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#4.08 MAKE SENSE OF THE APPARENT CONTRADICTIONS

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Introduction 4.08

This is an excellent bible study showing how to make sense of the apparent contradictions in scripture. When we first begin to study the scriptures, there are many places where we come across what seems to be contradictions. They are unusually common. This may turn some people away from bible study, not believing that it is the word of God, but when we study more deeply, asking God to give us understanding, we find that many can be easily explained. Look what the word of God says:

(Nehemiah 8:8) "So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
(Proverbs 8:8-9) "All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing wicked or perverse in them.
They are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge."

So although there may seem to be many "apparent" contradictions in the word of God, there are no real ones, except for small scribal errors which may have occurred during the copying of manuscripts. The original scripture was inspired by God (See #4.02), and must therefore be free from errors. So when we do not understand, we must remember that God’s thinking is far superior to ours, and be ready to humbly admit it:

(Isaiah 55:8-9) "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says Yahweh. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (See also #2.502).

However, God has said that his words are "all plain to him who understands," (Proverbs 8:9), and "those who seek Yahweh understand all things." (Proverbs 28:5), so there must be people who understand God’s word, and can give "the sense" (Nehemiah 8:8) that will cause others to understand also. A particular word can be used in different senses, which give it different meanings, for example, the word "cold" can describe (1) a low temperature, (2) an illness with a runny nose, or (3) an indifferent attitude. Similarly, a word in the word of God may be used in different senses, and may appear to cause a contradiction, until the sense in which it is used is understood. Here are some examples:

#4.081 Example 1: Who makes people sick, God or the Devil?

EXODUS 12:29
29 And it came to pass, that at midnight Yahweh smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on the throne to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

1 SAMUEL 5:6
6 But the hand of Yahweh was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.

2 SAMUEL 12:15
15 And Nathan departed to his house. And Yahweh struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very sick.

JOB 2:7
7 So Satan went forth, from the presence of Yahweh, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to his crown.

LUKE 13:16 (Jesus)
16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day.

ACTS 10:38 (Peter)
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

Note: These scriptures appear very contradictory at first sight, but careful study shows that God is responsible for sickness in a "permissive" sense only, or sometimes perhaps a "judicial" sense, while Satan is responsible for sickness in a "causative" sense. Whenever sickness occurs, Satan is the direct cause of it, but God has given permission. We can see that "Yahweh smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt," (Exodus 12:29), in a permissive or judicial sense only, because he did it "by sending evil angels among them." (Psalm 78:49-51), and also all of Job’s troubles were permitted by God (Job 1:12; 2:6-7). When God refused permission for Satan to touch Job’s flesh (Job 1:12), Satan could only take his goods and children (Job 1:13-19), but when God permitted Satan to afflict Job without taking his life (Job 2:5-6), the Devil could do no more than God permitted (Job 2:7). Other scriptures also show that God uses the Devil and his angels in this way:

(Judges 9:23) "Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:"

(1 Kings 22:19-23) "And he said, Hear you therefore the word of Yahweh: I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
And Yahweh said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Yahweh, and said, I will persuade him.
And Yahweh said to him, How? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, You shall persuade him , and prevail also: go forth, and do so.
Now therefore, behold, Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all your prophets, and Yahweh has spoken evil concerning you."

(1 Samuel 16:14-16) "But the Spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Yahweh troubled him.
And Saul’s servants said to him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubles you.
Let our lord now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon you, that he shall play with his hand, and you shall be well."

(2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."

Even though some of these scriptures show God using evil spirits as a judgment against people, they also show that God is in total control at all times, and many other scriptures confirm this (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Proverbs 21:1; 29:26; Isaiah 45:11-12; Daniel 4:34-35; Jonah 1:14; Ephesians 1:11). Sometimes God refuses the Devil permission to do anything:

(Zechariah 3:1-2) "And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Yahweh, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
And Yahweh said to Satan, Yahweh rebuke you, O Satan; even Yahweh who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?"

What do we understand from all this? Who makes people sick, God or the Devil? The answer is that they are both responsible in a different sense. Very often sickness is a judgment against sin in the life of an individual (Deuteronomy 28:15-22;  28:58-61;  Psalm 25:18; 31:10; 38:3-5; 39:11;  89:30-33;  107:10-11; 107:17; Proverbs 11:17; Jeremiah 30:14-15; Daniel 9:11; Micah 6:13-14), and when this happens, God may permit or pronounce the judgment, but the Devil, or some other evil spirit, are the ones who carry it out.
(For a more thorough analysis See RP 112 The Doctrine on Divine Healing).

