In the church where I grew up, claiming that the Bible contradicted itself was the second-worst thing you could say (the worst thing was to suggest that everybody, not just our little branch of the Christian family tree, was going to heaven). Our primary strategy for dealing with sections of the Bible that didn’t exactly fit with one another was to ignore the problem. But once in a while someone would violate the unspoken rule that you left such questions unspoken (“hey, did you know that John says the crucifixion happened on the day of the Passover feast, but the other gospels say it happened the day after?”), and we would have to scramble to come up with an explanation. When that happened, we expended tremendous amounts of energy to insist that the Bible didn’t really say what it seemed to say, that any apparent disagreements or contradictions within the text were nothing of the sort.

A few years and more than a few hours reading and studying the Bible later I’ve come to see that such tensions and disagreements between one part of Scripture and another are not problems to be ignored or explained away; they are invitations to deeper study and understanding. Sometimes the disagreements are trivial and of concern only to those trying to hold on to particularly stringent understandings of biblical inerrancy. But others are more serious, and when they are they open the door to genuine moments of revelation.

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