Implications of an Imperfect and Contradictory Bible
How can the factual and internal contradictions of the Bible be explained?
Nevertheless, the contradictions exist. We could ignore them, since most (if
not all) of them do not affect the general teachings of the Bible. We could,
for example, still refuse to eat bats and grasshoppers even though we know one
not to be a bird and the other to have six legs.
- Maybe "God-breathed" in 2 Timothy 3:16 has been misinterpreted to mean
"literally transmitted by God through man". If instead we take it to mean
"guided by God", we introduce a lot of new questions: To what level of detail
can we trust the writings of these (fallible) men? How well were God's
intentions and meaning recorded? Did the biases of the writers creep into the
scriptures? (If so, does this mean that they were intentionally added to
God's intent, or that they misunderstood God's messages?)
- Maybe the original works were literally true and perfect, but later books
were added that weren't directly from God. (Were the books indivisible units?
I would guess that Psalms was not written whole and complete, but were all the
other books?) Even worse, maybe verses were added. A question for a Bible
historian: do the very oldest texts contain contradictions? How can we (dare
we) differentiate between truly God-sent passages and those that were written
by normal men?
- Maybe God decided to show us the way of truth in small "chunks". This
would explain the shift in thinking between the Old and New Testaments, as
well as the apparent lack of realization that slavery is wrong.
- Maybe the bible is not divinely inspired. Perhaps God and Jesus are real,
but the books of the Bible were written by fallible men in an effort to
document their interactions with them.
- Maybe the Bible is in no way holy. Perhaps it is a collection of
explanations, lessons, laws, and historical accounts, centered around the
concept of an all-powerful god.
Note that in all stages of this discourse one could just say, "God put all these
problems in there." I will reject this because it renders this exercise totally
useless, just as if one said, "The Bible is a work of pure fiction."
At this point I choose to take the view that the general teachings of
the Bible are good and truthful, but that there are literal errors and
contradictions caused by mistakes in the receipt of God's word by the original
How can the teachings of the Bible that conflict with our morals be explained?
I don't accept the first point for the same reason I don't believe that there
are no real Christians. (I don't have any good reason other than "it seems
wrong".) As noted, the second point doesn't fully rectify the problems.
- We have degenerated to the point that we don't recognize "good" teachings.
Note that if this is the case, then there are no true believers, and my choice
regarding the miracles of true believers does not have to be taken.
- The teachings are sometimes meant figuratively. This doesn't always work,
such as in the explicit way the roles of slave and master are repeatedly
- The specific teachings of the Bible were meant as guidelines, and it is
the general meaning that must be followed.
- The Bible was written for people living long ago, and not all its
teachings are appropriate for all times ("Theory of Accommodation").
I can't go any further with the last two in any concrete way, but choose the last
viewpoint because it seems more "reasonable". I think most Christians also
believe this, even though Jesus said "... obey everything I have commanded you."
(Matthew 28:20) and God said "You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my
decrees." (Leviticus 18:4)
So the Bible contains factual errors and internal contradictions, as
well as teachings that seem contrary to generally held beliefs. These cast
doubt upon the belief that the Bible is God-inspired, especially in light of
contradictory quotations from God.
Does this mean that there isn't a God or Jesus? No. But the question
is, how much of the Bible is to be believed? Which of its teachings apply to
the present day?
But two things are certain: the Bible is not perfect, and it is not
"God-breathed" (in the common sense) unless God knew about these errors and
contradictions and allowed them. I find it strange that the Apostle Paul says,
"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): ..." (1 Corinthians 7:12). Why
would God write this? Likewise, in 1 Timothy 2:7, he says, "... I am telling the
truth, I am not lying..."
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