Do Real Contradictions Occur In Scripture? We deny. (Part 1)

Continuing our Bibliology Primer we now come to the question of whether real contradictions appear in the Scriptures. This blog post will be divided into two section, maybe three. The first section will deal with the problems faced by the Reformers at there time which, interestingly enough, very closely resembles similar problems the Standard Sacred Text/Confessional Text/KJV community face today. The second section will address Turretin’s response to these problems. I may then write a third entry addressing the proposed “contradictions” which Turretin undertakes. For now, and beginning with our first section, Turretin writes,

“Although when the divinity of the Scriptures is proved (as in the preceding question), its infallibility necessarily follows, yet the enemies of true religion and of Scripture in every age flatter themselves that they have found not a few contradictions in it and boast of their discoveries in order to overthrow its authenticity.”

Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 1. 70.

But Turretin does not limit his apologetic address to those outside the Church who care little for the word of God. No, he expands his response to those in the Church. It should not be surprising then that both people in the Church and outside the Church willingly or otherwise attempt to weaken the authority of Scripture in this or that part. Turretin observes,

“we have to deal here not only with declared atheists and Gentiles who do not receive the sacred Scriptures, but also with those who, seeming to receive them, indirectly oppose them.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 2. 70.

While dealing specifically with supposed contradictions in Scripture, Turretin broadens the target a bit by including “Enthusiasts who allege the imperfection of the written word,” “papists… insisting on the corruption of the original,” “Libertines who, living in the bosom of the church, are constantly bringing forward these difficulties,” and all “in order to weaken the authority of the Scriptures” [ Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 2. 70]. Not much has changes since the 1600’s.

Turretin then gives a series of responses “the learned” have used over time to answer the accusations of the enthusiasts, papist, atheists, and libertines. Some say “the sacred writers could slip.” Others say the “Hebrew and Greek originals are corrupted.” But perhaps the most familiar, and the one used by most in the English-speaking Church to this very day is,

“Others again think that a few very slight errors have crept into the Scriptures and even now exist which cannot be corrected by any collation of manuscripts. These are not to be imputed however to the sacred writers themselves, but partly to the injuries of time, partly to the fault of copyists and librarians.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 3. 70

Now pause for just a minute and try to guess what Turretin’s next line is going to be. I mean Turretin wrote nearly 400 years ago. What do you think the chances are that the next line is his text is a near direct quote from our present day? Turretin writes immediately after the quote above,

“Yet on this account, the authenticity (authentia) of the Scriptures cannot be weakened because they occur only in things less necessary and important.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 3. 70

This is THE present day response of so many pastors, theologians, and laymen to the “slight errors” found in Scripture. Nearly every seminary, Reformed or otherwise, concludes with the above language. “Slight errors don’t matter because they don’t affect any major doctrine.” Sound familiar? Still, Turretin at the time of the Reformation states that this is not the majority position held by the orthodox or those of right thinking.

Turretin goes on to offer the orthodox prescription when he writes,

“Finally others defend the integrity of the Scriptures and say that these various contradictions are only apparent, not real and true; that certain passages are hard to be understood, but not altogether inexplicable. This is the more common opinion of the orthodox, which we follow as safer and truer.

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 3. 70 [Italics: Mine]

In short, Turretin lumps the Roman Catholics, Atheist, Charismatics, and the prevailing opinion of the present-day English-speaking Church into the same group in terms of “improperly defending the integrity of the Scriptures.” He then goes on to declare that all contradictions are apparent and infers that all “slight errors” are presently reconcilable rather than potentially reconcilable. It is this last part which we will deal with in greater deal in our second section.

For now, it is important to note that arguments against a standard sacred text are old. There is nothing new under the sun. It now falls to our generation to address these old failed arguments, and we need not go far. So much of the answer has already been laid out for us in examples like Francis Turretin. Study. Be gracious. Be compelling. Be bold.

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