Difficulties and Alleged Errors and Contradictions in the Bible - R. A. Torrey - ebook
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This book does not attempt to take up in detail every conceivable difficulty that could be found in the Bible. It would take many volumes to do that. I have simply taken up those objections of which the modern infidel makes the most, and which are most puzzling to many Christians. In going around the world, I have given people an opportunity to ask questions concerning matters that puzzle them. Pretty much everywhere I go, the questions are largely the same; and in this book I have taken up the questions which have been most frequently put to me, or which present apparently the greatest difficulties. In regard to the questions which I have not touched upon, one can easily see that if so many difficulties are answered which they had supposed were unanswerable, the overwhelming probability is that all the other difficulties could be answered also if there were time and space to take them up.

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DIFFICULTIES

AND

ALLEGED ERRORS

AND

CONTRADICTIONS

IN THE

BIBLE

By

R. A. TORREY

Fleming H. Revell

1907

Hope. Inspiration. Trust.

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Introduction

This book does not attempt to take up in detail every conceivable difficulty that could be found in the Bible. It would take many volumes to do that. I have simply taken up those objections of which the modern infidel makes the most, and which are most puzzling to many Christians. In going around the world, I have given people an opportunity to ask questions concerning matters that puzzle them. Pretty much everywhere I go, the questions are largely the same; and in this book I have taken up the questions which have been most frequently put to me, or which present apparently the greatest difficulties.

In regard to the questions which I have not touched upon, one can easily see that if so many difficulties are answered which they had supposed were unanswerable, the overwhelming probability is that all the other difficulties could be answered also if there were time and space to take them up.

1

A General Statement of the Case

Every careful student and every thoughtful reader of the Bible finds that the words of the Apostle Peter concerning the Scriptures, that there are some things in them hard to be understood, “which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest … unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16), are abundantly true. Who of us has not found things in the Bible that have puzzled us, yes, that in our early Christian experience have led us to question whether the Bible was, after all, the Word of God? We find some things in the Bible which it seems impossible to reconcile with other things in the Bible. We find some things which seem incompatible with the thought that the whole Bible is of divine origin and absolutely inerrant.

It is not wise to attempt to conceal the fact that these difficulties exist. It is the part of wisdom, as well as of honesty, to frankly face them and consider them.

What shall we say concerning these difficulties that every thoughtful student will sooner or later encounter?

The first thing we have to say about these difficulties in the Bible is that from the very nature of the case difficulties are to be expected.

Some people are surprised and staggered because there are difficulties in the Bible. For my part, I would be more surprised and staggered if there were not. What is the Bible? It is a revelation of the mind and will and character and being of an infinitely great, perfectly wise and absolutely holy God. God Himself is the Author of this revelation. But to whom is the revelation made? To men, to finite beings who are imperfect in intellectual development and consequently in knowledge, and who are also imperfect in character and consequently in spiritual discernment. The wisest man measured on the scale of eternity is only a babe, and the holiest man compared with God is only an infant in moral development. There must, then, from the very necessities of the case, be difficulties in such a revelation from such a source made to such persons. When the finite try to understand the infinite, there is bound to be difficulty. When the ignorant contemplate the utterances of one perfect in knowledge, there must be many things hard to be understood, and some things which to their immature and inaccurate minds appear absurd. When beings whose moral judgments as to the hatefulness of sin and as to the awfulness of the penalty that it demands, listen to the demands of an absolutely holy Being, they are bound to be staggered at some of His demands; and when they consider His dealings, they are bound to be staggered at some of His dealings. These dealings will appear too severe, too stern, too harsh.

It is plain that there must be difficulties for us in such a revelation as the Bible has proved to be. If someone should hand me a book that was as simple to me as the multiplication table, and say, “This is the Word of God; in it He has revealed His whole will and wisdom,” I should shake my head and say, “I cannot believe it; that is too easy to be a perfect revelation of infinite wisdom.” There must be in any complete revelation of God’s mind and will and character and being, things hard for the beginner to understand; and the wisest and best of us are but beginners.

