“I can’t believe you believe the Bible,” he said, “Don’t you know there are thousands of Bible contradictions in there?” This sort of statement is unfortunately prevalent on the internet. Even worse, biblical contradictions are charged by top-tier scholars in New Testament studies. How legitimate are these so-called Bible contradictions?
Why do people claim there are Bible contradictions? Are there really contradictions in the Bible or are those just unreasonable charges? First thing’s first – what is a “contradiction?” As it turns out, most skeptics of the Bible who charge the Bible with contradictions, don’t have a good understanding of what “contradictions” are. And even world-renowned scholars are not immune to this mistake.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “contradiction” like this:
A combination of statements, ideas, or features which are opposed to one another.
So, a contradiction means that two or more statements and ideas must be opposed. Here’s an example:
1. Jim Baker who lives at 555 Milky Way Transport Way, New York, NY is married to Jody, and they have three children together.
2. Jim Baker who lives at 555 Milky Way Transport Way, New York, NY is not married and has no children.
Assuming the two statements are made around the same time and not years apart, they cannot possibly both be true. This would be a legitimate contradiction. At least one of the statements is incorrect, or both statements may be false. Both most certainly cannot be correct. If we were to find something like this in the Bible, we would have to concede that it is a real contradiction.
One of the common missteps takes place when the objector tries to say that one author did not include facts that other authors included, typically called an omission. Referring back to our definition of a “contradiction,” we can see that omission of information is not a contradiction, at least not an explicit one. Further, a contradiction is when there are statements or ideas present, and they conflict. An omission means that one of the people did not include one of the statements which may have been compared had he done so. The only possible way an omission may lead to a weak or implicit contradiction is if two people write a timeline and use precise and explicit terms. For example, if one author writes, “Mary left her home and went straight to the tomb without stopping anywhere” and another, depicting the same narrative, writes, “Mary left her home and went to the supermarket and then went to the tomb,” then we have an implicit or weak contradiction based on an omission.
However, omissions usually help do the opposite – strengthen the case for authenticity and trustworthiness of narratives. Authors, earnestly writing the same story, will always leave certain aspects out that other authors include and include others that the other authors leave out. This is a very natural thing. People simply have different vantage points, different backgrounds, upbringings, leanings, focus, emphasis, etc. If all the authors wrote the same exact story, that would be far more problematic as we could charge them with collusion. The bottom line is that omissions are not usually a sign of weakness, but of strength and authenticity.
When we encounter things that “look/sound” like problems, we have to take into account all the logical possibilities. Things that at first blush, appear to be problems could logically be one of few things:
At the end of any examination, 2, 4 and 5 are certainly nothing to make a big fuss about. Options 3 is troubling but probably not a deal breaker. Something could be a real difficulty, and we may never be able to resolve it, but we may simply not have enough information if the writer did not include enough context. Option 1 is the certainly the most troubling of all because if we conclude that there is a real contradiction, we’ve gotten there by information explicitly provided (not information that may be lacking as in the case of a difficulty).
An honest, objective seeker, must at the bare minimum entertain all of these options as they examine each alleged contradiction.
What would it mean for the Christian faith, if we were confronted with a real Bible contradiction? It would depend highly on the particular contradiction. Some contradictions would be relatively benign if they refer to minor points. Others may be major and impact biblical inerrancy, possibly question the reliability of the specific author concerning the details.
Is it possible for a contradiction to completely undercut the totality of the biblical narratives? Nope! Suppose we find the Bible riddled with contradictions. Suppose we must stop trusting in vast portions of Scripture. What would that mean? Assuming that no major doctrine or important theological point is under heavy scrutiny, there is little reason to stop trusting in the core historical truth that has already established itself within the historic landscape.
Contrary to the many charges of Bible Contradictions, many very haphazardly, those accusations of biblical contradictions usually fall flat once the biblical text is carefully examined. What’s most telling is the desperation and grasping at straws of skeptics trying, by all means necessary, to seek to undermine the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible. To the dismay of those claiming biblical contradictions, no adequately unresolvable actual contradiction has been found in the Bible. And yet, supposed biblical “contradictions” are being discovered every day by laymen internet infidels around the world.
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.