Amongst the common attacks upon the Bible is the oft repeated claim that the Bible is hopelessly contradictory. That is to say, that there are statements or propositions of scripture that are logically incompatible with one another. The examples are legion, from the apparent two creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2, to the number of women who visited the tomb of Jesus within the Gospel accounts. The claim usually comes in the following form: The Bible is contradictory and unreliable, and so there is no reason to believe that it is true. From an apologetical stand point, it is necessary that the Christian have responses to such claims, however, such responses do not necessitate a comprehensive response to literally every claim of contradiction within scripture by the objector.
First, it is important to understand that it is not incumbent upon the believer to answer literally every objection raised by the skeptic. If the skeptic makes the claim, then the skeptic must demonstrate the validity of the claim. For instance, when the skeptic claims that the Bible is riddled with contradictions, then the skeptic must demonstrate the biblical propositions he has in mind are in fact logically incompatible with one another. For a point of clarification, I usually ask the skeptic to define “contradiction” so as to establish an immovable reference point or standard of evaluation. If “contradiction” is not defined then how can one demonstrate that two biblical propositions are in fact contradictory? Furthermore, if the term “contradiction” is illegitimately defined, then how can one demonstrate a “contradiction” with an illegitimate definition? This is why definition of terms is vitally important in debate, conversation, and apologetic dialogue.
What is a contradiction? A contradiction is a violation of the 2nd Law of Logic (The Law of Non-Contradiction): A statement cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way. A statement can be contradictory at the same time, but it may be the case that both statements are true at the same time because there is a different sense in which the statements are true. For example, the statement: “It is raining and it is not raining” is not necessarily contradictory; for it may be true that in one sense it is raining, while in another sense it is not raining. It may be raining here on Long Island, while it is not raining over in Philadelphia. In like fashion, two statements of scripture may seem contradictory on the surface, but there may be a sense in which the one statement is true, and another sense in which the other statement is also true. If this is even at all possible in the case of an apparent contradiction, then it follows that the statements are not a violation of the 2nd Law of Logic.
In the end, all that is really needed to diffuse an alleged Bible contradiction, is not necessarily a reconciliation of the apparent conflicting passages, but rather, a demonstration that the two passages do not necessarily violate the Law of Non-Contradiction. Having a correct reconciliation is of course important and should be provided if possible, but it is not necessary to diffuse the objection. Always remember that it is the person who makes the claim that is responsible for proving their point, and when necessary, the believer provides a coherent and logical response to follow up.