|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Holy Bible|
The Protestant mentality and the Scriptural critics’ misconceptions
Many are the pseudo-dilemmas that we encounter, when we read certain critiques on the Holy Bible. Leaps of logic, reading with suspicion, arbitrary interpretations and a denial of the narrators’ credibility, are the remaining elements that compose the scenario of arguments provided by the “critics” of the Holy Bible.
However, after a careful examination of the above, not only will the prejudice of those “critics” be exposed, but also their inability to comprehend simple matters!
1. We are Christians, not Protestants
There are certain faithless people, who preoccupy themselves with the Holy Bible in a desperate attempt to prove that it is riddled with contradictions. It seems odd, for a faithless person to take so much trouble over a sacred book of the Church, especially when this kind of activity does not aspire to the salvation of his soul! However, it might be a reflection of an innermost agony and uncertainty that overcomes such people. Perhaps this is their way of searching for a psychological prop, an excuse, for their turning away from God! Or, perhaps, (and it is our wish that this is the case), it reflects an inner need to fill the gap that was left behind by the One they denied!
Naturally, those who have applied themselves to this labour of finding contradictions inside the Holy Bible are EMULATING their foreign teachers, who are doing the same thing to combat the various Protestant religions of the West. Because, when someone proves to a Protestant – who regards the Holy Bible as "the word of God" and therefore infallible – that the Holy Bible contains errors and contradictions, he is SHAKEN to the core. However, we Orthodox DO NOT believe such a thing; we believe that the Holy Bible is NOT infallible, and that it is NOT “the word of God”. We believe that it is the "divinely inspired human word, regarding the Logos of God". And when we say "divinely inspired", we mean that it CONTAINS divine revelations. We do not mean (as the Protestants do), that it is infallible in every single point! For us, the Holy Bible is respected, not as a book, but because inside its texts it contains (among other things), the divinely inspired experience of the saints! Consequently, no error, no contradiction inside the Holy Bible, are capable of shaking the faith of an Orthodox, which is what happens to a Protestant. On the contrary, for us it is proof positive that "the pillar and the basis of the Truth" is the Church Herself, and not some book - which is the Protestant perception.
Thus, when these people strike out at the Holy Bible in this manner, they are merely transferring here, into Greece, the ideas and the practices that they learnt from their Western teachers, and are essentially “punching holes in the water”! Even if they do point out an actual error or an actual contradiction, in the Orthodox Church there is no way that our faith can be shaken. We ourselves point out the errors in the Holy Bible, in order to help Protestants understand the Bible’s true role in the Christian faith, and to not absolutize it. In other words, when someone says to us: “The Holy Bible contains contradictions”, they are only telling us something that is SELF-EVIDENT! However, because they tend to look at things from a Protestant viewpoint, they believe that we too have the same problem as the Protestants! In essence, they are “fighting windmills”! They are actually attacking Protestants, when they are under the impression they are attacking Christians! This is what happens to all the Western-crazed who have betrayed the Orthodox Tradition and have turned to emulating the “Enlightened West” - depending on the brainwashing it has subjected them to - by underestimating the SUPERIOR (than the West’s) Eastern civilization.
However, whereas we do not have any problem in accepting that the Holy Bible contains errors, this by no means signifies that we must accept all the misinterpreting and arbitrariness that the “critics of the Holy Bible” present to us as actual errors. The errors in the Holy Bible are few and rare. If we were to accept all those misinterpretations that we are presented with, then the entire Holy Bible would have a problem, in every single word it contains! However, the problem lies only in the predisposition of those people, or their ignorance, given that they persist in “finding” discrepancies, regardless whether they exist or not!
Let us therefore examine a few points that are perpetually being misinterpreted by the adversaries (as a rule) of the Holy Bible, who are thus led to a continuous misunderstanding of its contents.
