Bible—Is it Full of Contradictions? Does it Promote Slavery, Tyranny and Discrimination?
Someone wrote me recently with this claim:
The bible is so full of inconsistencies, contradictions, and untruths, as well as promoting slavery, tyranny, discrimination, that no truly moral person would ever follow its precepts, let alone accept its predictions.
I’d like to devote an article to answering this statement because this kind of gross misrepresentation of the Bible has now become fairly common in Western countries that used to highly respect the Judeo-Christian Scriptures just a couple of generations ago. Now we see the express opposite—utter loathing of the Bible to the point of actually slandering it—as is the case above.
While it’s true that some of the people who say these things are intentionally misrepresenting the Bible others believe it simply because it’s what they’ve been taught; in other words, they were indoctrinated to believe it. As such, they’re not intentionally misrepresenting the Scriptures because they really believe the Bible is inconsistent and promotes the negative things cited above. So let’s look into the Scriptures and see what they actually say on these topics.
Is the Bible Full of Inconsistencies and Contradictions?
Answer: Only to someone investigating it superficially. There are obvious hermeneutical rules, such as “Scripture interprets Scripture,” meaning that a passage is interpreted in light of its immediate context and also the greater context of the entire Bible. One verse might superficially address a topic while another offers more detail. Needless to say, the more overt and detailed passages expand our understanding of the sketchy and ambiguous ones.
There’s also what theologians call “truths in tension,” which refer to two biblical truths that seemingly contradict and, yet, are both true. Some of these truths are paradoxical, but they’re not contradictory and actually balance each other out. One example of a biblical paradox is the nature of God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Bible says that God is “one” (1 Corinthians 8:4 & Deuteronomy 6:4), but consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). How can we explain this paradox? Think about it in terms of the clover, which is one small plant, but consists of three petals; or the human being, which is one being, but consists of spirit, mind and body. Other examples that are often cited by people as paradoxes aren’t really “truths in tension” because the conflicting passages are talking about two separate things. Here are several interesting examples:
Seeming Paradox: We are to honor our fathers and mothers (Ephesians 6:1-3), but Jesus said we must hate our fathers and mothers in order to be legitimate disciples (Luke 14:26).
Explanation: Jesus was using hyperbole, which is exaggeration for effect. As such, he was saying that our love for the LORD should be so great that our love for others, including parents, would seem like hate by comparison. Christ put it like this in another passage: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Keep in mind that the foremost command of God is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and loving people is the second greatest command (Matthew 22:37-40). By following these two simple commands we fulfill all the moral law. Marinate on that!
Seeming Paradox: Jesus instructed, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39), but he himself entered the temple courts and threw over tables, scattered coins yelling while brandishing a whip and driving people out (John 2:13-17 & Mark 11:15-18).
Explanation:Jesus specified the right cheek, indicating that he was referring to a backhanded slap, which was an insult in that culture. As such, Jesus was encouraging us to ignore a couple of insults for the sake of peace, which is plainly taught in the Old Testament (Proverbs 12:16 & 20:3). Such a response is wise because it helps defuse potential and unnecessary strife. However, Jesus was not teaching that we should be milksop doormats. In fact, he instructed us to confront fellow believers when they offend us (Matthew 18:15-17). As far as Jesus boldly “cleansing” the temple of ungodly riffraff, these people—the money-changers and hypocritical religionists—were corrupting the house of God, the temple, and so Christ confronted the evil and purged it, just like we should boldly confront and purge anything that’s corrupting our “temple of God” according to the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 3:16). Chew on that.
Seeming Paradox: Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10), but also said that we must lose our life to save it (Matthew 16:24-26).
Explanation: The “abundant life” that Jesus came to give us is referring to eternal life, which literally means “the life-of-the-age-to-come.” Receiving eternal life is a two-part process that starts with spiritual regeneration (Titus 3:5) and culminates with our bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). The life-of-the-age-to-come is within us—in our spirits—and we can tap into this awesome life every day via walking in the spirit and producing the fruit thereof (Galatians 5:16-24); and manifesting it to a lost, dark, dying world. When Jesus said we must lose our life he was talking about throwing off the “old self,” the flesh, which is “corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The flesh — the sinful nature — is definitely something you want to lose because its desires are deceitful. Such carnal impulses promise happiness and satisfaction, but can only deliver on the surface; underneath is misery, shame and death.
Paradox: The Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), but was written by human authors.
Explanation: Peter put it like this: “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
Paradox: How can the LORD be sovereign, meaning “reigns supreme,” and yet people have free will?
Explanation: While God reigns supreme, he allows humans to have free will in order that they have the option to reject obvious truth, including the Creator’s existence, goodness and love. After all, how can you have an intimate “relationship” with someone if it’s forced?
