In my first year of university a friend challenged me on contradictions in the Bible. He thought there were some, I thought there weren’t. We looked at one of the many lists on the internet and checked a few out. The one that I remember centred on two different uses of the word ‘sword’ by Jesus.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
On first glance it appears that there might be something contradictory here, but read the verses around them and it’s clear that there is no contradiction at all. The word sword is being used in two different ways in meanings that it is perfectly possible to reconcile.
Look down any of the lists you can find online and you’ll see a lot of entries like this. They will present two verses that contain the same word, but where the word is used in completely different contexts.
Another class of contradictions you’ll find on these lists is what you might call “theological differences”. Do we end up in heaven because God has chosen us or because we’ve chosen God? Why does God spend one millennium killing non-Jews and the next reaching out to them? Are God and Jesus the same being or separate beings?
Here we’re often asked to take completely opposite “truths” and believe both simultaneously. Many of these differences do cause me problems, and tackling them is going to be the main focus of this blog, but they don’t cause me to question the Bible. They’re questions that I’d like to tackle using the Bible, but I’d still take the Bible’s word on them. When we’re looking at God’s personality it’s pretty much the only source we’ve got.
The contradictions that do cause me to really think about how to treat the Bible are the straightforward factual discrepancies. You can probably find lists of these online somewhere but, for me, one is enough.
Where did Judas die and who bought the dramatically named Field of Blood? Matthew and Luke give completely different accounts. Does it really matter where Judas died? In the grand scheme of things it is rather irrelevant, except for what it tells us about the Bible. This contradiction is understandable if we’re looking at two different writers who wouldn’t have had the chief priests or Judas as a source. It really does cause problems though if you think they were both written by God, who would have known exactly what really happened.
Does this mean that we distrust everything in the Bible? No, I don’t think so. It does mean we have to think a bit more carefully about each passage we look at though. We need to think about who the author’s sources might have been and about how much we trust that each thing they say is actually correct.