What About Contradictions in the Bible?


One year Randall McElwain was teaching at a seminary in Africa. One of the students had studied from liberal critics who rejected the truth of the Bible. These critics convinced the young student that the Bible was full of contradiction. Nearly every day, Toni would say to Randall, “I found a contradiction in the Bible. Can you explain…?”

At first, Randall was upset and maybe even nervous that Toni would find a problem to which there was no good answer. However, the longer they studied, the more Randall realized that his “contradictions” were the result of not properly understanding the Bible. By the end of the class module, Toni was happy to admit, “The Bible is much more reliable than I thought.”

To address supposed contradictions, you should understand the Law of Non-Contradiction. This law says, “A statement cannot be both true and not true at the same time and in the same sense.” So if one statement absolutely contradicts another statement, at least one of those statements cannot be true.

In order for one statement to absolutely contradict another, there must be no sense in which the statements can both be true. If there is a possible logical explanation, it is not a real contradiction. The examples Toni brought were apparent contradictions, not real contradictions.

Let’s see examples of apparent and real contradictions:

An Apparent Contradiction:

Jeni says, “I saw a blue car in an accident on the way to school this morning.”
Robert says, “I saw a red car in an accident on the way to school this morning.”

Someone might say, “Those stories contradict each other!”

But this is only an apparent contradiction. It is possible that Jeni and Robert saw different accidents. It is possible that the two cars were in an accident together; Jeni noticed the blue car, and Robert noticed the red car. Both stories may be true. This is not a real contradiction.

A Real Contradiction:

Jeni says, “On the way to school this morning, I saw a blue car hit a cow.”
Robert says, “I saw the same accident. There was only one car and one animal; but the car was red, not blue; and it hit a horse, not a cow.”

This is a real contradiction. Both stories cannot be true. At least one of the stories is false.

Let’s look at an example from the Gospels. Matthew mentions one angel at Jesus’ tomb; Luke says there were two.

Is this an apparent contradiction or a real contradiction? Explain your answer.

Is this an absolute contradiction? No. Matthew does not say there was “only one angel” at the tomb; he simply mentions one. It is entirely possible that Matthew mentioned only one angel, while Luke (a historian who loved details) mentioned both of the angels that were there.

After 2,000 years of study, no skeptic has proven an absolute contradiction in the Bible. In fact, the more we learn about science, history, and the Bible, the more supposed problems in the Bible are solved. The list of apparent contradictions gets shorter and shorter.

Read more: The Reliability of the New Testament, Part 2: Internal and External Evidence Tests

Mark Bird
Mark Bird
Mark Bird is Professor of Theology and Apologetics at God's Bible School and College.