Answering Biblical Contradictions

Hi there! I love this site!
I was looking to answer some questions on another site where people were asking about religion and stuff. This person supplied a list of so-called "contradictions" in the Bible that someone listed. I told them not to take things out of context but Id like details. Can you help answer them?

Thanks!

  • Exodus 32:14 says "the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do" VS. Numbers 23:19 says God does not repent. >>
  • Matthew 7:21 Jesus says not everyone that calls the name of the Lord shall be saved VS. Acts 2:21 Paul says whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.>>
  • Matthew 15:4 Jesus says, "Honour thy father and mother..." VS. Luke 14:26 Jesus says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother...he cannot be my disciple.">>
  • Matthew 26:27-28 - "...Drink ye all of it, For this is my blood..." vs. Deuteronomy 12:16 - "Ye shall not eat the blood." Symbolically disobeying god. Jesus being the sacrifice and thou shalt not drink the blood of the sacrifice.>>
  • Mark 15:25 Jesus was crucified at the third hour VS. John 19:14-15 says the sixth hour.>>
  • Mark 15:40 says Mary was afar off beholding the crucifixion VS. John 19:25 says she stood at the cross.>>
  • John 13:38 "the rooster shall not crow till thou hast denied me three times." VS. Mark 14:68 Says the rooster crowed after the first denial.>>
  • Acts 9:7 VS. Acts 22:9 VS. Acts 26:14
    Paul of Tarsus lies each time he tells the story of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul, a liar, wrote over half of the New Testament. The Apostles considered his preachings falsehood.>>

Cicely.

Hi Cicely,

Thank you for writing. Many times you will see some detractor bring out a list of so-called contradictions such as these. There are many online and some are quite long. All go to great lengths to try and prove that the Bible is filled with errors. However, if one is looking at these passages objectively, you will find it is the list maker who is being dishonest in his approach. That's because they have chosen to ignore the context in which the statement.

You see, context is really the thing that determines what the speaker is trying to convey for any passage. If I were to say "I missed my family today" you may assume that I meant I felt a longing to be with my family when I couldn't. However, if I put the sentence in this context: "I missed my family. It looks like they left five minutes before I arrived." then the meaning of the statement changes dramatically. Finally, if the context is "We had a great time at the picnic. I hit all my friends with water balloons. I missed my family." then we have another meaning.

Let's extend this idea to two statements. If I were to tell a co-worker on Monday "I had some good family time at the picnic", then later tell someone else "I missed my family" you might think this is a contradiction, but since the context for the second sentence may be understood in a different manner, you can quickly see that the contradiction doesn't exist.

Most of the contrasting verses you have listed fall into this type of an error. The critic has taken only a simplistic approach to the statements made and ignored the larger context in which they are given. They therefore seem like a contradiction but this is really not so. With this in mind, let's take a look at each of the statements below:

Exodus 32:14 vs. Numbers 23:19 - Does God Repent?

Exodus 32:14 says "the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do" VS. Numbers 23:19 says God does not repent.

God is supposed to be all good and all knowing, so why would such a God change His mind or repent of something He has decided to do? This is the challenge offered above. Actually, Numbers 23:19 is describing this very aspect of God. God, speaking through Balaam, explains His nature to the pagan king Balak and says, "God is not a man, that he should lie, Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Hath he said, and will he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and will he not make it good?"

However, Exodus 32:14 is a completely different context. God is speaking with Moses and telling him that the children of Israel are sinning and their sins are putting them in danger of being judged. God then says "Let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." Now, God had previously promised that He would deliver the nation of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Notice how He says "Let me alone." This was a test for Moses. God wanted to see if Moses would intercede for the people and provide a way of escape for them. Moses did as he should have and God didn't destroy Israel.

In writing this incident, Moses chose to use dramatic language to reflect the seriousness of the situation. By saying "God changed His mind" or "God repented", Moses employs what is known as an anthropomorphism - ascribing human qualities to God - to make his point. God promised that He would deliver Israel and He did. The "changing of mind" wasn't a change at all - God made good on his promise.

Matthew 7:21 vs. Acts 2:21  - Calling on the Name of the Lord

Matthew 7:21 Jesus says not everyone that calls the name of the Lord shall be saved VS. Acts 2:21 Paul says whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Again in these passages, context means a lot. In the book of Acts, Peter is speaking before a crowd in Jerusalem, challenging them to believe in Jesus since they have been witness to the events of His crucifixion and resurrection. He quotes a passage from the prophet Joel, and tells the crowd that all they need to do is truly believe in Jesus as Messiah and they will be saved.

The context of Matthew 7 is dramatically different, though. Jesus starts off that passage by saying "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." He then goes on to talk about how to discern a true believer from a pretender by examining their fruit. That's what leads up to the statement saying 'Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven." The difference is simply one of true belief versus pretense. I think we can safely assume that Peter meant you must call on the name of the Lord sincerely to be saved.

Matthew 15:4 vs. Luke 14:26 - Honoring Your Parents

Matthew 15:4 Jesus says, "Honour thy father and mother..." VS. Luke 14:26 Jesus says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother...he cannot be my disciple."

One must remember when reading the Scriptures that to take passages in an ultimate, wooden way is detrimental. One must surely honor his mother and father; however, what should you do if your father ort mother asked you to kill? Would you be disobeying God if you disobeyed them?

The general admonition to honor your mother and father is a good one. In Luke 14:26, Jesus is laying out the marks of a true follower. He uses a common bond, the love for your parents as a point of comparison. He says that to be a true disciple it requires total devotion. You cannot be more devoted to you parents than to God. Indeed, in my example above, one should obey the laws of God that say "do not murder" above the commands of your parents. Jesus is saying that those who follow Him should love Him so much, the love for their parents seems trivial in comparison.

