For many people, the belief that the Bible contains contradictions and inaccuracies is an excuse for not believing.
A Christian talk radio show in America frequently broadcasts an advertisement for a product. In this ad, a young lady explains her take on Scripture: “The Bible was written a long time ago, and there wasn’t a lot of knowledge back then. I think that if you read between the lines, it kinda contradicts itself.” The show’s host replies, “Oh no, it doesn’t!” but nevertheless her view is a common view among many people.
Some years ago, I was participating in an Internet forum discussion on this topic. Another participant kept insisting that the Bible couldn’t be true because it contradicts itself. Eventually, I challenged him to post two or three contradictions, and I would answer them for him. He posted over 40 alleged contradictions. I spent four hours researching each one of those points and then posted a reply to every single one. Within 30 seconds, he had replied that my answers were nonsense. Obviously, he had not read my answers. He was not interested in the answers. He already had an a priori commitment to believing the Bible was false and full of contradictions. It is instructive to note that after a quick Google search, I discovered that his list of supposed Bible contradictions had been copied and pasted directly from a website.
For many people, the belief that the Bible contains contradictions and inaccuracies is an excuse for not believing.
This anecdote shows that, for many people, the belief that the Bible contains contradictions and inaccuracies is an excuse for not believing. Many such people have not actually read the Bible for themselves. Still fewer have analyzed any of the alleged contradictions. It has been my experience that, after a little research, all the alleged contradictions and inaccuracies are explainable.
If you, the reader, are prepared to look at these answers with an open mind, then you will discover that the excuse of supposed inaccuracies does not hold water. If, however, you have already convinced yourself that such an old book as the Bible just has to contain errors, then you may as well skip this chapter. Like my Internet forum opponent, nothing (apart from the work of the Holy Spirit) is going to convince you that the Bible is 100 percent reliable—especially not the facts!
In attempting to explain some of the Bible’s alleged errors, I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I will not be able to address every alleged error for reason of space; others have done the job before me. In my opinion, chief among these is John W. Haley, who wrote the definitive work on the subject, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible.1 Haley tackles a comprehensive list of alleged discrepancies under the headings “doctrinal,” “ethical,” and “historical.” This chapter uses a similar thematic approach because it will be possible to examine only a representative sample of alleged discrepancies. Readers are referred to Haley’s work for a more exhaustive analysis of the subject.
One of our own presuppositions could be labeled as the “law of noncontradiction.” This stems directly from the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative word of God. Although the 66 books of the Bible were written by diverse human authors in differing styles over a long period of time, it is our contention that the Bible really has only one author—God. The law of noncontradiction has been defined by theologian James Montgomery Boice as follows: “If the Bible is truly from God, and if God is a God of truth (as He is), then . . . if two parts seem to be in opposition or in contradiction to each other, our interpretation of one or both of these parts must be in error.”2 Wayne Grudem makes the same point thus:
When the psalmist says, “The sum of your word is truth; and every one of your righteous ordinances endures for ever” (Psalm 119:160), he implies that God’s words are not only true individually but also viewed together as a whole. Viewed collectively, their “sum” is also “truth.” Ultimately, there is no internal contradiction either in Scripture or in God’s own thoughts.3
Boice proceeds to describe two people who are attempting to understand why we no longer perform animal sacrifices. One sees the issue as consistent with the evolution of religion. Another emphasizes the biblical concept of Jesus’ ultimate and perfect fulfilment and completion of the sacrificial system. Boice says:
The only difference is that one approaches Scripture looking for contradiction and development. The other approaches Scripture as if God has written it and therefore looks for unity, allowing one passage to throw light on another.4
Our presupposition that the Bible will not contain error is justified by the Bible itself. In Titus 1:2, Paul refers to God “who cannot lie,” and the writer to the Hebrews, in 6:17–18, shows that by His counsel and His oath “it is impossible for God to lie.” However, if a Bible student is determined to find error in the Bible, he will find it. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet, the error is not really there.
