Many people claim that the Bible is “full of contradictions” even though they usually can’t cite any of those alleged contradictions. So that isn’t really a thing. But what do we do when the Bible does seem to contradict itself? How do we treat passages that seem to be in tension with other Bible verses?
I hold to a “high view of Scripture” which basically means that I believe that the Bible is inspired by God and, therefore, 100% true, just as it claims. Basic logic tells us that two contradicting propositions both cannot be true; either one is true and the other false, or both are false. Thus, if one passage contradicts another, that would mean that one of those passages (at least) is false. So how do we resolve verses that seem to be in tension?
Take, for example, the text I preached on last Sunday, 1 Corinthians 5:12. That verse says, For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? Don’t miss that last part (which I helpfully bolded for you). Paul is clearly saying you are to judge those in the church. He posed it as a question, but it is a rhetorical one and the meaning is unmistakable.
Now, compare that with Matthew 7:1: Judge not, that you be not judged. And compare it also with 1 Corinthians 4:5:
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
So do we judge, as per 1 Corinthians 5:12, or don’t we, as per Matthew 7:1 and 1 Corinthians 4:5? Are these verses in contradiction?
That “high view of Scripture” thing forces us to look deeper. Since we believe the Bible is totally true, we can’t settle for the shallow read, and just assume this is one of those many contradictions that the Bible is full of. We have to assume that each of these statements is true. So how do we reconcile Matthew 7:1-2 and 1 Corinthians 4:5 with 1 Corinthians 5:12?
We have to assume that there is a way of judging that Jesus forbids (Matthew 7:1) that is different than the kind of judging that Paul commands (1 Corinthians 5:12) and that Paul also forbids one kind of judging (1 Corinthians 4:5) while commanding another kind (1 Corinthians 5:12). In other words, there must be right ways and wrong ways to judge.
And this one is pretty easy, as apparent contradictions go. It takes only a bit of effort to see that in Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus is forbidding the kind of judgment that is hypocritical – judging others by a measure we wouldn’t want applied to ourselves. And in 1 Corinthians 4:5, it is clearly the attempt to judge someone’s heart and hidden motives that is in view. So we don’t judge hypocritically, and we don’t judge a person’s heart – those kinds of judging are forbidden. And there is a way to judge that is commanded by Paul. And you can see what that is all about by digging into 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. (Note: It is beyond the scope of this post to explain what that judging looks like. However, you can listen to my sermon on that passage by clicking here.)
We should be really thankful for supposed contradictions in the Bible. They force us, if we take the Bible and truth seriously, to go deep with our study. And when we do that, we not only see that the Bible does not, in fact, contradict itself, but that it is sweeter than the honeycomb, and more precious than gold.