In The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe identify a number of mistakes people make when approaching the difficulties and alleged contradictions of the Bible.
Although these authors’ view of biblical inerrancy is not one that commands my complete agreement, I am happy to offer (with a few minor modifications) their main points on the subject of approaching Bible difficulties:
1. Assuming that the unexplained is inexplicable: Humility requires that we admit that we don’t have all the answers. But it also requires us to be open to the possibility that answers may be forthcoming, upon further investigation and enquiry.
2. Presuming the Bible is wrong until proven right: We would not do this in any other situation. We would not assume that a person, a traffic signal, or a food label was incorrect unless we could prove that it was otherwise.
3. Confusing our fallible interpretations with God’s infallible truth: While God’s revelation is infallible, our interpretations are not. This is not to say that one interpretation is as good as any other. But it is to admit that our interpretation may be mistaken while the Bible is not mistaken.
4. Failing to understand the context of a passage: In everyday discourse, we do not deal in contextless catch-phrases and mottos. Nor should we do so with the Bible.
5. Neglecting to interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones: Do not, for example, seek to understand James’ teaching on salvation without considering that of Paul.
6. Basing a teaching on an obscure passage: No significant doctrine should (or need) be proven from any of the Bible’s more difficult or obscure passages. The important things are taught clearly and (in most cases) in more than one place.
7. Forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics: Contrary to the cavils of some critics, no responsible reader of the Bible thinks that its words were handed down from God without human agency. God spoke (and speaks) through real human beings, taking into account their own personalities and styles. The Bible is both a human book and a divine book.
8. Assuming that a partial report is a false report: Inspiration does not require that an account be complete, only that it be accurate. Not does inspiration exclude multiple perspectives on the same truth or event.
9. Demanding that NT citations of the OT always be exact quotations: The biblical writers follow the conventions of their own day (not ours), and these include paraphrasing, combining two or more texts, and various forms of midrash.
10. Assuming that divergent accounts are false ones: Just as two honest witnesses to the same event may give widely different accounts of it (such that it may seem impossible to fully reconcile the two accounts) so it is with some scriptural accounts.
11. Presuming that the Bible approves of all it records: This ought to be obvious, and yet critics often fail to recognise this point.
12. Forgetting that the Bible everyday language: Even in our own scientific age, we can speak the truth using everyday language. This is even more so with the biblical record.
13. Assuming that round numbers are false: We should not criticise the biblical writers for giving Pi the approximate figure of 3, rather than the more accurate 3.14159265.
14. Neglecting to note that the Bible uses different literary devices: It ought to be obvious that the Bible not only contains a good of poetic writing, but also makes ample use of devices and figures of speech such as parable, allegory, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, satire, and so on.
15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of Scripture, is without error: At the same time, we should note that manuscript errors, although they can appear to be numerous, are mainly trivial, and in no case affect a single important doctrine of the Christian faith.
16. Confusing general statements with universal ones: Proverbs, for example, offer general principles, not universal promises.
17. Forgetting the principle of progressive revelation: The Gospel does not annul the law of Moses: but the two do differ as the shadow differs from the reality.