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Question:

"How can you trust what the Bible says? It is thousands of years old, and it is full of inaccuracies and contradictions!"

Answer:

When people say that there are errors or contradictions in the Bible, it is reasonable to ask if they have prayerfully, honestly, thoroughly, and objectively studied the passages in question in order to find out what God really meant in those passages. Here's why:

  • The reason for prayerfully studying the Bible is because only God knows the exact meaning of what is written in Scripture. It is important that we ask God to help us see the truth in the Bible, which means that we need to know how to hear what He says to us (for help in this area, I invite you to see my article called How to Hear the Voice of God).
  • The reason for honestly studying the Bible is because people sometimes want to find errors and contradictions, so they don't search very hard for the real truth. It is important for us to be honest with ourselves (and with God) when we study Scripture because human nature sometimes causes people to twist the meanings of certain passages (whether knowingly or unknowingly) in their zeal to find errors or contradictions in the Bible.
  • The reason for thoroughly studying a particular topic in the Bible is because it is easy to misinterpret individual passages if we don't properly fit them into the full teaching of the Bible on that topic. For a more detailed explanation of why it is important to be thorough when studying the Bible, I invite you to see my article called Are You Sure You Believe what the Bible Says?.
  • The reason for objectively studying the Bible is because we are all human, and it is very easy for our emotions, our fallible human logic, and our preconceived biases and opinions to affect our understanding of what we read in Scripture. Our emotional reactions, our "logical" thoughts, and our biases often cause us to miss the true meaning of what God said.

There's another important point which needs to be considered as well. The apostle Paul said that non-Christians do not have God's Spirit living in their hearts, and therefore they are not able to properly interpret Scripture:
"We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:12-14)
What this means is that in many cases non-Christians are not going to be able to discern the true meaning of Scripture because God's Spirit is not living in their hearts to give them a revelation of the truth. Therefore, it is only natural that non-Christians will form some wrong conclusions about what they see in the Bible. Non-Christians might say that they are perfectly capable of reading words on a page and understanding the meanings of those words, which is true to a degree. However, consider that we can all read the works of Shakespeare and understand most of the words, but how many of us actually catch the subtle nuances and the deeper meanings that literature professors see in Shakespeare's poetry? Most of us don't really "get" poetry, and we totally miss the deeper thoughts and emotions that the poets were trying to convey (did you ever have to study poetry in school? How well did you do? See my point?). Since we often miss the deeper meanings in poems which were written by people who are human like us, it is easy to understand why we might often miss the deeper meanings in a book which was written through the direct inspiration of God. Notice that God specifically says that His ways are higher than our ways, and that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts:
"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone--while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7)

""For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts"" (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God's ways are far beyond our limited human ways, and His thoughts are far beyond our limited human understanding. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we don't fully understand all of God's meanings, His motives, His ways, His methods, His actions, His words, His commands, His love, His wrath, His plans, His purposes, His reasons, and so on. This is true for Christians (who have God's Spirit living inside of them), because learning about God and drawing into a closer relationship with Him is a life-long process. This is also true for non-Christians, because we have seen that they don't have God's Spirit in their hearts to give them a revelation of the truths in the Bible. Therefore, it is only natural that non-Christians will sometimes think that they see "errors" and "contradictions" in the Bible.

So how do we deal with alleged contradictions? When Bible passages seem to contradict each other, it is important to study the context in which those passages appear, and also to study them in relation to all of the other passages in the Bible which have a bearing on that topic. There is an important principle of Bible interpretation which is summed up in the phrase: "Scripture interprets Scripture." This means that any difficult or apparently contradictory passages should be interpreted in light of clearer passages elsewhere in the Bible, when possible. For example, if a passage seems to be symbolic then we should try to find out if those same symbols are explained elsewhere in Scripture. When we study the entire teaching of the Bible on a particular subject, in context and with a good understanding of the culture and the background involved, it turns out that there are legitimate answers to the alleged errors or contradictions. For more on why we need to study the full teaching in the Bible for a particular topic, I invite you to see my article called Are You Sure You Believe what the Bible Says?.

