Category Archives: Bible Difficulties Questions

Questions about Bible Difficulties: How would you explain the inaccuracy between Judas hanging himself in Matthew 27:5 and “falling headlong he burst open” in Acts 1:18?

 

This question of the manner in which Judas died is one with which we are constantly confronted in our travels. Many people point to the apparent discrepancy in the two accounts as an obvious, irreconcilable error.

Some have gone so far as to say that the idea of an inerrant Bible is destroyed by these contradictory accounts. However, this is not the case at all.

Matthew relates that Judas hanged himself, while Peter tells us he fell and was crushed by the impact. The two statements are indeed different, but do they necessarily contradict each other?

Matthew does not say that Judas did not fall; neither does Peter say that Judas did not hang himself. This is not a matter of one person calling something black and the other person calling it white. Both accounts can be true and supplementary.

A possible reconstruction would be this: Judas hanged himself on a tree on the edge of a precipice that overlooked the valley of Hinnom. After he hung there for some time, the limb of the tree snapped or the rope gave way and Judas fell down the ledge, mangling his body in the process.

The fall could have been before or after death as either would fit this explanation. This possibility is entirely natural when the terrain of the valley of Hinnom is examined. From the bottom of the valley, you can see rocky terraces twenty-five to forty feet in height and almost perpendicular.

There are still trees that grow around the ledges and a rocky pavement at the bottom. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that Judas struck one of the jagged rocks on his way down, tearing his body open. It is important to remember that we are not told how long Judas remained hanging from the tree or how advanced was the decomposition of his body before his fall.

Louis Gaussen relates a story of a man who was determined to kill himself. This individual placed himself on the sill of a high window and pointed a pistol at his head. He then pulled the trigger and leaped from the window at the same time.

On the one hand, a person could say that this man took his life by shooting himself, while another could rightly contend he committed suicide by jumping from the tall building. In this case, both are true, as both are true in the case of Matthew’s and Peter’s accounts of the death of Judas. It is merely a situation of different perspectives of the same event.[1]

 

 

[1] McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

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Questions about Bible Difficulties: 1 John 4:2–3—Does this refer to Jesus being in the flesh before or after His resurrection?

 

Problem: John declares that those who deny “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” are of Antichrist. While all orthodox Christians take this to mean Jesus was fully human, including having a physical body of flesh before His resurrection, some contend that Jesus was not raised from the dead in the same body of flesh and bones in which He died, but in a body that was not essentially material. What does this verse mean?

Solution: John uses the perfect tense here in Greek, meaning past action with continuing results in the present. Thus, he affirms that Jesus came in the flesh in the past and continues in the flesh in the present (i.e., when he is writing, which was after the Resurrection).

This is further clarified by John’s use of the same phrase, only in the present tense. He declared that many deceivers do not “confess Jesus Christ as coming [present tense] in the flesh” (2 John 7). From this it is clear that, even after the Resurrection when John wrote, he insisted that Jesus was still continuing in the flesh.

Finally, in addition to these two passages in John’s epistles, there are two other NT texts which explicitly declare Christ’s resurrection body to be one of flesh. Referring to the resurrection of Christ, Peter declared that “nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:30–31). Jesus Himself said to His disciples in one of His post-resurrection appearances, “Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).[1]

 

 

 

[1] Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 539–540). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Questions about Bible difficulties: 1 John 3:9—Doesn’t John contradict himself when he asserts that Christians are without sin?

 

Problem: John affirms here that “Whoever has been born of God does not sin.” But in the first chapter he insisted that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8).

Solution: John nowhere claims that believers are without sin or never commit a sin. First John 3:9 is in the present continuous tense and should be translated “Whoever is born of God does not continually practice sin.” Conversely, if a person habitually practices sin, he is not born of God. As James argued, true faith will produce good works (James 2:14ff). If a pig and a lamb fall into the mud, the pig wants to stay there, but the lamb wants to get out. Both a believer and an unbeliever can fall into the same sin, but a believer cannot stay in it and feel comfortable.[1]

 

 

[1] Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 539). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Questions about Bible Difficulties: Romans 1:26—Does this verse mean that homosexuals should not be heterosexual because it is unnatural to them?

