Is the Bible Mostly Allegory?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. Our topic for today is the alleged contradictions in the Bible, and we’re using Dave Hunt’s book In Defense of the Faith as a resource for some tough questions regarding the supposed contradictions as well as some answers he has researched over the years. Dave, research, or putting forth some effort to check these things out, is one thing we want to encourage among our listeners when they find themselves confronted with either what someone says is a biblical contradiction, or, when, from their own reading, it sort of looks that way.
Dave: Well, Tom, I’m sure I have said it before, and I know I say it in the book, I am always impressed at the study that the skeptics put into trying to refute the Bible. They have gone through it with a fine-toothed comb. I don’t know whether they still have that saying, but I’m elderly, you know, and, uh, I . . .
Tom: You don’t use a fine-toothed comb . . .
Dave: They don’t use a fine-toothed comb.
Tom: on the top of your head anyway.
Dave [laughing]: No, certainly not. I don’t need any teeth in the comb on the top of my head. But they have gone to a lot of trouble, and I have files full of what they have dug up, they think. And, one of them—this question—do you want to read it, or shall I read it?
Tom: Well, Dave, before we get into the first question, I want to go back over some things that we have been talking about. When somebody comes to study the Bible—now, you mentioned the skeptics; they’re looking for whatever they can piece together that may seem erroneous with regard to a truth claim of the Bible. But we as Christians, when we read, as I referred to earlier, sometimes there are some things that don’t seem to gel, and that kind of puts us off a little bit. We say, “Well, wait a minute, Matthew said it one way, but Luke is saying it another way.”
Now, for example, last week we talked about the rooster crowing. We were at the point in time in which Jesus is under arrest and then Peter follows Him, and he denies Jesus three times. And, Jesus said that He would indeed do that before . . . “when the cock crows,” was one phrase that was used, and then, a specific thing. I think it was Mark who gives the specific details with regard to the crowing of the roosters at that time.
Dave: “Before the cock crows twice.” Yeah. Well, that seeming contradiction. Three of them say, “before the cock crows,” and the other one says, “before the cock crows twice.” It seems to be a contradiction, but I think we’ve explained it adequately, as we do in the book. By the way, we’re not able to cover all the details that we have in the book—and those of you out there who have some serious questions, maybe you’ve been bothered by some of these particular questions, you might get the book. I guess . . . is Gary going to give that information about the book?
Tom: Yes, Gary will give that information out at the end of the program.
Dave: Yes, because I think you would find it very helpful. I think it’s encouraging when you check the Bible out and find out that there are not these contradictions. Now, that one, of course, was very simple. Jesus was talking about, in Mark, He’s talking about a cock crowing twice, and in the others He’s talking about the “time of the cock crowing,” when all of the roosters crowed. And He was very gracious, because an hour before the time of cock crowing, when Peter first denied his Lord, the Lord caused a rooster to crow at the wrong time, and that should have been a warning to Peter. And, the gospels tell us very clearly, it was an hour later before he denied Him the third time. So, that was when the crowing of all the roosters came about.
Tom: Right. So, it’s not a matter of just reading through these things and saying, “Oh well, it didn’t make sense to me, but I’ll just kind of go along with it.” It’s a matter of reading carefully but also being able to distinguish between phrases, idiomatic phrases, like “the cock crowing,” which means “the time in which, . . .” That’s what’s to be understood by that, but also, learning how to distinguish between something that’s a generalization and something that’s very specific—something that’s given to be understood literally and something that is to be understood figuratively. I mean, that’s important in reading anything, not just God’s Word.
Dave: Well, two quick things, Tom. First of all, this is the Bible. For a Christian, we believe this is God’s Word. Therefore, we come to the Bible to be taught, to learn. The Bible is going to teach us—we are not going to correct the Bible. Secondly, God has allowed certain apparent contradictions in the Bible, or difficult passages, to cause us to dig deeper. He lets the skeptics have their laugh, until all the facts are brought forth, but there are no contradictions. So, when you think there is one, please don’t, just as Tom says, don’t just pass it over and say, “Well, I’ll accept the Bible anyway.” Take the opportunity to dig into it and find out why did God allow this apparent contradiction?
Now of course, we have mentioned in the cases of seeming contradictions between the four writers of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—if you went into a court, and you had four witnesses, and they all parrot one another word for word, well what’s the point? You would suspect there was some kind of collusion because people do not just repeat the same words that someone else says, and each person would see this accident or this crime from their own perspective. And that is why we have four different accounts in the Bible and they come from different perspectives. They’re written by different individuals inspired of the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless God is using human instruments, and the very fact that there seem to be contradictions on some key points and yet, when you investigate carefully, you realize they are all in complete accord with one another, you have a solid case.
Tom: Dave, before, I referred to figurative speech. Now, some people get upset with that. They say, “Well, why didn’t God just say it out straight? Why didn’t He just lay something out very specifically? Why did Jesus have to say, ‘I am the door,’ or ‘I am the light of the world,’ or ‘I am the good Shepherd?’ He wasn’t any of those literally.”
Tom: Physically, right. But He certainly, in terms of understanding what that implies, it’s a little richer.