It is also important to understand that there are many different literary styles in the Bible. There are poems, songs, histories, letters, genealogies, parables, prophecies, symbols, types, foreshadowings, allegories, and so on, and these styles must be taken into account when seeking to understand Scripture. For example, people sometimes accuse the Bible of contradicting our modern scientific understanding of the physical universe, but usually it's because they have taken a passage of poetic imagery and tried to interpret it as a scientific statement. Phrases such as "the windows [or the floodgates] of heaven" (Malachi 3:10) are not intended to be scientific statements, they are simply visual or poetic images. In fact, we sometimes hear modern astronomers and other scientists referring to "the vault (or the dome) of the heavens" (for example, do a Find on "vault" at Heavens Above Offsite Link  or The Discovery of the Stars Offsite Link ), yet we don't accuse those scientists of having a faulty understanding of the universe! In the same way, it is unreasonable to accuse the Bible of being scientifically inaccurate when it uses the same types of visual or poetic imagery that modern scientists sometimes use. These double standards show that we are not trying to be honest and objective in our approach to the Bible.

For further study, here are a couple of websites which offer answers to many alleged contradictions in the Bible:
Now let's look at some examples of other ancient books and compare them to the Bible. Thucydides wrote a book on history in 431 B.C. (see The History of the Peloponnesian War Offsite Link ). There are 8 manuscript copies (i.e. handwritten copies) of this book in existence, and the oldest copy in existence was made 1300 years after the original was written. Aristotle wrote his poetics in 350 B.C. (see Poetics Offsite Link ). There are only 5 manuscript copies of this in existence, and the oldest existing copy was made 1400 years after the original was written. Julius Caesar wrote a history of the Gallic wars between 58 and 50 B.C. (see Julius Caesar's War Commentaries Offsite Link ). There are about 10 manuscript copies of this book in existence, and the oldest existing copy was made over 1000 years after his death. Even though we only have a few manuscript copies of these and other classics, and even though these copies were made over a thousand years after the originals were written, no classical scholar would dispute the authenticity and reliability of these documents. Now compare that with the 22,000 or more copies of New Testament manuscripts that are in existence today, some of which were made only about 300 years or earlier after the originals. What this shows is that the New Testament has much, much more manuscript authority than any piece of classical literature in existence! Homer's Iliad has 643 manuscript copies in existence, which puts it in a distant second-place. Discoveries of early papyrus manuscripts have continued to confirm the accuracy of the copies of the Old and New Testaments that we use today. For more information on how the text of the Bible has been preserved throughout the millennia (and why there are minor differences between various Bible translations), I invite you to see my article called Is the NIV Bloodless and Corrupt?.

The science of archeology has also proven over and over that the people, places, and events in the Bible actually existed or happened the way the Bible says they did. There has never been an archeological discovery that has contradicted anything in the Bible! If you want to study the archeological evidence further, a good place to start is Archaeology and the Bible Offsite Link .

Scholars use certain scientific tests to determine the historical reliability and trustworthiness of ancient non-Christian literature, but people sometimes want to use different tests when it comes to the Bible. This is another double standard, and this is why I said earlier that we need to be honest and objective in our approach to the Bible. When the same scientific tests for ancient literature are applied to the Bible, they confirm that the Bible is historically reliable and trustworthy.

Here are a couple of good books for further study on these issues:
  • He Walked Among Us: Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, chapter 6
  • Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell, chapter 4

I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 06/15/2002 - Added a lot of new information, added a link to my article called "How to Hear the Voice of God," added links to websites which demonstrate that scientists sometimes use poetic imagery, and added a link to a website called "Archeology and the Bible." Also recently added links to some websites which give solutions to many alleged Bible contradictions, added links concerning the writings of Thucydides, Aristotle, and Julius Caesar, and added links to my articles called "Where Did Your Beliefs Come From?" and "Why Do You Use The Bloodless NIV?"