The Bible claims to be free from all error. Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect.” Psalm 12:6 says, “The words of the Lord are pure words.” Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God is pure.” Since the Bible claims to be perfect, the reader has a right to expect Scripture to be correct in every matter it addresses and to be consistent with its own teachings. If the Bible contradicts itself, then it is not what it claims to be.
The reader’s presuppositions about the Bible play a major role in evaluating the apparent contradictions in Scripture. Those who accept the claims of the Bible as true or plausible will examine apparent discrepancies with a willingness to accept reasonable answers. Those who absolutely refuse to accept the Bible’s claim will be quick to find contradictions where there are none and deny the validity of plausible answers.
The answers to many of the apparent contradictions are not intended to be undeniable proofs. They are plausible explanations that show passages which appear to contradict each other can be reasonably understood in a way that is not contradictory.
Many of the apparent contradictions are differences of detail or differences in the author’s perspective. In the gospel of Mark Jesus mentions a rooster crowing twice, but the other gospels only speak of the rooster crowing. The specific number in Mark does not contradict the more general accounts. Jesus did not say the rooster would crow only once. The specific does not necessarily contradict the general, nor does a greater number exclude a lesser. Did Jesus heal two blind men in Jericho or just one? Though Matthew says two, the other gospels only mention one. Any child knows that if Jesus healed two blind men, he must have also healed one blind man. (Matthew 20:30; Mark 10:46)
Some apparent contradictions are actually two different but similar events. The Beatitudes of Luke 6 and Matthew 5 are described as being given “in the plain” (Luke 6:17) and on “a mountain.” (Matthew 5:1) This is no contradiction. Luke 6 describes a later event than Matthew 5 in which Jesus repeated a portion of the message he had preached in the Sermon on the Mount.
Some differences are explained by differences of the particulars being discussed. When David bought the threshing floor from Ornan, 2 Samuel says he paid 50 shekels and 1 Chronicles says he paid 600. Further reading in these passages reveals 2 Samuel specifies that David paid 50 shekels for the oxen and threshing floor, while 1 Chronicles says David paid 600 shekels for “the place.” 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles are describing the transaction differently. 2 Samuel tells of his purchase of the oxen and threshing floor and 1 Chronicles includes his purchase of the land surrounding the threshing floor.
Some differences are explainable by a different truth being taught. One of the most confusing apparent contradictions in the Bible is that between the books of Romans and James. The apostle Paul says justification is given “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him.” but James says, “By works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” These two statements seem to be unreconcilable. Yet, reading the statements in their context it becomes evident the apostles are talking about two different things. Paul is describing the means by which a man receives justification. James is discussing the evidence of justification. The statements are not contradictory but complimentary.
A few contradictions can be traced to scribal error. The scribes who copied the text of Scripture took great pains to avoid any mistakes. The manuscript evidence shows they were incredibly accurate copyists, but some errors did creep in. For example, 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles record different numbers for Solomon’s horses. Though one passage says 4,000 and the other 40,000, the difference between the words for these numbers in Hebrew is very small, similar to the difference between four thousand and forty thousand in English. A scribe could easily misread the number, or a flaw in the manuscript could obscure the number.
A detailed analysis of every apparent contradiction in the Bible is not possible in this post. Excellent discussions of Bible contradictions are available online and in Christian books. A thoughtful reading of Scripture will readily provide reasonable answers to the supposed contradictions in the text. The Christian can have confidence the Bible is accurate in all it teaches. “Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.” (Psalm 119:140)