Dialog with a Bible Challenger

An amplified and edited reconstruction of an actual exchange that took place on an Internet message board follows.

Bible_Challenger - Your belief that the Bible is "true in all points" requires that you explain contradictions within the Bible.

KG2 - Please remember, my consciously held bias is that the Bible is infallible (John 10:35), therefore my initial response is to remind you that I approach your challenge with the presupposition that there are only apparent contradictions.

As far as "requirement", God does not require that any and every Christian be able to explain all those apparent contradictions, only that he trust his heavenly Father's omniscience over his own sin corrupted and finite understanding. Meanwhile, unbelieving men make their shrill demands...OK, no problem. In the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:24-26 we answer - keep reading. Some of the apparent contradictions I myself (or someone more learned than me) might be able to explain. Others I, or even the finest scholar may not be able to explain; but my a priori assumption is that there is an explanation.

Bible_Challenger - No document that contradicts itself can be called true.

KG2 - Agreed. And I'm glad that you used the word "document", for one pillar of Biblical interpretation is that the 66 canonical books constitute one document. The holy Bible is the cohesive, unified articulation of the one Divine mind. It has the form of an unfolding covenant. The core of its content is, and the essentials of its terms subsist in, the glorious person and Divine redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the eternal Son of the eternal Father.

This Bible came through the agency of two or three dozen Divinely chosen men (prophets and apostles) who inscripturated God's Word over a period of about 1,500 years. The one, eternal Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son (cf. Hebrews 9:14), Who fully knows the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:10,11) "carried along" these men (2 Peter 1:21), inspiring them so that the sixty-six books are all free of any error whatsoever (Psalm 12:6, 2 Timothy 3:16,17).

Bible_Challenger - Dennis McKinsey, in his book "Biblical Errancy," lists 72 contradictions.. for example --

1. Did Solomon have 40,000 stalls for his horses (1 Kings 4:26) or 4,000 (2 Chron. 9:25)?
2. Did Solomon's house contain 2,000 baths (1 Kings 7:26) or 3,000 (2 Chron. 4:5)

KG2 - First off, it should be pointed out that in your second alleged example of Biblical error, the word BATHS refers to a unit of liquid measure, and the verses are speaking of the bronze sea that Solomon made for the priests' washing needs associated with the temple (often called "house"). The verses have nothing to do with the number of bathing fixtures in Solomon's private dwelling. Cf. the full context, 2 Chronicles 4:1-6.

Second, and obviously, a vessel able to contain 3,000 units of liquid measure is able to contain 2,000 units! Neither statement asserts the CAPACITY of the bronze sea, which might have been greater than even the 3,000 baths of the 2 Chronicles verse.

One simple solution is that the two inspired statements faithfully record the number of baths in the bronze sea on two different occasions. The reason WHY this detail was important is perhaps lost to us, but this does not effect the integrity of the text.

The first "example", regarding the stalls, makes an excellent case for demonstrating the power of the simple concept that the sixty books of the Bible are one document, and manifests how easily Scripture can be defended on that basis.

Verses cited by McKinsey/Bible_Challenger now follow, in red with a preceding asterisk, with the addition of some other pertintent verses, in black:

1Kings 4:7 - And Solomon had twelve governors over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household; each one made provision for one month of the year.

* 1Kings 4:26 -Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.

1Kings 4:27 -And these governors, each man in his month, provided food for King Solomon and for all who came to King Solomon's table. There was no lack in their supply.

1 Kings 10:26 - And Solomon gathered chariots and horsemen; he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.

2 Chronicles 1:14 - And Solomon gathered chariots and horsemen; he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.

* 2 Chronicles 9:25 - Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king at Jerusalem.

KG2, cont'd - At least one solution suggests itself, there may be others, and if neither those nor mine are not correct, the true resolution is more wonderful than all!

The verses refer to 12,000 horsemen (no discrepancies), and the two verses not mentioned by Bible_Challenger add the detail that Solomon had 1,400 chariots. It is not likely that 4,000 total stalls could accomodate this cavalry. However, if the writer of Kings is referring to total stalls but the Chronicler referring to stalls "at Jersusalem", as the second part of the verse suggests, then BOTH numbers are right!

Thus there is no contradiction, which there would be if the Bible asserted that the number of stalls was both 4,000 and 40,000 at the same place and the same time. This is a case of 4,000 stalls in one place (Jerusalem) and 40,000 in another (all the land, including Jerusalem).

