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Conflicting Scriptures?

As I've studied the Bible, I've found verses that seem to contradict each other. How can this be?

Q. I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and that the stories in the Bible are actually true. But as I've studied the Bible, I've found verses that seem to contradict each other (such as Prov. 26:4-5) and what appear to be very different accounts of the same events. How can this be?

—Christopher, via e-mail

A. First, congratulations on being diligent and thorough in your study of the Scriptures. You're right, the Bible is absolutely reliable and trustworthy (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Wherever there appears to be a discrepancy, we just have to dig a little deeper to find an explanation. For instance, each of the four Gospels tells the story of Jesus' earthly ministry. There are instances in which the four writers seem to differ in what was said or who was present at a particular event. That doesn't mean one is right and another is wrong. In some cases they were writing about very similar but different events. In other cases, guided by the Holy Spirit, each writer chose to include the details that seemed most relevant. Just like the old story about the seven blind mice describing an elephant, each one's perspective might be different, but still correct.

In Proverbs 26:4-5, two wise sayings explore different truths. First: "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself." Then: "Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes." The key to understanding these truths is in the last half of each verse. The first verse says, in essence, don't engage in a foolish debate with a foolish person, stooping to his level, or you're no better than he is. But the second verse says there are times when someone says something foolish and needs to be corrected or rebuked. Otherwise how can they know they are wrong and learn from their mistakes?

We must also remember that since Scripture is about God, there will be some things we'll never fully understand this side of heaven—and that's okay. So don't feel like you'll always find a satisfactory answer or explanation for everything in Scripture, because you won't. Some Bible passages still have scholars stumped.

As you continue with your Bible reading, you might consult a study Bible, a parallel Bible (with different translations), and other tools like a commentary, handbook, or dictionary. You might even sign up for a class at a Christian college. Keep at it! Your study will not only help you grow deeper in your understanding of Scripture, but in your relationship with God.

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Carol Stream, IL 60188, or to tceditor@todays-christian.com. If we use your questions, you'll receive a free one-year subscription (or extension of your current subscription) to Today's Christian magazine.

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