A good friend of mine who happens to be an atheist recently made the point that the main reasons he abandoned Christianity in favor of atheism was the abundance of glaring contradictions that he uncovered in the Bible. He then proceeded to list 10 of these contradictions.
In this article, my objective is to show how these apparent contradictions can be reconciled and harmonized.
From 27 B.C. to 180 A.D., the Roman empire experienced what has been called “the Pax Romana” (Roman peace), which was a period of Rome’s history when its citizens enjoyed relative peace. But this period was not completely devoid of conflict, turmoil, or enacted justice. Rome burned in A.D. 64 during the reign of Nero. Rome fought a war against the Jews not long thereafter that climaxed with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Furthermore, there was conflict within the empire over the emergence of Christianity. Christians and others were being put to death in the Coliseum.
As I have explained in past articles, there is no inherent contradiction between peace and justice, love and war, blessing and suffering.
God is peace in that He offers peace. Paul sums this up well in Philippians 4:6-7 when he writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” There may be suffering and conflict in one’s life. God is peace, not because He only allows for peace to exist in the world or even in our lives, but because He offers peace (i.e. contentment, hope) to us in the midst of such hardships.
At the same time, God is “a man of war” in that He is just and will punish the rebellious hearts of men.
Throughout the Scriptures, we see God offering peace and blessings to His people (and to all who will accept His will) while simultaneously warning of the consequences of sin and rebellion. In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 28 illustrates this contrast well. In the New Testament, Romans 11:22 says,“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”
I will only add that even we as people exhibit these characteristics in our own lives. A person might be very peaceful and a great friend, but if you threaten his family or seek to do Him harm, he will stand his ground. I just don’t see how this can possibly be seen as a contradiction.
9. In a similar vein, is God good? Psalm 145:9 says, ‘The Lord is good to all,’ and Deuteronomy 32:4, ‘a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he’. Awesome, God is great! Until….. Jeremiah 18:11: ‘Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you and devise a device against you,’ and Ezekiel 20:25-26, ‘I gave them also statues that were not good and judgments whereby they should not live and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire that openeth the womb that I might make them desolate.’ Oh my.
The word evil in Jeremiah 18:11 is from the Hebrew word ra’ ra’ah and is a generic term that can refer to evil, distress, grief, disaster and a number of other things. The NKJV of this verse reads: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I am bringing disaster and devising a plan against you.” So this text doesn’t describe God as a bully, but as just and wrathful. No Christian denies this. Well, at least I don’t.
As I have already proven, there is no inherent contradiction between love and justice. I’d like to think that I’m good to all of my children. And yet when they break the rules, there are consequences. Our government would claim to be benevolent toward its citizenship, and yet we know that the wrath of the government will descend upon the one who exhibits disregard for its laws. Would you, dear reader, call me a hypocrite for claiming to be good to my kids when, at times, I discipline them? I hope not.
Regarding Ezekiel 20:25-26, my friend is taking this passage out of context. In verses 21-24, we learn that Israel rebelled against God’s law repeatedly; they made it clear that they had no intention of serving God despite all thegood He had shown them over the years. So in verses 25-26, God is making the point that He would allow them to continue down such a rebellious path knowing that such a path would result in their just condemnation. The point is not that God gave them statutes that weren’t good, but that He “gave them up to statutes that were not good” (vs. 25, NKJV). If you are willing to do further study here, you might compare this to Matthew 15:14 and Romans 1:28.
8. One of my favorites is who gets punished for sins. Ezekiel 18:20 says, ‘The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.’ But then when we look at Exodus 20:5, we find, ‘I the lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.’
The key here is in understanding that there are spiritual as well as physical consequences of sin.
In Ezekiel 18, God is making the point that the spiritual consequences of sin are not passed on from one generation to the next. Instead, “the soul who sins shall die” (vs. 4). Of course, all men die, so we’re speaking here ofspiritual, not physical death. This is clear throughout the chapter.
