Some accuse the Bible of contradicting itself, and cite that as evidence for not being able to trust it. The premise is correct, and if even one part of the Bible is flawed, then you cannot trust any of it.
I want to address one apparent contradiction today, and point out why it is not any such thing.
I follow a number of Bible reading plans, and one is a chronological reading plan. This just means that instead of reading the Bible in the order it appears in the book, you read it in the order it happened in reality. This can be extremely helpful in understanding how the Bible fits together as a whole.
Today I was reading from the books of 2 Samuel in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel follows 1 Samuel, as you might expect… and gives the account of Samuel the prophet, Saul the first king of Israel and his successor King David.
1 Samuel ends with the death of King Saul, and 2 Samuel starts with the same event. Yet, the two accounts are different.
How did King Saul die?
The Philistines fought against Israel, and the army[a] of Israel fled before the Philistines. They fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines pursued Saul and his sons. The Philistines struck down Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchi-shua, Saul’s sons. 3 The heaviest fighting was directed toward Saul, and when the bowmen who were shooting located Saul, he was severely wounded by them.
4 Saul told his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised people will come and run me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer did not want to do it because he was very frightened, so Saul took the sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him.1 Samuel 31:1-5 (ISV)
And from 2 Samuel:
The next day, a man escaped from Saul’s camp! With torn clothes and dirty hair, he approached David, fell to the ground, and bowed down to him.
3 David asked him, “Where did you come from?
He answered him, “I just escaped from Israel’s encampment.”
4 David continued questioning him, “How did things go? Please tell me!”
He replied, “The army has fled the battlefield, many of the army are wounded[b] or have died, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”
5 David asked the young man who related the story,[c] “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”
6 The young man who had been relating the story[d] answered, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa and there was Saul, leaning on his spear! Meanwhile, the chariots and horsemen were rapidly drawing near. 7 Saul[e] glanced behind him, saw me, and called out to me, so I replied, ‘Here I am!’ 8 He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ So I answered him, ‘I’m an Amalekite!’ 9 He begged me, ‘Please—come stand here next to me and kill me, because I’m still alive.’ 10 So I stood next to him and killed him, because I knew that he wouldn’t live after he had fallen. I took the crown that had been on his head, along with the bracelet that had been on his arm, and I have brought them to your majesty.”2 Samuel 1:2-10 (ISV)
This is a clear contradiction. Saul could not have killed himself, as it says in 1 Samuel 31 and also have been killed by the man from 2 Samuel 1. The Bible must be wrong… right?
For a long time, I missed the obvious answer. I read both accounts and could not understand how both could be true. It left something of a question in my mind.
The answer is simple though. Both are not true. And yet, there is no contradiction here.
There is no loophole or trickery to make both true, or to deny the contradiction. In short, the man from 2 Samuel 1 was lying. Not everyone recorded in the Bible is telling the truth, and this man came to King David with a story about how Saul had been killed. But it was fabricated.
In reality, I can only guess, this man found the body of King Saul and removed the crown and bracelets. He then raced to tell King David what had happened thinking he would be rewarded. He believed that David would have been happy to hear of the death of his enemy, and would reward this man for being the one to give the fatal blow. He was wrong!
Meanwhile, David asked the young man who had told him the story,[j] “Where are you from?”
He answered, “I’m an Amalekite, the son of a foreign man.”
14 At this David asked him, “How is it that you weren’t afraid to raise your hand to strike the Lord’s anointed?”
15 Then David called out to one of his young men and ordered him, “Go up to him and cut him down!” So he attacked him and killed him.
16 David told him, “Your blood is on your own head, because your own words[k] testified against you! After all, you said, ‘I myself have killed the Lord’s anointed!’”2 Samuel 1:13-16 (ISV)
David, far from being happy to hear of the death of Saul, was outraged that this man would dare raise his hand to the Annointed King of Israel! So he has him executed for his crime.
This is but one example of apparent contradiction of course, and critics will often point to other things to find fault with the Bible. I believe that contradictions are not in the text, and in fact these apparent ones can lead us to new revelation of what God is trying to say to us.
The Word of God is perfect, and we can fully rely on it. Perhaps we do not understand every part of it, but that does not mean it cannot be trusted.
Do not worry about the parts of the Bible you do not understand, pray about them and ask the Spirit to reveal their meaning to you. Instead of focusing on what you do not understand, pay attention to what you do understand and make sure you live it out in your life.
Thank God for His precious Word to us!