While some passages might seem to show the Bible contradicting itself, they can usually be understood correctly by applying one or more of the following principles:
1. Consider the context. Any author can appear to contradict himself if his words are taken out of context.
2. Consider the writer’s viewpoint. Eyewitnesses might describe an event accurately but not use the exact same wording or include the same details.
3. Take into account historical facts and customs.
4. Distinguish between the figurative and the literal uses of a word.
5. Recognize that an action may be attributed to someone—even if he did not personally carry it out.
6. Use an accurate Bible translation.
7. Avoid trying to reconcile what the Bible says with mistaken religious ideas or dogma.
The following examples show how these principles can explain some seeming inconsistencies in the Bible.
Principle 1: Context
● If God rested on the seventh day, how has he continued working? The context of the Genesis creation account shows that the statement that God “began to rest on the seventh day from all his work that he had been doing” refers specifically to his work of physical creation respecting the earth. (Genesis 2:2-4) Jesus did not contradict this, however, when he said that God “has kept working until now,” because he was talking about other works of God. (John 5:17) God’s works include the inspiration of the Bible and his guidance and care of mankind.—Psalm 20:6; 105:5; 2 Peter 1:21.
Principles 2 and 3: Viewpoint and history
● Where did Jesus heal the blind man? The book of Luke says that Jesus healed a blind man as Jesus “was getting near to Jericho,” while the parallel account in Matthew mentions two blind men and says that the incident occurred when Jesus was “going out of Jericho.” (Luke 18:35-43; Matthew 20:29-34) These two accounts, written from different viewpoints, actually complement each other. Regarding the number of men, Matthew is more specific as to there being two, while Luke focuses on the one man to whom Jesus directed his remarks. As for the location, archaeologists have found that in Jesus’ time Jericho was a double city, with the old Jewish city situated about one and a half kilometers (1 mi) away from the newer Roman city. Jesus may have been between the two cities when he performed this miracle.
Principle 4: Figurative and literal terms
● Will the earth be destroyed? At Ecclesiastes 1:4, the Bible says that “the earth remains forever,” which to some apparently conflicts with its statement that “the elements will be destroyed by heat—with the earth.” (2 Peter 3:10, Beck) In the Bible, however, the word “earth” is used both literally, referring to our planet, and figuratively, referring to the people who live on it. (Genesis 1:1; 11:1) The destruction of the “earth” described at 2 Peter 3:10 refers, not to the burning up of our planet, but to the “destruction of the ungodly people.”—2 Peter 3:7.
Principle 5: Attribution
● In Capernaum, who brought the centurion’s request to Jesus? Matthew 8:5, 6 says that the centurion (army officer) himself came to Jesus, while Luke 7:3 says that the centurion sent older men of the Jews to make his request. This apparent Bible contradiction can be understood in that the army officer initiated the request, but he sent the older men as his representatives.
Principle 6: Accurate translation
● Do we all sin? The Bible teaches that we all inherit sin from the first man, Adam. (Romans 5:12) Some translations seem to contradict this by saying that a good person “does no sin” or “sinneth not.” (1 John 3:6, The Bible in Basic English; King James Version) In the original language, though, the Greek verb for “sin” at 1 John 3:6 is in the present tense, which in that language normally indicates a continuous action. There is a difference between inherited sin, which we cannot avoid, and the deliberate, continuous practice of disobeying God’s laws. Thus, some translations clear up this seeming contradiction by accurately using phrases such as “does not practice sin” or “does not habitually sin.”—New World Translation; Phillips.
Principle 7: The Bible, not dogma
● Is Jesus equal to God or lesser than God? Jesus once said: “I and the Father are one,” which seems to contradict his statement that “the Father is greater than I am.” (John 10:30; 14:28) To understand those verses correctly, we must examine what the Bible really says about Jehovah and Jesus rather than try to harmonize the verses with the Trinity dogma, which is not based on the Bible. The Bible shows that Jehovah is not only Jesus’ Father but also Jesus’ God, the One whom even Jesus worships. (Matthew 4:10; Mark 15:34; John 17:3; 20:17; 2 Corinthians 1:3) Jesus is not equal to God.
The context of Jesus’ statement “I and the Father are one” shows that he was talking about the oneness of purpose that he shared with his Father, Jehovah God. Jesus later said: “The Father is in union with me and I am in union with the Father.” (John 10:38) Jesus shared this unity of purpose with his followers as well, for he prayed to God about them: “I have given them the glory that you have given me, in order that they may be one just as we are one. I in union with them and you in union with me.”—John 17:22, 23.