2. There is a difference between “supplementary” and “contradictory”
A favorite “sport” of those searching for contradictions in the Holy Bible is to compare the 4 Evangelists. The fact that the Evangelists recorded parallel events, or supplementary ones (each in his own style and for his own purpose) makes the aspiring “contradiction collectors” believe that they have hit the jackpot. But these people are not only incapable of being Bible critics because of the faithless viewpoint with which they read it; they have – in their crushing majority – a serious problem in perceiving what they are reading! They WANT to see problems and contradictions everywhere, whereas a person with normal intelligence can understand full well what he is reading.
When, for example, in a certain narration (that more than one Evangelist is dealing with), the Evangelist A describes an event with Christ as X, whereas Evangelist B describes it as Y, then these anti-Christians jump at the “opportunity”, saying: “There is a contradiction here! Why didn’t B write the same as A?”
This of course is not a "contradictory" narration, but merely a SUPPLEMENTARY one. For A to write X and B to write Y does not prove there is a contradiction between them, but that BOTH events took place; the difference being, that the one Evangelist wished to focus on one detail of that event and the other Evangelist on another, either because it was of no interest for the purpose he was writing, or because he did not consider it a necessary detail, or because he knew that one of the other Evangelists had already mentioned it.
One Evangelist wrote for the Hebrews and the other for the Gentiles. They each obviously had different needs and purposes; furthermore, they each considered different details as being more important. This supplementing of information is not only NOT a contradiction, it is in fact a SIGN OF CREDIBILITY, because it proves that the Gospels were not written with the intent to forge History, but were written FREELY and INDEPENDENTLY of each other, so that today we might have at our disposal four viewpoints of those events, and a “four-dimensional” picture of the Lord Jesus’ life.
Thus, when someone confuses the “supplementary” element between the Evangelists with what they consider “contradictory”, only goes to show that he has not in the least grasped the meaning of the subject that he is dealing with!
3. The difference between “a difference in sequence” and “contradiction”
One other impropriety by those combatting the Holy Bible is that they mistake the altering of a sequence of events for a “contradiction”.
What do we mean by an “altering of a sequence of events”?
All of us, when narrating a certain event, are prone to telling some of the facts in a different order than the one that they took place in; we narrate them in a somewhat jumbled manner, either on account of the flow of the conversation, or because they are better suited to something else that we were saying, albeit occurring at a different time, or simply because we cannot recall exactly when it was said. In most narrations, what counts is the SIGNIFICANCE of the topic we are discussing or narrating, and not “when” that something took place. This happens quite frequently with the Gospels also. Matthew for example wrote his Gospel classified mainly by TOPIC, and not necessarily in historical order. He “grouped” various events according to similar themes, and presented them side-by-side with other, related events, which were historically at a distance from them. Luke, on the other hand, used classification by DATE mainly, rather than by topic, without excluding the possibility that he would have made an exception for obvious reasons.
Thus, when an adversary of the Holy Bible sees the one Evangelist presenting the theme at point A of his narration and the other Evangelist at point B, he is convinced he has found a contradiction. But this is not a contradiction – it is just a “muddling” of the sequence of events. The Evangelists were obviously not always concerned with the chronological order of events, but the events themselves. However, instead of focusing on the MESSAGE of the Gospels, some of our fellow men focus on the details of those events, as though the objective of the Gospels was to be a perfect chronological narration, and not Evangelism! This is where the old saying is truly appropriate: “when you point at the moon, the fool will focus his gaze on the finger”.
Once again, the Bible “critic” who ventures into such an impropriety is found to be inadequate, and totally irrelevant to the topic that he is supposedly expounding!
4. The selection of events
The Evangelists’ choice of events, but also by the other authors of the Holy Bible, was made on the basis of their own requirements FIRST OF ALL, after having discerned the needs of their readers, for whom they were basically writing. This means that each author placed a different importance (or necessity) on certain events than the other. Thus, when they wrote about something, they would have decided whether there was or wasn’t a reason to write about it. This led to certain variations in the narrations. For example, while one author considered it worthwhile to mention the first miracle at the wedding of Cana, another Evangelist did not, and preferred to move directly on to another event, “skipping” over that one altogether. This, according to certain Bible “critics”, is equal to a “contradiction”, simply because in their opinion the same event should have been mentioned by the other authors also. But this is HIS OPINION, and of course it does not have to relate to the authors’ opinions, as to what they wanted to write and for what purpose. Besides, the authors themselves clearly state that “if everything that Christ did or said was written down, there wouldn’t be enough space in the world for the books that would have been written”. What can one even begin to say, of the marvellous terrestrial life of God, in one Gospel?
