The Bible is Not Full of Contradictions or Errors Explore More Content
A Difficulty is Not a Contradiction
Imagine that you are a scientist working in a biology lab many years ago. You are trying to understand how random association might bring individual amino acids together to form a single protein, and then even more amazingly, how these same proteins might unite to form the simplest of cells (without direction or guidance). For years you have been examining the inherent properties of the acids and proteins to understand if there is some kind of natural attraction. The more you study and observe, the more frustrated you become! You become convinced that there is a contradiction here. Something is wrong. There is no way that these elements could come together by random chance! Yet you see this happening before your very eyes, and there is certainly evidence that this happened at some point in history because, after all, cells and proteins do exist! As a scientist, you know better than to simply throw up your hands and quit, convinced that there are simply too many contradictions in what you are seeing. Instead, you’ve learned to view the apparent contradiction as a challenge that requires further study, and by pressing on and examining all the details and processes, you ultimately discover the role DNA plays in the process of amino acid and protein formation. The apparent contradictions ultimately lead you to an important discovery and greater understanding. Well, it’s important that we take the very same approach in examining the Scriptures.
Not Just Any Book
That being said, we can do ourselves a great service by recognizing that the Bible is not an ‘ordinary’ book; we need to take an appropriate approach in order to read and understand it! Remember that as Christians, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and this raises the bar on its contents! God cannot author error. Why not? Because God is not a liar:
God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
If God cannot lie or present us with contradictory truth claims (which is just another form of lying), then His Word cannot be filled with contradictions. And the Bible is the Word of God, according to its own claim:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In order to fairly examine the claim that the Bible is the Word of God, we need to investigate every apparent ‘contradiction’ to determine if the verses in question are actually contradictions or are instead simply areas of misunderstanding. This is going to require us to handle the Bible in a careful and thoughtful way:
2 Timothy 2:15-16
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Getting Off on the Right Foot
So how are we supposed to handle God’s Word? Are there some basic guidelines that we can follow that can assist us to understand what often appear to be ‘contradictory’ passages? Well, we’ve got to begin by establishing some basic principles. These principles are not outrageous or unusual. They are not specific to the Bible. They are not Christian tricks or devices used to cover up inadequacies. They are straightforward tools and approaches that are useful when examining ANY ancient document or piece of evidence. If we objectively examine the scriptures with these principles in mind, we will not only grow in our understanding of the scriptures, but we will better comprehend and resolve the difficulties.
The First Rule: “It’s All About Attitude, Baby!”
Let’s say you’re driving down the street and you come up to a stop sign. You don’t assume that the sign is wrong. Even if you don’t see opposing traffic or you don’t understand the reason for the sign being at that particular corner, you still stop for the sign! Even if no other car shows up at the intersection, you don’t simply blow through the sign. You give the sign the benefit of the doubt! In essence, you don’t assume a street sign is wrong until proven right. When you begin to read the Bible and examine what it says, it’s important to start off with a fair attitude. You don’t need to treat it as something unquestionable and beyond examination, but you do need to afford it at least as much consideration as you would afford a street sign, a box of macaroni or a friend. Before you jump up and call it a liar, take a second to examine what it says fairly!