The second thing to be said about these difficulties is that a difficulty in a doctrine, or a grave objection to a doctrine, does not in any way prove the doctrine to be untrue.

Many people think that it does. If they come across some difficulty in the way of believing in the divine origin and absolute inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, they at once conclude that the doctrine is exploded. That is very illogical. They should stop a moment and think, and learn to be reasonable and fair.

There is scarcely a doctrine in science generally believed today, that has not had some great difficulty in the way of its acceptance.

When the Copernican theory, now so universally accepted, was first proclaimed, it encountered a very grave difficulty. If this theory were true, the planet Venus should have phases as the moon has, but no phases could be discovered by the best glass then in existence. But the positive argument for the theory was so strong that it was accepted in spite of this apparently unanswerable objection. When a more powerful glass was made, it was found that Venus had phases after all. The whole difficulty arose, as most all of those in the Bible arise, from man’s ignorance of some of the facts in the case.

The nebular hypothesis is commonly accepted in the scientific world today. But when this theory was first announced, and for a long time afterward, the movements of the planet Uranus could not be reconciled with the theory. Uranus seemed to move in just the opposite direction from that in which it was thought it ought to move in accordance with the demands of the theory. But the positive arguments for the theory were so strong that it was accepted in spite of the inexplicable movements of Uranus.

If we apply to Bible study the commonsense logic recognized in every department of science (with the exception of Biblical criticism, if that be a science), then we must demand that if the positive proof of a theory is conclusive, it must be believed by rational men in spite of any number of difficulties in minor details. He is a shallow thinker who gives up a well-attested truth because there are some apparent facts which he cannot reconcile with that truth. And he is a very shallow Bible scholar who gives up his belief in the divine origin and inerrancy of the Bible because there are some supposed facts that he cannot reconcile with that doctrine. There are in the theological world today many shallow thinkers of that kind.

The third thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that there are many more, and much greater, difficulties in the way of the doctrine that holds the Bible to be of human origin, and hence fallible, than there are in the way of the doctrine that holds the Bible to be of divine origin, and hence infallible.

Oftentimes a man will put forth some difficulty and say, “How do you explain that, if the Bible is the Word of God?” You may not be able to answer him satisfactorily. Then he thinks he has you cornered. Not at all. Turn on him, and ask him, “How do you account for the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible if it is of human origin? How do you account for the marvelous unity of the Book? How do you account for its inexhaustible depth? How do you account for its unique power in lifting men up to God?” For every insignificant objection he can bring to your view of the Bible, you can bring very many more deeply significant objections to his view of the Bible. And any really candid man who desires to know and obey the truth will have no difficulty in deciding between the two views.

Some time ago a young man, who was of a bright mind and unusually well read in skeptical and critical and agnostic literature, told me he had given the matter a great deal of candid and careful thought, and as a result he could not believe the Bible was of divine origin.

I asked him, “Why not?”

He pointed to a certain teaching of the Bible that he could not and would not believe to be true.

I replied, “Suppose for a moment that I could not answer that specific difficulty; that would not prove that the Bible is not of divine origin. I can bring you many things far more difficult to account for on the hypothesis that the Bible is not of divine origin than on the hypothesis that the Bible is of divine origin. You cannot deny the fact of fulfilled prophecy. How do you account for it if the Bible is not God’s Word? You cannot shut eyes to the marvelous unity of the sixty-six books of the Bible, written under such divergent circumstances and at periods of time so remote from one another. How do you account for it if God is not the real Author of the Book back of the forty or more human authors? You cannot deny that the Bible has a power—to save men from sin, to bring men peace and hope and joy, to lift men up to God—that all other books taken together do not possess. How do you account for it if the Bible is not the Word of God in a sense that no other book is the Word of God?”

