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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Basics: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs

Don Stewart :: What Do We Do When Certain Doctrines Seemingly Contradict Each Other? (Paradoxes and Concurrent Truths)

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What Do We Do When Certain Doctrines Seemingly Contradict Each Other? (Paradoxes and Concurrent Truths)

Bible Basics – Question 13

As we study the Bible, we will find that there are some doctrines that seem to conflict with one another. How are we to understand these doctrines that seem to be contradictory? Should we change our view of the inerrancy of the Bible?

A number of points need to be made. They include the following:

1. We Need to Understand the Law of Non-Contradiction

To begin with, it is important that we understand something about the law of non-contradiction. It is the basis of all logical thinking and reasoning. It states that no statement can be true and false at the same time and in the same sense.

For example, God cannot be both impersonal and personal at the same time. Jesus could not have been born in both Bethlehem and Nazareth. Statements that claim such things are clear contradictions and thus violate the law of non-contradiction. This means that at least one of the two things asserted is wrong; possibly both statements are wrong.

The Bible, however, makes no such contradictory statements. It teaches that God is personal, never impersonal, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth.

2. A Paradox Is Not Necessarily a Contradiction

The technical term for something that is a seeming contradiction, but actually is not, is “paradox.” There are also a few Christian writers who use the word “antinomy” to describe statements that appear contradictory but actually are not.

3. Paradoxes in Scripture Are Concurrent Truths

A paradox is not the same as a contradiction. It is two truths that are seemingly contradictory, but in reality are not. We may not be able to resolve the statements, but the statements are true nevertheless. In theology, this has also been called, “concurrence.” Concurrence means “running together.” Two statements concur, or work together, without being contradictory.

Examples of Paradoxes (Concurrent Truths) in Scripture

We find that Scripture contains a number of truths that are paradoxes. They include the following:

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: God Controls Everything, but We Still Have Choice

An example of a paradox is the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty, or absolute control, of God and the personal responsibility, and realistic choice, that all human beings enjoy. How can God be controlling all of history while, at the same time, humans have legitimate choice?

Each of these truths is clearly taught in Scripture, but each seems to contradict the other. An example of this can be found in a statement of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John:

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37 NRSV)

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way:

Everything and everyone that the Father has given me will come to me, and I won’t turn any of them away. (John 6:37 CEV)

This passage teaches both the sovereign choice of God as well as the human responsibility to believe. Jesus said that everything and everyone that the Father gives Him will come to Him; this is divine sovereignty. On the other hand, He also says, whoever does come to Him will not be turned away; that’s human responsibility.

Only God knows how these seemingly conflicting principles can be fully harmonized. Consequently, we must accept both sides as correct. God chose us and, in some sense, we also chose Him.

The best thing for us to do is to realize these truths are compatible, but that we do not totally understand how they can be true at the same time.

The Doctrine of the Trinity: God Is Both Three and One

Another example of a paradox would be the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible says that only one God exists. Yet, while there is only one God, this one God consists of three distinct Persons, or centers of consciousness; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a paradox. God is both three and one at the same time.

Observations about Biblical Paradoxes

This being the case, we should make a couple of important observations.

1. God Cannot Contradict Himself

When we meet a statement in Scripture that is seemingly contradictory we must recognize the problem is with us, and not with the Scripture. The God of the Bible cannot contradict Himself. Paul wrote to Titus the following truth:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. (Titus 1:1-2 ESV)

We read this same truth in the Book of Hebrews. The writer put it this way:

So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. (Hebrews 6:18 NLT)

Therefore, we should always approach the Scripture from the starting point that it always tells the truth because the God of truth does not lie.

2. The Human Mind Is Limited in What It Can Understand

Paradoxes, in Scripture, are really concurrences; two statements that seemingly contradict but are true in ways that we cannot completely understand.

Therefore, any paradox that we encounter when we study the Scripture will not be a problem with God, or with His Word—it will be with us. We have these Bible difficulties because of the limitation of the human mind. Because of the limitations of our minds, we find it impossible to completely reconcile these seemingly opposing teachings on the same subject.

Consequently, when we come across one of these paradoxes we must humbly admit our ignorance and not attempt to make some type of forced reconciliation. Instead, we must reverently accept the truths that are taught and go on.

We Need to Realize That These Paradoxes Are Mysteries That Cannot Logically Be Understood

It is important that we appreciate the fact that not everything we come across in Scripture will be understood. There are paradoxes that are beyond our understanding. They are genuine mysteries which cannot be solved this side of heaven.

While the truths are concurrent, or somehow work together, we cannot totally comprehend how this may be so. We should humbly accept this fact.

Summary – Question 13
What Do We Do When Certain Doctrines Seemingly Contradict Each Other? (Paradoxes and Concurrent Truths)

The study of God’s Word will bring us to doctrines, or teachings, that seemingly contradict each other.

However, Scripture comes from the God of truth who cannot contradict Himself. These statements, known as paradoxes, are true even though we cannot totally reconcile them. Paradoxes occur because of the limitations of the human mind.

Examples of biblical paradoxes are the teaching on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humans, as well as the doctrine of the Trinity. These paradoxes are mysteries that will not be able to be solved in this life.

Thus, we must accept the fact that the doctrines are true although we will never be able to completely understand how this can be so.

Why Don’t All Christians Agree on Doctrinal Matters? (Why Are There So Many Different Denominations?) ← Prior Section
What Does the Term, “Mystery” Mean in Reference to Bible Doctrine? Next Section →
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