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Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 2)

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 2).  I will not be wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.

Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.

In talking about a writing like the Bible on the topic of contradictions, we must deal with the claim of internal contradictions.  If there are actual significant internal contradictions it would seem a bit illogical to put our trust in the God it promotes.  If someone writes that Jesus wore a navy outfit while another reports that he wore a black outfit, this hardly seems to be reason enough to toss out the whole record, especially if His outfit has little bearing on the overall theme and intended message of the author.  However, if one reported He rode to town on a donkey and another said He skipped town on a mountain lion, well, that’s tough to reconcile.

One key hermeneutical rule when reading anything from any age is to pay close attention to when the writing was produced.  It matters more with some readings than others.  The reason we do this is to make sure we are aware of the nuances that exist or are prevalent in one age that do not exist or are not prevalent in another.  For example, it is likely that ancient writers felt less constricted in their historical writing to exactness than modern writers of history.  Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli say it best in Handbook of Christian Apologetics when they say, “we must not impose our modern standards of accuracy on material that was never intended to have it.”[1]

So, there are a few basic types of claims of internal contradiction within the Bible.  There are claims that certain numbers such as army size are contradictory and that there are some quotes that are varied in different accounts.  There are claims that some terms contradict themselves.  There are some who are especially bothered by contradictory sequences of events.  Finally, there are concepts that seem to contradict one another.  We will look at the first two of these in this blog entry.

Wayne Grudem, in Scripture and Truth, talks about the difference between trustworthiness and precision.[2]  In modern culture we look for precision.  However, I would contend that we also allow for less precision than we think, especially when we consider what I am calling genre.  Grudem gives an example that goes something like this.  If I say that my home is not far from my work I’m making a bit of a subjective statement, for what is far for one is not far for another.  At what point does my statement become untrue?  It certainly seems there is a line, for if I have to cross an ocean to get to my office it’s tough to say I was being truthful in my statement.  So it seems that the spectrum goes something like precise, trustworthy, and untrue.  Kreeft’s claim, then, is that when different writers use slightly different numbers for people groups and army numbers, they were easily in the realm of trustworthiness.  In fact, he points out that it was also normal for ancient writers to take liberty with actual numbers and insert symbolic numbers instead.  They did this not only in scripture, but in other works of antiquity as well.[3]  Just like we still do today, ancient authors made estimates.

So, here is our first example of something being true and untrue at the same time.  Is it true if the President reports in a press release that he sent 2,000 troops into a war zone?  (Insert sarcasm!)  Yes.  What if the mathematical number he reported in an official document was actually 1,999?  My contention is that he’s being truthful and contradictory at the same time.  He’s truthful in a conversational genre and contradictory in a scientific/mathematical genre.  Overall, he has been trustworthy in his reporting of the number of troops sent.  So it is also in scripture.

Grudem goes on to talk about trustworthiness and precision when dealing with quotes and paraphrases in scripture.  So long as they don’t alter the meaning too much, people in antiquity, like people today, regarded paraphrases to be true.[4]  Even still, he’s willing to admit that, “The Bible contains statements that lack technical precision.”[5]  However, in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, D.A. Carson concurs that this lack of precision does not automatically equate to a contradiction.  In fact, he actually served as a bit of a catalyst for my thesis when he said:

 

Signals as to degree of precision to be expected, like signals as to genre, are often subtle things.[6]

 

He’s indicating here that while it may sometimes be difficult, we have to pay attention to the kinds of clues we’re getting from the writing as to which genre it belongs.  I’m contending that we have to do the same when we’re trying to analyze whether or not a statement is true or contradictory.  The questions become, “Which conversational genre is the author intending?” and “Is the contradiction within the intended genre or outside of it?”  If it’s outside of it, though it may be contradictory to that genre, it is not untrustworthy or in error since it does not violate the intended genre’s truthfulness.

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[1] Kreeft p. 216

[2] Carson p. 51

[3] Kreeft p. 215-216

[4] Carson p. 51

[5] Carson p. 52

[6] Carson p. 52

 

Brian Bram December 28, 2012 1 Comment Permalink

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 1)

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be the bomb! Saying the bomb is already out, isn’t it?]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 1). As usual, I talk on the side of my face.

There is a great gap that must be crossed when looking at works of antiquity, not least the Bible. That gap is the result of thousands of years of separation that can only be filled by good hermeneutics. While there are a good number of objections to Christianity that largely arise from something other than poor hermeneutics, the idea that Christianity should be rejected because it is contradictory often gets flight due to insufficient interpretive skills and a lack of recognition of the way ancient people communicated. Similar to deciphering complex poetry, a simple once-over reading of scripture that is in some cases 3,000 years old is not sufficient to close the gap.
In this blog series I will not attempt to show that the Bible is inerrant/infallible. That is a much broader topic than this space will allow. However, I will attempt to show that many, if not all claims of contradiction do not stand the test of time, or, are only apparent in nature. Also, I will attempt to show examples of certain types of contradiction that do appear, but that those contradictions do not result in error and have no effect on the inspiration, trustworthiness, or salvific value of scripture.

A few words in preface are in order. First of all, this writing is an odd sort. It’s actually for a final paper in my apologetics class. Yet, it’s also a blog. So, unlike most of my blogs which strive for a certain everyday feel, this series will necessarily be a bit more academic. I’ll insert links for technical terms as much as I can. Also, unlike most of my papers, this one will have a certain relaxed style.
There exist probably thousands of claims to contradiction from the Bible. Obviously, I’m not able to personally investigate each one individually. I will attempt to look at some types that have a weightier significance leaving many behind that have little to no effect on the overall “meaning” of scripture. To state my thesis a second time in a different way, I’m not aware of any actual significant contradiction, internal or external, that would matter enough to leave my Christian faith behind. I invite you into dialogue with me if you have one you’d like to discuss. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I rather enjoy a good friendly conversation.
I’ve mentioned that I don’t intend to take on the enormous topic of inerrancy. Contradictions are just one thing an inerrant Bible would have to be absolutely free of. In fact, it seems to me that scripture would also need to be free of misspellings, incorrect usage and grammar, and such. So, being contradiction free is only one aspect of being inerrant. However, we will inevitably bump into, or likely smash into the topic of inerrancy on our way. Because I’m not taking a stand on inerrancy, but only on contradictions, I may quote authors on both sides of the inerrancy debate. So much the better for a blog that prides itself on diversity of thought.
Finally, I’m going to bend a major rule in hermeneutics just a bit and invent or possibly expand slightly the definition for the word genre, at least as we commonly use it. I’m going to do so because I can’t think of a word I can use instead to establish my theory and communicate it well in just the way I want to. Genre in literature is typically used to talk about what kind of writing one is looking at. We talk about poetry, biography, narrative and so on. Here I’m going to expand that, still within the realm of language form to include such phrases as observational genre, communicational genre, and the genre of scientific language. This will become more clear in future posts. Through this medium I will attempt to show a contradiction or two, ironically enough. I will also attempt to show that something can be true and false at the same time, and that a contradiction does not mean an error, by necessity. I hope you hear me out and view the entire series.
At this point, my professor gets to keep on reading. You, however, will have to wait until the next post on the topic of internal contradictions.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram December 14, 2012 6 Comments Permalink