Thus, here also, the aspiring Bible “critic” is once again projecting his own preferences onto the authors, and at the same time he wants to impose on them an “impersonal”, common “style” or common requirements – something that is of course neither logical, nor proper.
5. The tricks of memory and credibility
Try to remember events that took place 10, 20, 30 years ago! Surely you will remember the most important events, which have been indelibly stamped in your memory, because they affected your life in some way. Now try to recall the exact point in time that an important event took place. You will most probably remember some of them, with absolute chronological accuracy, if they had a certain chronological characteristic that distinguished them; however, in all probability, some events – as important as they may have been – will make you ask yourself: “I wonder, when exactly did this take place? Was it before, or after, the such-and-such event?”
Our brain has various ways of classifying an event. Some are classified in chronological order, while others by topic, but also on the basis of other parameters. Our brain accumulates knowledge, on pre-existing knowledge and experiences, which is why classification of events is done in various ways. Thus, two different people can remember the same event, in conjunction with entirely different pieces of knowledge that they may have in their separate minds, and link it to entirely different things. That is why one person can remember something extremely well classified chronologically, while another simply remembers the event, without recalling the “when”.
Those with a Protestant perception of the Holy Bible are unable to comprehend this. They believe that the Holy Bible was written as though the texts were “dictated” directly by God and therefore are “obliged” to be chronologically accurate in the events that are described therein. The same is believed by those “critics” of the Bible, in this field. They are under the impression that if they can locate a chronological inconsistency between two Evangelists regarding the same event, they have supposedly proven that the Holy Bible is NOT divinely inspired. But as we mentioned above, this is a purely Protestant perception, because a text is judged whether it is divinely inspired, not by its being “dictated” or “infallible”, but by whether it contains a Divine Revelation.
The Evangelists therefore – being equally human themselves – did not comprise an exception to this rule. They did NOT write anything that was dictated by God. They wrote of events according to what they personally remembered, what their own impressions were, or the information they had received. It is quite possible they even have chronological discrepancies in their texts, or linked a certain event to another albeit in reality there is an intervening time between those two events.
Even though the undersigned (despite having extensively studied the Holy Bible and the criticism that it undergoes) has not encountered something like this as yet, I can nevertheless not exclude the possibility that it may indeed be the case in certain points of the Holy Bible (or of course it may not). But this in no way means that the Evangelists are unreliable witnesses! Being human, it is only natural that they have recorded events exactly the way that their brain preserved them, without this meaning that they were unreliable.
One may perhaps ask here: “But how is it possible, for important events such as the incarnation of God and the numerous miracles to not have been imprinted so deeply in their minds, without any errors?”
Indeed, these events are so significant, they are difficult to forget. Perhaps this is why I have not encountered any such errors to date! However, from “difficult” to “impossible” there is a vast distance, although there is a possibility that one may forget. This is fully comprehended by myself, from a personal experience, which I will deposit here as an example:
More than ten years ago, I wrote a book with personal experiences that were extremely important to me, and which re-defined my entire life. In this book, I had included certain actual events that I had lived through and that had shaken me to the core: from family crises to miracles. In fact, the reason that I began to write this book at the time was not to publish it, but to keep a record of events so that I will not forget them, knowing that with the passing of time, they will have been “erased” from memory! Several years had already passed from the time of those events, when I began to write them down. Today, 18 years later, although I can still remember those events with remarkable accuracy – even entire phrases and words that had been spoken – if I don’t refer to the book, quite often I find it hard to place some of them chronologically. In fact, quite often when I leaf through the book, it surprises me how certain events that were so important to me are now recalled in a totally different timeframe than the one I had recorded, which was far more recent!
So, does that mean I never existed? Does it perhaps mean that I didn’t live through those events, just because I now remember some of them in a wrong timeframe – regardless how significant they were to me? Does it mean that my narration is unreliable? And yet, I know that it is, even though I may have forgotten certain chronological events – which, however, were of comparatively less importance than those very events that I had lived through – which is why I did not preserve them as well in memory!
I must say that quite often, that is the first thing that comes to mind, when I hear “critics of the Holy Bible” say: “there are contradictions between the Evangelists, THEREFORE they are unreliable witnesses and subsequently Christ did not exist and everything is just a forged narration”. No, my “Bible critic” friends. You are grossly mistaken! Even if any sort of chronological disagreement were located, again, this kind of train of thought is incorrect, and contrary to all forms of logic. The only thing that such a chronological disagreement signifies is quite simply that the Evangelists did not believe it to be significant enough for preserving its correct timeframe in their memory, as they focused mainly on the event itself! Not even the Holy Spirit, Who “supervised” their authoring, considered it necessary to remind them of it. In fact, this FREEDOM of authorship, which so easily leads to doubting, is proof of the authors’ credibility and the fact that nothing that was written in the Gospels was forged! Everything was REAL.
And if you still aren’t convinced, try writing down some very important events of your life, 1-20 years after they occurred. You will be surprised, when discussing them with a friend or relative who lived those same events with you. You will be surprised, when you discover that in certain (chronological mainly) points, they will have a different view to yours!
6. Confusing similar events
From the critiques of the Bible adversaries, one also finds ever-present a confusion over events, objects or names which, albeit resembling each other, are misconstrued as the same event, object or person and thus find themselves floundering in various assumptions and arbitrary ascertainments.
Thus, it is very common to find comments such as: “the name so-and-so also signifies such-and-such, or, it was also called such-and-such, therefore so-and-so is related to such-and-such, and, seeing they are the one and same person………” Arbitrary relating such as the above is quite customary in the Biblical critics’ books. They can even go as far as relating 2 to 4 different persons in this way, the only element being the similarity in a name that those people happened to have!
They might even claim: "The Gospel says that Christ’s robes were white during the Transfiguration; but then, because the Essenes also wore white robes, THEREFORE Christ must also have been…..an Essene!”. Clumsiness such as this is very customary by these “critics”, who have not bothered to put their minds to work on simple things, in their attempt to find a weak spot in the Holy Bible. But according to our example, they have not bothered to observe that the Lord’s robes BECAME white during the Transfiguration: (Luke 9:28-36 - About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white……..) . Therefore, they were NOT white before that; and if they were NOT white, then Jesus could NOT be linked to the Essenes who indeed wore white!
The same applies to events. For example, the calling of His disciples. The one Evangelist places this calling during the three first days after His Baptism. Another Evangelist places it after the 40 days of His temptations. Then the “critics” come along and announce to us that they have found a contradiction! What they DO NOT WANT to realize, is that Christ had made TWO INVITATIONS to His disciples. The first one was a simple invitation to accept Him as the Messiah – this took place during the first three days, when He first met them. And although His disciples may have accepted Him as the Messiah, however, they had remained at their everyday toils, and had continued with their normal everyday lives. But the second invitation took place 40 days AFTER Christ’s temptations. That is when they were called to follow Him EVERYWHERE; that is when they abandoned their fishing nets and their jobs, to become the Apostles that we know. But this is something that certain people do not want to admit, so they “combine” these two different events and concoct imaginary contradictions.
7. One, or more?
Another frequent habit is to refer to a difference in enumeration of certain persons mentioned in narrations. For example, where one Evangelist speaks of one demonically possessed person, the other Evangelist mentions two. So they ask us: “Was it one, or two?”
What they do not want to understand is that, regardless whether it was one or two, it is the event itself that is of importance, and not the number. The one Evangelist may have regarded it useful to mention how many were involved, while the other Evangelist was content with referring to only one of them. This does not signify a contradiction either. It simply means that they had different priorities with regard to what they considered important enough to mention.
