The Bible has authority, but what is a believer to do when the Bible seems to contradict itself?
It is so important to let the rest of the Bible help interpret a particular passage. Every word in the Bible is true. So, if it seems that one verse contradicts another, we must discover the interpretation that accounts for all the verses on a particular subject. This is especially important to remember when there are many clearly understood verses dealing with a doctrine and one or two verses or passages that just throw our whole understanding of those clear passages out of whack! Usually, this is an indication that this "problematic text" needs some extra study, in its context, to see if our first impression is just a faulty interpretation. Only when an understanding of a doctrine allows for all the passages on its subject to be true, is that understanding the correct one.
We can also pray the way David the great king did in Psalm 119: 18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” God alone is the omniscient Author of the Bible and He is pleased to lead us through it. God can take every “problematic” thread of His Word and weave it together with the whole of Sacred Scripture into a beautiful tapestry of truth! We need to ask and depend on Him for this enlightenment or we could wind up dishonoring the King whom we wish to serve.
Really, the Bible does not contradict itself. Rather, in many instances, our ideas about what certain passages mean may contradict our ideas about what other passages mean. (You see, the problems always lie with us, never with God's Word).
And if [salvation] by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (James 2:14)
Is there an explanation that validates both of these scriptures? How can we figure out what it is? (We're not going to do that here, but we are going to attempt to spell out how.)
When we do an exercise like this, we have to remember not to lift a verse out of context. We must look at the overall line of reasoning that the whole chapter is taking. Simply put, taking a group of words out of its context can cause the true meaning of any thought, in any book, to become clouded over. We have to get a feel for the larger message that the author is trying to convey to his particular audience with their particular needs … shortcomings … misunderstandings. This is helpful when looking at the following two verses:
For he that is not against us is on our part. (Mark 9:40)
And Jesus said unto him, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50)
The use of literary tools is a very important aspect to consider, as well. I saw on one website (where a guy had listed all the verses that contradict each other in an attempt to discredit the Bible) two verses in Proverbs that were right next to each other. (Proverbs 26:4 & 5) He had them listed as a contradiction. Aha! No … the author was obviously using that as a literary tool to convey a larger truth. (duh)
We also have to recognize that the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek. When dealing with a very troublesome group of verses, maybe it is the English language that is at fault. An easy example is the word “love”. One word for English = four or five in Greek. Get a Greek lexicon or find one online and look up the original meaning of the words. Figure out what the author originally wrote.
Now, switching gears…
Before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:58)
… I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)
The above is example of two verses that may seem to contain a paradox. How can Jesus be the great “I am” and also say that the Father is greater than Him? If we believe the whole Bible is true, we must accept both of these verses as true. These passages, along with many others are what have brought about the doctrine of the Trinity. Do I fully grasp the Trinity? No, but it is the only explanation of the person of Christ that affirms all the scriptures about Him. We always must also be willing to accept the fact that our understanding is somewhat limited. Cultists get into trouble when they resist this principle. Jehovah’s witnesses don’t like the doctrine of the trinity, so they do violence to the Word of God. Years ago, I heard about their translation of John chapter 1. A Jehovah’s Witness came to my mom’s door when I lived there. I talked to her for a little while and I asked her if I could see her Bible. Sure enough, the Watchtower had changed the Bible. Theirs reads, “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was with God … and the Word was a god.” Sad as that is, isn’t it, in effect, what we do, when we aren’t honest in our attempts at understanding passages that contradict our presuppositions? Doing violence to passages that don't fit into our theology (by not looking at them honestly) is just a step behind altering the Word of God and it has a cult-like flavor. We have to be willing to accept that God is high above us. He is eternal, we are finite and therefore sometimes our understanding is limited. This does not give us an excuse for discarding the parts of His Word that don't fit into our understanding. We must adjust our theology … not our willingness to accept the Bible in its plain, normal, meaning. The other alternative can cause unrest and confusion. However, “...God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33).
I leave you with this great quote:
Since the Bible does not contradict itself, the verses that can be interpreted in more than one way must be understood in the light of those that cannot. (Norman Geisler)
This post is just a simple Christian's methods of attempting to know what God wants me to know. I do not claim to be a theologian. Feel free to help me if I am missing something.
Some posts coming in the near future … let’s evaluate TULIP with these things in mind.