Historical evangelical statements of faith claim inerrancy for the Scriptures for the original manuscripts. Apparently, this is a problem for some and leads to claims of inconsistency. The argument goes that there have been many translators and copyists since the Bible times and that these translators and copyists must have made errors. Therefore, it is said, we cannot trust current translations of the Bible to be accurate. Boice asks if an appeal to an inerrant Bible is meaningless.
It would be if two things were true: (1) if the number of apparent errors remained constant as one moved back through the copies toward the original writing and (2) if believers in infallibility appealed to an original that differed substantially from the best manuscript copies in existence. But neither is the case.5
In fact, recent discoveries of biblical texts show that the Bible is substantially the same as when it was written. What few discrepancies might still remain are due to mistranslations or misunderstandings. These issues are all known to biblical scholars and are easily explained.
A number of alleged Bible discrepancies could be described as presuppositional discrepancies. What I mean by the term is that there are a number of alleged discrepancies that are only discrepancies because of the presuppositions of the one making the allegations. Many such alleged discrepancies involve scientific argument and are covered in detail in other literature, including elsewhere in this book. Such discrepancies disappear immediately if the reader decides to interpret them in the light of a belief in the truth of the Bible.
The Bible says the world is only 6,000 years old and was created in six days, but science has proved that the earth is millions of years old.
This sort of alleged discrepancy is very common. The supposed inaccuracy of the early chapters of Genesis is very often used as a reason to state that the whole Bible is not true. Many articles on the Answers in Genesis website (www.answersingenesis.org) and in Answers magazine tackle such issues, so it is not relevant to repeat the arguments again here. Readers are referred to the chapter “Did Jesus Say He Created in Six Literal Days?” in the New Answers Book6 or to my detailed analysis in the Six Days of Genesis.7
Answers in Genesis endeavors to show that a belief in the truth of Scripture from the very first verse is a reasonable and rational position to take. Once that point is understood, many of these pseudoscientific objections to Scripture fade away.
Let us briefly comment on another such presuppositional discrepancy.
Genesis 6–8 suggest that the whole world was once covered by water. There is no evidence for this.
Detailed answers to this allegation can, once again, be found in much of our literature. For example, see the relevant chapter in the The New Answers Book.8 It cannot be emphasized too strongly that creationists and evolutionists do not have different scientific evidence. We have the same scientific evidence; the interpretation of this evidence is different.
Thus, if one starts from the assumption that the fossil record was laid down over millions of years before human beings evolved, then the fossils do not provide evidence for the Flood. However, if one starts with the presupposition that the Bible’s account is true, then we see the fossil record itself as evidence for a worldwide flood and there is no evidence of millions of years! As Ken Ham has often said, “If there really was a worldwide flood, what would you expect to see? Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.” This is exactly what we see.
Strongly related to the presuppositional discrepancies are the supposed errors caused by taking verses out of context. For example, a passage in the Bible states, “There is no God.” However, the meaning of the phrase is very clear when we read the context: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1). The words “There is no God” are consequently found on the lips of someone the Bible describes as a fool.9
This discrepancy might seem trivial, but there are more sophisticated examples of the same problem. These often arise by comparing two separate passages, which are referring to slightly different circumstances. For example, consider the following:
Ecclesiastes says that we are upright, while Psalms says that we are sinners.
The verses to which this statement alludes are these:
God made man upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity (Psalm 51:5).
Looking at the contexts of both verses removes the discrepancy. In Ecclesiastes 7:29, the writer is talking about Adam and Eve, stating that we were originally created upright. In Psalm 51, David is speaking of his personal situation as a sinner, especially in the light of his sinful adultery with Bathsheba and his causing the death of Uriah. Thus, there is no contradiction between these passages.
A common allegation against the Bible is that it is likely to have been mistranslated. When one actually analyzes possible mistranslations, however, it is found that there are actually very few real mistranslations. All of these have been studied and documented and can be found in Haley’s book. As we have a number of good English translations today, it is often helpful to compare a couple of these. Once this comparison has been made, many of the so-called translational errors disappear.
