Tag Archives: Bible contradictions

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason: Refuting Alleged Bible Contradictions, Jason Lisle.  Green Forest: Master Books, 2017.  Softcover, 254 pages.

Spend any time discussing Christianity with unbelievers and eventually you’ll hear how the Bible is unbelievable because of its countless contradictions.  I’ve noticed that even ex-Reformed unbelievers will trot out this claim.  Unbelievers will Google “Bible contradictions” and they’ll come up with lists and lists of them.  They’ll bombard you with them and expect you’ll have no way to respond.  More than likely, you’ll feel overwhelmed at the volume of unbelieving fire that seems to be raining down on you.

Jason Lisle’s Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason is the resource you need for moments like that.  Lisle has catalogued 420 supposed Bible contradictions.  He puts them into six categories:

  • Quantitative Differences
  • Names, Places, and Genealogies
  • Timing of Events
  • Cause and Effect
  • Differences in Details
  • Yes or No?

Dr. Lisle also helpfully points out the mistaken reasoning used by Bible critics.  At the beginning of the book he outlines some common fallacies.  With most of the contradictions he’ll then indicate which fallacy is being used. 

Here’s an example from the fifth category (Differences in Details):

Was Jonah swallowed by a fish or a whale?  Jonah 1:17 says fish, but Matthew 12:40 says whale. 

Semantic anachronism fallacy.  The Linnaean classification system by which whales are classified as “mammals” and not as “fish” was not invented until the 1700s.  So, obviously the Bible isn’t going to use that system.

The Greek word translated as “whale in Matthew 12:40 in the KJV is ketos, which includes both whales and large fish.  Likewise, the Hebrew word for “fish” in Jonah 1:17 is dag and is not exactly the same as our modern Linnaean category.  So, there is no inconsistency in the original Hebrew and Greek languages.  (p.162)

Like this one, some of the “contradictions” only need a short response, while others span over several pages.

Since this book spans so much biblical interpretation, there are a few places at which I differ from Dr. Lisle.  Most of those instances remain within the pale of orthodoxy.  The only exception might be Lisle’s apparent concession that baptism could validly be done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit OR in the name of Jesus (p.108).  However, I didn’t detect anything else that might contradict what Reformed believers confess.  This is happily different from at least one other book of this genre:  Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.

Keeping Faith in Age of Reason helpfully concludes with an explanation for how only the Christian worldview can provide the necessary foundations for the law of non-contradiction.  Unbelievers can’t justify their concerns about contradictions from within their own worldview.  Therefore, in order to argue against Christianity, they have to steal from the Christian worldview – thus illustrating how unsound their reasoning really is.

Perhaps a young person you know could benefit from this book, especially if they’re in an environment where the Christian faith is always under attack.  Bible teachers would be well-served by it too – maybe do a unit on alleged Bible contradictions and use Lisle as a text.  Whoever uses it will find their confidence in the trustworthiness of God’s Word bolstered.  You’ll soon find Jason Lisle’s words verified:

The critic did not perform a fair and objective analysis of the text.  Rather, he relentlessly pulled the verses out of context, drawing unwarranted and incorrect inferences.  Clearly, the critic is not interested in the truth.  He has an ax to grind.  He doesn’t like the Bible.  And he is not above distorting the text of Scripture in an attempt to persuade others that the problem is in the text.  But this really shows that the problem lies with the critic.  (p.241)


Are Christians Perfect? Yes…and No

Atheists and agnostics love to discredit God’s Word by trotting out Bible contradictions.  You can easily find lists of them online.  We shouldn’t be afraid of these “contradictions.”  The vast majority of them have simple explanations which easily defang them.  Let’s briefly look at one of these alleged contradictions.  It involves these two passages: 

Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” 

Hebrews 10:14, “For by a single offering he [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” 

Do you see the issue? 

In Philippians 3:12, Paul writes that he is not yet perfect.  But Hebrews 10:14 says that all Christians have already been made perfect.  So which is it?

At times referring to the original Greek will help.  Sometimes the same English word might be used to translate two different Greek words.  Those two different words might have some degree of nuance in meaning.  But that’s not the case here.  In this instance, the Greek words are exactly the same — even the tense is the same.  They’re both the perfect tense of the verb teleioo.

Context is always crucial in biblical interpretation.  It’s easy for atheists and agnostics to lift a Bible verse out of its context and then misconstrue it as being in contradiction with some other passage.  As the old saying goes, “A text without context is a pretext.”    

If we look at the context of Phil. 3:12, Paul is writing about his life as a Christian.  In verse 10 he mentions sharing in the sufferings of Christ and becoming like him.  In verse 13, he writes about forgetting what’s in the past and “straining forward to what lies ahead.”  This is about the life of a Christian.  It involves a process of change.                   

The context of Heb. 10:14 is quite different.  The author of Hebrews is writing about the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ and what it has accomplished.  In verse 11, he points back to the Jewish priests who offered continuous sacrifices “which can never take away sins.”  But Christ, with his single offering, has made a sacrifice which did take away sins.  The author of Hebrews is writing about what Christ has definitively done for our salvation.

In other words, we’re not faced with an “either…or” between Phil. 3:12 and Heb. 10:14.  There’s no contradiction.  Instead, it’s a case of “both…and.”  It depends on your point of view.  From the point of view of sanctification (the process of growing in holiness), we are far from perfect.  There is much remaining sin in our lives and Christians can therefore be properly described as “wretched sinners” – as the Heidelberg Catechism does in Lord’s Day 51.  But from the point of view of our standing before God because of what Christ has done – from the point of our justification – we have been perfected.  In God’s sight, because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, we stand completely righteous. 

So, to summarize, Phil. 3:12 is speaking from the viewpoint of sanctification while Heb. 10:14 is speaking from the viewpoint of justification.  There’s certainly no contradiction between these passages.  Since our Lord Jesus said that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) we can be confident that the Bible will never contradict itself.