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Perhaps you have had an experience similar to mine. Some years ago, a participant in an Internet discussion kept insisting that the Bible is full of contradictions. When I challenged him to post three contradictions, he posted over 40. I posted a reply to every one, but within 30 seconds he said my answers were nonsense. Later, I discovered that his list was pasted directly from a website.
The claim that the Bible has errors is frequently just an excuse for not believing. Few who make the claim have read the Bible and actually analyzed any alleged contradictions.
How should a Christian respond when he comes across an apparent contradiction? For this article, I have chosen to illustrate this topic by using three examples of alleged errors. They fall into the categories of false contradictions, mistranslations, and so-called scientific errors.
Since God is perfect, holy, and true, we know there are no real contradictions in His Word, no matter what it seems at first.Although a diverse group of human authors wrote the books of the Bible in differing styles over a long period of time, the Bible really has only one author—God. Since God is perfect, holy, and true, we know there are no real contradictions in His Word, no matter what it seems at first. So we must delve more deeply.
As one expert says, “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.”1
Many supposed discrepancies are noted when people place two passages in false opposition to each other. For instance, Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, “God made man upright.” But Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity.”
If you look closely at the context, however, Ecclesiastes 7:29 is talking about Adam and Eve, who were originally created upright. In Psalm 51, King David is speaking of his personal situation, as a fallen descendent of Adam. Thus, there is no contradiction.
Allegations against the Bible are often related to the challenges inherent in the work of translation. Most of these problems have a very simple explanation, if you do a little digging in commentaries or other study aides that deal with the original Hebrew and Greek. For instance, the book of Leviticus describes bats as “birds.” “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, ... and the bat” (Leviticus 11:13-19).
If you have a good translation, you can often find clues by simply comparing the questionable word with other passages. In this case, the King James Version (KJV) uses the word fowls instead of birds, and the word fowls appears again in verse 20 to describe insects. Obviously, insects are not birds in the modern sense of the word, so you have to look at the Hebrew. The Hebrew word is owph (Strong’s reference number 05775). Although “bird” is usually a good translation of owph, it can encompass anything that “has a wing,” a winged creature. 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 pteranodons (flying reptiles).
Critics commonly attack the Bible by appealing to the ideas of secular scientists. They seek to show how a Bible passage departs from modern scientific thought. For instance, Moses says insects have four legs, whereas we know they have six. Leviticus 11:20–23 says, “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.”
In fact, we use the phrase “on all fours” in a similar manner. It refers to the action of the creature—walking around—rather than the complete inventory of the creature’s feet. In reality, the Bible is very precise in describing locusts and similar insects. Such insects do indeed have four legs with which to “creep” and another two legs with which to “leap.”
In most cases like these, you can point out the absurdity of assuming that the author forgot what a bird looks like or miscounted the legs on a grasshopper. Moses, trained in pharaoh’s court, was one of the most educated men of his day.
For that reason alone, an unbiased reader of the Bible would assume that the author had good reasons for his chosen words. As Christians, though, we know without question that the Author spoke the truth and knew what He was talking about.
The same methods apply for resolving most apparent errors. If we do not have an immediate explanation, then our starting assumption that the Bible is true must take precedence, and we just have to learn more. In every case, there is a logical explanation— we just have to clear up our own ignorance. The idea that God made an error is never a possibility.