Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Alleged Contradiction in Scripture
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 20:13

A question that frequently arises regards the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, KJV). Yet, a short time later, God commands Israel to kill the inhabitants of Canaan, including children. That God would both prohibit and command violence appears to be incongruous. Such an apparent contradiction provokes the conclusion that Old Testament instructions are untrustworthy and that the God of those times was unpredictable.

The truth, though, is that the God who gave these commands is the same One who died for the sins of mankind (cf. I Corinthians 10:1-4). The problem is not with God, but with man's understanding of His nature and intentions.

Notice that this same apparent contradiction is also found in the New Testament. On the one hand, Jesus teaches that murder begins in the heart—that harboring malice or enmity breaks the spirit of the law (Matthew 5:21-22). On the other hand, when Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, He says plainly that if His Kingdom were a worldly one, His servants would fight (John 18:36). They would go to war on His behalf!

It was Israel's responsibility to marshal an army to subjugate the people of the land. This is seen in Numbers 1, which takes place while Israel is still at Sinai about one year later. Numbers 1 records God telling Moses to take a census and determine the number of men who were able to go to war. Fourteen times in that one chapter God repeats the instruction to number the men who were able to “go to war”—even though He had just recently confirmed His promise to fight on their behalf. God would be driving out the inhabitants, but He was also preparing the Israelites to engage the enemy. Clearly, it was still God's intent that Israel do its part within the fight.

In God's view—the only view that matters—the land belonged to Israel. The Canaanites and others were essentially squatters. Because of their right of possession, Israel had the authority—and actually, the duty—to enforce God's laws within the realm that now belonged to them.

Israel was the “governing authority” of the land God gave to them. He intended that the leadership of Israel be a “terror to evil works” (including those of the inhabitants of the land), and He fully intended that Israel “bear the sword” (c.f. Romans 13:1-4). God requires that the civil authority “execute wrath” on those practicing evil—which certainly applied to the pagan peoples of the Promised Land.

In every place and circumstance where God gives Israel the duty to destroy the people of the land, He also mentions the idolatry of the peoples, along with demonism, sorcery, witchcraft, and child sacrifice. God was greatly concerned about the influence these things would have on His people, so He was particular in admonishing them to carry out the penalty of His law thoroughly.

David C. Grabbe
Why Did God Command Israel to Go to War?

Matthew 8:28-34

Jesus stayed in Gadara only for a few hours, but during that time, He came across two demon-possessed men (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-40). Although Matthew's account mentions two men, and Mark and Luke record only one, no contradiction exists between them. The simple explanation is that one of the men, acting as their spokesman, was more prominent and aggressive, and thus more noticeable than the other. Perhaps Matthew, directing his gospel toward Jews, emphasized their number, knowing the legal weight of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15).

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Two Demon-Possessed Men Healed (Part One)

Matthew 20:29-34

Christ's healing of blind Bartimaeus is the only miraculous healing of blindness recorded in at least three of the Gospels (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Although the accounts of the healing of Bartimaeus are similar, they contain a few significant differences. The two major ones concern the place of the miracle and the people in the miracle.

With regard to the place, Matthew and Mark report this healing to have taken place when Jesus left the city of Jericho. However, Luke writes, “Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho” (Luke 18:35). The alleged discrepancy is answered by noting that two Jerichos (a new and an old city) existed at that time, the new Jericho lying about two miles south of old Jericho. Leaving old Jericho would be the same as “coming near [new] Jericho,” as Luke records it.

With regard to the people, Matthew reports two people were healed while Mark and Luke mention only one person. The latter simply focus on the healing of the prominent individual, Bartimaeus (only Mark reports his name), while Matthew reports on both individuals who were healed. This incident is one of two times that Matthew records two people involved in a miracle where the others account for only one. The second is the exorcism in Gardara (Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:27-39; Mark 5:1-20).

Mark provides the fullest detail about Bartimaeus' healing. Jesus, journeying to Jerusalem for the last time with His disciples, led a large procession of people. In less than a week He would give His life as the sacrifice for sins. Although feeling the pressure of the suffering He was about to endure, Jesus' compassion still motivated Him to tend to the needy.

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing Blind Bartimaeus

Luke 9:50

Though Luke 9:50 and Luke 11:23 at first appear to contradict, a more complete reading shows how they are both true

Mark 9:33-41 shows that the context of Luke 9:50 is Christ's and His disciples' arrival at a house in Capernaum, presumably Peter's, where He gathers them together in an intimate and friendly setting. Jesus responds to the statement from John: “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us” (Luke 9:49).

John implies that since the person casting out demons in Christ's name was outside of their fellowship, he should not be trusted or empowered to invoke Christ's name, even if for the performance of a good work. But Jesus corrects John: “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me” (Mark 9:39).

In essence, Jesus cautions John to avoid interfering in the works that others are doing in support of the overall work. There is no good reason to discourage or make enemies out of those who are not working against us, including those whose level of belief and understanding we might judge as lacking. God can and does work with any and all persons as He sees fit, even compelling them to work for us.

