Justin Holcomb has a good response here to skeptic Sam Harris and the Fast Company who have put together a spiffy-looking chart with alleged Bible contradictions.

I know what it’s like to be confused about, and bothered by, alleged contradictions in God’s Word. A good study Bible—e.g., the NIV Study Bible, now the ESV Study Bible—will intentionally address many of these issues.

I would also recommend having on your shelves a book like The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. It may not answer everything, and you may be more persuaded by some solutions than others, but I think it will prove to be a very helpful resource for many readers.

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30 thoughts on “Bible Contradictions?”

  1. John says:

    Wait a second!

    “A good study Bible—e.g., the NIV Study Bible, NOT the ESV Study Bible—will intentionally address many of these issues.”

    Did somebody hack your blog?

    1. Dan Phillips says:

      Ditto that question. You feeling okay, JT? Did you just say the ESVSB **lacked** something useful?

      How many swords am I holding up?

    2. Justin Ennis says:

      Hear hear! I want an answer to this question as well!

  2. THOMAS says:

    Speaking of contradictions, check out Dr. Milton Acosta’s interactive blog, Latin America style.

    Here is his bio that you will find on his personal blog Pido la Palabra:

    Profesor de Antiguo Testamento en la Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia (www.unisbc.edu.co); Editor de Antiguo Testamento para el Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo; M.A. Wheaton College Graduate School– Ph.D. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Antiguo Testamento).

    Resident Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Seminary of Colombia; Editor of the Contemporary Biblical Commentary of the Old Testament; M.A. Wheaton College Graduate School; Ph.D. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Old Testament).

    So, the first topic on the blog is Polygamy in the Old Testament. Acosta asks:

    “…we wonder why the biblical authors do not criticize a famous person that on one side is a great servant of God, but at the same time is polygamous. The most shocking of all is that of David. Who thinks that David was a polygamist at the time when he was praised for his godliness? Who remembers that David had wives and concubines when meditating on the psalms of David?…Have you ever worried about this issue? How did you solve it? How can we read the story of David as Christians, especially with regard to polygamy?” (translated)

    The blog is in Spanish. But, participate! I’m sure that Dr. Acosta would not be upset with some English entries!!

    http://lecturacristianadelantiguotestamento.blogspot.com/
    ____________________

    I provided the following jump start a little earlier…

    La poligamia: Sello Divino de Aprobación?

    Sello divino de aprobación o “Simplamente tratar con este”?

    Kenneth M. Gardoski (Baptist Bible Seminary) menciona un buen punto en su artículo-tal vez un punto de partida. Habiendo mencionado algunos versiculos en la Ley donde la poligamia es específicamente tratada, el escribe:

    “The point of all this is that none of the Mosaic legislation considered above condemns outright or prohibits polygamy per se. The Law regulates polygamy, forbids incestuous polygamy, and prohibits pagan and excessive polygamy in light of other Mosaic legislation. But it does not forbid polygamy outright. However, one could respond once again that, as in the case of the pre-Mosaic patriarchs, God is neither commanding nor openly condoning polygamy in the Mosaic Law, but rather merely regulating it as it already existed in ANE society. It is God’s desire not to allow the exploitation of women that drives him to legislate marriage the way He does in the Law of Moses. But the legislation of existing polygamy cannot automatically be taken to equal the divine stamp of approval upon it.” (p. 4)

    Parece ser el mismo con la cláusula de “excepción” relativa al divorcio en los evangelios. ¿Ideal? No. “¿Tratar con ello?” Sí.

  3. Jonathan Baird says:

    This is an important apologetic issue. One of the problems that we have as Christians is that there is not another perfect book for us to compare our Bible to. To me, the fact that there are explanations for how all of the contradictions could be explained is very comforting.

  4. Doc B says:

    I’d much rather have Gleason Archer’s book on Bible Difficulties on my shelf than anything by Geisler. R. C. Sproul has recommended Archer’s book over on Ligonier.

  5. steve hays says:

    Two good books on NT “contradictions” are:

    Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007).

    Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker, 1997).

    We don’t have anything that’s quite equivalent for the OT, but in addition to Archer’s monograph, which has already been mentioned, two other useful works are:

    Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003)

    V. Philips Long, The Art of Biblical History (Zondervan 1994).

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      Thanks for the list of books, Steve.

      1. THOMAS says:

        Did Robert Stein suppose to have found “errors” in the synoptics?

  6. Justin Taylor says:

    I meant now instead of not!

    In errancy,

    JT

    1. Dan Phillips says:

      Whew. The universe re-aligns.

    2. Jonathan Baird says:

      Reminds me of Piper’s talk he gave one time and mentioned the difference one letter can make. “The P.O.W. gets the message ‘Help is N-O-*smudge* coming.’ It makes all the difference in the world what that letter is supposed to be.”

    3. Brian says:

      so the NIVSB is now the ESVSB? or should you re-edit it yet again and say “e.g., the NIV Study Bible, or the ESV Study Bible…”?

  7. Glenn says:

    Contradictions in the Bible!! What contradictions in the Bible?

    I know people claim there to be such, but personally I have always found the supposed contradictions to really be lack of careful thought and not allowing the whole of scripture to inform assessment of scripture.

    Apart from anything else it is, after all, the word of God and if He cannot get His word right and maintain its integrity through the years then He would not be God after all.

    But, praise His holy name, He is God and He has maintained the integrity of His word through the millennia.

  8. Jessica says:

    I recognized that graphic, and realized it was one that illustrates the cross-references in the Bible. It can be found here: http://www.chrisharrison.net/projects/bibleviz/index.html
    So did Fast Company copy it?

    1. David says:

      Nice catch Jessica. Not only does it appear that Harris’ “scientific” approach to the Bible will not help you read anything in context, but it will also show that you can’t be original either.

  9. Alex says:

    I know this is not Sam Harris’ intended purpose, but this shows some of the connections throughout scripture very well. Hopefully this kinda of thing has the opposite effect.

  10. I’m glad Justin Holcomb posted this response, but I am a bit put off by his portrayal of fundamentalism. Would J. Gresham Machen agree?

    1. Scott says:

      What exactly is wrong about his representation of fundamentalism? Seems to me he nailed it.

  11. Daniel Hoffman says:

    After having taken a gander at few of these supposed contradictions, I’m led to the conclusion that Sam Harris is either dishonest, illiterate, or at best ignorant of what “inerrancy” means.

  12. Jeremy says:

    It seems that of late it is fellow Christians that are most intent on finding contradictions in the Bible to affirm the humanity of Scripture.

  13. Scott, just to be sure, are you saying that it is factually and historically accurate to say that fundamentalists are “intellectually disingenuous,” and that they “interpret religious texts in only one way –the literal way–” (i.e. an “everything-must-be-literal”)?

    1. Scott says:

      The author was writing an overview for a lay audience. Rough generalizations are par for the course in this genre, if you will. There’s no reason to parse it any further than that. So yes, if we’re painting with broad brushes, I’d say “intellectually disingenuous” is a fair caricature of the fundamentalist movement. And yes, it has historically interpreted religious texts fairly literally.

  14. Scott, we can only hope that those that come after us are more charitable in their description of us than you and Justin are being towards the fundamentalists (past and present). Writing history is an ethical responsibility, regardless of platform.

    1. Scott says:

      I’m being honest here, so please don’t interpret my comment as sarcasm. In what way have I (or Justin) been ethically irresponsible toward fundamentalism? I certainly don’t read my comments as being uncharitable. Fundamentalists employ a literalist hermeneutic. At times the movement has been intellectually disingenuous. If I said any different than I’d be dishonest as a historian.

  15. steve hays says:

    Scott November 14, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    “Fundamentalists employ a literalist hermeneutic. At times the movement has been intellectually disingenuous.”

    Are you referring to the Tim LaHaye-type popularizers?

    What about academic fundamentalism, such as we find represented in Darrell Bock/Buist Fanning’s Interpreting the New Testament Text?

    To my knowledge, academic fundamentalists don’t operate with a literalist hermeneutic. Rather, they operate with the grammatico-historical method. (At least as they understand it.)

    1. Scott says:

      I certainly do not categorize Bock and Fanning as fundamentalists! In the secular academy they may be categorized as such, but that was certainly not my, nor the author’s, thinking.

  16. steve hays says:

    Well, Dallas Theological Seminary is arguably the flagship of fundamentalist seminaries. If, however, you admit that this is not what you had in mind, then that narrows your target. So who did you have in mind?

    You seem to link inerrancy with fundamentalism. Yet Dallas Theological Seminary adheres to inerrancy. But you also distance scholars like Bock and Fanning from fundamentalism.

    In that event, it’s unclear why or how you are linking inerrancy to “fundamentalism.” Or was that never your intention?

    Do you think inerrantists per se are “intellectually disingenuous? Or do you have a particular subset in mind?

    1. Scott says:

      Steve,

      I studied for a while at DTS. While a bit too conservative for my tastes, it’s certainly not the “flagship of fundamentalist seminaries.” I can think of several others that more readily come to mind.

      I’m not linking inerrancy with fundamentalism. If I may say so, you seem to be the one doing that!

      To be clear, I do not think inerrantists are intellectually disingenuous. I have a much more particular subset of fundamentalists in mind.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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