Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Biblical Contradictions

I've talked about Biblical contradictions before, in writing about how context matters.

You're probably familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man touches an elephant on a different part of its body (one touching a leg, another a tusk, another an ear, etc), and then describe what they felt, only to discover they were in complete disagreement about an elephant's description.

It's not the elephant that is at fault, but rather the reports given about the elephant.

I believe this applies to the Bible. The Bible often "contradicts" itself, but the fault is not in the book itself, but rather in our limited ability to perceive it.

For example, the Bible clearly states that a person will pay for his own sins, not that of his parents (Ezek 18:20), and yet, it also says that we bear the burden of our parents' sins (Jer 32:18; Lam 5:7).

It also implies that children are innocent of sin (Matt 18:3; 19:4), and yet also implies that we are born with sin (Gen 6:5; Ps 53:2-3; Rom 5:12ff).

It indicates that sin is something we do (1 John 3:4), and yet it indicates that sin is something that we have (Rom 7:17).

We humans don't like our holy books to have contradictions, so we expend lots of effort to explain away the contradictions. We usually do so by attacking the viewpoints opposing our own, finding an alternative explanation for that viewpoint.

There's nothing wrong with that; a certain amount of it is healthy, because Truth is worth searching for.

The problem is when we conclude that we have the Truth, and our opponents do not, because they don't have the same love for the truth that we ourselves have. What's worse, is when that attitude causes us to twist the scriptures to support our viewpoint. Worse even still, is when, after we've twisted the scriptures ourselves, we then accuse our opponents of twisting the scripture.

It might just be that our view of the elephant is limited by our blindness.

So what's my point?

My point is that maybe we don't have such a perfect understanding as we think we have. If the text has been argued about for centuries, by minds greater than our own, maybe we should be a little more humble in declaring we have the answer and they don't.

We often insist on unity in "the essentials". Maybe we should instead insist on unity in things that are clear. (And even then, is it really clear?) And on other things, don't judge, but let each servant stand before God on his own, for the Lord will make him stand (Rom 14:1-4).

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