June 18: The Bible Doesn't Contradict Itself
My father recently got angry with me when I informed him that I did, in fact, like Brussels sprouts. He couldn’t believe it. I had refused to eat them for years, but here I was with the gall to announce they were a delicacy. “You’re contradicting yourself!” he proclaimed.
No, I wasn’t. If I had told my dad that I loved Brussels sprouts and then called my mother and said I hated them, I would have contradicted myself. Instead, I exhibited growth and evolution. What I once hated many years ago I had learned to like. We all evolve. Over time our tastes changes, our likes change, and our opinions change. That isn’t contradiction: that's growth.
My sister jumped in on the conversation and proclaimed she still hated Brussels sprouts. My sister and I weren’t contradicting each other. We are two people with two different experiences and tastes.
Sometimes people struggle with the Bible because they accuse it of being full of contradictions, but the Bible works like my family’s Brussels sprouts experience. The Bible wasn’t written from one source and one time that kept changing the stories or the rules: the Bible was written by real live people over a long period of time and over that time people thought about the world and God differently. They grew as a people. Our country looks and acts and believes different things now than it did a couple centuries ago. For example, no one is counted as 3/5 of a person anymore. That isn’t a contradiction but an example of growth and evolution of thinking.
In some cases, the effect of time and circumstance can be seen in one person, just as I used to not like Brussels sprouts and now I do. The letters of Paul exhibit differing tones, emphases, and even shifts in thinking.
The Bible records the voices of different people who have different points of view on the same topic just like my sister and I might have two different thoughts on Brussels sprouts. Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus differently because they are writing to different audiences, at different times, experiencing different things. Three people might all have a really bad day at the same place of work, but if one talks about it to their boss, one talks about it to their spouse, and one talks about it to their four-year old child, you wouldn’t expect their accounts of the day to be exactly the same. Different people interpret and experience teachings, laws, and events differently. That is not a contradiction, but an expected result of the diversity of times, places, situations, and authors of the Bible.
The diversity of the Bible, just like the diversity of our country and community, is not cause for concern but a reason to celebrate its wider reach and vision.
In common calling,
Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker