Archive for January, 2007

Bible contradictions and discrepancies – Part 2

January 25, 2007

Previously we looked at what does and does not constitute a contradiction and the fact that when examining any supposed contradiction we should assume that there is a legitimate explanation rather than simply concluding that the Bible is in error.  In this article we will look at seven common sense questions that one can ask that will clear up 99% of percieved contradictions and errors in the Bible.

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by references to different people, places or things with similar names?

Often while reading the Bible we will find references to individuals, places, or objects that have similar or identical names. If one mistakenly believes these to be referring to the same individual or thing it can cause difficulties with the text and seem to be contradictory. Here is an example taken from one of the largest and most popular skeptic sites:

Daughter of Zibeon

Genesis 36:2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite;

Genesis 36:14 And these were the sons of Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon, Esau’s wife: and she bore to Esau Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah.  

Son of Zibeon

Genesis 36:24 And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father. 

1 Chronicles 1:40 The sons of Shobal; Alian, and Manahath, and Ebal, Shephi, and Onam. And the sons of Zibeon; Aiah, and Anah.

Brother of Zibeon

Genesis 36:20 These are the sons of Seir the Horite, who inhabited the land; Lotan, and Shobal, and Zibeon, and Anah,

1 Chronicles 1:38 And the sons of Seir; Lotan, and Shobal, and Zibeon, and Anah, and Dishon, and Ezer, and Dishan.  

At first glance this appears to be a glaring error in the Bible. How can one person be the daughter, son and brother of the same man? The fact that we ask that question should be the first red flag that something is not as it seems.  Do we honestly believe that the person writing these lineages actually failed to notice such a glaring mistake?  However, if we ask ourselves if these are all speaking of the same person the perception of contradiction rapidly fades away.  In Genesis 36:2 we find one Anah that is the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.  In Genesis 36:20 we see that Anah is the son of  Zibeon who is the son of Seir the Horite and would therefore himself be a Horite.  So we have two different Zibeon’s, one a Hivite with a daughter named Anah and one a Horite with a son named Anah. The Zibeon who had a son named Anah also had a brother named Anah.  Is it not possible and indeed even likely that the son of Zibeon was named after his uncle, Zibeon’s brother?  So by recognizing that, though they have the same name, these are different people we are then able to see that there is indeed no contradiction.

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by differences in time or methods of keeping time?

The events recorded in the Bible span thousands of years.  Within these thousands of years different nations and societies have kept time in different ways.  Even in our word today a failure to recognize time differences between the different time zones can cause scheduling conflicts. Also over a period of time circumstances can change.  A poor penniless college student may become a multimillionaire owner of the worlds largest software company over time.  Likewise in the Bible when we think there may be a contradiction we must ask whether the apparent conflict is caused by a difference in time or a different method of keeping time.  Another example taken from a popular skeptic site is that of the city of Aijalon:

Tribe of Dan

Joshua 21:23-24 And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs, Aijalon with her suburbs, Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; four cities.
 

Tribe of Ephraim

1 Chronicles 6:66-69 And the residue of the families of the sons of Kohath had cities of their coasts out of the tribe of Ephraim.And they gave unto them, of the cities of refuge, Shechem in mount Ephraim with her suburbs; they gave also Gezer with her suburbs, And Jokmeam with her suburbs, and Beth-horon with her suburbs, And Aijalon with her suburbs, and Gath-rimmon with her suburbs:

As we look at this passage it seems that one of these writers made a mistake.  First we ask ourselves is it possible that these passages are talking about two different cities named Aijalon?  Looking at the context we will find that this is not a possibility. Next by asking ourselves if both passages are referring to the same period of time we see the apparent conflict between them is resolved.  By the time the account in 1 Chronicles was written the tribe of Dan had been rejected by God because of idolatry and their lands given to others and Aijalon had been redistributed to the tribe of Ephraim.  By recognizing that these accounts were both correct at the time they were written but that the situation had changed with time we see that there is no conflict between them.

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by the introduction of supplementary information?

Just like modern news reports the Bible often contains accounts of events from more than one writer or perspective.  Just as a news report by one journalist may often contain additional information that is not included in another report and vice versa so some passages in the Bible may include additional or supplementary information that is not included in another passage.  As an example another commonly cited alleged contradiction is Paul’s account of idolatry of the Israelites at Mt. Sinai:

Paul’s Account

1 Corinthians 10:7-8 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
 

Moses’ Account

Numbers 25:1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

Numbers 25:9 And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.

