As noted author Josh McDowell explains regarding the Bible: "It is a mistake for the critic to assume...that what has not yet been explained never will be explained. When a scientist comes upon an anomaly in nature, he does not give up further scientific exploration. Rather, he uses the unexplained as a motivation to find an explanation...
"Likewise, the Christian scholar approaches the Bible with the same presumption that what is thus far unexplained is not therefore unexplainable. He or she does not assume that discrepancies are contradictions. And when he encounters something for which he has no explanation, he simply continues to do research, believing that one will eventually be found...
"Like his scientific counterpart, the Bible student has been rewarded for his faith and research. Many difficulties for which scholars once had no answer have yielded to the relentless pursuit of answers through history, archaeology, linguistics, and other disciplines. For example, critics once proposed that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible because there was no writing in Moses' day. Now we know that writing existed a couple of thousand years or more before Moses.
"Likewise, critics once believed that the Bible was wrong in speaking of the Hittite people, since they were totally unknown to historians. Now historians know of their existence by way of a Hittite library found in Turkey. This gives us confidence to believe that biblical difficulties not yet explained do have an explanation, and we need not assume that there is a mistake in the Bible" (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1999, pp. 46-47).
Contradictions in the Gospels?
As an example of resolving supposed contradictions, let's consider how the four Gospels record the words that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, ordered to be placed above Jesus' head at His crucifixion.
Matthew 27:37 reads, "This is Jesus the king of the Jews."
Mark 15:26 says, "the king of the Jews."
Luke 23:38 reads, "This is the king of the Jews."
John 19:19 states, "Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews."
At first glance it might appear none of the authors copied the words on the sign properly. But, when we read each account, we find every one adds a bit more information to the rest. From John we find that Pilate composed the message. From Luke we have additional information as to why these words are different: The inscription was originally written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew (Luke 23:38).
So the variation of the wordings logically would have to do with the three languages used as well as the different point of view of each biographer, stressing slightly different aspects of Christ's life and ministry. Adding up the wording of the different accounts, we see that the complete message recorded by the signs was "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews."
None of the Gospel accounts contradicts the others; they complement each other to provide increased understanding. A helpful tool for studying Christ's life and ministry is A.T. Robertson's A Harmony of the Gospels, which provides all four Gospel accounts side by side in chronological order.
Other seeming contradictions in the Bible are related to times and dates. One example of this is that Israel used both a civil and a sacred calendar. The civil year began in the autumn with the month of Tishri, while the sacred year began in the spring with the month of Nisan or Abib. When two writers seem to disagree regarding the timing of a particular event, the seeming discrepancy can be clarified by ascertaining which of the two calendars they are using.
In another matter of timing, John 19:14 seems to disagree with Matthew 27:45. John described events that occurred before the crucifixion and says that they took place at about the "sixth hour." Matthew agrees with Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44 when he says darkness covered the land after the crucifixion from the sixth to the ninth hours. Is there a real discrepancy between these accounts?
No! The answer lies in the fact that the Jewish state was then under Roman control and John used the Roman reckoning of time, which began at midnight. The "sixth hour" in John's reckoning was 6:00 in the morning. However, the Jewish method of timekeeping started from that time of the morning, counting it as the first hour of the day. So the sixth hour of the day according to Jewish reckoning was noon.
The crucifixion occurred between the sixth and ninth hours of the day—Jewish time. Thus, the four Gospel accounts do not contradict; instead they complement each other.
Answers may not be readily apparent
What about other scriptural passages that contain apparent discrepancies? Some of these are the result of faulty translations; some Bible translations are simply more accurate than others in rendering particular verses. With other passages the difficulties may be more substantial.
In any case, one should not be alarmed at what appear to be errors in the Bible. There are answers and solutions to these passages that may not be readily apparent. As noted Bible scholar Gleason Archer writes:
"As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archaeology, or science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and strengthened by the discovery that almost every problem in Scripture that has ever been discovered by man, from ancient times until now, has been dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the biblical text itself—or else by objective archaeological information...
"There is a good and sufficient answer in Scripture itself to refute every charge that has ever been leveled against it. But this is only to be expected from the kind of book the Bible asserts itself to be, the inscripturation of the infallible, inerrant Word of the Living God" (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, p. 12).
The Bible is the Word of God, and we can depend upon it as the Book that illuminates the pathway to salvation. It is reliable. The apostle Paul wrote that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus said that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
This is a promise from Jesus Christ on which we can rely and in which we can place our complete confidence. So, when we read the Bible, let us be assured that we are indeed reading a book that is inspired of God and contains the full backing of the Eternal God who desires to give us the salvation the book promises us.
A little research with commentaries and other Bible helps can usually resolve Bible difficulties.