Whenever the inspiration of the Bible is considered, there are always a few questions which arise. Let us examine a few of the most common ones.
What About Alleged “Contradictions”?
I have examined hundreds of alleged “contradictions,” and have even discussed the issue with leading atheists who have attempted to point them out. From personal experience, I can confidently say that I have never found any difficulty that has ever been shown to be conclusively contradictory. There are solutions. I have even harmonized the resurrection narratives of the four gospels and Acts. Norman Geisler, who has studied the Bible exhaustively for forty years, is also confident that there are no real “contradictions” in the Bible. Of course, there are difficulties, but difficulties are quite different from errors. A difficulty is something that we don’t yet know the answer to, but is not something conclusively contradictory. An error is something that is conclusively unsolvable, and there are none of these in the Bible. Most often, when a “contradiction” is perceived, we are misunderstanding one of the passages (or both).
Norman Geisler has written a book devoted to clearing up almost every difficulty that has been raised. It is called When Critics Ask. While a few difficulties do remain, we can have confidence that even these will one day be cleared up. This has been the trend over the last several hundred years–many alleged “contradictions” have been cleared up when further light was shed on the subject.
Often overlooked on this issue is the testimony of Jesus and Paul. They knew the Old Testament better than perhaps anyone else alive today. So if it contradicted itself, they would have known about it. Yet, both Jesus and Paul affirm the infallibility of God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16; John 10:35; Matthew 5:18). Why would they have done this if they believed it contradicted itself?
What About All the Translations?
Inspiration does not extend to any translation, but this does not mean that we are in the dark if we do not know Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible). Since God’s word is for all mankind, it only makes sense that He would provide accurate translations of His word for those who are seeking Him and following Him today. Words have meaning, and it is possible to translate them accurately. While some meaning may be lost in a translation, it is simply not true that translations result in a distortion of the text. One cannot just open up to the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and declare “the proper translation of this chapter is identical to the speech that Bill Clinton gave last month!” The translations are adequate to get God’s message across to us. Also, there are many study aids available for determining the precise meaning of the texts.
Today we have access to many fine and accurate translations, as any Greek or Hebrew scholar will affirm. I would recommend the New American Standard Bible, since it is the most literal to the original languages, and it is the most precise. Also, it is important to understand that the translations were done from the original languages. They are not a translation of a translation of a translation…
There Are So Many Different Interpretations of the Bible, How Can We Really Know What It Says?
While there are some issues on which many sincere Christians disagree, the Bible is very clear on the central issues of the faith. For example, it is very clear in the Bible that Jesus is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and that salvation is by grace alone (Titus 3:5) through faith alone (Eph. 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5) through Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12). Someone once said “there are some things in the Bible I don’t understand, some things that I only think I understand, and some things I cannot possibly misunderstand.” The differences in interpretation are mostly a matter of less central issues such as church organization. Also, many who claim to have accurate “interpretations” are just plain wrong.
Just because there are variances in interpretation doesn’t render the whole message invalid. For example, no one would say that the Constitution of the United States is not able to provide the proper framework for our government just because courts have interpreted it differently over the years and because there is much disagreement over what some parts mean (such as the first amendment). If we weigh the arguments for each side of an interpretation, it is possible to come to reasonable conviction on the issues. It is not “one man’s word against another” but a matter of “who’s interpretation is supported with the evidence?”
Also, we must realize that since God is the author, we must rely on Him to make the meaning clear to us. Second Peter 1:21 declares that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” The reason Peter gives us for this is in verse 22: “for no prophecy of Scripture was ever made by human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Since God wrote it, He knows what it means, and we must rely on His wisdom, not ours. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy Law” says Psalm 119:8. Proverbs 3:5, 6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Luke 24:45 tells us that Jesus “opened their minds [of His disciples] to understand the Scriptures.” First Corinthians 2:14 tells us that if one is not in a right relationship with God, much of His word will appear foolish. In this case the problem is not with God’s word, but with the person who refuses to submit to God’s authority.
Should the Bible be Taken Literally?
What other way is there to interpret it? Interpreting it literally simply means interpreting it in the way that the author intended. You do not need any special glasses to read God’s word. The Bible should be read just as any other book–in a plain, literal, common sense manner, only interpreting something as figurative when the text itself suggests this interpretation. Read it like you would any letter from a friend–only interpret a passage allegorically when it is clear from the text that it is allegorical. No one has a problem distinguishing literal from figurative language in something like a letter or a newspaper, so when reading God’s word remember: When the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest you come up with nonsense. Scripture interprets Scripture literally (see Matt. 12:39; 11:32; Luke 17:29; 11:51; Matt. 24:37; 19:1-6; Romans 5:12-21). Figurative language is not absent from the Bible, but there must be good reason in the passage which indicates a figurative interpretation. One example of this is Isaiah 55:12: “the trees of the field will clap their hands.” And even when there is figurative language, there is always a literal meaning behind it.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.