Apparent biblical contradictions

Hello. My apologies if this thread is redundant. What do we do when we discover “apparent” contradictions between verses of the bible, such as " work out your own salvation " vs. " of faith and not works. I know its not an actual contradiction, but I’m not sure how to reconcile such questions.

There is no contradiction. Some passages indicate that we need faith to be saved. Some passages indicate that we need works to be saved. Thus we conclude that you need both to be saved. Roughly speaking of course, I’m putting it in the simplest possible terms.


We learn how to study the Bible properly without “proof texting” which means just taking individual verses out of context.

So, you learn the four senses of scripture, you get a good bible commentary or study bible,
you read Catholic books on how to study the Bible, then… you study the Bible.


So, if any case indicates a contradiction, should we assume both sides. What if the options are mutually exclusive, or at least appear to me, i.e. old testament vs. new testament view of the law.

four senses. I’ll look that up I guess.

The old and new testaments do not contradict one another. It’s hard for me to answer your question about contradictions in the abstract, since I don’t think there are any. Maybe a case by case analysis is more fruitful.

Context. Sometimes Paul uses the word “works” to refer to ritual Jewish practices such as circumcision, observance of certain Sabaaths and festivals, and the Mosaic Law as a whole. It’s important to understand that one of the earliest heretical groups he was combating were he “Judaizers.” The Judaizers were teaching that Christians should still be Jewish, basically. That they should be circumcised. That they should observe the Mosaic Law, etc… They were telling gentiles that it was either necessary or would make them better Christians to do these things. Paul disputed this notion.

However, that doesn’t mean Paul didn’t believe in an active faith, in which one was still actively responsible for, while cooperating with God, living morally and doing works of mercy (in contrast to works of the law).


Specifically on faith and works, here’s a four-year-old thread that you may find useful (link below).

On how to deal with apparent contradictions in the BibIe, or “tensions” as some theologians call them, the first step is to pick a clear instance: a verse in one epistle, for instance, that says one thing, and a verse from some other book that seems to be saying the opposite. Then you can start hunting through specialized websites, or books that can be read online … or you can even start a new thread here at CAF!

Good idea. Start with the catechism, reading the entire section on divine revelation, which would be Part 1, Section 1:

Regarding the four senses of scripture:

Philosophy is all about contradictions. Sometimes contradictions contradict, ie one is right and the other is wrong. Sometimes there is a way to reconcile the two, usually by finding a deeper meaning to one or the other. Other times both propositions are wrong.

Any of these resolutions require a closer attention, perhaps longer study, to identify how the two propositions really relate to one another. This search for a deeper truth, or a broader one, leads to wisdom, hence the term philosophy, lover of wisdom, for people who try to understand and resolve contradictory truths.

It’s helpful to remember that no inspired writer wrote in Chapter and Verse. The Chapter and Verse arrangement was imposed on the Bible around 1200 AD. As useful as it is, it has two faults:

  1. It encourages us to break the books of the Bible into fragments, concentrating on this verse or that verse.
  2. It imposes an organization on the Sacred Books that was not in the original. If, for example, the inspired writer was writing about three things, A, B, and C. And more than a thousand years later, A and B are put in one chapter and C in a different chapter, well we see that A and B are more closely related to each other than they are to C.

To get around this second problem, read the Sacred Books as the inspired writers intended them to be read, as BOOKS, not as a collection of verses. Read the book through from start to finish. Read it trough several times before picking it apart, verse by verse.


Regarding your example of faith vs works… this usually comes up in discussion with protestants. They seem to always stop at “works”. But if you keep reading, it’s usually "…works of the law. So I don’t think this is a contradiction. The works of the law is the rules of the Mosaic law. Faith is of the new covenant. Notice that in passages which refer to the need for works, it is never “works of the law”.

That’s how I look at it for this particular case.

If you’re interested, there is a good book out there that explains how we should read and understand scripture, The Bible Compass: A Catholic’s Guide to Navigating the Scriptures, author: Edward Sri (Ascension Press).

You are right when you apply only the intellectual applications of Scripture it can read and be understood differently.
This is why in 1cor.2. Saint Paul came with the demonstrated spiritual power. Examples of the 9 gifts of the spirit. Whic are the signs following mark 16:16-20.
If a teacher does not have a history of the power of the spirit. ( Romans 8)Then it’s what saint Paul warned the Galatians. Who bewitched you ? Deceived you.
There are more people w/o the witness of the Holy spirit. That want to teach you.their version of the truth

We do not have such difficulties because we follow not just the Bible, but the tradition of the Church, which all Christians followed for 1500 years before the arrival of Luther. Also, a thousand difficulties do not a doubt make.

I would say, first of all, consult the Catechism on the specific topics at hand. Also, remember that the books of the Bible were written at different times, by different authors, and to different people and places. The Bible never contradicts itself, but it is important to keep in mind the context of the phrases in question. There are many verses before and after those lines which help to put the sayings into their proper meaning and perspective.

Folks who both use only the Bible as the guide to faith as well as those who completely doubt the Bible will use this tactic of pulling some one-liners out of Scripture to either criticize Catholic teachings or to claim that the Bible contains numerous contradictions. But these people treat the Bible as if was composed of stand alone sentences, like little fortune cookie notes that have no surrounding context. Obviously it is the incorrect way of treating Scripture, or any serious subject for that matter.

Genesis 8:21------YHWH promises that He will never again destroy humanity (no mention of that promise being limited to just a flood disaster.)

Isaiah 2:19, 66:15-16
Jeremiah 25:32-33
and many other dire predictions of a world-wide disaster that will wipe out more of humanity than did the flood. But YHWH has promised that He will not be the source of such an event.

My opinion is that the solution to this apparent contradiction is that the predicted terrible world-wide disaster is an event that will be caused not by YHWH, but by man.

Brace yourselves for another contradiction. In tomorrow’s Gospel reading, Luke 14:25-33, Jesus says that we must hate our father and mother. This seems to contradict Love One Another, not to mention Honor Your Father And Mother. I suspect that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole or an idiom which has been lost and forgotten over the last 2000 years.

Yes it is an idiomatic expression meaning ‘to love less’ not actual hatred. It also occurs in Gen 29:31: ‘When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.’

Sometimes it helps to remember who was being addressed, and what their situation was.

For example, James said–

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

In my Survey of the NT class, the professor explained that he was addressing a community of believers who thought the Second Coming was imminent— and so they were sitting on their rears, waiting for Jesus to come back in triumph, but not actually doing anything. So James was encouraging them to actively live their faith.

Whereas elsewhere, where it talks about being justified by faith, not by works— it’s explaining that there’s no way that we can earn sufficient merit based on our own efforts, but rather, through our acceptance of and participation in Christ’s sacrifice.

Whereas elsewhere-elsewhere, Paul talks about how he “makes up what is lacking” in Christ’s sacrifice… which is not to say that Christ’s sacrifice itself was incomplete, since it was of infinite merit, but that our acts of sacrifice have meaning once we unite them with Christ’s suffering. His point is that we grow when we imitate our Master, rather than his point being that there’s somehow something insufficient in our Master that we noble followers generously pitch in to make up for. :wink:

So that’s one reason why it’s important to not just grab verses out of context, but look at the greater message… and who was on the receiving end of that greater message.

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