 

Problem: According to some homosexuals, when Paul spoke against what is “unnatural” in Romans 1:26, he was not declaring that homosexuality was morally wrong, but simply that it was unnatural for homosexuals. “Unnatural” is used in a sociological, not a biological way. So rather than condemning homosexual practices, it is argued that this passage actually approves of them for homosexuals.

Solution: When the Bible declares that homosexual practices are “against nature” (Rom. 1:26), it is referring to biological nature, not sociological nature. First, sex is defined biologically in Scripture from the very beginning. In Genesis 1, God created “male and female” and then told them to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:27–28, niv). This reproduction was only possible if He was referring to a biological male and female.

Second, sexual orientation is understood biologically, not sociologically, when God said “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, niv). For only a biological father and mother can produce children, and the reference to “one flesh” speaks of a physical marriage.

Thirdly, the Romans passage says that “men committed indecent acts with other men.” This clearly indicates that this sinful act was homosexual in nature (Rom. 1:27, niv).

Fourth, what they did was not natural to them. They “exchanged” the “natural relations” for the unnatural ones (Rom. 1:26, niv). So the homosexual acts were pronounced unnatural for homosexuals too.

Fifth, homosexual desires are also called “shameful lusts” (v. 26, niv). So it is evident that God is condemning sexual sins between those of the same biological sex. Homosexual acts are contrary to human nature as such, not just to a homsexual’s sexual orientation.[1]

 

 

[1] Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 438–439). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Questions about Bible Difficulties: Romans 2:7—Is immortality acquired or possessed?

 

Problem: Paul speaks here of “seeking” immortality. He also refers to acquiring it at the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:53). However, Jesus taught that the soul is immortal, that is, it cannot be destroyed by death (Luke 12:5). Paul also insists that the soul survives death (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; cf. Rev. 6:9). But which is it—do we already possess immortality or do we only acquire it at the resurrection?

Solution: The Bible reserves the term “immortality” for humans in their resurrected state. It is something acquired, not possessed before the Resurrection, since Christ, who was the first one to attain an immortal resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:20), “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10) for the rest of the race.

Nevertheless, the fact of immortality includes the human soul as well. For the soul is not destroyed by physical death, just as Jesus said (Luke 12:5). It survives death and goes into either God’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23), if it is saved, or into conscious hell (Luke 16:22–26; Rev. 19:20–20:15), if it is lost. Since the soul (and/or spirit) is not mortal, as the body is, in this sense it is proper to say the soul is immortal. However, the whole person—soul and body—is resurrected to immortality. So in this sense, the soul gains immortality at the resurrection of the body.

However, in the biblical sense of living forever in an immortal body, human beings do not possess immortality before the resurrection. Even so, only God is intrinsically immortal (see comments on 1 Tim. 6:16); whatever immortality humans have, they derive from God. The matter can be summarized as follows:

SINCE   THE SOUL IS IMMORTAL

SINCE   THE SOUL IS NOT IMMORTAL

Indestructible   by man

Indestructible   by God

Survives   physical death

Can   avoid second death

Has   beginning but no end

Has   no beginning or end

Derived   from God

Inherent   like God’s

[1]

 


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 439–440). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Questions about Difficult Bible Verses: Romans 1:26—Does this verse mean that homosexuals should not be heterosexual because it is unnatural to them?

 

Misinterpretation: According to some homosexuals, when Paul spoke against what is “unnatural” in Romans 1:26 he was not declaring that homosexuality was morally wrong but simply that it was unnatural for heterosexuals. “Unnatural” is used in a sociological, not a biological way. So rather than condemning homosexual practices, it is argued that this Romans passage actually approves of homosexual practices for homosexuals.

Correcting the Misinterpretation: When the Bible declares that homosexual practices are “contrary to nature” (Rom. 1:26 kjv) it is referring to biological, not sociological nature. This passage cannot be used to justify homosexuality.

Sexuality and sexual expression are defined biologically in Scripture from the beginning. In Genesis 1 God created “male and female” and then told them to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:27–28). This reproduction was only possible if he was referring to a biological male and female. Sexual orientation is understood biologically, not sociologically, when God said “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24 niv). Only a biological father and mother can produce children, and the reference to “one flesh” simply cannot be understood in any relationship except heterosexual physical marriage.

