

The skeptic also claims that there is a contradiction over who appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush. Exodus 3:2 says, "There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush..." However, Exodus 3:4 says, "When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!' And Moses said, 'Here I am.' 'Do not come any closer,' God said... "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.'" Mark 12:26 repeats this last claim, and in Acts 7:35 we read, "...through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush." Which appeared to Moses, then - an angel, or God Himself?

Both appeared to Moses. The word angel itself is also translated as "messenger." Many Biblical scholars agree that each appearance of the "Angel of the Lord," or rather, "Messenger of the Lord," is the Pre-Incarnate Jesus Christ. Jesus is God (John 1, 10:30; Romans 10:9; Colossians 1; Philippians 2; Hebrews 1; etc), and as God, He is the only visible form. God the Father makes it clear to Moses in Exodus 33 that "No one may see me and live," and as the Holy Spirit is just that - Spirit, the only physical form of God which has appeared to man in the flesh - not in visions, as with Isaiah or others, but in physical form - is God the Son, who is Jesus Christ. This is not a contradiction, but a lack of understanding of theology. The Angel of the Lord, or rather, Messenger of the Lord, is God - Jesus, who is God the Son. (For more information, see entry, "Who Is 'The Angel of the Lord?'", "The Holy Trinity (Part Two)", and "Is Jesus Really God?")

Yet another alleged contradiction involves Jesus - and a Roman centurion. Matthew 8:5-8 record a centurion coming to Jesus to talk to Him about healing his paralyzed servant. However, Luke 7:1-7 states that a servant of the centurion came to Jesus and conveyed the information given to him by the centurion. This presents what many claim to be a contradiction - or does it? Dr. Luke, a careful historian and physician, records that the servant(s) came to Jesus, conveyed it Him, and He came with them. But when Jesus approached, the centurion sent another servant, who conveyed the message that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his household. 

"In both Matthew and Luke's account, we read the centurion's short discourse on authority, in Matthew, as it were from his own mouth, in Luke, as given from the centurion through his friends. Our answer is found in the authority which the centurion possessed. He could speak to one and say, "Do this", and it would be done, or to another, and say "Do that", and it would be done. Those who are sent are not accomplishing their own will, but that of the centurion. They are not speaking or acting for themselves, but for the centurion. When the Jewish elders and the centurion's friends came, they came in his place. Matthew, focusing on the miracle, and not the particular details, doesn't bother to mention that the centurion said these things through representatives. Luke, a detail oriented writer, is more specific."[2] Consider: if the President of the United States sent out a message to the media to convey to the people, they would speak for the President, relaying his message. This is exactly what the centurion's servant did - there is no contradiction.

The skeptic also claims a contradiction regarding the length of the Earth's existence. We read that "The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever" (Psalm 37:29), "the earth that He established forever" (Psalm 78:69), "He set the earth on its foundations, it can never be moved" (Psalm 104:5), and "Generations come and go, but the earth remains forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4). However, we read in Psalm 102:25-26, "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment." Several times Jesus also said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away..." Also, the Bible consistently refers to "new heavens and a new earth" (Isaiah 65:17). 

Malachi 4 also refers to the end of the present heavens (earth's atmosphere, outer space, and God's Abode) and earth, as does 2nd Peter 3:17, "By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." Verse 10 continues, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare." Verse 12b concludes, "That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat." Revelation 21 is an entire chapter dedicated to what will transpire on the new heavens and new earth. Therefore, a contradiction must exist, since the Bible says that the heavens and earth will last "forever," yet also says it will be destroyed, correct?

As noted earlier, "The word forever appears some 382 times in Scripture, most commonly rendered in the Old Testament through the Hebrew word owlam, and in the New Testament with the Greek eis aion. The word forever has a variety of meanings, including "...long duration, unbroken age, perpetuity of time, antiquity, ancient, old, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, always, indefinite or unending, eternity..." (Strong's, Thayer's). The word need not mean eternal, without end, as the questioner has supposed."[3] From this, and noting that the Psalms are written in a poetic format, we can conclude that no such contradiction exists.

The final contradiction which we will examine within the confines of the first entry in this mini-series on answering contradictions is as follows: the skeptic quotes Psalm 90:10, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten." Yet the text actually says, "Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures..." and proceeds to quote Genesis 6:3, "their days will be a hundred and twenty years." Does this not present a contradiction? First, the 120 years that God provided was 120 years for mankind to repent before He sent the Flood, during which time Noah built the Ark and preached righteousness to the people (see 1st Peter 3:20 and 2nd Peter 2:5). As for Psalm 90, this is not a stating of the human lifespan, but a generalization. It was not a set lifespan, but a psalm to illustrate the brevity of life.

No such contradiction exists over the age of man, merely a misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture, as much of these alleged contradictions are. While some of these may be difficult to explain or reconcile, Christians can rest assured that no contradictions exist within God's Word. Archaeology, true empirical science, astronomy, historical evidence, textual evidence, and predictive prophecy all lend credence to the inspiration and preservation of the Bible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this entry of "The Truth." Feel free to email (but please remain civil, or we will not respond) or The Truth Ministries at, visit our facebook page, or visit the main ministry website. We understand that not all readers will accept our explanations or conclusions, yet we do hope it will allow you to take Christianity more seriously, or to consider it - call into question its veracity, and investigate for yourself. Thank you, take care, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

[1] "Answering The Atheist: August 20, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 34." Looking Unto Jesus. Looking Unto Jesus, 20 August 2006. Web. 18 Jun 2011. .
[2] "Answering The Atheist: August 14, 2005 / Volume 5, Issue 33." Looking Unto Jesus. Looking Unto Jesus, 14 August 2005. Web. 18 Jun 2011. .
[3] "Answering The Atheist: September 17, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 38." Looking Unto Jesus. Looking Unto Jesus, 17 September 2006. Web. 18 Jun 2011. .