Seeming Paradox: How are we “saved by grace through faith… not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9) when another passage plainly says that faith without works can’t save us (James 2:14-26)?
Explanation: Genuine faith always results in both fruit and works (Colossians 1:10). The very next verse of that popular passage (Ephesians 2:8-9) says that we are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (2:10). In other words, it is through faith that we are “recreated in Christ Jesus” (Amplified) and this naturally results in good works. The phrase “Don’t put the cart before the horse” applies here: Faith and salvation come first; fruit and works follow.
Seeming Paradox: Is the kingdom of God present or future?
Explanation: It’s both. The “kingdom of God” simply refers to the rule of the LORD, which starts within the believer through spiritual rebirth and then proceeds without as the individual matures. Some of the Pharisees, who were fake religionists, asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come and he answered: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21). Jesus was/is the King of kings and the kingdom of God was already amidst the Pharisees via Jesus’ teachings and miracles, as well as the works of his disciples. Bear in mind, however, that Jesus didn’t say the King was amongst them, he specified the Kingdom of God. In other words, the kingdom of God was just as much available to the Pharisees as it was for blatant sinners, like prostitutes, but the Pharisees and other hypocritical religionists will not enter it. Why? Because entering God’s kingdom requires repentance and faith (Acts 20:21) and pharisaical people are too arrogant and disingenuous for either. Other passages show the future tense of the kingdom of God, such as 1 Corinthians 6:9,10, Galatians 5:21 & Ephesians 5:5. The paradox is resolved when one understands the two-phase process of salvation, as detailed above: Salvation starts with spiritual regeneration and culminates with the bodily resurrection. These two events correspond to the present and future kingdom of God. As such, the LORD is “jump starting” the future kingdom of God—which includes both the Millennium and the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 20-22)—through people spiritually born of his kingdom. These believers are “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20)—ambassadors of the kingdom of God – in this dark, dying world.
For further details see the article Berean Spirit — What is It? How Do You Cultivate It?.
Is the Bible Full of “Untruths”?
Jesus is the living Word of God (John 1:1) and the Bible is the written Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Christ said he was “the truth” and also referred to the Word of God as “truth” (John 14:6 & 17:17). ‘Truth’ means “reality”; that is, the way it really is. We live in a severely messed-up world full of lies, half-truths and totally contradicting philosophies or belief systems. Jesus Christ and the Bible claim to be the truth—the way it really is. As such, it reveals spiritual, moral, historical and future reality.
I realize that’s an astounding claim, but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. For instance, consider all the biblical prophecies that have been amazingly fulfilled, which you can research in this article: Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible. Or consider the millions of lives that have been miraculously transformed by embracing the awesome news of the gospel and putting into practice the principles of Christ’s Word, like my life.
As noted above, one of the truths the Bible reveals is moral truth. We live in a world that is critically confused about morality to the point that what was evil a mere couple generations ago is now considered good and vice versa (Isaiah 5:20). The definition of morality may change at a whim in this world, but thankfully we have the rock-solid Word of God that boldly shows us the moral truth—moral reality.
The answer to society’s moral dilemma is not to put ourselves under God’s moral law because that won’t work. It didn’t work for the Israelites in the Old Testament and it won’t work for us today in the New Testament era. In fact, putting oneself under the law will actually increase the sin problem (Romans 5:20). The answer to walking free of the law of sin and death is to activate a greater law; and that’s the law of the spirit of life in Christ (Romans 8:1-2). For more details see the teaching Law (Torah) and the Believer.
Does the Bible Promote Slavery?
No, Paul boldly included slave trading in a list of sins:
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. (9) We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers of mothers, for murderers, (10) for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (11) that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,
1 Timothy 1:8-11
He also said this:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
As you can see, there’s neither slave nor free person “in Christ Jesus.”
This explains why Paul encouraged his friend and fellow Christian, Philemon, to set free his runaway slave, Onesimus, when Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. It’s not overtly stated, but obviously insinuated, e.g. “knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philemon 1:14-21).
The institution of slavery in the Roman world of the first century was a widespread, ironclad fact of life, and the New Testament’s instructions to slaves and owners must be viewed in this historical light.
Nevertheless, Paul’s instructions to slaves and masters in Ephesians 6:5-9 were utterly revolutionary at the time. The focus wasn’t to challenge the morality of the system but rather to transform people within the system from within; that is, in their sprits and hearts. Freedom always starts within and then proceeds without; and I don’t mean just freedom from conventional slavery. Trying to change people from the outside in, by contrast, doesn’t work because it’s merely a garnishment. This is why the Old Covenant that the Israelites had with God didn’t work—it was merely a set of rules to obey without inward regeneration. The New Covenant, by contrast, provides the necessary spiritual rebirth (Titus 3:5).
