Today’s reflection arises from an email asking how to answer questions about a supposed contradiction in Genesis.
Apologetics can be a distraction from the truth of scripture. I know that may sound like an odd statement, but it’s an accurate one. What is the purpose of scripture? It’s given by inspiration from God for the purpose of rebuking, correcting, giving good doctrine (or teaching), and giving instructions so that we are thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Critics of the Bible will throw out any supposed contradiction for the purpose of distracting us from our calling. In the past, I readily entered into debates with atheists and others who launched into criticism of the Bible. I discovered two things. One, they don’t listen to the answers. At the moment they realize the answer will require them to examine the evidence, they immediately move on to the next objection. A Christian will spin their wheels trying to force someone who rejects the word to look at the truth. If they are looking for a reason to not believe, evidence won’t change that. Second, I have never seen anyone argued into the kingdom of God.
It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and convinces us of truth. The best reasoned argument can’t replace the internal conviction of the Holy Spirit. Instead, the argument over evidence takes the conversation away from the work of Christ, so it distracts us from presenting the cross and distracts the critic from looking in the Lord’s direction.
The word ‘sin’ in the Bible (hamartia in the Greek) literally means, ‘miss the mark.’ In the case of sinful behavior, it means we miss the mark of living as someone created in God’s image. When we fail to accurately reflect the character and nature of God in our behavior, we fall short of God’s glory and have missed the mark. In our Christian life, we are called to point others to Christ, or as the Apostle Paul stated, “I determined to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified.”
Paul, the man who had once dedicated his life to learning and was highly educated, later realized that nothing was of value unless it pointed to Christ. Anything else was empty knowledge.
Most of our debating is like this. It misses the mark. It misses the mark because we have missed the mark in our own lives. If I’m not focused on knowing Him and seeking to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, I will miss my calling and miss the mark. If I’m distracted by empty knowledge, the lesser things will appear more important. Then I’ll be dependent upon answering every objection because I don’t have confidence in Christ. It’s not possible to have an intimate relationship with God and not have confidence in Him and His word. The opposite is also true. Without that intimacy, I must be a defender of my faith rather than my faith being a shield of protection over me.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek reasonable answers. It’s always good to seek to understand the word – even the hard things of the word. But we are not to allow ourselves to shift our focus from the true target and begin aiming at something that draws us away from the heart of the gospel.
Having said that, let’s look at your question. Your concern is that when the Bible is describing creation, Genesis 1:27-29 and Genesis 2:15-18 appear to say different things. In the first passage, the Bible says that God created male and female and gave them the right to eat of every plant, and He gave no restriction. Yet in Genesis 2, God gave details not present in Genesis 1. He created Adam and didn’t mention Eve. The Lord also commanded Adam not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. This is also something that wasn’t mentioned in the previous chapter. So we have a contradiction – or so it would seem.
The problem is that people put unreasonable restrictions on the Bible. The idea is that if God doesn’t word something in a way that makes it impossible for anyone to misconstrue, then it reflects poorly on the scriptures. Not so. Certainly God could have made the Bible consist of hundreds of thousands of pages, and made it read like a legal document that plugged any possible loophole that man could find. But what would be the value of that? It would silence the critics and alienate the reader.
No one reads their 40 page legal agreement when signing up for a business service. Why? It has valuable information in it – some of which you should know to avoid penalties for violating the agreement. Yet we sign blindly without studying agreements because the tediousness is too painful to read. Yet, according to Bible critics, the Bible should read like this in order to avoid any misunderstandings. And because it doesn’t, man declares the Bible nullified. But is it truly invalidated by man’s desire to find loopholes and perceived contradictions? According to Jesus, the scriptures will be our judge on the last day. It isn’t God’s responsibility to answer every dispute by man. It’s man’s responsibility to understand God’s ways – His ways that are given to us in the word.
Many things critics point to as a contradiction are in fact the Bible’s summarization of a broader view. It would be painfully tedious to read a summary that stopped and reiterated every detail. Such is the case in Genesis 1. God provides a broad summary before launching into specific details. Not everything summarized will be explored. That would be tedious. Instead, only the important highlights are detailed.
