Resolving Seeming Contradictions in the Bible

Many who reject the existence of a Creator would like to use as one of their arguments–“The Bible is full of errors and contradictions. Only a fool would believe what it says.”

There is an context component involved in the apparent contradiction that people may not realize. Humor me in this exploration.

The Contradictions

As a child, I remember Christian leaders talking about how important a Bible verse’s context was. Who was speaking or writing in the passage of Scripture and for whom was the message intended?

I pose one example of what some see a a contradiction in the Bible for this post. In Exodus 20, Moses communicates the Fifth Commandment from God to the nation of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.  (Exodus 20:12 NLT)

Okay, that’s fairly straight forward. But what about another passage that says something that conflicts with showing obedience to parents. It even appears to be a commandment as well.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  (Genesis 2:24 ESV)

And let us throw a few more passages into this discussion. Jesus is speaking with those desiring to become His disciple.

He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:59, 60 NLT)

Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”  But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61, 62 NLT)

These verses seem to conflict with each other. In the Fifth Commandment there is a clear priority placed on the family relationship with the parents as the authority in the individual’s life.

In God’s directive to Adam and Eve regarding a marital relationship, the couple is told to separate from the authority of the parents. Rather within the relationship to each other to shared authority as one flesh with each other. “The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:4 NLT)

Then there is Jesus inviting two people to follow Him. When they bring up the desire for closure with family, Jesus tells them the priority must be on the spiritual commitment to Him is more important than that of their earthly family.

A Perspective

Which of these verses must we obey? In our relationship with God, we are expected to obey all three! So how is the conflict resolved? I would like to pose the following: Each of the verses speaks to a time and/or place.

  1. The Fifth Commandment to honor father and mother is one that has a time and context that is the focus. While the child is under the authority of his parents, he is expected to learn through obedience to parental authority how to live with others in a manner that is socially and morally correct. The Commandment assumes that the parents see the child as a gift from God that He desired them to teach the child of Him. While no parent is perfect, generally parents do attempt to impart on their children how to live with others and how to honor God. (Yes, I said most parents have that in mind, but there are exceptions where children are viewed as property that must be shaped to never make the parent look bad in the eyes of others.)
  2. The directive given to Adam and Eve speaks to the adult who has matured and now is responsible for himself. When a choice is made for a committed relationship with a spouse, the scriptural directive is to build a new relationship separate from parental authority. The “leave and cleave” directive assumes the child as an adult has learned from his parents how to honor others as well as God. The traditional jewish family holds a ceremony when the child becomes a teenager. The child is told that he or she is officially an adult. The child understand that he answers to God and community as a whole for his choices and actions from then on. The parents continue to support and encourage the child, but no longer is focused on behavioral correction to lead them to right choices. It can be assumed that the parents have fulfilled their responsibility before God having raised their children in a manner that honors them, community, and God.
  3. The last two references speaks to a time in which an individual makes a commitment to God to serve and follow Him. Jesus tells the first that he is not to return home to his family for a funeral service. Why? Jesus knew that family can dissuade from following God, especially in times of grief. He lovingly was supporting the desired commitment on the part of the individual who felt compelled by the emotional connection to family to return home at the expense of a heart decision to follow Jesus. The second reference is to an individual who merely wanted to go home and say “Good Bye” to his family. Again Jesus speaks to  the issue of one’s spiritual state. He lovingly points to the resolve and that returning home may result in not finishing what the person had started. A farmer knows that preparation for spring planting cannot be taken casually. The task is a priority over family and leisure time until it is complete. A parallel analogy is that the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a commitment that one must put into perspective for the sake of the Gospel. However Jesus was not saying that one should not take care of family. The passages on Biblical leadership show that care for one’s family is to also be included in one’s commitment.

The Resolution

The Fifth Commandment was instituted by God to teach Israel, a nation that lived in slavery for four hundred years what basic moral character looked like. God used the Ten Commandments as a means to resocialize slaves and teach spiritual and social values. Slaves are compliant people who do not question what is right or wrong.

At Mount Sinai, God was preparing Israel to no longer live as victims. Rather, He was preparing them to be thriving landowners of what He had promised Abraham. They were to have dignity and respect taught to them as children by their parents, the God-ordained authority in their lives. Also, there was a huge payoff to the honoring of parental authority–that the obedient child would grow up to reap the benefits of health, wealth, and longevity.

The synopsis here is that children were under parental authority for a limited time. If the parents had done their job, a child would be a joy to the parents, not because they complied through out life to parental authority. The successful parent could step back and be proud of their child who was living out the values taught by Mom and Dad. When the time came for the child as an adult to seek an intimate relationship, he could find a relationship with a spouse and have children that they could raise with the same purpose  to ultimately honor God through their parenting of their children. With this principle in place, a husband and wife would not be the rope in a tug-of-war between the adult children’s parents demanding that Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas was to be held at their family home. This disallows the adult to ever freely be a Godly parental authority teaching God’s law to their children. Grandparents can be honor without asserting the Fifth Commandment as their authority over their adult children and the grandchildren.

