Two “Contradictions” Solved By Remembering Two Simple Rules
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
On a regular basis, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and Bible critics write our offices at Apologetics Press. Some of the feedback we receive is simply to inform us how naïve Christians are for believing in God, Jesus, and the Bible, or how ignorant creationists are for disbelieving in macro-evolution. We also receive numerous questions from these non-believers. (Unfortunately, due to the volume of inquiries we receive, we are unable to answer all of them.) Recently, one Bible critic sent the following note:
You say the Bible does not contradict itself but I have found several contradictions in the Bible. For example, in John 10:30 Jesus says that he and his father are one then in John 14:28 he says his father is greater than he. Did he change his mind?
So what were Jesus’ last words? Well Matthew, Luke and John seem to have all heard something different. In Matthew 27:46,50 Jesus said my god my god why has thou forsaken me then died but in Luke 23:46 he claims Jesus said father unto thy hands I commit thy spirit then died and finally in John 19:30 he claims that Jesus said it is finished then died. Well which one is it? These are just a few of many. Why would someone say the Bible doesn’t contradict itself when if you have read the words in its pages it does not take a genius to see all the falsities within.
Consider how easily these questions can be answered simply by remembering two basic rules of interpretation.
First, supplementation is not equivalent to a contradiction. For example, suppose you tell a friend about your trip to Disney World. You mention that you went to Magic Kingdom on Monday. Later, you state that you went to Hollywood Studios on Monday. Have you lied? Are these two contradictory statements? Not necessarily. It could be that you visited both Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios on the same day. Similarly, the seven statements the gospel writers recorded that Jesus made from the cross (including the three aforementioned statements—Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:46; John 19:30) all supplement one another. Nothing is said about Jesus making only one of these statements. What’s more, silence does not negate supplementation. Simply because John wrote that our suffering Savior said, “‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30), does not mean that Jesus could not also have said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” after He had cried out, “It is finished,” and before His death (Luke 23:46). Nothing in John 19:30, Luke 23:46, or Matthew 27:46,50 is contradictory. We simply have three different statements that Jesus made at three different moments during His crucifixion.
Second, when comparing two or more Bible passages, one must also remember to consider the sense in which a word or phrase is used. Scripture repeatedly testifies that Jesus was more than a mere man—He was God in the flesh (John 1:1,14,17; 9:38; 10:30,33; 20:28). But how could Jesus truthfully say, “My Father is greater than I,” if Jesus was really deity? Though Jesus was and is God, while on Earth Jesus willingly humbled Himself, taking the form of a suffering servant in order to save mankind from the consequences of sin. Jesus was not denying His deity in John 14:28; He was professing His submission to the Father while in human form. John 14:28 must be understood in light of what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi concerning Jesus’ self-limitation during His time on Earth. Christ,
being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation [He “emptied Himself”—NASB], taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
While on Earth in the form of a man, Jesus was voluntarily in a subordinate position to the Father. Christ “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7; He “made Himself nothing”—NIV). Unlike Adam and Eve, who attempted to seize equality with God (Genesis 3:5), Jesus, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47), humbled Himself, and obediently accepted the role of a servant. Jesus’ earthly limitations (cf. Mark 13:32), however, “were not the consequence of a less-than-God nature; rather, they were the result of a self-imposed submission reflecting the exercise of His sovereign will” (Jackson, 1995, emp. added). While on Earth, Jesus assumed a position of complete subjection to the Father, and exercised His divine attributes only at the Father’s bidding (Wycliffe, 1985; cf. John 8:26,28-29). As A.H. Strong similarly commented, Jesus “resigned not the possession, nor yet entirely the use, but rather the independent exercise, of the divine attributes” (1907, p. 703).
The aforementioned Bible critic who recently wrote our offices alleged that she had found “several contradictions in the Bible” (including the two discussed in this article), and then concluded “it does not take a genius to see all the falsities within.” The truth is, however, it does not take a genius to see these “contradictions” for what they really are: unproven accusations. If a person merely gave the Bible writers the same measure of respect and benefit of the doubt he shows others with whom he communicates on a daily basis, he would quickly find that the only “falsities” are within the baseless and biased accusations made against Scripture, and not Scripture itself.
Jackson, Wayne (1995), “Did Jesus Exist in the Form of God While on Earth?” Reason & Revelation, 15:21-22, March, [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/264.
Strong, A.H. (1907), Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell).
Wycliffe Bible Commentary (1985), Electronic Database: Biblesoft.