Greetings once again friends! This is Episode 11 of the podcast. The title of this week’s episode is “A Pocketful of Paradox.” Click HERE to listen to the audio version.
The Bible is the most-read book in the history of humanity. Even today, the Bible outsells every other book many times over, to the extent that it is never included on any list of bestsellers (e.g. New York Times). If it were included, it would always, without exception, top every list everywhere. Everyone in the industry already knows that, so it isn’t considered “news.”
What drives this phenomenon? For certain, there are many factors at work here, but not one of them can provide a complete answer alone. However, neither the number of Bibles sold, nor the reasons behind the number, are the most important thing for our consideration today.
Can we trust the Bible? Are there irreconcilable inconsistencies in it? If there are inconsistencies, how important are they? How much weight should they carry to influence our understanding one way or another?
Let’s briefly explore a few of these questions today.
First, as we get started, let’s note that there are many “paradoxes” we can find throughout the pages of the Bible.
(A dictionary definition of “paradox” is “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”)
Here’s a great line from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an example of a paradox:
A contradiction, on the other hand, consists of two statements, or assertions, which purport to define the same thing, but are, in fact, diametrically opposed to each other.
For instance, if I say, “The sky is always blue,” but someone counters by saying, “No, the sky is always red,” those two statements contradict each other. If the other person and I become defensive, digging in and insisting that “I’m right, and you’re wrong!” a massive argument could blow up in our faces and do serious, perhaps irretrievable damage to our relationship.
An objective, cool-headed third party, however, looks at that silly exchange and knows instantly that neither is 100% correct. The sky is normally blue, but there are times when the sunlight, clouds, and other factors cause the sky to appear flaming red.
Many times, critics who reject the Bible do so on the basis of what appears to them as irreconcilable contradictions and inconsistencies, but which, if understood correctly, are perfectly harmonious.
Here are a couple of examples:
The Bible pictures God both as (1) thundering from Sinai, and (2) being born as a helpless human child of poverty.
The gospel story about Jesus reports him (1) planning to meet with his disciples after the resurrection, and (2) crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
While on the surface these may appear as contradictory, a student of Scripture knows that, in fact, both statements in both examples are true.
Sometimes, what is cited as a glaring inconsistency is simply a matter of education. A few months ago I read an anti-Bible article which cited an event which in one passage was said to take place at Mt. Sinai, while another Bible writer in another book said the same event happened at Mt. Horeb. The author of the article presented this as evidence that the Bible story was unreliable and couldn’t be “inspired.” It was obviously just a made-up folk-tale that changed from telling to telling.
What the person apparently didn’t know is that “Sinai” and “Horeb” are simply different names for the same mountain. There’s no contradiction at all.
Scripture does, however, contain some very legitimate paradoxes. Here are a few examples.
- Strength from Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NLT) — I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from being proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weakness, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2. Finding Rest by Taking a Yoke
Matthew 11:28-30 — Jesus said, “Come unto me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
3. Becoming Great Through Servanthood and Slavery
Matthew 20:26-28 — Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
4. Finding Life by Losing It
Matthew 10:39 — If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
5. Victory Through Death
Philippians 2:8 — [Jesus] humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
It’s obvious from these examples that, yes, the Bible does have some contradictions, and paradoxes. Certainly, many more can be found beyond these few I have cited. However, the more serious concern lurking behind the question of contradictions and paradoxes is What, or Who embodies reliable source(s) for ultimate moral authority. Where can we find the bedrock standards for human behavior? Is there any anchor available, or must we drift through life like a ship without anchor, sail, or rudder?
These are serious questions deserving serious answers.
In today’s world, codes of personal conduct often boil down to every individual deciding “what’s right for me.” Feelings and emotions become the governing factors of how people relate to one another. Hasty political policies spring up from the soil of unrest, riots, and anger, producing an “emotionocracy” subject only to the whims of an aroused public. The “rule of law” idea becomes a hopeless artifact from past generations. The French Revolution in 1789-1799 shows the terrible results of discarding all authority in favor of personal, unanchored “do whatever feels right, right now” ideas.
Every culture, every society throughout history has always had standards of “right and wrong.” The moral codes of conduct varied somewhat from culture to culture, but they were always there, nonetheless. In each culture, these codes provided the secure moral environment needed for both individuals and the wider community to survive and thrive.
Under the influence of the ancient Hebrews, and then Christians, a body of literature evolved—through a period of 1500+ years—providing the solid foundation we humans need for living moral, productive, and fulfilled lives. The Ten Commandments found in the Torah—the first five books of the Bible—set the gold standard for relating to both God and fellow human beings.
For over a millennium and a half, prophets, patriarchs, kings, and commoners composed stories, poetry, drama, history, and more, documenting the arc of God’s dealing with sinful people, from the beginning of creation to re-creation and restoration of a new heavens and a new earth filled with righteousness. Forty authors representing widely varying times, cultures, social strata, and even languages, all wrote amazingly cohesive messages with one overriding mega-theme: God’s love for humanity.
With that great length of time, and that body of authors—most of whom were completely disconnected from all the others—it is not surprising to find a few apparent “contradictions” or “paradoxes” cropping up in the overall text. Yet, when examined closely, those differences become insignificant when placed within the time and place of writing, the intended audience, social conditions, etc. The entire Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation, provides a cohesive standard for the best way to live.
In fact, we can say with full assurance, that even though there are paradoxes and passages that may seem to be contradictions, not one of these—even if they could prove to be true—carries enough weight to invalidate the message of the Bible:
To tell the story of God’s unconditional, unending love for mankind—from the original story of Creation, through the temptation and Fall in Eden, through the centuries of humanity’s wanderings, wars, and lustful living—all the way through the crisis at Calvary where Jesus, the Son of God, won the moral victory for all of Adam’s race, and on to the very end of sin and rebellion in the promised Earth Made New.
For anyone and everyone who is willing, there is more than ample evidence that we can trust the Bible. If you, or anyone else you know, might have serious questions about this, I highly recommend the ministry of Lee Strobel, specifically his first book, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Zondervan, 1998; Updated and expanded edition, 2016). (Click on the picture for a link to the book on amazon.com.)
There is also a great movie telling the story of Lee Strobel’s journey of faith from atheism to belief, also under the title “The Case for Christ.” You can find this movie to watch, rent, or purchase on YouTube.com. If you are reading this on the GoodlifeNews.life blog post of this episode, you can click on the YouTube link for a direct connection. If you are listening to the podcast, I highly recommend that you open YouTube.com in your Internet browser, then do a search for Lee Strobel — L-e-e-S-t-r-o-b-e-l–or do the search for his books on amazon.
I am confident you will be blessed and inspired by his story, AND in the assurance that our Holy Bible is absolutely authentic in telling the story of God’s love and the redemption of human beings.
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next week’s episode. I’ll be sharing some thoughts about security in times of chaos under the title, “Five Things that Never Change.”
Be sure to tune in, and if you enjoy these Podcasts and Blogposts, please share with your friends, family, or whomever! My many thanks—in advance!