What do people mean when they say "the Bible is the Word of God"? No doubt different people mean different things.
The staunchest fundamentalist will contend that each and every word in the Bible was dictated by God to man, and written down and preserved for us exactly as God wanted.
A very liberal Christian may hold that the Bible is "inspired by God" simply because faithful men were moved by the spirit of their devotion to write what they thought God would do or say. The spirit of what these men wrote is of value, but their exact words are not to be taken literally.
I think most people in our culture are somewhere between those two extremes. They believe that God inspired men to write the Bible, sometimes giving them the exact words, and sometimes just giving them an idea, but that men sometimes made mistakes in recording his words, and they added some of their own ideas, myths, and fables. So that now one must take the Bible with a grain of salt and only believe what seems true.
Where does the truth lie regarding this eclectic collection of books we call the Bible? Is it God's word? Could it be that the reason so many people believe that the Bible is God's Word is that so many people have never read it? Oh, they've heard parts of it quoted, but they've never sat down and read through even one book of the Bible on their own.
I decided to read the Bible on my own and write down my own reactions to it. I intended to find out for myself if it appeared to have divine inspiration or was a mass of contradictory nonsense.
I purposely used the King James Version throughout. Some fundamentalists claim that this translation is inspired. But whether or not this is true, it has been a generally accepted translation for hundreds of years. If the Bible were truly God's Word I would be surprised if he were to allow a misleading translation to stand for centuries. One would expect that the Almighty would find a way to ensure that the meaning of his Word remained clear to all. To argue that difficult verses or contradictions are simply due to a bad translation is to miss this point: the very existence of such a widely accepted bad translation casts doubt on its being God's Word.
I do not claim any special knowledge or abilities in undertaking this project. I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, nor have I attended a seminary. I was raised a Catholic, attended Catholic school, converted to being a Jehovah's Witness, and finally disassociated from organized religion entirely. If the Bible is God's word, it should speak to the common man in easily understandable language. We should not have to rely on theologians who may tell us what they want us to believe.
In what follows, I have read through the Bible from cover to cover and given my thoughts wherever I felt it appropriate to do so. I have usually given the entire quote rather than just the reference, so that it is not necessary for the reader to have a Bible in hand while reading.
All quotes from the Bible appear in a different font, in red or blue. Red quotes are in a larger font and indicate the next verse being considered (in our sequential journey from the front of the Bible to the back). Blue quotes are in a smaller font and indicate quotes which are supportive of my comments on the red quote. All text appearing in black consist of my own words.
An example will make the above clearer:
Rom:3:10: As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Paul contradicts James here. James referred to the prayer of a "righteous man":
Jms:5:16: Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Why would the Holy Spirit inspire James to give such an order if there were no righteous men to carry it out?
I must preface this work with a few words about contradictions. The claim is made by many that there are no true contradictions in the Bible. They feel that what appear to be contradictions are simple misunderstandings in the reader's mind. To prove this, they will attempt to "harmonize" the apparently contradictory verses. There is nothing illogical in this. It may in fact be true that some verses, which seem to contradict each other, really contain no contradiction when you examine the context. But more often, I think, those who have tried to harmonize contradictions have been guilty of twisting the meaning of one or more verses in the attempt.
An attempt can always be made to try and harmonize apparently contradictory statements (whether they are really contradictory or not). So, we cannot heave a sigh of relief and put the matter to rest simply because an argument can be made for harmonizing. We must test the argument and see just how likely it is to be true.
For instance, I can try and make two contradictory statements as follows:
I was trying to contradict myself by making those statements. But if you didn't know my intent, and you came across those two sentences you might try to harmonize them as follows:
God used Satan to make King David take a census of Israel.
You could say he "used Satan" just as he used his other angels in the past to carry out his work. Just as you could say "the president went to war against Germany" when in reality the president stayed home and sent young men to fight the war. In the same way, you could say God (as the instigator) made David do it, or you could say Satan (as "God's instrument") carried out the details.
So, we have harmonized the two sentences. Now we must ask ourselves just how likely is it that this argument for harmony is true? Since God and the Devil are said to be opposites (in fact "Satan" means "opposer") and Satan long ago rebelled against God, how likely is it that Satan would do God's bidding? Or how likely is it that God, with an army of "good" angels at his command would ask a favor of Satan? I would say this is not very likely at all. Therefore I think it is reasonable to reject the "harmonizing argument" here and conclude that the two sentences contradict each other.
By the way, these two sentences were not made up out of thin air. I offer them to you as your first Biblical contradiction:
2Sam:24:1: And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.
1Chron:21:1: And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
If you read the surrounding context of each of these verses you will see that they are describing the same event.
Where harmonizing arguments worthy of mention have been offered I have tried to include them along with an analysis of just how likely they are to be true.
But this is not just a book of contradictions. Just as important, I think, are the meanings that the various Bible writers have tried to convey. I have taken a good hard look at what, exactly, they are trying to say to us to see if it is a moral, sensible, message.
In doing this, I have purposely avoided mentioning external sources. For instance, an argument can be made that the Bible errs in assigning Jesus' birth concurrently with "King" Herod's reign and Cyrenius' governership of Syria (Mt. 2:1; Lk. 2:1-2). It is known from other historical sources that Herod died nearly ten years before Cyrenius became governor. This is the type of argument you will not find much of in this book. The reason such arguments are left out is simple: a fundamentalist will always accept the Bible's account over any other historical account. Such external issues, then, miss the point. The point is this: is the Bible consistent unto itself? If it is not consistent within its own pages, then it cannot represent the words of an unchanging, all-knowing God. Consistency alone cannot prove divine authorship, but it is the very least one would expect of God's word.
No outside "authority" will be consulted or quoted. In this book the Bible stands or falls of itself. We will be comparing one verse of the Bible with another. All we ask is consistency, and our only appeal will be to common-sense.
When detectives are trying to ascertain the truthfulness of the stories of various witnesses, they look first for inconsistencies in the individuals own story, then they will compare the story of one witness against that of another witness looking for further inconsistencies. Wherever these inconsistencies occur, the detectives know that either someone is lying, or someone is mistaken as to what really occurred. We shall use this same procedure on the writings of the Bible.
What gives me the right to criticize the Word of God? Well, that begs the question. We must first examine the Bible to determine whether it lives up to this claim. After all, unless you have been privy to some direct vision from God, it has just been human beings that have told you that the Bible is the Word of God. Human beings have been known to be wrong in the past. You can't believe everything they say. You must at least give ear to the other side of the story before making up your mind. What gives everyone the right to do this is their free will and their faculty of reason. The Bible itself encourages us to examine it and prove it to ourselves:
Acts:17:11: These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
1Thes:5:21: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Isa:1:18: Come now, and let us reason together...
Most people in our culture have heard only one side of the issue on whether or not the Bible is God's Word. I invite you along on my journey to discover the truth about the Bible from the Bible itself: a viewpoint not often heard.
Steve McRoberts, July, 1999