intersect, where the bible meets life
Play ball! Time to dust off the cleats, the pine tar, and the leather. Get those arms in shape! The boys of summer are thawing out after a long winter.
A season of a different kind apparently has arrived, too. With the recent wave of writings from the “New Atheists,” we should have expected the second wave that followed. They now allege we can’t trust the Bible. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, and his group Project Reason have published an infographic (fancy chart) titled, “Contradictions in the Bible.” This curious e-tableau claims that Scripture belies itself some 439 times.
Nothing New Here
A closer look at each of these supposed gaffes reveals nothing new. In fact, some are downright ludicrous. It’s easy to answer most of the claims. Bible students have done so down through the ages. Harris, for example, nitpicks when he asks, “Was Jonah swallowed by a fish or a whale (see Jonah 1:17 and Matt. 12:40)?” The Hebrew and Greek terms are general words for sea creatures, however, and are not intended to be species specific.
Other supposed problems show unfamiliarity with the context surrounding the texts in question. For instance, when Harris alleges the Old Testament is confused about whether Yahweh is a God of wrath (Isaiah 34:2) or not (Isaiah 27:4), he ignores the context of each verse. The day when God establishes His kingdom will be one of reward (“no wrath,” 27:4) for the righteous and one of punishment (“rage,” 34:2) for the wicked. In wrath, He remembers mercy!
Praying, Judging, and Marrying
Disregard for context applies as well for Harris’ criticisms of: (1) whether or not Christians know how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13 and Romans 8:26—Jesus instructs us how to pray, but sometimes in our limited knowledge we don’t know what to pray for); (2) whether or not we are to judge (Matthew 7:1 and John 7:24—Don’t speak harshly, Jesus says, but use discernment); (3) whether believers may marry unbelievers (1 Corinthians 7:12 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-17—Paul prohibits Christians from marrying non-Christians in 2 Corinthians 6, but also refers about a case where one partner has become a Christian while the other has not in 1 Corinthians 7). The chart includes other claims like these.
Harris’ infographic also points to larger theological issues that require more intricate analysis. These supposed contradictions also have reasonable answers that become fertile soil for teaching truth. Such is the case for the alleged conflicts between Paul “(justification by faith” in Romans 4) and James (“justification by works” in James 2). So, too, the complementary accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 are not at odds with each other; instead, each chapter reveals a separate facet of the character and creative design of God.
What “Contradictions” Teach Us
Dealing with this skeptical mindset is not new to me. In fact, as a rebellious teen I went through a season when I also tried to find mistakes in the Bible. I recall on one occasion impishly showing my youth pastor Galatians 6:2, which tells us to bear each other’s burdens, and verse 5 where Paul instructs each of us to bear our own burden. “A contradiction!” I boldly asserted.
He patiently explained that two different Greek words are translated “burden” in these verses. One describes a load too heavy for one person to carry (verse 2) and the other a responsibility one person must carry alone (verse 5). By the way, this supposed discrepancy is in Harris’ chart as well!
Since then, I have drawn a few conclusions about this whole business of looking for contradictions in the Bible.
No one is going to find a problem that has not been found, studied, and explained reasonably. Scholars have dealt with these issues for centuries.
When someone tells me there are contradictions in the Bible, I ask him to name one. Usually he can’t. He has not searched out any of them for himself. Even if he has, I assure you he has not done the research to find a reasonable answer.
The fact that there are difficult texts in Scripture serves two purposes. First, they disprove any notion that Christians tried to “smooth out” or erase those difficulties. Second, they challenge us to think harder, study more, and seek a better understanding of this perfect book.
I go back to what the Bible says about itself. B. B. Warfield’s century-old syllogism still works for me:
"The Bible claims to be the Word of God. God cannot lie. Therefore the Bible cannot lie."
In the box score, that’s a “0” in the error column, regardless of what the latest infographic may claim.
Next Intersect: The Little Box in the Cornder explores the relationship between the Christian and culture.
Intersect (Where the Bible Meets Life) is a regular column of ONE Magazine featuring Dr. Garnett Reid, a member of the Bible faculty at Free Will Baptist Bible College.