When someone raises the “contradiction” objection, a reasonable first response is, “Show me one.” Often, the person cannot do so. However, it must be acknowledged that there are numerous places in Scripture where there are seemingly conflicting testimonies and apparent contradictions. If the Bible comes from God, and if God neither lies nor makes mistakes, how do we reconcile these Bible difficulties? There are good explanations for these seeming contradictions.
Even so, the explosion of modern Bible translations has led some people to ask, “Which version is right?” and others to conclude that because there is so much variation between translations, none of them is correct. Keep in mind, however, that the autographs, or original documents, of Scripture are inerrant – not the subsequent copies and translations. Even though there are dozens of English translations that differ in varying degrees from one another, we have a high degree of confidence that the source documents from which these versions come are accurate representations of the autographs.
Did God really regret He created mankind, as Gen. 6:6 suggests? Why did He order King Saul to wipe out an entire race of people (I Sam. 15:18)? Who should be turned over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5)? And what is the sin that brings death (1 John 5:16)? These are so-called “hard sayings” of the Bible.
Simply put, a “hard saying” is a passage of Scripture that is difficult to understand. We shouldn’t feel badly that we struggle with some Bible verses; even the apostle Peter had a hard time with some of Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16).
This is the final installment in an eight-part series addressing common objections to the Bible as the Word of God.
Objection 8: There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.
The Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th Edition) lists more than 200 Christian denominations in 17 broad categories, from “Baptist Churches” to “Community and New Paradigm Churches.” If Jesus prayed that His followers would be one (John 17:11), and if there is to be “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5), why can’t Christians get along? Even within denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention there have been major splits over issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the role of women in the church. Doesn’t all this contentiousness prove a fatal flaw in the Bible, since even people who study it and say they believe it can’t agree on what it teaches?
First, it should be noted that many of the disagreements among Christians are over matters of conscience, such as which day of the week to worship, dietary restrictions, or which translation of the Bible to use (see Rom.14:1-23; 1 Cor.10:23-33), or they focus on lesser points of doctrine, such as church polity or the manner in which missions activities are organized and funded. “The point of these divisions is never Christ as Lord and Savior, but rather honest differences of opinion by godly, albeit flawed, people seeking to honor God and retain doctrinal purity according to their consciences and their understanding of His Word” (“Why are there so many Christian denominations?” found in www.gotquestions.org).
Second, it should be acknowledged that Christians often have engaged in petty squabbling, internal power struggles and political wrangling, resulting in unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, not to mention damage to the church’s reputation. The New Testament implores believers to be gracious toward and forgiving of one another (Eph. 4:32); clearly, this has not always been the case.
Christian denominations generally developed out of a desire for fellowship and joint ministry between individual churches – a biblical concept (Acts. 11:27-30), according to Charles Draper (“Why So Many Denominations?” The Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1709). In addition, denominations many times began as renewal movements. The Reformed movements of the 1500s sought to restore the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and justification by faith to the church, which had all but abandoned these biblical teachings. In time, some Presbyterians drifted toward liberalism and new conservative Presbyterian groups emerged to preserve the Reformed teachings. Baptists came along within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostals and Charismatics formed new unions based on their view of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.
There is a rich diversity among Christian denominations, and the differences between them often are not as wide as they appear. This is not to say that all differences are minor, or that all should be set aside for the sake of unity, for in Scripture Christian unity is the product of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of regenerate people and anchored in the truth of God’s Word.
Some separations are, in fact, necessary. In the New Testament, many false teachers are disciplined or leave the churches (see 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 John 2:19). In addition, the apostle Paul warns the church that false teachers will rise to prominence in the church in the days before Christ’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-9). The church today should be on guard against those who preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). For example, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian in their theology and practice, yet both organizations deny the central teachings of Scripture, particularly those having to do with the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.
In fact, it is important to differentiate between: (1) denominations within the body of Christ; (2) cults (or counterfeit forms of Christianity); and (3) non-Christian false religions. Southern Baptists, Presbyterians and Lutherans, for example, are Christian denominations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (Jehovah’s Witnesses) are cults (religious organizations whose members claim to be Christians and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity). Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are non-Christian false religions.
Within Christian denominations, diversity is a good thing, but disunity is not, according to Gotquestions.org: “If two churches disagree doctrinally, debate and dialogue over the Word may be called for. This type of ‘iron sharpening iron’ (Proverbs 27:17) is beneficial to all. If they disagree on style and form, however, it is fine for them to remain separate. This separation, though, does not lift the responsibility Christians have to love one another (1 John 4:11-12) and ultimately be united as one in Christ (John 17:21-22).”