Note also the information added by 1 Kings 4:7. There were 12 regional governors under Solomon's magnificent reign, each responsible to supply the king for one month. As his inspired mind goes from 1 Kings 4:26 to verse 27, the Biblical writer seamlessly relates the 12,000 horsemen that he mentioned shorty before with these twelve governors.

If there were 4,000 stalls (out of a total of 40,000) in Jersusalem itself, that leaves 36,000 stalls. Interestingly, that means each regional governor could also have 4,000 stalls in his region! Let's reasonably suppose that each governor also had 1,000 of the 12,000 total horsemen under his authority (a typical military division). That would mean that there were 4,000 stalls per 1,000 horsemen, thus allowing a comfortable plurality of available steeds for each man (i.e. the Pony Express didn't invent that idea). It would also indicate a typically Solomonic orderliness and abundance -- in terms of provision of lodging for his mounted armies.

For the believers reading this, I close with the hymnist's words, " 'tis so sweet to trust in Jesus". In the spirit of Psalm 27:14 and the three sweet verses of Psalm 131, we wait upon God for answers wherever our understanding comes up short...not withholding our trust in Him, but acknowledging our own limitations, acknowledging that now we see through a glass darkly. We don't throw away our confidence in His perfect Word because we don't have perfect understanding of it. The apostle Peter in fact says of the Scriptures that in them are "...some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction..." (2 Peter 3:16)

The chariots of God are twenty thousand,
Even thousands of thousands;
The Lord is among them
as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.

(Psalm 68:17)

As a postscript on Biblical inerrancy and infallibility, a few observations follow:

1. It is the AUTOGRAPHS (from the Greek autographa, i.e. the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of Moses and the other inspired writers) that we hold to be inerrant. We acknowledge that textual variants exist, but we deny that they have caused even one jot or tittle of God's Word to pass away (Matthew 5:18, 24:35). God preserves His infallible Word.

So are we then open to the charge that our doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility are irrelevant, since we admit that we don't have these autographs? Is admitting that textual variants occur tantamount to a denial of inerrancy and infallibility? Not at all, for again we must consider the unified whole, and see what light other passages can shed on information obscured (but not destroyed or broken) by textual variation.

2. When the Bible makes an accurate report of a person's thoughts or words, and those thoughts or words are deceitful and/or erroneous, this is not deception or error on the part of God. An obvious example is Satan's lying statement in the garden, "you shall NOT surely die", when God had threatened Adam and Eve, saying, "you SHALL surely die." Unbelief may raise that shrill voice again and protest that even according to the Genesis record itself, Adam and Eve did not drop dead physically on the spot, like Ananias and Sapphira, when they ate the forbidden fruit.

Faith reasons otherwise, considering the teaching of ALL Scripture on death: that death is not the cessation of existence (as the guilty world hopes), but a matter of separation. At the moment of their sin, Adam and Eve were spiritually separated from God the source of all life...they DIED spiritually, and thus we are assured that all their descendants are by nature "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1,5; Colossians 2:13). Their physical death, the separation of soul and body, followed for them and follows for all.

3. A Biblically sound definition of "error" is in order. Over the course of a thousand years of Old Testament history, Hebrew spellings, the names of places, etc. may have changed. If a later writer uses a different spelling or name than an earlier writer, this is not an "error". There are other linguistic and grammatical issues at play in this dangerous minefield, and the Christian should be wary, knowing that those eager to say, "Aha! Aha! I have found an error or contradiction in the Bible!" will seize upon them.

A humorous example comes from personal experience in debate with a skeptic. With a straight face and in all earnestness, this person claimed that these two verses were contradictory:

Matthew 5:16 - Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 6:1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

My opponent said, "First, Jesus says to let men see your good works. Then He says DON'T let men see them! Aha! Aha! Contradiction!"

No doubt it is superflous to point out that the adage "attitude is everything" obtains here. Christ's whole point, brought out by His little phrase in the second verse, "to be seen by them", is HOW we let men see our good works! Some bring attention to themselves, speaking of their accomplishments, positions, credentials, petty conquests, and so forth. They want to be seen by men. They have their reward in full.

Others, knowing that their Father sees in secret, and that He is the one they want to please, quietly allow the Spirit of Him Who is the Light of the world, Who always glorifies His Father, to shine through them. Great is their reward in Heaven!

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