“Contradictions”: Biblical Idiom, Language, Theology, & Culture

“Contradictions”: Biblical Idiom, Language, Theology, & Culture December 1, 2023

Chapter 2 of my book (available for free online), Inspired!: 191 Supposed Biblical Contradictions Resolved. See the Introduction and ch. 1: How Do Atheists Define a “Biblical Contradiction”? All Bible passages RSV unless otherwise noted.

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1.Why did Matthew take the very unusual step of including four women (Matt. 1:3, 5-6) in Joseph’s genealogy? Isn’t that a contradiction over against other biblical genealogies? 

The four women were Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. But this is not “very unusual” in the Bible. 1 Chronicles refers to more than fifty women in its genealogies (see, e.g., 2:1, 4, 16-17, 46; 3:2, 5; 4:18; 8:8-11).  

  1. Were there 28 generations (Matt. 1:17) or 43 generations (Luke 3:23-31) from David to Jesus?

Scholars familiar with biblical genealogies inform us that they routinely abbreviate and omit names considered to be unimportant according to their immediate purpose. No genealogy should be assumed to be literally continuous unless external evidence is brought to bear which proves it to be so.

  1. Does God lead us into temptation (Matt. 6:13) or tempt no one (James 1:13)?

This is another understandable, “respectable” objection. James 1:13 is literally true. The difficulty is interpreting Matthew 6:13, which seems to contradict it. “Lead us not into temptation” from the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father” can be understood as a poetic, rhetorical way of expressing the notion: “keep us from temptation” or “we know (in faith) that you won’t lead us into temptation.” Hence, lovers will say to each other, “don’t break my heart”: which usually means, literally, “I believe you won’t break my heart like those others have.” In other words, the literal “won’t” is changed to the rhetorical, more emotional, “don’t.” Instead of saying, “please do this [good thing]” we change it to requesting the person to “please don’t do [the opposite bad thing]”. The poetic Psalms, which are usually first person pleas or praise to God, offer many analogical parallels (Ps. 38:21; 40:11: “Do not thou, O Lord, withhold thy mercy from me, let thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness ever preserve me!” [both senses in one verse]; 44:23; 70:5; 138:8; 140:8).

  1. Are we to not judge at all (Matt. 7:1-2), or judge when it is necessary (1 John 4:1-3)?

Matthew 7:1-2 is one of many scriptural proverbial statements, that allows and presupposes exceptions. Matthew is expressing a sort of “reverse golden rule.” If we judge harshly, unfairly, uncharitably, then chances are such judgment will come back to us at some point. It doesn’t follow, however, that no one can ever rightly judge at any time. 1 John 4:1-3 is actually about spiritual discernment, so it’s a non sequitur and no contradiction by the same token. In any event, there are many verses about perfectly justifiable and righteous non-sinful judging (Luke 11:19, 31-32; 12:57; 22:30; John 7:24; 1 Cor. 10:15; 11:13).

  1. Is it true that we can “Ask and it shall be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-10), or that if we “ask” we’ll be refused and won’t find, and will be refused entrance (Luke 13:24-27)?

The first statement provides utterances from Jesus that are general, proverbial truths: qualified elsewhere in Scripture, in literal passages. For example: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3); “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Luke 13:24-27 is very different, and is specifically about those who are reprobate or damned. They had every chance to repent during their lives and be saved, but now it is too late; it’s time to be judged; the game’s up for them, so at that point they can’t seek any more. No conflict here . . .

  1. Was Peter’s mission to preach to the Jews (Matt. 10:2, 5-6; Gal. 2:7) or to the Gentiles (Acts 15:7)?

At first, the mission of Jesus and His disciples was to preach to their fellow Jews, as Matthew makes clear.  Later, St. Peter’s emphasis (but not exclusively) was still to the Jews but his overall mission expanded and included Gentiles, as Acts 15:7 indicates. Indeed, the entirety of Acts chapter 10 as about the opening of the gospel to the Gentiles, led by Peter (as Paul had just recently become a Christian). Likewise, Paul’s emphasis was on the Gentiles: though not exclusively in his case, either, as he regularly debated in the synagogues (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 43; 14:1; 17:1-4, 10-12, 17) and otherwise with Jews (9:22; 19:10, 17; 20:21), proclaiming the gospel. So both reached out to both groups, but emphasized one group (more or less a “division of labor”). Emphases and expansions of missions and goals of this sort are simply not contradictions. It’s not contradictory for Peter to exclusively preach to the Jews and first and then “branch out” to include the Gentiles. It’s this wooden “either/or” mentality of the skeptic that makes them falsely believe contradictions are occurring. And rank ignorance of scriptural teachings and motifs are constantly in play as well.