When we look at this passage it does indeed appear that Paul is referring to the same event, in the same place, at the same time with the same people that Numbers is referring to.  So some have concluded that Paul made a mistake.  There have even been Biblical apologists that have concluded this.  However, when we look more closely at the passage we see that Paul gives us some supplementary information.  Note that Paul says that the number of people killed in one day was 23,000 while Numbers just mentions that 24,000 total were killed with no reference as to how many days were involved.  Thus while 23,000 may have died in one day 1,000 more may have lingered for one or more days after that before succumbing to the deadly illness and Paul’s account would not therefore contradict the account in Numbers. 

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by information that is recorded but not endorsed?

Sometimes the Bible will record the conversations and statements of people for context but not endorse the truth of what that person said. If the Bible were only to record one side of a conversation, for example between Jesus and the Pharisees, it would be like hearing only one side of a phone conversation. Great care must be taken when reading passages of the Bible that are merely recording the words that someone said but isn’t validating their remarks.  This is a common error that is made when skeptics look passages from the book of Job such as this one:

Dead never rise

Job 7:9 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.
 

Dead will rise

1 Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
 

As we look at this statement made by Job it appears that he directly contradicts the fact that the dead will rise.  It must be noted that Job is not the author of Job, i.e. he is not the inspired writer.  The writer of the book of Job was merely recording what Job said at that point in time.  Later in the book Job admits to the Lord speaking in ignorance (Job 42:3) and we are told also that the remarks of his “friends” that were accusing him, though their words were often recorded by the writer, were not right in God’s eyes (Job 42:7).  So when the Bible is recording the statements made by people we must take care to note if it is merely recording their words for context on the events happening or a conversation or if the Bible is actually validating what they are saying as the truth.

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by the use of figurative language?

Use of figurative language is common place for us today.  We use phrases such as “raining cats and dogs”, “that really burns me up”, etc…  Sometimes two sentences containing the exact same words might have entirely different meanings dependant upon context.  For example someone might receive a bouqet of flowers and exclaim “How lovely!”  while the same person upon spilling coffee down the front of their shirt might exclaim sarcastically “How lovely!”.   In the first instance the words should be taken literally to mean they though the flowers were lovely yet in the second we recognize them as a figure of speech meaning that they were not happy with the situation.  Thus it is important for us to recognize when Bible writers were using figurative language if we are to correctly interpret their words.  This is especially important in books such as Psalms and Revelation where a great deal of figurative language is used.  For example, the following has been cited by skeptics as an obvious Bible error.

Is the earth flat?

Daniel 2:35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

Skeptics argue that the earth would have to be flat for the stone to become a mountain that covers the entire Earth and that since we know the Earth is round this is obviously a biblical error.  However, they are failing to take into account that this statement is made by Daniel while relating a dream that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had.  Dreams and visions are rarely if ever meant to be taken literally.  Furthermore we see that Daniel goes on to say that this mountain represents the kingdom of God which shall fill the whole world which is certainly possible without a flat Earth. By recognizing that this passage is meant figuratively and not that a literal stone is going to come down and become a mountain covering the entire planet we find that there is no error in this passage after all.

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by a difference in language or custom?

Besides recognizing figurative language in the Bible we must also understand that the Bible was written in ancient times and in ancient languages and those languages have changed dramatically since that time.  Also some of our translations of the Bible were made long ago and our own language has changed a great deal since then.  Also we must realise that the customs of ancient people were not the same as our customs today.  When we read passage of the Bible that don’t seem to make much sense to us we must take into consideration the languages that it was written in.  One passage that is often cited as a biblical error by skeptics is:

Is a bat a bird?

Leviticus 11:13-19 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the osprey, And the vulture, and the kite after his kind; Every raven after his kind; And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind, And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier-eagle, And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

We all know that bats are flying mammals and are not birds.  Skeptics mockingly point to this passage and claims that the God of the Bible believes that bats are birds.  However, when we recognize that ancient Hebrews did not use our modern taxonomic system but rather primarily classified animals by locomotion and that the Hebrew word “owph” which is translated here as “fowl” merely means a flying animal we can see there is no error.  As we read the Bible we must take into account the differences in customs and language between the time the books of the Bible were actually written and those of our moder times.

Is the appearance of contradiction caused by taking the passage out of context?

Most often when someone takes a passage out of context it is done intentionally in order to make a point.  Skeptics are often guilty of taking passages out of their context and presenting them on their own as proof of the unreliability of the Bible.  When we study the Bible we must be careful to take everything we read in its context.  We must consider who it was written to and for what purpose and must read each passage with the whole of the letter or book in which we find it in mind.  For example, once again from a popular skeptic site:

Why the long trip?

