Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

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.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

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.

Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We all know the tune. But how much confidence can we actually have that anything the Bible records is true?

Many skeptics of Christianity are adamant that the Bible is not a reliable source of history. If they’re right, then as followers of Jesus we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.

If.

See, there’s a reason the Bible is held in such suspicion. Put simply, it’s because the Bible records miracles. And there’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia that says a document is only historically accurate if it doesn’t describe supernatural events.

“If skeptics are right, we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.”

This might be a fashionable idea. But it’s far from being a self-evident fact. Really, it’s a worldview—an assumption that’s been made before any research has begun.

Anyone is free to believe this, of course. But that’s the point—it’s a belief. It’s as much a belief as the Christian who naively claims no research is needed since God wrote the Bible and it must be true.

“There’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia.”

What if, for the sake of historical inquiry, we all agreed to suspend our beliefs? What if we asked a question everyone agreed on: Is the Bible historically accurate when it speaks of events that can be tested historically?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Embarrassment of Scholars

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll know the feeling. Nodding off to sleep as you endure another list of dates, names or numbers.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, those details aren’t there for your entertainment. They’re there for historical verification. Thousands of them.

For centuries, skeptics have assumed many of the Bible’s historical claims to be bogus. But so often, it’s the skeptics who’ve been put to shame.

Let’s take a few examples.

Isaiah talks about King Sargon of Assyria. For years academics scoffed and said such a king never existed. Then in 1842, his entire palace was unearthed in modern-day Iraq.

For a hundred years, skeptics said that the Hittites, mentioned many times in the Old Testament, were just a made-up people-group.

But in the late 19th century, the Hittite capital city Hattusa was uncovered in modern-day Turkey. It’s such a vast city that it’s still being dug up today.

Or take the Pool of Bethesda. For many years, university professors taught that the gospel of John was unreliable because it spoke of this apparently non-existent pool.

But with new technology, archaeologists were able to dig deeper, discovering what is without doubt the Pool of Bethesda spoken of by John.

This is just a sampling, but the pattern is a familiar one. Archaeology has vindicated the the Bible time and time again.

It’s beyond the reach of archaeology to prove the Bible’s supernatural events. But literally thousands of archaeological discoveries have been made that confirm the Bible’s other claims.

Let the Archaeologists Speak

Sir William Ramsay was born in Scotland in the 1850s. From a young age, he was skeptical of the Bible, calling it a book of fables.

He especially doubted that the book of Acts was real history because the author, Luke, spoke of so many places for which there was simply no evidence.

Ramsay studied at Oxford and then travelled to modern-day Turkey, fully expecting to discover there that Acts was mere myth.

After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field. Towards the end of his life, this is what he said:

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

Sir William Ramsay died a believer.

“After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field.”

W. F. Albright, one of the world’s great archaeologists, said, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”

Nelson Glueck unearthed some 1,500 ancient sites. He wrote, “In all of my archaeological investigation I have never found one artefact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.”

But the Bible’s Writers Were Biased

Let’s change gears for a minute. You may have heard it suggested that the Bible’s writers were already believers, so of course they were biased in their telling of history.

“The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism.”

But even if we set aside the entire Bible, there’s still so much we know about Jesus from non-Christian writers like Thallus, Tacitus, Lucian, Emperor Trajan, and Pliny the Younger.

Consider these words from Josephus:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

From non-Christian authors alone, here’s what we know about Jesus:

  • he came from Nazareth
  • he lived a wise and virtuous life
  • he was crucified in Palestine, during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • he was considered a Jewish king
  • his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died
  • he was a sorcerer
  • his small band of disciples grew and spread as far as Rome
  • his followers believed in one God and worshipped Christ as divine

Is the Bible historically reliable? It depends. If you’re searching for proof of every miracle, historical inquiry won’t get you very far. At some point, you’ll have to exercise faith.

But it will be a faith that rests on facts.

The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism. But here’s what we know: when it speaks of events that can be tested historically, the Bible is a thoroughly trustworthy document.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

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.

Has the Bible Been Tampered With?

You’ve probably heard it suggested that the Bible we read today is nothing like the original, given how many times it’s been copied through the centuries.

Surely this has provided too much opportunity—so the argument goes—for people to copy it poorly. Or worse, to tamper with it to suit their own agenda.

This makes for a good story, but is it true?

The Old Testament

The Jews had a special class of people whose only task was to preserve the Scriptures. In making a new copy, the scribe wasn’t allowed to write a single letter from memory: every one had to be checked.

Two others would hover over his shoulder ensuring he made no mistakes. If an error was made, all three of them had to initial it.

“The Jews had a special class of people whose only task was to preserve the Scriptures.”

On completion of a book, every word would be counted. And tallies would be made of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to see if it matched the original.

If a new manuscript didn’t pass these and other tests, it was trashed and the process would begin again.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Until last century, the earliest copies we had of the Old Testament only went back as far as AD900. So arguably, it still could have changed a lot in that time, despite every scribe’s good intention.

But then along came a shepherd boy called Muhammad. He was tending his goats near some caves at the Dead Sea. The year was 1947.