There are two creation accounts: Genesis 1 and 2 give different accounts. In chapter 1, man and woman are created at the same time after the creation of the animals. In chapter 2, the animals are created after people.
This apparent contradiction is best illustrated by looking at Genesis 2:19.
Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them (NKJV).
The language appears to suggest that God made the animals after making Adam and then He brought the animals to Adam. However, in Genesis 1, we have an account of God creating animals and then creating men and women.
The difficulty with Genesis 2:19 lies with the use of the word formed. The same style is read in the KJV.
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them.
The NIV has a subtly different rendition.
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them.
The NIV suggests a different way of viewing the first two chapters of Genesis. Genesis 2 does not suggest a chronology. That is why the NIV suggests using the style “the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the fields.” Therefore, the animals being brought to Adam had already been made and were not being brought to him immediately after their creation. Interestingly, Tyndale agrees with the NIV—and Tyndale’s translation predates the KJV.
The Lord God had made of the earth all manner of beasts of the field and all manner fowls of the air.
Tyndale and the NIV are correct on this verse because the verb in the sentence can be translated as pluperfect rather than perfect. The pluperfect tense can be considered as the past of the past—that is to say, in a narration set in the past, the event to which the narration refers is already further in the past. Once the pluperfect is taken into account, the perceived contradiction completely disappears.
In the Book of Leviticus, bats are described as birds.
The passage to which the allegation refers is Leviticus 11:13–20.
13 And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard,
14 the kite, and the falcon after its kind;
15 every raven after its kind,
16 the ostrich, the short–eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind;
17 the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl;
18 the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture;
19 the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.
20 All flying insects that creep on all fours shall be an abomination to you (NKJV).
13 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,
14 And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;
15 Every raven after his kind;
16 And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,
17 And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl,
18 And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
19 And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
20 All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you (KJV).
Bible critics point out that, in their view, the writer of Leviticus is ignorant. He must have thought bats were birds, whereas we now classify them as mammals. Many Bible critics might also go on to discuss the supposed evolutionary origin of bats and birds.
A look at the KJV sheds some light on what the passage actually means. The KJV uses the word fowls instead of birds. Today, we would not see a significant difference, but notice that the KJV also describes insects as fowls in verse 20. The actual Hebrew word is owph (Strong’s 05775). Although bird is usually a good translation of owph, it more accurately means has a wing. It is therefore completely in order for the word to be used of birds, flying insects, and bats. It could presumably also be used of the pteradons and other flying reptiles.
This translation of owph is supported by noting its use in Genesis 1:20.
Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens” (NKJV).
How could the young Samuel have been sleeping in the Temple when the Temple was not built until much later?
There are two allegations referred to 1 Samuel 3:3. The verse is quoted below from the KJV, the NIV, and the NKJV.
And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep (KJV).
The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was (NIV).
And before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down (NKJV).
The translation used by the NKJV gives a clue as to where the first misunderstanding comes from. The Hebrew word is hekäl. This word is used of the temple, but the word is literally a large building or edifice. Commentators10 have suggested that before the building of the temple the word was often applied to the sacred tabernacle. Therefore, it is perfectly possible for Samuel to have been asleep in this tabernacle. This alleged discrepancy is not so much a mistranslation as a misunderstanding.
The other alleged discrepancy with this verse is that Samuel was sleeping in the sacred portion of this tabernacle, the holy of holies, where the ark of God was. The NKJV gets it correct by pointing out that light went out where the holy of holies was while Samuel was lying down, not that he was lying down in this very holy place. This shows the difficulty of translating Hebrew into English when not careful. This brings us to our next section, where we find alleged discrepancies due to use of language.
Some alleged discrepancies occur because of the way that language has changed.
