Does The Bible Contradict Itself?

A Story
A few years ago, Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, Dean of t h e Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (U S A.), told of a most remarkable incident that happened to him He said that he learned through someone of the accidental death of an aunt of his. The friend told him that his aunt stepped down from the pavement on to the street at a busy corner, and was struck down by a car and so died. Some days later he read in the newspaper about the death of this aunt, and the account said that she had been riding in a car which was involved in a head-on collision, and this caused her death.

The two reports of the same incident seemed to Dr. Kantzer to be contradictory. He might simply have accepted that, and said the two are contradictory. Then he might have tried to decide, from the evidence which he had, which of the two accounts was true. He might then have concluded that one was true and the other was false. Or he might have decided that he could not find out which one was true, and therefore have said that perhaps both are false, or in any case he could not know. And so he might have concluded that he just could not trust these accounts.

However, Dr. Kantzer did not do that. He went to his cousin. He learned from his cousin the exact facts. He found out the full truth. And the amazing thing is, he found that both accounts were correct. What actually happened was that the lady did step down from the pavement to the street, she was struck by a passing car, and Was fatally injured. The driver of the car was so sorry for what had happened, that he picked up the lady and started to take her to the hospital. But on the way the car was involved in a head-on collision, and the lady was instantly killed.

Apparent Contradictions
Thus Dr. Kantzer found out that the accounts seemed to be contradictory at first only because he did not know all the facts. He made enquiries very soon after the incident, and so was able to learn the truth. But suppose that someone coming one hundred years later saw only those two separate accounts. What would he think? He would then have no way of finding out all the facts, and might conclude that here is a definite contradiction. But he would be wrong. It would be false for him to say that. All he could say is that it seems to be a contradiction, and until he knows that he has all the facts he cannot say more

In the Bible there are seeming contradictions also. There are different accounts of the same incident, such as in the books of the Kings and Chronicles, or in two or more of the Gospels. But these are events that happened at least nineteen hundred years ago, and some of them more than 3000 years. The records of these events are almost as old. Can we say now that we know all the facts relating to those events? No one can say this, therefore no one can say for certain that these are contradictory accounts. We may say that there seems to be a contradiction. But we must also say that if we could get all the facts that seeming contradiction might be cleared up.

And in any case, we can definitely say this, that no one knows enough to prove there is a contradiction

Let’s Suppose
Let’s suppose for a minute that Dr. Kantzer did not go to his cousin to find out the facts, but rather tried to reason the problem out. He might have said to himself. something like this: “I know that the people from whom I learnt these things are reliable. The friend who first told me about my aunt’s death is a true man. I have always known him to tell the truth. Also the newspaper is reliable. Reporters go to learn the facts and they tell what has been substantiated as true. But how can both of these accounts be true? Is there any way to resolve them?”

As Dr. Kantzer kept thinking, he might have come up with this idea : “Suppose my aunt did actually step off the pavement into the street and was struck down by a car. Then suppose someone came along, it might have been another car, or it might even have been the same car that had struck her. And this car then started to take her to the hospital. Then suppose also that on the way to the hospital the car in which my aunt was riding was involved in a collision and my aunt was killed. That is a possible solution to the apparent contradiction. It may seem a little unusual, but it is reasonable.”

We know that some people immediately would say to Dr. Kantzer that he is simply trying to save the reliability of his sources. He doesn’t want to admit that his friend could be mistaken or that the newspaper could be wrong. So he imagines a very fanciful explanation of what is a contradiction This solution is really too far-fetched to believe.

But that solution was in fact true. And in that case the truth was discovered because he was able to learn all the facts.

The sceptics may accuse the Bible of having contradictions in it. And solutions that are proposed by evangelical Bible students may seem to them very fanciful or far-fetched. But we who believe the Bible, and have sufficient evidence that it is true, are quite reasonable in saying that until we have all the facts, no one can say that there is a proved contradiction in this Word of God, even though there are problems and apparent contradictions.

A Contradiction Examined
For example, in the life of David a certain incident happened as recorded in 2 Sam. 24 and 1 Chron. 21. King David. apparently through pride. wished to number the people of Israel, though God had not told him to do so. He forced through this census against then will of his General, then realized he had sinned, and purchased a place for sacrifice in order to propitiate God on behalf of the people. In the two accounts of this incident there are some apparent contradictions.

One of these concerns the actual numbers as found in the census. In 2 Sam 24:9 it is said that the number counted in Israel was 800 0 0 and in Judah 500,000 In 1 Chron. 21:5 the number for Israel was 1,100,000 and for Judah 470,000. This is a clear discrepancy in the numbers.

Again there seems to be a contradiction in the recorded prices that David paid for the place of sacrifice. In 2 Sam. 4:24 it is said that he paid 50 shekels of silver, while in 1 Chron. 21:25 the price is said to be 600 shekels of gold. Again, a clear discrepancy.

Now we might just dismiss the matter by saying that here is a contradiction and one of these accounts must be wrong. That is what some people have said. But it is more reasonable, and therefore more correct, to say that we do not know all the facts, and therefore we will not say this is a contradiction We will simply say that we do not know the explanation for it, but we trust that there is one, and if we had all the facts we would know what that explanation is. This an attitude of faith and confidence based on pure knowledge of the trustworthiness of the Word of God. It is faith, but not foolish faith. It is reasonable faith.

A Solution
As a matter of fact, we do not have to say that there are. no- possible solutions to the above apparent contradictions in 2 Sam 24 and 1. Chron. 21. Those who are interested in studying this may consult commentaries such as the New Bible Commentary. One possible explanation for the second one may be seen right in the text itself. A careful comparison of the language in 2 Sam. 24:24 and 1 Chron. 21: 25 will show that David probably paid 50 silver shekels for just the threshing floor and oxen, while he paid, (perhaps later) 600 shekels of gold for the whole area. Whether this is the actual explanation or not, it is a reasonable possibility. But whether we know the true explanation or not, we can rest assured that no one can prove this or the other difficulties to be contradictions because no one now knows all the facts.

In the history of Bible studies many such difficulties have been called contradictions until later studies brought new facts to light and the apparent contradiction was resolved. We can be confident that when all the facts are known, then the present difficulties or seeming contradictions will be explained. The Word of God is trustworthy.

Reprinted from The Evangelical Student July August 1970

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