Rolan Monje, Oct 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.