#4.082 Example 2: Justification with or without works?

ROMANS 3:27-28 (Paul)
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

ROMANS 4:1-7 (Paul)
1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he has occasion to glory; but not before God.
3 For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
4 Now to him who works the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him who does not works, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
6 Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

GALATIANS 2:16 (Paul)
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

JAMES 2:20-26
20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Do you see how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God.
24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Note: When Paul made it clear that a man was justified by faith, and not by works, he was referring to a different type of works to James who said "by works a man is justified," (James 2:24). Paul talked about "the works of the law" (Galatians 2:16), and "dead works" (Hebrews 9:14), which were deeds not done from the heart, but done as ritual, or with reluctance; deeds done because they were supposed to be done, but which the doer would not necessarily take pleasure in. An example of a man doing dead works is Amaziah, king of Judah, "he did that which was right in the sight of Yahweh, but not with a perfect heart." (2 Chronicles 25:2), later turned to idolatry (2 Chronicles 25:14), and died unsaved (2 Chronicles 25:27-28). Jesus also criticized the worship of the scribes and Pharisees when he quoted a prophecy of Isaiah, "This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." (Matthew 15:8). Such worship was a "dead work" and Jesus said it was vain (Matthew 15:9), showing that such works will profit us nothing in the sight of God. On the other hand, James was referring to works of righteousness done from the heart when he said, "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2:24). These are works of faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11) which are motivated by love, for Paul said, "though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2), "stand fast in the faith ... let all things be done with love." (1 Corinthians 16:13-14), "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love." (Galatians 5:6), and "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love," (1 Thessalonians 1:3). John indicated also that these are works done willingly from the heart, when he said "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." (1 John 5:3). Jesus called them "the works of God," (John 6:28-29); these works being a product of genuine faith, and evidence that your faith is real, because although Paul concluded "that a man is justified by faith without the (dead) deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28), it is also true that "faith without works (of faith) is dead." (James 2:17; 2:20; 2:26). There is therefore no contradiction between what Paul and James taught, but rather their teachings are supplementary, and are required to be considered together, taking a careful note of the sense in each case, in order to obtain the whole truth.

#4.083 Example 3: Is God a respecter of persons?

GENESIS 4:4-5
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat of it. And Yahweh had respect to Abel and to his offering:
5 But to Cain and to his offering he did not have respect. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

EXODUS 2:25
25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect to them.

PSALMS 38:6 (David)
6 Though Yahweh be high, yet has he respect to the Lowly: but the proud he knows afar off.

ACTS 10:34
34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.

ROMANS 2:11 (Paul)
11 For there is no respect of persons with God.

EPHESIANS 6:9 (Paul)
9 And, you masters, do the same things to them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

Note: God is no respecter of "who" or "what" we are in this world, but he is a respecter of "what" we are spiritually, the condition of our spiritual heart. He has no respect toward Peter, because he is Peter, or Paul because he is Paul, or a king because he is a king, or a beggar because he is a beggar. God considers each of us according to the state of our heart, "for Yahweh sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7). He rewards us according to our righteousness (2 Samuel 22:21, 22:25;  1 Kings 3:2; 8:6; 2 Chronicles 6:23; Psalm 18:20; 18:24), which depends on us having God’s word in our heart (Psalm 37:30-31; Isaiah 51:7), and according to our faith (Matthew 8:13; 9:22; 9:29; 15:28; 21:22; Mark 5:34; 5:36; 10:52; 11:24; Luke 8:48; 8:50; 17:9; 18:42), which also requires God’s word in our heart (Romans 10:8). So Abel’s offering was accepted not because he was Abel, but because, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain," (Hebrews 11:4), and for the same reason God had respect to the Israelites (Exodus 2:25), and the lowly (Psalm 138:6).

#4.084 Example: Was the Centurion with Jesus or Not?

MATTHEW 8:5-13
5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him,
6 And saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
7 And Jesus says to him, I will come and heal him.
8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another; Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.
10 When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
11 And I say to you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven:
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you. And his servant was healed in the same hour.

LUKE 7:1-10
1 Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
2 And a centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick, and ready to die.
3 And when he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.
4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:
5 For he loves our nation, and he has built us a synagogue.
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, Lord, do not trouble yourself; for I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof:
7 Therefore neither did I think myself worthy to come to you: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.
9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned around, and said to the people who followed him, I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
10 And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.

Note 1: These accounts appear very similar in many respects; examine what was said in each case for instance; but Matthew’s account says the centurion went to see Jesus himself, and Luke’s account says that he sent elders of the Jews to Jesus. The questions to bear in mind here are as follows:

(1) Are these two accounts of the same incident, or accounts of two different incidents which are similar?
(2) Did the centurion go to meet Jesus, and not send the elders of the Jews?
(3) Did the centurion send elders of the Jews, and not go himself?
(4) Did the centurion send elders of the Jews, and then go himself?

Spend some time and meditate carefully on these scriptures and questions, in order to determine the answers, before looking at the solution below.
Consider carefully, "The words of Yahweh are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." (Psalm 12:6). "Every word of God is pure: ... Do not add to his words, lest he reproves you, and you are found a liar." (Proverbs 30:5-6). God didn’t make a mistake when he inspired these scriptures!

Note 2: Firstly, these are two separate accounts of the same incident for the following reasons:

(1) They both took place at Capernaum, (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:1).
(2) In both accounts, a centurion was asking for his sick servant to be healed, (Matthew 8:5-6; Luke 7:2-3)
(3) In both cases the centurion considered himself unworthy that Jesus should come under his roof, but indicated that saying the word would be enough, (Matthew 8:8; Luke 7:7).
(4) In both cases the centurion recognized that Jesus was a man under authority and he would be obeyed, (Matthew 8:9; Luke 7:8).
(5) In both accounts Jesus marveled and said that he had not found so great faith in all Israel, (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9). He would not have been able to say this a second time if these were different accounts, because the faith was the same in both cases, and it would not have been true the second time.
(6) In both cases Jesus never saw the sick servant, but he was healed anyway, (Matthew 8:13; Luke 7:10).

Secondly, Luke’s account is clear that elders of the Jews were present, so it is not possible that the centurion went alone. Thirdly, for the elders of the Jews to be there and the centurion also, looks a good probability at first sight, but then, as they were returning to the house, the centurion sent friends to Jesus (Luke 7:6); not possible if he were already there. The only other possibility is that the elders of the Jews were there, representing the centurion, and the centurion himself was never present. This is in fact the case, and in Matthew's account it must be read in the sense that the centurion speaks to Jesus through the elders of the Jews, and Jesus speaks to the centurion in the same manner.

Note 3: Here now are the two accounts merged together, to give the true picture of what happened. Words have been inserted into Matthew's account (in brackets) to show how it agrees with Luke’s account. Rather than adding to God’s word in the sense which is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6), these added phrases are supplementary to Matthew’s account because the words are taken from Luke’s account.

MATTHEW 8:5-13, LUKE 7:1-10.

(Luke 7:1) Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
(Matthew 8:5a) And when Jesus had entered into Capernaum,

(Luke 7:2-3) And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent to him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.
(Matthew 8:5b-6) there came to him (elders of the Jews representing) a centurion, beseeching him, And saying (on behalf of the centurion), Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.

(Luke 7:4-5) And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this. For he loves our nation, and he has built us a synagogue.

(Matthew 8:7) And Jesus says to him (through the elders of the Jews), I will come and heal him.
(Luke 7:6a) Then Jesus went with them.

(Luke 7:6b) And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, Lord, do not trouble yourself; for I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof:
(Matthew 8:8a) The centurion answered (through the friends whom he sent) and said, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof:

(Luke 7:7) Therefore neither did I think myself worthy to come to you: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
(Matthew 8:8b) but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

(Luke 7:8) For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.
(Matthew 8:9) For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes: and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.

(Luke 7:9) When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned around, and said to the people that followed him, I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
(Matthew 8:10) When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in all Israel.

(Matthew 8:11-12) And I say to you, That many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: But the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness: and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Matthew 8:13a) And Jesus said to the centurion (through his friends), Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you.

(Matthew 8:13b) And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
(Luke 7:10) And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant healed who had been sick.

It is clear from these accounts that there is a great danger when taking any scripture by itself, that the interpretation can be totally wrong. Reading Matthew's account by itself would totally convince anybody that the centurion himself was with Jesus, when in fact he was never there. It shows also that scripture is, in places, written with words missing (See #4.22), and the truth can only be obtained when all the relevant scriptures are put together. No one can truthfully claim that scripture has been rightly divided unless this principle has been strictly adhered to.

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