Monday, June 27

Does The Bible Contain Contradictions? (Part Four)

Twenty centuries ago, a man named Jesus of Nazareth allowed Himself to be taken into custody by the Jewish authorities. He stood in front of Annas, then Caiaphas, then Pontius Pilate (prefect of Judea under Emperor Tiberius), was subsequently sent to Herod Antipas, and ended up back in trial before Pontius Pilate, where, after a private conversation, this Jesus was sentenced to be crucified under Roman Law. His sentence was carried out, and to be sure He was dead, the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, which brought forth a flow of blood and water, demonstrating that His heart had burst from the immense stress and pain He had undergone that day. Incredibly, His formerly despondent followers declared Him raised from the dead three days later. The Christian faith was founded on that supposition. *Note: This entry is double-length

In past entries, we have reviewed and examined the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, discrediting the other theories proposed by secularists - from hallucinations to the disciples stealing His body, these have all been shown to be unreliable, leaving the only option to be a physical resurrection. According to Christians, God gave His revelation to mankind through the Bible, written by forty authors over a span of 1600 years on three different continents - yet all sixty six books demonstrating an elaborate and intricate inner harmony of one message: God's redemption for mankind. For years, however, skeptics have tried to dismiss all of this as mere fallacy, claiming that the Bible contains contradictions. If this were so, then the reliability of the Bible would come into question.

Author and apologist Paul F. Taylor wrote, "Some years ago, I was participating in an Internet forum discussion on this topic. Another participant kept insisting that the Bible couldn't be true because it contradicts itself. Eventually, I challenged him to post two or three contradictions, and I would answer them for him. He posted over 40 alleged contradictions. I spent four hours researching each one of those points and then posted a reply to every single one. Within 30 seconds, he had replied that my answers were nonsense. Obviously, he had not read my answers. He was not interested in the answers. He already had a a priori commitment to believing the Bible was false and full of contradictions. It is instructive to note that after a quick Google search, I discovered that his list of supposed Bible contradictions had been copied and pasted directly from a website." 
Taylor continues, "This anecdote shows that, for many people, the belief that the Bible contains contradictions and inaccuracies is an excuse for not believing. Many such people have not actually read the Bible for themselves. Still fewer have analyzed any of the alleged contradictions. It has been my experience that, after a little research, all the alleged contradictions and inaccuracies are explainable."[1] Indeed, with a little research and investigation, these alleged Bible contradictions are reconcilable or at the very least, a reasonable doubt can be created wherein we determine that there are answers for the "contradiction," regardless of whether or not we have discovered it yet. 

Hence the question is asked: does the Bible contain contradictions? In the previous three entries of this mini-series, we have reviewed such alleged contradictions and have explained - as well as reconciling - each of them. This series is not devoted to answering each and every claim that comes our way, but it is the intention of The Truth Ministries to demonstrate that these alleged contradictions are nothing more than theological misunderstandings or merely something the skeptic disagrees with based upon his or her own presuppositions. The contradictions answered in this final entry in the series are derived from the "Skeptic's Annotated Bible" website.

The first alleged contradiction we will review concerns Abraham and his children. "How many sons did Abraham have?", the skeptic asks. The skeptic cites Hebrews 11:17, "By faith Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac, ... his only begotten son," and Genesis 22:2, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, ... and offer him there for a burnt offering." These two verses appear to indicate that Isaac was Abraham's only son. Yet Genesis 16:15 records, "And Hagar bare Abraham a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael," along with Genesis 21:2-3, "For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son is his old age .... And Abraham called him Isaac." After the death of Sarah, "Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah." (Genesis 25:1-2) Galatians 4:22 is also cited, "Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond-woman, and the other by a free woman." Do these verses as a whole present an apparent contradiction?

