FROM THE BOOK "ALLEGED DISCREPANCIES OF THE BIBLE" by John Haley
Design of the Discrepancies
Why were the discrepancies permitted to exist? What good end do they contemplate?
1. To Stimulate the Intellect
They were doubtless intended as a stimulus to the human intellect, as provocative of mental effort. They serve to awaken curiosity and to appeal to the love of novelty.
The Bible is a wonderful book. No other has been studied so much, or called forth a tithe of the criticism which this has elicited. "No book, not nature itself, has ever waked up intellectual activity like the Bible. On the battlefield of truth, it has ever been round this that the conflict has raged. What book besides ever caused the writing of so many other books? Take from the libraries of Christendom all those which have sprung, I will not say indirectly, but directly from it—those written to oppose, or defend, or elucidate it—-and how would they be diminished! The very multitude of infidel books is a witness to the power with which the Bible stimulates the intellect. Why do we not see the amount of active intellect coming up, and dashing and roaring around the Koran?"1
The discrepancies of the sacred volume have played no insignificant part 'In this incitement of mental action.' Though but a subordinate characteristic, they have prompted men to "search the scriptures," and to ask: How are these difficulties to be resolved? Things which are "hard to be understood," present special attractions to the inquiring mind. Professor Park 2 observes, in an admirable essay on the choice of texts, "Sometimes a deeper interest is awakened by examining two or more passages which appear to contradict each other than by examining two or more which resemble each other. Men are eager to learn the meaning and force of a text, one part of which is John 15:15: 'All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you,' and the other part is John 16:12: 'I have yet many things to say unto you; but ye cannot bear them now.' Why did our Lord utter the second part of this text after the first part, yet in the same hour with it? The Bible rouses the mind from its torpid state by declaring that man dieth and is not, and yet lives forever; that man is a worm of the dust, and jet is made little lower than the angels; that he must love, and yet hate his father, mother, brother, sister; that every man must bear his own burden, and yet each one bear the burdens of his brethren; that man's body will be raised from the grave, and yet not the same body; that Christ was ignorant of some things, and yet knew all things; that he could not bear his own cross, and yet upholdeth all things by the word of his power. When two classes of passages stand in apparently hostile array against each other at the opening of a sermon, the somnolent hearer is kept awake in order to see how the conflict will end. He may be raised by the discourse from his natural love of learning the truth to a gracious love of the truth which is learned."
Whately 3 says: "The seeming contradictions in scripture are too numerous not to be the result of design; and doubtless were designed, not as mere difficulties to try our faith and patience, but as furnishing the most suitable mode of instruction that could have been devised, by mutually explaining and modifying or limiting or extending one another's meaning."
Elsewhere, urging the same thought, he observes: "Instructions thus conveyed are evidently more striking and more likely to arouse the attention; and also, from the very circumstance that they call for careful reflection, more likely to make a lasting impression."
1 President Hopkins, Evidences of Christianity, p. 144.
2 Bib. Sacra, Oct. 1873. pp. 717-718.
3 On Difficulties in Writings of St. Paul, Essay vii. Sec. 4.
Again, illustrating, as beautifully as suggestively, by the case of the mariner who steers midway between certain landmarks, he adds: "Even thus, it will often happen that two apparently opposite passages of scripture may together enable us to direct our faith or our practice aright; one shall be calculated to guard us against certain errors on one side, and the other, on the other side; neither, taken alone, shall convey the exact and entire truth; but both taken in conjunction may enable us sufficiently to ascertain it." He also ingeniously compares the colliding texts to several mechanical forces or impulses, acting upon a body to be set in motion; their resultant impelling it in the direction required, though no one of the impulses, taken singly, is acting precisely in that direction.
The rabbis have a saying that "the book of Chronicles was given for argument," that is, to incite men to investigation and discussion. 4 The history of sacred criticism demonstrates that the book has answered this purpose remarkably well; its discrepancies being salient points which attract attention.
Not only do these "hard" things induce men to investigate the sacred volume; but meanwhile resolving themselves before the steady and patient eye of the student, they unfold deep and rich meanings which amply reward his toil. This process is exemplified in the case of the scholar quoted above. He observes: "I well remember when it seemed to me that there was a direct contradiction between Paul and James on the subject of faith and works. I can now see that they not only do not contradict each other, but harmonize perfectly." 5
Says Professor Stuart: 6 "In the early part of my biblical studies, some thirty to thirty-five years ago, when I first began the critical investigation of the scriptures, doubts and difficulties started up on every side, like the armed men whom Cadmus is fabled to have raised up. Time, patience, continued study, a better acquaintance with the original scriptural languages and, the countries where the sacred books were written, have scattered to the winds nearly all these doubts."
In this manner, the difficulties of scripture often keenly stimulate and richly reward intellectual effort.
(IT WAS WRITTEN BY PETER THAT SOME THINGS OF PAUL ARE HARD TO UNDERSTAND, WHICH THEY THAT ARE NOT LEARNED TWIST TO THEIR OWN DESTRUCTION. YOU FIRST READ THE EASY VERSES ON A TOPIC OF THE BIBLE, AND THEN ENGAGE THE BRAIN TO SOLVE THE HARDER VERSES OF THE SAME TOPIC, TO HARMONIZE THEM; GOD HAS INDEED WRITTEN THE BIBLE THIS WAY, SO THOSE WHO DO NOT SEARCH AND LOVE THE TRUTH, WANT THE TRUTH, WILL FALL, STUMBLE, AND BE BLINDED. THE LORD IS CALLING ONLY A RELATIVELY FEW TODAY, THOSE WHO PROVE ALL THINGS, THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE AND WANT THE TRUTH - Keith Hunt)
2. Illustrate Analogy of Bible and Nature
They were meant to be illustrative of the analogy between the Bible and nature, and so to evince their common origin. The "self-contradictions" of the Bible
4 Rashi, referring to 1 Chronicles 8:38, "And Azel had six sons," quaintly and pithily observes: "What the wise men have said about these 'six sons,'would load thirteen thousand camels."
5 Evidences of Christianity, p. 354.
6 History of Old Testament Canon, p. 18. Revised ed. p. 16.
are produced on a grander scale in nature. Wherever we turn our eyes, the material universe affords unmistakable traces of infinite wisdom, power, and benevolence. The starry heavens, the earth robed in vernal green, the bright, glad sunshine, the balmy breezes, the refreshing dews and showers, the sweet song birds, the flowers of brilliant hues and delicious odors, the wonderful and countless forms of vegetation, the infinite varieties of insect and animal life, the nice adaptations and benevolent contrivances for their welfare everywhere visible in nature—all these proclaim the attributes and speak forth the praise of the Creator.
But, looking into the same arena from another point of view, we see a very different spectacle. Want and woe, sorrow and suffering, appear dominant in the world. Frost and fire, famine and pestilence, earthquake, volcano, and hurricane, war and intemperance, a thousand diseases and ten thousand accidents, are doing their deadly work upon our fellow creatures. All this fearful devastation is going on in a world created and governed by infinite wisdom, power, and love. Milton's terrible picture 7 too often finds its counterpart. Nowhere in the Bible do we behold such a gigantic inconsistency, such an irrepressible conflict, as in the scene before us. Let a man solve the grand problem of the ages; let him tell us why an infinitely wise, powerful, and benevolent Creator allowed evil to enter at all his universe—let him explain this contradiction, and we may safely engage to explain those which occur in the Bible. For none of them—not all together—are so dark, unfathomable, and appalling as this one grand, ultimate Discrepancy. . . Says Origen: "He who believes the scripture to have proceeded from him who is the Author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it as are found in the constitution of nature." Bishop Butler 8 pertinently adds,
7 "Immediately a place
Before his eyes appeared, sad, noisome, dark,
A lazar-house it seemed, wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseased, all maladies
Of ghastly spasm or racking torture, qualms
Of heart-sick agony, all feverous kinds,
Convulsions, epilepsies, fierce catarrhs,
Intestine stone and ulcer, colic pangs,
Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy,
And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy,
Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence,
Dropsies and asthmas, and joint-racking rheums.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans;
Despair tended the sick, busiest, from couch to couch;
And over them triumphant Death his dart
Shook, but delayed to strike, though oft invoked
With vows, as their chief good and final hope.
