Some apparent contradictions in Scripture are a result of the vagaries of assembling scores of texts written by dozens of authors, few of whom had contact with each other, and whose original manuscripts were copied and transmitted by many hands over the course of millennia. That we might find some discrepancies on minor matters is to be expected. I believe were we to know all the details involved, however, we could reconcile even such details. But these are not the apparent biblical contradictions about which I want to speak.
A riddle is an apparent contradiction. And the Bible’s prophecies of messiah are often given in riddle-like fashion. For example, Psalm 118:22 says that the rejected stone will be the chief cornerstone. This, of course, does not make sense. But rather than being a nonsensical statement, it’s a riddle which awaits explanation. Or, as the New Testament writers would put it, a mystery which awaits revelation. Jesus was, of course, the stone that was rejected…and who became the chief cornerstone. He was rejected in the flesh…and glorified in the spirit. See Matthew 21:33-46 where Jesus addresses Psalm 118:22…and confounds the Pharisees, who were rejecting Him.
Another example of such an apparent contradiction is Psalm 110:1 in which David’s descendant is called his heir. How can one’s child be considered one’s superior (or elder)? Again, the answer was Jesus: the Messiah of Israel. He was David’s descendant according to the flesh (that is, by human birth) but David’s superior according to the spirit through His resurrection from the dead. See Matthew 22:41-46 where Jesus points out this riddle and stumps the Pharisees with it.
Apparent contradictions are at the heart of messianic prophecy because the unifying theme of that prophecy is the suffering and glory of Messiah. Suffering and glory, of course, are not naturally compatible. We don’t usually think of them at the same time. And indeed that’s the resolution of the tension – the suffering and the glory do not occur at the same time. Messiah’s sufferings precede His glories. His sufferings come when He’s on earth, in the flesh, before He dies. His glories come when He’s in heaven, in the spirit, after He’s raised from the dead.
God cannot lie. This means He cannot contradict Himself. He can’t say that something is true and not true at the same time and in the same way.
Therefore, recognize that when you see an apparent contradiction in the Bible, know it’s not actual. And when you see it, recognize that it’s a promise of revelation. That is, as Jesus said, “nothing is hidden except to be revealed; nothing has been kept secret except that it might come to light.”
For more on biblical riddles see to the right under Categories “Riddles.”
For more on Messiah’s sufferings and glories see to the right under Categories “Suffering and Glory” – especially the post The Old Testament (that is, the Hebrew Bible) Is About Jesus Christ – His Suffering and Glory.
The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.