Dealing with claims of Bible ‘contradiction’
Published: 2 June 2012 (GMT+10)
Skeptics come up with Bible contradiction claims all the time—from the superficially plausible to the supremely preposterous. How do we deal with them? CMI’s Lita Cosner and Jonathan Sarfati give us some principles to help us realize that the skeptics do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. The third response explains what the Bible means by “God is light”.
Isaac P. from Australia writes in response to article Errors in the Bible?:
I was having a discussion on Facebook with an atheist friend and he brought up a link with claimed Biblical contradictions in it. I searched Biblical contradictions on here but I was having some difficulty finding refutations for these contradictions. Please can you direct me to the right article/s or provide me with a refutation of the link. This is the link: [Weblink removed as per feedback rules—Ed.] Thank you and God Bless, Isaac P.
CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:
As we said in the link, we don’t get into specifically refuting every single supposed ‘contradiction’ atheists can think of, because that would be very time-consuming, and there are other resources that cover these things. I presume you’ve searched creation.com for the Creation and Flood issues; they’re all covered on our site and you should be able to find them easily on our Q&A pages.
Some general principles that should help you with most of these supposed contradictions:
- If someone says there is a contradiction within a small section of one book of Scripture, it’s probably a matter of misinterpretation, because people have been reading these books for thousands of years, and haven’t had a problem with it.
- Choosing to give different details isn’t a contradiction, assuming the details don’t make the stories mutually exclusive.
- A word can have different meanings in different contexts. Take his ‘righteous’ contradiction, where Romans 3:10 supposedly contradicts all the places where people are called righteous. While everyone sins and is not ‘righteous’ absolutely, people can be called righteous to the extent that they believe God and live accordingly—which is why the various people in that list were called righteous.
- Sometimes the contradiction only appears because of a less than clear translation. For instance, in Matthew 28:2, a better translation is “an earthquake had occurred”—i.e., before the women got there. So there is no contradiction. In both accounts, the stone is rolled away by the time the women get there.
- So many of these contradictions are a matter of poor reading comprehension on the part of the compiler, compounded by the bad decision to use an older translation. For instance, the supposed contradiction in Genesis 37: “Midianites” and “Ishmaelites” are obviously being used in a synonymous fashion to refer to the people that Joseph is sold to, and his brothers are the ones doing the selling to them. The Midianites/Ishmaelites took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar.
So many of these contradictions are a matter of poor reading comprehension on the part of the compiler, compounded by the bad decision to use an older translation.
If there is a specific contradiction that you are having particular problems with and you cannot find a solution on your own, I would be happy to help you further.
Timothy F. from Singapore writes in response to article Understanding the Hebrew Bible: season and pi :
Dear CMI/Jonathan Sarfati,
I refer to my earlier comment that I sent a few minutes ago. What I meant to say was that “one of the CONVERGENTS OF the continued fraction EXPANSION for Pi can be calculated by using both the 1 Kings 7:23 and the 2 Chronicles 4:2 verses”, not “one of the continued fractions for Pi can be calculated by using both the 1 Kings 7:23 and the 2 Chronicles 4:2 verses”. Sorry for the error and please note this correction. Thanks very much.
CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds:
Dear Mr F.
Thank you for your comments.
Mr Grigg, the author of the linked article, was perfectly aware of this rabbinic argument (gematria) when he wrote the article. For some background, Mr Grigg was responding to an argument in the anti-creationist book by the atheist Ian Plimer. He gave alleged pi=3 as ‘proof’ that the Bible is wrong, and also summarised the same mathematical analysis of the 18th century Rabbi Elijah of Vilna or the Gaon of Vilna. The Gaon even introduced a correction factor to overcome the small discrepancy. Now Plimer is notoriously unreliable (see Plimer Files), and here he claimed that Vilna is in Poland when it’s in Lithuania, and seemed to be unaware that pi is an irrational number, so I don’t take his word for things. But at least this shows that the rabbinic calculation is not news to us.
But Mr Grigg rightly preferred to seek an explanation in the actual God-inspired words of the Bible rather than uninspired mathematical speculations about the letters (yes, the letters are inspired according to Mt. 5:18, but this doesn’t entail that every mathematical analysis is inspired). And the plain text says 30 and 10, and this is what must be explained. I think Mr Grigg did an excellent job of presenting a number of plausible solutions, demonstrating that the atheopath’s case is completely without merit.
Another useful article is Hidden messages in Scripture?
What does “God is light” mean?
Flickr: Paul Willows
Chandrasekaran M. from Australia writes:
With regard to your article, ‘Light, life and the glory of God’, http://creation.com/light-life-and-the-glory-of-god, the statement that caught my attention in the article is “The examples given above of light without the sun in the Bible show that we can confidently say that God Himself provided the source of the Day 1 light.”
