Answering the Atheist

by William J. Stewart

Answering the Atheist was started as a response to supposed contradictions put forth by
opponents of the Bible. In particular, a young Christian came to me, distraught with a series of
about 30 supposed contradictions that a "friend" at school gave him. Within a few days, I
supplied him with explanations for all 30 apparent discrepancies1. Seeing the doubt which this list
caused in him, and the relief and confidence that seeing the answers gave, I thought it a good
thing to give regular attention to what some claim to be contradictions in the Scripture. It is
hoped that this project will be helpful in answering concerns about apparent discrepancies,
whether those who bring them up are atheists, agnostic, or sincere believers who are having
difficulty harmonizing two or more texts.

In this particular article, we will address some complaints made by an opponent of the
Bible on six explanations he has received in attempt to deal with Bible inconsistencies.

The Atheist's Complaint:

"That is to be taken metaphorically." In other words, what is written is not what is meant.
I find this entertaining, especially for those who decide what isn't to be taken as other than the
absolute Word of God - which just happens to agree with the particular thing they happen to
want...

Response:

It's nice that the writer finds this explanation to be so entertaining. Does the writer infer
that everything which is written, biblical or not, ought to be taken literally? It is a fact that some
language used in writing, both biblical and otherwise is metaphoric. If the writer disputes that, he
has merely shown his ignorance.

Metaphors are a part of our everyday language. Consider the person who exclaims, "My
knee is killing me." Is his knee really killing him? Is that not just a simple metaphoric statement
indicating a severe pain in the individual's knee? When God's word says, "The sun shall be
turned into darkness, and the moon into blood...
" (Acts 2:20), it ought to be evident that it is
metaphoric language. In the book of Revelation, John declares, "...he sent and signified it by his
angel unto his servant John...
" (Revelation 1:1). John states that the things which he writes are
not literal, but signified. It is metaphoric language by its very nature. To deny that some items in
Scripture are to be taken metaphorically only serves to prove one's own ignorance.

The Atheist's Complaint:

"There was more there than..." This is used when one verse says "there was A" and
another says "there was B", so they decide there was "A" and "B" - which is said nowhere. This
makes them happy, since it doesn't say there wasn't "A + B". But it doesn't say there was "A + B
+ little green martians." This is often the same crowd that insists theirs is the only possible interpretation (i.e. only "A") and the only way. I find it entertaining they don't mind adding to
verses.

Response:

Let us begin with an illustration. I have hosted a party, and speaking of the party to a coworker,
I mention, "Tom and Betty were there." My wife, speaking to her friends at the grocery
store says, "Julie and Fred were at the party." Who was at the party? Well, we know that at least
four people were there: Tom, Betty, Julie and Fred. Does the fact that I didn't mention Julie and
Fred mean they were not there? No, I simply did not mention that they were. Because my wife
and I only mentioned four people who were at the party, does that mean no one else was there?
No, simply that we didn't mention who else may have been there. If one gospel writer mentions a
certain person or persons who were at a specific event, and another writer mentions other persons
who were at that event, not mentioned by the first writer, it is the very same situation as
illustrated above. Is there a contradiction? No, just different information provided by different
writers.

The Atheist's Complaint:

"It has to be understood in context." I find this amusing because it comes from the same
crowd that likes to push likewise extracted verses that support their particular view. Often it is
just one of the verses in the contradictory set is supposed to be taken as the truth when if you
add more to it, it suddenly becomes "out of context." How many of you have gotten just John
3:16 (taken out of context) thrown up at you?

Response:

Again, consider an illustration. You're at the doctor's office. Your spouse is seeing the
doctor about some pains which she has been experiencing. You are in the waiting room, but need
to go to the washroom. On your way to the washroom, you notice the door to the examination
room where the doctor and your wife are is ajar. On the way back to the waiting room, as you
walk by the door, you overhear the doctor say, "...going to die. Here's a prescription to relieve
the pain..." You rush back to your seat, shocked at what you just heard -- your wife is going to
die! Unfortunately, you didn't hear the whole statement: "No, You're Not Going to Die. Here's a
prescription to relieve the pain. You should be feeling better in a few days." Now tell me, is
context important?

It has been said that one can prove anything from the Scriptures, and it is so, if the
context is ignored. I heard the story of an older preacher who in a Bible class stated that one
could prove anything by the Bible. He explained, "If one misuses verses, by pulling them out of
context, by twisting what they are saying, and so forth, he can teach anything he desires." One of
the students stated that he didn't believe that one could prove anything by the Bible. The preacher
affirmed that it could be done. The student then said, "OK, prove to me that it is wrong to split
wood." The preacher, with no more than a moment's hesitation replied, "Whatsoever God hath
joined together, let not man put asunder." The context of a statement is vital!

The Atheist's Complaint:

"There was just a copying/writing error." This is sometimes called a "transcription error,"
as in where one number was meant and an incorrect one was copied down. Or that what was
"quoted" wasn't really what was said, but just what the author thought was said when he thought
it was said. And that's right -- I'm not disagreeing with events, I'm disagreeing with what is
written. Which is apparently that it is incorrect. This is an amusing misdirection to the problem
that the Bible itself is wrong.

Response:

It is acknowledged that our English translations may contain a minute number of errors,
whether they be translation errors, copying errors, or subtle changes to aid support to a false
doctrine. However, if one considers the Greek manuscripts which have been found, there is
amazing consistency in them. It is eye opening to see the consistency of the Scriptures and
supporting documentation for them as compared with the highly esteemed ancient writings of
men.

The Atheist's Complaint:

"That is a miracle." Naturally. That is why it is stated as fact.

Response:

I am unsure exactly what the writer's point is. I have never heard anyone attempt to
explain an apparent contradiction in Scripture away by simply saying, "That is a miracle." An
example of what the writer is speaking of might be in order to clarify his point. Perhaps the
writer denies the possibility of miracles, and thus decides that all miracles recorded in Scripture
are somehow contradictions to something. They are not contradictions to the Bible, but it seems
maybe evidence of the writer's faithlessness.

The Atheist's Complaint:

"God works in mysterious ways." A useful dodge when the speaker doesn't understand
the conflict between what the Bible says and what they wish it said.

Response:

Again, I have never heard this used to explain a supposed inconsistency in Scripture. An
example would be in order.

1 This article is a response to Atheism Explained: Why I Don't Believe.