5 Common Arguments Against the Bible (and How to Respond to Them)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/5-common-arguments-against-the-bible-and-how-to-respond-to-them

Regarding 1, If the bible did contradict itself or have a discrepancy, what would it look like? What would the bible have to say in order to convince? Im wondering how you would answer the charge of unfalsifiability.

Isnt it more honest to say that this is an article of faith and we always interpret the scriptures so that it isn’t contradictory?

The upshot is that we choose to seek interpretations of the scriptures that maintain its integrity. Opponents choose otherwise. Either way the interpreter chooses how to interpret.

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Can that be an honest position? Things either are factually contradictory or they aren’t. If you said that it’s an article of faith that the contradictions don’t matter, for example, I could understand it.

From the post:

The Gospels are not meant to be simply factual reports, but bring out the theological significance of real events for their intended contemporary audience.

The problem is that people treat them as factual reports when it seems warranted. The Gospels differ in various respects, and not only in ways with apparent theological significance. Not all the facts can be correct. That doesn’t mean all the facts within are wrong of course.

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Well, yes I think that’s being honest. I think its being honest about the method of interpretation.

I agree two things can either be factually contradictory or not. Or there are discrepancies or there are none. But, that’s a red herring, which would lead us into a philosophical tangent now about whether or not we can know the truth. Positivism, critical Realism, etc.

I’m talking about the presuppositions which determine how people come to argue for or against one or the other. At the level I’m speaking about, I wonder if some have already decided before attempting to test the textual data objectively about whether or not there are contradictions and or discrepancies or not. Which is why I asked, ‘If the bible did contradict itself or have a discrepancy, what would it look like?’

For example would it look like these…

  1. Paul in Thessalonians 4.17 says Jesus will take up living believers in his lifetime and unite them with those who currently asleep. Paul believed Jesus would return in his lifetime. Is that a discrepancy? I suspect some might choose to intepret it such that it is somehow true arguing its not a discrepancy, were as some might go the other way.

  2. What about the difference in perception regarding the afterlife in the OT and the NT? Sheol, corruption and away from the presence of God vs. Abraham is alive, the dead in Christ are with him, resurrection, the cloud of witnesses and eternity? Contradiction or not?

  3. Or, the existence of other gods. Compare Ex 12.12 with Isa 45.21-22. Some might say this is a contradiction. Other might seek an interpretation to say otherwise.

Are these examples of contradictions or discrepancies? You might say no, saying ‘you should interpret it this way. See there are none’. Others might say yes… I assume for evangelicals there’s a hermeneutic of faith predicated on 2 Tim 3.16… A choice that is made beforehand regardless of the objective truth. I assume this choice involves the heart as well as the mind.

I guess the more I read scripture, the more relaxed I feel about if or not there are contradictions or discrepancies in it. Just let it say what it wants.


But it sounds like you’re going to interpret every possible discrepancy so that it’s not a discrepancy, by design. I fully understand about being “relaxed” about contradictions, and I’d say that’s fine. But in the first part of your post, it sounds like you’re saying something different than that. It actually sounds like you’re not being relaxed, and instead are forcing a non-contradictory interpretation on things that may not necessarily warrant it. I hope that makes some kind of sense.

I was going to go into details why each account is not a contradiction, but I will not as a believe I understand the point you are trying to make. I have found that the more I have studied the Bible, from the Old to the New Testament and back and forth, the more I see how interdependent all the books of the Bible are with each other. I feel that this is a stronger argument for the Bible being the Word of God, that to address each perceived contradiction one at a time.

I have actually found the Thru the Bible program very helpful from the standpoint Dr. McGee shows how all the text is interrelated and dependent. There are a lot of homiletics mixed in and views about evolution I do not agree with, but I have found it to be a great learning tool.

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‘It sounds like you’re going to interpret every possible discrepancy so that it’s not a discrepancy’.

Well there are the hermeneutical rules, interpret scripture with scripture and the analogy of faith (to quote Sproul, Knowing Scripture). I assume these are our default positions for interpretation.

‘It actually sounds like you’re not being relaxed, and instead are forcing a non-contradictory interpretation on things that may not necessarily warrant it.’

I think that was the straw man I was creating to raise the initial question. Generally I feel relaxed I guess, though your comment does suggest I do some self reflection.

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Thank you. Yes I would also say there is a kernel throughout scripture which suggests a single author, or at least a common core of belief.

Its the details I meant to refer too.

I can take these one at a time.

  1. Paul is talking about the Rapture of the Church, which is important as the “we which are alive” is referring to the Church (all those who believe). In the previous verse, “the dead in Christ shall rise first” followed by those in the Church who are alive, at the time of the writing included Paul, therefore the “we”.