Sight so deform, what heart of rock could long
Dry-eyed behold?"—Par. Lost, B. xi, line 477-495.
8 Introduction to Analogy, p. 70 (Malcom's edition).
that "he who denies the scripture to have been from God, on account of these difficulties, may, for the very same reason, deny the world to have been formed by him."
In nature, then, we perceive mighty discords, tremendous antagonisms, which in appearance seriously involve and militate against the character and attributes of God. Nevertheless, nature is confessedly his work. Now, we find the Bible claiming the same supernatural origin, and exhibiting, among other features of resemblance, similar, though far less important, discrepancies; hence these latter afford a valid presumption in favor of its claim.
Nearly in the same line of thought, says Dr. Charles Hodge: 9 "The universe teems with evidences of design, so manifold, so diverse, so wonderful as to overwhelm the mind with the conviction that it has had an intelligent author. Yet here and there isolated cases of monstrosity appear. It is irrational, because we cannot account for such cases, to deny that the universe is the product of intelligence. So the Christian need not renounce his faith in the plenary inspiration of the Bible, although there may be some things about it, in its present state, which he cannot account for."
If we may credit the philosophers, even the higher walks of science are not free from "stumbling-blocks." Kant, Hamilton, and Mansel teach that our reason, that the necessary laws of thought which govern our mental operations, lead to absolute contradictions.10 Mansel11 observes, "The conception of the Absolute and Infinite, from whatever side we view it, appears encompassed with contradictions. There is a contradiction in supposing such an object to exist, whether alone or in conjunction with others; and there is a contradiction in supposing it not to exist. There is a contradiction in conceiving it as one; and there is a contradiction in conceiving it as many. There is a contradiction in conceiving it as personal; and there is a contradiction in conceiving it as impersonal. It cannot without contradiction be represented as active; nor without equal contradiction be represented as inactive. It cannot be conceived as the sum of all existence; nor yet can it be conceived as a part only of that sum."
Again he says, "It is our duty, then, to think of God as personal; and it is our duty to believe that he is infinite. It is true that we cannot reconcile these two representations with each other; as our conception of personality involves attributes apparently contradictory to the notion of infinity."
9 Theology, i. 170.
10 Dr. Hodge, Theology, i. 362.
11 Limits of Religious Thought, pp. 84-85, and 106 (American edition).
It would seem that our prospect of escaping contradictions by casting the Bible aside and betaking ourselves to philosophy, is quite unpromising. Notwithstanding the "discrepancies," the wisest course may be to retain the Bible for the present, and await further developments.
3. Disprove Collusion of Sacred Writers
The disagreements of scripture were beyond question designed as a strong incidental proof that there was no collusion among the sacred writers. Their differences go far to establish in this way the credibility of these authors.
The inspired narratives exhibit "substantial agreement with circumstantial variation." This is precisely what a court of justice requires in respect of the testimony of witnesses. Should their evidence agree precisely in every word and syllable, this fact would be held by the court proof of conspiracy. The well-known "Howland Will Case,"12 in New Bedford, some years since, affords an illustration of the principle. In this famous case some one or two millions of dollars was at stake, and over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars were expended for costs and counsel fees in two years. Upon the case were brought to bear the resources of many of the ablest counsel in New England, and the skill of the most ingenious scientific experts of the United States. The main issue of fact raised was whether the signature to the second page was written by Miss How-land, or whether it was a forgery. The minute and exact resemblance of the first and second signatures, in all points, was the grand stumbling-block in the case. In a word, the signatures agreed too well.
