Here is the definition of a contradiction: "a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another." For me this raises the question: Does even one contradiction between biblical texts make any difference as to how one understands the nature of the Bible? Here is one verifiable contradiction between two biblical writers: Paul, the earliest writer of the New Testament (around 50 CE) and the anonymous writer of Second Peter, the latest writer in the New Testament (around 150 CE). In Rom 8:18-25 Paul says that the creation (ktisis) itself "will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (8:21). He continues his thought about creation in 1Cor 7:31: "the world (kosmos) in its present form (schema) is passing away." Second Peter (3:10), on the other hand, announces that "the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth (gē) and the works that are upon it will be burned up." Since the creation (i.e., the entire created order of things) cannot both be a redeemed ktisis and a burned up ktisis, it would appear that these writers contradict one another on the future prospects of creation, as they understood it.1 What difference might this one contradiction make on how one understands the nature of the Bible? Or put another way, what does it mean for the Bible that it contains contradictions? What follows is my attempt to address the significance of even one contradiction in the Bible.
It means that these two authors do not share the same view as to the ultimate end of the creation. It should also be added that the authors of Third Isaiah (65:17) and the Apocalypse (Rev 21:1-4) disagree with Paul and agree with the author of Second Peter that the whole of creation will ultimately be destroyed. The author of Ecclesiastes, however, seems to disagree with the idea that the earth will be changed in any way: "A generation goes and a generation comes but the earth remains forever." (Eccl 1:4).
It means that there is no single biblical view about the ultimate end of the creation and that, in turn, means the Bible ("God's Word" to many people of faith) is not the ultimate authority on everything in life, as I have heard some ministers claim. Three different positions are taken regarding the entirety of creation, one by Paul and another by the anonymous author of Second Peter and others, and a third view by the author of Ecclesiastes. If one position is selected to represent the "biblical view," then the others have been rejected as being invalid explanations.
It means that the Bible is better viewed historically rather than theologically. Here is a Southern Baptist view of the "Scriptures":
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.2
This statement, however, does not describe the Bible; it is a theological description of what many (not all) Southern Baptists believe about the Bible. Describing the Bible in a neutral way is a complex enterprise. There are just too many variables to be considered. Here is an attempt at a brief description and even this description does not cover all the issues:3
There are three ancient religious collections (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant) that are called the Bible:
These three collections constitute the traditional remains of two different religious communities, which extend from the Israelite Exodus to the writing of 2 Peter. They reveal different social, cultural, ethical, and religious traditions covering around 1200 years. The Jewish Bible is a library of traditional writings of the ancient Israelites containing among other things the history of the Israelite people told from a religious perspective, along with its ancient laws, prophetic literature, hymnbook, wisdom literature, etc., from the 13th century BCE to roughly 400 BCE (second temple period). The Apocrypha consists of additional Jewish religious texts written between 300 BCE to 70 CE. The New Testament (50 CE to early second century) contains among other things stories, personal correspondence and theological essays.4
It means that the texts comprising the biblical collection are not "a perfect treasure of Divine instruction" or that the biblical matter is "without any mixture of error," simply because it contains contradictions, which must be considered errors and inconsistencies. That in turn means that the Bible could not derive from a perfect deity and could not be "God's Word."
The Bible does not belong to the Church and Synagogue but rather its collected texts, before being collected, belonged individually to the historical movement of human civilization. In short, the Bible is a collection of human words about different views of God in antiquity. One contradiction appears to do a great deal of damage to modern pious views about the Bible.
Something to think about.
Missouri State University
1For a brief discussion of the fate of the earth, see Hedrick, "Will the Earth Abide," pp. 35-37 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019). The contradiction between Paul and the author of Second Peter is but "the tip of the iceberg." Here is another contradiction of which the reader may be unaware between the Christian Old Testament and the New Testament. How did Moses come by the Torah? In Exodus and Deuteronomy Moses is described as receiving the Torah the first time directly from God (Deut 9:9-10). Moses broke the first set of tablets and was given a second set, again given directly to him by God (Deut 10:1-5). In the New Testament, however, Paul (Gal 3:19; see also Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2) says that the law was "ordained through angels" (RSV). So, did Moses receive the law directly from God, or was it mediated through angels? For a discussion of how Moses came by the Torah, see Hedrick "How did Moses come by the Torah?" pp. 266-68 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.
2The Baptist Faith and Message Statement, June 14, 2000: https://sbts.edu/about/bfm
3For a more complete picture of its complexity, See Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 87-97.
4Hedrick, "What about the Bible gives it the Status Word of God," Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 94.
And apparently human beings aren't likely to go without imposing contradictions on the text (see, e.g. Dewey, et.al., The Authentic Letters of Paul. Polebridge Press, 2010), p.66.
Translations of the New Testament, beginning with Tyndale in 1525 until and including the King James (1611), rendered the phrase "through/by the faith/trust/confidence OF Jesus Christ" (dia pisteos Iasou Christou, e.g., Galatians 2:16) as "by the faith OF Jesus Christ"
Perhaps under the strong emphasis of a Son of God blood sacrifice, sin forgiveness theology, a translation shift occurred in the late 1800s and the American Standard Version rendered the Greek phrase "through faith IN Jesus Christ." Finally a footnote in the NRSV (1990) reinstated "faith OF Jesus" as an option, and "faith of Jesus" was subsequently included in full in the Anchor Bible (1997). Most circulating translations, however, still have "faith IN Jesus."
