Thinking Out Loud

May 29, 2018

Biblical Contradictions – They Exist and I Love Them

by Aaron Wilkinson

This is a line of thought I’m still journeying through. You may find something helpful or not. It’s cool either way.

In high-school, a lot of my atheist classmates would talk about contradictions in the Bible. I didn’t really pay much attention. I figured they were probably wrong. My pastors and youth leaders never mentioned these supposed contradictions so I figured it wasn’t worth worrying about.

When I got into the habit of listening to debates, I began to hear atheists point to specific contradictions. In response, the Christian apologists would calmly explain them away.

“Take the sentences ‘Bob is rich’ and ‘Bob is poor’. You might assume that these are contradictions, but perhaps they refer to Bob at different times in his life. Perhaps Bob is poor in finances, but rich in terms of relationships and experiences. Perhaps there are two different people named Bob. We can’t assume and we have to know more.” This is, of course, a very good point and I found it very comforting.

But then in a university class a professor pointed my discussion group to a passage in Proverbs. We were supposed to interpret it and share our interpretation.

Proverbs 26:4,5

I read the first half thinking “Ah, reasonable.” Then the second verse completely froze me. “This is Proverbs. This is the book of rules to live by. I can’t do both of these things, so what do I do?” I tried to find ways to harmonize them – maybe you’re supposed to do it sometimes but not other times – but even then, am I not sitting there trying to fix the Bible? Am I not adding something to it?

Here’s another one. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us one thing, Paul tells us another.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” – Ecclesiastes 1:2,3
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Well, which is it? Do we get nothing but vanity for our toil under the sun, or is our labour not in vain? I could list dozens more but sadly I must be concise. Here’s another one in which Chronicles and Samuel are talking about the same story.

“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 19:15
“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”” – 2 Samuel 24:1

Chronicles: Satan did X. Samuel: God did X. Conclusion: … What?

If you’re anything like me, you’re sitting there trying to harmonize, harmonize, harmonize all of these passages. There may be nothing wrong with that. It’s a good impulse, but I fear we might miss out on something if that’s all we do. What that something is I will tell you, after one more example. Or rather, six more.

Open up to Matthew 5 and you’ll hear Jesus saying he’s not coming to abolish the law or the prophets. Then he goes on to repeat the formula “You have heard it said (quotes the Bible) but I tell you (says something different.)” So here we have a double whammy of contradictions. Six times, we have Jesus speaking in contrast to (“Contra Dicting”) other Bible passages, and he frames this by saying that he isn’t going to take an iota away from other Bible passages.

Right now, you’re either fascinated or really offended. Or both. Or you’re thinking the obvious objection that I’m going to cover in one second.

If the Bible is supposed to be a book of rules, it has clearly failed. I can’t both answer a fool according to folly and not answer a fool according to folly. If the Bible is supposed to be a philosophical panegyric, it has clearly failed. Labour can’t be both vanity and not vanity. If the Bible is supposed to be a textbook on spiritual realities, it has clearly failed. Unless God and Satan are the same person, David’s census has some weird stuff going on.

So it seems we’re left with two options. Maybe the Bible is a failure, or maybe we need to rethink its genre.

When I was in therapy, I learned a word. A word I had never learned from any western education institution; perhaps the entire western world needs therapy. “Dialectic.” Think Dialogue. It’s a conversation. Dialectic thinking simultaneously holds two propositions that seem to be in contrast. In therapy, if I’m caught in the anxiety of thinking I’m absolutely terrible or totally perfect, I’m going to have problems. If I can learn to accept that I’m both good and bad, virtuous in many ways while also having weaknesses to work through, that frees me. Now I can grow more easily.

My virtues and my vices are contradictory, but if I can hold them both as true at the same time then I am empowered to grow. The aforementioned objection that I assume you’re thinking is “But you’re defining ‘contradiction’ incorrectly. Contradictions are not simply contrasting statements, but statements with mutually exclusive meanings. You have to consider the meanings of these verses in context.” A brilliant point which highlights two important things: first that the word ‘contradiction’ needs defining (which I rarely hear happen) and tends to be wrapped up in shades of association, and second that we must ask ourselves what the Bible intends.

In the famous (and occasionally infamous) story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees try to back Jesus into a corner by asking him whether the woman ought to be stoned or not. Jesus redirects the question towards something more important. He seems to do this quite often, and what he does in saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” is highlight the Pharisee’s need for forgiveness. Jesus contextualizes our questions and frames our understanding in humility. This, I think, is the intention of the whole Bible.

The Bible does not give us all the answers, it points us to a person. It’s a conversation anchored around a person.

Do I answer the fool according to his folly or not? I don’t know, but if I follow the love ethic of Jesus then I’m sure I’ll make the right choice.

Is our labor vanity or not? I can philosophize over this, but if I’m trusting Christ then I know I won’t need to worry about it.

What is the relationship between the will of God and the will of Satan? Does God incite evil against us? A very interesting question, but one that must consider how God shows his love by participating in our suffering himself in the life and crucifixion of the Son of Mary.

People sometimes describe the Bible as “living” and this is why. A plain set of instructions is static. It’s dead. It only goes so deep and then it’s exhausted. A dialectic work keeps you wondering, keeps you asking questions. It is popularly said that Rabbis answer questions with other questions. This isn’t just deflection. We’re supposed to think deeper and, more importantly, better realize how the answers must be found with Jesus.