We also see this in Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost. People try to make Peter’s sermon into the whole gospel, but only highlights are given. In Acts 2, we see just over 500 words of Peter, yet that would be only a 5-10 minute message. We see even more summarizations in Paul’s messages. At times we only see a few sentences as He shares the message with idolatrous nations that have never heard of Christ or the scriptures. Do we think He started churches and converted many people to Christ with one or two statements?
A summary is not intended to be a complete account. Sometimes what we suppose is a contradiction is a summarization. Let’s use another good example from the foretelling of Christ. Look at Isaiah 61:1-2
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
Did Jesus bring in the day of vengeance to those in rebellion? No, and if you continue to read Isaiah 61, God tells the rest of the summarized works of the coming Messiah. It describes Him setting up His kingdom, restore the nation to glory, and to fulfill all the promises God gave to His people throughout the Old Testament. Yet a strange thing happens when Jesus reads Isaiah to the people. Jesus took the book of Isaiah, found this very passage, and read verse one and half of verse two. He stopped reading after, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” He sat down and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
What about the other details God promised through the Messiah? Why did Jesus only claim to fulfill a verse and a half when the Bible originally proclaimed so much more? A contradiction? No. This was a summarization of all that Messiah would do, but not what He would do on His servant ministry at His birth. Other details not included here also had to be fulfilled, namely Isaiah 53. This is the passage that foretells of His suffering and death. Also, Psalm 22, which describes in vivid detail the crucifixion.
Other times, supposed contradictions are added details. Here is an example.
2 Samuel 24:1
And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.
1 Chronicles 21:1
And SATAN stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
Well now, who moved David to sin? Satan or God? The answer is found in both accounts. The nation was in sin, which stirred up God’s anger. For this reason, God used Satan to move David and initiate judgment against the people.
In this account with David, we only get a glimpse as a passing comment. God was angry, and God moved. But in 1 Kings 22, we see a very similar situation but are given a behind the scenes look.
King Ahab was one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history. At the end of his life, the Lord proclaimed judgment against him. Ahab’s final judgment was initiated when he wanted a man’s property so he could have a herb garden. When the man wouldn’t sell, he and his wife worked together by setting up false witnesses to accuse the man, have him executed, and then took his land. The Lord proclaimed judgment against him and in 1 Kings 22, this judgment came to pass.
The Lord’s prophet gives a behind the scenes glimpse. The Lord asks who will persuade Ahab to go to battle that he may be slain? Several spirits beckoned for the opportunity, then an angel (a fallen angel or demon) offered to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his false prophets. The prophets under the influence of the spirit proclaimed success to the king, persuaded him to go to battle, and he was killed.
When we see what appears to be a contradiction, a deeper look shows no contradiction at all. In the case above, God moved David for the purpose of judging a sinful people. He did so by allowing Satan the opportunity to provoke David.
So whether we are looking at bits of details spread across more than one passage, or looking at summarizations, the Christian shouldn’t be provoked by the objections that critics attempt to exploit.
Our critics serve two purposes. One, they reveal our hearts. The heart grounded upon truth will not be moved away from the truth because a lying spirit attempts to provoke them. Two, if someone is looking for an excuse to not believe, the Lord allows them to choose the lie. We see that explained in Romans 1 and 2 Thessalonians 2:11.
In 2 Chronicles 32:31 the Bible says that He withdrew from Hezekiah for the purpose of proving what was in his heart. Hezekiah followed the Lord and was faithful to the word of God, yet the Lord proved him. The same applies to us. There are things God intentionally places before us. Things that are intended to challenge our foundation. God has given us mountains of evidence. He has touched our hearts and transformed our lives. However, anyone can be faithful when the going is smooth. To try our faith and prove our hearts, the Lord will allow our faith to be challenged. At that time, will we put more weight on the question we can’t answer, or the mountain of evidence God provided in the past?
Some will put their faith in the objection and turn from the Lord. Others will be certain of what they cannot see because the Lord is their confidence. The test is necessary to prove where our faith resides.