Apparent contradictions in the Bible
How conservative and
liberal Christians react
Handling apparent conflicts in biblical passages:
As usual, conservative and liberal Christians approach apparent discrepancies
in the Bible with different preconceptions:
Conservative Christians: They generally believe that the
Bible is free of errors because
God inspired its authors. Strictly speaking, this only applies to the original (a.k.a. autograph) copies. Conservatives
can generally harmonize two or more apparently conflicting passages by
using one or more of the following techniques:
- Interpreting one of the passages as factual when read literally, and
interpreting the other passage symbolically.
- Discovering an innovative explanation that harmonizes the
two items. Sometimes these seem quite far-fetched and near-impossible;
however, they could conceivably have happened.
- Suggesting that the disagreement is caused by an ancient copying error
was not present in the original autograph copy.
- Suggesting that the conflict is caused by a forger who altered the
wording of the original text, or removed a section of text, or added his/her own text.
- Claiming that a logical explanation exists that will harmonize the
apparent conflict. However we may not have discovered it yet. In fact,
the human mind may not be sufficiently developed to uncover the actual
They are usually very reluctant to employ #3 and #4, because
both would show that there are errors in our present translations of the
Bible. This would naturally lead to suspicions that other passages might also be
in error. The accuracy and reliability of the entire Bible could become suspect.
There are many books and web sites that attempt to harmonize pairs of
biblical passages which appear to be in conflict. One of the best is "Answering
the Atheist." 1
Liberal Christians: They generally view the Bible as as a
series of books which demonstrate an evolution in religious and spiritual
beliefs over the approximately 1,000 years during which the Bible was
written. It was written by authors who promoted their own philosophical,
moral, religious and spiritual views. Most liberals note that many of the
Hebrew Scriptures are the result of merging many conflicting, earlier
documents written by different authors with different viewpoints and
recollections. The Pentateuch, for example, was
written by four anonymous individuals or groups generally identified as
J,E,P, and D, sometimes rewriting religious
texts from nearby Pagan cultures. One would expect accounts of events to
differ significantly. Wherever the same occurrence is described in
separate books -- as in Kings and Chronicles -- one would expect to see
Proving biblical errancy:
Internal conflicts in the Bible seem impossible to prove. People have
tried for centuries to find the "magic bullet" that will convince
everyone that the Bible contains at least one instance where two passages truly
conflict.In the author's opinion, none have succeeded.
We have adopted a different technique: taking a broad look at Biblical themes, rather than dealing
with individual passages in the hope that indicators of errancy or
inerrancy can be found.
If there is an irresolvable
biblical conflict that you would like to see covered here, please
William Stewart, "Answering the Atheist," at:
Copyright 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update and review: 2011-JAN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson