Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Biblical Contradictions

It's no secret that skeptics have found plenty of contradictions in the Bible. If you were unaware of this, I'll help get you started with a few examples:
  • Jesus is human (Luke 2:7) and God. (Romans 9:5)
  • Jesus grew weary (John 4:6), but God does not grow weary. (Isaiah 40:28)
  • Jesus "grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52), but knew all things. (John 16:30)
  • Jesus died (Luke 24:36), but God is immortal. (Romans 1:23)
  • There is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in three persons (Matthew 28:19), each of whom is fully God (John 17, Romans 9:5, Psalm 139:7-8).
  • We are saved by our decision of faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), but God predestined those who were saved, to be saved before we existed. (Romans 8:29)
  • Paul permits women to pray and prophesy in church (1 Corinthians 11:5), but does not allow them to speak in church. (14:35)
  • From this past May: no one knows when the Son is coming back (Matthew 24:36), but we need not be surprised by His coming. (1 Thessalonians 5:4)
  • Jesus loved Lazarus and his family (John 11:5), but He purposely allowed him to die when he could certainly have healed him. (11:6) Even more interestingly, the ESV uses "so" instead of "yet" here.
  • The creation order in Genesis 1 appears to clash with the creation order in Genesis 2.
  • God gives His people specific laws on what they can and cannot eat (Leviticus 11, others), which He later (in a dream) tells Peter to disobey. (Acts 10)
And of course I'm only pointing out internal contradictions of the Bible, not times where it appears to contradict science, history, or common sense.

I could go through these one by one and offer my current understanding on how they fit together (except the creation order thing...ideas appreciated). But perhaps because of my CSci habit of finding patterns and rules, I'm instead going to talk about what I've learned from learning of and working through Biblical contradictions like these and others.

So, obviously if you go looking for contradictions in the Bible, you're going to find them; I've seen several sites run by skeptics with lists far more exhaustive than mine. But if you were looking for Biblical contradictions from the start, you probably didn't have a very high view of it to begin with and your views weren't changed, only perhaps reinforced.

But if you're wondering if the Bible might in fact be true (or if, like me, you believe it is), what do you make of scriptural difficulties? Well, if the whole Bible is true, then clearly these contradictions can't really be contradictions--not on the deeper, meaning level. The challenge then becomes: to find a way to interpret the Bible that resolves all the apparent contradictions, so that every verse, every word is true. I think this is the essence of what is meant by the saying, "scripture interprets scripture"--dynamically pitting apparently contradictory passages against each other in the context of the understood parts of scripture to find a way to make sense of them both.

For example:  much of what we know of the nature of Christ can be gleaned from the first four contradictions, the fifth is the doctrine of the Trinity, and the interpretation of the sixth leads people to either side of the predestination debate (already covered in detail). The contradiction about knowing when Christ will return tells us that we ought to be ready for Christ's return, rather than unprepared and thus surprised, and Jesus' curious treatment of Lazarus offers a challenging new perspective on how He loves us. In all these examples the knowledge we gain from resolving the apparent contradiction is greater than what we find in the bare passages. Being forced to reconcile two seemingly at-odds concepts forces us to search for a narrowly defined middle ground between them, with little room for speculation in the end.

In fact, beyond this idea of using contradictory passages to interpret each other, I would go even further to say that I think it works better than if God explicitly spelled everything out for us. This would make obsolete the responsibility we have to love God with all our mind by seeking an increasing understanding of Him; masters of theology would not write theological books (what would be the point?) but would simply refer back to the appropriate passage for everything (from a Bible that would likely be at least the size of an encyclopedia and that most people couldn't imagine even holding, much less reading). Memorizing scripture has a valuable place in believers' lives, but I'm thankful that there is much, much more to loving God with all my mind than that.

But this is all rather foolish speculation, because God is infinite and far above us (Isaiah 55:9), not able to be fully comprehended even when we see Him face to face. Even in the finite amount of Words He has spoken to us, which necessarily contain a dumbed-down description of who He really is, we should expect there to be difficulties, confusion, even apparent contradictions. But as I've attempted to explain above, this should not daunt anyone really set on knowing God. Christianity is not anti-intellectual--God transforms and renews our minds (Romans 12:2)--but we should be careful not to let our opinions and conclusions get in the way of Who really matters. If He is who He says He is, then He is much smarter than you and me.

If you look for contradictions in the Bible, you will surely find them. But, if you're willing to look past the difficulties you see in the Word to the One who spoke it, He will work with you to overcome them. This is taking up saving faith--setting aside arguments of doctrine and "religion" (whatever that entails for you) and running into the arms of a God who loves you enough to die for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment