Contradictions in the Bible
The other day I was listening to the Unbelievable podcast with Justin Brierley on UK radio. It’s a good podcast that usually has some interesting conversations but I was shocked by the March 2 show ‘New Testament Grill a Christian’. Derek Tidball was on the show and responded to various atheist callers regarding issues with the New Testament. The last caller brought up an alleged contradiction in the New Testament and I was left dumbfounded at the response.
The caller asked about the supposed contradiction in the death of Judas. Here are the relevant passages:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
*(Referring to Judas)
Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.
The original question had to do with how Judas died. It is not too hard to imagine (and a quick Google search would confirm) that taking both accounts together reveals that Judas must have hung himself and then his body fell and burst open. Impossible to say how the body fell, but a broken branch on which Judas hung himself seems like a decent hypothesis.
The conversation moved to a discussion about who actually purchased the Field of Blood. Matthew’s account seems to imply the priests did while Luke’s account seems to imply that Judas did. With the limited information we are given we are left to hypothesize how these accounts are harmonized. There are a few possibilities: It may be that Judas had pre-arranged for this acquisition and the priests completed it. Also, it could be the case that this field was legally considered to be Judas’ (it was his money after all) hence the Acts reference to his ‘acquiring’ of a field. Now potentially neither of these possibilities are correct and a differing explanation is actually true. However, the foundation of this inquiry must rest on the fact that the entire Bible is reliable, true, and without contradiction.
Unfortunately, the Bible Scholar on the radio program did not share this point of view. While his exact opinion was rather difficult to ascertain he seemed more than willing to allow for contradictions between these two accounts. Understandably this left Jack, the atheist caller, skeptical of the Bible in general. The Christian attempted to explain that these sorts of contradictions are acceptable because the really important story (i.e. Jesus’ death and resurrection) is consistent between accounts. Jack didn’t buy it and neither do I. The Christian went on to explain that the philosophy of recording history was very different 2000 years ago than it is today. While this may be true, I find it impossible to believe that people in Jesus’ time fully accepted blatant contradictions in historical records.
If the Bible does indeed include falsehoods and contradictions then there is no sense in which we can claim that these Words are the Words of God – a God who does not lie. The importance of the resurrection is based upon who Jesus was and what He was doing. We can only know these things through the testimony of God’s infallible and inerrant Word in the Bible.
Discarding the inerrancy of the Bible is ultimately self-destructive. First off, contradictions can only be made sensible in the Christian worldview with it’s universal standard for reasoning (this is a big topic – see upcoming posts for more details!). Secondly, this mindset is directly against 1 Peter 3:15 which first states to sanctify Christ as Lord before admonishing preparedness for defending the faith. When Christ is Lord of our reasoning we will regard the Bible as the ultimate standard and will not abandon it when we vainly suspect it may be incorrect.
We may not know the answer to every alleged contradiction, however, our personal shortcomings in no way discredit the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. As Christians we simply cannot treat the Bible as less than it actually is – God’s true Word.
**If you are wondering about any specific alleged contradiction please comment below or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we would be more than happy to do what we can to interact with the question**