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In short, there are no contradictions, errors, or mistakes in the Bible, but there are Bible difficulties. Basically, Bible Difficulties are difficulties that arise because the Bible was written in Hebrew, some Aramaic, and Greek over 1,600 years by some forty+ authors, in dozens of different historical settings that require much Bible background knowledge. This above is not enough to satisfy a doubting or an unbeliever; you need a basic understanding of what they are, how to explain them, how to approach them, procedures in dealing with them, and how you should view them, as well as some examples. – Edward D. Andrews
All the difficulties found in the Bible can be included under ten general headings:
The Text from which our English Bible was Translated
No one, as far as I know, holds that the English translation of the Bible is absolutely infallible and inerrant. The doctrine held by many is that the Scriptures as originally given were absolutely infallible and inerrant and that our English translation is a substantially accurate rendering of the Scriptures as originally given.
We do not possess the original manuscripts of the Bible. These original manuscripts were copied many times with great care and exactness, but naturally, some errors crept into the copies that were made. We now possess so many good copies that by comparing one with another, we can tell with great precision just what the original text was. Indeed, for all practical purposes, the original text is now settled.
Update: After Torrey’s death in 1928, we have made the extremely important discovery over 100 papyrus manuscripts that date before 300 C.E. Quite a few date to the second century, with one small fragment being dated to about 125 C.E. The modern textual scholar can now say with certainty that we have established the Greek New Testament to a ninety-nine percent reflect of the originally published book(s). Moreover, we have more than 100 English translations today, with many of them being a very good representation of the Hebrew and Greek in English: NASB, ESB, HCSB, LEB, and others. Edward D. Andrews
There is not one important doctrine, which hangs upon any doubtful reading of the text. However, when our Authorized Version (KJV) was published in 1611, some of the best manuscripts were not within reach of the translators, and the science of textual criticism was not so well understood as it is today, and so the translation was made from an imperfect text. Not a few of the apparent difficulties in the Bible arise from this source.
For example, we are told in John 5:4 that “an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” This statement for many reasons seems improbable and difficult to believe, but upon investigation, we find that it is all a mistake of the copyist. Some early copyist, reading John’s account, added in the margin his explanation of the healing properties of this intermittent medicinal spring. A late copyist embodied this marginal note in the body of the text, and so it came to be handed down and got into the Authorized Version (KJV). Very properly, it has been omitted from the Revised Version.
Note: It is omitted from almost all of our modern-day translations as well, with the exception of the NASB and the HCSB, which retained it out of esteem to the KJV. Edward D. Andrews
The discrepancies in figures in different accounts of the same events as, for example, the differences in the ages of some of the kings as given in the text of Kings and Chronicles, doubtless arise from the same cause, errors of copyists. Such an error in the matter of figures would be very easy to make, as in the Hebrew; letters and letters that appear very much alike have a very different value as figures denote numbers. For example, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet denotes one, and with two little points above it, no larger than flyspecks, it denotes a thousand. The twenty-third or last letter of the Hebrew alphabet denotes four hundred, but the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet that looks very much like it and could be easily mistaken for it denotes eight. A very slight error of the copyist would, therefore, make an utter change in figures. The remarkable thing when one contemplates the facts in the case is that so few errors of this kind have been made.
For example, in Matthew 12:40 Jonah is spoken of as being in “the whale’s belly.” Many a skeptic has made a mockery over the thought of a whale with the peculiar construction of its mouth and throat swallowing a man. However, if the skeptic had only taken the trouble to look the matter up, he would have found the word translated “whale” really means “sea monster” [or great fish] without any definition as to the character of the sea monster. We will take this up more in detail in considering the story of Jonah. Therefore, the whole difficulty arose from the translator’s mistake and the skeptic’s ignorance. Many skeptics today are so densely ignorant of matters clearly understood by many Sunday school children that they are still harping in the name of scholarship on this supposed error in the Bible.