Matthew 26:27-28 vs. Deuteronomy 12:16 - Disobeying God through Communion

Matthew 26:27-28 - "...Drink ye all of it, For this is my blood..." vs. Deuteronomy 12:16 - "Ye shall not eat the blood."

This one is a bit of a stretch, since one passage is dealing with actual behavior, but the other is symbolic. One is an admonition for the nation of Israel under the old covenant against the real drinking of blood. Many times, drinking of blood was tied to pagan worship and the nation of Israel was to be separate people. Blood also held contaminants and you could get diseases from such an action. However, the symbolic drinking of the Lord's blood holds a different idea - it is not to consume the spirit of the animal and therefore absorb that animal's strength, but to rely wholly on Jesus' sacrifice for us.

To assume that the injunction to not drink actual blood is somehow violated by taking of communion wine that symbolizes the blood of Jesus is stretching things a bit far. Even in the early Christian church, there was a strong debate about whether people should be forbidden to drink real blood and it was held as the standard for Christians at the same time as they celebrated communion (see Acts 15:20, 29; Acts 21:25).

The silliness of this objection is apparent when we look at other symbolic references. For example, Jesus taught that if your right eye offends you, you should cut it out. Now, it is widely understood that actually losing an eye won't keep you from sinning at all, since you still have another to look at things. In these days, the right-hand side would be symbolic of the bet or the most powerful you had. So, when Jesus says "if your right eye offends you, cut it out", His audience would have understood that He meant if the best things you have cause you to fall into sin, it's better to forego them than to continue disobeying God. Similarly, the communion cup is a symbolic gesture that isn't meant to be taken literally.

Mark 15:25 vs. John 19:14-15 - The Time of the Crucifixion

Mark 15:25 Jesus was crucified at the third hour VS. John 19:14-15 says the sixth hour.

Mark figures the time by Jewish reckoning, where the day would start at sundown and be broken into segments. We still see this today as observant Jews start their observance of the Sabbath at sundown. This would make the third hour to be about noon.

The Romans reckoned their time differently and their segments were longer. Ancient Roman sundials show that the daylight hours were divided into twelve equal segments, or hours. However, there were only two major segments, daytime and nighttime, with the hours beginning at sunrise and counted until sunset. Therefore, this makes the sixth hour in Roman time also about noon. John's audience was the Gentile church, so John uses Roman time throughout His Gospel.

Mark 15:40 vs. John 19:25 - Mary's position at the cross

Mark 15:40 says Mary was afar off beholding the crucifixion VS. John 19:25 says she stood at the cross.

Since the entire time of Jesus' hanging on the cross was three hours, it's highly likely that both statements are true. This discrepancy can be easily understood by thinking about the vantage point of the witnesses. The women and John could have stood farther away as the Romans actually performed the crucifixion, then drew closer to Jesus after He had been hanging on the cross a while. When the soldiers returned to break the legs of each, they would have withdrawn again. This is not only plausible, but reads quite naturally and would be what you would expect given the fear the Jews would have of the Romans at the time.

John 13:38 vs.. Mark 14:68 - The timing of Peter's Denial

 John 13:38 "the rooster shall not crow till thou hast denied me three times." VS. Mark 14:68 Says the rooster crowed after the first denial.

Tradition holds that Mark received much of his gospel accounts from Peter, so it's no surprise that Mark would have a detail about this incident that the others miss. In Mark's gospel Jesus tells Peter "Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." Peter's first denial came before the first crow and his third denial came after the second.

However, to think that this is a mistake is still not accurate. Eric Lyons at Apologetics Press gives a good analogy of a family attending a football game. The parents make plans to meet their son outside the gate "after the buzzer sounds". Now, in football, there are four buzzers, one for each quarter. However we would understand intuitively that the parents meant after the "last buzzer" sounds. The passage above is similar. In the ancient world, many held that a rooster would crow first at about midnight or one AM, but this was an insignificant action. The crowing that everyone focused on was the crowing near daybreak - which would be the second crowing. So, Mark simply gives us more detail than Matthew, but the end result is the same.

Acts 9:7 vs. Acts 22:9 vs. Acts 26:14 - Paul's legitimacy as a witness

Paul of Tarsus lies each time he tells the story of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul, a liar, wrote over half of the New Testament. The Apostles considered his preachings falsehood.

I would challenge this claim made outright. To call Paul a liar and to say "The Apostles considered his preachings (sic) falsehood" flies in the face of everything we know about the early church. In fact, Peter calls Paul's New Testament writings Scripture and puts them on par with the Old Testament scriptures (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). Where does the accuser get the idea that Paul was rejected? This type of objection requires proof before it can be taken seriously. Since Paul's letters are the earliest manuscripts we have of New Testament documents, since we know that the early church copies and circulated them along with other Scriptures, and since we have the writings of the early church fathers quoting from Paul as authoritative there is no evidence that the apostles or the early church felt his teaching was false.

I have said that context is a very good way of determining the meaning of the passages written. I believe the last statement made by this person who put forth these so-called contradictions is telling. He seems to have an axe to grind against the Bible and simply asserts certain passages to be contradictory without even a fair reading of the passages in question. He offers no historical context for any of them and he ends his list with a vitriolic assertion against Paul. That tells me much. It seems this is a very childish way to treat any text and is inherently unfair, whether the text is Christian, Muslim, or another faith.

I pray that this discussion has helped you to read the Bible in a more mature fashion. If you diligently seek Him, He will be found.

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