The Example of the “Young Earth” Debate
As an example, let’s take a look at the debate that is raging among Christians and non-believers over the age of the Earth. Many people (Christians included) believe that the genealogies in Genesis chapter 5 and chapter 10 indicate that the earth is very young; somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 years old. They come to this understanding because they add up all the years of the generations that are listed there and work backwards toward Adam, the first man. Their addition provides them with an age of the earth that appears to be far younger than the age determined by scientists. Outsiders look at this number and say that the Bible contradicts what we see in our investigation of nature. But is it a matter of attitude? Do unbelievers come to the text with a prejudice and fail to take the time to investigate the apparent contradiction? Well, yes, they do! Upon closer investigation, we see that Biblical genealogies are not as comprehensive as non-believers would like to think they are. Biblical genealogies contain gaps. When someone is said to be a “father” of someone, it often simply means that he is an “ancestor” of someone. In a similar way, when someone is said to be a “son” of someone, it often simply means that he is a “descendant” of someone. That’s why Jesus can be called the “Son of David” when he is actually a distant descendant! This can also be seen in Matthew 1:8, where the scripture says that Jehoram is the father of Uzziah. If we look at 1 Chronicles 3:11-12, we can see that three generations actually separate Jehoram from Uzziah. Clearly the word “father” is used to indicate “ancestor”! In addition to this, if we compare Genesis 10:24 to Luke 3:36, we discover that Cainan has been omitted from the Genesis genealogy. There are undoubtedly other gaps as well, as the list of names is meant to paint the genealogy broadly without concern for chronological precision. It was God’s desire for us to understand the GENEALOGICAL roots of our heritage, not the precise CHRONOLOGICAL age of our planet! So why do people try to read something into the scripture that isn’t actually there? Because they start off with the wrong attitude.
The Second Rule: “Find Out What the Original Thing Said!”
Remember that as Christians, we believe that the ORIGINAL text of the Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible Word to us. At the same time, we accept the reality that we don’t have the original manuscripts of the Bible today. We understand that we are in possession of an incredibly accurate transmission of the original text, but we also know that there are copyist variations present in what we have (see below). That being said, it’s really important for us to remember that whenever we encounter an apparent ‘contradiction’ in the Bible, it’s always helpful to do a little research and get to the core of what the original transcript actually said. Sometimes that means we are going to have to look at every account of a specific statement or event in the scriptures! When we do that, we are reading the account in its proper CONTEXT. Remember, any TEXT that is taken out of its CONTEXT is a PRETEXT (an effort or strategy intended to conceal something or prove a point that is not really there)! So never read a single Bible verse, always read the entire chapter and all the other accounts that are available to us in the scriptures!
The Example of the Mustard Seed
As an example, many critics and biologists have claimed that the Bible contains an error and that this error actually came from the lips of Jesus Himself! They refer to the statement that Jesus made related to the famous Mustard Seed. Check it out:
Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’
Critics look at this statement and criticize the claim that the mustard seed is the “smallest seed you plant in the ground”. They are quick to argue that the mustard seed is NOT the smallest seed on earth. In fact, there are many seeds that are smaller than a mustard seed. So how can Jesus, Lord and God over all, not know this? Well, the critics aren’t reading carefully and they aren’t trying to understand what the original text is saying. Read it again! Jesus is talking to a group of people that were living in an agricultural society. His listeners were farmers! He doesn’t say that the mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth! He says that the mustard seed “is the smallest seed YOU plant in the ground”! He is referring directly to the seeds that they were using in their day to plant their gardens: “it grows and becomes the largest of all GARDEN PLANTS…” As a further demonstration of this reference to garden seeds, look at a parallel account in another Gospel:
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.’
Careful reading with an effort to understand what the original text truly says will resolve the lion’s share of apparent ‘contradictions’ or ‘errors’ in the Bible. Read the scriptures carefully!
The Third Rule: “Figure Out What the Darn Thing Means!”
It’s not always enough to try to get back to the original text of an account. Sometimes there are passages of scripture that are difficult to understand, no matter what you do! In those situations, you’ve got to read the passage, then look at other verses that comment on the same passage for some clarification. In most modern translations of the Bible, there will be a scripture reference in the margin of the Bible that can help you out. Allow the Bible to explain itself by reading other passages that comment on the difficult passage in question!
The Example of the “Spiritual” Body
For years there has been some confusion over passages that deal with the Resurrection. In fact, many cults have taken errant positions on some of these passages. They will deny the physical resurrection of Jesus, for example, based on the following passage:
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
Critics look at this passage and argue that the resurrected body is not a physical (natural) body, but is “raised a spiritual body” as the passage appears to say. Therefore Jesus was not raised as a physical man, but was only ‘spirit’ when he appeared to his disciples after the resurrection. But is that really what Paul is saying here? Is there some way to better understand what he means? Well, one approach would be to see if Paul talks about the ‘spiritual body’ anywhere else in the same paragraph or, if not, does Paul talk about the ‘spiritual body’ somewhere else in the same letter? Paul does, in fact, talk about this issue elsewhere in the letter that he wrote to the Corinthians. Let’s take a look at what he says:
1 Corinthians 2:15
The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment…
OK, in this passage, is Paul talking about men who have no body, or is he talking about men who have submitted their lives to spiritual guidance and obedience rather than material guidance and obedience? It is clear that Paul uses the word ‘spiritual’ in a way that we need to understand. And when we read how he uses the word elsewhere in the letter, we come to understand that spiritual men and women are not ghostlike vapors without a material body, but men and women who have been transformed by the power of God and have now submitted themselves to God’s direction and life. They still have bodies! You and I can be spiritual people TODAY! Bible difficulties can often be understood if we will only allow the Bible to clarify itself!
The Fourth Rule: “Just Because It’s ‘Imprecise’ Doesn’t Mean It’s ‘Wrong’!”
Do your best not to confuse ‘error’ with ‘imprecision’. The Bible was written at a time when the culture commonly used general figures or descriptions to discuss more specific issues. This is particularly true when the Bible discusses numbers. As a matter of ‘cultural device’, specific numbers are often rounded off. Instead of saying 998, the Bible may simply say 1000! It’s not that the writer is a blockhead who doesn’t understand the math, it’s just that the writer is employing a common cultural device (also used in non-scripture writings of the time) to describe a general truth.
The Example of the Pool of Metal
Let’s take a look at a specific example of this type of generalized description in the Old Testament. One can be found in the description of a pool that Solomon built at the temple of the Lord:
2 Chronicles 4:2-3
He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.
This passage seems to advance the notion that a circular pool could measure 10 units in diameter and 30 units in circumference, but we know that the ratio of circumference to diameter of any circle is not 3 to 1, but is pi (3.14…) to 1! So doesn’t this prove that the scripture is wrong? No, it doesn’t actually prove an error at all. The common cultural device of the Jewish people was always to round off figures, particularly when these figures were insignificant to the story or the passage. And this is still a device that we employ today! After all, pi is not actually 3.14 at all! We are rounding this figure off so that we can easily discuss it! In reality, pi is an infinite fraction that can NEVER be written with complete accuracy. Even if we write it to 20 decimal places (3.14159265358979323846), we still haven’t captured the true value of the number. So why are we surprised when the Bible doesn’t try to capture its precise value? There is not error here, simply the common cultural device of rounding numbers for the sake of simplicity!
The Fifth Rule: “Remember That Quotes Aren’t Meant to be ‘Verbatim’!”
There are often times when New Testament writers will quote a passage from the Old Testament to show that a prophecy is being fulfilled. We’ve all seen these quotes, but seldom do we ever compare the New Testament quote to the Old Testament passage. If we were to do this occasionally, we might discover that some of the quotes are not perfect ‘verbatim’ quotes from the Old Testament. Does this mean that the New Testament writers were in error?
The Example of the Prophecy of Zechariah
Let’s take a look at one such example of an Old Testament quote. As Jesus hung on the cross, John observed that an Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled:
…and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.’
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
John appears to be misquoting Zechariah. John says that the scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced”, but Zechariah says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced”! Is there a ‘misquote’ here? Well, we’ve got to begin by understanding that in our modern translations we have ADDED the quotation marks to the New Testament scriptures. Remember that the original manuscripts did not contain the punctuation, paragraph delineations, or chapter divisions that now exist in the later versions we presently read. These conventions have been added by men following the original writing. So we need to be careful how we view things like quotations. John never meant his reference to the Old Testament scripture to be a precise quote. John is simply saying that he stood there, before the cross, and observed that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.
The Sixth Rule: “Just Because There is More Than One Perspective, Doesn’t Mean There’s a Contradiction!”
Sometimes when we read parallel accounts of the same event in the scriptures we seem to find minor contradictions in the way that the event is described. The event will sound slightly different in one Gospel, for example, when compared to another Gospel account. Aren’t all of these variations simply errors in the scriptures? Well, we’ve got to be careful not to confuse differences in perspective with Biblical ‘error’! Remember, no two witnesses to the same event will ever describe that event in exactly the same way. If the witnesses DID describe the event in exactly the same way, you should question their honesty!!! Think about it for a minute. The original assemblers of the scriptures could easily have changed the differing accounts after the fact so that they all said the same thing. Or they could simply have formed one large Gospel that included a single story of Jesus, and then destroyed all the competing accounts. But that’s not what they did. Instead, they left us with all four eyewitness accounts so that we could get all the differing perspectives. These differences are not the result of error; they are simply the result of perspective!
The Example of Judas
Let’s take a look at three examples of perspective that can be found in the New Testament Gospel accounts. The first example can be seen in the description of Judas’ death. Matthew records the way that Judas killed himself following his betrayal of Jesus, but this account seems to contradict Luke’s description in the Book of Acts:
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
Now if these accounts are taken very strictly, there does appear to be a contradiction! Did Judas give back the money or spend it to buy a field? Did Judas hang himself or did he fall to his death? Well, remember that whenever you see two ‘competing’ versions of an event, you need to ask yourself, “Am I reading two different perspectives of the same event? Is it possible that BOTH accounts are accurate and each eyewitness is only recording the part of the event that was particularly interesting to him or helps him to make a specific point about the event?” When you apply this approach to the story of Judas, the differences fade away. First, you need to spend a minute doing a little research in the Gospel of Matthew. The very next verse gives us a little more information:
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.
Now things are becoming a little clearer for us! Put the two eyewitness accounts together and see what they say! Judas threw the money into the temple and left. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. Judas later went away and hanged himself in this very field that was purchased with HIS money. After he was dead, his body eventually fell from the noose and there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. There is no contradiction or error here. When you have two separate accounts of the same event, remember that just because one eyewitness only records a portion, it does not mean the writer is not aware of the other part!
The Seventh Rule: “This Stuff is Written from the Viewpoint of Earthbound People!”
Sometimes critics read the scriptures and complain that simplistic language is used to describe natural phenomena. They argue that this is somehow evidence of the HUMAN origin of the Bible and also evidence that God is not the author of the scriptures. But, if I am going to describe an event to my daughter, who is still very young, I am going to have to describe it in language that applies to her perspective on the world. I have to describe it to her from the place where she stands. And the Bible is also written from the perspective of the common human standing on earth!
The Example of the Four Corners of the Earth
Critics will point to this passage from Isaiah in an effort to demonstrate the primitive nature of the Bible and its writers. They will argue that these early Jews were not privy to the knowledge of God, just because they wrote in common language:
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.
Does this scripture teach that the earth is actually flat? That’s what critics would have you believe. But this is simply a cultural expression (and one that we still use today), and it has little to say about the truth of the shape of the earth. In fact, the Bible is the only ancient scripture that consistently gets science RIGHT. For more on this truth about the scriptures, take a look at THIS article! Also, remember that it is common for scientists to use the language of regular people as well. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Diagnostics Center website lists the times of ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ for any city in the nation. But the terms ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ are not accurate scientific terms because they assume that it is the sun that is rising and setting as it travels around the earth and not the earth turning that creates the event. A more accurate expression would be ‘the time at which the earth rotation reveals (or obscures) the sun’. Even scientific communities resort to common language to describe events in the simplest of terms!
The Eighth Rule: “Just Because the Bible Describes Something, It Doesn’t Mean that God Approves It!”