The Romans passage says that “men committed indecent acts with other men.” This clearly indicates that the class of sinful act condemned was homosexual in nature (Rom. 1:27). What they did was not natural to them but was “exchanged” for “natural relations” (v. 26). So the homosexual acts were pronounced unnatural for homosexuals too. Homosexual desires are also called “shameful lusts” (v. 26). So it is evident that God is condemning sexual sins between those of the same biological sex. Homosexual acts are contrary to human nature as such, not just to a heterosexual’s sexual orientation.[1]

 


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations (p. 210). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Questions about Difficult Bible Verses: Romans 1:5—Does this verse support the Roman Catholic view that the true church of Christ is a visible church on earth today, viz. the Roman Catholic church?

 

Misinterpretation: Catholic dogma teaches that “the biblical proof of the visibility of the Church springs from the Divine institution of the hierarchy.” And “the teaching office [of the Roman Catholic church] demands from its incumbents the duty of obedience to the faith (Rom. 1, 5)” (Ott, 1960, 301–2). Is this text a proof that the true church is a visible church on earth today—namely, the Roman Catholic church? Some other sects use the same or similar reasoning

Correcting the Misinterpretation: The claim that the Roman Catholic church demands obedience as the true visible church is not supported by this text. The text states, “through him [Christ] we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about obedience of faith.” Paul is speaking here about his apostleship (v. 1), not Peter’s, or Peter’s alleged successors, the Roman Catholic popes.

Further, to be an apostle in this authoritative sense, one had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5–8), which clearly disqualifies anyone after the first century. This would negate the claim that the “teaching office” of the Roman Catholic church is somehow implied here. The Church’s argument would have more force if they related their authority to Paul, rather than Peter. The added requirement of being a witness of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Acts 1:22) was pertinent only in regard to being one of the twelve apostles who have a special place in the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), their very names being written on the foundation of the eternal city (Rev. 21:14) and their reigning with Christ on twelve thrones when he returns (Matt. 19:28). Paul was not one of the twelve and, hence, need not fulfil this requirement. However, he was an apostle (Gal. 1:1) who received direct revelation from God (Gal. 1:12). His apostolic authority compared with that of the twelve apostles (Gal. 1:17; 2:5–9) and he displayed the miraculous “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12). But neither was Paul’s apostleship
transferable. Paul explicitly listed the appearance of the resurrected Christ to him as a prerequisite for being an apostle. He wrote, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1). Likewise, he listed Jesus’ resurrection appearance to him along with that of the other apostles, saying, “After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also” (1 Cor. 15:7–8).

There were no more appearances of Christ to anyone after Paul to confirm apostleship in this special sense. None are listed on the official list of 1 Corinthians 15, and Paul describes himself as “last of all” among those personally visited and commissioned. The miraculous signs which confirmed an apostle are referred to as past events by a.d. 69 when the Book of Hebrews was written (Heb. 2:3–4). The Book of Jude, which was written after Paul’s death, refers to the apostles as having lived in the past (Jude 17). Jude said the faith he preached had been “once for all” handed down to us by them (v. 3).

The “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) included the ability to heal all diseases (Matt. 10:1), even incurable ones, immediately (cf. Acts 3:7), the power of exorcising demons immediately on command (Matt. 10:8; cf. Acts 16:18), authority to condemn with death those who lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11), and even the ability to perform resurrections from the dead (Matt. 10:8; cf. Acts 20:7–11). This excludes anyone alive today, including the Pope. No one possesses the power to perform these kinds of apostolic signs. But without these kinds of apostolic signs (cf. Heb. 2:3–4), there is no proof of apostolic authority. The authority of the New Testament apostles existed after their miracles had ceased, but only because these apostolic signs already had confirmed their apostolic authority, expressed in the abiding apostolic writings. But once these apostles so confirmed had died, there was no living apostolic authority. The only apostolic authority present today is the New Testament. Only New Testament writings were confirmed by apostolic signs, so only the New Testament contains this apostolic authority.[1]


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations (pp. 206–207). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Questions about Bible Verses: Romans 1:19–20—Are the heathen lost?