False Interpretations of the Bible
What the Bible teaches is one thing, and what men interpret it to mean is oftentimes something widely different. Many difficulties that we have with the Bible arise not from what the Bible actually says, but from what men interpret it to mean.
A striking illustration of this is found in Genesis 1. If we were to take the interpretation put upon this chapter by many, it would indeed be difficult to reconcile it with much that modern science regards as established. However, the difficulty is not with what Genesis 1 says, but with the interpretation put upon it. There is no contradiction whatever between what is really proven by science and what is really said in Genesis 1.
Another difficulty of the same character is with Jesus’ statement that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Many interpreters would have us believe that He died Friday and rose early Sunday morning, and the time between these two is far from being three days and three nights. However, it is a matter of biblical interpretation, and the trouble is not with what the Bible actually says, but with the interpretation that men put upon the Bible. We will take this matter up at length below by Edward D. Andrews.
Matthew 12:40 How many days was Jesus in the tomb?
Some argue for three days, based on Jesus’ words,
Matthew 12:40 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
This would seem to suggest a full 72 hours. However, we should not set aside similar expressions that may allow us to get at the intent of the words. Many times in Scripture, three days does not always mean a full 72 hours of three days. For example, look at the words of Rehoboam,
1 Kings 12:5, 12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away. 12 So Jeroboam and all of the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had spoken: “Return to me on the third day.”
You see that the king told the people to go away for three days, and then return to him. But you also will notice that they returned on the third day, which was not a full 72 hours of three days. Now, consider what Jesus said of himself, something that Scripture repeatedly says,
Luke 24:46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day,
Now, if he had remained in the grave for a full 72 hours of three days, it would have meant that he would have been raised on the fourth day. Jewish days ran from sundown to sundown. Jesus died on Friday afternoon about 3:00 p.m., Nisan 14, 33 C.E.
- Jesus’ death Friday Nisan 14, about 3:00 p.m. (Matt 27:31-56; Mk 15:20-41; Lu 23:26-49; Jn 19:16-30)
- Jesus was in Tomb before sundown Friday evening (Matt 27:57-61; Mk 15:42-47; Lu 23:50-56; Jn 19:31-42)
- Jesus in the tomb all of Nisan 15th from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, which began Nisan 16 (Matt 27:62-66)
- Jesus resurrected early Sunday morning of Nisan 16th (Matt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lu 24:1; Jn 20:1)
Therefore, Jesus was dead and in the tomb for at least a period of time on Friday Nisan 14, was still in the tomb during the course of the whole day of Nisan 15, and spent the nighttime hours of Nisan 16 in the tomb.
- Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matt 28:1)
- When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mk 16:1)
- But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. (Lu 24:1)
- Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (Jn 20:1)
Certain women came to the tomb on Sunday morning, it was still dark, he had already been resurrected. Thus, Jesus had been in the tomb for parts of three days. Edward D. Andrews has updated and expanded this writing.
A Wrong Conception of the Bible
Many think that when we say the Bible is the Word of God, of divine origin and authority, we mean that God is the speaker in every utterance it contains; but this is not what is meant at all. Oftentimes, it simply records what others say, i.e., what good men say, what bad men say, what inspired men say, what uninspired men say, what angels and demons say, and even what the devil says. The record of what they said is from God and absolutely true, but what those other persons are recorded as saying may be true or may not be true. It is true that they said it, but what they said may not be true.
For example, the devil is recorded in Genesis 3:4 as saying, “You will not surely die.” It is true that the devil said it, but what the devil said is not true, but an infamous lie that shipwrecked our race. That the devil said it is God’s Word, but what the devil said is not God’s word but the devil’s word. It is God’s Word that this was the devil’s word.
Very many careless readers of the Bible do not notice who is talking, God, good men, bad men, inspired men, uninspired men, angels or devil. They will tear a verse right out of its context regardless of the speaker and say, “There, God said that.” However, God said nothing of the kind. God’s Word says that the devil said it or a bad man said it or a good man said it or an inspired man said it, or an uninspired man said it, or an angel said it. What God says is true, namely, that the devil said it, or a bad man, or a good man, or an inspired man, or an uninspired man, or an angel. However, what they said may or may not be true.