Sometimes critics of the Bible (or critics of Christianity in general) point to an evil or corrupt situation described in the Bible and argue that God (or Christianity) approves of the situation or is the source of the evil. This is not always the case. Remember that just because a Biblical writer writes about something, this does not mean that God condones it or supports it. A condition that is described in the lives of Biblical characters isn’t always a condition that God would want for those same Biblical characters!
The Example of Polygamy in the Bible
There are certainly a number of Old Testament characters who were married to more than one wife at a time. These characters were described in the scriptures and many of them seem to have been blessed by God! David and Solomon both had large harems, and were often blessed by God in one way or another. Do these examples of polygamy on the part of revered patriarchs indicate that God accepts or endorses the behavior? No, you’ve got to remember that the fact that something is described in the Bible (even without open condemnation) does not mean that it is endorsed by God. You’ve got to do enough reading to understand the true desire of God on any particular issue. The Bible says that God’s original intention was for one man to be married to only one woman, ( as seen in Genesis 2:24). But men quickly perverted the concept of marriage to allow for multiple wives (by the time of Genesis 4:19). And while the Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of polygamy until the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 3:2), that doesn’t mean that God approved of polygamy before this time! God said early in the Old Testament that kings were not supposed to take multiple wives (take a look at Deuteronomy 17:14-20) and these kings were to be the example for other believers as well (see 1 Timothy 3:2 & 12, and Titus 3:12). From the very beginning, anyone who had more than one wife was in sin and was living in opposition to God’s will. If you take a close look at the lives of David and Solomon, you will see that their sin of polygamy did not come without a price. Look at what happened to Solomon:
1 Kings 11:3-4
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God…
Just because something is described in the Scriptures, don’t be fooled into thinking that God endorses it. Even when the scriptures seem silent on an issue, a careful reading will reveal the nature of sin and the heart of God.
The Ninth Rule: “Don’t Sweat the Copyist Errors!”
Yes, we’ve talked about the variations that exist in the copies that we presently have. We can trust our Scriptures for several reasons, however, even in spite of these variations! Remember that none of these variations change the theology or instruction of the Bible. In addition to this, the variations that exist in the Scriptures can be found in the margins of the modern translations so you can investigate them for yourself and see how important (or unimportant) they really are! The vast majority of these variations are single letter or number variations that make very minor changes in the text, and the copyists were extremely honest in the way that they transmitted these errors down through the ages, afraid to make changes that would ‘correct’ the discrepancies for fear they would be tampering with the Word of God. As a result, the variations come down to us in complete honesty.
The Example of “Number” Variations
Most variations take the form of number discrepancies and these are generally resolved by comparing passages and using a little common sense. Let’s just take a quick look at one such variation as it relates to David’s conquering of Hadadezar described in both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles:
2 Samuel 8:3-4
David smote also Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates. And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen: and David houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them for an hundred chariots.
1 Chronicles 18:3-4
And David smote Hadarezer king of Zobah unto Hamath, as he went to stablish his dominion by the river Euphrates. And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen: David also houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them an hundred chariots.
OK, so exactly how many horsemen did David take? 2 Samuel tells us that it was 700 horsemen while 1 Chronicles says it was 7000! Obviously, we have a copyist error here, and more times than not, copyist errors of this nature involve the addition of a letter or number, leading us to lean toward 700 as the correct number. And if we compare this with the number of chariots mentioned (1000), the 700 number does appear more reasonable. But we may never know for sure how many horsemen were captured. And just like all the other copyist variations, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing here changes the doctrine of the Scriptures, nothing challenges the nature of God, nothing contradicts the teaching in the Bible about our own need for a Savior. In essence, copyist errors are not a stumbling block for Christians.
The Tenth Rule: “Remember Who’s Boss!”