Dave: Well, we do that all the time, Tom. We say, “Don’t you see?” or “Can’t you see?” We’re not talking about something that you physically see. We use those expressions all the time: “He was going like greased lightning,” or “He was as fast as greased lightning.” Well, you don’t grease lightning, and, obviously, no one is as fast as lightning, whether it is greased or not. But we understand what that means, and it illustrates or it emphasizes something. And when Jesus says, “If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink,” or He says to the woman at the well, “The water that I give you, you drink of that, and you will never thirst again,” it’s a very important lesson that He is teaching us. Because man is not just a physical being, but there is a spiritual thirst, a spiritual hunger, and furthermore, God is saying He’s not forcing Himself on us. He would like to initiate, He would like to encourage, a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, for truth, for Him, for His Word.
So, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” and the Bible is our spiritual food. No other book can even claim to be that, and that’s why it is so important that we understand the Scriptures, and that is why we must defend the Bible from the accusations of the skeptics who say there are contradictions. God does not contradict Himself. You would either be forgetful or stupid if you contradicted yourself. So, there cannot be contradictions in the Bible; then let’s understand the explanation.
Tom: And again, one way to avoid, in your own mind, contradictions when you are reading through the Scriptures is to be able to distinguish. Dave, when I was thinking about this, I was going through the Book of Acts. Now, here’s a verse that seems to mix both the figurative and the literal. This is Acts:20:28: “Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Now there we have . . . if somebody is going to take that literally, every word, they’ve got problems because, the flock—I mean, what is he talking about? Animals here? Or “Feed the church.” You can’t take that literally. What, are you feeding them—what?
Dave: Well, maybe they were in a famine area, and they needed some physical food, or they are poor. . . .
Tom: Okay, now let’s keep going: “which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Now, “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” In other words, Dave . . .
Dave: It’s the blood of God, so Jesus must be God.
Dave: Because God is a Spirit—we’ve had some discussions with that in our newsletter.
Tom: But even the term “blood,” what does that mean? It really means something beyond physical blood, certainly. It has to do with the life.
Dave: Well, it has to do with the pouring out of His blood. His blood had to be shed— “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin,” the scripture says, so it is telling us that Christ’s blood actually was the price that purchased us! But it doesn’t mean just that there was some special quality in His blood. How much of His blood did it take? It took all of His blood; His blood had to be drained from His body in payment for our sins. He had to die for our sins physically, and He paid the penalty that His own infinite justice required. So this was the price—we are ransomed, we are bought, with a price, the blood of Christ, the scripture says elsewhere. And again, you are pointing out this is a rather detailed and difficult scripture, and yet we can point to other places in the Bible that support it.
Tom: Sure. So again, the full counsel of God has to brought to play in whatever you are reading to understand. For example, using the term “blood” in this context, earlier in Acts, Acts:2:20, it talks about “the sun shall be turned [corrected] into darkness, and the moon into blood. . . ”
Dave: “. . . until that great and notable day of the Lord.”
Tom: Right, but you’re not going to take that literally. So, all I am trying to introduce here is that, as you go through the Bible, there are certain rules of grammar, there are certain understandings that we have from language, and different kinds of language, whether it be idiomatic expressions or figurative speech, you’ve got to get a handle on those things.
Dave: Read the Bible with understanding, but also with a little grace! In other words, don’t try to attack it. If you come with that mentality, then you’re going to find some problems that are not really there, okay?
Tom: And, Dave, that leads us right up to our first question—again, coming from a skeptic: “Some of the most blatant contradictions in the Bible involve the account of the supposed resurrection of Christ upon which Christianity is founded. For example, Mark:16:1-2, says, “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb when the sun had risen.” John:20:1, says, “She came to the tomb while it was still dark.”
Dave: “What was it?” he asks.
Dave: Well, in the response, just let me quote a little bit of it. I checked more than twenty translations; there are several translations or paraphrases that say, “when the sun had risen.” The New English Bible (that’s a paraphrase says), “just after sunrise,” and other translations say, “. . . at the rising . . . ” (the Greek is στην Ανατολή) “ . . . of the sun. . . . ” Now the Greek στην Ανατολή —that’s not an exact statement of time; it doesn’t mean a precise moment. It really means the start of an action, and if you didn’t have an ax to grind, you would acknowledge this could include just before the sun peeps over, you know, and as it peeps over the horizon, and just moments after—at that time.
Now, John 20, the expression “cometh Mary”—that would include her entire journey toward the tomb from her home. Now, I don’t know how far that was. So the fact that she sets out when it was yet dark, that’s John:20:1, is certainly not a contradiction. She’s starting from her home just before the sun has come up. If she arrives at the tomb just as the sun is rising, I don’t understand what the big problem is here.
Tom: Well, again, I think it’s a problem of trying to find a contradiction. Dave, you know, I like to fish early in the morning. I like to get out before the sun rises, but I can tell you, I may be out an hour after sunrise, and, depending on the cloud cover or whatever, or where I am, it’s dark. You know, I have trouble tying either a fly or—I have trouble anyway doing that—or putting a lure on, but my point is that, hey, this is a phrase. You know, as you mentioned, not just the New English Version but the NIV says, “Just after sunrise.” They’re talking about an expression of time and it could still be dark.
