STLS: Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

"God helps those who help themselves."

"Cleanliness is close to Godliness."

"The race is not for the swift, but for those who endure to the end."


The Bible is the most read book of all time, and probably the most misused as well.  Not a single one of the above statements can be found in the Bible (at least I couldn't find them anywhere - please leave me a comment to correct me if you know where they are).

It is all too frequent that the Bible is used incorrectly (either intentionally or unintentionally) to make someone's point, so I thought I'd take this STLS post to talk about the greatest book ever written.  

Before I accepted the Word as God's infallible text, I had serious issues with the Bible.  It seemed so confusing, so backward, and so contradictory.  It seemed that for every verse about peace and forgiveness, I could find 3 about vengeance.  For every verse about hope, I could find one about the fires of hell for all eternity.  For every verse that talked about Jesus being a lamb, I could find one that talked about him as a lion.  What was going on?  How can the Bible be true if it's such a...mess?!

But then one day I came across an author who revolutionized how I read and understood the Bible (I sure wish I could remember who it was).  In essence what he said was this:

There are places in the Bible that state things explicitly (very clearly with no need to "interpret").  There are also places in the Bible that state things implicitly (it seems clear, but there's wiggle room - it seems to imply a truth rather than state it simply).  Where there is room to interpret, we must use the Bible to do the interpreting.  We use the explicit portions to better define the implicit portions.  (And of course, it is important to consider the full context of a particular verse including the style of writing and who the intended audience was.  For the sake of making this post slightly shorter than the Bible itself though, I'm just going to focus on the idea of implicit vs. explicit statements.)

Why do I get the feeling that I'm just adding to the confusion?  Maybe an example will help.  Let's say I write you a letter and say:

"We went out for Mexican food on Tuesday night.  I love Mexican food, and enchiladas are my favorite dish." 

With this statement, you might be left thinking that I had enchiladas for dinner Tuesday night.  It seems a fair assumption, right?  

But then later in my letter, I say something that seems contradictory:

"I enjoyed the tacos I ate at the Mexican restaurant Tuesday night."

You're left thinking - hey, I thought you said you had enchiladas!  What's going on here?  What did you eat?

The first step in trying to figure out what to make of the confusion is to put some thought into who's writing the letter.  Am I trying to confuse you?  Am I trying to mislead you?  Am I lying to you for some reason? I a trustworthy friend who has always been honest and who has no reason to mess with you?  Can you take me at my word?

If you decide that you can trust me and that what I say is always truthful, then it's easy to solve this dilemma.  You can read back through my letter to figure out what I had for dinner by using nothing more than my words.  You don't need a special interpreter.  You don't need a study guide.  You don't need someone else to tell you what it means.  You don't need special revelation.

The first statement implies that I had enchiladas.  The second statement states explicitly that I had tacos.  You can conclude that I had tacos.  

Do you see how this works?  Holey Moley.  How did I go from "Cleanliness is close to Godliness" all the way to tacos on a Tuesday night?  I'm so sorry if I'm making this more confusing for you.  Hang in there with me though - this idea can be so helpful for you if you really want to better understand the Bible. 

Okay.  Let's assume that the idea of implicit vs. explicit statements is now slightly clearer than mud.  Let's try this with a Biblical example.  Interestingly enough, the devil himself gives us a great example of how the Bible can be misunderstood (although I think it's safe to say that the Father of Lies doesn't simply misunderstand - he intentionally twists the Word to suit his purposes):

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here.  For it is written:

'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

Jesus answered, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
(Matthew 4:5-7, Psalm 91:11-12 quoted by the devil)

In this case Satan quotes Scripture exactly.  If you take Psalm 91:11-12 out of context like the devil did, you could come to the conclusion that it would be a perfectly reasonably thing for Jesus to do - to throw himself off a cliff to get the thrill of being saved by God's angles.  What better way to display his power?

But Jesus knows a thing or two about the Bible himself, and he knew that it explicitly states that we are not to test God.  He used that explicit statement to clarify the meaning of an implied idea.  

A tad more clear?  Clear as...say, pudding?  Maybe I should just go have a snack already.

Let's try another.

In Genesis 4:9, God asks Cain where Abel is.  The implication here is that God doesn't know where Abel is.  

Yet Proverbs 15:3 tells us that the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, Hebrews 4:13 says that nothing is hidden from His sight, and Jeremiah 23:24 says that the Lord fills the heaven and the earth (so can anyone hide from him?).

So what's going on?  Can God see everything all the time, or can a person hide from him so thoroughly that he has to ask someone else, "Hey, have you seen your brother?"