  1. Why did Jesus say that John the Baptist was the prophet Elijah (Matt. 11:9; 17:12-13), whereas John the Baptist said that he was not the prophet Elijah (John 1:21)?

The passages in Matthew are in the sense of prototype: John the Baptist was a type of Elijah; the last prophet, who had the same role as he did: to cause Israel to repent. Luke 1:17 makes this clear. An angel says about John: “he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah”. The repeated New Testament use of “son of David” for Jesus is an instance of the same thing, because David was a prototype of the Messiah. Jeremiah proclaimed, some 400 years after David’s death: “But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jer. 30:9; cf. 33:15; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hos. 3:5). John the Baptist himself spoke literally in John 1:21, in denying that he was Elijah, returned from the dead. Since these are instances of both metaphorical and literal expression, it’s no contradiction.

  1. If all people come into judgment (Matt. 12:36; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27; 1 Pet. 1:17; Jude 14-15; Rev. 20:12-13) how can believers not come into judgment (John 5:24)?

John 5:24 means that a believer will be saved (“has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life”). “Judgment” there has the specific meaning of “judged as worthy of damnation” or more broadly, “conviction” in a legal sense. But everyone will be judged in the wider sense of having to give account before God, Who then declares if we are saved or not. John 5:24 doesn’t conflict with that at all, so this is much ado about nothing.

  1. Must we forgive seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22), or is forgiveness not possible in cases of renewed sin (Heb. 6:4-6)?

Yes, human beings must always be willing to forgive: to have that spirit, because all of us have been forgiven by God. But God is not obliged to forgive forever. He provides enough grace for anyone to be saved, but if they reject it, that’s their choice, and they make forgiveness impossible to grant, because it must be preceded by acceptance and repentance. That’s what Hebrews 6 addresses: those who have received this grace and who were on the road to salvation, but then rejected it. It’s then impossible, as long as they continue rebelling and rejecting God and His grace.

  1. Why would we pray that we don’t enter into temptation (Matt. 26:41) if temptation is a joy (James 1:2)?

James 1:2 refers not to temptation (hence, this is “apples and oranges” again), but to “trials”. The “joy” that comes through trials is spelled out: “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4). This “testing” need not be a temptation at all. I could have a rock fall on my head from an avalanche. That would be a “test” of my faith, but not a temptation. Temptation is allowing ourselves to fall into being led astray by sexual immorality (lust), greed, gluttony, etc. It proceeds from the inside: in our soul. The Bible never teaches that temptation is a joy. That’s proven by a Bible search of both words together.

  1. How come Jesus told his followers to go and baptize (Matt. 28:19), yet Paul said he was not sent to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17), and did nevertheless baptize, at least in one instance (1 Cor.1:16)?

This is division of labor. Paul’s specialty was evangelism and dealing with hard-nosed unbelievers. He could assign others to baptize new converts (just as Jesus himself had done). It’s not difficult to do. No biggie and no contradiction. Paul baptized one household, as an exception to his rule, and couldn’t remember baptizing anyone else.

  1. Did Jesus cure Peter’s mother-in-law before he cleansed the leper (Mark 1:30-42; Luke 4:38 to 5:13) or after (Matt. 8:1-15)?

None of the Synoptic authors are concerned with always presenting events in a chronological sequence. They have different emphases. Matthew mostly organizes by topic (like an encyclopedia). Luke emphasizes geography as his arranging method (like an atlas). Mark borrows from both of them, sometimes following one order and sometimes another (similar to recounting stories from memory). The evangelists did not write or think exactly as we do today. Their stories are not literal travelogues or chronological biographies, but rather, collections of the sayings of Jesus and events in his life that they deemed to be the most important to the specific audiences they had in mind. We don’t know the exact sequence of events pertaining to the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, because the Synoptic Gospels simply were relatively unconcerned with strictly chronological order. Once we understand this, it’s plain that this is not an issue at all, let alone a supposed “contradiction.”