So what is a believer to do when looking for a church home? “The most important thing to do is to examine a church’s teaching and practice to see if it is consistent with Scripture,” writes Charles Draper in The Apologetics Study Bible. Gotquestions.org adds the following recommendations: “Pick a church on the basis of its relationship to Christ, how well it is serving the community. Pick a church where the pastor is preaching the Gospel without fear and is encouraged to do so. Christ and His church [are] all about your relationship to Him and to each other. As believers, there are certain basic doctrines that we must believe, but beyond that there is latitude on how we can serve and worship; it is this latitude that is the only good reason for denominations. This is diversity and not disunity. The first allows us to be individuals in Christ, the latter divides and destroys.”
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Objection 4: It’s silly to assume that one book – the Bible – contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to the Book of Mormon, do not come from God.
In addressing this objection, we must begin with the claims of the documents themselves. The Bible specifically and repeatedly declares itself the written Word of God, while the Vedas do not. Even the Book of Mormon is called “another testament of Jesus Christ.” While many religious writings contain good moral and ethical truths, some of which are consistent with scripture, only the Bible claims to be God’s written and complete revelation to mankind. It answers life’s most important questions: Is there a God? Who is He? How did everything get here? What ‘s my purpose in life? Why is there so much evil in the world? What’s being done about it? Is there life after death? What’s my responsibility to God? And so on. The Bible’s claim to be the Word of God is backed up by unparalleled textual, archaeological, historical and other types of evidence. Most compelling, however, is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who authored the scriptures and who confirms in our human spirits the truth of God’s Word.
One other note: God’s revelation also has been given to us in creation and in the person of Jesus Christ. All people can observe creation, as the Psalmist did, and conclude that there is a divine designer behind all things (Ps. 8:3-4). And, as Paul wrote, God will hold us responsible for the revelation His has given us of Himself in nature (Rom. 1:18-23). At the same time, God became flesh in Jesus Christ and declared His truth (see John 1:1-3, 14). The testimonies of creation, of Jesus, and of the Bible are in complete harmony in declaring the truth of God’s revelation to us.
Next — Objection 5: The Bible is full of contradictions.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Objection 3: The books of the Bible were chosen arbitrarily by councils of men in highly political processes. As a result, they left out some very good books – perhaps some equally inspired writings.
Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, compiled a list of the 27 books we now know as the New Testament in 367 A.D. He also was the first person in the church to use the word “canon,” which comes from the Greek kanon and means measure or rule. The councils of Carthage (393 A.D.) and Hippo (397 A.D.) fixed the final list of New Testament books, but it’s important to note that the question of which books were truly “scripture” was being addressed long before this. Even more important, Christians believe the Holy Spirit, who authored scripture, also managed its preservation and organization (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Four developments prompted the church to act to “close” the canon: 1) heretics began circulating false writings; 2) counterfeit books, falsely written under the name of an apostle, began to appear; 3) Christianity spread to new lands, and missionaries needed to know which books should be translated into the native languages; 4) the edict of Diocletian (A.D. 303) ordered the destruction of the Christians’ sacred writings and threatened death for those who refused; believers needed to know which books were worth dying for.
The early church used a number of criteria in discerning which books belonged in the canon: 1) Evidence/claims of inspiration; 2) apostolic origin (written by an apostle or an associate who preserved the apostle’s teaching), the only exceptions being granted to James and Jude, brothers of Jesus who became followers after His death and resurrection; 3) written while the apostles were still alive; 4) general acceptance and use by the church and in continuous use in worship services; 5) agreement with accepted and undisputed scripture.
What about the Apocrypha, a collection of 14 books of Jewish history and tradition written from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.? The argument against these books includes the following: 1) The Jews never accepted these books as scripture and did not include them in their Bible; 2) any acceptance the books enjoyed was local and temporary; 3) no major church council included these books in scripture; 4) many of the books contain errors; 5) some books include teachings that contradict scripture; 6) neither Jesus nor the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha even though they quoted from the Old Testament hundreds of times; 7) the Christian churches that accepted these books did so many centuries after the Canon was closed.
The term “Bible” derives from the Greek word biblion (book); the earliest use of la biblia in the sense of “Bible” is found in 2 Clement 2:14, around 150 A.D.
Next — Objection 4: It’s silly to assume that one book – the Bible – contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to the Book of Mormon, do not come from God.