Inconsistent Scripture: Why the Bible’s Errors Are Actually Good News for Christians

I still remember the first time I realized that not only were there two creation stories in Genesis, but also that they unequivocally contradicted each other. Part of my shock at discovering this was that I had read and re-read those stories so much but had never noticed the difference. The cognitive dissonance was so great that I actually took a sheet of paper and sketched a rough chart detailing what was created on each day in the two stories.

Of course, that biblical surprise paled in comparison to the night I read about how God — in whom, according to Hebrews, there is no lie — actually blesses and encourages a spirit to deceive and lie to humans. See, I’d always been told deceitful, lying spirits were the realm of the devil, not the divine. After all, Jesus himself calls Satan a liar and the father of all lies.

And then there was the time a census was taken in Israel. According to one account, it was the kindled anger of the Lord that initiated the census. In another, the census had its genesis not in God, but was instead incited by Satan.

Like many former Biblical literalists who at one time insisted on the inerrancy of Scripture, discovering these stories left me disoriented and feeling betrayed by the very book on which I’d built my faith. For some Christians, pointing out these imperfections undermines their faith, as it did mine so many years ago. Some Christians spend entire careers and lifetimes creating complicated arguments to reconcile and explain away these irreconcilable inconsistencies in Scripture. Eventually, though, it’s hard to avoid the Bible’s undeniable historical inaccuracies and outright contradictions.TARU9159

But those inaccuracies and contradictions are precisely why I still love Holy Scripture today.

In fact, were the Scriptures actually perfect, actually without error, actually meticulously accurate historical documents, I’m not sure I’d have much faith left, much less the desire to study, meditate, and preach on them.

The older and more experienced I get the more I realize that reality itself is fundamentally inconsistent, full of contradictions and irrational behavior. That the Bible, in a way, reflects that is downright reassuring.

Reality isn’t coherent. Neither is our experience of it. Only fiction and the most dedicated of partisans have the luxury of constructing worlds of rationality and coherency without blatant contradictions.

For example, a few years ago, I started reading Game of Thrones and was immediately immersed into George R.R. Martin’s fantastical and grim world. After the third book, however, several of the characters did things that I thought were so fundamentally out of character that it made the entire series completely unbelievable. But that’s fiction, of course. In real life, humans are constantly making out-of-character decisions, surprising their loved ones and at times themselves with their actions and decisions. Truth isn’t just stranger than fiction; it’s also more complicated, more contradictory, and more inconsistent than fiction.

Partisans might be worse, because they take the muddy, complicated reality of our world, and carefully divide it into two camps — right and wrong, ours and theirs — and work tirelessly to fit stories, issues, events, and people into pre-existing frameworks in such a way as to boost their own side and decry the other. They create fiction out of nonfiction, flattening our existence into a single story to shore up power and ego.

In general, popular fiction and partisans would have us believe that life can be relatively linear or consistent. But we are a jumble of rational and irrational behavior. We are a confusing mix of inconsistencies and steadfastness. At our worst, we are so full of certainty that we only have room for our own perspectives. At our best, we are so full of errors and inconsistencies that we finally make room for compassion and love — for ourselves and others.

I can’t find space for faith in biblical proof texts, but I can in biblical contradictions.

I can find faith in the inconsistent portrait humans paint of God in Scripture.

That God is absent and God is present.

That God has rescued us and God has abandoned us.

That we have betrayed God and God has betrayed us.

That grace is given freely, but work is required.

That God is generous and forgiving, and God is vindictive and petty.

That God acts like a devil, and the devil tells the truth.

That Jesus speaks in anger, with harsh insults and that Jesus teaches that if we speak in anger we are in danger of God’s judgement.

Paradox, inconsistency, and contradiction are a better signal of a life of faith than being without error, uniformity, and black-and-white thinking. In paradox, in inconsistency, in contradiction there is room for growth and for transformation.

In other words, I don’t want a Bible without errors and historical inaccuracies, without contradictions and inconsistencies. Thank God for them! They are good news. They are the very things that make Scripture meaningful and compelling.

So, give me a Bible with inaccuracies, and I’ll show you Holy Scripture that inspires new life rather than dictates legislation to live by.

Give me a Bible with inconsistencies, and I’ll show you Holy Scripture that isn’t a dead document but a living and breathing story with room enough for you, me, and even God.

Give me a Bible with errors, and I’ll show you Holy Scripture that is actually believable.


This post is brought to you by my generous patrons, including Denise Williams, Ryan Parker, John Henson, Chris Wickersham, Greg Strong, Kenny Pierce, and many more.

Image Credit: Andreas Levers/Flickr Creative Commons

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David Henson Written by:

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He is priest in the Episcopal Church, canonically resident in the Diocese of Northern California. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical resident. He lives in North Carolina and is behind on the laundry. He once chased his stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee at dangerous speeds down an Interstate in California. He didn’t catch it.

One Comment

  1. Gerard
    October 2, 2017

    Yes it definitely is good news. It does not explain how can one still believe when they are presented with so many inconsistencies.

    With so many inconsistencies, you are wrong, it can never be believable.

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