Now, had the biblical writers agreed in all particulars, even the minutest, had there been no discrepancies in their testimony, the cry of "Collusion, Collusion!" would have passed along the whole infidel line, from Celsus and Porphyry down to Colenso and Renan. We maintain, therefore, that the very discrepancies, lying as they do upon the surface, without reaching the subject matter, the kernel of scripture-—and being, moreover, capable of adjustment—are so many proofs of its authenticity and credibility.
As to the "various readings,"13 in the manuscripts of the New Testament, Wordsworth 14 says, "These discrepancies being such as they are found to be, are of inestimable value. They show that there has been no collusion among our witnesses,
12 See American Law Review, July, 1870, pp. 625-663.
13 This term denotes differences in the spelling, choice, and arrangement of words in the Greek text.
14 Preface to Greek Four Gospels, p. xxii.
and that our manuscript copies of the Gospels, about five hundred in number, and brought to us from all parts of the world, have not been mutilated or interpolated with any sinister design; that they have not been tampered with by any religious sect, for the sake of propagating any private opinion as the word of God. These discrepancies are, in fact, evidences of the purity and integrity of the sacred text. They show that the scriptures which we now hold in our hands in the nineteenth century, are identical with those which were received by the church in the first century as written by the Holy Ghost." That the "various readings" are thus proofs of the substantial identity of our New Testament with the inspired original is clear. The Greek Testament has come down to us, to all intents and purposes, unimpaired. Each of the five hundred manuscripts, with its slight variations in the orthography, selection, and collocation of words, is an independent witness to this fact.
The disagreements of the sacred writers effectually bar the charge of "conspiracy" on their part.
(WE HAVE ABOUT 5,000 MANUSCRIPTS OF VARIOUS LENGTHS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; SOME HERE AND THERE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT IN WORDING; YET NOT SUFFICIENT TO ALTER ANY TRUTH OF THE LORD. J.P. GREEN PhD WROTE HIS GREEK/ENGLISH INTERLINEAR OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ON WHAT IS CALLED "THE MAJORITY TEXT" [BASED ON THE MAJORITY MSS IN ANY GIVEN PHRASE OR SENTENCE] AND VARIES ONLY VERY SLIGHTLY FROM THE SO-CALLED "RECEIVED TEXT" THAT THE KJV TRANSLATORS USED TO BRING US THE KJV TRANSLATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT - Keith Hunt)
4. Lead to Value the Spirit above the Letter of the Bible
Another object of the discrepancies was, it may be presumed, to lead us to value the spirit beyond the letter of the scriptures, to prize the essentials of Christianity rather than its form and accidents. Many things point in the same direction. For example, we have no portrait of Jesus, no authentic description of his person. No wood of the "true cross" remains to our day. It is not difficult to divine the reason why no relics of this kind are left to us. Suppose the original text of the holy volume had been miraculously transmitted, in the very handwriting of the authors, and perfect in every letter and figure. The world would have gone mad over it. Idolatry the most stupendous would have accumulated around it. Crusades, more bloody and disastrous than those for the recovery of the holy sepulchre, would have been conducted for its possession. It would have ensanguined and darkened the whole history of the Christian religion. Men would have worshipped the letter in flagrant opposition to the spirit of the sacred book. Doubtless, with a view to counteract this tendency to idolatry and formalism, the scriptures are given to us in their present condition. Our attention is thereby diverted from the external and formal features to the internal and essential elements of scripture. The numerous manuscripts with their trivial differences, the so-called "imperfections" of our present text, together with the "self-contradictions" of the sacred books-—-all afford a fresh application and illustration of the inspired saying, "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
(IT WAS DESIGNED BY GOD TO SO BE; TO STIMULATE THE MIND TO SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES AS JESUS SAID WE SHOULD DO; TO SEEK ALL THAT IS WRITTEN ON ANY SUBJECT IN THE BIBLE, TO ASCERTAIN THE WHOLE TRUTH OF THE MATTER - Keith Hunt)
5. Serve as a Test of Moral Character
The biblical discrepancies were plainly appointed as a test of moral character; and, probably, to serve an important judicial purpose. They may be regarded as constituting no insignificant element of the means and conditions of man's probation.
