Contradictions in the Bible–or Lack of Knowledge?


Many people have claimed that the Bible is full of contradictions and state that it cannot be relied upon because of these inaccuracies. Others believe that since men recorded the words of the Bible it is simply the words of men who claim to speak for God–but in reality they have spoken only as men. Are these objections valid and why are there certain places in the Bible that appear to be contradictory?

John 1:1-14 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. (NLT)

John’s gospel is an example of how God communicated with us both through His written word and through Jesus, the Son, called the Word of God. Because of the immenseness of God’s power, He is able to preserve His word to us down through every generation, even to the present day. If there appears to be any inconsistency or contradiction in the Bible, the likely problem is our misunderstanding of the text or an improper application of the verse.

In the past 39 years of examining all of the purported contradictions of the Bible, I have never seen one that is valid. The source of these supposed contradictions is always from someone who is antagonistic to the Christian God or His Bible. A hostile witness is never a valid witness, for their particular view is always slanted in the direction of their bias against God before they began their investigation. Many great men and woman over the course of the past 2,000 years have carefully scrutinized every word of the Christian Bible and found that none of the claimed inconstancies or contradictions are valid.

The big picture

One of the problems in claiming a contradiction in the Bible is that those who claim to see these contraditions, do not understand the total picture of the Bible.

If we take one or two pieces of a puzzle and try to understand what they mean and how they relate to each other, we will not be able to do so. If however, we take all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together and then stand back and look at the total picture—then all the individual parts begin to make sense to us.

The scriptures were never intended to be read or understood in fragments. There is good reason why we have 66 books in the Bible. In order to understand any particular part of the Bible we must have a good working knowledge of the entire Bible. It is impossible to fully grasp the narrative of the New Testament, and particularly the Gospel of Jesus Christ—apart from knowing the Old Testament. Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. In order to understand this we must know what the Old Testament says.

When we have read the entire Bible and have a relative understanding of what the basic themes are—then we can understand what the point of the illustrations that are found in the Bible mean. It is then that we have sufficient knowledge to understand that there are no contradictions—only misunderstandings of the text and its application.

How the Bible came to us

The Old Testament was copied by hand for more than 3,000 years. The New Testament, hand copied for an additional 1,400 years. All of the basic fundamentals of the original writings have remained intact. However, due to copyist mistakes and scribal errors due to decay by the Papyrus that these ancient documents were first written upon, human errors have accumulated. Although the words of the Bible are those of the Living God, the people who duplicated the original document and subsequent copies are human beings, prone to error. It is only the original autographs of the word of God that are guaranteed to be free of error. All subsequent copies that have been made are certain to contain human errors when copying the text from one document to another. Because the original Papyrus has long since deteriorated, they no longer exists. What remains today are many thousands of copies of the original autograph of God’s word. Taking into account the fact that human error in the copying of the text over the past 3,000 years accounts for most of the misspelling and grammatical conflicts, the remaining contradictions that are claimed are simply due to a misunderstanding of the text or inappropriate interpretation.

In examining over 100 of the most commonly objected to verses of the Bible, we find the following:[1]

25 of the supposed contradictions are simply due to a misunderstanding of the historical text of the Bible.
15 of the claimed contradictions are due to the text being misread.
13 occasions in which a contradiction is imagined, there was a misuse of the original Hebrew language.
13 of the contradictions claimed by the adversary are not contradictions at all.
12 of the claimed contradictions are due to the reader not understanding the intent of the verse to which they were reading.
9 of the imagined contradictions were due to an error in the copying of the text.
6 of the contradictions that are claimed are because the reader did not have a complete awareness of the ancient history of Israel and the nations mentioned by the Bible.
4 occasions of claimed contradictions were due to a misuse of the Greek language.
4 times where a contradiction was imagined, the entire context of the verse was not read and taken into consideration.
3 of the supposed contradictions are due to a literalist interpretation rather than the contextual interpretation that the verse demands.
3 of the misunderstandings were by the false conclusions of the hostile evaluation and bias of the commentator.
1 of the claimed contradictions was due to confusion between one event and another.
1 of the contradictions that was claimed was due to the usage of an unreliable translation of the Bible.

