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?
At the time Paul wrote this, "all scripture is inspired of God, and is profitable" referred to the Old Testament. Paul probably did not know that what he was writing would become Scripture.
At its worst, saying that the law—or any portion of the Bible—is "done away" could be spiritually suicidal. At the very least, it will hinder growth because a person will not be thoroughly furnished to all good works. It is similar in principle to a student attending school who ignores certain selected sections of the textbook on the basis of his own perception of what he needs.
I recall from my own school days expressing the opinion that I could not see why we had to study ancient Greek, Egyptian, or Roman history. I could not see what good I would ever get out of such courses, but others, much older and wiser, insisted that the history we were taught included teaching in these areas. My narrow point of view was that of an immature kid who did not understand what is required to produce a well-rounded citizen of the United States of America.
In a similar manner, but with far greater accuracy and consequences, there is nothing extraneous in God's Word. We are to live by every Word of God (Matthew 4:4). If God is all-wise and all-powerful, if everything that He does is in love, and if He is working out a purpose that is in our best interest (that we might live forever with Him), why would God even give a body of laws—which Jesus said would never pass away until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18), and which Paul wrote is spiritual, holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12)—if God did not intend that its letter and/or spirit should be used for all time? God does nothing without meaning, so the law is included in Scripture for the sake of Christians.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Fifteen)
Paul has just given Timothy a heads up on how he would be able to face the things that would come upon him. Basically, he says, "Ground yourself in the Bible, for out of it will come the strength to do these things." We should not limit it strictly to the words of the Bible, per se, but also to the spirit and inspiration behind them. Obviously, God would be with him if he would do these things, but the constant inspiration and help that he would need would come out of Scripture. By these things he would be able to remind himself of the truth and grow in it. He would be corrected by it, instructed by it, reproved by it. All of these things are necessary to mold the faithful minister. The Bible is where his nose needs to be at all times, so that he has the proper foundation, motivation, inspiration, and resource for everything he does.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
This verse could be updated using synonyms for some of these words: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for teaching, for conviction [something that we know for certain], for correction [or restoration, to get us turned around, healed in mind and spirit], for training in righteousness."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part One)
All Scripture is profitable, but we tend to overlook or maybe even altogether neglect parts of it. Usually, these neglected parts appear in the Old Testament. Often, they are “the begats,” where passage after passage relates who begot whom for many generations, for instance, I Chronicles 1-8; Ezra 2 and 10; Nehemiah 7, 10, and 12. In most peoples' Bibles, those chapters are in mint condition because they have never been read!
However, God through Paul says that the whole Bible is profitable. It is a practical and helpful tool for teachers and students alike. Scripture stands as the standard for testing everything that claims to be true. In that way, it is also our safeguard against false teaching, sounding a warning when we hear it. If we study it diligently, God's Word is a source of guidance in the right path, training us to understand how to live and do Christ's work in this world.
The apostle's words in II Timothy 3:16 tell us that we need all Scripture to function properly—even “the begats”! God put them in the Book for some good reason. By combining Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and experiences in this life, God brings a person to spiritual maturity and holiness.
When “the begats” show up in the New Testament (Matthew 1; Luke 3), as in the Old, we pay scant attention to them. We must often force ourselves to read and study those chapters. But they are there and inspired by God. He made them a part of His Word for our edification. We dare not skip over them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Three Missing Kings (Part One)
It is essential that we look at the Old Testament as a Christian book that was purposely written with the Christian in mind.
It is easy for us to think of the Old Testament as the book of Judaism, and that Christianity's roots are in Judaism. In fact, this idea is readily accepted in the "Christian world," but it is not true—not true in the least, except that there are some shared beliefs. If it were true, its modern corollary would be that Christianity's roots are also in paganism, because some of the concepts that pagans have are also shared with Christianity. That, incidentally, is what one large church has claimed in its writings about the holy days—that they actually derive from paganism.
