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Isn't the Bible Full of Contradictions?

Isn't the Bible full of Contradictions?This question is usually raised by those who really have no desire to pursue the Truth and who are attempting to legitimize their rejection of the Bible as containing absolute truth – a fact that, if accepted, compels one to believe its message.  My first response to individuals who raise this question is – “Please show me one of the contradictions.”  Most of the time, the questioner is not able to respond and is merely repeating what he or she has heard others say. 

So, does the Bible really have contradictions in it?  The answer – “No.”  There are occasional difficulties with translations from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts.  There are passages which on the surface seem to indicate principles or teaching contrary to other passages.  Finally, there are passages which do not contradict other passages, but they are simply difficult to fully explain today due to our separation from ancient cultures or future generations who will experience the fulfillment of certain Biblical prophecies, e.g. Revelation 14.20 – “And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs [almost 200 miles].”  However, the existence of these difficulties does not necessarily indicate that there is anything wrong with the Bible, rather the existence of these difficulties probably indicates a failure to correctly interpret Scripture.   

faulty hermenuticMany, if not most, of the alleged “contradictions” in the Bible are simply the result of a faulty science of interpretation (i.e. a hermeneutic) applied to Scripture by the interpreter.  The serious theologian and student of Scripture strives to develop a hermeneutic that synthesizes the whole of Scripture in such a manner that any alleged contradictions are answered and reveal the superficial understanding that gave rise to them in the first place.   

If apparent contradictions result from a faulty hermeneutic, what are the elements of a proper hermeneutic?  While not a comprehensive list, where the following components are lacking or not fully developed, alleged contradictions will inevitably result.[1] 

  • First, a valid Biblical hermeneutic must recognize certain distinctions as valid.  For instance, there are different gospel messages (good news messages) addressed to different audiences in different periods of history.  For instance, consider the following distinctions as examples:
    1. The gospel of “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in Matthew 10.7 cf. 9.35; Mark 1.14-15 is distinct from the gospel explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.1-5.
    2. Jesus gave two distinct commissions to His disciples.  At an early point in His public ministry, Jesus commissioned His disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and not to the Gentiles and Samaritans (i.e. Matt 10.5-6).  Later, He commanded them to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).
    3. Jesus commanded distinct preparations for the ministries of the disciples.  When He commissioned them to preach the first gospel just to Israel, He ordered the disciples not to take money, a bag, more than one tunic, extra sandals or a staff (see Matthew 10.9-10).  Later, Jesus commanded the disciples to take a money pouch, a bag, and a sword (Luke 22.35-36).
    4. There are distinctions regarding the manner in which those guilty of adultery were and are to be treated.  Under the Mosaic Law, adulterers were to be put to death.  However, since the death of Christ, different guidelines are to be followed (1 Corinthians 6.9-11).
  • Second, a valid hermeneutic must include an ultimate purpose or goal for human history.
  • Third, it must include the concept of progressive revelation.  God did not reveal the entirety of His revelation to man in one setting.  For instance, God did not reveal the fact that there would be a Redeemer until after man fell (Genesis 3.15).  Jesus did not reveal everything He wanted His disciples to know (John 16.12).  Paul referred to this principle when he mentioned truth that had been hidden from people in past eras of history, but which had been revealed to him and others (1 Corinthians 2.6-10; Ephesians 3.2-6).
  • Fourth, a valid hermeneutic must have a unifying principle which ties the distinctions and progressive nature of revelation together and directs them toward the fulfillment of the purpose of history. 
  • Fifth, it must give a valid explanation of why things have happened the way they have, why they are the way they are today, and where things are going in the future. 
  • Sixth, it must offer appropriate answers to mankind’s ever present questions:  From where do we come?  Why are we here?  Where are we going?   
If one’s Biblical hermeneutic properly incorporates all of these elements, one may find difficult passages in Scripture, but there will be no “contradictions.”  There are many excellent sources to consult regarding difficult passages and the authoritative nature of Scripture.  In addition to the resource already cited, the following list is a sample of such material:  

Geisler, Norman L. and Howe, Thomas.  When Critics Ask.   Wheaton, Illinois:  Victor Books, 1992.

Geisler, Norman and Nix, William E.  A General Introduction to the Bible.  Chicago, Illinois:  Moody Press, 1968, 1986.

McDowell, Josh.  The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.  Nashville, Tennessee:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999. 

Ramm,  Bernard.  Protestant Biblical Interpretation.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Books, 1970.

[1]  This list was largely derived from Renald E. Showers, There Really is a Difference! A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, New Jersey:  The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990), 2-6. 

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