Was Abraham Justified by Faith or by Works?

Answering 439 Bible Contradictions: #2

Answer: Abraham was justified by faith before God and by works before men.

Problem: Paul and James seem to contradict each other when speaking of justification. Paul says, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he would have something to boast about, but not before God” (Rom 4:2), and later: “therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). James, however, asks “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the alter” (James 2:21; cf. v.24)? So which is it?

Explanation: Paul and James use three key words differently: justification, faith, and works. These men differ in terminology not theology. Everyone understands that the same word may have a different meaning depending on the context, as when the lumberjack says the trunk on the mountain was full of termites and the mother says the trunk in the attic was full of dresses.

If the lumberjack responds that this just cannot be true—“I’ve never once found a dress in my thirty years of chopping”—then we must sit down and teach him some rules of interpretation.

When Paul uses “justification” or “justify”, it means to declare righteous. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly…” (Rom. 4:5). For Paul, justification is “before God” (Gal. 3:11) and “in His sight” (Rom. 3:20). But justification can be used in another way, such as to demonstrate or show righteousness. For example, Jesus tells the Pharisees in Luke 16:15 “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.” They were trying to demonstrate their righteousness to others. In Luke 10:29, after the lawyer had heard the demands of Jesus, Scripture tells us that “he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor’.” He wanted to show Jesus just how good of a person he was. This is the way James uses the word. Justification is before men. He says, “You got faith? Show me.” “You see then that a man is justified (i.e. he demonstrates his righteousness to others) by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

If grace is water in the well and faith is the bucket that brings it to us, Paul’s bucket is in good condition—it alone can do the job—while James’ bucket may have holes. Both agree that sturdy (saving) buckets alone can bring grace to the sinner and both agree that leaky buckets are worthless. It’s just that Paul speaks of the former and James of the latter. Continue reading

How Many Men Did David’s Captain Kill?

Answering 439 Bible Contradictions: #1

How many men did the chief of David’s captains kill? 2 Samuel 23:8 contradicts 1 Chron. 11:11

  • Answer: The captain Jashobeam killed 800 men with a spear on at least one occasion.
  • Problem: 2 Samuel 23:8-12 describes the leading Three Amigos of David’s mighty men, the chief named Jashobeam (or, Josheb-basshebeth). This warrior killed 800 men in one battle. But 1 Chronicles 11:11 also tells the story, and Jashobeam is said to have killed not 800 but 300 men with a spear. So which is it?
  • Explanation: There are at least two valid possibilities. (1) These passages could be describing two different events. This man was the captain of the most elite soldiers of his day, the ancient Jewish version of today’s Navy Seals. If he could kill 800 men in one battle, why couldn’t he have killed 300 in another? Further, if he only killed 300 total, statistically he would not be a greater warrior than Abishai, who killed that many men himself (2 Sam. 23:18). (2) This is an example of a copyist’s error. Many scholars argue for this, including The John MacArthur Study Bible. There would not be a contradiction then in the Scriptures themselves, but in the transmission. This is where lower text criticism is of benefit, as it seeks to produce the original text from the plethora of manuscripts. Even if this is an example of a textual variant, it is irrelevant to the proper understanding of the text as a whole and does not negate biblical inerrancy.

Contradiction #359: “Is All Scripture Inspired by God?”

Well-known atheist Sam Harris, a man Douglas Wilson calls an “indignation impresario”, is the author of Letter to a Christian Nation and founder of Project Reason, an organization seeking to “encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.” Or, just cross out those last seven words and write “Christianity”.

Project Reason has assembled 439 contradictions in Scripture, complete with a colorful red grid to keep the reader entertained. Actually, there are only 437, as a couple contradictions are listed twice—but we all know that 439 looks much more insurmountable than 437.

Many of these apparent flaws deal with numbers and statistics in the Old Testament or questions about the nature of God that do not take into account context, genre, and imagery. That is, Harris is the kind that would accuse sportscaster Marv Alberts of lying when he shouts “Lebron James is on fire”, refusing to believe that Marvelous was speaking more of Lebron’s three-point prowess and less of his proclivity to smolder.

Nonetheless, there are a number of legitimate questions that do cause some Christians to squirm. “Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?” “Who tempted David to tempt Israel?” “Is it OK to take oaths?”

The Reason Project should at least be commended for providing ample Scripture references with their objections. Paul said the Bereans were noble for eagerly “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). In this series of blog posts, we’ll endeavor to be like the Bereans by searching the Scriptures in order to answer a handful of “contradictions” that carry the most weight.

#359 | Is all Scripture inspired by God?

The Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Apparently contradicts:

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. (1 Cor. 7:12)

Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. (1 Cor. 7:25)  Continue reading