The Bible’s Contradictions And Ours

The blog Unreasonable Faith asked which Bible contradiction is the hardest one to explain away. I wonder whether the ability to harmonize the Bible – or, more accurately, to pretend its discrepancies have been resolved – isn’t simply one example of the human ability to hold to contradictory ideas. One can find instances of this which are connected with the Bible, such as when someone manages to harmonize the Bible’s difficult content with the claim that it is inerrant. But one can also find the same thing among atheists, whether in the form of holding firmly to the view that atheism is the rational position despite the evidence that some atheists are anything but rational, or in the form of embracing the possibility of the existence of spiritual beings (one person’s ghost is another’s god).

The aforementioned contradictions in worldviews are not necessarily a problem. They are just a reminder that as human beings we do not have it all figured out and wrapped up in a nice neat package. The world we experience is more complex than any humanly-constructed worldview has managed to do justice to. That is why people regularly discover the inadequacies in one and switch to another, hoping that it can do better justice to certain aspects of their experience. And that is why some of us stop looking for the perfect worldview and choose instead to work within the one we have with a hefty serving of humility, and a willingness to treat it as what it is, namely a set of useful symbols rather than a definitive set of answers to life’s questions.Nevertheless, some of the contradictions can be annoying, especially when they are not acknowledged as such. One particularly irritating contradiction for me as a Biblical scholar is when people dismiss the Bible as so much nonsense because it has contradictions, and yet embrace other literature (or the longest running science fiction show in TV history) and happily ignore, harmonize, or even embrace its plot discontinuities.The Bible does not have contradictions because it is trash. It has contradictions because it is a collection of human literature. There is a great deal in there that is worthy of criticism. But if you cannot understand why some people appreciate it nonetheless, then you are almost certainly not treating it the way you treat other human creations – or at least, not the way you treat the ones you happen to like.In which case, the same sorts of contradictions you see in the Bible also dwell within your very self.

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