Friday, February 19, 2010

More Bible “Contradictions”

It isn’t too hard to prove that the Bible contradicts itself. Just establish a standard or test and then demonstrate that the Bible fails your test! This seems to be the very thing that Bart Ehrman excels at. He demonstrates how the details among the four Gospels differ and then indicts them. Ehrman points out the varying accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus as his second “contradiction”:

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times “before the cock crows twice.” In Matthew’s Gospel he tells him that it will be “before the cock crows.” Well, which is it – before the cock crows once or twice?

I’ll put my money on “twice.” Mark seems to want to give more details, while Matthew is content to simply report the last crow. Does Matthew err because he neglected to mention the first crow? Did he misrepresent Jesus’ words? Does this place Scripture in error if it doesn’t represent the exact wording of what Jesus had actually said? If instead Scripture, under the inspiration of the Spirit, reproduced in this case the true intention of Jesus’ message instead of the exact wording, would this mean that Scripture contains errors? I don’t think so. This would be imposing our standards on Scripture.

We have to read Scripture according to its intentions, not ours. Demanding a wooden correspondence between the words of Scripture and what actually was said is sometimes clearly not the intention of Scripture. Let’s use an example for clarity:

Rev. 20:8: and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.

The intention of Scripture isn’t to teach that the earth has “four corners.” Instead, this idiom refers to Satan deceiving all the nations all around the world. So why didn’t Scripture just say it that way? Well, sometimes exactitude can be misleading, especially if Scripture is addressing people who believe the world is flat. They wouldn’t have understood “around the world,” while they would have understood “four corners of the earth.”

I talk about the “sun rising” at a particular time. We now know that the sun doesn’t rise. However, by using this idiom, it doesn’t mean that I’m scientifically ignorant or that I want to deceive. It just demonstrates the need to speak in a way that others will understand.

Although the Bible might use terminology that isn’t scientifically accurate, it succeeds in conveying the message it wants to convey by using anthropic language, the language of common usage.

Sometimes the use of too many details can be misleading. We observe that sometimes the Bible rounds off numbers. Does this place it in error? Of course not! Sometimes Scripture intends to give exact answers; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it gives summary statements condensing the actual events.

We can’t impose our standards on Scripture and require that it use scientific language or exact numbers on each occasion. This brings us to Ehrman’s third contradiction – the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection:

On the third day after Jesus’ death, the women go to the tomb to anoint his body for burial. And whom do they see there? Do they see a man, as Mark says, or two men (Luke), or an angel (Matthew)?

There are several possible solutions. I’ll just mention one possibility. Angels appear as “men” in many instances of the Bible. Although there might have been two present at that one time, Mark and Matthew chose to mention just the one. Perhaps this angel was far more prominent than the other, and they thought it needless to report the second?

I do not claim to have the ultimate answer. I simply wish to show that there are possible answers. Proving that the Bible contradicts itself, as Ehrman charges, demands that he demonstrate that there are no possible solutions. This he has failed to do.

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