Now, Gen 1:11 says “Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation’”, and Gen 1:12 says “The earth brought forth vegetation”. By implication, there was no vegetation on earth before God said “Let the earth sprout vegetation”.
Now, if God Himself was the source of the light, by implication, God added to Himself what He did not have before He said, “Let there be light”. If this were to be true, by implication, God is not simple in the sense that He is now composite: made up of components. This is contrary to some of CMI articles.
So I am bit puzzled about the meaning of the statement that caught my attention in the article. Could you clarify the statement, please?
‘God is light’ is a profound metaphor involving many aspects of light.
Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds:
Dear Chandrasekaran M.
Thank you for your comments.
This meaning of “light” in Genesis 1:3 is clearly part of the creation not the Creator, since God said “let there be light”. So the statement “God is light” is not referring to this sort of light, or electromagnetic energy.
The Creator and Creation are distinct as you know (cf. Romans 1:25).
Rather, “God is light” is a profound metaphor involving many aspects of light. Literal light drives out literal darkness, and the light that is God drives out spiritual darkness, because in Him there is no darkness (evil) at all. Literal light shows the literal way, and God as light provides the revelation for the correct way to think and live, so we can “walk in the light”. Light is also a symbol for salvation, and Isaiah 43:11 reveals that there is no saviour but the Lord God. Here is one commentary on the passage http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/1John/Character-God
I have a question.. If both Adam and Eve are, or should I say were, perfect, then why did they rebel? The definition of perfect is "without flaw" so, being susceptible to manipulation is definitely a flaw right? How do you explain that?
For the purposes of this discussion, I think the definition "exactly fitting the need for a certain purpose" is the best description of Adam and Eve. They weren't "beyond practical or theoretical improvement" or "excellent or complete beyond any theoretical improvement"; only God really fits those two definitions. So Adam and Eve were perfect in that they were exactly suited to fulfill the purpose for which God created them. God created Adam and Eve to be stewards of His creation, and to have a relationship with Him.
Part of what allowed Adam and Eve to have a relationship with God was their ability to freely choose to obey Him. This would have enabled them to joyfully carry out His commands out of their love for Him. But the other side of the coin was that they had to be able to freely choose to disobey Him. God evidently preferred rebels with a choice than automata who would always obey.
The first of the five points listed by Lita Cosner is particularly useful. Most skeptics point to a single verse or portion of a verse, and come out with something like “There it is! You can’t explain that!” Of course, you can because it’s already been explained by apologists, sometimes going back to the earliest years of the church. That first point covers most of the objections most Christians will hear. All five are good, but number one is almost universal. Excellent article.
In responding to Isaac, you mentioned Romans 3:10. I have a question for you because I cannot answer it for myself. The NKJV reads, "As it is written, there is none righteous". Problem is I cannot find where it is written. It is not in Psalm 14 or 53, nor Eccl 7:20. Certainly the intent is there, that there is none [perfectly] righteous, but the phrase "it is written" is usually only permitted when it precedes a direct quotation from the Tanakh. I have also researched Jewish versions but to no avail. Do you have a solution to this conundrum? Many thanks.
Thanks for writing in. In this passage, Paul is quoting from the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, but in the case of these particular Scriptures, they're very close to the Hebrew as well. There are several theories about where verse 10 comes from—the one I personally prefer is that Paul is rephrasing Psalm 14:3 (LXX 13:1) and replaces "who does good" with "righteous" to fit with the particular emphases of his letter.
This may raise a few questions—many people wonder if the LXX can be inspired because it's a translation of the Hebrew Scripture. The obvious answer in this case is that where it's quoted as inspired Scripture by Paul, it becomes part of the New Testament Scriptures. More generally, the LXX would fall in the same category as other translations—it is authoritative to the extent that it accurately conveys the meaning of the original.
And was Paul careless if he did purposely change a word in his quotation of the LXX? Well, not really, because the ancients had different ways of using texts than we do. There was a certain flexibility in how they would quote the text. They couldn't totally reinvent it, but these sorts of changes that are in line with the spirit of the text, were actually a mark of a skilled interpreter.
I hope these thoughts are helpful.
When I started studying the Bible several years ago, I took it upon myself to leave all my preconceived ideas and notions at the door. Not doing so only complicates and confuses anyone. I then used the Bible as the only authoritative reference when reading and comparing other material. It's the only way to study the Bible to find the truth. This has worked for me and it will work for anyone else. Therefore, I strongly recommend anyone who wants to study the Bible seriously do the same.