One of the common criticisms of the Bible is that it contradicts itself. It says one thing in one part and it says the opposite somewhere else. This assertion seems to make a lot of Christians nervous, often to the point of vehemently denying that there is any contradiction. This assertion, however, makes them vulnerable to certain examples of apparent contradiction such as the fact that in Exodus and Deuteronomy, God tells Israel that the justices system is to be based on the concept of “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth; hurt for hurt,” while Jesus tells the people that justice in the Kingdom of God is based on the concept of “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, offer that person your other cheek as well.” To put it another way, in one part of the Bible, justice is based on retaliation–it’s a retributive justice–but in another part of the Bible, justice is based on not retaliating–a non-retributive justice.
Incidently, the concept of “an eye for an eye” was not a requirement, but a limit. The purpose of the statement was not that if someone pokes out your eye, deliberately or not, then you HAVE TO poke out his eye in return. The statement’s purpose was to say that if somebody deliberately pokes out your eye, then you have the right to avenge your mistreatment, but ONLY UP TO what they’ve done to you. You could merely punch them in the nose if that satisfies justice for you, or you could go all the way up to the point of poking out his eye in return, but no more. You can’t chop of his head if he poked out your eye. In a world where blood feuds were common, meaning that one family would go to war with another family because of a series of escalating insults and violent actions. The concept of “an eye for an eye” stopped the escalation of violence. The concept was simply “if you must retaliate, then you can only go this far and no further.”
But I digress–the point is that the word from on high said that you have the right to retaliate, but only to the same degree that you’ve been injured or mistreated. Justice is a relationship, and when someone abuses or mistreats someone else, he throws the relationship out of balance. The remedy is to balance the relationship–hence “an eye for an eye.” It’s a balance thing. But then Jesus came along and said that you don’t have the right to retaliate at all. Only God has the right to retaliate, so if you feel the need to retaliate, then you have no faith in God. Like it or not, that’s a contradiction.
So how do Christians deal with such contradictions when confronted with them? Here’s how I deal with it. Christians aren’t just citizens of whatever country in which they reside, they are first and foremost citizens in the Kingdom of God. So Christians have duel citizenship. I as an American Christian live under the Constitution of the United States–I’ve even taken an oath “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The Kingdom of God also has a constitution. It’s called the Bible.
If I were to pick up a copy of the Constitution of the United States, I would almost immediately discover some contradictions. For instance, Article I, Section III states:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; (and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.
Yet, if I keep reading, I discover that the Constitution says:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
Article I, Section III says that senators of a state are chosen by that state’s legislature; if there is a vacancy in the Senate, the legislative body of that state chooses a new senator. But later, the Constitution says that senators are chosen by direct elections of the people of a state and any vacancies are filled by the governor of that state until there is another election. Like it or not, that is a contradiction.
The contradiction in the Constitution of the United States is a result of the fact that Article I, Section III has been amended. An amendment is a change. The 17th Amendment changed Article I, Section III so that it doesn’t apply any more. But we don’t scratch out Article I, Section III. We leave it there, as we do with all the changes to the Constitution. We list the changes at the back of the document. You can’t get away with saying Article I, Section III is the law of the land just because it is still written into the body of the Constitution–just like you can’t make slavery the law of the land just because it is sanctioned in the body of the document. The document has been changed and it is the changes that are the law of the land.
Okay, what does this have to do with the Bible? The Bible doesn’t contradict itself because the Bible is the Constitution of the Kingdom of God and Jesus is the Amendment Process. “An eye for an eye” is not the law of the Kingdom, even though you can find it in the Bible, because Jesus changed that law with “turn the other cheek.” If Jesus said something that contradicts what is in the Old Testament, then it is what Jesus has said that is the law, not what was previously written.
Christians believe that Jesus is the clearest revelation of who God is. That simply means that the best picture we have of God is Jesus. How Jesus behaves what Jesus says is the clearest thing we have to how God behaves and what God says. The laws in the rest of the Bible still apply unless Jesus amended those laws.
Now someone is going to get mad and say that I’m dissing the Old Testament or saying that the whole Bible isn’t the Word of God. That is SO WHAT I’M NOT SAYING! I’m saying that the whole Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, written by human beings through their experiences, languages, and worldviews, but those people did not have the clearest picture of who God is. Their picture of God was incomplete until Jesus came along and showed them in the clearest terms possible who God really is. Jesus amended the way people think about God by being the clearest picture we have of God. As that clear picture of who God is, Jesus also amend the rules we live by.
So when you’re reading the Bible and you come across one of those passages that seems to contradict another part of the Bible, simply ask yourself “What did Jesus say about this?” If Jesus spoke on the subject, then that’s the new standard. If Jesus didn’t say anything about it, then ask yourself, “What do the people who knew Jesus (i.e. the other New Testament writers) have to say about it?” If they comment on the subject, then that is the new standard. If Jesus is silent on the matter, and if the New Testament authors are silent on the matter, then the topic or rule has not been amended and still applies. But then again, if Jesus or the New Testament writer don’t say anything about the topic, then there should be no contradiction.
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