  1. Is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit an unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29) or are all sins forgivable (Acts 13:39; Col. 2:13; 1 John 1:9)?

Generally speaking, yes: all sins are forgivable. But as in most things, there is an exception. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the rejection of God altogether, which in a sense is not “forgivable” because the person hasn’t repented and asked to be forgiven, by the definition of having rejected God. In that sense, it can’t be forgiven, because “it takes two.” One could say, as an analogy, “all horses are able to drink from the stream. But I can’t force my horse to do so if it doesn’t want to or choose to do so. I can only bring it to the stream. There are things that are made impossible by the contrary will of the creature involved. God can offer the free gift of grace and salvation to all, but we have to accept it. Once free will is present, rebellion is always possible and can’t be altogether avoided.

  1. Mark represents a more Gentile attitude in quoting the Old Testament as “Moses said” (Mark 7:10) rather than “God said” (Matt. 15:4). All Jews would agree with the latter practice. Matthew, a Jew, would never have attributed the Ten Commandments to Moses.

Mark is also widely believed to be derived mostly from Peter: quite Jewish. This is much ado about nothing. The Hebrews thought in “both/and” terms (St. Paul’s writings often reflect this). For them, the Law of Moses or Mosaic law was God’s Law.  The two are identical. It was dictated by God to Moses, who delivered it to the ancient Hebrews. The context of Mark 7:10 clearly shows this. While 7:10 has Jesus referring to “Moses said” while referring to the Ten Commandments, both 7:8 and 7:9 use the terminology “the commandment of God” in referring to the same thing. 7:10 refers to the prior notions by starting with the connecting word “For.” 7:13 also references “the word of God” in discussing the same general topic. Nor is the converse true about Matthew, who makes references to Moses’ teachings and his (God’s) Law as well:

Matthew 8:4 [Jesus – also a Jewish man — speaking] . . . offer the gift that Moses commanded . . .

Matthew 19:8 He [Jesus] said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The parallel passage in Mark about divorce has Jesus saying:

Mark 10:3-5 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”  They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.”  But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.”

Both books make reference to Moses commanding that which was God’s Law given to him. They both do both things. It’s not one vs. the other. St. Paul continues the “both/and” practice in his epistles, since he refers to the “law of Moses” twice (Acts 13:39; 1 Cor. 9:9) and the synonymous “law of God” twice (Rom. 7:22, 25). Moreover, in the Old Testament (not including the Deuterocanon), “law of Moses” is used 13 times, and “law of God” four times, as well as the similar “law of the Lord” another 18 times. We must conclude, then, that this point of argument is a false dichotomy. Context and cross-referencing demolish it.

  1. Did Jesus desire that no sign should be given (Mark 8:12), or that none would be except for that of Jonah (Matt. 12:39; Luke 11:29), or
    that many signs should take place (John 20:30; Acts 2:22)?

The difference of “strategy” has to do with willingness to believe vs. unwillingness. Jesus knew who would accept His signs and miracles and who would not. With people who did not and would not (usually the “scribes and Pharisees”), he refused to do miracles and signs. This is made clear in the Bible (Mark 8:11-12; Matt. 12:39; 16:4). In Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:27-31), he explains why sometimes it does no good to perform miracles. This also foretold the widespread rejection of the miracle of his own Resurrection. Belief or willingness to accept the evidence of a miracle is also tied to Jesus’ willingness to perform miracles (Matt. 13:58: “he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief”). With the common folk, it was entirely different, and so we also see a verse like John 6:2 (“And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased.”). Because the atheist hyper-critic refuses to acknowledge or understand these simple distinctions, all of a sudden we have yet another trumped-up, so-called “contradiction” where there is none at all. E for [futile] effort, though . . .

