Every once in a while, you come across a verse in the Bible that seems to directly contradict itself or a verse that was immediately previous to it. When non-Christians use such verses to cast doubt on the divine inspiration of the Bible, they only demonstrate their own ignorance. Even human authors are capable of avoiding obvious inconsistencies. For this reason, obvious inconsistencies should cause us to seek for a deeper meaning and not doubt the veracity of the Bible. Let us consider a few examples.
Man’s Direction vs God’s Direction
but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)
The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
In these two verses, the Bible seems to contradict itself and some simple questions naturally arise. “Do we work out our salvation or is it God? Do we direct our steps or does God? Which is it?” The answer becomes clear if we think about it a bit.
Think of a boat with a motor. If the motor is not driving the boat, the man who is steering the boat cannot take it anywhere. It just sits there. If the motor is driving the boat forward, then the pilot can steer the boat by making minor course corrections to bring the boat safely to harbour. These verses might seem to be contradictory, but they really mean that God wants us to do our best so that He can correct us and guide us in the way that is best for us.
Tongues for Believers or Unbelievers
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. (1 Corinthians 14:22-24)
In these verses, Paul appears to be contradicting himself. Tongues are a “sign” for unbelievers but if unbelievers hear tongues they will think the church is crazy. Prophecy is for believers but unbelievers will be edified and convicted. What does this mean? Has Paul’s great learning driven him mad? The answer becomes clear when you consider the previous verse as context:
In the Law it is written: “With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:21)
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:7,8)
Tongues is a “sign” to unbelievers who hear their own language spoken by those who don’t know that language. A “sign” reveals the power of God and demonstrates the reality of things unseen. In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is exhorting Christians to use the spiritual gift of “prophecy” instead of the gift of “tongues” in public church gatherings. Paul is saying that tongues is only a “sign” when someone hears a language that they understand that the speaker does not know. For this reason, tongues should not be used in the general assembly of a local church where everyone speaks the same language and someone speaking in an unknown language would be regarded as crazy. Prophecy, on the other hand, strengthens belief by exposing the sins of the heart and convicting those who understand what has been spoken plainly. For this reason, prophecy should be shared in the general assembly of the church because it will convict all who hear it of sin and lead them to repentance.
The Sabbath Year of Rest for the Land
but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. ‘Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year. All of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you.… (Leviticus 25:4-6)
These verses seem contradictory. You are not allowed to reap the “harvest’s aftergrowth” or gather grapes from “untrimmed vines”. In the very next verse, however, it says that the “sabbath products of the land” will be your food. What does this mean?
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. (Exodus 16:4)
The best that I have been able to do with this one is to recall another verse from Exodus where God tests the people to trust in His miraculous provision by ordering them not to gather more manna then they needed. Having no source of food aside from God’s miraculous provision, the temptation for these Israelites was to take more food than they needed in case God did not provide for them the next day. God wanted to develop their trust in Him by forcing them to depend on Him on a daily basis.
In this same way, the Sabbath rest of the land would also have tested the faith of those early Israelite farmers. Though the Bible in many places directs believers to sow and work diligently, every seven years the inhabitants of the land were to trust in the Lord’s provision and not sow, prune, reap or gather. They were to daily seek the Lord’s provision as the product of the land and be reminded that it was not their work that brought forth fruit from the land, but God’s blessing.