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Bible Difficulties Explained: How Can We Understand Them?

The accusation that the Bible contradicts itself has become more prevalent in the last two decades. Many making such claims often repeat what they have heard without having read the Bible themselves or conducted a detailed study of it. However, it is important not to dismiss all concerns as though they have no merit. There are legitimate questions that seem, on the surface, to indicate well-founded contradictions. Unfortunately, these issues have caused some to lose their faith in the Bible as God’s Word. The purpose of this book is to help its readers defend the Bible against critics (1 Peter 3:15), contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), and support those who are beginning to doubt (Jude 1:22-23).


Before we delve into detailed explanations, let us address two major Bible difficulties to demonstrate that there are reasonable and logical answers available.



Is God Permitting Human Sacrifice?


In Judges 11:29-40, we encounter the story of Jephthah and his vow. Jephthah made a vow to Jehovah, promising that if He granted him victory over the Ammonites, he would offer as a burnt offering whatever came out of the doors of his house to meet him upon his return. Tragically, his only daughter came out to greet him. The question arises: did Jephthah actually sacrifice his daughter?


The passage does state that Jephthah did to her according to his vow. However, interpreting this as a literal human sacrifice contradicts the broader biblical context where human sacrifice is condemned (Deuteronomy 12:31; 2 Kings 16:3). A more plausible interpretation is that Jephthah dedicated his daughter to lifelong virginity and service to Jehovah. This view is supported by the emphasis on her virginity and the custom of Israelite women commemorating her dedication (Judges 11:37-40).



Biblical Chronology and Numbers


Another frequent difficulty involves the apparent inconsistencies in numbers and chronology within the Bible. For instance, the ages and reigns of kings often differ between the books of Kings and Chronicles. These discrepancies usually stem from copyist errors. In Hebrew, certain letters that denote numbers are similar in appearance, making transcription errors likely. For example, the Hebrew letter for eight (ח) is easily confused with the letter for four hundred (ת).


Despite these minor errors, the remarkable consistency of the biblical text is evident. The Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient manuscripts have shown that the Hebrew Bible has been transmitted with a high degree of accuracy over the centuries. The modern textual scholar can assert with confidence that we have a text that closely reflects the original writings.



Inerrancy: Can the Bible Be Trusted?


The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the Scriptures, as originally given, were without error. Critics often question this doctrine by pointing out supposed contradictions and errors. However, a careful and honest examination reveals that many of these issues can be resolved through an understanding of the historical, cultural, and linguistic context of the Bible.


Practical Principles for Overcoming Bible Difficulties


  1. Different Points of View: Sometimes, different biblical writers provide varying perspectives on the same event, which can appear contradictory but are actually complementary. For example, the Gospels offer different details of the same incidents, each highlighting particular aspects relevant to their specific audience.

  2. Approximate Numbers: The Bible often uses approximate numbers, similar to how we might say "around 5,000 people" attended an event. This is not a contradiction but a common literary practice.

  3. Paraphrasing and Summarizing: Biblical authors frequently paraphrase or summarize speeches and events. For example, Stephen's speech in Acts 7:2-3 paraphrases God's words to Abraham, which differ slightly from the exact wording in Genesis 12:1.

  4. Human Perspective: Descriptions in the Bible often reflect the human author's perspective. For instance, the Bible speaks of the sun "rising" and "setting," which, though scientifically inaccurate, is a common human viewpoint and not a scientific error.

  5. Transmission Errors: Some difficulties arise from errors made by scribes copying manuscripts. These are typically minor and do not affect any major doctrine. Modern textual criticism has greatly reduced these errors by comparing thousands of manuscripts.

  6. Literary Styles: The Bible contains various literary styles, including poetry, narrative, prophecy, and apocalyptic literature. Misunderstanding these styles can lead to perceived contradictions. For example, poetic descriptions often use hyperbole and metaphor, which should not be interpreted literally.

  7. Historical and Cultural Context: Understanding the historical and cultural background of biblical events can resolve many difficulties. For example, the role of women in ancient Israelite society can clarify certain biblical laws and narratives that might seem puzzling from a modern perspective.


Inerrancy: Are There Contradictions?


Critics often claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. However, many alleged contradictions can be harmonized with careful study. For example, the accounts of Jesus' resurrection appear different in each Gospel but can be reconciled when considering the distinct perspectives and purposes of the Gospel writers.


Inerrancy: Are There Mistakes?


Some claim the Bible contains scientific errors. For instance, the description of a "firmament" in Genesis 1:6-8 has been misunderstood as a solid dome. However, the Hebrew term "raqia" refers to the sky or expanse and does not imply a solid structure.


Procedures for Handling Biblical Difficulties

  1. Approach with Confidence: Be convinced that there is a reasonable explanation.

  2. Trust in Inerrancy: Have faith in the inerrancy of the Scriptures as originally written.

  3. Study the Context: Carefully examine the context and framework of the passage.

  4. Understand Exegesis: Determine the historical setting, authorial intent, and key words.

  5. Harmonize Parallel Passages: Find reasonable harmonizations of seemingly contradictory passages.

  6. Consult Reliable Sources: Use trusted commentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedias.

  7. Consider Transmission Errors: Investigate whether the difficulty is due to a copying error.

  8. Recognize Literary Styles: Understand the diverse literary styles in the Bible.

  9. Seek Accurate Interpretation: Understand the Bible’s intended level of precision.


Honest and Humble Approach


When dealing with Bible difficulties, it is crucial to approach them honestly, acknowledging the difficulty without attempting evasive or unsatisfactory explanations. Recognize the limitations of human understanding and be determined to find solutions through diligent study and prayer. By adopting this approach, we honor the integrity of God’s Word and strengthen our faith in its reliability.


Fearlessly and Patiently

Do not fear encountering difficulties in the Bible. They are to be expected given the nature of divine revelation to finite human beings. Be patient in your study, understanding that the resolution of some difficulties may take time and deeper investigation.


Scripturally and Prayerfully


Use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Often, one part of the Bible sheds light on another. Additionally, approach your study prayerfully, seeking guidance and wisdom from God as you delve into His Word.


Conclusion


The difficulties in the Bible, when examined carefully and honestly, often have reasonable explanations. These difficulties should not shake our faith but rather motivate us to deeper study and understanding. By approaching the Bible with a humble and determined spirit, we can overcome these challenges and strengthen our confidence in the inerrancy and reliability of God’s Word.


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About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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