Basic Bible Interpretation:
Applying the Scriptures to Our Lives Today


Dealing with Alleged Contradictions or Difficulties in the Bible

Principles for dealing with Difficulties in the Bible2

  1. To say that Scripture is inspired even to the word and that there is no error does not mean that verbal identity is necessary. It is only necessary that the words convey the truth. For example, notice the differences between Matt 17:14-16, Mark 9:17-18, and Luke 9:38-40. Which of these statements did the man actually make? He may have made all of them, with one gospel writer selecting part of his conversation and another selecting another part. There can be no true meaning without accurate words to convey that meaning. But there may be more than one way to express the same meaning accurately.
  2. One author's purpose may be different from that of another. For that reason, many details are not relevant to his purpose and so may be left out. The biblical author did not add things that did not take place but, quite legitimately, was selective in what he did record.
  3. Christ said similar things on different occasions. Not only did He say similar things, He also did similar things. I am confident that if He Himself had not referred to the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000 as two separate events, some interpreters would have assumed that they were the same event and would have noted a conflict between the two accounts.
  4. The rules for writing history were not the same in the Hebrew/Greek culture of biblical times as they are today. The natural language of everyday life was used, and there was not often a felt need to have an exact transcription such as we would require for court records today.
  5. New Testament quotations of the Old Testament are not required to be exact. Most of the quotations are from the common Bible in the time of Christ, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Often the Old Testament passage is abbreviated or just the thought is conveyed.
  6. The Bible must be considered authoritative where it conflicts with other books of ancient history. Even from an antibiblical perspective, the Bible is the most accurate historical record of ancient history available. Archaeology has consistently validated biblical records.

The Systematic Unity of the Scriptures

The Right Attitude for Theological Study

Principles for Theological Study

Applying the Scriptures to Our Lives Today

Principles for Applying the Bible Today

  1. Proper INTERPRETATION is the foundation for proper APPLICATION.
    If we do not accurately understand what a passage means, then it is almost certain we will not be able to determine how to apply it correctly to our lives. "Unfortunately, many people go to the Bible for a blessing or for guidance for the day, ignoring the interpretive process altogether. In their intense desire to find something devotional or practical, Christians sometimes distort the original meaning of some passage of Scripture. To bypass the purpose and original meaning of the passage, looking for a subjective impression, can lead to serious misuse of the Bible."12
  2. Determine whether a passage is direct teaching or indirect illustration.
    When the passage was originally written, was it prescriptive or descriptive? Prescriptive passages are those that give a command or a "prescription" for human behavior, and they often provide teaching intended for direct application. Descriptive passages simply tell what happened at a particular time, often without providing any value judgment as to whether this was good or bad. "When Scripture describes human actions without comment, it should not necessarily be assumed that those actions are approved. When Scripture describes an action of God with respect to human beings in a narrative passage, it should not be assumed that this is the way He will always work in believers' lives at every point in history."13
  3. Recognize the differences in how God has worked with people throughout human history.
    Every Bible reader is aware that at various points in history God dealt with different groups of people in different ways. God's command for Noah to build an ark is certainly not a prescription for behavior today. God's command for Israel to collect manna as food in the wilderness was obviously not intended to apply later in history. Some of God's instructions to people have changed, while others have carried over from one time period to another. For example, the Old Testament command to love your neighbor (Lev 19:18) still applies today (Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8), but only nine of the Ten Commandments were carried over into the New Testament. Some of the Old Testament commandments were completely nullified, such as the prohibition against eating certain foods (Lev 11 vs. Acts 10:9-16) and the requirement for circumcision (Lev 12 vs. Rom 4 and Gal 5 - 6).
  4. Determine what is "normative" for today vs. what is limited to the biblical setting.
    "Behavior that has a certain meaning in one culture may have a totally different significance in another culture. In American society, for a woman to follow her husband at a distance of fifteen feet, with her head down, would usually indicate a problem in their relationship. In another culture, this same behavior may be considered normal and expected. It may be necessary to change the behavioral expression of a scriptural command in order to translate the principle behind that command from one culture and time to another."14

    It also may be helpful to determine the reason for a particular command or practice. If the reason for the command is limited to that specific cultural situation, then the command itself may also be limited in application. For example, when Paul said in Romans 15 that the Gentile churches had a duty to contribute to the needs of the church in Jerusalem, the reason for this command was given: "if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things" (Rom 15:27). That believers have a duty to share materially with those who have blessed them spiritually is a reason which crosses all cultural boundaries.

    Roy Zuck15 presents several guidelines for determining which biblical examples, commands, and practices apply today:

    1. Some situations, commands, or principles are repeatable, continuous, or not revoked, and/or pertain to moral and theological subjects, and/or are repeated elsewhere in Scripture, and therefore are permanent and transferable to us.
    2. Some situations, commands, or principles pertain to an individual's specific nonrepeatable circumstances, and/or nonmoral or nontheological subjects, and/or have been revoked, and are therefore not transferable to today.
    3. Some situations or commands pertain to cultural settings that are only partially similar to ours and in which only the principles are transferable.
    4. Some situations or commands pertain to cultural settings with no similarities but in which the principles are transferable.
  5. Determine if a biblical command or practice is consistent with the overall message of the Bible as well as with the unchanging nature and character of God.
    "If what happened to someone in Bible times is considered normative for all believers, it must be in harmony with what is taught elsewhere in Scripture. The fact that God used Elijah and Elisha each to raise a young man from death to life (1 Kings 17:17-23; 2 Kings 4:17-37) and used Peter to restore Dorcas to life (Acts 9:36-43) does not mean God intends for believers today to raise others from the dead. This is never indicated in Scripture as normative for all believers. ... Principles, to be valid, must be affirmed elsewhere in Scripture. How does God's sending ravens to feed Elijah during a drought (1 Kings 17:6) apply to us today? Obviously this does not mean God desires to feed Christians by means of birds. Instead the principle is that God sometimes meets human needs by unusual means. The application of this principle is that believers can trust the Lord to supply their needs."16

Concluding Thoughts

Resource List for Applying the Scriptures

Ranked in order beginning with the least complicated and least costly resources in each category.

Resources for Applying the Bible Today

  1. Basic Bible Interpretation (Chapter 12), Roy Zuck
  2. Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chapters 19-20), Robertson McQuilkin
  3. Hermeneutics (Chapter 8), Henry Virkler
  4. Interpreting the Bible (Chapter 17), A. Berkeley Mickelsen

Resources for Dealing with Bible Difficulties

  1. Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chapter 17), Robertson McQuilkin
  2. Hard Sayings of the Bible, Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, and Brauch
  3. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason Archer
  4. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Geisler and Howe
  5. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, John Haley

Resources for Understanding Systematic Theology

  1. Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chapter 16), Robertson McQuilkin
  2. A Survey of Bible Doctrine, Charles Ryrie
  3. Basic Theology, Charles Ryrie
  4. Major Bible Themes, Chafer and Walvoord
  5. Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Thiessen


1 Robertson McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible, 242.
2 Adapted from McQuilkin, 242-247.
3 McQuilkin, 220.
4 McQuilkin, 223-224.
5 McQuilkin, 232.
6 Ibid.
7 McQuilkin, 233.
8 Ibid.
9 McQuilkin, 234.
10 Henry Virkler, Hermeneutics, 220.
11 Roy Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, 279.
12 Zuck, 282.
13 Virkler, 86.
14 Virkler, 224.
15 Zuck, 92-94.
16 Zuck, 285, 287.