While the priority of New Testament ministers was to transform people from within rather than tackle slavery head-on, Paul plainly instructed slaves:
Were you a slave when you were called (to the Lord)? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so”
1 Corinthians 7:21
As you can see, the bible actually doesn’t support slavery in the least.
Add to this the fact that the greatest abolitionists of the 18th and 19th centuries were devout Christians, like William Wilberforce and William Lloyd Garrison.
As for the voluntary servants permitted amongst Hebrews according to the Torah, this wasn’t slavery as we understand it today. Individuals could sell their services for up to six years to repay debts or what have you; on the seventh year they were released, unless they loved their “masters” and wanted to stay (Exodus 21:2-6). As such, Hebrew “slaves” were actually hired hands and only became lifelong servants based on the desire of the servant (and the master).
Furthermore, the Old Testament is clear about apprehending people and selling them as if they were property:
“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”
Stealing people and selling them as chattel was a crime with the penalty of death. For more information see the article Why was slavery allowed in the Old Testament?
In light of all this, how anyone can misconstrue that the Bible advocates slavery is beyond me. In fact, Christianity’s all about freedom from slavery and far more than just the conventional kind, as this verse shows:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery
Does the Bible Promote Tyranny?
There’s a difference between righteous Lordship (or kingship) and oppressive tyranny. For instance, Jesus Christ is called the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16) and will function in this capacity during the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6) and eternally in the “new heavens and new earth,” which is the eternal age-to-come (2 Peter 3:13).
Would you like to hear about Jesus’ (supposed) abusive, domineering governmental proclivities? Listen to what he says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Now observe Peter’s clear instructions to “elders,” which refers to mature believers called to serve as “shepherds,” that is, pastors:
To the elders among you: (2) Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; (3) not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock
1 Peter 5:1-3
Verse 3 says point blank that pastors are not to lord it over the people entrusted to their care. The word “lording” here means to control, subjugate or rule in the sense of being the final authority. Pastors are not to be tyrannical like this! Although pastors are certainly the authority of the fellowships they oversee, Jesus is the final authority of the church. Pastors simply have no business “lording it over” believers as if they were the supreme and final authority in their lives.
Being “tyrannical” is authoritarianism, which is demagoguery where a leader tries to dominate others through intimidation and manipulation. A tyrannical Christian leader is an oxymoron since ‘minister’ literally means “servant” and reveals how Christian ministers are to minister – with a servant’s heart. This isn’t to say, of course, that ministers have to be perpetually sugary sweet as there’s a time and place for Spirit-led rebuke, like when Paul openly corrected Peter for his legalism (Galatians 2:11-14) or when he radically confronted a sorcerer who was brazenly hindering the spread of the gospel (Acts 13:8-12) or when Jesus boldly cleared the temple of fools (Mark 11:15-18).
Concerning the Israelite monarchy in the Old Testament, God originally wanted the Israelites to be a theocracy, not a monarchy, but they cried out for a king and so the LORD allowed it (1 Samuel 8). The problem with monarchies in a morally fallen world is that, sooner or later, you’ll wind up with a corrupt king or queen who will mislead the people, which is precisely what happened with both Ephraim (Northern Israel) and Judah (Southern Israel).
Does the Bible Promote Discrimination?
Let me quote from the Bible:
There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
As you can see, there’s no favoritism with God and under the New Covenant all are one in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.
Does the Bible Discriminate against Gay People?
I’m only including this question because, reading between the lines of the guy’s words (cited at the top in red), it seemed like he was insinuating that the Bible discriminates against homosexuals.
The Bible plainly teaches that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This includes homosexuals. Like all people, the LORD loves them and has provided a way for them to escape the wages of sin—death—and obtain eternal life.
Is homosexuality wrong in God’s eyes? Yes, but so is fornication, adultery, drunkard-ness, pomposity, hatred, strife, gossip, slander and numerous other sins. The wages of all sin is death and God wants us to escape it through the gospel. You see, there’s no discrimination—the LORD wants all people across the board to be set free from slavery to fleshly bondages. Again, Christianity’s all about freedom: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free” (Galatians 5:1).
Modern culture has embraced two lies: (1.) If you disapprove of someone’s lifestyle it automatically means that you fear or hate them; and (2.) to truly love someone you must agree with everything they believe and do. Needless to say, this is absurd. I don’t approve of drunkards* and fornicators, but that doesn’t mean I fear or hate them. I actively walk in love toward arrogant people, liars, adulterers and slanderers, but that doesn’t mean I agree with their destructive behaviors. By the way, when I say that I “walk in love” I don’t just mean the gentle variety because sometimes “tough love” is in order. See the article Gentle Love and Tough Love for details.
*NOTE: By “drunkard” the Bible isn’t referring to someone who drinks a sip of alcohol (see Deuteronomy 14:26), but rather to the alcoholic lifestyle, including binge drinking. Ephesians 5:18 instructs believers to “not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery” but “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” This means that we should be seeking to get “drunk” on the LORD and the things of God, not alcohol. Psalm 34:8 says “taste and see that the LORD is good.” When you truly “taste” of the Almighty nothing else satisfies!
When it comes to any sin we have to distinguish between our flesh’s proclivity to sin and the actual practice of it. For instance, someone might have a fleshly penchant for alcohol, but they’ve learned to overcome the temptation through Christ and the support of others and therefore don’t indulge it. A married man might experience the carnal desire to commit adultery with a flirtatious sexpot at work, but he refuses to indulge the desire, which includes guarding his thought life (Proverbs 4:23 & Matthew 5:27-29).
So, yes, homosexuality is a sin (1 Corinthians 6:9 & Leviticus 18:22), but having a flesh proclivity for it isn’t, as long as you don’t indulge it. All Christians have carnal proclivities because of the sinful nature and these proclivities are usually based on the sins we’ve tasted of in the past, although in some cases it’s a generational thing. For instance, I’ve never been tempted by cocaine because I’ve never “tasted” of it, but there are sins I’ve tasted of and therefore have a penchant for. When I’m tempted I merely resist the temptation and it passes. This is overcoming the flesh (1 Corinthians 10:13). Temptation, by the way, is simply the enemy’s attempt to get the believer out of the realm of the spirit and into the realm of the flesh. The enemy wants you flesh-ruled rather than spirit-controlled because when you’re flesh-ruled it’s impossible to truly be effective in God’s service. For key scriptural principles on walking free of any fleshly addiction or bondage see my video podcast How to Walk FREE of the Flesh.
Someone might ask: Why were homosexuals put to death in the Israelite community under Old Testament law, as seen in Leviticus 20:13? The same reason adultery, incest, rape and bestiality were capital crimes for the Israelites, God’s consecrated people: These particular sins threatened the very fabric of society—the family—and therefore immediate death was the penalty under Old Testament law in order to deter them.
You might say that this is rather stern and the Bible actually agrees with you:
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, (6) who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6
The “letter” refers to being under the Old Testament law, which—as you can see—KILLS. The good news, however, is that “the Spirit gives LIFE.” Praise God!
While some sins were considered severe enough for the person to be put to death under Old Testament law we have to understand that death is actually the penalty of all sin. The grave sins listed above resulted in premature physical death for the Israelites during the Old Covenant, but all sins result in eternal death if not repented of through the gospel of Christ. As it is written:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
The bad news is that death is the wages of sin, but the good news is that eternal life is God’s free gift to those who turn to him through the gospel in repentance and faith (Acts 20:21), which starts with spiritual regeneration (John 3:3,6). From there deliverance from any sin problem is a process as the believer is transformed by the renewing of his or her mind, learning to live out of his/her “new self” with the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:22-24). The more a believer becomes spirit-controlled rather than flesh-ruled the more he or she will bear the fruit of the spirit, one of which is self-control or self-discipline (Galatians 5:22-23 & 2 Timothy 1:7). This naturally gives the believer the “edge to win” over any severe sin problem or addiction. In other words, the closer you get to the LORD the more self-control you’ll walk in and therefore the more freedom you’ll experience. This explains why David praised God like so:
I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free.
Psalm 119:32 (WEB)
Keep in mind that David was a type of the New Covenant believer.
How’s all this apply to the topic of homosexuality? The truth is that homosexuality is a severe sexual addiction, a life-dominating sin problem, which is why the kingdom of darkness does everything in its power to get a person to fall into that dark pit. For the Hebrews under Old Testament law there was no hope for those who fell into this pit. The “letter KILLS” and so the ‘best’ the Israelites could do was to put to death those infected by homosexuality, which stopped its spread in their communities (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). But that passage doesn’t end with “The letter kills,” it goes on to say “but the Spirit gives LIFE.” In other words, while deliverance for the homosexual was unavailable under the inferior Old Covenant, total deliverance is available in the New Covenant. This is one of the many reasons why the New Covenant is a superior covenant (Hebrews 8:6,13).
So Christianity doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals at all. Like any other sin it offers deliverance, freedom and LIFE (John 10:10). Praise God!
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