It is true that God asked about Abel's whereabouts.  It is also true that God sees all (as clearly stated in those explicit statements in Proverbs, Hebrews, and Jeremiah).  So what's going on?  How can all of this fit together?

In this particular story, the reader has to look at the context.  Why would God ask about Abel?  Specifically, why did God ask Cain about Abel?  You know the answer of course.  

It's sort of like walking in the kitchen and seeing half the chocolate chip cookies gone and crumbs and chocolate all over your 4 year old.  You ask, "what happened here?"  You know what happened, but you'd like your child to come clean with you.

Cain had murdered Abel!  God comes to Cain and says "where's your brother" when He knew full well what had just happened.  In this case, I appreciate this supposed contradiction because it forces me to look a bit deeper, and it reveals a thing or two about God's nature.  

Ack - well, I gave it my best shot.  I fear that I'm not doing a very good job of making my point.  It probably has something to do with the fact that it's almost 1:00 in the morning.  

Let's try this - let's make it a group discussion.  Are there any "Bible contradictions" that have haunted you?  Dilemmas that you can't figure out?  Leave a comment, and we can try to figure it out together.  Let's try to answer questions about the Bible by using the Bible itself.  You up for it?

I'm also doing something different this week with the meme portion of STLS.  Instead of putting Mr. Linky up, I'd like to request that you just put the link to your STLS post in the comments section of this post.  

Mel  – (3/15/2009 06:33:00 AM)  

Wow I think you did a great job!!!! However I did get hungry when you got to pudding LOL

Anonymous –   – (3/15/2009 04:59:00 PM)  

Tempering justice and mercy takes a lifetime. That dichotomy can be difficult to resolve.

Isn't it a good thing that the Lord does not appoint us to judge?



Liz  – (3/15/2009 05:01:00 PM)  

Great post - I didnt got to church today, so it was my sermon for the day!

I remember Dr. John Macarthur saying something about letting the bible interpret itself. He does an awesome job of doing that in his messages.

Anonymous –   – (3/15/2009 06:24:00 PM)  

Here is my post for the week:

I like figuring out the supposed contradictions in the Bible. It teaches me that God is not simplistic. I'll have to check back on this post later!

Lisa  – (3/15/2009 07:10:00 PM)  

Daiq — that was extremely insightful and enlightening. I love how you write and appreciate how you're digging into scripture and sharing it with all of us!!

You've given me a LOT to think about.

ps. Are you all feeling better?

Craig and Bethany  – (3/16/2009 11:31:00 AM)  

Hey, great topic. In the end it really seems to come to the heart of the reader, I think. Is God to be trusted? The crux of the matter. The Mexican restaurant example sums it up. My interpretation of your letter really stems from my relationship with you!

Also, something sort of along those lines: anytime someone in the Bible interprets another portion of the Bible he seems to take it at face value - as literal as possible. (Like Daniel taking the 70 years of prophesied Babylonian captivity to be well, 70 years.)

Africa Pt 1

Anonymous –   – (3/27/2009 09:36:00 AM)  

First off, I love your blog! I even have my unsaved sister hooked. She reads for the kids & photography, but I know she is getting a great dose of God along the way, and I thank you for that!

My dad is a preacher - the best in the WORLD :) - and just last week he answered something I hadn't even voiced to him yet. I had just been reading in Psalms 34 and noticed it was one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament. As I searched out the quotes in the NT, they sometimes seemed to be quoted out of context,not at all used how I would have thought they should be. I told God, this makes no sense! Can we just arbitrarily pick out verses and make them fit where we want them? Why did You allow this?

About three days later, as I sat in the room with my dad while he read his Bible, he looked up and said, You know, sometimes the NT authors quoted scripture from the OT in a way that seems to be out of context!
My mouth dropped, of course. I said, YES! I do know that! He looked at me like I was nuts for being so excited about that and just said, Well, God is DEEP. He is SO DEEP. And went back to reading. And for me, that cleared up so much confusion. I heard the word "layers". God Word is layered. We see what He wants us to see for that time, but then you read the same thing years later and you get something entirely different, because you are in an entirely different place in your life, needing something else. And God is multifaceted. That's why He gets the cool name of GOD.

I'm sorry, I know this isn't quite what you meant, but I had to share because it helped me so much...first, that God heard my confusion and answered it so quickly. Second, that He is DEEPLY layered and can handle all of my questions!!!
God bless & keep it up! (can't remember my blogger password LOL)

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