Q&A: Bible Rife with Contradiction

Bible Rife with Contradiction

Question

In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah ascended into heaven in a flaming chariot. But in John 3:13 says that "no man hath ascended" to heaven who didn't first come from heaven, including Christ. Only Christ had ascended? St. John himself doesn't believe it, or know about it, or he misquoted God's words while writing 3:13? The Bible itself presents evidence against its own claimed miracles, indeed, against many of its own words of God. What the Bible claims here it denies there; what it upholds there, it condemns here. The Bible is so contradictory, virtually anything can be defended from its passages. There may be more biblical contradictions than in any book proving at least, its writers did not believe one another.

Answer

There are many things in the Bible that at first glance look contradictory, but there are, in my opinion, reasonable explanations for all of them. Much of recognizing the harmony rather than the contradiction of these passages has to do with understanding the writers' original meanings. Also, reading the original languages (Greek in the case of the New Testament and Hebrew in the case of the Old Testament) is often very helpful because translations sometimes give the wrong impression of what the original says.

For example, in John 3:13 Jesus states that he has both ascended to and descended from heaven. He makes this statement in order to defend the truth of his testimony (John 3:11). His point is that because he has been to heaven, he knows what he's talking about when he speaks of heaven -- the testimony of a first-hand witness to "heavenly things" (John 3:12) ought to be trustworthy (compare John 1:14-18). Apart from this context, Jesus' statement in John 3:13 really doesn't make much sense or serve his argument.

Some English translations (like the NIV) include the word "ever" in verse 13 to suggest that Jesus was the only one who had ever ascended into heaven. However, no word indicating the concept of "ever" appears in the Greek text, and many other translations do not insert it in the English (e.g. NASB, NRSV, NKJV). Some English translators add this word in an attempt to clarify the verse, but really it obscures the meaning. Jesus' point was not that he was the only one who had ever possessed first-hand knowledge of heaven, but rather that he was the only present witness testifying to the truths of heaven who also possessed first-hand knowledge of those truths.

Further, while many English translations suggest that Jesus claimed to be the only one in his own day who had ascended into heaven, the Greek is not necessarily this exclusive. Rather, the English word "except" found in some versions (NIV, NRSV) and the word "but" in others (NASB, NKJV) translate the Greek phrase ei me. This is not the only legitimate translation of this Greek phrase, however, even in this kind of syntactical arrangement. Another perfectly legitimate translation of ei me is "if not." So, John 3:13 may also be translated: "No one has ascended into heaven if not the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." Taken this way, the verse is simply Jesus' assertion that he is the most reliable of all witnesses who have (or claim) first-hand knowledge of heaven because he himself is a native of heaven.

Now, none of this is to say that there are not many apparent contradictions in the Bible. Rather, my point is that these contradictions are only apparent, that they are not real. Upon investigation, I think they can all be reasonably explained. This does not mean that one cannot adopt interpretations that in fact are contradictory -- people do this all the time. I only mean to suggest that adopting contradictory interpretations is a matter of choice and not of reasonable necessity.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.