Exodus 16:35 And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.

It is argued that even back in this time that it would only have taken the Israelites a relatively short time to travel from Canaan to Egypt. It is said that this is proof of the Bibles historical inaccuracy.  However, when we take into account the entire context of their travels we find that the Israelites arrived at Canaan much sooner but refused to go in because their spies gave them a bad report of their capabilities of taking the land.  For this God cursed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years.  When we examine this passage and keep the context of the events in mind it makes more sense and we see that there is no historical error made by the Bible in this passage.

There are always going to be those that want to find something wrong with God’s word in order to absolve themselves of their obligation to believe and obey it.   Christ, however, has promised us that his word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35) no matter what Satan and his army of skeptics tries to do.  By applying just a little common sense to seemingly difficult passages we can be assured that the Bible is accurate and is the inerrant and infallible word of God.

Bible contradictions and discrepancies – Part 1

January 18, 2007

Since the very beginning there have always been those that have sought to discredit God’s word.  Many times we think that the “skeptical” attacks on the Bible that we are seeing today are something new.  However, we see in Genesis 3:4 Satan came to Even and told her that God’s word was untrue.  His tactics have not changed in the approximately 6000 years that have passed since. There are still those claiming that God’s word is untrue. 

A quick Google search with the terms skeptic and bible will turn up numerous sites where it is obvious that someone has spent hours and hours looking for any way possible to discredit the Bible as the word of God.  There are no doubt many people who honestly and sincerely are convinced of the fallibility of the Bible.  There are many more who are not honestly searching for the truth and are merely looking for any evidence, no matter how dishonest or erroneous, that supports their presupposition.  For the latter, nothing I or anyone else can say is going to sway their opinion and indeed most of the evidence they cite has been refuted time and time again. 

The most common reason that contradictions are perceived in the Bible is that many people presume the Bible guilty until proven innocent.  If there is an apparent contradiction, instead of looking for a possible explanation, they simply conclude the Bible wrong then and there.  The Bible should be given the benefit of the doubt.  This does not mean suspending skepticism and critical thinking but rather considering all of the facts and possibilities.  If we were on trial for a crime of which we were innocent would we not want the jury to deliberate on all of the facts available and any possibility of innocence or would we want them to begin with the assumption of guilt? 

Before continuing to cover some common sense guiding principles that can help resolve supposed contradictions it is important for us to know what is and is not a contradiction.  The law of contradiction states that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. 

An example of this principle is that a cup cannot be said to be empty and full at the same time and in the same sense.  However, if one individual claimed the cup to be empty and another full but the one was referring to emptiness of water and the other referring to the fullness of air then both statements can be true though we could see how one would appear to be false.  If one was referring to a physical glass being held by someone being empty of water and the other was speaking metaphorically of their life being full again both statements could be true though one may appear false.  

Also if there is any reasonable explanation then there is no contradiction even if the explanation cannot be proven to be the correct one.  For instance in our analogy of the two statements made about the cup, without more information, it is impossible for determine which of the explanations is correct.  However it is also impossible, without more information, to prove that neither is correct and a contradiction exists. 

 So when examining a Bible passage for contradiction we should keep in mind that a contradiction only exists when both passages are making opposite statements about the same thing, the same time and in the same sense and that if there is any reasonable explanation for the appearance of contradiction then no contradiction can be said to exist.

In Part 2 we will look at some common sense questions that can be asked that will resolve most perceptions of contradiction within the Bible.

Women in the church

January 15, 2007

The subject of the role of women in the church is a very controversial and sensitive subject especially in the denominational world.  Recent headlines have proclaimed the acceptance of women in positions of authority in many of the denominations.  The leadership of many of the denominations has held votes and decided that it is acceptable for women to be ordained as clergy and hold offices within the church.  The churches of Christ are often criticized for our stance on this issue.  We are accused of adhering to outdated and mysogynistic teaching that oppresses women.  The question, however, is not what the popular decision is on this matter and it is not up to a vote by any group.  The only thing that matters is what the word of God instructs.