I recently listened to a sermon in which Bruxy Cavey of the Meeting House interviewed a Zen Buddhist. The Buddhist compared Jesus’ style of teaching with the Koan, the saying or question that’s supposed to freeze your mind and expose your unhealthy patters of thinking. While I think it’s important to recognize that Buddha and Christ have very different goals, there is some true to this. The Bible Project also has a great series that explores some the dialectic aspects of biblical wisdom literature.

In our broken world, if we desire change and growth, we don’t need a static book of precepts. We need someone who is going to freeze our attention, expose our habits, and “make foolish the wisdom of the world.” We need change, not the status quo. We need a living dynamic person to walk with as we grow in life and this is the Christ of the Bible.

This isn’t intellectual foreclosure. It does mean applying our intellect to something more important rather than squabbling over facts and figures. It means finding ourselves in a story, in relation to Christ, and making that the grounds upon which we ask ourselves, and each other, the big questions.

Take us away, Book…


Aaron — who may or may not be related  — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared yesterday at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission. Feel free to comment here or at the original article.

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June 10, 2011

Ya Want Deep Preaching? I’ll Give Ya Deep…

This piece appeared originally earlier in the week at Christianity 201.

There are presently two strains of evangelical preaching emerging. Some preachers, like Andy Stanley prefer the “one thing” approach; providing a rhythm and cadence to their preaching which leaves their listeners remembering a clear message and a clear application. The classic, “It’s Friday Night… But Sunday’s A-Comin'” is a message you’ve probably heard, or at least heard alluded to, that is based on this type of teaching.

The other style is the kind of message that gives you much information about context and history as well as cross-references to at least a dozen related scriptures. There are multiple points and various information sidebars.  While both styles can do verse-by-verse, or exegetical teaching; this exegetical style or expository preaching is considered by some a hallmark as to what constitutes real depth in preaching ministry.

The problem is that sometimes the people in the second camp, feel that the people in the first camp are not giving their people enough “depth.” This came up in the Elephant Room Conference where Steven Furtick used hyperbole to indicate the degree to which he did not want to aim for going deep on Sunday mornings.*

And it comes up here in this exchange between John Piper and Rick Warren. You might prefer to go direct to the YouTube page and click on some of the other subjects covered in this interview series. Some of the clips will also run in playlist form, allowing you to just sit back as the videos play in succession.

“Simple does not mean shallow.” “Simple does not mean simplistic.” What is deep? Warren says he taught series on sanctification and incarnation without actually using the words; do you think that is possible?

*For your interest, here is the discussion between Steven Furtick and Matt Chandler, moderated by James MacDonald. It gives you some insight into how pastors wrestle with the “deep” question.

What’s your definition of deep preaching?

December 8, 2010

Wednesday Link List

The finest links have been assembled for your reading pleasure…

  • Without doubt, the site to see this week is Paperless Christmas.   Start your tour by clicking on the guy in the delivery uniform and the other clips (all approx 1:00 in length; 9 in total) will play in sequence.   Great music, too.
  • A big HT to Vitamin Z for the above book cover shot.   He got it from Brian Lopez who got it from [drum roll] Exotesparemboles, which everyone knows means… [cricket, cricket] …
  • After being involved in a four-car crash, Greg Boyd is asked how an event like this squares with his open-theology view vis-a-vis praying for protection before you drive somewhere.
  • Don’t blow it, guys.  Trey Morgan has ten gifts your wife would like for Christmas;  which, three days later, resulted in a list of ten gifts your husband would like for Christmas.
  • England’s John P. Richardson gets into the moral and ethical dilemma created by the WikiLeaks story.
  • Linda at the blog, I Wonder as I Wander, would like you to meet Josh Garrels, who she describes quite well when she says, “He ain’t your typical Christian musician.”
  • The whole NIV thing gets a little more complicated for Bill Mounce after hearing someone’s proof that the Holy Spirit is a “she.”
  • Here’s the link for this year’s edition of Boston.com’s Big Picture series of Hubble Space Telescope advent pictures; with a new picture added each day.  I like to call this Artwork by God.
  • Here’s another website dealing with issues of sexuality; check out Six:11 Ministries, in particular, this organization ministers to the GLBT community.   Here’s their blog.
  • Brian Welch, a former member of the band Korn was a guest last week on The 700 Club.
  • Carlos Whittaker gets told, in essence, that he’s not white enough to lead worship in a particular church.
  • Tim Elmore guests at Michael Hyatt’s blog with a piece on teaching your kids generosity at this time year.   Would your kids be willing to think in terms of giving away some toys this season?
  • Youth worship from Canada:  Here’s a link for a free download of the band Nine O Five from east Toronto doing Hillsong’s With Everything with guest Aaron Gillespie.
  • Producers of the third and newest Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawntreader, are hoping to capture the spirit and the profitability of the first one, as explained to the L.A. Times.
  • Ron Pai, aka The Brown Kid, is back blogging — or was — and asks the question, How Then Shall We Church Plant?   Some good thoughts.
  • Here are your CCM/gospel category nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards, not including Christian musicians who may be part of projects nominated in other categories.
  • Our picture this week (below) was found at the blog Ironic Catholic.

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