Beginning with this issue of The Good News, we are starting an exciting new series of articles under the heading "Is the Bible Believable?" For centuries this Book of books has been maligned, ridiculed, criticized and belittled by laymen and scholars alike. "The Bible," said American philosopher George Santayana, "is literature, not dogma. "Is the Bible mere literature — or is it something more? This series of articles will confirm the reliability, trustworthiness, integrity and believability of this most important and fascinating of books. The Bible is a reliable account of God's dealings with His human creation. It contains records, examples, accounts, instructions, doctrine (teaching), history, and even prophecy. This series of articles will answer the charges of the critics and confirm the inspiration and integrity of the Book called the Holy Bible. Be sure to read and study each inspiring installment. THE BIBLE is full of mistakes and contradictions!' "These were the words of a tall, handsome medical officer, some few years ago, in the saloon of a passenger steamer as we were gliding silently through the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean, returning home from a voyage to the East.
"I asked him, as there was so many mistakes in the Bible, would he kindly show me a few of them?
"But the only reply I could get from him was, 'It's full of them, it's full of them.'
"I then placed my open Bible in front of him, and in presence of another passenger, said: 'If you can show me one mistake or contradiction in that Book, I will give up the whole thing'" (Sidney Collett, All About the Bible, p. 115, 1966 edition).
Dr. Collett was very confident of his ability to defend the Bible against any and all comers claiming supposed contradictions. Others, on the other end of the pendulum, are equally confident of their ability to poke the Bible full of holes by pointing to an endless string of contradictions.
What about it? Is the Bible believable in this regard? Are there logical, deducible, believable, credible explanations for the apparent inconsistencies within the biblical text?
We say unequivocally that there are. Please hear us out — point by point!
• Bible Is a Summary Fundamental and basic to an understanding of alleged biblical errors and contradictions is the fact that the Bible is a summary book, or more properly, a series of related summary books. It is not always a detailed account of the history of God's intervention in the affairs of men. It often hits only the high spots in that history.
For example, our Creator devotes only six chapters to the first 1650 years of mankind — from Adam's creation to just before Noah's Flood. It follows, in this basic summary of events, that many details have simply been omitted.
A case in point: The ancient, age-old question, "Where did Cain get his wife?" has been asked by many a novice who has begun reading through the initial chapters of the book of Genesis.
This apparent problem is very simply solved by a logical deduction based on verse 4 in the genealogical table in Genesis 5. (A detailed answer is given in our free booklet titled Answers From Genesis.)
The Bible never pretends, at any time in any of its books, to be a totally comprehensive record of all the events occurring in a given time.
One significant verse proper to this point is II Kings 14:28. "Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam [the II — not the Jeroboam of Solomon's time], and all that he did, and his might, how he warned, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, which belonged to Judah, for Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel [not the biblical books of Chronicles]?"
The Bible admittedly does not include a complete biography of the life and times of Jeroboam. It refers the reader to another work, which has undoubtedly long since perished, or perhaps was buried with the king.
The books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles (excepting the lives of David, Solomon and a few other notables) contain only brief accounts of the lives of the kings of Judah and Israel. If we possessed every detail, even in a complete secular account, we could undoubtedly show the perfect solution to each seemingly contradictory statement between Samuel, Kings and Chronicles — and particularly as to when a specific king's reign began and ended.
As it is, there are logical, believable explanations based on differing methods of reckoning reigns (civil and sacred), possible joint-reigns, overlaps, dynastic summary statements, etc.
The fact that the Bible is, generally speaking, a book of summaries is also an important key to understanding what appear to be inconsistencies between the four Gospels (or biographies) of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle John — one of Christ's biographers — wrote: "This is the disciple [John himself] which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things [not recorded for posterity] which Jesus did..." (John 21:24-25).
The four Gospels comprise the only reliable record we have of Jesus' life. If we did have all the nuances and details, written by either Himself, a single biographer, or a collaboration of biographers, then perhaps we could perfectly solve every single seeming inconsistency between the four accounts. As it is, again we have one or more possible solutions to each alleged contradictory scripture.
• Biblical Chronology Another crux point in understanding alleged inconsistencies is the nature of biblical chronology. In general, there is a chronological thread running throughout the Bible. But the events within each book are not always recorded in chronological order.
For example, Genesis 2 (sometimes referred to as "the second account" of creation) is actually a reiteration of Genesis 1 from a different viewpoint. Genesis 2 emphasizes the reason and purpose behind the creation of Adam and Eve.
