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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: What Is the Difference Between a Difficulty and a Contradiction?

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What Is the Difference Between a Difficulty and a Contradiction?

Answering Bible Difficulties – Question 9

The Bible claims to be the authoritative, inerrant Word of God and there is sufficient evidence to believe the claims of Scripture are true. Yet when we read the Bible there are difficulties that we encounter. How are we to deal with these obvious difficulties? The following points need to be stressed:

There Is a Difference Between a Bible Difficulty and an Outright Contradiction

At first glance, there do seem to be contradictions that we encounter when we read the pages of Scripture. These difficulties, and so-called contradictions we find, are between different authors, and even within the writings of the same author. What are we to make of them?

We should note that there is a difference between a difficulty and a contradiction. A difficulty is something that, initially, is hard to make sense out of. However, it is not necessarily a contradiction or error. It is merely something that causes a problem when we first look at it. Unfortunately, too many people assume a difficulty is the same thing as an error. The Bible contains passages that are difficult to understand but when all the evidence is in, it cannot contradict itself. This is because there is only one ultimate Author behind the text—God Himself.

The Admission of Scripture Concerning Difficulties

Even the Bible itself admits that there are some difficult areas. Peter wrote the following concerning the writings of the Apostle Paul:

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 3:14-16 NRSV)

Peter admits that Paul wrote some things that were hard to understand.

We All Need Help in Understanding the Scripture

The Book of Acts gives us an example of Philip the evangelist having to explain the meaning of a difficult passage to the Ethiopian eunuch. It says:

So Philip ran up to it and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. He asked him, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The man replied, “How in the world can I, unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31 NET)

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, we all need help in understanding the things written in the Bible because there are matters that are difficult to understand.

The Difficulty May Be Cleared up Later

Because a certain passage in Scripture is not completely understood right now, it does not mean that it will never be understood. As our knowledge of the ancient world increases, the number of difficulties and obscurities continues to vanish. There are many examples of Bible difficulties having been cleared up due to recent knowledge. We must state categorically, “There has never been one demonstrable error proven from the original text of Scripture!”

There Is Only a Small Minority of Difficulties in Scripture

We must also emphasize that the message of the Bible is crystal clear and for the most part, the text of the Bible is likewise clear. Difficult passages constitute a small minority in the text. We are not dealing with difficulty after difficulty on every page.

Conclusion: the Central Message of the Bible Is Clear

The most important point, that cannot be overemphasized, is that the central message of the Bible—Jesus Christ is humanity’s only Savior—is not only clear, it is backed up by sufficient evidence to make any honest inquirer believe. There are a few remaining difficulties that still need to be cleared up. However, this should not deter one from believing in Jesus Christ. Our knowledge will always be imperfect and thus faith must always be exercised. However, biblical faith is intelligent, not blind faith.

Mark Twain’s famous statement is appropriate here. He said the statements that bothered him in the Bible were not the ones he did not understand, what bothered him were the things he did understand! Another person has said it this way:

Many things in the Bible I cannot understand; many things in the Bible I only think I understand; but there are many things in the Bible I cannot misunderstand.

We must act upon those statements we cannot misunderstand.

Summary – Question 9
What Is the Difference Between a Difficulty and a Contradiction?

There are difficulties in the Bible. A difficulty, however, is not the same as a contradiction. Because we do not have the answer to a certain Bible difficulty today does not mean that we will never find the answer. The more knowledge we have about the Bible and its past, the fewer difficulties we find in Scripture. Since the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, ultimately all difficulties will be able to be cleared up. However, even with the present difficulties found in Scripture, the message of the Bible is clear.

Why Do Some Christians Believe the Bible Contains Errors? ← Prior Section
Why Should the Subject of Bible Difficulties Be Discussed? Next Section →
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