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ADD TO YOUR LEARNING - The Philippine Teaching Ministry
The Philippine Teaching Ministry ADD TO YOUR LEARNING

RESOLVING BIBLE CONTRADICTIONS

By Rolan Monje, Oct 2003

Introduction

If you're like me, you probably have come across verses that don't jive with each other. Sometimes, the questions that arise are simple enough to answer by ourselves. At other times, the questions demand further research. But whether resolving takes a short or long time, the fulfillment after is worth the effort. This article is an introduction to the methods of reconciling "contradictory" Bible passages. To start with, here are some important points to consider when resolving Bible contradictions:

1. Since the Bible is a reliable book, we must understand that contradictions and alleged discrepancies arise because of human limitations.

2. No one is alone in figuring out Bible passages. The Bible was meant to be studied individually and also along with others.

3. Only prayer and careful study successfully clears away contradictions and helps build greater faith in God.

4. We may at times need to accept that we cannot find an exact solution that can satisfy us, especially in trivial issues of Scripture.

5. Many "serious" contradictions for the average person are not truly grave to the deeper Bible student.

6. It is not necessarily wrong for disciples to have different views about Bible passages, provided that these views do not go against the basic (saving) gospel.

7. Once Bible contradictions are resolved, it is still important for the reader to learn to apply certain Bible texts in daily life.

Because of these points, a helpful attitude to have is to believe that there is a solution even if you have not found it yet. Each Christian should find a healthy balance between analyzing the Scriptures (Acts 17:11-12) and accepting that certain things will be known only to God (Dt 29:29).

Fortunately, most textual (Bible) problems fall into certain categories. Some are solved by understanding historical background, some through ancient idiomatic expressions. Some involve the choice of words used in translation. Some involve variances in original manuscripts. Some require a combination of methods. So while a textual problem may seem unique, there are always similar problems that have been solved by careful study. Thus, many more contradictions are explained using the ways problems are solved in the past.

Basic Outline

Basic analysis of textual problems has four parts:

1. Definition of the problem - This is where you state the problem briefly, then try to breakdown the problem. You must try to think of why the problem arose in the first place. Try to specify the contradiction so that you have an idea about how it will be resolved. Is the problem an issue of names, places, numbers, or terminology? Could it be about a figure of speech? Could it have to do with traditional interpretation? Many times, the further steps can be determined at this point.

2. Contextual understanding - In this crucial portion, you study the passages closely, as well as the surrounding verses. Determine the purpose of the book, chapter, and passage. Try to understand what is going on and a feel of what the author is trying to say. Some things worth noting are the following:

a. History - Each book of the Bible has a history behind it. Passages can be misused when the intended hearers or intended meaning of a passage are not considered. Arriving at what a passage was intended to mean in history ("then and there") is called exegesis. This must be done before hermeneutics, the application for the "here and now".

b. Semantics - Each word in the Bible was used by the author for a reason. Even if translations are a secondary means of "reading" the text, the choice of words is still important. In this way, the way a word is used lends meaning to the sentence the word is in. Likewise, the way a sentence is worded lends meaning to the individual words within that sentence. Certain problems can be resolved by considering individual words.

c. Common sense - Each Bible author/scribe wrote to makes sense of words. Thus, we must be careful not to put outrageous meanings into a text. Many times, the immediate context plus the flow of a passage already clarifies important matters. Some problems quickly disappear when common sense is taken into account.

3. Extra-textual study - Find and connect other Bible passages that can shed light on the problem. Theme parallels and quotes in the Bible are very common. This cross-referencing exercise is useful even for daily Bible study.

4. Summary-solution - Combine all that you got from #2 and #3. Place your findings in complete summary sentences.

As a disciple practices these steps, apparent contradictions disappear. Note that the main thrust of each solution is determining the context. I have placed some examples where certain Greek and Hebrew words are discussed, but it is only because this is necessary for arriving at the context. Most of the time, the immediate context of the passages shed much light on the problem that further reference to Greek and Hebrew may not be necessary anymore. Plus, there are numerous verses in other parts of the Bible which, when carefully considered, relate clearly to the problem at hand. This does not belittle the need for understanding the text in the original languages, but it emphasizes the need for understanding Biblical context before anything else.

© 2004-2008 Rolan Monje. All Rights Reserved.