Apparent contradictions in the Bible continue to make the rounds on social media and online forums. Atheists love to address contradictions in Scripture as they often solidify their arguments for why the Bible is a book of errors and why it shouldn’t be trusted. These arguments cause some believers to question what they believe, particularly when their understanding of the Bible is limited. Do differences in biblical accounts automatically mean contradiction, or are they simply differences that we should have a better understanding of?
It’s important to recognize that contradictions in Scripture are hardly new issues – even though people in the church are sometimes unaware of these differences in the Bible text. Most of the apparent contradictions are not new to people who teach and study the Bible. If you have a concern for these questions and a good study Bible, you can understand through in-depth reading that two different texts aren’t actually contradictory, but are written and understood differently based on the biblical translation. For example, Genesis 1 and 2 are often noted as texts that contradict each other because of how both order creation. This argument attempts to show that inconsistencies exist between the first two chapters of the Bible. Critics and skeptics often use their efforts to show the Bible cannot be trusted. Many Christians believe that these chapters should not be understood in their plain sense. This argument is generally based on a misunderstanding of Genesis 2.
Let’s take a closer look at Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1:1-2:3 provides us with a chronological account of what God did on each day during the week of creation. Genesis 2:4-25 focuses in on day six and shows the events that took place on this day. If you look at what happened on day six, you see there is no discrepancy here.
In this chapter, we see that Adam is created (Genesis 2:7) and the Garden of Eden is created (Genesis 2:8-9). We also see the description of a river system in Eden (Genesis 2:10-14). Adam is put in the Garden and given instructions (Genesis 2:15-17). Adam names some of the kinds of animals (Genesis 2:19-20). In this chapter, God also creates Eve (Genesis 2:21-22) and a description is given of Adam and Eve being joined together (Genesis 2:23-25). At first glance, you may wonder how Chapter 2 is out of line with Chapter 1. The issue many people have with Genesis 2 is that the order of the creation of man, animals and trees seems to contradict the order stated in Genesis 1. Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man in this way: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life; and man become a live being. Following the creation of man, Genesis 2:9 mentions that God created trees, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight of good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:19 then mentions the creation of certain land animals: “Out of the ground, the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.
When you first look at these two texts against each other, there seems to be a contradiction because in Genesis 1, the text has the animals and trees created prior to the creation of man. However, if you understand the original language of the text and the translation process, both of these issues are resolved. The Hebrew word for formed in both passages is yatsar. In particular translations like the New King James version previously mentioned the verb is translated in its perfect form. However, when the Hebrew word is translated in its pluperfect form, it reads had formed these creatures. This pluperfect form is seen in translations like the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New International Version (NIV). It reads: Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to man to see what he would name them. This version eliminates the issue with chronology because it refers to what God had already done in early during the week of creation. This means that the plants referenced in Genesis 2:9 and the animals referenced in Genesis 2:19 had already been formed by God earlier. William Tyndale, an English scholar who became the leading figure in Protestant reform, was the first to translate an English Bible directly from the original languages and translated the word in its pluperfect form: “And after that the LORD God had made of the earth all manner beasts of the field, and all manner fowls of the air, he brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them. And as Adam called all manner living beasts: even so are their names” (Tyndale, Genesis 2:19). Ultimately, Genesis 1 is an overview of creation and Genesis 2 zeroes in on the creation of humanity. They are often misunderstood simply because of the translation that is often read.
This is just one example in the Bible of a text that is often viewed as contradictory but is really only a complimentary text. There are also differences that are more complex than what we see in the first chapters of Genesis including polygamy and how it differs from the moral standards we have today. Another is the use of a different meaning of a term, like when the word father is used to mean ancestor. The best way to respond to these contradictions is to study the Bible carefully and use Bible study tools that can help you deal with the challenges presented. These resources will help explain these kinds of issues in a way that helps you distinguish between a difference and a contradiction. The Bible should be read in its entirety, not just cited in a list side by side. The less you know about the Bible, the more likely these “contradictions” will trouble you.