Jesus said only the Father knew the time of His return, so I feel it is not a contradiction that Paul did not know the time of the return of Christ.I am sure Paul was hopeful that Christ would return soon, but he did not know this or include it in Scripture.

  1. A consistent message of the Bible is that there are no other gods. There are several passages in the Bible when the superiority of God is shown in contrast to local perceived gods. I believe their are many purposes to Genesis 1, and one of them is to show the superiority of God to other perceived gods of the ancient near east.

In Exodus, all of the plagues in Egypt were designed to show Egypt and Israel that the perceived Gods of Egypt were powerless against Him and therefore did not exist. In Judges, the Arc of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines because the hearts of the people of Israel were far from God. The Arc was placed in front of the statue of the god Ba’al and each morning the statue of Ba’al was face down in front of the Arc. Does this mean Ba’al was real and giving homage to the Arc, of course not. It was an act of God to show the superiority of God to the local perceived gods.

  1. This has not been a focus of my Biblical study, but I do know the Jews will inherit the earth and the Church will inherit the New Jerusalem, I don’t see either as being superior to the other but I will leave this to others of greater expertise in this area to respond.

I do find it helpful to take all verses in the context of the entire Bible to get the most out of each individual verse.

Much as I respect Tremper, it seems to me he’s defending a questionable theory of Biblical inspiration than the Bible itself. Maybe the “answer” is that a theory of Biblical inspiration that requires the Bible not to contain “real” contradictions or "real’ instances of immoral Divinely-sanctioned violence is a flawed theory of inspiration. And perhaps the Bible becomes even more fascinating as the vehicle of God’s Word when we accept the reality that the ancient texts really are ancient human texts, often reflecting values (like, for example, racial nationalism and holy war) that today the Christian community recognizes must be greatly tempered by experience, reason, and tradition. Reason, experience, and tradition, after all, are also sources of authority for Christian theology. How those sources relate to scripture as a source of theological authority is not really a question that can be answered a priori, nor one that scripture itself really answers, nor one that the various Christian traditions agree about (indeed, it is a fundamental source of disagreement among the traditions).

So, at least, let’s be clear: if you want to defend “the Bible as God’s Word” against these kinds of criticisms, what you’re really doing is defending a theology of what it means for the Bible to be (or convey, or carry, or contain) God’s “Word.” That defense must invoke deeper questions about the sources of authority for Christian theology, including the relationship of the Bible as scripture to theology in general. In my view, this is the more fruitful approach, because it contexutalizes the Bible, not as a neutral, objective treatise on science, history, or even God, but as a diverse set of texts that witnesses to the living Word, Christ, who is the head of a living community, the Church.


This recent blog on Jesus Creed discusses that.

I thought Tom Wright’s comments quoted near the end of the blog were illuminating:

…scripture, tradition and reason are not like three different bookshelves, each of which can be ransacked for answers to key questions. Rather, scripture is the bookshelf; tradition is the memory of what people in the house have read and understood (or perhaps misunderstood) from that shelf; and reason is the set of spectacles that people wear in order to make sense of what they read– though, worryingly, the spectacles have varied over time, and there are signs that some readers, using the “reason” available to them, have severely distorted the texts they were reading. “Experience” is something different again, referring to the effect on readers of what they have read, and/or the worldview, the life experience, the political circumstances, and so on, within which that reading takes place ( The Last Word ).

Wright goes on:

“Experience” is far too slippery for the concept to stand any chance of providing a stable basis sufficient to serve as an “authority,” unless what is meant is that, as the book of Judges wryly puts it, everyone should simply do that which is right in their own eyes ( The Last Word ).


Interesting, post by Alan and quotes from Wright, but they really beg the central question of authority. You can assume the canonical view of the Magesterial Reformers that scripture is the primary source of theological authority, but that was not really the view of the Church or its theologians before the Sixteenth Century. It was not the view, for example, that produced the Christiological creeds that most conservative Protestants take as normative. And I disagree with Wright’s wave of the hand about “experience.” In taking experience as a source of authority for theology, what we mean is that our lived experience of Jesus within the community of the Church actually means something. If that weren’t so, the Jerusalem Council never would have happened and Gentile Christians would still have to obey the entire Torah.

All that said, because I have certain theological commitments, I do see the scripture having a central place for theological reflection in relation to reason, tradition, and experience. But there is no way to dismiss those other sources of authority, nor is any one configuration of how they must relate to each other self evident.

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Excellent observations, and I think Alan’s and Wright’s point is not to eliminate experience, but to place it in perspective.
Of course, we then have to keep in mind and perspective that Jesus said *“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" and how does that affect how we see scripture.


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