The objector did not answer. The difficulties that confront one who denies that the Bible is of divine origin and authority are far more numerous and vastly more weighty than those which confront the one who believes it to be of divine origin and authority.

The fourth thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is: the fact that you cannot solve a difficulty does not prove it cannot be solved, and the fact that you cannot answer an objection does not prove at all that it cannot be answered.

It is remarkable how often we overlook this very evident fact. There are many who, when they meet a difficulty in the Bible and give it a little thought and can see no possible solution, at once jump at the conclusion that a solution is impossible, and so they give up their faith in the inerrancy of the Bible and in its divine origin. Any man should have a sufficient amount of modesty, being so limited in knowledge, to say, “Though I see no possible solution to this difficulty, someone a little wiser than I might easily find one.”

If we would only bear in mind that we do not know everything, and there are a great many things that we cannot solve now which we could very easily solve if we only knew a little more, it would save us from all this folly. We ought never to forget that there may be a very easy solution to infinite wisdom even for that which to our finite wisdom—or ignorance—appears absolutely insoluble. What would we think of a beginner in algebra who, having tried in vain for half an hour to solve a difficult problem, declared that there was no possible solution to the problem because he could find none!

A man of unusual experience and ability one day left his work and came a long distance to see me in great perturbation of spirit because he had discovered what seemed to him a flat contradiction in the Bible. He had lain awake all night thinking about it. It had defied all his attempts at reconciliation, but when he had fully stated the case to me, in a very few moments I showed him a very simple and satisfactory solution of the difficulty. He went away with a happy heart. But why had it not occurred to him at the outset that, though it appeared absolutely impossible to him to find a solution, after all, a solution might be easily discovered by someone else? He supposed that the difficulty was an entirely new one, but it was one that had been faced and answered long before either he or I was born.

The fifth thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that the seeming defects of the Book are exceedingly insignificant when put in comparison with its many and marvelous excellencies.

It certainly reveals great perversity of both mind and heart that men spend so much time expatiating on such insignificant points which they consider defects in the Bible, and pass absolutely unnoticed the incomparable beauties and wonders that adorn and glorify almost every page. Even in some prominent institutions of learning, where men are supposed to be taught to appreciate and understand the Bible and where they are sent to be trained to preach its truth to others, much more time is spent on minute and insignificant points that seem to point toward an entirely human origin of the Bible than is spent upon studying and understanding and admiring the unparalleled glories that make this Book stand apart from all other books in the world. What would we think of any man who in studying some great masterpiece of art concentrated his whole attention upon what looked like a flyspeck in the corner? A large proportion of the much vaunted “critical study of the Bible” is a laborious and scholarly investigation of supposed flyspecks. The man who is not willing to squander the major portion of his time in this erudite investigation of flyspecks but prefers to devote it to the study of the unrivaled beauties and majestic splendors of the Book is counted in some quarters as not being “scholarly and up to date.”

The sixth thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that they have far more weight with superficial readers than with profound students.

Take a man like Colonel Ingersoll, who was totally ignorant of the real contents and meaning of the Bible, or that class of modern preachers who read the Bible for the most part for the sole purpose of finding texts to serve as pegs to hang their own ideas upon. To such superficial readers of the Bible these difficulties seem of immense importance, but to one who has learned to meditate upon the Word of God day and night they have scarcely any weight at all. That rare man of God, George Müller, who had carefully studied the Bible from beginning to end more than one hundred times, was not disturbed by any difficulties he encountered; but to the man who is reading it through for the first or second time there are many things that perplex and stagger.

The seventh thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that they rapidly disappear upon careful and prayerful study.

How many things there are in the Bible that once puzzled and staggered us, but which have since been perfectly cleared up and no longer present any difficulty whatever! Every year of study finds these difficulties disappear more and more rapidly. At first they go by ones, and then by twos, and then by dozens, and then by scores. Is it not reasonable then to suppose that the difficulties that still remain will all disappear upon further study?