However, in Exodus 20:5, I believe that God is speaking of national judgments that would have been physical in nature. In other words, if one generation is wicked, the physical ramifications may impact successive generations. Here’s an example from the Bible itself…
King Manasseh was a very, very wicked king (2 Kings 21). It even says in verse 16: “Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord.” As a result, the Lord spoke through the prophets, saying, “Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah…”
Manasseh died, and his son, Amon, reigned in his place. Amon was also wicked. Then Amon died and the people made his son, Josiah, king in his place. In 2 Kings 22, we learn that Josiah was a righteous king who reformed the nation. But notice 2 Kings 23:26…
“Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him…”
Additional commentary from Scripture will reveal that, though Josiah implemented religious and social reform, the people still maintained many of the evil practices that started with Manasseh. Even still, God was “visiting the iniquity of the fathers [Manasseh, in this case, CJH] upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.”
So the Ezekiel passage is about the spiritual consequences of sin while the Exodus passage is about the physical and national consequences of sin.
7. Are all sins forgivable? Mark 3:28-29 tells us, ‘I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ So it seems that there is at least one sin that cannot be forgiven. Yet, 1 John 1:9 says otherwise ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’.
First of all, there is no contradiction between Mark 3:29 and 1 John 1:9 just as there is no contradiction between Mark 3:28 and Mark 3:29. If God says – and I’m paraphrasing – “I will forgive every sin but this one particular sin, that one sin would always be exempt from the hope of forgiveness.
But actually, a deeper study of the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is in order here.
In what context did Jesus mention the “unforgivable sin,” as it’s so often called? In the parallel account in Matthew 12, we learn that Jesus was performing miracles and casting out demons (vs. 22-23). The Pharisees, who despised Jesus, responded by saying, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18), not by the power of Satan. Such an accusation illuminated their dishonest and wicked hearts.
It is my belief that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (as defined in the context) was/is unforgivable, not because God won’t forgive the person who repents of this sin, but because the person who commits this sin will not repent. Such a dishonest, wicked heart will not soften enough to meet the conditions stipulated for forgiveness to occur (i.e. Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). This sin will not be forgiven because this sin will not be repented of. I believe the context bears this out.
But again, even if I’m wrong here, there is no contradiction because theexception to forgiveness is stipulated.
By way of illustration, let’s say that the company you work for tells its employees that there is a three-strikes rule for all violations except for stealing; if an employee steals from the company, they will be immediately fired. Now let’s say that an employee shows up for work late one day and the boss says to him, “You’re late, that’s strike one!” but doesn’t reiterate the fact that the three-strikes rule doesn’t apply to stealing. Did the boss lie to this employee? Of course not!
6. While on the topic of sin, I have often wondered whether anyone had NEVER sinned. Romans 3:23 says, ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ But what about Job? Job 1:1 says, ‘There was a man who name was Job and that man was perfect and upright’. Maybe Romans was written before Job and the authors didn’t get the memo about the update.
Regarding the statement in Job 1:1, the word “perfect” doesn’t mean sinless. The Hebrew word is tam and means, “complete; usually (morally) pious; specifically gentle, dear: – coupled together, perfect, plain, undefiled, upright.”
In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent is teleios. It is said in a number of places that Christians can be “perfect” (KJV), or “mature/complete” (NKJV, et al). In Philippians 3:17, Paul writes, “Therefore let us, as many as aremature, have this mind…” In 2 Timothy 3:17, we’re told that the Scriptures can make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
I have no doubt that Job sinned, for all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. But he was a spiritually mature (perfect) man who was committed to a path of righteousness.
The KJV was written during a time when many of these words had a slightly different meaning than they do today. The more modern translations have translated the same Hebrew and Greek words into vernacular that is much more common. So instead of seeing the word “perfect” in the KJV and imposing upon it the 21st century meaning, see the word “complete.” This immediately resolves the dilemma.
5. Is it ever OK to seek and celebrate revenge against an enemy? Psalm 58:10-11 says, ‘The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.’ But then Proverbs 24:17-18 says this is not true: ‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls, when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice’.
Psalm 58 is an imprecatory psalm, which is a psalm detailing God’s judgment (or the prayer for judgment) against the enemies of God’s people. Because God is clearly just, and because He promises to care for His people, it is appropriate for God’s people to acknowledge this aspect of God’s character and to pray for His justice to be implemented.