  1. Mark 10:19 misquotes the Ten Commandments and inserts an extra commandment: “Do not defraud.”

This is just silly. Jesus is adding nothing. He lists the five famous “thou shalt nots”: murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and then says “do not defraud” instead of “do not covet.” It’s essentially the same thing. Merriam-Webster defines defraud as “to deprive of something by deception.” This is what comes as a result of covetousness. The same source defines covet as “to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably.” Jesus is always forward-looking in his application of the Jewish Law. This is similar to his teaching on the Sermon on the Mount: always going deeper: “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). I think a similar “deeper analysis / getting to the heart or root of the matter” is going on here, as if Jesus is saying (by strong implication): “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not defraud’ [see, e.g., Lev. 19:13] But I say to you that every one who covets has already committed defrauding in his heart.” Thus, “defraud not” is not “an extra commandment”: it’s an application of one or more existing ones, just as Jesus taught that lust was a variant — and indeed precursor — of adultery. He wanted to convey the heart-level roots of sin; not just the outward observance of moral laws.

  1. Mark 11:10 refers to “the kingdom of our father David.” No Jew would have said that. The father of the nation was Abraham. Not all Jews were sons of David.

Nonsense. There is Jewish / Hebrew precedent. In 2 Kings 16:2 (cf. 2 Chron. 28:1) refers to “his father David” in relation to King Ahaz, who reigned some 250 years after David. Acts 4:25 (Peter speaking) also references “our father David.”  “Your father Abraham” only appears once in the Old Testament. “Father Abraham” appears seven times in the New Testament, including four times from the Gentile Luke. The writers of 2nd Kings (Jewish tradition held that it was Jeremiah) and 2nd Chronicles (Jewish and Christian tradition say it was Ezra) did, and so did St. Peter (all Jews). Therefore, Mark can do so. He’s simply following that Jewish tradition. Besides, Mark uses the phrase in the context of Palm Sunday, where the people saying this thought the messianic kingdom might be arising (Mark 11:10), and it is well known that David is also the prominent prototype of the Messiah in the Old Testament (” ‘What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David’ “: Matt. 22:42). “Son of David” (in this vein) is applied to Jesus 16 times in the Gospels: ten of these in Matthew, including his description: “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). Yet we are to believe that Mark is somehow expressing himself in a non-Jewish way, by referring to “our father David”? It just isn’t so.

  1. Mark 12:31-34 subordinates the Torah to love, and to the kingdom, in contrast to Matthew 22:36-40, where Matthew, as a Jew, put a far greater emphasis on the Law.

I don’t see much difference at all. After all, in the passage from Matthew above, Jesus doesn’t even cite the Ten Commandments. Rather, He cites a portion of the Law that sums up “all the law and the prophets” (22:40): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (22:37). Then he stresses love: “a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:39). He does similarly in another passage: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23). That’s certainly putting the emphasis on love, rather than merely legal transactions. Is Mark really much different than this? Mark 12:31-34 is basically the same as Matthew 22:37-39 above, and then Jesus adds: “to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (12:33). The Law was meant to focus on love all along, and this is explicitly taught in the Old Testament, too. If it’s thought that Mark is denigrating the Old Testament sacrificial system, he is saying nothing that hasn’t already been taught under the old covenant. So, for example:

Amos 5:21-24 I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Jeremiah 6:20 . . . Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.

Proverbs 21:27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.

When His people obeyed his commands, however, then God was pleased with the same sacrifices (Isa. 56:6-7: “their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar”; Jer. 17:24-26: “But if you listen to me . . .”; Mal. 1:11: “a pure offering”; many others). Therefore, we see nothing “new” here in Mark, which is no different than Matthew. These themes had been present in Judaism and the existing Bible for many hundreds of years.

  1. Mark 14:13 states that the disciples were to be met by a man carrying a pitcher of water, whom they would follow in order to obtain a “guest room” for the Passover meal (14:13-14). Matthew 26:18 disagrees with the idea that a Jewish man would do a woman’s work.

Luke 22:10 also indicates a man carrying water. Matthew simply doesn’t mention it. Omission of a matter is not logically the same as a contradiction. Indeed, it was customary in ancient Israel for women to carry water jugs on their heads. But men were not forbidden to do so. Hence, Deuteronomy 29:11 refers to “he who draws your water.” In the Jewish sect of the Essenes, men carried water on their heads. They had a community on Jerusalem, and one of Jerusalem’s gates was called “the Gate of the Essenes”. Jesus knew that if the disciples saw one of these Essene men and followed him through the streets of the city, that they would find a guest room; especially since the Essenes followed a different calendar for the Jewish feasts. That would mean that a room would be more readily available in their region of Jerusalem. Thus, what seems to be a trivial detail, actually was a very practical suggestion.