As we wrap up our assessment of simple rules for reading the scriptures, we’ve got to remember that the Bible describes the work of God here in planet earth and the history of God’s people. Sometimes we’ll read something in the Old Testament and wonder how God could act in such a way! Sometimes the God of the Old Testament can seem pretty harsh! Critics look at certain passages and try to argue that the judgment seen in God’s nature in the Old Testament contradicts the mercy seen in God’s nature in the New Testament! But we need to read the scriptures carefully and remember that God alone is God. He knows the end from the beginning, and he is the source of all morality. He gets to make decisions over life and death, even when we don’t understand all the details.
The Example of the Amalekites
Critics often claim that the God of the Old Testament is very different that the God of the New Testament. Let’s take a look at one of the passages that is offered by critics who claim that our God is actually brutal and immoral:
1 Samuel 15:1-3
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Critics point to this passage and others that are similar and argue that our God is cruel. After all, God is seen here slaughtering people left and right! Is there an ethical contradiction here? Well, to begin with, ethics require a standard of some sort, and this standard, if we are going to be able to use it across cultures and time to look at the behaviors of the ancient Jews, is going to have to be an objective, absolute standard that stands above all humanity. And absolute standards or rules require an absolute standard or rule giver. This rule giver is the source of the rule, and therefore, He alone gets to define the rule for the rest of us. Without an absolute law giver, there can be no apparent injustice! OK, we need to understand that the creator of something gets to make the decision about its future. If you create a piece of art, I really don’t have the right to destroy it, but you DO have the right. After all, it is your creation and, therefore, it is your property. You can do with it as you will. Now as a parent, I don’t have the right to destroy my child, at least not while I’m living here in America. Why not? Because our culture still recognizes that humans are the creation of God (check out our constitution) and therefore, I am not the creator of my child. God is the creator. Only he gets to take away the life that he has created:
‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’
‘See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.
To argue that God cannot take a life, just because I must not take a life, is to make what is called a “Category Mistake”. It is to confuse myself with God. He is the creator of life, therefore, He can also take back what He has created, and in doing this, He does not violate anything in His nature. But, we also need to remember that God has a reason for everything He does, even when we may not see it as clearly as we would like. Many critics point to the Amalekites and claim that God was taking innocent life in his call for their destruction. But the Bible tells us that these people were already guilty in the eyes of the Lord:
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
According to God, the land that the Israelites were about to inhabit was already an abomination that needed to be vomited out. The people of this land were already involved in practices that were offensive to God. He was already displeased with them and knew that unless they were removed, His children would eventually succumb to their practices and lifestyle. Imagine if you were lost in the snowy wilderness and were not recovered for many days. During this time you developed frostbite in your right elbow and this frostbite worsened until you were discovered by rescuers. The doctors examined your elbow and told you that the frostbite developed into gangrene. They told you that unless you amputate your right arm from the shoulder down, you were certainly going to die. You argued with them! You said, “Hey that’s not fair, my hand and fingers are still OK! If you amputate my whole arm, you are going to affect parts that are still healthy!” The doctors have to explain something to you. They have to tell you the truth about your hand and fingers. Unless you amputate the whole arm, your hand and fingers were eventually going to develop the same gangrene. The disease would only spread, and eventually it would kill you. What were you going to do? Was the doctor doing something evil here or was the doctor trying to act out of love and concern for your life? Yes, it may seem harsh, but a loving doctor would remove the arm as quickly as possible. God was no different with the Amalekites. His love for his people led him to remove the cancer before all were lost. He created the Amalekites. He alone had the moral and ethical authority to order their removal. Sometimes love appears very harsh.
So Who Gets to Be the Critic?
In the final analysis, all of us have to ask this important question. As a reader of the Bible, either I am going to stand as its critic, or I am going to allow the Bible to stand as a critic over me. Either I am going to decide what’s true or false in the Bible or the Bible is going to decide what is true or false in me:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
So, who is right? The Christ or the Critics? Who are you going to trust; ancient Lordship or Modern Scholarship? The Bible is not full of contradictions, and people who think they do find contradictions don’t know too much, they know too little! Take the time to read the Bible carefully, utilizing some simple rules of engagement, and watch the apparent contradictions fade away.