Bible Contradictions – A Sense of Relationship

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 157

Many skeptics believe that the Bible is untrustworthy. This is a common belief in today’s world. One of the major reasons why is because most people (including some Christians) believe that the Bible is full of contradictions. This article is the first in a series that will help the Christian understand why so many believe there are contradictions and how to explain to the skeptic (or Christian) why contradictions are non-existent in the Bible.

Definition of a Contradiction

Let us start with the basics. Jason Lisle, in his introductory chapter of Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions, gives an excellent definition of a contradiction: “It is impossible to have A and not A at the same time and in the same relationship.”[1]

Different Sense or Relationship

This is a very straight forward definition. However, most people forget, or do not even know about, the last part of that definition: in the same relationship. There are many different contradictions in the Bible that would fall under “a different relationship.”

What do I mean by this? Words can be used in a different sense or have a different meaning. Lisle gives a good example: “A man can be a bachelor and also married, in the sense that he is ‘married to his job.’ This does not conflict with the fact that the bachelor is unmarried in the sense of not having a wife.” There is no contradiction if the sense of the word is different. If a word is used in a different sense or relationship then it would not be a contradiction.[2] For the rest of this article I will examine an alleged bible contradiction that falls under the category of a different sense or relationship.

Face to Face

Take a look at the following five verses:

  1. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30).
  2. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).
  3. But, [God] said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
  4. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).
  5. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:12).

Notice the contradiction? In the first two verses God is said to be seen face to face by Jacob and Moses. In the last three verses it is said that no one can see God face to face and live (Moses and Jacob lived). To understand this alleged contradiction we need to understand the context of these passages. The context will reveal that the phrase “face to face” has one meaning in the first two verses and another meaning in the last three.

A good place to start is with Exodus 33 since two of the above verses lie very close to each other. In this passage, the Lord and Moses are speaking to each other. However, if you pay close attention, there is a change in relationship in the phrase “face to face” in verses 18 and 19.[3]

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Notice that in verse 18 Moses asks to see God in his glory. This is not the typical face to face interaction that is recorded in Exodus 33:11 and Genesis 32:30. Popular Bible scholar Gleason Archer says, “The Bible draws a clear distinction between gazing on God in His unveiled glory and beholding a representation or reflection of God in a personal interview or encounter with Him.” He continues, “God therefore showed His face and declared His glory through His Son, who was God Incarnate. But back in Old Testament times, God showed His face through an angel…or else through His glory cloud, which led His people through the wilderness after the Exodus.”[4]

God appeared to Jacob and Moses (in the first two verses) in a way that fell short of fully revealing His glory. Archer says, “In that sense He [God] talked with Moses [and Jacob] face to face – somewhat as a speaker on television speaks face to face with his viewing public.”[5] God spoke to Jacob and Moses through an angel or some other means. He did not fully reveal himself to them (or otherwise they would have died).

No one has seen God in his glory. However, some have seen him represented by an angel, in a burning bush (Moses), or in the face of Jesus Christ. The above verses are not contradictory. The phrase “face to face” has a different meaning in these verses. Whenever you come upon what seems to be a contradiction in the Bible, stop and ask yourself if the words have a different sense or relationship. That may solve your problem. In future article we will discuss different categories of contradictions and how to solve them.

What do you think? Did this article help you? Have any questions on other passages that have a different sense or relationship? Leave a comment below.


[1] Jason Lisle, “Introduction.” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Green Forest: Master Books, 2010. Pg.  13.

[2] Lisle, 13.

[3] Bodie Hodge, “Face to Face.” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Green Forest: Master Books, 2010. Pg. 62-63.

[4] Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982. Pg. 124-125.

[5] Archer, 125.

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