 

Problem: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). Also, Acts 4:12 says of Christ, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (nasb). But what if someone has never heard the Gospel of Christ, will he be eternally lost? Paul seems to answer this in the affirmative. But is it fair to condemn people who have never even heard about Christ?

Solution: Paul’s answer is clear. He said that the heathen are “without excuse” (1:20) because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (1:19–20). So, the heathen are justly condemned for several reasons. First, Romans 2:12 states, “For as many as have sinned without Law will also perish without Law, and as many as have sinned in the Law will be judged by the Law.” This passage teaches that the Jew is judged by the Law, the Hebrew Scriptures, but the Gentile is condemned by “the Law written in their hearts.”     “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:14–15, nasb).

Second, the question assumes innocence on the part of the saved man who hasn’t heard the Gospel. But the Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In addition, Romans 1:18–20 says that God clearly reveals Himself through natural revelation “so that they are without excuse.” Human beings are not innocent regarding God’s natural revelation.

Third, if a person who has not heard the Gospel lives his life to the best of his ability he simply is doing works for salvation. But salvation is by grace, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Not in any way, shape, or form can anybody do anything to gain access into heaven. If there was such a way, then the work of Christ on the Cross was a futile act.

Finally, the Bible says in essence, “seek and you will find.” That is, those who seek the light they have through nature, which is not sufficient for salvation, will get the light they need for salvation. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Acts 10:35 adds, “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” God has many ways to get the truth about salvation through Christ to those who seek Him. He can send a missionary (Acts 10), or a Bible (Ps. 119:130), give them a vision (Dan. 2; 7), or send an angel (Rev. 14). But those who turn their back on the light they have (through nature) and find themselves lost in darkness, have no one to blame but themselves. For “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).[1]

 


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 437–438). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Questions about Bible Difficulties: Doesn’t Mark disagree with the other three Gospels about Peter’s denial of Jesus?

 

A problem that has perplexed many careful students of the Bible concerns the accounts of the denial of Christ by Simon Peter. Jesus said to Peter, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34, NASB).

Matthew records the fulfillment of this prediction, “And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:74, 75, KJV).

The problem comes when we read Mark’s version, “and Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Mark 14:30, KJV). The fulfillment reads, concerning Peter, “He went out into the porch” (Mark 14:68, KJV), and later, in verse 72, “the second time the cock crew.”

Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said to him, “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.” Was it before the cock crowed once or twice that Peter denied Jesus? Luke and John give the same basic account as Matthew, making Mark’s statement seemingly at variance with the other three.

This problem is not as unresolvable as it may seem. It is quite reasonable that Jesus made both statements. He told Peter that he would deny Him before the crowing of the cock, and his denial would occur before it had crowed twice.

What we have, therefore, is Mark recording the story in more detail. This would seem natural since Mark wrote his Gospel under the influence of Simon Peter, and it would be natural for him to further detail this story, seeing that he is one of the main characters.

Thus we have all four evangelists recording that Jesus predicted Peter’s denial of Jesus, with Mark adding further details. A possible reconstruction would be the following: Jesus reveals to Peter that before the cock crows, Peter will deny Him three times.

Peter, as was his way, probably objected loudly to this idea that he would deny his Lord. Jesus then in turn repeats His earlier prediction, along with a further note that before the cock crows twice Peter will deny Him three times. (This harmony fits well with Mark’s account in his Gospel.)

Furthermore, the clause, “Before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34, NASB), is not contradicted by Mark relating that after Peter had denied Jesus the first time, the cock crowed. The cock crow was the sign that morning was soon to appear, and the phrase, “the time of the cock crow,” is another term for dawn.

When Jesus is referring to the cock crowing twice, he is predicting a crowing of the cock in the middle of the night long before daybreak.

“Observation over a period of 12 years in Jerusalem has confirmed that the cock crows at three distinct times, first about a half hour after midnight, a second time about an hour later, and a third time an hour after the second” (William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, p. 543).

When all the facts are considered, the problem of Peter’s denial is not at all a blatant contradiction, but can be harmonized.[1]


[1] McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.