Some, not understanding this point, might erroneously conclude that the first two chapters of Genesis contradict each other.
Also, consider the Gospels in this connection. Luke and Mark wrote in basic chronological order (Luke 1:3). Matthew groups associated events together, but not necessarily in strict chronology. John, writing later, added necessary details to round out the picture, even mentioning many events omitted by the other Gospels.
Now let's get down to business and solve some specific supposed contradictions. Accompanying each solution we will mention additional fundamental background points.
• Numerical Problems First, what about apparent numerical inconsistencies in the Bible?
The Plague in the Wilderness: Ancient Israel fell into gross sexual sin related to the worship of Baalpeor. As a result, God plagued them. Moses recorded: "And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand" (Num. 25:9).
The Apostle Paul wrote of the same plague: "Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand" (I Cor. 10:8).
Explanation: Moses mentions the total number of sinners who perished; the Apostle Paul only those who died in one day.
In regard to biblical numerics, it is worthwhile to quote a portion of George W. DeHoff's book, Alleged Bible Contradictions: "A part of a year is usually — though not always — counted for a whole year. Sometimes an odd number is given in round numbers instead of the exact form. Sometimes a king ruled as co-ruler with someone else (as a son ruling with an aged father) and was then later king in his own right" (p. 277).
• Who Did What? No less important than supposed numerical inconsistencies are alleged errors as to "Who did what?"
Just such a problem with names is found in Matthew's Gospel when compared to the book of Zechariah.
Matthew 27:9: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy [Jeremiah] the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value."
Zechariah 11:12-13: "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord."
This reference to thirty pieces of silver cannot be found in the book of Jeremiah; it is recorded only in Zechariah.
Explanation: Read the verses carefully. Matthew's Gospel records that the prophecy was spoken by Jeremiah — not written. Zechariah apparently recorded what the Prophet Jeremiah had previously spoken.
Notice Zechariah 7:7: "Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity...."
Jeremiah was a former prophet, who prophesied against Jerusalem. Zechariah — a latter prophet — is recalling the spoken word of Jeremiah — not the written word.
This brings up another important key to resolving supposed biblical contradictions: "... The passages in question have not been studied with the individual and personal care and prayer which the Book [Bible] demands. This carelessness lies at the root of nearly all the supposed difficulties that we hear about..." (Collett, All About the Bible, pp. 115-116).
Often the two passages that seem to contradict do not exactly say the same thing. They are not verbatim duplicates of each other. Important key word differences will often solve the supposed contradiction.
But, in other cases, an understanding of historical aspects of the times is also necessary.
• Historical Perspective The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven? Matthew 3:2: "... Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Mark 1:15: "... The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Explanation: Matthew uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" for a reason. Many Jews regarded themselves as already, since Sinai, the Kingdom of God. Notice Matthew 21:43. Jesus told the Pharisees: "... The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation [the New Testament Church — I Peter 2:9] bringing forth the fruits thereof."
The literal Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of the Messiah — Christ) would be a spiritual kingdom transcending any physical kingdom or nation on this earth, then or now. Matthew wanted to be sure his Jewish audience understood this difference.
Mark, Luke and John all use the term "kingdom of God." But Matthew, in his phraseology, certainly did not mean the Kingdom is in heaven. The English expression "of" denotes ownership — not locality. The Bank of Morgan is not inside of Morgan; it belongs to Morgan. The Kingdom belongs to God who rules from heaven.
This example brings up another principle — the unique individuality of the biblical authors. It, too, is fundamental to an understanding of apparent biblical contradictions relating to the same event.
• Writers Are Unique Every human being differs in some degree from every other human being. No two humans have the same set of fingerprints; nor the same voice prints.
The Eternal God inspired each book of the Bible in the author's own writing style, using his particular personal method of expression. Paul's epistles are distinctively Paul's; John's distinctly John's.
In recording an identical event, each writer selected those particular facts that seemed significant to him. Each may have drawn his facts from a different source. Both authors may have omitted minor connective facts that would fill in the details and give us the perfect solution to an apparent contradiction.
John W. Haley writes: "Inspiration does not destroy the individuality of the writers. It deals primarily with ideas, rather than with words. It suggests ideas to the mind of the one writer, -allowing him, generally, to clothe them in his own language... on this principle we account for... the occasional divergence in setting forth the same idea or in relating the same circumstance" (Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, pp. 6, 7).
The "uniqueness of authorship" principle is also fundamental to examining supposed contradictions between the four Gospels.
