Critics ask, “How can you believe a book that is filled with contradictions?” As a believer in the Bible, how would you answer that question?
The website 1001biblecontradictions.com says: “This website could just as well have been called ‘Against fundamentalism.’ My purpose is to expose a large number of contradictions and discrepancies in the Christian Bibles to disprove fundamentalist claims that every word in the Bible is true.”
But is the Bible really filled with contradictions? Or will careful examination show a remarkable consistency despite all the odds against it?
So far, this series of articles has focused on sources outside the Bible. What about the Bible itself? This final article will focus on the internal evidence proving the consistency of Scripture. Skeptics will dismiss the use of the Bible to prove its own legitimacy, but when combined with the previous four proofs, the fact that the Bible as a collection of ancient documents is consistent in its message is further proof that it is indeed true.
Consistency against the odds
J. Philip Hyatt, a professor of the Old Testament at Vanderbilt University from 1944-1972, identified some of the challenges to maintaining the accuracy of the biblical text across the millennia:
“It should be obvious from this history of the text that a period of a thousand years or more elapsed between the completion of the latest book of the [Old Testament] and most of the [manuscripts] on which modern study is based. During this time the text was repeatedly copied and recopied by hand. When one thinks of the errors that may arise even with the use of modern typewriters and composing machines, it is not difficult to realize why errors arose in this repeated copying by hand. Errors could arise from failure to read a text properly, failure to hear correctly when manuscripts were written from dictation, fatigue, failure to understand what one was writing, and even sheer carelessness” (Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 3, 1984, p. 658).
It is certainly true that there are challenges in the biblical text, and because of these challenges some declare that the Bible is filled with contradictions. But upon a deeper study, the beauty, the complexity and the consistency of the text says otherwise.Our modern Bible has 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. These 66 books were written by more than 40 different authors from all walks of life—shepherds, farmers, tentmakers, physicians, fishermen, priests, prophets and kings—over a period of more than 1,500 years.
The Bible was written in three primary languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. But these were not always the languages spoken by the primary characters. For example, Jesus and His disciples most likely spoke Aramaic the majority of the time, but the Gospels were preserved in Greek.
In spite of all these obstacles—copyist errors, translation issues, different spoken vs. written language—the degree of continuity and consistency found in the Bible is actually quite remarkable.
This evidence backs up Jesus Christ’s declaration: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
The apostle Paul also authoritatively referred to Old Testament passages many times, such as: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Romans 4:3).
Compared to other ancient classics
In spite of the number of authors and the volume of writing, the Bible, when it comes to internal agreement, exceeds what one could expect from any other ancient document.
Consider the example of the Iliad written by one author, Homer, sometime around 900 B.C. There are 643 known ancient copies of the Iliad, and the oldest dates from 400 B.C. But not a single copy is 100 percent in agreement with the others. On its website Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry rates the agreement among the copies of Homer’s Iliad as 95 percent.
The New Testament has been preserved in almost 6,000 known Greek manuscripts. The agreement among these manuscripts is rated as 99.5 percent. The degree of difference is extraordinarily small. “If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer” (CARM). The degree of difference in each case is greater in these ancient classics than in the ancient manuscripts composing the Bible.
Five ways of resolving alleged contradictions
The fact is that most of the alleged contradictions in the Bible are easily resolved, and those that remain may have more than one logical explanation. The answers primarily fall into five categories:
- Copyist errors.
- Translation errors—different words chosen by different translators.
- Numerical issues, often resolved by simply checking the context for each entry.
- The context of the passage.
- The use of literary devices in the passage, as opposed to a real event.
For more on this, see our article “Contradictions in the Bible?”
Resolving alleged contradiction in the creation accounts
One example of an alleged contradiction and its resolution is the creation account recorded in Genesis 1 and 2. Critics claim that in Genesis 1:24-27 man is created after the animals. But in Genesis 2:18-19, it appears that man is created prior to the animals.
Actually, there is harmony between the two accounts without any contradiction. Chapter 1 and continuing through the first four verses of chapter 2 focuses on the order of the creation events. But then chapter 2 provides additional details for the events that occurred on day 6. Chapter 2 does not state that man was created before the animals. The account of creation in chapter 2 has to do with naming the animals—without addressing the order of creation.
Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series without providing a lot of details. In Genesis 2 man is the center of interest and more details are given about him and the circumstances surrounding his creation. In other words, chapter 1 is an outline, a skeleton, if you will; and chapter 2 provides details, or flesh for the skeleton. There is no contradiction.
What about Peter’s triple denial?
Another alleged Bible contradiction is the account of Peter’s triple denial of Christ in conjunction with the crowing of a rooster. Skeptics charge that Mark’s account contradicts the other Gospel accounts.
In this example you must read the text carefully to see what is being said and what is not being said. You must also allow for the possibility that the accounts are complementary before assuming they are contradictory.
The passages to examine are found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 13. Interestingly this is one event that appears in all four Gospels, all written at different times. Matthew, Luke and John quote Jesus as saying that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. This is found in Matthew 26:34; Luke 22:34; and John 13:38.
Mark writes: “Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30).
In all four accounts we have the same number of denials listed—three; but in Mark’s account the third denial comes before the rooster has crowed for the second time. So which is it—once or twice? Mark records that the first crowing of the rooster occurred after Peter’s first denial, but the third denial occurred before the rooster crowed, which is exactly what we read in Matthew, Luke and John.
In this case one should not assume that there is a contradiction because three of the Gospel writers mention one crowing, while Mark mentions two. The truth is that Peter denied Christ three times before the crowing of a rooster. Matthew, Luke and John do not concern themselves with the number of times the rooster crowed, but the fact that Peter’s third denial came in advance of a crowing of a rooster. There is no contradiction among the four accounts.
The challenging, true and life-changing Word of God
It is certainly true that there are challenges in the biblical text, and because of these challenges some declare that the Bible is filled with contradictions. But upon a deeper study, the beauty, the complexity and the consistency of the text says otherwise. It is a remarkable book. (See more on this in our article “Who Wrote the Bible?”)
Let’s go back to the beginning of this series and read 2 Timothy 3:16 again. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The Greek word for the phrase by inspiration of God is theopneustos, which literally means “God breathed.” Paul explained to Timothy that the true author of the Bible is none other than God Himself.
Is the Bible true? Absolutely, it is! In this series, we’ve touched on five out of many proofs: 1. archaeology, 2. the Dead Sea Scrolls, 3. secular history, 4. fulfilled prophecy and 5. the consistency of the text itself.
When reading the Bible, read it for what it says and not what people claim it says! By doing so, you will discover the truth of the Bible; and in that truth, you will discover a way of life that is very different from what is taught today, even among Christians.
Being a Christian is more than acknowledging Scripture—it is living by Scripture. The Bible is true, but that fact alone will not make you a better person. Living by its precepts will! The Bible is the true Word of God!
We encourage you to download our free study guide Seven Keys to Better Bible Study.