Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: Why does a God-given, inerrant Bible contain contradictions?
Working through flawed creatures
The Rev. Paul Rock, Second Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, Mo.: In the 10th chapter of Luke, an expert in the law asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life.
To answer, Jesus asked some questions of his own. “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “And how do you read it?” The dilemma presented in this column also begs a question or two.
First, what is inferred by “God-given”? If an omniscient God wrote and delivered an inerrant guide for faithful living, then indeed, any contradiction would present serious questions.
Instead, rather than mail an inerrant treatise to humanity, our God chose to reveal and unfold his reconciling work through faithful, yet finite and flawed creatures. The thrilling and remarkable (and sometimes confounding) thing about the Scriptures is that they were written by people like you and me.
The Bible is a compilation of God-inspired writers: artists, historians, shepherds, fishermen and other imperfect saints. Over the centuries, the church has recognized these writings as uniquely authoritative, powerful and holy.
But can a holy book contain “contradictions”? Absolutely. Holy doesn’t mean perfect, it means set aside for special use by God. The varying perspectives contained in the Bible are not evidence of a dismissible faith or a senile deity, but of a patient, loving creator who works through, and often in spite of, very human messengers.
The mistakes and messes found in the enduring stories and lives of the Bible are reminders that, despite our limited and context-bound humanity, God works amazing grace and truth even through imperfect scribes.
That’s how I read it.
Don’t take it too literally
The Rev. Pastor Pat Rush, Visitation Church, Kansas City, Mo.: Biblical writings were authored by many different people through many different centuries, all guided by the Holy Spirit. Usually the contradictions we find are a result of us taking biblical writings too literally.
Literally understood, our Scriptures can be read to suggest that people may sell their daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7), buy slaves from the nations around us (Leviticus 25:44), and execute our neighbors who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2). That’s just for starters.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that while the Bible may include contradictions and mistakes regarding science, history and even moral actions, the wisdom that is necessary for our salvation is guaranteed true. The challenge is how do we conclude which teachings are necessary for our salvation.
The measure for sorting through biblical teachings is neither society’s changing values nor my personal feelings about a particular teaching. Rather, the measure is church tradition.
Tradition is the developing life and teaching of the church through which God’s saving truth, founded on the Scriptures, is guaranteed for succeeding generations.
Church tradition comprises both the consistent church teaching from apostolic times as well as the living faith of God’s people today. It is the teaching ministry of the church – the pope and bishops guided by the Holy Spirit – that has the responsibility to make this determination.