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How to handle alleged contradictions in the Bible?

How do we know the Bible is God’s word? Confronting Disconfirmations Part 3.

Key to the inductive argument for the inspiration of the Bible is managing an internal challenge to its reliability, namely, what to do with the apparent contradictions within the text.

The idea is that when reading different passages side-by-side of the same event, some discrepancies in the narratives arise. One example is the differences in the genealogies of Jesus. A common example is the number of angels at the empty tomb of Jesus – were there two (Luke 24:1-10) or was there one (Matthew 28:1-8)?

One way to handle these is to seek to explain them away, and show that these are truely only apparent, and not actual contradictions. For instance, the account in Luke does not say there was only one angel. Where there are two there is at least one.

Normal Geisler and Thomas Howe provide the following guidelines for handling difficult passages:

  1. Be sure you know what the text says
  2. Be sure you know what the text means
  3. Don’t confuse error with imprecision
  4. Don’t confuse falsity with perspective
  5. Language about the world is everyday language
  6. Remember that the Bible records things that it does not approve of

If different accounts of the same event are too similar, critics would accuse them of copying each other. So the differences in each gospel are actually an assurance that the accounts are independent.

Another method of handling these difficult passages is to explain them in terms of literary devices common to the genre of ancient biography. This is the approach championed of Mike Licona.

Examples of such devices are; Contraction of time, simplification, reordering the chronological order to a thematic order, rounding numbers.

Another way to handle the alleged contradictions is to not handle them. Rather, accept that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and we simply can’t know this side of heaven what really went on.

A combination of both approaches can be useful. Two arrows in a quiver is better than one. Not leaning on reconciliations of the text when they are strained or have the appearance of fabricating a narrative to accomodate a doctrine of inerrancy, and neither leaning on literary devices where there is little to no evidence such a device was commonplace in the genre. If neither of these options are satisfactory, then there is always the third option.


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