The Westar Scholars Version (2010, referenced above) includes the change to "of" but also prefers "trust" or "confidence in" to "faith." I would personally support that decision since faith can also refer to doctrinal statements and the like, and trust/confidence humanizes Jesus in a legitimate way.
Charlie, One should find contradictions in literature, especially if about the same subject. I think when it comes to literature like the Bible, the idea that since it is a “canon,” when one attempts to look at it in terms of final purpose rather than the variety of literature that form one is making a teleological blunder. There will be contradictions in the various writings and even contradictions within the authors. It is the nature of writing. Why would one need to write four stories of Jesus (the gospels), otherwise?
If I looked at Suetonius and Tacitus as a “Roman canon” of a certain Roman time, they both wrote about Nero’s burning of Rome. While they agree on certain points, other points are contradictory, though it is probable the two authors knew each other. (The two and Pliny ran in the same circles, to read Pliny’s letters to each.) The Bible is similar in respect to different authors with a different spin. I don’t see any reason to give the literature of the Bible exalted status over any other literature of the time. In fact, I see Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” as superior to the Bible and “updated” the story of Phaeton with my own “spin.”
Contradictions tend to matter to evangelicals and pseudo-scholar “mythicists.” Evangelical scholars tend to correlate “inerrancy” only to the “original autographs,” which are not extant (Hagen, K., The Bible in the Churches. See within it Grant Osborne’s “Evangelical Interpretation of the Scriptures”). The pseudo-scholar uses the contradictions to point out the scriptures are inconsistent, thus not without error. If one looks at the Bible as a canon which is a compilation of many authors at different times, places, each with differences in their point of view, neither of these tacks convinces. The evangelical believes in magic (the “Word of God”) and the pseudo-scholar is trying to debunk what any intelligent person should understand as magic.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
To clarify the last sentence of the first paragraph, I wasn't trying to say that one particular person wrote all four version. Probably better stated it would be "Why would there need to be four versions, otherwise?" (I was thinking more of "one" colloquially.)
Dennis Dean Carpenter
You wrote: "One contradiction appears to do a great deal of damage to modern pious views about the Bible." You seem to be talking like one scholar to another and assuming that it is transferable to the non-scholar world.
I'm uncomfortable taking the role of damaging modern pious views. What's wrong with live and let live or simply having a conversation without demands for change. What has happened to Martin Buber's I and Thou insights. Folks speak and act in ways because they are emotionally satisfying, in the same manner as one might find extreme rationality emotionally satisfying.
A lot of people comfortably swim in the irrationality of the depth and height of religious beliefs and practices, and at the same time manage to hold a job, raise their families, commit their lives to humanitarian purposes, attend sporting events, enjoy scientific advances, keep abreast of world events, and have political preferences.
Unless there's reason to believe that a person is a danger to others due to intolerant or even illegal behavior, I say live, let live, and have conversations.
Good Morning Gene,
good question. As I take it you are assuming that I write for scholars and am trying to change the mindset of others, or as you suggest: don't continue living like you do; live like I (Charlie) think you should.
Here is the purpose of this blog and it has been that way since I published the first blog. I pick questions, issues, and topics that interest me. I am trying to work things out for myself. In this blog I pondered the question: "What might one contradiction make in how one understands the Bible?" What followed (the blog itself) were the results of my ponderings on that topic. In a sense it was an invitation to converse with readers on that topic.
I do not write for scholars, I write for readers, any reader, who might share my curiosity about the subject. Occasionally, a scholar drops by either to gently chide me or make some comment. I welcome their thoughts, as I welcome those of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Their grist for the mill of my thoughts are all welcome.
In any case for the reader of this particular blog I only offered the blog statement as "something to think about." In other words use the blog as grist for the mill of your own pondering and see where you come out.
Thanks for the question as I saw it, you landed right in the middle of what I think I am doing.
I don't think that you write for scholars. I think you are a scholar who writes and hopes that any one would appreciate your efforts and benefit in whatever way possible. It is my opinion that folks who are attracted to very rational analysis of a subject will find your writings to be more thoughtful and compelling than than those who appreciate the contributions of emotion and other ways which claim to perceive and know.
I've been around a number of years and don't plan to leave.
Sorry to be late with this comment, my message yesterday didn't go through.
I do not think that you intend to write primarily for scholars or that you deliberately want to impose your will on resisting listeners.
I think that you are a strict practitioner of very closely reasoned problem-solving and that you do not give as much credence and value to other ways of knowing and learning as I would like you to.
That being said, I've been around here a few years and don't plan to leave, finding the experience to be a good education.
Any thoughts on why Jesus said, "Beware of the scholars." (smile)
If religion has a purpose other than merely doing lip service to ancient tradition, discussion and change are essential because cultural mores and societal norms change, refabricating the gods. For instance, the gods of the foxed & buckled canon were quite comfortable with slavery, ownership of women, and treatment of disease with exorcism.
With discussion can come change, as seen in the short modern history of ordination of women by major denominations: Northern Presbyterians, 1956; Methodists when the UMC formed in 1968; Lutherans, 1970; Reform Judaism, 1972, Reconstructionist Judaism in 1974; Episcopal Church,1976. The Bible is contradictory about the role of women. Still, some including the Roman Catholics, hide behind the canard of succession from the original “apostles” of Jesus in Cat. 1577. If I remember correctly, the SBC disallowed women pastors from roles commensurate to men some time back, sliding back on the evolutionary scale.
Living in the South, I’ve come to see “pious” as connoting the “sanctimonious hypocrites.” I use it with a sneer on my face, emphasizing the “spitting” sound of the “pie.”
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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