You’ve probably heard the accusation: the Bible contradicts itself. More evidence—if we needed it—that the Bible was written by simple people in a much simpler era.
In fact, there’s a group called the Reason Project who claim to have found five hundred such contradictions in Scripture.
So does their accusation stand?
On closer inspection, most of these so-called contradictions are little more than silly word games: cherry-picked verses that ignore both the culture and the theology of the Bible.
But some are worth a closer look.
One Angel Or Two?
When Matthew wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, he mentioned the angel at the tomb. But in John’s gospel, there are two angels. So which is it?
Notice that Matthew didn’t say only one angel was present. Basic maths says that if you have two of something, you also have one of them.
“These reports aren’t hard to reconcile.”
This solution might sound a bit too cute for the cynical-minded. But it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which two angels were at the tomb, and one played a more prominent role in the conversation that took place.
Matthew chose to focus on the one, while John felt it was worth mentioning both. That’s hardly a contradiction.
How Did Judas Really Die?
Or there’s the death of Judas—the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas hanged himself, according to Matthew’s account. But Luke records that he fell headlong and was found disembowelled.
It’s interesting that the traditional site for Judas’s field is a pasture at the bottom of a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem.
A very plausible scenario is that Judas indeed hanged himself, and that eventually his rope broke or was cut, causing him to plummet to the field below. Once again, these reports aren’t hard to reconcile.
The Contradictions of Jesus
Contradictions are often pointed out between Jesus’ teachings recorded in different places. The details seem to differ depending on which gospel account you read.
But I’m a preacher. And I’ve used my favourite illustrations and teaching points on many occasions, often modifying them for my audience or to make a slightly different point. Surely Jesus is allowed the same freedom?
So much of what passes as contradiction is actually nothing of the sort. It’s worth bearing this in mind the next time you hear this accusation made.
More Trustworthy, Not Less
In fact, much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.
Imagine, God forbid, a murder took place on the streets of your city. Four witnesses stepped forward who claimed not to know each other, but who gave near-identical testimony, pointing the finger at the same suspect.
“The four gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry.”
Any lawyer would be right to assume the four witnesses had colluded, agreeing to give the same account. Suddenly they are the guilty ones. They’ve been caught selling a fake story—probably to hide a darker truth.
Likewise, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s accounts were nearly identical, we’d be right to think they’d collaborated, trying to fool the world with a concocted story about Jesus.
“Much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.”
As it is, however, their gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry. At times, they differ so much that harmonising them takes time and consideration, as we’ve seen.
And this is exactly what we’d expect if their accounts were honest, independent, and based on eyewitness testimony.
Warts and All
The same holds true of other embarrassing details in the Bible. Too often, the main characters in Scripture are—to put it bluntly—idiots.
Abraham is a chronic liar. David has an affair. The nation of Israel can’t stop sinning. The disciples betray Jesus and run away. The early church was a hot mess.
“For Bible writers to include these details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.”
If the Bible really was made up by the people who wrote it, why didn’t they try to make themselves look less stupid?
Ancient cultures had a strong honour-shame dynamic. In other words, for Bible writers to include these warts-and-all details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.
The Best News in the World
During the last four posts, we’ve explored the Bible’s uniqueness, its preservation, its historicity and its internal coherence. On each count, it has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.
People today are reluctant to accept the Bible’s claims. At one level, this is understandable. Scripture holds out high moral standards; it strips away our self-reliance; it speaks of a great day of accountability for every soul.
“The Bible has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.”
But that’s not all it does. It also gives us unspeakable promises, like these from Romans 8.
If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
“The Bible gives us unspeakable promises.”
No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If the Bible is a trustworthy document, it’s not bad news. It turns out to be the best news in the world.
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Check out the rest of the series:
Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.
McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.