The truth is that Judaism is a corruption of the religion God gave to Moses. It, too, was syncretic: part pagan, part truth, bound together by their own reasoning. In many places, Jesus corrected and railed against the Sadducees, the scribes, and the Pharisees. He said directly that they had rejected God's commandments in order to keep their own traditions. God's commandments are in the Old Testament; the Jews' traditions are not, and they are what the Jews lived by. Therefore, how can we say that Judaism came out of the Old Testament? God called the people out of Judaism to bring them into Christianity, just as today God is calling people out of a syncretic Christianity in order to bring them into true, biblical Christianity.
If Judaism really were God's religion, why did He not fix it from within? The period between the Testaments—between Malachi and Matthew—covered roughly 400 years in which a great deal took place. The record of Judaism during that time, particularly the history of the high priests, is much like that of the Papacy during the Middle Ages.
True Christianity's roots are in the truth of God—not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New. Judaism, though, rejects the New Testament, claiming the Old Testament as their book exclusively, and that perception is very strong to all. This world's Christianity claims the New Testament as its exclusive domain and virtually—and practically—ignores the Old Testament.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Sixteen)
God's instruction is given so that we are well-supplied with knowledge, understanding, inspiration, and motivation to live actually and practically by faith. Yielding to God's sovereignty is not merely the rationale for divine government. Doctrine means "teaching," and it is by means of these teachings that the great realities of our God and Savior are revealed to us. We are spiritually nourished by doctrine, and as we apply it, growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ occurs.
A couple of easily understood scriptures will help us understand how God's Word and living by faith work together to cause growth. Romans 1:16-17 informs us:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
Add to this Jesus' words in John 6:63: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life."
Jesus is characterized as the living Word of God. At the most basic level, like any book, the Bible is simply a collection of words. However, its words are specifically instructions from our Creator God who is Spirit and inhabits eternity. Because He lives and oversees our lives, the Bible's words are full of dynamic powers, if we believe them and use them. They will guide us to become like the eternal, spiritual God.
It is impossible to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ without His Word in us because we must voluntarily cooperate with God in His purpose in order for Him to do the forming. The forming must be accompanied by our knowing and understanding His will. We must never forget that Jesus says that truth sets free (John 8:32). God's truths set us free—free from ignorance of God and His purpose; free from the power of evil; free from the wiles of Satan; free from human nature.
The doctrine of God's sovereignty is foundational to Christian life because, as we move through a life lived by faith, we must firmly, even absolutely, know where we stand in relation to Him and His purpose, or our human nature will rise up and resist conforming to His will. We must know that He is close, that He is love, that He is wisdom, and that He has power over every situation in our lives. God says through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3:
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
Notice how God's supplying of manna—symbolic of food and therefore implying eating—shows a spiritual need met in the wilderness. God's Word is just as essential to spiritual life as food is to physical life. Just as one must discipline himself to provide and eat physical food, so must one exercise discipline to seek, provide, and ingest spiritual food. If one will not do this, just as physical health will decline without adequate food, an inadequate spiritual diet will lead to spiritual weakness and disease.
God provides the Bible to promote righteous living and to motivate us to subjugate our carnal natures to His will. A major effect of seeking God and grasping His sovereignty, then, is that it promotes humility by means of the admiration and appreciation gained from comparing our puny lives and characters to His.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits
All Scripture is indeed inspired, but we do not necessarily find all Scripture inspiring. There are many reasons for this, but the reality is that we tend to avoid portions of it. For some it might be the long lists of "begats"; for another it might be ancient history; and for a third, prophecy. Some parts of Scripture are more valuable to us at one time than another. However, it is certainly true that all of it is valuable according to our circumstance, and God has made it available when needed if we will tap into it. As He says, we are to live by God's every word.
In an overall sense, the Bible is about government: God's, man's, and the self's. It shows how man rejects God's government through sin; how man's rule over others is abusive; and how man needs to learn to govern himself, or nothing will ever work for the good of all. Yet, it is also a book about faith, hope, love, and deliverance from our desperate circumstances, for each of these is important in how one responds to or uses government.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Timothy 3:16:
2 Timothy 3:16
2 Timothy 3:16-17