On the surface, perhaps. Note that when God called Abraham to offer Isaac as a test of his faith, and called him his "only begotten son," this was before Abraham had any children through Keturah. However, Ishmael was the firstborn of Abraham, and was hence born before Isaac. Why then is Isaac called his "only begotten son"? God was most certainly aware of Ishmael, as He had promised Abraham that Ishmael would be blessed among men (see Genesis 17:20), however, Ishmael was not the son promised by God to Abraham. Ishmael was the result of human interference in God's plan, attempting to take matters into their own hands. Both Hagar and her son Ishmael were sent away (see Genesis 15:4; 17:15-16, 21), because only Isaac was the promised son. After only Isaac remained, " "...he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called'..."

God tells Abraham in Genesis 21:12 that "through Isaac your sons shall be named." Understand that in Hebrews, the word used for "only begotten" can also be translated as it is in the LXX as "beloved." Regarding Galatians, which states, "Abraham had two sons; one by a bonds-maid, the other by a free woman," note that St. Paul did not state, "Abraham had only two sons," but was setting up the context for what he was about to say, referring only to Ishmael and Isaac, not to Keturah's children. He did not say "Abraham had only two children, but, "Abraham had two sons..." and proceeds to describe which two sons he is referring to.St. Paul was not denying that Abraham had more children, but mentioning the children relevant to his message. No contradiction exists.

Another alleged contradiction leveled by the skeptic is, "Is it wrong to have sex outside of marriage?", citing Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18 (the seventh commandment), "Do not commit adultery," along with Hebrews 13:4, "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." However, Hosea 1:2, "And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take thee a wife of whoredoms," and Hosea 3:1, "Then said the Lord unto me, God yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress." This does not present a contradiction, but a misunderstanding of the role of the wife in Hosea's life and her purpose. Jesus Himself condemns adultery and clarifies as to what qualifies as adultery in Matthew 5:27-28, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

As for Hosea, "In the book of Hosea, the LORD uses the marriage of the prophet to a harlot as a picture or figure to speak against the nation Israel and her harlotry before the LORD (turning to idols). In no way is the LORD or Hosea condoning adultery in this illustration, but rather, condemning the unchaste conduct of God's people. Read the verses mentioned in the context of the whole book, and it certainly will become much more clear."[2] Understand that the relationship between Hosea and his wife are to be symbolic of God's relationship with Israel, which was living in, essentially, spiritual whoredom by giving themselves over to "other gods." Hosea's relationship with his wife was to symbolize idolatry, and to get a message across to Israel. No contradiction exists.

Concerning the Ark of the Covenant, the skeptic asks, "What was in the Ark of the Covenant?", and proceeds to cite 1st Kings 8:9, "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt," and 2nd Chronicles 5:10, "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables which Moses put therein at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of Egypt." However, Hebrews 9:4 records, "The ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant." Does a contradiction exist here?

No contradiction exists, merely a misapplication of Scripture. At one point in time, the Ark of the Covenant contained a pot that had manna within it, as well as Aaron's staff and the Ten Commandments, which had been written on two stone tablets. However, at the time of King Solomon, the manna and the staff had been removed, likely during the time during which the ark had been taken captive by Israel's enemies. It is not unreasonable to assume that the enemies could have easily tipped out the contents of the ark without touching the Ark itself. Also, note that the context in which both 2nd Chronicles and 1st Kings describe the Ark in involve the same event: the dedication of Solomon's Temple. The Ark itself did not go missing until the destruction of the temple several hundred years later, so it is also not unreasonable to assume that perhaps these artifacts - the staff and the pot - were later added in the Ark. The historian Philo attests to the gold jar tradition, and it is not unusual for artifacts to become lost over time, history evidently demonstrates this fact. No contradiction exists here.

Another alleged contradiction presented by the "Skeptic's Annotated Bible" is, "What color is Jesus' robe?", citing Matthew 27:28, "And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe," along with Mark 15:17, "And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head," and John 19:2, "And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple rob." Matthew states that the robe worn by Jesus during his final hours was scarlet, yet Mark and John state that the robe was purple. Does this present a contradiction? "Purple" in the context of the first century usually refers to a type of dye (see Acts 16:14), which was used to make cloth which ranged in appearance, from scarlet to purple. It is also interesting to note that both scarlet and purple are the colors of royalty. 