Some alleged discrepancies occur because of the way that language has changed. It is interesting that while Hebrew has changed very little over the centuries, English is a language undergoing constant major change. The study of how English has altered is fascinating, though outside the scope of this chapter. As an aside, we can easily see how different strands of English have developed in different ways. The best example of this is the divergence between British and American English—a source of tremendous scope for misunderstanding, oneupmanship, and humor (or is it humour?).
Many of the biblical misunderstandings caused by change of language are found in the KJV, which was first translated in 1611. The English language has changed much since 1611, on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, we know that few people today refer to each other as thee and thou, except some of the older generation in the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire in Northern England. The KJV uses this terminology to address God, and we can mistakenly think that this is a term of respect. In fact, the use of thou is much more specific. It is used to refer to a close friend or relative. In a society that uses the word thou, it would never be used in reference to someone to whom one was being especially polite. For example, in his youth my Lancastrian father would refer to his school friends as thee but to his teacher as you. Therefore, to refer to God as thou, while certainly not being disrespectful, implies a degree of intimacy usually associated with families or close friends.
Genesis 1 must contain a gap, because God commanded people to “replenish” the earth. You cannot replenish something, unless it was once previously full.
Genesis 1:28 contains the following command: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (KJV). Most other translations use the word fill rather than replenish. In fact, the Tyndale Bible, which predates the KJV, uses the word fill. So did the translators of the KJV get it wrong?
On the contrary. The word replenish was a very suitable word to choose in 1611 because at that time the word meant to fill completely, refuting any alleged gap. It therefore carries a slightly stronger emphasis than simply the word fill, and the Hebrew word has this emphasis. The word replenish did not imply doing something again as many words beginning with re do. Its etymology is common with the word replete, which still today carries no connotation of a repeated action. However, over the centuries the meaning of replenish has altered, so that if we now, for example, suggest replenishing the stock cupboard, we are suggesting that we refill a cupboard, which is now less full than it once was.
There are many other examples of misunderstandings caused by these changes in the English language. None of these misunderstandings were caused by errors on the part of the KJV translators. In fact, they chose the best English words at the time. The problems are caused simply because of the way that English has changed.
Another example of this is to ask why the Psalmist seems to be trying to prevent God from doing something in Psalm 88.
But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee (Psalm 88:13, KJV, emphasis mine).
The NKJV renders the same verse as follows:
But to You I have cried out, O Lord, And in the morning my prayer comes before You (Psalm 88:13, NKJV, emphasis mine).
Which translation is correct? The answer is that they both are. In 1611, the word prevent meant to come before. Compare the French verb venir (to come) with prevenir (to come before). However, in the following centuries, the word prevent has altered its meaning in English.
Some problems with use of language exist because of the sort of idioms used in the original languages, which would have been familiar to the original readers but sometimes pass us by. For example:
Moses says insects have four legs, whereas we know they have six.
I have come across this alleged discrepancy frequently. I sometimes wonder if those using this allegation have really thought it through. Do they honestly believe that Moses was so thick that he couldn’t count the legs on an insect correctly?
The passage concerned is Leviticus 11:20–23.
All flying insects that creep on all fours shall be an abomination to you. Yet these you may eat of every flying insect that creeps on all fours: those which have jointed legs above their feet with which to leap on the earth. These you may eat: the locust after its kind, the destroying locust after its kind, the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind (NKJV).
In fact, we use the phrase on all fours in a similar manner to Hebrew. The phrase is colloquial. It is referring to the actions of the creature (i.e., walking around) rather than being a complete inventory of the creature’s feet. Also, when the Bible is referring to locusts and similar insects, it is actually being very precise. Such insects do indeed have four legs with which to “creep” and another two legs with which to “leap,” which Moses points out (those which have jointed legs above their feet with which to leap). Once again, we find that the allegation of biblical discrepancy does not show up under the light of common sense.
If Jesus was to be in the grave three days and nights, how do we fit those between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?
