Almost certainly everyone has seen the above chart which sets out all of the supposed contradictions that somehow, though the skeptical critic is at a loss to explain why, overthrows the authority of or belief in the truth of Scripture. One reason why this is a problem is that we have been taught that contradiction, especially logical or factual contradiction, invalidates a claim. And that’s true, in most senses.
For example, if someone says that there were 50,000 spectators at a (American) football game, and another person say that there were 47,952 spectators, that would seem to be contradictory and, technically, it is. But we would not call the person who said 50,000 a liar, we would say that he was rounding up his figures, and that would be completely true. Both 50,000 and 47,952 can be true depending upon the context in which they’re being used. But skeptics use points like these in an attempt to demonstrate that, somehow, the Bible is false. But if they’re going to criticize the biblical writers for rounding numbers, and then not criticize any other writer for doing the same, that’s just hypocritical. Then there’s other number issues.
We, so often, take English (or any other language that uses the Latin alphabet) for granted because we have clear distinctions between written numbers (e.g. one, two, three, a hundred, a thousand, etc) and our Arabic numerals (1,2,3, 100, 1000, etc) without realizing that these, culturally speaking, are fairly recent inventions. Some ancient languages, like Hebrew and Greek, used letters to stand for numbers, for example: the Hebrew letter א (aleph) could stand for the number one, or it could be used in combination with other letters to make bigger numbers, add that to the fact that the photocopier wasn’t invented until 1949, and the printing press wasn’t invented until the 15th century, which means that every single copy was done by hand, then it’s likely that a scribe could omit a number, or copy a letter that changed the value of the number. It’s essentially our laziness that is causing the problem then.
Another problem that is often brought up is the issue of order. In one text something is placed before another, and in a parallel text they are reordered. Perhaps the best and most well-known example of this is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple which is placed, seemingly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John’s gospel, and late in the other gospels. What’s interesting is that Luke is the only writer who is claiming that he is trying to put anything in any kind of order, which should cause the careful reader to ask if the others are making a similar claim. If they’re not, then there’s no reason to assume that there’s a contradiction.
Just to close out this post, the vast majority of so-called contradictions are simply contrived, ignoring things that the ancient reader knew and expected to see. I know, to use a strong word like “contrived” seems harsh but when we look under the hood we can see that the main reason that we see them is not because they are actual logical or factual contradictions, but merely seen because of translation and the fact that we are either ignorant of literary conventions or methods of transmission, or even the message that the writer was trying to convey. Most of the ones that people bring up easily resolved by reasoning through and carefully reading the text with the realization that the book we call the Bible is not a singular work, nor is it meant to be read that way. The rest require digging into textual commentaries. In other words: work.