There are all kinds of supposed bible difficulties that we have to deal with in defending the reliability of the bible. Some seeming contradictions can be a challenge to resolve, and perhaps require some speculation. Other difficulties can be pretty smoothly resolved with some work and study. And some are just really simple, and here is one variety that is easy to deal with.
Sometimes, people point to the contents of quotations, and say that since they differ from something in the narrative, they are a contradiction. I don’t mean cases where they claim what a person said differs from what they are said to have spoken in another account. Here, I mean cases like the apparent discrepancy between two of the narratives of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts, as follows:
Acts 9:7 – The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Acts 22:9 – (Paul speaking) “And they that were with me beheld indeed the light, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me” (ASV).
Notice the contradictions in the accounts. One says that the people with Paul heard nobody, while the other account disagrees.
Now, there have been attempt to deal with this, largely disputing traditional translations of certain Greek words:
“A standard solution in this regard says either that:
In the second verse, the word means ‘understood,’ not hear, OR:
In the first verse, the word “voice” should be translated ‘sound'” (Holding).
In fact, some modern translations do just that (like the NASB and ESV). This discrepency isn’t even apparent when reading them.
However, as Holding also points out, “there are obvious and simple solutions that have nothing to do with language.” He has several solutions, including the one I have in mind and will focus on here.
Even if these accounts contradict each other, it’s not an issue. This is because the bible isn’t saying in both cases that, “this is what happened.” These aren’t even claiming to be two God-inspired accounts of what happened. What we have here is one God-inspired account of what happened, and a God-inspired account of what somebody said. In Acts 9, Luke is saying “this is what happened.” In Chapter 22, he is saying “this is what Paul said happened.” Whether what Paul said is true or not is irrelevant to the accuracy of what the book of Acts says. If Paul was mistaken when speaking to the crowd at Jerusalem, then that has no bearing on the book of Acts which quotes him. We can simply say “Paul might have been mistaken then, so when Luke quotes Paul’s, Paul’s account doesn’t match up with what actually happened.”
It’s like if a newspaper quotes a loony math professor who says “2+2=5.” The newspaper is accurate, for it is not saying “2+2=5,” but rather it is saying that “this loony professor says that 2+2=5.” In what the newspaper would be saying, it is accurate. That is what the hypothetical professor said. In what Acts is saying, that “Paul said these things,” it is correct so long as Paul said what Luke claims he said (and we have no reason to believe that he didn’t). In fact, if the newspaper were to make the professor’s words accurate, were it to say “the professor says that 2+2=4,” the newspaper would be wrong! What they said the professor said would not have been what the professor said. That’s all that need be said there. Luke says “Paul said this,” and Paul did say that. Even if Paul was wrong, Luke, and the book he wrote, were not. The end.
There are other possibilities, as I mentioned, but no matter what, this is not a bible contradiction.
Keep this in mind with any time a quote within the bible is used this way. If a sceptic points to what someone is recorded as saying in the bible and says, based on what the person says, “see, that’s wrong,” just say “even if it is, all the bible is saying is that that person said what they said. What matters, as far as the truth of the bible goes, isn’t what they said, only that they said it.”
(This can also be used in the event that someone finds what someone in the bible says to be not incorrect but rather, to be objectionable. Remember, when someone is quoted, the bible isn’t saying what they are saying, but only that they said what they said).
Did I mention that if the bible quotes a person, that then the bible’s validity only depends on it accurately telling us what they said, and not on how good the words the person spoke were…?
American Standard Version (ASV Bible). N.p: n.p., n.d. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/American-Standard-Version-ASV-Bible/>.
English Standard Version (ESV Bible). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/English-Standard-Version-ESV-Bible/>.
Holding, James. “Paul’s Conversion.” Tekton. n.p. n.d. Web. Retrieved on February 13, 2011. .
New American Standard Bible (NASB). N.p.: Lockman Foundation, 1995. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB/>.
(Originally published 02/14/2011: http://3-ringbinder.blogspot.com/2011/02/easy-form-of-bible-contradiction-to.html. Immaterial changes have been made).