There is a peculiar and striking analogy and harmony between the external form and the interior doctrines of the Bible. Both alike present difficulties-—sometimes formidable—to the inquirer. Both alike put his sincerity and firmness to full proof. Hence, as Grotius 15 has fitly said, the Gospel becomes a touchstone to test the honesty of mens dispositions.
Our Savior's teachings were often clothed in forms which to the indifferent or prejudiced hearer must have seemed obscure, if not offensive. To the cavilling and sceptical Jews he spoke many things in parables, that seeing they might see and not perceive, and hearing they might hear and not understand.16 When he said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,"17 he intentionally used such phraseology as would be repugnant to insincere and squeamish hearers. He thus tested and disclosed men's characters and motives, and sifted out the chaff among his hearers. "From that time, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."18 The seeming harshness and obscurity of his sayings served to rid him of those followers who were not of teachable spirit, and thoroughly in earnest, and who would not look beneath the surface. The indolent and superficial, the proud and fastidious, were discouraged and repelled by the rough husk in which the doctrinal kernel was encased.
In an analogous manner, the apparent contradictions of the Bible afford "opportunity to an unfair mind for explaining away and deceitfully hiding from itself that evidence which it might see."19 Our treatment of the external no less than that of the internal difficulties of scripture bears an intimate relation to our moral character.
Those who are disposed to cavil do, in the wise arrangement of God, find opportunities for caviling. The disposition does not miss the occasion.
15 De Veritate Religionis Christianae, lib. ii, §19.
16 Mark 4:12.
17 John 6:53.
18 John 6:66.
19 Butler's Analogy, Part ii. chap, vi.
In the words of Isaac Taylor: 20 "The very conditions of a Revelation that has been consigned to various records in the course of thirty centuries involve a liability to the renewal of exceptive argumentation, which easily finds points of lodgment upon so large a surface. . . . The very same extent of surface from which a better reason, and a more healthful moral feeling gather an irresistible conviction of the nearness of God throughout it, furnishes to an astute and frigid critical faculty, a thousand and one instances over which to proclaim a petty triumph." Or, as Pascal 21 has beautifully expressed it, God "willing to be revealed to those who seek him with their whole heart, and hidden from those who as cordially fly from him, has so regulated the means of knowing him, as to give indications of himself, which are plain to those who seek him, and obscure to those who seek him not. There is light enough for those whose main wish is to see; and darkness enough for those of an opposite disposition."
That the difficulties of the Bible were intended, moreover, to serve a penal end seems by no means improbable. Those persons who cherish a caviling spirit, who are bent upon misapprehending the truth, and urging captious and frivolous objections, find in the inspired volume, difficulties and disagreements which would seem to have been designed as stumbling-stones for those which "stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." 22 Upon the willful votaries of error God sends "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie," 23 that they might work out their own condemnation and ruin.
"If we disparage scripture, and treat it as any other book, then Almighty God, who is the author of scripture, will punish us by our own devices. He will 'choose our delusions'; he will 'chastise us by our wickedness, and 'reprove us by our back-slidings,' and give us the reward of our own hands.' Our presumption and our irreverence will be the instruments of our punishment." 24 In the divine government of this world, sin not infrequently carries its reward in its own bosom.
When the difficulties of scripture are approached with a docile and reverent mind, they may tend to our establishment in the faith; but, when they are dealt with in a querulous and disingenuous manner, they may become judicial agencies in linking to caviling scepticism its appropriate penalty—even to the loss of the soul.
20 Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, preface.
21 Thoughts, chap, xiii Sec. 1 and 2 (Andover edition).
22 1 Peter 2:8.
23 2 Thessalonians 2:11.
24 Replies to Essays and Reviews, p. 485 (English edition).