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

Don Stewart
The Bible claims to be the inspired, 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.

Admission Of Scripture

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

as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).


The Book of Acts gives us an example of Philip having to explain the meaning of a difficult passage to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?' (Acts 8:30,31).

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.

Difficulties Compared To Contradictions

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

Not The Same

We should note that there is a difference between a difficulty and a contradiction. A difficulty is something that, at first glance, 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 initially 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.

Will Be Cleared Up Later

Because a certain passage in Scripture is not completely understood right now, 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 from the original text of Scripture!

Shows No Collusion

The fact that there are difficulties and apparent contradictions between writers shows there was no collusion among them. Whenever multiple people report an event there will be differences in their accounts - since no two people see everything exactly the same. Yet the same basic account will be told by those who witness an event. The only differences we should expect to find are in the incidental details. This is exactly what we find in Scripture. Differing accounts of the same event are not necessarily false accounts. The difference can simply be one of perspective.

Small Minority

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.

The Message Of 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 inquirer believe. Because a few remaining difficulties still need to be cleared up should not deter one from believing in Christ. Our knowledge will always be imperfect and thus faith must be exercised. However biblical faith is intelligent, not blind faith.

What We Can Understand

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 was 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.


1. There are difficulties in the Bible.

2. A difficulty, however, is not the same as a contradiction.

3. Because we do not have the answer to a Bible difficulty today does not mean we will never find the answer. The more knowledge we have about the Bible and its past, the less difficulties we find in Scripture. Since the Bible is God's inerrant Word, ultimately all difficulties will be able to be cleared up.

4. The fact that there are differences in parallel accounts in Scripture shows no collusion between the writers.

5. Even with the difficulties the message of the Bible is clear.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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