What do we do when the Bible contradicts itself? For example, when Paul gives conflicting advise about dealing with difficult people in the church ( see this post and comments ). Or discrepancies about the number of animals Noah takes on the Ark. Or differences in the gospels about Jesus birth and death.
If you “Google” “Bible contradictions” you will find some folks have spent a lot of effort chronicling discrepancies and contradictions. You will also find a lot of folks who have spent a lot of effort reconciling those contradictions.
There are, as far as I can tell, two main responses to Biblical contradictions,
- They don’t really exist and because there are no contradictions we can trust the Bible
- They do exist and thus because there are contradictions we cannot trust the Bible
To be sure, many of the contradictions do “disappear” if one is willing to accept that ancient people viewed the world differently than we do and their writing of history and literature used different criteria and standards than we do.
However, we can’t- without engaging in significant interpretive gymnastics- resolve every contradiction.
I would like to propose a third option, Some contradictions exist, never the less, we can trust the Bible.
Actually, I think the contradictions are part of why we can trust the Bible.
The Bible is the story, the true story, of God’s relationship with humans. It’s a messy story, of people who are faithful, and people who miss the mark. It’s a story told collaboratively by God and people of imperfect people trying to follow God’s leading in imperfect ways. And it is a story told by many people, from many perspectives, using many genres, over long periods of time. It’s a story full of faith and doubt, questions and trust.
God reveals Gods self to us through the lives and actions and words of people. The people of the Bible lived in particular times and places, who had a particular culture, with it’s particular assumptions and biases. Faithful and not so faithful people trying to understand God through their particular experiences.
Our different human experiences of God are captured in the variety of the biblical text. God is present. God is absent. God is love. God is judge. God is predictable. God is unpredictable. God is known. God is unknowable mystery.
It’s all there, all our experiences of God present in the these old stories. Is it confusing? Sometimes. Messy? Often. Contradictory experiences and perceptions? Contradictions abound but God is present. It is Truth beyond facts. Mystery comes close to us.
We humans like to make sense of things. We can’t help it, we look for it, we seek it out. Our desire to understand is one of the best things about us. We should try to understand the Biblical text to the best of our abilities.
But we also have to remember, we see only in part. Dimly. Glimpses. Hints. We are often perplexed and confused, but never, never alone.