It is very common to hear men quote what Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar said to Job as if it were necessarily God’s own words because it is recorded in the Bible, in spite of the fact that God disavowed their teaching and said to them, “you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7). It is true that these men said the thing that God records them as saying, but often they gave the truth a twist and said what is not right. A very large share of our difficulties thus arises from not noticing who is speaking. The Bible always tells us, and we should always note it. Below, under the subheadings of “the Case of Job” and “The Comforters” Andrews demonstrates how the erroneous interpretations come about.
The Case of Job
What we have covered thus far will help us understand one of the more complex books of the Bible, the book of Job.
Job was a “blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Job was living the happy life; he had seven sons and the daughters. He was a wealthy landowner. “He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” (1:3) Even so, he is not a materialistic person; he was simply following a proverb like the above, ‘if you work hard, your efforts will be blessed.’
Job 1:13-19; 2:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their oldest brother, 14 and a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their oldest brother, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
 Lit fell upon
Job 4:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
Eliphaz in an attempt at dealing with Job’s atrocities assumes Job’s tragedies are a result of his own actions. Eliphaz has reasoned wrong by taking a proverb and making it an absolute. In essence, he asks Job, ‘do those that are innocent die? When have those that live a righteous life been destroyed?’ Eliphaz goes on by saying, ‘my experience suggests that it is those who are doing wrong and entertain bad that will get back what they gave out.’ In other words, Eliphaz is assuming that only the wicked reap bad times.
Job 5:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 But he saves from the sword of their mouth
and the poor from the hand of the mighty.
Eliphaz again assumes that Job is at fault. Eliphaz is assuming that it was Job’s great riches, which were ill-gotten, and this is why he is suffering. Is Eliphaz’s statement wrong in and of itself? No, God does rescue the poor from the oppressive, by their following his counsel on the right way to live. However, this is no absolute; saying all who live by God’s will and purposes will never be mistreated. Moreover, the whole idea is misplaced, in that maybe Job is the rich oppressor and this is his punishment from God.
Job 8:3-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
4 If your sons have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
5 If you will seek God
and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
6 if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and restore your rightful place.
 I.e., habitation
Bildad too is stating true statements, but in absolute terms that are misplaced when it comes to Job or anyone. Certainly, God does not pervert justice. Therefore, Bildad is right on that, but his application and understanding are what is twisted, as he assumes that children died because they had sinned, and justice was being meted out to them. Again, in verse 5-6, we have a true thought, in that if one is in an impure state, and turns to God with pleadings, he will restore them. However, in verses 5-6, Bildad is assuming that Job is unrighteous because he sees that proverb as an absolute.
As can be seen from the above, one must be aware that proverbs are not absolutes, but are general truths. True enough, there are likely a couple of exceptions to this rule, but that would not negate this rule, and approach of correct interpretation of proverbs.
In the Psalms, we have sometimes, what God said to man and that is always true; but on the other hand, we often have what man said to God, and that may or may not be true. Sometimes, and far oftener than most of us see, it is the voice of the speaker’s personal vengeance or despair. This vengeance may be and often is prophetic, but it may be the wronged man committing his cause to Him to whom vengeance belongs (Romans 12:19), and we are not obliged to defend all that he said. In the Psalms, we have even a record of what the fool said, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Now it is true that the fool said it, but the fool lied when he said it. It is God’s Word that the fool said it, but what God reports the fool as saying is not God’s own word at all but the fool’s own word.
Therefore, in studying our Bible, if God is the speaker we must believe what He says. If an inspired man is the speaker, we must believe what he says. If an uninspired man is the speaker, we must judge for ourselves, it is perhaps true, perhaps false. If it is the devil who is speaking, we do well to remember that he was a liar from the beginning; but even the devil may tell the truth sometimes.
