A LOT OF CHRISTIANS ARGUE there are no inconsistencies in the Bible.
Other Christians say they doggone well recognize an inconsistency when they see one.
And they say they see plenty of them in the Bible.
I’ll give you two examples of what many would say are inconsistencies.
I’ve been coming across some of them as I’ve been paraphrasing the New Testament for the Casual English Bible. Some of them are pretty jarring. It’s hard to miss them, whether we’re cross-eyed, bug-eyed, or in a state of semi-consciousness that can prevail midway through a sermon.
But before I give you the two examples, let me suggest we calm down. I know people who get awfully worked up about this.
I’m not talking about any inconsistencies that should erode our confidence in the integrity and the inspiration of the good news inside this sacred library, the Bible.
There’s divinity in this library. But many Christians would argue that there’s humanity, too. At least in the copies of the Bibles we hold in our hands.
I’m paraphrasing the Gospel of Matthew at the moment. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so much alike that it’s obvious someone was looking over someone else’s shoulder. Many Bible experts say they believe Mark was the Gospel that Matthew and Luke used as a reference book and a resource back in the days when you couldn’t get sued for copying someone else’s work and publishing it.
As an aside, I’ve had people copy my work and print it as their own. I didn’t sue, but I got more irritated than I hope Mark would have gotten.
Was the girl dead or dying?
- Dead girl. “My little girl has just died. But if you come and put your hands on her, she’ll live again” (Matthew 9:18, Casual English Bible).
- Not dead. “My little girl is about to die. Please come and put your hands on my daughter. Heal her so she’ll live” (Mark 5:23).
- Not dead. Luke reports that the man’s “only child, a 12-year-old girl, was dying” (Luke 8:42).
Was there one demon-possessed man and 2,000 pigs or two men and lot of pigs?
- Two. “Two demon-possessed men came out of the nearby graveyard. These men were violent. People avoided the area because the men would not let them pass” (Matthew 8:28 Casual English Bible).
- One. “As Jesus got out of the boat, he was immediately approached by a demon-possessed man who made his home in a graveyard” (Mark 5:2).
What Christians do about it
Many Christians work pretty hard at trying to explain inconsistencies like this. They might say the writers were talking about different events. Or they might say scribes made mistakes when they tried to copy an old, worn-out scroll onto a fresh scroll, to preserve it for their library.
Other Christians don’t seem to have any trouble accepting the inconsistencies. They’ve read enough biographies, watched enough interviews with eyewitnesses, and lived long enough to know that when people start trying to write down the details of something that happened, not everyone agrees about all of the details.
Some Christians who have spent their life believing there are no mistakes in the Bible say that if we start saying there are inconsistencies, we wouldn’t know where to stop. We might start doubting the teachings of Jesus.
That’s probably a fair point, since there are plenty of Christians who doubt that Jesus said everything the Bible writers quoted him as saying. And I could give you a few reported inconsistencies here, too. People apparently remembered some of his quotes a bit differently.
Still, there seems to be a difference between the main point of a story and the minor details or the slight differences in quotes.
I notice the differences when I’m reading through the Bible as I work on the paraphrase. But it doesn’t upset me in the slightest because the differences are slight.
Personally, I admit the differences right out loud. I see them. I acknowledge them instead of ignoring them. I think about them. And when I can’t figure them out, I move on. Actually, I move on in either case.