If one’s favored holy book contradicts itself, how is a follower to handle it? For Muslims, the verse which appears later in the Koran overrules the previous dictate. The contradiction is still there but at least there’s consistency with how to approach these discomforting occurrences.
Christians have much more complex ways of dealing with Biblical contradictions. Some deny their existence, but this requires extreme pretzel logic when there are opposing statements as blatant as what is entertainingly detailed here. Exhaustive lists of such contradictions exist elsewhere and we won’t rehash them here. Rather, we will focus on the way the problem is handled by believers.
Christian fundamentalists tout the Bible as an immaculate work created by a flawless, all-knowing being. But it reads more like a hodgepodge product of Bronze Age Middle East nomads who took their limited knowledge of human nature and the natural world, then came up with magical explanations to fill in the sizable blanks.
They also created Old Testament rules that were largely wiped out by Jesus. And the afterlife, which received barely a nod or description in the Torah, becomes a focal point of the New Testament, which lays out an everlasting Heaven in glorious detail. The gospels and epistles also introduced the doctrine of the Trinity, which was never referenced in the OT, and which in fact stands in sharp contrast to the overarching theme of that work – that there is one omnipotent, all-powerful, controlling god who gets riled by the notion of usurpers or contenders to his throne.
The explanation for contradictions that I am most open to is translation errors. The Bible has been copied into many languages and each scribe has been encumbered with his own experiences, biases, and shortcomings. In fact, it would be stunning if there were no contradictions in a voluminous work patched together by dozens of writers over several hundred years. A seamless final effort could be a sign of divine authorship or at least extremely tight refinement and editing.
Now onto some other arguments I find less persuasive. Some believers have described the scriptures as a continuing revelation of God to Mankind. The deity refrained from revealing his full knowledge at the outset, but whenever he said anything, it was true. Some say this progressive revelation continues today.
That’s why Latter-Day Saints leaders keep coming up with new stuff, as do organizations ranging from upstart cults to the Catholic Church. In the 19th Century, a revelation from God to Mormon leaders decreed that marriage between races be forever forbidden. A later revelation cancelled that prohibition, and in this ever-changing system, the anti-miscegenation dictate could again be pronounced.
A major issue with the progressive revelation explanation is that it comes from persons who demand scriptural support for other positions, particularly iconoclastic ones. And there is no biblical verse which states God’s handiwork is ongoing, which suggests the Ten Commandments were a rough draft, or that scriptures were ever incomplete.
Another argument is that God delivered what folks were ready for, so people in different times and cultures would get told what they needed to hear. Again, this is not Biblical, which should matter if one is zealously defending the Bible. The likes of Ken Ham and Bryan Fischer regularly gloat that the Bible never changes, yet we see many instances of that, including verses involving key messages and doctrinal issues, such as the afterlife, how one gets there, and whether there is one form of God or three.
The most frequent answer is that Jesus is the key, but why would he be the stopping point? What negates later revelations to Mohammed, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, and many lesser-known cultists and charismatics? The next-to-last verse in the Bible, Revelation 22:19, reads, “If anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City.” Yet its placement near the end was merely the way the final product was arranged; Biblical books II Peter, Titus, and I and II Timothy were penned after this warning in Revelation.
Blogger Bob Seidensticker noted that after the Bible was complete, “there were doctrinal inventions from 21 ecumenical councils,” which took place from 325 CE to 1965. Besides this, there were “many schisms within the Christian church,” to the point of having 37 varieties of Baptist.
If the Bible were complete and unambiguous, these later interpretations would have been unnecessary and divisions among those genuinely seeking godly knowledge would not have taken place. A perfect, unchanging text would require no adaptations, interpretation, or explanation.