2

Classes of Difficulties

All the difficulties found in the Bible can be included under ten general headings:

1.The text from which our English Bible was translated. No one, as far as I know, holds that the English translation of the Bible is absolutely infallible and inerrant. The doctrine held by many is that the Scriptures as originally given were absolutely infallible and inerrant, and that our English translation is a substantially accurate rendering of the Scriptures as originally given. We do not possess the original manuscripts of the Bible. These original manuscripts were copied many times with great care and exactness, but naturally some errors crept into the copies that were made. We now possess so many good copies that by comparing one with another, we can tell with great precision just what the original text was. Indeed, for all practical purposes the original text is now settled. There is not one important doctrine that hangs upon any doubtful reading of the text. But when our Authorized Version was made, some of the best manuscripts were not within reach of the translators, and the science of textual criticism was not so well understood as it is today, and so the translation was made from an imperfect text. Not a few of the apparent difficulties in the Bible arise from this source.

For example, we are told in John 5:4 that “an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” This statement for many reasons seems improbable and difficult to believe, but upon investigation we find that it is all a mistake of the copyist. Some early copyist, reading John’s account, added in the margin his explanation of the healing properties of this intermittent medicinal spring. A late copyist embodied this marginal note in the body of the text, and so it came to be handed down and got into the Authorized Version. Very properly it has been omitted from the Revised Version.

The discrepancies in figures in different accounts of the same events as, for example, the differences in the ages of some of the kings as given in the text of Kings and Chronicles, doubtless arise from the same cause, errors of copyists. Such an error in the matter of figures would be very easy to make, as in the Hebrew, numbers are denoted by letters, and letters that appear very much alike have a very different value as figures. For example, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet denotes one, and with two little points above it, not larger than flyspecks, it denotes a thousand. The twenty-third or last letter of the Hebrew alphabet denotes four hundred, but the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, that looks very much like it and could be easily mistaken for it, denotes eight. A very slight error of the copyist would therefore make an utter change in figures. The remarkable thing when one contemplates the facts in the case is that so few errors of this kind have been made.

2.Inaccurate translations. For example, in Matthew 12:40 Jonah is spoken of as being in “the whale’s belly.” Many a skeptic has made merry over the thought of a whale with the peculiar construction of its mouth and throat swallowing a man, but if the skeptic had only taken the trouble to look the matter up, he would have found the word translated “whale” really means “sea monster,” without any definition as to the character of the sea monster. We will take this up more in detail in considering the story of Jonah. So the whole difficulty arose from the translator’s mistake and the skeptic’s ignorance. There are many skeptics today who are so densely ignorant of matters clearly understood by many Sunday school children that they are still harping in the name of scholarship on this supposed error in the Bible.

3.False interpretations of the Bible. What the Bible teaches is one thing, and what men interpret it to mean is oftentimes something widely different. Many difficulties that we have with the Bible arise not from what the Bible actually says, but from what men interpret it to mean.

A striking illustration of this is found in Genesis 1. If we were to take the interpretation put upon this chapter by many, it would indeed be difficult to reconcile it with much that modern science regards as established. But the difficulty is not with what Genesis 1 says, but with the interpretation put upon it. There is no contradiction whatever between what is really proven by science and what is really said in Genesis 1. This comes out clearly in chapter 4, “Is Genesis 1 Historical and Scientific?”

Another difficulty of the same character is with Jesus’ statement that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Many interpreters would have us believe that He died Friday and rose early Sunday morning, and the time between these two is far from being three days and three nights; but we shall see later that it is a matter of biblical interpretation, and the trouble is not with what the Bible actually says, but with the interpretation that men put upon the Bible. We will take this matter up at length in chapter 21, “Was Jesus Actually Three Days and Three Nights in the Heart of the Earth?”.

4. A wrong conception of the Bible.