Dr. Collett reminds us: "Let those who imagine they have discovered errors and contradictions in the evangelists' writings remember how easy — indeed, how natural — it is to give three or four accounts of one circumstance from different points of view..." (Scripture of Truth, page 140).
• The Time Factor No less important than acceptable alternate views of the same circumstance is the time factor.
Time Differential. Genesis 1:31: "And God saw every thing that he had made [including man], and, behold, it was very good." Genesis 6:5-6: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.... And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart."
Explanation: Fifteen hundred years elapsed between these chapters in Genesis. After the original human sin, the spiritual state of man had gone from bad to worse to intolerable.
Man could have remained loyal to God; he simply chose not to. He let Satan's influence gradually drive him further and further from the Creator and His ways.
Comprehension of the time factor can help us solve other types of seemingly contradictory statements.
Speech or Silence? Proverbs 26:4: "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him."
Proverbs 26:5: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit."
Explanation: Time and circumstances are crucial to understanding these twin proverbs. Solomon, in his providential wisdom, wrote under inspiration: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven... a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccl. 3:1, 7).
Both time and circumstances would indicate to the wise man when to apply Proverbs 26:4 and when to apply Proverbs 26:5. Sometimes Jesus, in the Gospel accounts, answered His foolish adversaries and sometimes He did not.
• The Translation Factor What Swallowed Jonah? Jonah 1:17: "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah."
Matthew 12:40: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly...."
Explanation: The King James translation is the villain in this case. Most recent Bible revisions translate the word "whale" as a sea-monster or huge fish. The original Greek meaning is "great sea monster." In this instance, the King James translators (l611) assigned a wrong meaning to the original Greek word.
Discrepancies caused by errors in translation, either from the Hebrew or the Greek, may frequently be solved simply by consulting several different translations.
Doctrinal discolorations can emerge from some of these translation errors. For instance, take the word "Easter" in Acts 12:4 (KJV). Easter is a pagan holiday which was never observed by Christ, the original apostles or the early Church of God.
Knowing the most exact and literal meaning of the original text is critical in this instance. The original Greek word, pascha, should be translated "passover" in Acts 12:4. Virtually all other translations render it correctly.
For Further Reading We could take up this whole magazine and hundreds besides in solving the many supposed contradictions. Also, if space would allow, we could also point out many more fundamental principles on how to solve such contradictions.
Fortunately, there are a number of excellent books broaching the subject if the reader is interested in further detailed study. We, of course, do not endorse all that is said in these books, but they can many times be very helpful in solving alleged biblical inconsistencies. You can locate these books in a Bible bookstore, in your local library, or simply order them by mail. (The Worldwide Church of God has no commercial connection with the publishers.)
1) Alleged Bible Contradictions Explained, by George DeHoff, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
2) Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, by John W. Haley, Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tennessee.
3) All About the Bible, by Sidney Collett, Fleming H. Revell Company, Westwood, New Jersey.
However, the Worldwide Church of God does publish two free booklets that will prove most helpful in this area of study. Entitled How To Study the Bible and Answers From Genesis, these vital publications state and solve several apparent biblical inconsistencies not mentioned in this article.
Your Attitude and Approach In summary, perhaps the most important key in viewing an apparent Bible contradiction is your attitude and approach toward the Holy Scriptures themselves.
The Apostle Paul wrote: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: [Why?] That the man of God may be perfect [spiritually mature], thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (II Tim. 3:16-17). Perfection of character should always be the main purpose (not necessarily the sole purpose) for which we study our Bibles — not to find contradictions.
Your Saviour — Jesus of Nazareth — stated the same principle in different words. "Search the scriptures [study the Bible, in modern parlance]; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
The Prophet Isaiah graphically portrayed God's feeling about those who would study His Word — the Bible. "... But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor [humble in attitude] and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:2).
As one continues to study his Bible, he is bound to run across what seem to be inconsistencies. But if that person fears to misunderstand or mishandle God's Word (keeping the above key verses in mind), he is halfway to a solution. Many difficulties are, then, easily solvable when all the facts are discovered.
However, others may not lend themselves to so quick a solution. The Bible itself explains that some portions of Paul's epistles are "hard to be understood" (II Peter 3:16).
If a problem persists in this area, simply reserve judgment. Put the problem on the shelf for awhile. Seek counsel and pray about it. A logical answer will come!
Jeremiah cried out to God: "I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). We all desperately need the spiritual guidance of God to put alleged contradictions in proper perspective with the big trunk-of-the-tree overview — the overall purpose in human life.