  1. How could the Holy Spirit be with John the Baptist before he was born (Luke 1:15, 41), and with his mother Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), Zechariah (Luke 1:67), and Simeon (Luke 2:25); indeed to anyone for the asking (Luke 11:13), whereas the Bible also teaches that the Holy Spirit didn’t come into the world until after Jesus had departed (John 7:39; 16:7; Acts 1:3-8)?

The Bible has many passages about the Holy Spirit being especially present with holy and especially “chosen” people, in both Testaments. That explains the first four instances. Anyone can search “Holy Spirit” in the Bible and find many more. In Luke, Jesus was referring to that and also anticipating what was to come: which was every Christian believer being indwelt with the Holy Spirit as a matter of course: from the time of baptism (John 3:5-6; Acts 2:38; 9:17-18; 1 Cor. 12:13; Titus 3:5). Acts 1 and 2 are about the Day of Pentecost: the beginning of the Christian Church and the ability of every Christian to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s the difference: not that no one ever had the Spirit before, but that all Christians could henceforth. This was what John 7:39 and 16:7 were referring to. When the former verse refers to “as yet the Spirit had not been given,” it doesn’t mean that the Spirit never was given to anyone before, but that all believers would soon receive it, as indicated by its words, “the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive.” It’s developing Christian theology. Developments are not contradictory because they always build on what went before.

  1. If Jesus said that all men will be saved (John 3:17), why is it stated that only 144,000 virgin men will be (Rev. 14:1-4)?

Jesus says no such thing. The meaning of the words in John 3:17 (not Jesus’ words, but the narrator John’s) is universal atonement: that all who wish to be — who are willing to be disciples of Jesus with all that that entails — can be saved. This is biblical teaching. In context it’s crystal clear that neither he nor John is saying all men will be saved, but rather, those who believe in Jesus. Jesus said, referring to himself: “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). John adds that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16) and “he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (3:18). Revelation 14 never asserts that this was the sum total of all who are saved. It specifically calls them the “first fruits” (14:4); in other words, there are many more to come and these are only the “first batch.” The claim that this is all the saved is simply read into the passage (eisegesis) without warrant by this skeptic. This is a very incompetent, embarrassing, and almost inexcusable proposed “contradiction.”

  1. How is it that Jesus said he would not cast aside any that come to him (John 6:37), yet also said that many who come to him will be cast aside (Matt. 7:21-23)?

In John 6:37, Jesus refers to “All that the Father gives me will come to me”: in other words, this refers to predestination and election, which is in conjunction with our free will acceptance, repentance, and cooperation. The latter part of the verse is conditional upon this prerequisite. These are the ones who will be saved in the final analysis and go to heaven. Jesus (being God and therefore omniscient) knows this, so of course he won’t cast them out. Christianity doesn’t teach universalism (all are saved); it teaches universal atonement (God’s mercy and grace are available for all who repent and accept them as a free gift, and continually cooperate through good works and sanctification). Matthew 7:21-23, on the other hand, refers to false, deceitful supposed “followers” of Christ who really aren’t. They haven’t repented and allowed God to transform them in grace, and so they simply mouth the words, “Lord, Lord” and “Jesus.” They “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk” as we Christians say. But God knows his own (John 10:14) and he knows who is faking it. God knows men’s hearts. We can’t fool Him with our games and pretensions and outrageous hypocrisies. That’s what this is about. The biblical teaching is that Jesus accepts all who are sincerely repentant and willing to follow Him as disciples, and who persevere and don’t fall away till the end. One must understand the biblical teaching on grace and salvation. Once they do, they see that these sorts of supposedly contradictory couplets aren’t “contradictions” at all. They are misguided, uninformed false speculations, exhibiting an ignorance of the teaching of the Bible. We all have to learn about any given subject. Theology is no different. It requires diligent study. I’ve been studying the Bible for 45 years, and I literally learn something new every time I study it more and write about it. Atheists are often exceedingly ignorant: many – as they themselves note — having been former fundamentalist or nominal Christians, and insufficiently instructed in the faith.

