Yesterday I suggested we think about the Bible as an invitation to conversation. There are several conversations going on at the same time.
One of this is that the Bible is in conversation with itself. Remember that the Bible, especially the Old Testament was written over a very long time and multiple sources contributed to the conversation. What often confuses us 21st century linear thinkers is that the Bible doesn’t seem to have a problem with conflicting accounts of an event or having one part of the text critique another part of the text. There are many examples but here are a couple.
If you read the flood story carefully,(Genesis 6-9) you don’t have to be a Bible scholar or literary expert to see there are two intermingled stories here. In 6:19-20 Noah is commanded to take two of every animal. In 7:1-3, Noah is commanded to take seven of every clean animal and two of every unclean animal.
One version is called the J version) is 6:5-8; 7.1-5,7-10,12,16b-17, 22-23; 8:2b-3a,6-12,13b, 20-22). The other version is the P version and is 6.9-22;7.6, 11,13-16a,18-21,24: 8.1-2a,3b-5,13a,14-19;9.1-17. (If you are wondering about the a and b designations, that means the first or second part of the verse. The verses and chapters are later additions to the text, which is why some verses are split between the two stories.)
It is an interesting exercise to separate the two stores and read them separately. If you do, you will see that in the J version, Noah takes seven clean animals because he will sacrifice some of them. The P version has no sacrifice.
If you read 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings (which all go together to tell one story) and then if you read 1 and 2 Chronicles (which also are tell one story) you will find they both basically tell the same story but they tell it with some differences. Each telling of the story reflects a different perspective.
One last example. In Ezra 9 -10 marriages between the people of Israel and people from other nations is prohibited. But we also have the Book of Ruth which celebrates a mixed marriage. In fact one of the descendants of this marriage between Ruth from Moab and Boaz is King David! So are mixed marriages prohibited or not?
These are all examples of the Bible being in conversation with itself. And this is where as modern people we need to not cling too tightly to our modern concern about facts and what actually happened. A better question for us to ponder is, why did the authors and compilers of the Bible keep these discrepancies in the final text? What do we learn from these different stories?
There isn’t a simple answer to that question. These various stories require us to interact with the entire Bible, think about the original audience and think about what faithful people from our times to ancient times have thought about all this. Conversation. Actually many conversations. We don’t need to be afraid of discrepancies and contradictions. They are there for a reason.