From this short analysis of just 100 of the supposed contradictions of the Bible, it is clear that because those who make these claims of contradiction have a pre-bias to make the scriptures appear to be contradictory, it is easily accomplished when incorrect methods of interpretation are used. Those who often make these claims of contradictions or inconsistencies in the Biblical narrative are untrained themselves as well as unqualified to make these judgements. Many of those hostile to the English translation of the Bible have very little or no training in the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures and make their observations by opinion rather than scholarly diligence.

The Bible is absolutely reliable, and there are no contradictions or inconsistencies. The only certifiable problems that are known to exist are in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. All those who make claims of contradictions and inconsistencies do so for the apparent intent of discrediting the Christian gospel in order to impugn the claim that Jesus is the Messiah and the fact that He has proven His identity by the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures.

For further reading in understanding the vast evidence for the reliability of the Bible, see: Jesus as a Matter of History, and The Crucifixion of Jesus.

A correct understanding of the Bible

There are two purposes for the words of the Bible:

First: The clear and plain meaning of each text, meant to be read and understood by anyone.

Second: The deeper meaning and purpose of the verse that can only be understood by those who search out and seek to discover the hidden treasures God has placed there.

Jesus gave an example of this when He taught by the use of Parables:

Matthew 13:13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

The Parables that Jesus spoke were illustrations of greater truths hidden beneath the surface of the story. For the casual listener, these parables were simply stories. To the diligent listener and sincere seeker of God’s truth, they were a treasure trove of eternal guidance.

The Identity of Jesus

When we arrive at the New Testament, we see that the intent of the Holy Spirit in writing the words of the Old Testament was to point the way to a greater understanding of who Jesus is.

Paul revealed that every single word of the Bible is about Jesus and for the purpose of revealing who He is:

Hebrews 10:7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’ ”

When we read the text from Genesis 14:18 and see Melchizedek bringing bread and wine, the wise student of the Word of God should immediately go forward to the New Testament and seek out a counterpart. As we study the gospels, we discover that Jesus is found breaking bread and drinking wine as symbols of His death and resurrection.

Mark 14:22-23 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

The parallel between this event in the gospel of Mark describing the bringing of Bread by Melchizedek is clearly not happenstance. There are no coincidences in the Bible. Every word is placed in its precise location in the Bible for a specific purpose by the Holy Spirit.

Later Jesus said to his disciples something that both shocked and horrified them:

John 6:53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

Was Jesus saying that we must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood? Or was there a deeper spiritual meaning behind these words?

Whenever we hear the word Bread in the New Testament, we should immediately go back to that place in the Old Testament Book of Exodus Chapter 16, where Manna is given to God’s people in response to their hunger.

Exodus 16:35 “And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Later in the New Testament, Jesus reveals that the Manna, described in the Book of Exodus, was really an illustration of Himself.

John 6:49-51 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

Jesus said that He is The Bread of Life, available to anyone who wants to partake of Him:

John 6:35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

The intended purpose of the Manna in the book of Exodus was to point us to the New Testament where Jesus would give His body as the Bread of Life. The people described in the Book of Exodus who wanted to live had to partake of the bread that God gave them. There was no hope of life apart from it. Each person had to willingly partake of the bread themselves, of their own free will. In order to live, they had to take the bread into their body and allow it to become a part of their life.

What did Jesus mean by the term: …unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.?

The Jewish leadership in Israel also wondered at Jesus’ statement. They were curious whether Jesus was commanding them to literally eat His flesh in order to have eternal life, or did He have some other intent in mind?

John 6:52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

These men did not understand what Jesus was saying because they were not really seeking spiritual truth. They heard only the surface of Jesus’ words but did not perceive their deeper meaning.

The question is: “Why didn’t Jesus clearly explain to these men what He really wanted them to understand? Why does He hide the spiritual truth of His words under the illustration of eating His flesh and drinking His blood?”

