Theologians have placed Bible difficulties and contradictions in various classifications in order to unravel their problems. For instance, some problems are due to sequence, such as the events following Jesus’ death at the end of each of the gospels. They don’t follow the same order of events nor include the same details. Yet some groups have assembled perfectly plausible sequences of events from the four chapters.
Another classification is scribal error. Copying a document by hand day after day is bound to introduce some errors, such as repeated words, missed words, missed or miscopied letters, or repeated or dropped lines. By comparison of manuscripts and careful analysis, we’ve been able to detect these types of errors.
Our English Bibles are translated from the existing (called “extant”) manuscripts, and are frequently not word-for-word translations. Mistranslations have introduced complications between verses, especially in earlier Bible translations, where none really exist.
People have introduced difficulties due to their own interpretations of the Bible text. Correcting their understanding usually resolves the so-called difficulty.
Another classification deals with the compression of events. Details are omitted to condense the story or focus on key points. For instance, in Matthew 20:30 we read of two blind men calling out for Jesus to have mercy on them. In Mark 10:46 we find only one blind man calling out for mercy, and we are given his name. They are either two separate events or Mark’s retelling of the story leaves out one of the blind men. Mark’s quick-moving narrative is noted for its sparse detail.
The Bible authors have arranged their material to suit their audiences, and that introduces another series of Bible difficulties. Matthew included details in his gospel that concerned his audience of Jews. Mark and Luke audiences were different, so those details were omitted, since they were not necessary.
Another classification concerns geography. In one case, Jesus is said to leave Jericho to go somewhere. In another gospel of the same event, Jesus enters Jericho. Which is correct? Both are! In the first case, the writer references the old Jericho site to place Jesus, while another author uses the new Jericho site. Hundreds of Bible difficulties have been cleared up by archeological digs. Historical figures and places thought to be made up have been uncovered over the centuries that verify the biblical accounts.
The Bible’s arithmetic has been called into question. For instance, we are given the circumference of a large bowl in 2 Chronicles 4:2, and its width. Yet the width does not exactly match a bowl of that circumference. In this case and others, that’s because our tools make exact measurements to several decimal places while they used their fingers, hands, arms, and crude sticks. Their measurements were of necessity approximations.
We encounter other Bible difficulties when we apply our present-day thinking or customs to the ancient times and mores of the Bible. In some cases, what is wrong to us today was acceptable in their times.
Other Bible problems arise from thinking of God as a two-dimensional cardboard character. In one place he loves; in another place he hates. Well, don’t we all love something and hate other things? God’s character is complex, like our spouse’s!
Many, many knots have been unraveled over the centuries, but some stubborn tangles still remain. Thankfully, many solutions have been offered for the remaining problems, though they do not convince all.
The main contention people have is that if God is so perfect, and he’s the one who wrote the Bible, then why would there be any contradictions at all? Why can’t every event be perfectly synchronized among the various writers? Why can’t all arithmetic figures be exact to the decimal point? Surely he should have anticipated all the problems that would arise today.
Actually, today we have more resources for proving the accuracy of the Bible than ever before. Witness the explosion of Christian books from the perspective of archaeology, science, ancient manuscripts, and theology that are successfully putting to rest centuries of attacks. Because literally thousands of objections have been raised and thoroughly and convincingly refuted over the centuries, I have no problems with any remaining issues.
As seen in other places in this book, God has provided us with more than enough helps for us to intellectually accept what he has written. Remember that the Bible was written for God’s people. You can expect his enemies to try to find reasons not to believe. No matter how much evidence comes up to verify the Bible, they’ll always find another problem. Web sites gleefully list the many “problems” they’ve found. If they are looking for problems, they will always find them. This book is not for them. Do not argue with them.
On the other hand, there are those who want to believe, but cannot because of the difficulties they’ve read about. These difficulties are surmountable for a believer, but to someone who knows little about the Creator, they are a strong barrier to the truth of God. If any of them really wants to know the truth, the Lord will guide them there, as he has been doing for thousands of years to others.
For those who love arguments, books like this one in your hand will be worthless. For those who are seeking answers to Bible difficulties, this and similar books will help fill the need.
What Do You Think?
a. Many skeptics do not consider the Bible divinely inspired because of inconsistent details among the gospel accounts. If the details of all gospels perfectly dovetailed with each other, why do you think skeptics would still not consider them divinely inspired?
b. Some believers are able to put aside any contradictions and wait to see if any answers crop up later. Others decide to stop believing everything about the Bible when they find a problem area. What do you think about these two approaches?
c. When you get contradictory information from two acquaintances, how do you resolve the issue – do you heckle them, simply believe the most trustworthy person, do more research independently, or use another method? Do you deal with Bible difficulties the same way?