The Language in Which the Bible was Written
The Bible is a book of all ages and for all kinds of people, and therefore it was written in the language that continues the same and is understood by all, the language of the common people and of appearances. It was not written in the terminology of science.
Thus, for example, what occurred at the Battle of Gibeon (Joshua 10:12–14) was described in the way it appeared to those who saw it, and the way in which it would be understood by those who read about it. There is no talk about the refraction of the sun’s rays, and so forth, but the sun is said to have “stood still” (or tarried) in the midst of heaven. It is one of the perfections of the Bible that it was not written in the terminology of modern science. If it had been, it would never have been understood until the present day, and even now it would be understood only by a few. Furthermore, as science and its terminology are constantly changing, the Bible, if written in the terminology of the science of today, would be out of date in a few years; but being written in just the language chosen, it has proved the Book for all ages, all lands and all conditions of men.
Other difficulties from the language in which the Bible was written arise from the fact that large portions of the Bible are poetical and are written in the language of poetry, the language of feeling, passion, imagination, and figure. Now if a man is hopelessly matter-of-fact, he will inevitably find difficulties with these poetical portions of the inspired Word.
For example, in Psalm 18 we have a marvelous description of a thunderstorm, but let the dull, matter-of-fact fellow get hold of that, for example, verse 8: “Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him,” and he will be head over heels in difficulty at once. However, the trouble is not with the Bible, but with his own stupid, thickheaded plainness.
Our Defective Knowledge of the History, Geography, and Usages of Bible Times
For example, in Acts 13:7 Luke speaks of “the deputy” (more accurately “the proconsul,” see English Standard Version) of Cyprus. Roman provinces were of two classes, imperial and senatorial. The ruler of the imperial provinces was called a propraetor, of a senatorial province a proconsul. Up to a comparatively recent date, according to the best information we had, Cyprus was an imperial province and therefore its ruler would be a propraetor, but Luke calls him a proconsul. This certainly seemed like a clear case of error on Luke’s part, and even the conservative commentators felt forced to admit that Luke was in slight error, and the destructive critics were delighted to find this “mistake.” Furthermore, a thorough investigation has brought to light the fact that just at the time of which Luke wrote the Senate had made an exchange with the emperor whereby Cyprus had become a senatorial province, and therefore its ruler was a proconsul. Luke was right after all, and the literary critics were themselves in error.
Repeatedly further researches and discoveries, geographical, historical and archaeological, have vindicated the Bible and put to shame its critics. For example, the book of Daniel has naturally been one of the books that unbelievers and destructive critics have most hated. One of their strongest arguments against its authenticity and truthfulness was that such a person as Belshazzar was unknown to history, that all historians agreed that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon and that he was absent from the city when it was captured. Therefore, Belshazzar must be a purely mythical character, and the whole story legendary and not historical. Their argument seemed very strong. In fact, it seemed unanswerable. However, Sir H. Rawlinson discovered at Mugheir and other Chaldean sites clay cylinders on which Belshazzar (Belsaruzar) is named by Nabonidus as his eldest son. Doubtless, he reigned as regent in the city during his father’s absence, an indication of which we have in his proposal to make Daniel third ruler in the kingdom (Daniel 5:16). He himself being the second ruler in the kingdom, Daniel would be next to him. So the Bible was vindicated again.
The critics asserted most positively that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because writing was unknown in his day. However, recent discoveries have proved beyond a question that writing far antedates the time of Moses. So the critics have been compelled to give up their argument, though they have had the bad grace to hold on stubbornly to their conclusion.
The Ignorance of Conditions under Which Books Were Written and Commands Given
For example, to one ignorant of the conditions, God’s commands to Israel as to the extermination of the Canaanites seem cruel and horrible. However, when one understands the moral condition to which these nations had sunk, the utter hopelessness of reclaiming them and the weakness of the Israelites themselves, their extermination seems to have been an act of mercy to all succeeding generations and to themselves.
