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Apparent contradictions in the Bible

How conservative and liberal Christians react

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Handling apparent conflicts in biblical passages:

As usual, conservative and liberal Christians approach apparent discrepancies in the Bible with different preconceptions:

bullet Conservative Christians: They generally believe that the Bible is free of errors because God inspired its authors. Strictly speaking, this only applies to the original (a.k.a. autograph) copies. Conservatives can generally harmonize two or more apparently conflicting passages by using one or more of the following techniques:
  1. Interpreting one of the passages as factual when read literally, and interpreting the other passage symbolically.
  2. Discovering an innovative explanation that harmonizes the two items. Sometimes these seem quite far-fetched and near-impossible; however, they could conceivably have happened.
  3. Suggesting that the disagreement is caused by an ancient copying error was not present in the original autograph copy.
  4. Suggesting that the conflict is caused by a forger who altered the wording of the original text, or removed a section of text, or added his/her own text.
  5. Claiming that a logical explanation exists that will harmonize the apparent conflict. However we may not have discovered it yet. In fact, the human mind may not be sufficiently developed to uncover the actual explanation.

They are usually very reluctant to employ #3 and #4, because both would show that there are errors in our present translations of the Bible. This would naturally lead to suspicions that other passages might also be in error. The accuracy and reliability of the entire Bible could become suspect.

There are many books and web sites that attempt to harmonize pairs of biblical passages which appear to be in conflict. One of the best is "Answering the Atheist." 1

bullet Liberal Christians: They generally view the Bible as as a series of books which demonstrate an evolution in religious and spiritual beliefs over the approximately 1,000 years during which the Bible was written. It was written by authors who promoted their own philosophical, moral, religious and spiritual views. Most liberals note that many of the Hebrew Scriptures are the result of merging many conflicting, earlier documents written by different authors with different viewpoints and recollections. The Pentateuch, for example, was written by four anonymous individuals or groups generally identified as J,E,P, and D, sometimes rewriting religious texts from nearby Pagan cultures. One would expect accounts of events to differ significantly. Wherever the same occurrence is described in separate books -- as in Kings and Chronicles -- one would expect to see many discrepancies.

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Proving biblical errancy:

Internal conflicts in the Bible seem impossible to prove. People have tried for centuries to find the "magic bullet" that will convince everyone that the Bible contains at least one instance where two passages truly conflict. In the author's opinion, none have succeeded.

We have adopted a different technique: taking a broad look at Biblical themes, rather than dealing with individual passages in the hope that indicators of errancy or inerrancy can be found.

If there is an irresolvable biblical conflict that you would like to see covered here, please E-mail us.

Reference used:

  1. William Stewart, "Answering the Atheist," at: http://www.lookinguntojesus.net/

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Copyright 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2011-JAN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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