It isn’t. Sorry to say, because I know most of us (myself included) are desperate to be able to trust absolutely everything in the bible as God’s own words given and recorded exactly as He gave it to those who wrote it down. We especially want to trust that the bible never, ever contradicts itself; but the fact is, in a few places, it does.
For instance, in Hebrews 11:24-27 we are told that Moses left Egypt because of his faith:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
Yet in Exodus 2:14-15 we read the exact opposite:
He replied, “Who made you a boss or judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid when he realized: They obviously know what I did. When Pharaoh heard about it, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses ran away from Pharaoh and settled down in the land of Midian.
Another example is in the first letter Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Corinthians, telling them that the rock that provided water to the Children of Israel throughout their desert wanderings was Messiah (1 Corinthians 10:4):
They all ate the same spiritual food; They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah.
Yet in Judaism it is a legend that the Well which accompanied the Children of Israel throughout the desert was credited to Miriam, Moses’ sister. Granted, this is not exactly a biblical contradiction, but Shaul would certainly have been aware of the Jewish legend, yet He directly contradicted it.
Romans 4:2 tells us Abraham was justified as righteous solely by means of his faith, but in James 2:21-24 we are told that it was because of Abraham’s works (by offering up Isaac) that he was considered righteous.
There are other examples of writings in the bible (meaning from Exodus through Revelations) that seem to contradict each other. Not only that, but there are many different versions of the bible, and within each version you can find any particular passage that will use different words or phrasing, even different verse numbering. Did you know that the Catholic bible is the only one that includes the Apocrypha? Did you know that the Jewish Tanakh (everything up to the New Covenant) will end with the books of Chronicles, but every “Christian” bible will end the “Jewish” part with the book of Malachi?
Just as an FYI… when Scribes write a Torah, every single letter is counted to be absolutely positive that there isn’t any alteration or change from one Torah to the next. Every Torah throughout the world that has ever been written or ever will be written will be exactly the same, literally down to the letter.
Obviously, those who wish to debunk the bible and are proponents of a humanistic viewpoint will say you cannot trust the bible, or even believe in God, because the bible is full of contradictions. And even when we point out many supposed contradictions are just the result of people pulling statements and verses out of context, we still have some contradictions we really can’t explain. So what can we say about this?
We can start by asking the real question: If there are occasional contradictions in the bible, does that mean that everything in the bible is untrustworthy?
The answer is: No, it doesn’t. Just because there are some statements in the bible that, when directly compared to each other, seem to be contradictory, it doesn’t mean the entire bible is untrustworthy. You may ask, “How can you say that, Steve? If we can’t trust that what we read in Exodus is not the same thing we read in James, then what else may be wrong in the book? ” My answer is this: just because what we read in Exodus is different than what we read in James, why believe that everything else is wrong? Or that anything else is wrong? And if there are things that seem to be different, does that make the whole thing wrong?
Let’s take Abraham for a start. In Genesis we are told his faith is his righteousness. Genesis is a narrative which was written to teach us the history of the people and the formation of their relationship with God as they became a nation. The Book of James is written to the Jews in the Diaspora, and is written not as a narrative but as a reminder to reinforce the meaning of Yeshua’s appearance and the plan of salvation. When James says that Abraham’s righteousness was credited by his works, it is used not to show that works are the only means of justification, or that faith wasn’t involved, but to show that Abraham’s faith in God resulted in faith generated works, either of which was credited to him as righteousness. James was writing to show that faith must result in faithful works- that is the point of the letter. So whereas the point of Exodus was to narrate the story of the formation of Israel and it’s relationship with God, the point of James’s letter was to refresh the teachings and reinforce the need to demonstrate one’s T’shuvah (repentance) through good works.
We may see a contradiction regarding what was credited to Abraham as righteousness, but God’s message for us, which is that good works result from faith, is in both stories. They are written in a way that contradict themselves, but the message that we are to receive is the same.
Have you ever said something at one point in your life and then changed your mind? Does that mean you lied before, or that you’re lying now? Of course not, it just means that what you thought you knew or what you felt then is different within you now. Is it a contradiction? Yes. Does it mean we can’t trust anything you say or have ever said? Of course not.
The same holds true with the bible. Often I have heard, and said myself, that what seems to be a contradiction in the bible is just our lack of understanding. That may be true, but lately (as I read the bible more and more) I feel that there may be contradictions, caused by misunderstanding or just as a result of the fact that what was written at one time was trying to make a certain point, and later it was referenced to, but for making a different point. As we would say today, that same event was simply given a new “spin.”
For me, when people say there are contradictions in the bible, I say, “So what?” Does one thing that doesn’t make sense destroy all the rest? If there is one piece of brown lettuce in the sandwich does that mean you should throw the entire sandwich away? If someone tells you something that they thought was true but it ends up being wrong, do you never trust them again? If you go to your favorite restaurant, which has always served you good food and had good service, but one day the french fries aren’t really hot, do you refuse to ever go there again? Do you assume that everything they serve is cold? Do you think that all the other times you went there and found it satisfying was a lie you have told yourself?
See my point? The bible is God’s word that He gave to us through people. God did not physically write the bible, and He certainly isn’t editing every single version some new interpreter puts out. With human intervention, there will be human error. In the IT world, which is where I come from, the weakest point of any program or process is where there is human intervention. The best you can do is incorporate error-catching programming using double and triple checks within the process to prevent an error. But take it from me: no matter how “smart” the program, humans will find a way to blow it up.
God has His own error-catching program: it is called the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. When we read the bible we are to ask the Ruach for guidance in proper interpretation, and for deeper understanding so that we can avoid the trap the Adversary wants us to fall into. Satan is the one behind the proposition that if there is something that seems to contradict itself in the bible, then the entire bible (and God, too) is untrustworthy.
Don’t fall for it! Just because there may be a contradiction in the bible, that doesn’t mean we cannot trust the bible. It just means someone interpreted something differently than someone else, or that the writer was trying to make a different point. Different letters to different congregations were written to provide different lessons and for different purposes, so the writer may have taken some “poetic license” when referring to other parts of the bible. It doesn’t dilute the truth of the bible and it shouldn’t cause us to doubt anything in the bible.
Faith is something that we have because we choose to have it: it isn’t given, it isn’t bought, it can’t be traded for or earned. Our faith in God is something we have chosen to have, and once we have asked for and received the Ruach HaKodesh we have a physical experience that justifies our faith in God. I know God exists because I have felt His spirit enter my body, because it constantly keeps me in line, and because of all the wonderful blessings I recognize in my life that could only be from God. If there is something in the bible that is a contradiction from one letter to another, or in a letter that contradicts what I read in the Tanakh, so what? I have so much more than what is written in a book to justify and confirm God’s existence and presence in my life.
The bible is, after all, just a book. It was given to us by God in order that we may learn about Him and His Messiah. It is the road map to eternity. Once we know the Lord, and have felt His Spirit, and seen His wonderful works, the book becomes a reference manual for us, a way to remind ourselves of how we got here and to better know God. He allows us to see more and more of Him, and His lessons for us, as we continue to read it.
The bible is the story of what God has done in other people’s lives, and helps us find our way to God; after we find Him, what matters then is what God does in our own life.
If your faith can be turned or weakened by a contradiction in the bible, then you do not have faith in God, you only have faith in a book.