Dave: And the word translated “dark” in the Greek—it includes the meaning of dimness, you know, just at dusk or dawn, just after dawn. It’s not necessarily pitch black, the darkness. So, I think if you took this into a court of law, I think they would throw it out, Tom, so let’s move on.
Tom: All right, there are a few more of these. This question: “Concerning the famous Sermon on the Mount (this is Luke:6:12 and 17) . . .
Dave: Tom, let me interject here. The reason I put these in the book, and the reason that we are going through them, is because some of you out there may have heard some of these supposed contradictions, or you may encounter them in the future, so it’s helpful.
Tom: I think so. I think, you know, as we’ve said before—and this is our further encouragement—some people just go along with what they’ve heard, but this show is Search the Scriptures Daily. We’re trying to encourage people, “Hey, take hold of this stuff! Get into it, because you are going to be greatly encouraged in the faith if you put the time and effort into it.”
This question: “Concerning the famous Sermon on the Mount, Luke:6:12 and 17, says Jesus came down from a mountain and stood in a plain to address His audience. But Matthew:5:1 says Jesus went up on a mountain and sat down to address his audience. How many contradictions such as this one does it take before Christians will admit that the Bible is not God’s infallible Word?”
Let me answer that—all it takes is one. If there’s a contradiction, as you said, God doesn’t make mistakes, so then we throw the book out! But the question is, is this really a contradiction?
Dave: Well, I think the person has overlooked some chapter breaks. In Luke, there is a chapter break, but he’s talking about an earlier incident. The Sermon on the Mount in Luke is given out of sequence. There’s no connection between that part of the gospel, which is recounted in verses 12 to 19, and the Sermon on the Mount, which begins at verse 20, because Luke is not telling it from that standpoint. So, there is no contradiction between Matthew and Luke. They are just reciting this in a different sequence and from a different viewpoint.
Tom: But Dave, even if somebody didn’t agree with . . . because chapters splits were added later on; the Bible didn’t come to us in the New Testament in chapters. But my point is that Jesus goes up on the mountain, it says in Luke 12, and then in 17 it says, “and he came down with them and stood in the plain.” Now, He doesn’t have to come off the mountain to do that. You’re a backpacker . . . well, you used to be before you got your new hips—but anyway, you know what I am talking about. It’s an understanding of these words—there is no blatant contradiction here. Well, it’s not a contradiction at all, but it’s a matter, as you said, just go along with what is being said here, does it make sense or doesn’t it? And it does.
Dave: If you went to Matthew 10, you would see that the same incident is not connected with the Sermon on the Mount, nor is it in Luke, but if you want to read it that way and then try to make a contradiction out of it well, that’s your privilege.
Tom: Okay, here’s another one. “The stories of the so-called transfiguration of Jesus on the mount seem to contain a serious contradiction. Matthew:17:1 and Mark:9:2 say that it happened six days later than the incident just presented. But Luke:9:28 says it was about eight days later.
Dave: Well, Tom, actually both Matthew and Mark say, “after”—the Greek “meta”— “after six days.”
Tom: Which is a good point, Dave. See, now this person just threw that out, and if I would just go along with it rather than going to the verses that he’s referring to and see if it says exactly what he says it says it does.
Dave: It doesn’t say what he says it says.
Dave: And you find that often. So it says “after six days,” which would be the seventh day. In other words, it would be a week later. And Luke says, “about an eight days . . .” and “eight days” is an idiomatic expression like “fortnight” for a week later. And the word, “about,” indicates the timing isn’t precise, so they’re trying to split meaningless hairs here, in their desire—you would have to say, Tom, these people are really working hard to find some contradictions in the Bible in order to prove that it isn’t God’s Word. They really have to scratch around, and they’re not finding a great deal. In fact, Tom, the very questions they ask show their prejudice.
Tom: Dave, there is one segment, and our next question addresses this, but we only have a couple of minutes. It deals basically—and maybe we can talk about it in general terms—when Mary Magdalene and Mary, the other Mary, the Mary of the mother of James and Salome, come to the tomb when the sun arises that morning, that Sunday morning. Dave, the question here is, the appearance of angels, the dialogue between the angels, what the women do, and so on, and when you look at all of those, the different gospels, it does seem a little confusing.
Dave: Well, Tom, I don’t know how much time we have left, but I guess not enough to go into this one in detail, but this is very interesting.
Tom: Maybe we can have our listeners do it; we can point them . . . and check it out.
Dave: Right. This is very interesting because each one of these accounts in the gospels—well, Matthew, Mark, and Luke—go into considerable detail. They’re not making this up, and the details seem to conflict, and we would have to discuss it.
Tom: Let’s give our audience an assignment. The four gospels, those which address the women coming to the tomb, the appearance of angels, the taking away—the rolling away—of the stone. That’s going to be our subject for next week.
Dave: Yeah, check it out; there seem to be some contradictions. Study it carefully, and you will find there are no contradictions, but it’s not easy and that’s why God wants us to dig and to verify His truth.