Bible Discrepancies?

Enemies of the Bible frequently point out that the Bible is full of discrepancies. Is it really?

First, some of the old hand written manuscripts have copyist errors in them. For example, using the Arabic numerals that we use, suppose a manuscript has the number ten written as "1" followed by a "0." When someone copied it, they may make it look like a sixteen -- like a "1" followed by a "6." So the copyist writes down 16. That is an example of a copyist error. There are very few of them, but there are some. In Hebrew, for example, the letter "resh" looks very much like the letter "daleth." There are some corrupt manuscripts. The fact that manuscripts disagree among each other does not mean that the word of God contains contradictions -- it means that copyists are fallible. We look at what most of them say and if most of them say the same thing and we have a single manuscript sort of "waving in the breeze by itself" with a different reading, we tend to believe the overwhelming majority. When a manuscript stands alone, or even when a group of manuscripts with the same deviant reading are in a minority, we tend to dismiss the deviation. Of course the problem that arises is that not all the errors are in a single manuscript. That would make it easy, but it is not that way. Text critics must compare manuscript with manuscript to find out what is the majority reading. Sometimes there are copyist errors, but it is relatively uncommon for one to cause a discrepancy or contradiction.

Second, sometimes in Scripture the same person or the same place has different names. In Exodus 3:1 Moses' father in law is called Jethro and in Exodus 2:18 his name is called Reuel. The same man is called Hobab in Numbers 10:29. These are not "contradictions." The man was simply known by more than one name. Gibeah was also known as Kirjath-Jearim and Baalah. All three place names refer to the same town. The same person or same place may have more than one name. This is another clue to reconciling Scripture. When one passage says that someone went to a certain place, and another passage says he went some other place, it may be that it was the same place with two different names.

Third, sometimes chronological differences in a person's age or how long a plague lasted or how long a king ruled and so forth can be resolved by understanding the differences in the method of computing. If one prophet said that a plague would last seven years and later another prophet said it would last four years we would not have a contradiction if the latter prophet were speaking in the midst of the plague. If a person in the midst of a seven-year plague said it would last four years, he could be understood to intend four MORE years. If another person said it would last (or did last) seven years, he might be understood to refer to the entire plague from beginning to end. We must look at the manner of computation before declaring something to be a "Bible contradiction."

Fourth, the kings of Israel and Judah present a special problem, so when we hear objections having to do with the kings the resolution may have to do with the way in which the ascension year was computed (this varied in Judah, but remained constant in Israel -- but they were not the same); it may have to do with the fact that some of the kings reigned while their fathers were still alive, but their reign may be counted as beginning either upon their father's death or when they actually began reigning; it may have to do with the fact that some kings reigned by having someone overseeing their reign for a period of time, and then reigned alone after coming of age. How long such an one reigned would depend upon whether we compute from the beginning of his right to the throne or from the time he reigned without the regent.

Fifth, sometimes two different Scriptures are simply talking about two different things and are not intended to give any kind of contradictory information. Darkened understandings (Eph. 4:18) simply choose to suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18). An example would be if we were try to maintain that there is a chronological contradiction between Genesis 1:24-28 and Genesis 2:18-20. This is a perfect example of two accounts that give supplemental information. The accounts are parallel looking at the creation from two different aspects.

Sixth, what may superficially appear to be a contradiction may sometimes be resolved simply by realizing that sometimes God speaks in absolute terms and sometimes he speaks in comparative terms. For example, there is a commandment "honor thy father and mother." Jesus later said "If you do not hate your father and mother you cannot be my disciple." Now that is a SEEMING contradiction. But the one is an absolute commandment whereas the other is a comparative term. Compared to our love for God, love and honor for our parents cannot interfere. Similarly, because Jacob had less regard for Leah than he did for Rachel, that is called "hating her." But the hate was only by way of comparison to his love for Rachel.

Seventh, sometimes seeming contradictions arise from the Scripture treating people in public capacity versus private capacity or vice versa. For example, when the Bible says in one place, "Judge righteous judgment," and in another place, "Judge not" there is no contradiction. We can resolve this seeming contradiction by simply acknowledging that when God says, "Judge righteous judgment" he is speaking to people whose capacity it is to pass judgment. He was saying, "When you judge, judge righteously." In Matthew 7:1 which is so often quoted without a context Christ said virtually the same thing. Christ was not saying "do not judge at all," because in that very passage he went on to say, "beware of false teachers. Beware of false prophets. Beware of wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. Ye shall know them by their fruits, etc." How will we know of whom to beware? It is simple. Christ said, "bad fruit equals bad tree." In the very context of saying "judge not," Christ told us how to make judgments. So we must resolve this by looking at the fact that it is sometimes the public capacity of some (magistrates and others) to pass judgment. But they must NOT judge according to their own prejudices, but according to God's holy word.

Eighth, contraries may be true but in different respects or senses. Jesus allowed a woman to break an alabaster box and pour expensive oil on him. When the disciples protested, he replied that he would not always be with them (Matthew 26:11). In Matthew 28:20, however, he said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Here are contraries, but they are speaking in different respects. Physically Christ left the earth at the ascension. But "the Spirit of Christ" or His Word is always with us. Scripture speaks of contraries being true, but in different respects.

Ninth, God speaks to different times and dispensations. Things are administered differently at different times and periods in the history of redemption. Because things are administered differently, we sometimes see things that were done a certain way no longer being done the same way. There was a time when God commanded every male to appear before him in Jerusalem three times per year. Christ abolished the ceremonial law and now we are no longer required to visit Jerusalem (John 4:21-24). This is not a contradiction as such, but simply a proper understanding that administrations change and we need to make proper distinctions between times and dispensations.

(Original notes by R.B.)