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Inconsistencies in the Bible


I know I’ve lost many readers already by my title. They quickly skipped to something else, likely muttering, “Heretic!” under their breath. I don’t blame them. Not everyone can bear to closely examine the bumper sticker that proclaims, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

Any thoughtful, careful reader of the New Testament mailbag eventually faces a problem, though. The writers simply weren’t consistent in their teachings.

For example, when he wrote to the Colossians, Paul discounted any benefits of treating the body harshly. (Col 2:23) But, in his letter to the Corinthians, he advocated – even claimed to role-model – Spartan treatment of the body. “I beat my body and make it my slave…” (I Cor 9:27) Did Paul contradict himself?

After I broke my hip in a bicycle accident, my doctor told me to rest. But, when I was recovering from tennis elbow, he told me to exercise. Was my doctor inconsistent? Worse yet, did he contradict himself? Of course not. He’d be a quack if he prescribed the same thing in all cases!

Here’s the principle: The prescription matches the diagnosis.

The New Testament mailbag wasn’t written to you and me. It was written to specific (in most cases) people in specific circumstances with specific needs. The writer’s diagnosis of each case produced a prescription for each. They weren’t trying to be consistent; they were trying to help their intended readers.

You and I can glean useful principles and guidance from their letters, but we harm ourselves when we blindly assume all the prescriptions for ourselves. Who would go to a pharmacy and take one of everything there?

Here’s another principle: Some prescriptions don’t change with circumstances.

My doctor would never prescribe substance abuse, promiscuity, or obesity. There is no case where those would improve my health. Moderation and responsibility are always good advice.

Similarly, the New Testament writers didn’t tell the early believers to explore other faiths, formicate with the fertility-religion prostitutes, or assassinate those who persecute them. Faith, hope, and love are always good advice.

Our challenge today, as careful, thoughtful readers of the New Testament mailbag, is to find and live by the enduring principles of faith in Jesus and to distill wisdom from the prescriptions specific to the first-century believers.

And to distinguish between the two.

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Mike Pulley

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