There are several solutions to this problem. Some have suggested that a special Sabbath might have occurred, so that Jesus was actually crucified on a Thursday. However, a solution, which seems to me to be more convincing, is that Jesus was indeed crucified on a Friday but that the Jewish method of counting days was not the same as ours.
In Esther 4:16, we find Esther exhorting Mordecai to persuade the Jews to fast. “Neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day” (NKJV). This was clearly in preparation for her highly risky attempt to see the king. Yet just two verses later, in Esther 5:1, we read: “Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace.” If three days and nights were counted in the same way as we count them today, then Esther could not have seen the king until the fourth day. This is completely analogous to the situation with Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40; NKJV).
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb (Matthew 28:1; NKJV).
Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again’” (Luke 24:5–7; NKJV).
If the three days and nights were counted the way we count them, then Jesus would have to rise on the fourth day. But, by comparing these passages, we can see that in the minds of people in Bible times, “the third day” is equivalent to “after three days.”
In fact, the way they counted was this: part of a day would be counted as one day. The following table, reproduced from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) website, shows how the counting works.11
|Day One||Day Two||Day Three|
This table indicates that Jesus died on Good Friday; that was day one. In total, day one includes the day and the previous night, even though Jesus died in the day. So, although only part of Friday was left, that was the first day and night to be counted. Saturday was day two. Jesus rose in the morning of the Sunday. That was day three. Thus, by Jewish counting, we have three days and nights, yet Jesus rose on the third day.
It should not be a surprise to us that a different culture used a different method of counting days. As soon as we adopt this method of counting, all the supposed biblical problems with counting the days disappear.
It does not undermine our belief in the inerrancy of Scripture to suppose that there may be a small number of copyist errors. With a little logical analysis, this sort of error is not too difficult to spot.
There must be an error in Luke 3:36. The genealogy gives an extra Cainan not found in similar genealogies, such as Genesis 11:12.
Expositor Dr. John Gill gives ample reasons why this was a copyist error.12
This Cainan is not mentioned by Moses in #Ge 11:12 nor has he ever appeared in any Hebrew copy of the Old Testament, nor in the Samaritan version, nor in the Targum; nor is he mentioned by Josephus, nor in #1Ch 1:24 where the genealogy is repeated; nor is it in Beza’s most ancient Greek copy of Luke: it indeed stands in the present copies of the Septuagint, but was not originally there; and therefore could not be taken by Luke from thence, but seems to be owing to some early negligent transcriber of Luke’s Gospel, and since put into the Septuagint to give it authority: I say “early,” because it is in many Greek copies, and in the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions, even in the Syriac, the oldest of them; but ought not to stand neither in the text, nor in any version: for certain it is, there never was such a Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, for Salah was his son; and with him the next words should be connected.
If the first Cainan was not present in the original, then the Greek may have read in a manner similar to the following. Remember that NT Greek had no spaces, punctuation, or lower case letters.
If an early copyist glanced at the third line, while copying the first line, it is conceivable that the phrase TOΥΚAINAN (son of Cainan) may have been copied there.
There is some circumstantial evidence for this theory. The Septuagint (LXX) is a Greek translation of the Old Testament said to be translated by about 72 rabbis. Early copies of LXX do not have the extra Cainan in Genesis 11, but later copies postdating Luke’s gospel do have the extra Cainan.
It might seem odd to suggest that there could be a copyist error in our translations of the Bible. What is even more remarkable to me, however, is that such possible copyist errors are so extremely rare. Paradoxically, the possible existence of such an error merely reinforces how God has preserved His Word through the centuries.
This chapter has discussed only some of the many alleged Bible contradictions and discrepancies. However, the methods of disposing of the supposed discrepancies used here can also be used on other alleged errors. There is one matter on which the reader should be very confident—the supposed Bible errors are well known to Bible scholars and have all been addressed and found not to be errors after all. In every case, there is a logical explanation for the supposed error. The Bible is a book we can trust—no, more than that—it is the only book we can fully trust.
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