  1. Why did Jesus say that in him we would find peace (John 16:33), but also that he did not come to bring peace (Matt. 10:34; Luke 12:51)?

John 16:33 refers to personal / soul level peace and fulfillment (“in me you may have peace”). He makes the meaning absolutely clear in the similar passage, Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The other passages, in contrast, have to do with those in one’s family not liking the fact that one is a follower of Jesus; thereby bringing about division, which Jesus expressed with Hebraic hyperbolic exaggeration as “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). In Luke 12:51, Jesus uses the literal description, “division.” It’s a social dynamic, as opposed to individual and personal. Another way of expressing the same dynamic was to say (with exaggeration of degree): “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22).

  1. How can Jesus come into the world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) if the truth had always been evident (Rom. 1:18-20)?

The second thing is true, but the same passage notes how men deliberately reject what they know to be true. So Jesus had to come to offer more evidence for the truth and to bear witness to the character of God. That goes beyond what Romans 1 was addressing: which was only “his eternal power and deity” as evident “in the things that have been made” (1:20). Jesus revealed much more than that. Some truth about God has always been evident in His creation; Jesus brought a much fuller revelation of spiritual truth.

  1. How can Luke state that all was written about Jesus (Acts.1:1), while John asserts that the world could not contain all that could be written about him (John 21:25)?

Acts 1:1 is a general and non-literal statement. Luke was saying that his Gospel dealt with “all that Jesus began to do and teach” in a broad sense. We do this all the time in how we use language today. We might say, for example, “I’ve been all over the world.” No doubt there are several dozen countries where we haven’t been. This is understood by the hearers, who know that it is a broad, generalized statement. Or a woman says, “I’ve been unhappy all of my life.” Are we to understand that literally for every second she was unhappy? No. It’s understood that it means, “unhappiness is a recurrent problem and dominant theme in my life that I can’t seem to shake off or resolve.” When Luke explained his reason for writing his Gospel, he wrote that he had “followed all things closely” (Luke 1:3). Are we to conclude that this included absolutely everything about Jesus? It couldn’t possibly, because the Gospels record, for example, that Jesus went off to be alone many times. They wouldn’t have known what he did then. Note Luke’s undeniable use of “all” four times in a non-literal sense, in two verses: “And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, . . .” (Luke 1:65-66). Many more such examples could easily be found. John 21:25 exaggerates to make the point that “there is a lot more material out there about Jesus than what I have recorded.” There is no conflict here, once the different use of language is understood, just as we do all the time in life in interpreting people using literal or non-literal language. Usually, context helps us understand which is being employed. It’s the same in the Bible.

  1. Is repentance necessary (Acts 3:19; Luke 3:3) or not necessary (Rom. 11:29)?

Of course it’s necessary. Romans 11:29 has nothing to do with repentance. It simply states: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” This alleged “contradiction seems to have antinomianism in its thinking: the notion that once you are saved, you can do anything and it’s fine and dandy: no need for continuous sanctification and good works (or an extreme “faith alone / eternal security” view). This isn’t true, and is a gross caricature of biblical salvation. The Bible (and Paul) teach sanctification and the necessity of good works all through the Christian life. Paul in Scripture refers to repentance ten times, sanctification twelve times, and holiness eight times. All of this requires repeated repentance, because we fail and fall and have to be restored to a right relationship with God through repentance. Confession of sins (after one becomes a Christian) is also referred to in James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9. That is part and parcel with repentance as well.

  1. If the Holy Spirit forbade Paul from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6), why did – or how could — he preach in Asia anyway (Acts 19:8-10)?

Acts 16:6 never indicates that this was a prohibition for all time. It was only for that particular time, as indicated by Acts 16:9 (“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’”). This is a case of one passage not being specific enough to establish beyond all doubt or argument, a contradiction with another passage. If 16:6 had read, “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia forever” then a clear contradiction would be present, but alas . . . foiled again!

  1. Did God condemn the world (Rom. 5:18) or not (John 3:17)?

Jesus did not talk in John 3:17. It was John or whoever wrote the Gospel bearing his name. Nor did the narrator make this blanket statement. Rather, he said something more specific: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” It was specifically about why God the Father sent Jesus. Paul sort of says this in Romans 5:18, but the leading thought is that the fall of man and our rebellion was our fault, not God’s, just as a convicted murderer’s wicked act is his fault, not that of the judge who sentences him. In light of all this, no contradiction can be drawn from the above passages.