The context of Luke 11:23 is expanded in Matthew 12:22-30. As opposed to the cordial environs of Peter's home, Luke 11:23 takes place when Jesus and His disciples are surrounded by a far more challenging crowd, including a hostile contingency of outspoken Pharisees. Having just cast out a demon from a man, Christ responds to the Pharisees' accusation in Luke 11:15: “But some of them said, 'He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.'”

The Pharisees charged Jesus with using the power of Satan, the ruler of demons, to cast out a demon. Beginning in Luke 11:17, He begins to deconstruct the accusation as being preposterous. In essence, He shows how, in the two-sided fight between the Kingdom of God and Satan, neither side can gain—or continue to stand—by assisting the opposition. Since there is no neutral ground between God and Satan, why would Satan help Jesus cast out his demons? By applying simple logic, Christ uses the Pharisees' own words against them, easily concluding, “He that is not with Me is against Me.”

Jesus' words in these two accounts are not at all in conflict. In fact, by combining them, we discover a unique harmony that exists between them. Though there is no neutral ground in our battle with the satanic forces arrayed against us, we should proceed with circumspection when we judge the actions of others, to be sure we understand the spirit that motivates them.

Martin G. Collins
Does Luke 9:50 Contradict Luke 11:23?

2 Timothy 3:16

Is this verse to be taken literally, or as many Bible critics allege, could the inspired Word of God—the Holy Bible—contain discrepancies? Can we find conflicts within the books of the Bible's many authors, or is there a consensus of truth and inspiration that transcends all other written works?

To the nonbeliever, the Bible is full of contradiction and error, but this opinion is predictable, coming from one who lacks the guidance and direction of the sacred book's Divine Author, our great God. But by the same token, the Bible is not an easy book to read and understand (see Acts 8:30-31). Even for the elect of God, there are difficult passages that at first read may seem to conflict with others.

While there are various contributing factors, most alleged biblical discrepancies are likely the result of two factors: 1) spiritual confusion and misunderstanding, and 2) honest misinterpretation.

In light of this, how should Christians deal with these so-called “inconsistencies” of Scripture so as to avoid the dangerous traps that any resulting misconception may produce? How do we ensure that we can provide a “ready answer” (I Peter 3:15) to those who may inquire?

First, consider the most common contributing factors that may confuse and obscure our understanding of the most important Book ever written:

1. There are vast, fundamental contrasts between the cultures and dialects of the modern West and those of the ancient Middle East. These contrasts add a layer of difficulty and uncertainty to prevailing translations from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages.

Consider also that the Bible was written by over thirty different Middle-Eastern authors over a span approaching two thousand years. Some wrote prose, while others wrote poetry. God inspired some to describe visions of the future, while He moved others to write more historical narratives. Some authors, like the apostle Paul, created accounts that even the apostle Peter found nearly impenetrable (II Peter 3:16). Moreover, since languages are constantly evolving, many words tend to change meaning and usage over time, while others virtually disappear from the lexicon altogether.

2. God's truth is often paradoxical (Ecclesiastes 7:15; 8:17; Psalm 73:1-16). While God reveals Himself and His truth in His Word (Daniel 2:22; Job 12:22), He also actively conceals Himself and His truth as well (Proverbs 25:2; Job 36:26). With focused effort, almost anyone can learn about God from the Scriptures, but in His wisdom, He places restrictions on what He allows to be revealed, sometimes masking His truth through the use of parables (Job 11:7; Romans 11:33; II Thessalonians 2:11; Mark 4:11-12, 33-34). Regardless of individual effort, faith, or closeness with God, there are certain mysteries that—by design—remain unexplained for now (Deuteronomy 29:29).

3. Satanic influence and human nature have exploited the inherent biblical complexities to prompt translator bias, transcription error, and even not a few perplexing and confusing translations.

While God inspired Scripture to both reveal and conceal in accordance with His will, Satan, in concert with human nature, has always worked in direct opposition (Romans 8:7; II Corinthians 4:4; Matthew 13:19-22; Ephesians 4:18; II Thessalonians 2:9-10). We should never underestimate our evil adversary's desire to influence the Bible's many translators, “inspiring” transcription inaccuracies, ambiguity, and obscurity wherever possible (II Corinthians 3:14-15; Revelation 12:9; Mark 4:15).

As Christians, we are tasked with gaining a deeper understanding of God through the study of His inspired Scriptures. This requires great faith and personal effort to dig far beyond the superficial meanings of translated words and phrases, and with the aid of divine revelation, to discover the genuine intentions of the divine Author. By recognizing that difficulties do exist, and by anticipating the satanic effort to exploit those difficulties, we can hope to avoid the pitfalls caused by misconception and poor translation (II Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:11).

Martin G. Collins
Does the Bible Contain Discrepancies?


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