For the week of August 13, 2005 / 8 Av 5765
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27


Biblical Contradictions

Then all of you came to me and said, "Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to." The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:22,23)

One of the reasons some people give for not respecting the Bible is that they think it is filled with contradictions. The existence of these contradictions, they reason, disqualifies any claim that the Scriptures could have been inspired by God.

I don't find it helpful that there are those who, in their desire to defend the inspiration of the Scriptures, claim that it contains absolutely no contradictions at all. The fact is that there are many statements and descriptions throughout the Bible that seem contradictory. This week's reading contains such an example.

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) begins with a recap of Israel's journey under Moses' leadership. When Moses refers to the incident of the spying out of the Promised Land, he says that the people suggested that he select 12 men to do so. According to Moses, he thought what they said was good, and he did what they suggested.

But if we look at the account of this same incident in the book of Bemidbar (Numbers), we read nothing of the interaction between Moses and the people. In the other passage we are told that it was God who initiated this.

The LORD said to Moses, "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders." So at the LORD's command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. (Bemidbar / Numbers 13:1-3)

It seems, therefore, that Moses was contradicting the earlier account of this story. Determining whether or not this is a contradiction, is based partly on what we understand a contradiction to be.

According to the Encarta online dictionary, one of the definitions of "contradiction" is, "something that has aspects that are illogical or inconsistent with each other." (

According to Encarta, apparent inconsistencies constitutes a contradiction. Until these inconsistencies are worked out, the contradiction remains.

In our example, there is no attempt whatsoever to clear up the contradiction. One passage asserts that God initiated the choosing of the 12 spies, while the other tells us that the people did.

We don't have the time and space here to list other similar examples, but there are several.

In some cases what look like contradictions are actually the giving of different details. In those cases the contradictions can be resolved by combining the accounts. Other examples like the one we are looking at here are more difficult to harmonize. It is not that an attempt to do so is not valid or helpful; it is just that we are not given sufficient information to do so confidently.

This same lack of detail should also prevent us from concluding that we are really dealing with a contradiction. I prefer therefore to simply leave the different accounts as they are and not worry about the inconsistencies.

For me these kinds of logical difficulties help prove the Bible's validity.

Many of the Bible's critics claim that it is contrived. They assume that the consistency of its message could only be accomplished by a manipulation of the text. Yet these same critics also say that the inconsistencies are errors and thus undermine any claim of divine inspiration.

So if there are any actual contradictions in all this, it is in the reasoning of the Bible's critics. The inconsistencies help prove that there was no attempt to manipulate the text. Some inconsistencies, as in our example, are very obvious. If anyone wanted to smooth out the difficulties they could have, but didn't. The respect of both the original authors and those who copied their writings was so great that even though they had every opportunity to change the text or add to it, they did everything in their power to preserve it.

The inconsistencies found in the Bible reflect the inconsistencies we encounter in life. Sensitive people are often bothered by life's contradictions. How can goodness and evil coexist in the world the way it does as well as beauty and ugliness, pleasure and pain? Many philosophies have tried to work this out, but what we find in the Bible is an acceptance of the complexities of life along with an understanding of the presence of God through whom real meaning is found.

We may be surprised that once we allow ourselves to truly face life's contradictions, it may be a whole lot easier to know God.

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