If, for example, I were to mention that I ran into a friend of mine on the street yesterday, and someone who was with me were to say that we saw two people on the street, this would not be a case of a contradiction. It would mean that – quite simply – I had focused my narration on the one person, without caring to mention that he had company with him. However, my friend might have found it useful (for his reasons) to mention that we had encountered two people, who do not, however, belong to my priorities.
Besides, among the two, there is always ONE! It cannot, therefore, be considered a contradiction.
This kind of confusion can also occur with the counting of days. For example, the one Evangelist may speak of one day, and the other Evangelist three. If the one Evangelist was also counting the present day he was in, along with the day of the event, then the event itself may have lasted (duration-wise) more than one day, (just like the length of time that Christ was in the tomb); however, this length of time can easily “contain” portions of three days! The end of the first day, the whole of the second day and the beginning only of the third day; as a duration, however, it can be of just 26 hours! In other words, the one Evangelist can speak of three days (typically), whereas the other one can speak of one day (essentially, by way of actual duration), and both Evangelists be correct!
8. Authors’ characteristics
Finally, (to put an end to this matter, although the subject is inexhaustible), perhaps the Bible “critics” become confused by certain “peculiarities” in the manner that a certain Evangelist expresses himself. Let us give an example:
In his Gospel, Mark is observed to constantly use the word “at once” (just like many of us say “you know” or “anyway” from force of habit in our speech). But when habits like this are observed with a greater frequency, then the words themselves lose their absolute meaning!
When Mark –for example– writes that after His Baptism, Christ “at once” left for the desert to fast for 40 days, some people take this as “verbatim” to mean that He left immediately, without leaving a single day to pass! But this is NOT what Mark meant to say. It was just his way of speaking and writing. It was Mark’s way of saying that Christ left “soon after” His Baptism, hence he chose the word “at once”, as was his habit. Now the Bible “critics” come along and take this expression and absolutize it, saying that: “We found a contradiction here! Why does Mark say that Christ left for the desert “at once”, whereas John says that at least three days had passed, when Jesus called His disciples and went to the wedding in Cana?”
But again they are wrong. The 3 days are a very brief period compared to the 3 years of Christ’s ministry, and they do not contradict the use of the expression “at once” by a person who used it frequently, as a habit of speech. With this word, Mark wanted to indicate the priority that Christ gave to the 40 days of fasting, for the sake of which He departed, only a few days after His Baptism. Mark wasn’t concerned with making an accurate chronological arrangement of Christ’s days. When we read the Holy Bible, we do not read it with the intention of finding contradictions; we read it, to see WHAT ON EARTH THE AUTHOR IS TRYING TO CONVEY TO US! Otherwise, we will be finding contradictions even in places that they don’t exist, out of sheer prejudice!
And if you don’t believe this trait of Mark’s, of frequently using the expression “at once”, then open Mark’s Gospel and read how many times he mentions the word “at once”! Then, count how many times this word is found in the other Gospels and you will realize how seriously such peculiarities should be taken, when we want to seriously examine a text.
In conclusion, we shall repeat that the instances of supposed contradictions in the Bible that are pointed out by the “critics of the Holy Bible” are almost always misapprehensions and prejudices of their own, which totally deviate from the spirit of the author or are based on leaps of logic, in order to “locate” contradictions where they don’t exist.
Our advice to aspiring “correctors” of the Holy Bible is that they should search inside the Church for the spirit of the Holy Bible, so that they can read it without prejudice and fanaticisms. And then, after having comprehended the Holy Bible, they can find, with their cleared thoughts and a proper experience and motives, (without even having to look) one, two, and perhaps even more errors inside it!
The difference being, that it will no longer annoy them, because, having now become acquainted with the spirit of the writings, they will feel reassured of its divine inspiration! And they will then be able to enjoy the moon and not….the finger!
Translation by A. N.
Article published in English on: 5-4-2007.
Last update: 5-4-2007.