"Barnes comments, 'The ancients gave the name purple to any colour that has a mixture of red in it...' Wesley adds, 'The Tyrian purple is said not to have been very different from scarlet'" And Robertson also states, 'There are various shades of purple and scarlet and it is not easy to distinguish these colours and tints.'"[3] Note also that "scarlet" and "purple" are often used in tandem throughout the Bible, such as throughout the books of Exodus, 2nd Chronicles, and Revelation. It can be concluded that no such contradiction exists when Matthew, Mark, and John describe the color of Jesus' robe worn during His final hours. It was merely the colors of royalty - scarlet and purple, and we know that "purple" was often attributed to colors with a mixture of red, particularly scarlet.

One of the more interesting contradictions alleged by the skeptic is as follows: "Did Jesus forewarn the apostles of his death and resurrection?" Citing Matthew 20:18-19, 26:1-2, 26:31-32; Mark 8:3, 10:33-34, 14:28; Luke 18:31-32, the skeptic demonstrates that, yes, Christ predicted His death and resurrection several times. However, the skeptic then proceeds to cite John 20:9, which records, "For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead," as evidence that Jesus did not forewarn his disciples. It is evident from Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels) that Jesus did indeed predict His death and resurrection, yet the skeptic seems to believe that John's text presents an issue. 

"It needs to be acknowledged that hearing something and actually knowing something are not the same. The disciples had heard Jesus say that He would be put to death and thereafter raised from the dead, but they did not comprehend what He spoke about. The Greek word translated "knew" in the text is eido, which also appears in the previous verse. The word means " know:--be aware, behold...consider,(have) know(-ledge), look (on), perceive, see, be sure, tell, understand..." (Thayer's) The disciples were not aware, they did not perceive or understand what the Lord spoke about. I find it interesting that the questioner lists Luke 18:31-33. Why not include verse 34? It reads, "And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken." This verse wonderfully explains John 20:9. Though they had heard, they did not perceive or understand."[4] (For a much more in-depth look at this alleged contradiction and why the disciples did not understand, see here.)

The final supposed contradiction we will examine and review in this series is, "Where does God dwell?" Psalm 9:11, Psalm 76:2, and Joel 3:17, 21 state that God dwells "in Zion, [His] holy mountain..." However, Psalm 123:1 states, "Unto you I lift up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heaven," along with Ecclesiastes 5:2 which states, "Let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth." There appears to be a contradiction: God dwells in Zion, but God dwells in Heaven. Frankly, there is no contradiction, but a misunderstanding of Christian theology and the nature of God. God does dwell in Zion, yes. Zion is the name used of Jerusalem throughout the Hebrew Bible - it was the hill on which the Temple was built, a mountain, if you will.

1st Kings 11:36 says, "I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my name." Also, 2nd Kings 21:4 conveys, "He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, 'In Jerusalem I will put my name.'" Here, God reveals that He had chosen Jerusalem. Zechariah 8:3 also relays this truth, concerning God's dwelling. Psalm 139:7-10 answers this purported contradiction: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." God is omnipresent, He dwells both in Heaven and in Zion - it is the theological misunderstanding of the skeptic and their misunderstanding of the divine nature of God that is in question, not the Bible. No contradiction exists.

Upon close examination and review of the Biblical record, we can safely conclude that the Bible - through historical data and archaeological evidence, is given much credence, and can remain the foundation of the Christian worldview. This is important, because "All Scripture is God-breathed [inspired] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God's people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2nd Timothy 3:16-17).

Troy Hillman

[1] Taylor, Paul F., and Ken Ham. The New Answers Book 2. 5th ed. 2. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009. 282-283. Print.
[2] "IS adultery wrong?." Answering The Atheist. Looking Unto Jesus, 28 March 2004 . Web. 25 Jun 2011. .
[3] "What color was Jesus' robe?." Answering The Atheist. Looking Unto Jesus, 11 December 2005. Web. 25 Jun 2011. .
[4] "Did Jesus forewarn his disciples about his death and resurrection?." Answering The Atheist. Looking Unto Jesus, 25 December 2005. Web. 25 Jun 2011. .

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