  1. Are all who call on the Lord saved (Rom. 10:13; Acts 2:21), or only those predestined to be saved (Acts 2:47; 13:48; Eph. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:13)?

Predestination is very deep theological waters: among the two or three most misunderstood and mysterious aspects of theology. The unbeliever will never grasp it, according to 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” It is true that most Christians (including my own affiliation: Catholicism) believe that those who are saved were indeed predestined to be saved: but that’s because we believe that God knows all things and is outside of time. He knows, therefore, who will exercise their free will, soaked in his grace, and receive his mercy, grace, and salvation. In other words, none of this is without their free will cooperation. This cooperation with God’s grace (and with his predestination) is seen in many biblical passages (Rom. 15:17-18; 1 Cor. 15:10, 57-58; Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 2:13; 1 Pet. 4:10). Once all of these things are understood, it is seen that there are no contradictions. God predestines us, but he does so knowing that we would cooperate in our free will (that he gave us) with his grace and do our part of the equation. Many Christians misunderstand this, so (again) I don’t expect many unbelievers to grasp it. It’s too deep and complex, and spiritually discerned. But I have done my best to summarize it and to show that the attempted alleged contradiction is not one at all.

  1. Can non-believers obtain mercy (Rom. 11:32), or only believers (John 3:36; Rom. 14:23), or only baptized believers (Mark 16:16)?

Romans 11:32 teaches that God’s mercy is available to all. He wants all to be saved, but they have a free will, so many reject his free offer of mercy and salvation, and his moral precepts that go along with being saved. John 3:36 doesn’t say this at all. It states: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” The Bible doesn’t teach universal salvation to all, regardless of how they act. We all have free will to accept or reject God’s free gift of mercy, grace, and salvation. Some people reject that, but it isn’t due to a lack of God’s mercy. They refuse to repent and to follow God’s guidance. They would rather rebel against Him. The famous “gospel” passage John 3:16 laid out God’s free gift: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 14:23 is about conscience (the whole chapter is about that) and proper foods to eat and has nothing to do with mercy. It’s a non sequitur in this discussion. Mark 16:16 reiterates the teaching of John 3. One who refuses to believe in Jesus and Christianity — who deliberately rejects it, knowing full well what it is — cannot be saved. This doesn’t deny God’s mercy, which is always there for everyone. But they must reform their sinful ways and repent. God being merciful doesn’t mean that He saves everyone whatsoever, regardless of what they do. We have to repent and cooperate with his grace. We want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” without cost or responsibility. And this alleged “contradiction” exhibits that stunted mentality. None of this proves that there are contradictory teachings in Scripture regarding God’s mercy. That teaching is crystal-clear (Psalm 103:2-4, 8; 116:5; Luke 6:36; Acts 10:43; Eph. 1:7; 2:4; Col. 1:14; 2:13; 3:13). I see no inexorable contradiction established here at all. What I see, in the way the alleged “contradiction” is laid out, is a profound ignorance of biblical soteriology (the theology of salvation). That calls for humility and a willingness to learn, not issuing challenges concerning supposed inconsistencies in things the person knows little about in the first place (which is annoyingly presumptuous).

  1. Paul indirectly admits (1 Cor. 1:22-23) that he knew of no miracles performed by Jesus. His Jesus is not the miracle worker that we see in the Jesus of the gospels.

This atheist refuted himself (a not uncommon occurrence), because he wrote in the same article that “Paul mentions” Jesus’ Resurrection “14 times.” Is that not a miracle? Indeed, it is Jesus’ greatest miracle: the conquering of death, and showing that there is an afterlife. The Gospels teach that Jesus raised himself (i.e., it was his own miracle), just as he had raised Lazarus (John 2:18-22; 10:17-18). Note that Jesus thought his Resurrection was the “sign” that the Jews demanded (2:18). He reiterates this elsewhere in comparing his resurrection to the “sign of Jonah” (Mt 16:1-4; Lk 11:29-30): that is, his emerging from the whale (metaphor for his tomb) after three days. The citing of 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 proves nothing that is claimed for it. Paul’s simply saying that the crucifixion was loathsome to the Jews, and made it harder for them to accept Christianity. In the same book he mentions the Resurrection of Jesus nine times: in 6:14 and eight more times in chapter 15. Moreover, when Paul recalls the story of his conversion to Christ, he mentions miraculous occurrences caused by “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8): namely, “a great light from heaven” (22:6, 11), “brighter than the sun” (26:13), and “a voice” [of Jesus] from heaven (22:7; 26:14), which the others around him couldn’t hear (22:9). That was all miraculous and supernatural. It was a “heavenly vision” (26:19).

