Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Bible Contradictions - Two More Ways Critics Snub Style
We are currently reviewing different ways critics make mistakes when accusing
the Bible of being self-contradictory. In
our last post, we
saw that people sometimes claim the Bible has a contradiction when it is really only using
phenomenological language. Today, we'll look at two additional ways critics snub style
to force meaning.
Misunderstanding popular idioms and sayings
Every culture has expressions
of speech they use to communicate quickly and colorfully. Teens do this
naturally; what used to be hip became groovy which turned into cool, then phat.
However, some people try to snub style by forcing common sayings—known as
idioms—to be understood literally. This simply proves the objector is
not treating the text fairly. I remember hearing a story where a
translator was helping a person visiting Russia. Getting to the train
station minutes before their departure, he told a local that they had made it by
the skin of their teeth, which the translator repeated verbatim. The
Russian looked at the man and was quite perplexed. Teeth don't have skin!
So the man had to interpret the meaning of the idiom in order for his listener
to understand what he was saying. Similarly, ancient people also had idioms that
they used to speak in a particular way.
Example: Jesus in the Tomb Three Days and Nights
"For just as Jonah was
three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of
Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew
When you look at the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection, it
seems that Jesus was wrong. He died on Friday evening and was resurrected before
daybreak on Sunday morning. That's maybe 36-38 hours at the most, not
three days AND three nights. But in Hebrew speech any part of a day is
referred to as a whole day. We can see this in the passage of 1 Samuel 30.
Here, David had been fasting before God to conquer the Amalekites, since they
had ransacked southern Israel and captured many people including David's wives.
After his victory, verse 12 says that David "had not eaten bread or drunk water
for three days and three nights." But in verse 1, it clearly states that
David overtook the Amalekites on the third day, not afterwards. So, here is
another instance of the phrase three days and three nights not being used
literally, but an expression for covering at least part of a three day period.
Differences in perspective or emphasis
One final way critics will snub
style is to view a retelling of an account as a contradiction simply because it
is emphasizing a different aspect of the same event. For example, the book of Kings and the
book of Chronicles offer similar stories of the Kings of Israel and
Judah, but the writers there were hoping to make different points. The author of
the books of Kings is more concerned with the way God orders the events of
history and downfall of the nation's leadership while the author to Chronicles
emphasizes the apostasy from the Davidic covenant and temple worship.
Example: Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 competing
"This is the account of the heavens and the earth when
they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven". Genesis
In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates the plants first (day
three), then the birds and fish (day four), then the animals, and finally man
and woman (day 6). However, Genesis 2 seems to say that man was created first,
then the plants, then all the animals, and finally woman. Aren't these
contradictory? The answer is no, because the accounts are really not
talking about the same things.
The best way to understand the creation story
is to see Genesis chapter one as an overview of all God did to create the
heavens and the earth. Then, like a movie plot that backs up to show the details
of a particular event, Genesis 2:4 zooms in on the last creation day to tell the
events there. First, planting "a garden toward the east" does not
mean that God hadn't already created plants and animals elsewhere. In
fact, because the location of the garden is qualified ("toward the east") it
implies that this activity is very localized. God could simply be recreating
plants and animals specifically for Adam. The language could also be
perspective-driven; God's previous action of creating animals from the
ground is restated while underlining that the animals were to be subservient
We use language the same way today. We may tell a friend "this car was built
for you" to someone who finds a car they that fits their personality.
Either way, the claim of a contradiction doesn't stand.