Inerrancy Part 1: If God Wrote the Bible, Why Are There so Many Discrepancies?

October 22, 2012

by Vern Poythress

If God wrote the Bible for our benefit, why are there so many discrepancies within it?

Some apparent discrepancies can be resolved, and the resolution gives us added riches. The four Gospels present us with different emphases in the way that they present the life of Christ.

  • Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the king of the Jews.
  • Luke emphasizes Jesus’s compassion on outcasts.
  • John emphasizes the fellowship between the Father and the Son, and the Son as the one who reveals the Father.

The differences in emphasis can look like discrepancies if we come to the Bible with bad assumptions. But we are richer in our understanding of Christ when we use all four Gospels and understand that Christ is all of the things that all four Gospels portray.

We are richer in our understanding of Christ when we use all four Gospels and understand that Christ is all of the things that all four Gospels portray.

But some things are more difficult. We have no guarantee from God that we as human beings will always have enough information to be able to “solve” everything to our satisfaction. Apparent discrepancies can challenge us partly because we don’t know why they are there. God is God, and he does not always show us why he does what he does. When he does not “explain himself,” it can be disturbing and frustrating to us. But such times can be opportunities as well—opportunities to remind ourselves that God does not exist for our benefit. He is under no obligation to tell us everything that we want to know. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

Right here we can already see one practical purpose for difficulties and challenges in the Bible. They can encourage our humility and sobriety. If we are seeking genuinely to serve God, God can use them to suppress our desire to complain and to think that we know better than he does how to run the world. The challenge is closely related to trust. Do we trust God on the basis of who he is, on the basis of what he has done through Christ, and on the basis of his promises, even when we cannot see why–even when, temporarily, he does not seem to be trustworthy or to be on our side? First Peter 1:6-7 talks about “trials,” in which faith is “tested by fire.” Intellectual challenges in the form of apparent discrepancies are really part of the broader biblical picture about trials. We modern people do not want to hear that–we want comfort, not trials. The Bible promises God’s comfort in the midst of trials (2 Cor. 1:4-6). Once we realize that God’s ways have this depth, we can see better what a walk by faith really means.

God calls on us to trust him elsewhere even when we cannot “check out” everything to our own satisfaction.

The Psalms show cases where saints wrestled over the apparent discrepancy between God’s goodness and the fact that he was not acting to deliver the righteous and punish the wicked (Pss. 10; 73; 89). They wrestled with a difficulty that had intellectual as well as spiritual and emotional dimensions. God called on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Did that make sense? These wrestlings are ultimately linked to the sacrifice of Christ. Did Christ’s death “make sense”? Where was God when the only perfectly righteous man was dying an unjust death? In this one case the Bible does give us an answer, involving God’s eternal plan for Christ to be our sin-bearer. God calls on us to trust him elsewhere even when we cannot “check out” everything to our own satisfaction. Whether or not we succeed in solving a difficulty within this life, the difficulties should lead us to seek God and his wisdom.

Originally published on Crossway.

Vern Poythress

Dr. Poythress (PhD, Harvard; DTh, Stellenbosch) is professor of New Testament interpretation at WTS.

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