  1. It is better that young widows should remarry (1 Tim. 5:11-14) or not (1 Cor. 7:8)?

Paul in the overall context of 1 Corinthians 7:8 also recommends remarriage, since 7:9 states: “if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Thus, both passages are consistent, not contradictory. The supposed “contradiction” comes from 1 Corinthians 7:8: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.” To say that singleness is a preferable state to being married is not to forbid marriage or say that it is a bad thing. In the larger section, Paul teaches that singleness is better in order to avoid “worldly troubles” (7:28), to “be free from anxieties” (7:32), and to secure “undivided devotion to the Lord” (7:35). Paul is also very pro-marriage: “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (7:2). Bottom line: Paul in this chapter teaches that everyone should live as God has called them to live (7:7. 17. 24). That could be either single or married. No contradictions are present, once Paul’s teaching is fully understood. 

  1. Are backsliders condemned (2 Pet. 2:20) or saved, regardless (John 10:27-29)?

Yes, it’s bad news “if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them” (2 Pet. 2:20; the entire chapter should be read, for context and completeness). John 10:27-29 doesn’t teach what described above. Rather, it asserts that the elect and predestined; the ones who will make it to heaven (whom Jesus knows about in his omniscience) will never be lost. It’s simply saying a=a (“those who are saved in the end are saved” or “the elect are saved” or “the predestined are saved”).

  1. John teaches that whoever hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15) and that if anyone claims to love God but hates his brother, he is a liar (1 John 4:20), so why did Jesus teach that no one could be his disciple unless he hated his brother (Luke 14:26)?

1 John 3:15 expresses the principle (stressed in the Sermon on the Mount) that murder and every other sin have to start in our heart first”; in our thoughts and intentions. Secular law recognizes this based on degrees of guilt, based in turn on how premeditated and “voluntary” it was. 1 John 4:20 is about rank hypocrisy. One can’t love God and hate other people, because loving God includes obedience to his command to love all people, even our enemies. Luke 14:26, on the other hand, is an instance of exaggeration or hyperbole: the typically Hebraic way of expressing contrast. Literally it means “if you love your brother more than me [God] you can’t follow me” (since that would be idolatry). In fact, Jesus did express what we contend he was stating non-literally in Luke 14:26, in a literal fashion elsewhere (this is following the important hermeneutical principle of “interpret less clear or obvious passages by more clear related passages”): “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:37). The same scenario of “figurative ‘hate’ defined literally as ‘degrees of love’” occurs again in Genesis 29:30-33. This understood, the supposed “contradiction” vanishes into thin air.

  1. Jude 14 contains a prophecy of Enoch. Thus, if the Book of Jude is the Word of God, then the writings of “Enoch” from which Jude quotes, are also the Word of God, right?

The fallacy here is to think that because the Bible cites something, it, too (the complete work containing the citation), must be the “Word of God.” This simply isn’t true, since the Bible cites several non-canonical works or aspects of various traditions without implying that they are canonical. Paul, for example, in speaking to the philosophical Athenians (Acts 17:22-28), cited  the Greek poet Aratus: (c. 315-240 B.C.) and philosopher-poet Epimenides (6th c. B.C.): both referring to Zeus. Paul used two Greek pagan poet-philosophers, talking about a false god (Zeus) and “Christianized” their thoughts: applying them to the true God. He also cited the Greek dramatist  Menander (c. 342-291 B.C.) at 1 Corinthians 15:33: “bad company ruins good morals”.

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Photo Credit: clubraf (4-18-08) [Deviant Art / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License]

Summary: Portion of Dave Armstrong’s book, “Inspired!”: in which he examines 191 examples of alleged biblical contradictions & disproves all of these patently false claims.

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