I know that an atheist may not buy this part of my explanation, but I believe that the people in Psalm 58 are rejoicing, not because they get some kind of sick, twisted pleasure from their enemies’ pain, but because they God has vindicated them and come to their aid. In the very next verse, verse 11, David goes on to say, “So that men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely He is God who judges the earth.'”
By way of illustration, let’s say that a coworker starts a vicious rumor about you. Others begin to talk, and slowly but surely, you are seen by your coworkers in a very negative light. Eventually, you take this issue to your manager. After explaining and disproving the gossip, your manager fires the coworker who started the rumor and your name is cleared! Are you going to rejoice in the judgment? Yes. Are you going to rejoice that this coworker has been fired? Yes and no. Yes, because justice has been served. No, because a person has lost his/her job and now their family is going to be in a bind. But either way, your main joy is going to come from the fact that your manager cared enough to intervene and that your name has been cleared.
In Proverbs 24:17-18, Solomon is telling us not to be smug and arrogant when our enemy faces hardship. I’m reminded of the spoiled child who enjoys watching his/her sibling get a spanking.
We can ask for God to vindicate and avenge us…and can be thankful when He does, all the while loving our enemies. Paul puts it beautifully in Romans 12:19-21…
“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
4. Should we kill? Exodus 20:13 says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Seems blunt and to the point; I like it! But then I read a little further on in Exodus 32:27, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side and slay every man his brother, companion, neighbor’. Also, see I Samuel 15:2: ‘Thus saith the Lord, now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not.’ Of course, let’s not forget that killing is never OK, unless you pick up sticks on Saturdays ‘And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses’ (Numbers 15:36).
There is a difference between murder and killing in the Scriptures. In the Ten Commandments (and many other places in the Bible), God is condemning murder. In these other passages, God is authorizing the act of killing in the context of capital punishment and war.
Remember, Israel was both a religious and civil nation. They had laws that governed their worship and religious service, but they also had civil laws, a physical government and national borders. In our country, a person can unlawfully commit murder and as a result be lawfully killed by means of capital punishment; a violent mob is acting unlawfully, but a structured battalion in the military may fight and kill in the cause of war. There is no contradiction.
3. Along with killing, I always thought stealing was pretty bad and was comforted when Exodus 20:15 said, ‘Thou shalt not steal’. But then I remembered Exodus 3:22: ‘And ye shall spoil the Egyptians’. Also lets not forget that time Jesus got a bit crazy and persuaded two of the disciples to steal a horse for him (Luke 19:29-34).
The two examples that are cited here as evidence that stealing may not be wrong (in the Bible) are being taken way out of context.
In Exodus 3:22, only part of the verse is quoted. Notice verses 21-22 together…
“And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go out empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
In Jonah 3:10 and Genesis 6:6, God changed His reaction to a situation when the conditions changed. In the case of Nineveh (in Jonah), God planned to destroy the city because of its wickedness. When the people repented of their wickedness – when the conditions changed – God changed His reaction.Isn’t that the point of preaching?
Likewise, in Genesis, God created man to be in fellowship with Him. Even after the fall of man in chapter three, God provided the means by which the people could serve Him. But when the conditions changed – when mankind as a whole fell so far from God – God changed course and opted for judgment instead of fellowship because of the extent of their depravity.
Finally, in Genesis 18:23-33 – I’ll also throw in Exodus 32:30-35 – we do not see God changing His character or nature. I actually love these passages because they illustrate an oft-ignored principle of Scripture. Consider the following verses to see what I’m saying:
In other words, God is willing to hear what we have to say. The account in Genesis 18 doesn’t weaken the consistency of God’s character; rather, it affirms a prevailing biblical truth about God’s character, namely, His desire for intimate fellowship with His people.
These are just ten of the many alleged contradictions that skeptics have found within the pages of God’s word. It is my firm conviction that these are not contradictions at all because through deeper study, these verses can be reconciled and harmonized with each other.
I do not expect this article to convince atheists that the Bible is God’s inspired word, or that it contains a consistent message, or that it is void of error. However, I do hope that this article may soften at least one person’s harsh, critical stance against the Bible and lead to a more honest, in-depth examination of the book upon which I build my faith.