Bored, he tossed a stone into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. So he scrambled in and made the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“What made this find so important was that they dated back to the time of Jesus.”

They were a collection of around 500 works, written on leather, wrapped in linen, and stored in jars. Among them was most of the Old Testament.

What made this find so important was that they dated back to the time of Jesus—a millennia older than any previous Old Testaments we had. More important still, they bore remarkable similarity to those older copies.

Take for example Isaiah 53. After a thousand years of copying, only 17 letters in the entire chapter were different. Most of the changes were obvious slips of the pen or minor spelling changes, and none affected the meaning of the text.

Reflecting on the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologist W. F. Albright said, “We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature.”

The New Testament

Tiberius was the emperor who famously sent Mary and Joseph packing for Bethlehem. Volumes have been written about Tiberius. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after his life by the historian Tacitus.

Now consider the biographies of Jesus, also known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These gospels were written within 30-60 years of Jesus’ life.

In other words, our records about Jesus are better than the those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

This has other implications too. If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote while witnesses to Jesus were still living, it would have been near impossible for them to invent stories about him.

“Our records about Jesus are better than they are for the man who ruled the world at the same time.”

Imagine an account was fake. To shut down the Jesus movement, all a skeptic needed to do was visit this village, ask if Jesus really did heal that person, and the whole charade would be exposed.

Instead, in those early centuries a perplexed pagan world watched on as this fledgling movement spread throughout the empire.

The Ancient World’s Most Copied Text

In the Rylands Library in Manchester, UK is a fragment of John’s gospel. It’s the earliest parchment we have of the New Testament.

Like most ancient documents, it’s a copy. But it’s been dated to within 50 years of the original. Compared with other writings from the ancient world, this is remarkable.

“As far as tests go for ancient documents, the Bible passes every one with flying colours.”

But the New Testament has even greater credentials. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

On the other hand, 25,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the libraries of the world. Not just fragments, but whole scrolls and books too. As such, we can reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

So has the Bible been tampered with?

There’s no evidence for this claim. Instead, the evidence points in a different direction. As far as tests go for ancient documents, the Bible passes every one with flying colours.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bible is the best-attested document of ancient history.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

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.

What Makes the Bible Unique?

Once upon a time, the Bible was a trusted book. Today many people hold it in suspicion, and feel that to believe Scripture is to take a leap of faith into the dark.

What a curious turn of events. Peter, one of the Bible’s authors, said, “We were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:16).

“The Bible stands or falls on the facts of history.”

John claimed, “We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” (1 John 1:1). And Luke said he wrote his gospel only after he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” (Luke 1:3).

In other words, this book claims to be more than religious truth (whatever that means). It’s true truth. Apparently it stands or falls on the facts of history.

Which is why, in this and future posts, I want to ask four questions:

To believers, I want to ask: do these questions make you nervous? If so, brilliant. It means your faith has a chance to mature, and be shored up on foundations stronger than just your feelings.

If you don’t follow Jesus, I have a different question: if it could be shown that the Bible is reliable, would you believe? In other words, are you truly open-minded?

It’s hard to find questions that matter more than these—because if the Bible is true, it changes everything.

What Makes the Bible Unique?

If every Bible on the planet ceased to exist this second, you could still go to your city library and piece it together just from quotations in other books. So profound is its impact on our world.

From science to education, democracy to medicine, and some of our dearest values like humility, reason, and equality, the Bible has truly given western civilisation its soul.

The word Bible simply means book. But in fact, the Bible is an anthology of books.

“It was penned from deserts and dungeons, palaces and prisons.”

The Bible was written over 1,500 years by more than 40 authors, who came from every walk of life: kings, peasants, military leaders, philosophers, shepherds, statesmen, and poets.

It was penned from deserts and dungeons, palaces and prisons. And on three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.

It was written in times of peace, and periods of war and unrest. It expresses the heights of joy and the depths of despair; days of doubt and times of great faith.

“The Bible has truly given western civilisation its soul.”

And the literary styles that make up the Bible are unbelievably diverse: biography, romance, prophecy, correspondence, law, satire, song, allegory, memoirs and more.

Despite this amazing diversity, the Bible tells one story: the redemption of humanity. Everything that was lost in Genesis is restored in Revelation.

The Book That Just Won’t Go Away

The Frenchman Voltaire (1694-1778) was a famous philosopher and early atheist. He predicted that within a hundred years of his lifetime, Christianity would be swept from existence and pass into history.

Not long after his death, the Bible Society had bought Voltaire’s estate and were using it to print and distribute Bibles around the world.

Fast forward to today, and the Bible is the most widely printed, read and distributed book in history—5 billion copies and counting. No other book comes even close.

“Voltaire is dead, but the Bible lives on.”

The Bible is also the most translated book in history. Portions of it are now available in almost 3,000 of the world’s 6,500 languages, making it accessible to 90% of the world’s population.

Voltaire is dead, but the Bible lives on. It is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.

And if news from majority-world nations like China, India and Indonesia is to be believed, that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. In fact, its best days may yet be ahead of us.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

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.