Christ loves men and women equally

The first thing that must be noted is that God loves everyone equally.   God does not love men more than women or vice versa.  In Galatians 3:28 we are told that all are one in Christ regardless of nationality or gender.  God does not qualify his love for you and his offer of salvation on your gender.  Jesus in his earthly ministry healed women and cast evil spirits out of women just as he did for men (Matthew 9:20, Luke 8:12).  When the woman that was caught in adultry was brought before Christ he prevented her death and forgave her sin rather than condemning her (John 8:3-11).  When Mary came and anointed his feet with ointment Jesus recognized her kindness and proclaimed that wherever his gospel was preached they would also tell of what she had done as a memorial to her (Matthew 26:13).  When he first went to the Samaritans he did not go to the great or wealty men of the city nor to the wise and religious leaders. Rather he spoke first to a humble woman drawing water from a well (John 4:7-41).  There can be no doubt from these passages and many others that we could cite that Jesus has just as much love for women as he does for men.

Submission does not equal inferiority

Another thing we must understand is that, contrary to what our society teaches, submission to something or someone does not equate with being inferior.  Christ submitted himself to the will of the Father (John 6:38) though he is equal to the Father (Phillipians 2:6-8).  We are commanded to submit to the rule of our government (1 Peter 2:13-15) but we are not inferior to those who are in goverment.  All Christians are commanded to submit to one another (1 Peter 5:5).  We are told to submit to the elders of the church (Hebrews 13:17).  Besides being necessary to understand the differences in the gender roles within the church this lesson is vital simply to being a Christian as a Christians entire life is one of submission.

What the Bible says

In first Corinthians 14 Paul gives instructions on the proper way to conduct the worship assembly (1 Corinthians 14:23).  He gives the following instruction concerning women:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
(1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

Paul commands that within the assembly women are to remain silent and if they have any questions to ask them privately.  It is important to keep in mind that Paul was only giving commands for conduct within the assembly as we read in verse 23.  Paul gave a similar command to Timothy:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
(1 Timothy 2:11-14)

 Paul here states that there are two things that he forbids women to do in the church,  the first being to teach and the second to usurp authority from the man.  The Greek word that is translated as “usurp authority” is authenteo which menas to govern, excersize dominion or authority over one.  So this passage commands that women are neither to teach nor to govern or excersize authority over a man.

So where does this passage apply?  Is the woman foridden to teach at any time?  Is she unable to govern or exercize authority over a man at any time? The word translated as silence is hesuchia and means to cease from speaking.   It can hardly be that Paul is commanding women to be silent at all times, since he told them to ask their husbands questions at home in 1 Corinthians 14.  Further evidence of this is the fact that Priscilla along with her husband Aquila taught Apollos privately (Acts 18:26).   Paul also specifically commanded that the older women teach the younger (Titus 2:4-5).  Thus we see that Paul was not forbidding women to teach or hold authority over men in all situations but specifically within the assembly. 

So if women are not permitted to teach or hold positions of authority within the church what are their responibilities? Just as with men God has provided in his word instructions for women as to what he expects from them and what their responsiblities are. 

As we have already seen women are able to teach and proclaim the gospel in a private capacity as seen by Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos together (Acts 18:26).   We also see that Philip’s daughters taught privately as well (Acts 21:8-9).  In Titus 2:3 Paul commands that the older women are to be teachers of good things.  Thus we see that outside of the public assembly women are biblically authorized  and even expected to teach and to teach in the presence of and directly to men. 

In Titus 2:4-5 older women are given specific authorization to teach the younger women what they need to know to be outstanding Christian women.  They are to teach them to practice self-control and modesty, take care of their homes, to be kind, and to be submissive to their husbands. 

We also have examples of some of the things that women did in the early church.  In Acts 9:36-39 we read of a woman named Tabitha who we are told was full of good and charitable deeds.  So women are authorized to charitable works such as visiting those who are sick, feeding those who are hungry, etc…  In 1 Timothy 5:9-10 Paul giving instruction concerning the church taking in and providing for widows mentions that these women should be well known for their goods works. He then goes on to provide examples of the kind of work that the should be known; bringing up children, showing hospitality, ministering to brothers and sisters in Christ, helping those in need, and any other good work. When we look at the examples of things that the older women are to be teaching the younger women to do and the things that Paul says that a woman should be known for it sounds like a full time job and none of these things are unimportant. 

So God has not left women without work to do in his kingdom.  While these responsibilties might not be the same as those of men they are no less important to the church doing all that God has designed it to do.  Though this teaching is not very popular in todays society as Christians we are obligated to only teach the truth from the word of God on this matter. 

Indentifying the one true church

January 3, 2007

In a previous post I addressed the subject of denominationalism.  It is clear from scripture that denominationalism is condemned.  Christ never intended the church he promised to build to be divided.  With so many different denominations teaching and practicing different things how are we to choose one?   Is there anyone that has it totally right or are all equally wrong?  Thankfully God has not left us without answers to these very important questions.

