"If the Bible is God's word, then why are there so many contradictions in it?" This question, or one of its variations, has been heard many times by those seeking to share their faith. Sometimes a questioner will pose a specific example, such as "how many angels were at the empty tomb?" or "Did God or Satan cause King David to sin?" Other times, they will have gathered a long list of objections (usually one that has made the rounds across the Internet) and say "See, look at all these!" How can just one person answer the myriad of supposed contradictions floating around today?
The fact of the matter is not only can one man answer these, but one man prepared the definitive response—and he did it back in 1874! John W. Haley made it his goal to address every known discrepancy or alleged biblical contradiction he could find after seeing a pamphlet circulating in a local parish listing several supposed self-contradictions. Haley didn't simply dismiss this pamphlet as the work of disgruntled skeptics, but he took the objections seriously, writing "I have been impressed with the fact that the so-called 'discrepancies' of the Bible have failed to receive due consideration by evangelical authors. The literature of the subject is comparatively meager and antiquated." So Haley set out to survey much of the scholarly theological writings and treatments of the various texts. He then catalogued them, put them into short, very accessible language, and published them in what I consider a masterpiece: Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible.
Haley's efforts are still invaluable today. He breaks down discrepancies into one of three major categories: doctrinal discrepancies, ethical discrepancies, and historical discrepancies; the listings for each is exhaustive. He also created an index to find discrepancies by specific Bible verse. He handles the responses skillfully, with an easy-to-understand manner. He covers almost every objection that seems to surface in Facebook comments or YouTube pundits who want to topple the Bible's authority. And he did it 150 years before these "problems" ever crossed the minds of our current slate of Internet atheists.
However, Haley saw the importance of not merely answering the charge of contradiction, but he sought to to explore why such discrepancies exist in the first place. The first three chapters of the book deal with why God would even allow such discrepancies in His word and why they can actually be advantageous to the serious Bible student. His comments in the introductions show his mind and heart for apologetics:
"Some persons may, perchance, question the wisdom of publishing a work in which the difficulties of scripture are brought together and set forth so plainly. They may think it better to suppress, as far as may be, the knowledge of these things. The author does not sympathize with any such timid policy. He counts it the duty of the Christian scholar to look difficulties and objections squarely in the face. Nothing is to be gained by overlooking, evading, or shrinking from them. Truth has no cause to fear scrutiny, however rigid and searching. Besides, the enemies of the Bible will not be silent, even if its friends should hold their peace. It should be remembered that the following "discrepancies" are not now published for the first time. They are gathered from books and pamphlets which are already extensively circulated. The poison demands an antidote. The remedy should be carried wherever the disease has made its blighting way."
In reading first sentence above, I find many churches and youth group leaders hold a similar opinion in wanting to "shield" their sheep from the existence of the wolves. As Haley noted, it is far better to know of the wolves and how to defend yourself against them, than to pretend they don't exist.
Given the publishing date, the contents for Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible are available for free online. However, I recommend purchasing the book and keeping it handy as a reference. This is one of the really superb hidden treasures that Christians have forgotten, and I hope he will be rediscovered soon.References
1. Haley, John W.. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1986. Preface.
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