Is your Bible full of holes?
Of all the questions I recieved last week for my answer bag, there was one question I couldn’t answer, simply because it would take more than six words to do so. So I’m answering it now.
The question was: how do I deal with the so called “inconsistencies” in the Bible?
I sweep them under the rug and preach about feel-good Bible fables with lofty morals that make people want to “sort of” raise their hands during the final song, put more money in the offering, and not ask questions, that’s how.
Okay not really. But in general, people don’t ask enough questions like these. They think the only way to be a Christian is to have “child like faith” and not ask questions. You won’t break your Bible by asking it questions, even tough questions.
When it comes to people confronting me about “mistakes,” “errors,” or “contradictions” in the Bible, my first response to them is:
Where are the contradictions you’re talking about? I ask that because usually, the person is asking me in broad generalities, because they’re hostile toward me or they don’t know of any “contradictions” themselves. They heard from some hippie friend that there’s a bunch of holes in the Bible and they take this to be true. If you’re out to win a debate, this will buy you time and get you out of “defensive” mode.
(I don’t mean to suggest that the reader who inspired this post falls into this category. She asked me a brief question in the interest of time, and it was honest, and that’s why I’m answering her. I will admittedly have to answer in generalities too, or this blog would take forever.)
I also ask “where” because people today are also notorious for thinking things are in the Bible that really aren’t. No point in debating a Bible verse that we can’t find, even if you’re sure it’s in there. If you’ve got some clown spouting all kinds of weird things at your small group, just ask them to back up what they’re saying with scripture. They’ll mumble something and look down at their Birkenstocks because it will dawn on them that they probably are thinking of something they read in a forture cookie. So it’s quite possible that someone thinks there’s some contradiction in the Bible that really isn’t there.
Now, if you’re still with me, and you’ve got some glaring “contradiction,” you might be in one of the gospels, since they’re the only books that are supposed to coincide with one another that anyone cares about.
Think about this: Matthew, Mark and Luke coincide quite a lot, actually. Luke wasn’t a disciple, but he wrote his gospel based on the testimony of a bunch of different people. And he still gets a bunch of it to match up with Matthew, who was actually there at the time. Mark wasn’t a disciple either, and it syncs up too. Ask yourself what differences are there? Are they important to the message? Does Jesus still die and come back? Yeah, I think no one mixed that up. Because unless God physically came down, and wrote the books himself, there will be differences in who saw what.
Besides that, have you ever watched different news stations report the same events with the exact same wording? Never happens. Some of you watch Anderson Cooper. A bunch of you watch Bill O’Reilly. No one watches Keith Olbermann, because he’s terrible and he knows it. Well it’s the same with the gospel writers. Matthew is writing to Jews, so he’s going to emphasize Jewish themes. Luke is writing to Greeks based on others’ testimony, so he’s going to have a different emphasis. Read them all, and you get a pretty clear picture of what happened.
Then there’s John’s gospel. As an aside, apparently a bunch of blockheads get their news from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, thinking he’s to be a realiable source of factual truth. He’s not. He’s there to be funny, which he isn’t. So I don’t know what he does, really.
John’s gospel is not a history book with an accurate timeline. So don’t read John as a history book and don’t watch Jon Stewart as a news reporter, or comedian. John wrote his gospel years after the other guys, and didn’t need to cover the same tracks the others did. He wrote a story with a story structure, so that “you might believe.” Read his book and list out the miracles he mentions. Do they ramp up in a steady, climactic, literary-like fashion? Cool, huh? Sometimes, a little artistic license is okay if it communicates a message clearer. He takes a bunch of real events and rearranges them to make the story better, while including a bunch of true stories the other guys didn’t think were important for their audiences.
Makes you feel better already, doesn’t it? Suddenly, you don’t have to try to pretend John’s story agrees with the others! Now think about all the ways the Bible does agree. It’s pretty awesome that the books of Kings, Chronicles, and Isaiah all converge on the story of Hezekiah. Or how we have four stories about Jesus, written from lots of eyewitness accounts, and they sync up as well as they do.
Think about all the books that didn’t make it into the Bible. There’s a bunch of them. Now, this may alarm you, and make you think the church is hiding lots of juicy secrets about Jesus from you. Know why they didn’t make it into the Bible?
Because those books don’t agree!
The books that didn’t make it are the ones that actually are full of holes, errors, and contradictions. You’ve got a few good books that converge on the Jesus we know. The rest of them are tabloids that have him doing crazy stuff like turning into a giant robot and telling his wife to make him a sandwich; stuff that makes walking on water look normal.
This is the same way they root out translation errors. Sure, every old version of Matthew has some errors in it, but they don’t have the same errors! Rest assured, there’s a bunch of people working to make our translations as good as possible.
There’s my answer. For being very general, I hope it’s a good start for you.
What’s your favorite gospel, or other book of the Bible? Have the “contradictions” bothered you? How have you dealt with it? And hey, I like playing “Bible Answer-Man” once in a while, so if you’ve got a question, fire it off, and I might just talk about it!