Most people have only a surface awareness of God. Many will say that they “know who Jesus is”, but upon further examination of their life, it is apparent that they do not know Him intimately. If a person comes into a sincere relationship with Jesus, it will affect the words they say, the places they go, the things they look at and the manner of living for their life. It is impossible to surrender yourself to Jesus and make Him the Lord over your life without it drastically changing you. A person who claims to know Jesus, yet lives a life that is a contradiction of the character of Jesus Himself, does not truly know Him.

Those who were well acquainted with Peter and John were aware of their character before they came to know Jesus. In the process of following the Lord, they began to change so drastically, that those who formerly were acquainted with them were shocked and amazed.

Acts 4:13 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

By Jesus telling the Jews that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, one of two things should have happened:

One: They would hear the story and not understand it because their hearts were not really seeking spiritual truth.

Two: They would hear the story and not understand it but be driven to dig deeper and ask, “What is Jesus really saying? Surely He is not asking me to eat His literal flesh and drink His actual blood. What does He mean by this statement?”

A relationship with God does not come by casual hearing and a surface understanding. God only reveals Himself to those who are diligently seeking Him with all of their heart:

Jeremiah 29:13 “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jesus desires that all people know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. The person who comes to the Lord must want to know Him with every fiber of His being. Without sincerity and a diligent seeking of God, He will not reveal Himself to us.

Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is God, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

With these things in mind, we can understand the purpose behind Jesus’ statement in John 6:53:

John 6:53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

As the children of Israel had to take the Manna and eat it in order to live, so also must everyone, who is sincerely seeking a relationship with the Living God. As we take bread into our bodies and digest it, the elements of that bread become a part of every cell of our body.

So also must each one of us, if we want to obtain eternal life. Jesus must be taken into every fiber of your being and become a part of you. He must become your life and the reason that you live.

John 6:54-56 “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

In response to Jesus’ statement, many of those who heard Him were offended. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an offense to many people because it reminds them that they are a sinner and that they need a Savior. Many people do not want to accept this truth about themselves. People want to believe that they are basically good with a few bad attributes. The truth is that all of us are morally corrupt because of our fallen nature, and there is no cure for this inherent fault except that our old life should die and we are given a brand new life by God.

John 6:61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?

The purpose of Melchizedek bringing bread and wine, in Genesis 14:8, was to point the way for Jesus who would come in the New Testament and show us the significance of the Bread and Wine. The Bread is Jesus’ body which was broken for all of us. The Wine represents His Blood that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

When Jesus said that we must Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood, He was speaking a spiritual example of the fact that a relationship with Him must be deep and personal and become a part of every area of our life. It is not by a casual knowledge of Jesus that a person is saved. It is through a complete and utter surrender of ourselves to Him as Lord (Master) and Savior (The method for removing our sins).

Jesus words: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

These words were meant to drive us to find the deeper spiritual meaning of what He was saying. The fact that Jesus was speaking by a spiritual illustration is clear from John 6:63:

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

“The words that I speak to you are Spiritual…”

In other words, what Jesus is referencing to here in the illustration of His body and blood are spiritual and have to do with a changed heart. Eating the bread and drinking the wine does nothing for us, if we have not first surrendered our life to the Lordship of Jesus. The Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation is incorrect. Jesus never implied that the bread wafer nor the wine in the chalice were going to become His literal body and blood. He was speaking in a spiritual sense, the deeper meaning of coming into a true relationship with Him by our repentance from sin, and a complete turning to Him as the Lord (director) of our life.

Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.

Matthew 26:27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus fulfilled this 9th Old Testament Prophecy, in Genesis 14:18, by becoming the Bread and Wine that Melchizedek brought to Abraham. Melchizedek was very likely Jesus Himself, appearing before Abraham, in the Old Testament. See prophecies 7 and 8 for further study on this subject.

The message that Jesus was seeking to convey to every person on the earth is that—all those who partake of Him as the Bread of Life and those who appropriate the blood of His sacrifice as the only way for their sins to be removed are seen as righteous in the sight of God and have, as their present possession, eternal life.

NOTES: [1] 101 Clear Contradictions in the Bible , Shabbir Ally 101 Cleared-up Contradictions in the Bible By: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer

Categories: Contradictions in the Bible, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Reliability of the Bible

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