Jesus promised his apostles that he would not leave them without direction but that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 6:13).  By the time Peter wrote his second epistle we find that all things that pertained to life and godliness had been delivered ( 2 Peter 2:3).  When Paul wrote to the Galatians he instructed them not to accept any new teaching whether from the apostles or even an angel from heaven (Galatians 1:7-8).  The apostle Jude wrote that the faith had been delivered once and for all to the church (Jude 3).   So we know from these passage that the early church as led by the apostles had been given everything they needed to know to be pleasing to God.  The admonition from Paul still stands for us today that we need to reject any new teaching or practice and adhere to what the apostles had already delivered.

But how are we to know what the apostles originally taught and what the early church practiced?  We know what was they originally taught and practiced because we have the written words that were given to instruct them what to believe and how to behave (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 John 5:13).  So to identify which church, if any, is correct we must turn to what was written about and to these early churches and choose a church that teaches and does the same things.  

As we look in the word of God and notice the characteristics of the first century church we notice first the organization of the church.  Each congregation was autonomous and overseen by a group of elders, also known as bishops, who were assisted by the deacons (Philipians 1:1, Acts 20:17,28).   We see that in the first century church elders were ordained in every congregation ( Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5).  We are also told what the duties of these two offices were. The elders were responsible for oversight and leadership of the local congregations (1 Peter 5:1-2, 1 Timothy 5:17, Acts 20:17 & 28).  The deacons assisted the elders by seeing to the physical matters of the church delegated to them by the elders (Acts 6:1-3).  We are also told the exact qualifications that anyone desiring to fill one of these offices were required to meet (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9).  The early church had no office above an elder that was responsible for overseeing multiple congregations nor can we find in the Bible the qualifications for any other offices.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the first century church was its worship.  We notice first that the first century church met every first day of the week for the special purpose of observing the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).  They often met for worship on other days of the week as well (Acts 2:46).  During these worship services there was teaching with one person speaking at a time and if they were speaking in an foreign language they were to have an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:29-35).  In the first century church there was also prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).  The first century christians also sang during their worship without instrumental accompaniment (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).  They also gave of their means upon the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  Women were prohibited from teaching in the assembly or holding positions of authority in the church (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

Another important characteristic of the first century church is what the church as a whole and its individual congregations were called.  Paul referred to the various congregatons as the churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) or the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:16).  The church as a whole was also called the church of God (Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 1:2).  It is also referred to by the writer of Hebrews as the church of the firstborn (Hebrews 12:23).  None of these designations are truly names but rather indicate who the church belongs to.  Often in the firt century a congregation would be designated by its location (Revelation 2:1).  First century congregations were never called by a name to describe a belief that set them apart from other congregations as they were all to teach and practice exactly the same thing.  First century churches never were designated by the name of the man who founded them because the church belongs to Christ alone and the practice was in fact condemned (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). 

What the members of the early church were called is another identifying mark.  The memebers were often called disciples (Acts 11:26).  We see in this same passage and others that they were also called Christians (1 Peter 4:14-16).  Also we find that they were called saints (Romans 1:7).

Another characteristic of the early church is how one became a member.  In Acts 20:47 we find that God alone added people to the church upon baptism.  There were no votes by other members, committees, boards, or any other man-made process.  There was no membership placement or any other such concept.  One merely needed to hear the word of God (Romans 10:14), believe it (John 3:14-18), repent of past sins (Acts 2:38), confess their faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10), and be buried with him in baptism (Romans 6:3-7) and one was then added to the church by God.

With these indentifying characteristics of the church clearly in our minds we should examine any church that we are, or are thinking about becoming, a member of.  The church that we join should be one that:

  • Uses only the Bible as its authority and letting all other teaching be rejected.
  • Has autonomous congregations overseen by elders assisted by deacons with no other offices or positions.
  • Has a worship service that includes teaching, prayer, singing without instrumental accomaniment, observance of the Lord’s supper and giving on the first day of the week and in which women do not teach or assume positions of authority.
  • Has a name that reflects its ownership by Christ and possibly the location for identification.
  • Has members who are simply called christians, saints or disciples.
  • Is joined by hearing the word, believing it, repentance of sins, confession of faith, and baptism with no man-made process involved.

Take the time to look at the things that your church believes and practices.  Try to find an example of the early church teaching or doing the same thing.  If you can’t then please find a church that follows the example set by the christians of the first century.