Dealing with an apparent Bible contradiction

“You cannot believe the Bible because it is full of contradictions.”

by Kevin Nelstead

I’ve heard this stated many times; you have probably heard it as well. You may be one who uses “Bible contradictions” as one of the reasons for rejecting Christianity, or you may be a Christian who struggles because there are things in the Bible that seem to be inconsistent.

There are various kinds of “Bible contradictions.”

  • Internal factual — What were the names of the twelve apostles? How many angels were at the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead?
  • External factual — Was Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar? How could Quirinius have been governor of Syria when Jesus was born?
  • Doctrinal — Is there a doctrinal contradiction between Paul (saved by faith) and James (saved by works)?
  • Ethical — Was it right for David and his men to eat bread consecrated to the Lord? What about the conquest of the promised land under Joshua?

Many of these are easy to deal with and have obvious answers. Most of the rest have plausible answers as well. There are a few that I really don’t know the answer to, but that does not mean there is no answer. These sorts of things really don’t bother me much any more.

THE CALLING OF THE DISCIPLES

fishermenHere is my story of how a “Bible contradiction” challenged my faith, and how I came through that experience with a much greater confidence in the Bible as the reliable and trustworthy Word of God.

I came to a full understanding of  the Gospel (good news) through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ when I was an undergraduate student. The basic message that I came to embrace was that humans have broken their relationship with God throught their sin, that Christ (fully God and fully man) died on the cross as our substitute, and that by faith in Christ we take on his righteousness. Campus Crusade placed a strong emphasis on the truthfulness—or inerrancy—of the Scriptures. Shortly after this, I started attending an independent, fundamentalist Bible church, in which the inerrancy of Scriptures was a central doctrine.

A year or two later I was at home in the church I grew up in; this was probably in about 1982 or 1983. It is not that the gospel was never preached there; it was embedded in the liturgy and I know the senior pastor at this time believed this good news with all his heart. If I did not understand the Gospel before, it was because of the hardness of my own heart, not because it was not proclaimed.

On this particular Sunday, however, the younger associate pastor was preaching. The topic was “The calling of the disciples,” and the pastor compared the account in John with that in Matthew. In John 1, Peter, Andrew, and others were introduced to Jesus through the ministry of John the Baptist, who was baptizing people along the Jordan River:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:35-42, ESV)

In Matthew 4, the calling of the disciples occurred on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Peter, Andrew, John, and James were working as fishermen, with no mention of the ministry of John the Baptist:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22, ESV).

The pastor read these passages, and then commented, “These two passages contradict each other; we don’t know which of them gives the true story.” I don’t remember the rest of the sermon, but I was devastated. After church, I went into my bedroom, closed the door, and wept. The Bible was the foundation of my Christian faith, but what kind of foundation would there be if I didn’t know whether or not what I read was true? I agonized in prayer, read the passages again, and prayed more earnestly.

As I read the passages more closely, I noticed something important. This was not an either-or situation…

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Recommended Resources: Alleged Discrepancies Of The Bible | Big Book of Bible Difficulties, The: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation