As you and I study the word of God, we sometimes come across statements that, at least on the surface, appear to contradict things that are said in other Bible passages. How can we explain or harmonize such apparent contradictions? It requires that we take into account everything that the Bible says on a particular topic. At the same time, it is also imperative that we deal honestly with the message of the text.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind that just because you and I do not have an adequate explanation for what appears to be a contradiction, that does not mean that the Bible is wrong. The needed information may be present and we are just missing it. Also, two statements contradict one another only when there is no plausible explanation to harmonize them. If there is any suitable interpretation that fits the text that is in harmony with the totality of God’s truth, then there is no contradiction. Let us look at some Bible statements that at first glance do not seem to harmonize.
John the Baptizer – Was he Elijah, or not? By the Spirit of God, the prophet Malachi prophesied, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Malachi 4:5). When the Jews sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptizer, they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” John’s short response was, “I am not” (John 1:21). Yet, when Jesus spoke about John, the Master declared, “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:11-14). So, while John claimed that he was not Elijah, Jesus said that John was Elijah. How can both declarations be right?
Was John the reincarnation of Elijah? No. Was John Elijah in the flesh? No. Before John was born, an angel of the Lord told John’s father, Zacharias, that John would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Thus, in spirit and power, John strongly resembled Elijah. It is not uncommon to read in the Bible that a person or place is called by another name, not because the two are identical, but because of similarities in the two. For instance, the Messiah is called “David” (Ezekiel 37:24,25) and Judah or Jerusalem is described as “Sodom” (Isaiah 1:10) because of their common traits.
Do children of God sin, or not? Some who believe in Jesus as the Son of God are convinced that Christians do not sin, and they would point us to 1 John 3:9, where it is written, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin . . .” However, two chapters before that we read that the same writer told 1st-century saints, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). God has made provisions for Christians who sin to be forgiven. What arrangement is that? The very next verse reads, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In that one verse, the Holy Spirit twice speaks of the “sins” of Christians and also speaks of their “unrighteousness.” So, yes, children of God do sin.
How, then, can we explain the statement that whoever has been born of God does not sin? That sounds like a contradiction, does it not? One key is to finish reading 1 John 3:9. We previously quoted only a portion of it. Now, look at the whole verse: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” Why is it that a child of God does not sin? Answer: Because God’s seed remains in him. The “seed” is the word of God (Luke 8:11). When that seed/word abides in our hearts and we act upon its message, then we do not sin (Psalm 119:11). At the same time, we must note that while Christians do sin, we are not the slaves of sin. Any wrong conduct on our part ought not be an ongoing state of lawlessness, but rather a “lapse” into sin of which we quickly repent.
To forsake family members – commendable, or wrong action? God instructs husbands to love their wives like the Christ loved the church, reminding husbands that they are joined to their wives (Ephesians 5:25,31). Wives are likewise taught to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4,5). On the other hand, Jesus proclaimed a blessing on husbands and others that forsake or leave their family members, saying, “. . . there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters of father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time . . . and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29,30). So, which is it, should disciples stay with, or forsake, their families?
In another instance our Lord said, “ . . . whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Of what type of forsaking or leaving did Jesus speak in these cases? Not literally leaving family members, but rather in our hearts making a commitment to love Him above all others. It is a matter of priorities: Jesus comes first and all other people and activities come after Him (Matthew 10:37). That includes family members, even those who are in the family of God. Let us keep studying diligently.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.