The Many-Sidedness of the Bible
The broadest-minded man is one-sided, but the truth is many-sided, and the Bible is all-sided. Therefore, to our narrow thought, one part of the Bible seems to contradict another.
For example, religious men, as a rule, are either Calvinistic or Arminian in their mental makeup. In addition, some portions of the Bible are decidedly Calvinistic and present great difficulties to the Arminian type of mind, while other portions are decidedly Arminian and present difficulties to the Calvinistic type of mind. However, both sides are true. Many men in our day are broad-minded enough to be able to grasp at the same time the Calvinistic side of the truth and the Arminian side of the truth; but some are not, so the Bible perplexes, puzzles and bewilders them. The trouble is not with the Bible, but with their own lack of capacity for comprehensive thought.
Expansion: These schools of doctrinal positions are initially established religious leaders and their followers, such as John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. There are even more, such as the Lutheran, from Martin Luther, The Wesleyan, from John Wesley, and the Mennonites, from Menno Simons, and Society of Friends (Quakers) under George Fox. Actually, I would disagree with Torrey here, I believe that he should have used his earlier point of argument, it boils down to the truth of the Bible as being absolute, but man may misinterpret that truth. Therefore, it will lay concealed until discovered. This misinterpretation does not refute the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. Actually, doctrine plays no part in the inerrancy of Scripture. Whether one believes the earth was created in six literal 24-hour days, or six creative periods called days, has no impact on the doctrine of inerrancy. The Bible is inerrant and one of those interpretations is wrong and the other is correct. This has to do with the person interpreting the Bible, not the inerrancy of the Bible. Edward D. Andrews
Therefore, Paul seems to contradict James, and James seems sometimes to contradict Paul; and what Paul says in one place seems to contradict what he says in another place. However, the whole trouble is that our narrow minds cannot take in God’s large truth.
The Bible has to do with the Infinite, and our Minds are Finite
It is necessarily difficult to put the facts of infinite being into the limited capacity of our finite intelligence, just as it is difficult to put the ocean into a pint cup. To this class of difficulties belong those connected with the Bible doctrines of the Trinity and of the divine-human nature of Christ. To those who forget that God is infinite, the doctrine of the Trinity seems like the mathematical monstrosity of making one equal three. However, when one bears in mind that the doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to put into forms of finite thought the facts of infinite being, and into material forms of expression the facts of the spirit, the difficulties vanish. The simplicity of the Unitarian conception of God arises from its shallowness.
The Dullness of our Spiritual Perception
The man who is farthest advanced spiritually is still so immature that he cannot expect to see everything yet as an absolutely holy God sees it unless he takes it upon simple faith in Him. To this class of difficulties belong those connected with the Bible doctrine of eternal punishment. It often seems to us as if this doctrine cannot be true, must not be true, but the whole difficulty arises from the fact that we are still so blind spiritually that we have no adequate conception of the awfulness of sin, and especially of the awfulness of the sin of rejecting the infinitely glorious Son of God. However, when we become so holy, so like God, that we see the enormity of sin as He sees it, we shall have no difficulty with the doctrine of eternal punishment.
Expansion: Torrey is like many other Calvinist or Lutheran minded individuals, he wishes to follow the evidence, but instead, desires to call those, who do not find this doctrine Biblical, spiritually blind. I hope that even the most conservative reader can see that as dismissive. Without arguing the evidence, I will say that once again, the truth is biblical, and we must follow it objectively, and not allow theological bias to cloud our judgment. I am recommending that you read,
As we look over the ten classes of difficulties, we see they all arise from our imperfection in understanding, and not from the imperfection of the Bible. The Bible is perfect, but we, being imperfect, will have difficulties in understanding it. As we grow more and more in our understanding of God, our difficulties grow ever less and less, and so we are forced to conclude that when we dig deeper into God’s Word, we shall have very few difficulties whatever with the Bible.
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