Paradoxes, Contradictions, and the Bible

October 28, 2020—A look at paradoxes, contradictions, and the Bible

A contradiction is when two mutually exclusive things are both said to be true at the same time in the same sense. For example, it’s a contradiction to say “this spot on the ball is red and not blue” and “the same spot on the ball is blue and not red” about the same spot on the same ball at the same time in the same way. They are mutually exclusive statements and there’s a contradiction.

Contradictions are very useful. You can make proofs by contradiction. You can also find contradictions within the framework of certain philosophies which prove them to be wrong. Contradictions are very powerful things.

A paradox is when there appears to be a contradiction but in fact there isn’t necessarily one. For example, it is paradoxical for one person to say “the ball is red” and another person to say “the ball is blue” about the same ball at the same time. But perhaps the ball is painted white and the one person is shining a red light on it from one side while the other person is shining a blue light on it from the other side. The one person said it was red in a sense while the other person said it was blue in a different sense.

Paradoxes aren’t very strong. A paradox might leave you feeling uneasy that you don’t understand something, but that’s all.

Notice how I proved that the paradox wasn’t a contradiction. All I had to do was give a single possible explanation of how the paradox could be resolved. It wasn’t necessary for me to prove that the possible explanation was real. It’s much easier than that. All I had to do was give a possible explanation.

So contradictions can be difficult to establish, and it is often easy to knock supposed contradictions down to mere paradoxes.

In the Bible

Many people claim to have found many contradictions in the Bible. That often leads to discussing the reliability of the Bible. But I haven’t come across one yet that really is a contradiction. I’m not bragging (I want to trust in Jesus alone, not in my own confidence). Instead I have found that what many are calling contradictions are only paradoxes.

Here are some examples:

  1. Peter denied Jesus once before and twice after the rooster crowed Mark 14:30; Mark 14:66-72. Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed Luke 22:34; Luke 22:54-62
  2. There is only one God Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6. Jesus is God John 1:1. The Holy Spirit is God Acts 5:3-4. The Father is God Philippians 1:2. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:16. Jesus is not the Father Matthew 3:17. The Holy Spirit is not the Father John 14:26
  3. Jesus said his contemporary generation would not pass away until He came again Matthew 24:30-34

But these are only paradoxes. Here are some possible explanations:

  1. Perhaps “when the rooster crows” is an idiom that meant different things to the different original audiences. Each of the gospels were written to different audiences. Therefore it’s possible that the gospel writers used an idiom in a peculiar way familiar to their audience, similar to this idea
  2. Perhaps there is a single divine being and three distinct divine persons. That would mean that God is one in a different way than He is three. Therefore it is possible that God can be one (in a sense) at the same time He is three (in another sense)
  3. Perhaps Jesus figuratively returned in judgment in 70 A.D. by sending the Roman armies that sacked Jerusalem

The point

Don’t be quick to think you’ve found a contradiction in the Bible. You probably only have a paradox.