What does the Catholic Church teach about the Bible Containing Contradictions?

by | Jul 3, 2017 | Latest, The Bible

The very first thing you need to understand about the Bible is that it is not just one single book. It is a collection of books, composed by dozens of people living hundreds of years apart under quite varying circumstances.

Although God is the principal author of the Bible, the human authors worked freely. God did not reduce them to automatons or even to secretaries taking dictation. They brought to their writing all their insight and their lack of insight, all their literary skills and their absence of literary skills. God respected their natural abilities, while he used them for a supernatural purpose.

Some of the Old Testament writers wrote straight history, as is found in the books of Kings and Maccabees. Others wrote poetry, as in the psalms or in that long love poem, The Song of Songs. Still others drafted what might loosely be called biographical sketches, such as the books of Ruth and Judith. There were other literary forms as well.

The one thing no one wrote, in either the Old or the New Testament, was a theological treatise or a catechism. Although the Bible is inspired and contains revealed teaching, that teaching is not set out systematically. God has expressed truth in a multiplicity of ways. Sometimes this multiplicity can be misconstrued by unfriendly readers. Consider a well-known instance.

William Henry Burr’s Self-Contradictions of the Bible was published in 1859, and it was reprinted as recently as 1987. Some people, especially those styling themselves “rationalists”, still find its arguments convincing. Even Catholics are bamboozled into thinking Burr and his descendants are on to something, but only someone ignorant of the Bible could think pairings such as these are telling blows against Scripture:

“There died of the plague twenty-four thousand: ‘and of those that died of the plague were twenty and four thousand.’” (Numb 25:9). “There died of the plague but twenty three thousand: ‘And fell in one day three and twenty thousand’” (1 Cor 10:8).

These verses are in perfect harmony because they are both approximations. When police estimate a crowd at fifteen thousand, they may well mean anywhere from ten thousand to twenty thousand – the order of magnitude is correct, and that’s all that’s needed.

Another effort by Burr: “A good name is a blessing:’ A good name is better than precious ointment’” (Eccl 7:1). “A good name is a curse: ‘Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you’”(Lk 6:26).

Again, no contradiction. The second verse refers not so much to a good name, but to praise by the public. One can have a bad reputation – or, more precisely, one’s acts may result in a bad reputation – yet be praised by people whose reputations, if they have any at all, are no better. Evil people praise evil people – praise doesn’t turn the objects of the praise into good people.

The Bible appears to be full of contradictions only if you approach it in the wrong way. If you think it is supposed to be a listing of theological propositions, you won’t make heads or tails of it.

If you think it is written in the literary forms you are most familiar with, you’ll go astray in interpreting it. Your only safe bet is to read it with the mind of the Church, which affirms the Bible’s inerrancy.

If you do that, you’ll see that it contains no fundamental contradictions because, being God’s inspired Word, it’s wholly true and can be anything else.

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