The last two examples actually tell the parental authority of childhood that when the adult child makes a spiritual commitment to follow Christ, the parents should butt out. How dare a parent of an adult child dictate what God’s Will should be for the adult child. The audacity of a parent who does that. What that parent is saying to the adult child, “I know how you should follow God, not you. I am your parent. You must do what I think is right for you. You must not do what you think God wants you to do. If you don’t obey my wishes, you are not honoring and obeying me as God says you should.” The words of Jesus in the two examples tell the follower to listen to Him and the Heavenly Father, not your parents or family.

I find it interesting that in the “follow me” passages there is one unusual exception. The possessed man who was living among the tombs of the country of the Gerasenes near the city of Decopolis was healed by Jesus. Out of his gratitude for Jesus’ healing him, and possibly for the simple reason he was so discriminated against, he wished to follow Jesus. Here was Jesus response.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.”So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them. (Mark 5:18-20 NLT)

Jesus was not rejecting the man. In fact, Jesus told the man to follow Him by going home and bearing witness in his home area how greatly Jesus had worked in his life. To the others, he told them not to go home. But Jesus send this man to his home town to let his healing convey the message of the power of God to transform a person who was written of as a hopeless case of possession. Imagine seeing this man who had been captured and put in chains often only to break free. This “crazy man” was so well known. People avoided going near those tombs for fear of being attacked by him. How incredulous it seemed to many to see him no longer unkempt and disheveled, yelling obscenities at passers-by while threatening to assault them. e spoke with clarity, gratitude, and joy as he repeated his story to all who listened. That was a moment of a whole community in awe of the power of God manifest in the person of Jesus from Nazareth.

If you have a story of God’s transforming work in your life, you may be the exception and sent by the Spirit of God to minister by means of your healing to those who knew you in your old life before Christ.

To Parents Who Promote the Fifth Commandment 

Some parents are heard to remind their children of the Fifth Commandment especially the New Testament Reference in Ephesians 6:1-3. Usually, he next verse is ignored; “ “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 5:4 NIV)

Occasionally you will find parents who primarily focus on the fifth Commandment without the balance of teaching them all, That simply indicates the parent who sees the children as their possessions that are to reflect to community that they are good parents and people. That is the origin of the mindset that “children should be seen and not heard.”

If as a parents you want your children to honor you, do what God told the children of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Moses reminded them of all that God had commanded and challenged them to live obediently lives that reflected their relationship with their God. But even more so, they were to pass it on to their children, integrating it into every aspect of life.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT)

Parents who focus on the one commandment to instill compliance in their children, conveniently ignore the application of the other 9 into their adult lives ass a testimony to their children of what it is to live a Godly life. The control dynamic speaks blatantly to that parent’s lack of faith in God’s sovereign control. They worry so much about their children shaming them, that they don’t nurture their children in faith that will naturally lead to a holy life that would bring admiration of others for the Godly children they raised. Control brings fear and compliance from children, not a genuine attitude of loving and honoring parents to the same degree that they love and honor God.

The Routley tongue-in-cheek Paraphrase of these verses follows:

“Children, honor your father and mother in spite of their controlling attitude. They did not know how to love you as God desired of them. You were given to them by God as a temporary treasure from Him to introduce you to your Creator and to prepare you for a life that would honor both them and God.

“Parents, realize that you have your children only temporarily. By teaching them about your Creator and His commandments of how to live and love while doing life with them, you will please God and reap the benefit of children who will honor and value you. In just that way you as husband and wife left your parents as adults, developed a unity and intimacy with each other, and created your own traditions as a family that centered around God, you can expect them to as well. That is a moment to reflect on having fulfilled your vision as a parent and look forward to the next phase of being supportive, unobtrusive grandparents who pray for them. If your adult child believes that God’s will for them and the direction it may take them scares you, manage your fears by prayer and faith in God. Stay out of the Holy Spirit who is at work in their lives.

Now, Apply This!

If you are a parent who thinks that you know best for your children, you are not looking at what God thinks is best. If your children are adults and you dictate to them when they are to come to your home or even worse, tell them how they should organize their own home an life, get a genuine relationship for yourself with your Creator. If you want to see your children flourish, no matter their age, put them into God’s loving care and learn to trust Him to find peace.

If you are an adult child who was raised by controlling parents who are still trying to dictate how you should live. Take a step of faith ad loving thank your parents for all their help to this point, Then show them a life that honors God and follows His leading. Bring others from your faith community to surround you in love and prayerful support as you take steps of faith to live as God desires for you to live. Trust the process! and by so doing find peace and joy in your life. Your priority is to glorify the Lord through your life. be respectful to your parents. But, be assured that as an adult you are to listen to God’s leading within your marriage and and your own heart to honor your Heavenly Father’s authority first.

Let me know if this is helpful to you by writing to me at Thank you.


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