How Christian faith groups handle
apparent internal conflicts in the Bible
The validity of biblical passages:
Conservative theologians generally
teach that the Bible's authors were inspired by God to write text that is
inerrant. This is compatible with II Timothy 3:16:
scripture is given by inspiration of God, [literally God-breathed]
profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness"
The author of 2 Timothy was presumably referring only to the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament) because the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) had not yet been
assembled while he was alive. However, this verse is often used to affirm the freedom from error of the entire Bible
-- Hebrew and Christian Scriptures together.
Not all Biblical verses are necessarily given equal weighting. Some
Christians regard certain passages as not
applicable to Christendom today:
||Leviticus 17:1 to 26:46 contains part of the Holiness Code. These
total hundreds of ethical and ritual laws which governed all aspects of life in ancient Israel. The
purpose of the laws was to differentiate the Israelites from their neighbors - to keep
them ritually clean and pure. A consensus exists amongst Christian theologians, pastors
and tele-ministers that most the Holiness Code is no longer binding for today's Christians.
exceptions to this general rule are the Ten
Commandments and Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13, which most
conservative theologians believe
binding. They usually interpret the latter two
passages -- and four more "clobber" passages -- as condemning all homosexual activity.
Thus, most of the laws of the Holiness Code
are essentially ignored in denominational policy making.
||Some passages in the Bible are considered to be truths that are limited in scope to a
particular society or a particular era. For example, 1 Corinthians 11:4-10 appears
to discuss how men and women should be clothed in church. Various translations of the
Bible describe hats, hair length, veils, and shaving the head; the precise meaning of
these verses is ambiguous. But the translations all appear to agree that St. Paul required
women and men follow different practices: e.g. men must not wear hats while women must
cover their head. By the end of the 20th century, these verses were generally interpreted
as applying to first century CE practice. They are not considered binding today by most denominations.
||Most Christian denominations have some long-established practices which deviate from
Biblical commands. For example, Genesis 2:2-3 mentions that God rested on the 7th
day, after having created the earth and the rest of the universe during the 6 days of
creation. He apparently did not do this because he was tired. He did it to make the Sabbath
a holy day for all humanity, forever. Exodus 20:8-11, one of the
requires Jews and Christians to preserve the seventh day, Saturday, as a day of rest. But
for a variety of religious and political reasons, the early Church adopted a
Pagan practice and changed
the holy day to Sunday. The vast majority of Christian denominations now worship on Sunday. They
believe that the commands in the Bible for Sabbath worship are not binding on the modern
church. Only a few Christian groups, the "Sabbath-keepers," meet on Saturdays.
The Seventh-Day Adventists are the largest of these.
Handling conflicting biblical passages:
Among the sections of the Bible which are considered binding on Christians, pairs of
passages often appear contradictory. Believers in the
inerrancy of the Bible will usually accept one passage in a
conflicting pair as literally accurate. The other verse(s) are usually interpreted
Some rationale is developed to resolve the apparent conflict. Depending upon which passage
is accepted as literally true, A Christian may end up with one of two widely diverging
One example is on the topic of salvation. There are many Biblical passages that specify
different requirements for a person to be saved. Many
are mutually exclusive. Two are:
||John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and
only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life"
||1 Corinthians 6:9: "...Do not be deceived: neither fornicators
no idolaters, nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals,* nor thieves
nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God."
* The NAB has a footnote indicating that "practicing homosexuals"
is a translation from the original Greek reference to adult males who
rape boy prostitutes.
Many consider the word "whoever" in the verse from John as indicating that
all believers will have
life. However, the verse from Corinthians indicates that entire groups of believers will
be denied eternal life, depending on their actions. In fact, if you took the entire body of Christians, and removed
all of the individuals had engaged in pre-marital sex, inter-marital sex, extra-marital
sex, or who had been greedy, or stole something, or slandered someone, or who was once
drunk, or had had sex with an under-aged person, etc. then you might not have very many Christians left to go to
Heaven! Hell would be full to the rafters -- if they
Obviously, if you regard John 3:16 as literally true and attempt to resolve the verse
with 1 Corinthians 6:9, then you will conclude that all believers will go to heaven. If
you accept the Corinthians verse as literally true, and attempt to resolve it to John
3:16, then you will conclude that heaven is restricted to those who meet certain standards
of behavior. Very few believers -- apparently even among those who are born again -- will
go to heaven.
Many conservative denominations teach that John 3:16 teaches that almost all
believers including thieves, the greedy, alcoholics, slanderers, murderers, etc
are saved and will attain heaven. However, they do stress that 1 Corinthians 6:9
does teach that sexually active homosexuals will all go to Hell. Liberal
denominations tend to discount the importance of the Bible's lists of people excluded from Heaven.
Another example relates to the role of women in church. Two
apparently conflicting passages are:
||Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor
female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
||1 Timothy 2:11-12: "A woman should learn in quietness and full
submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be
Paul, in Galatians 3:28, would seem to teach a general principle that women and men should be treated
equally, particularly within the church. However, the author of 1 Timothy 2:11 implies that all
positions of authority in the church must be held by men, and that women should remain
silent and submissive.
If one were to accept the Galatians quote as literally true, one would then accept women as full members of the church.
This would make them
eligible for consideration for ordination.
If one were to accept the 1 Timothy quote literally, then one would prevent women from
positions of power in the church -- in fact from any position that requires them to speak.
One would then have to interpret the Galatians verse in a non-literal manner. Most liberal
faith groups have typically taken the first approach; some conservative denominations
have taken the
latter; others interpret the Galatians passage are referring to only spiritual
Generally speaking, liberal Christians have few problems with what appear to
be internal conflicts in the Bible. They regard conflicts as simply indicative of
evolution of spiritual and religious thought over the approximately ten
centuries over which the Bible was written.
Copyright © 1988 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2006-JUN-21
Author: B.A. Robinson