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Lots of questions on this site are asking how some text from the old testament fits to a contradictory one from the new testament or a passage of one book to the other.

Why do people expect to find this kind of coherence in the bible? Clearly the different text passages are written several hundred years apart, by different people with different interpretations of the exisiting scriptures in mind and with a varying set of personal beliefs and values.

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    Do you have some examples you could add into your question?
    – Adam
    Dec 3 '20 at 18:37
  • It might not be a good example at second glance, as it is not asked by a Christian, but the answers to this question shared a common desire to "make everything consistent", which got me thinking about it: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/79917/… Dec 3 '20 at 19:37
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    In the past fifty years of my own bible reading, I have never once found any inconsistency, any contradiction or any discord within the sixty six books that I study. Other people seem to have doubts but I have yet to find a single instance when all cannot be explained by logical sifting of all the textual information available. These holy writings are unique. There is nothing else like them on earth.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 3 '20 at 19:39
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    I suggest you look at the Tour and the Help (below, bottom left) because on this site, in its present form, I think you would be expected to say which 'people' you mean (who 'expect coherence'). Different people, within the very broad spectrum of self-identifying Christianity, have different expectations of scripture and there are divisions over what are the true scriptures which your question has not addressed.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 3 '20 at 19:45
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Different denominations and groups within denominations hold to varying doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. If that denomination believes that God inspired the writer and that some version of what that writer wrote down (the "autographs") is inerrant, then they must account for apparent discrepancies. The logic is:

  1. God only speaks the truth
  2. God is logically consistent
  3. The Bible contains all and only the words God intended it to have
  4. Those words must be true and logically consistent

Some people believe that God dictated the Bible, word for word. That is not the prevailing view. It is a view that some sects and some people in other religions believe about their Holy Texts.

One model that many Christians accept is called "Verbal Plenary Inspiration". This model means that every word is inspired, all the words are useful (Old and New Testaments) and authoritative and the Holy Spirit was involved. It allows for the personality of the speaker (say a prophet) to shape the vocabulary choice, organization and style of the message while simultaneously capturing absolute truth precisely.

Other people allow for errors in science and history in the Bible and say only the spiritual truths are inspired, the rest is the fallible opinions of the writers.

Depending upon your view of how the Bible came about and what measures God has taken to safeguard the words from corruption, the consistency of the different parts of the Bible may be a small or large issue for you.

Scripture itself makes claims about which views of innerancy and inspiration and transmission it endorses:

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Matthew 24:35)

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

If you take the above Bible quotes at face value, it narrows down the acceptable range of views that an orthodox Christian may believe considerably. For all that reduced set of possible ideas of inspiration, the presence of actual inconsistencies in the Bible is impossible, hence must be addressed by attempts to explain the Bible passages in such a way as to remove the apparent inconsistency.

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Another angle to add to fine answers by Peter Turner and Paul Chernoch is that it is the community which collected those 66 (or 73) books in the Bible and elevated those into the canon as Sacred Scripture (the Word of God). The same community then developed a hermeneutical tradition to interpret the Bible, consisting of principles such as:

  • whether to read certain key Bible verses typologically, literally, analogically, etc.
  • what aspects of the older covenants are fulfilled and/or superseded by the new covenant, and in what way
  • how to assign the right literary genres into proper reading of certain passages to avoid contradiction with science and history
  • how OT comparison with other Ancient Near East writings and NT comparison with 2nd Temple Judaism writings affect interpretation
  • in prophetic writings, how to separate the trustworthy message containing God's revelation from the cultural / literary / personal expression of it
  • etc.

All of the above principles usually enable a theologian to relegate contradictions to minor issues compared to major doctrinal stands such as the dual nature of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Body, the Trinitarian nature of God, which are usually embodied in creeds such as the Apostles's creed and the Nicene creed.

In conclusion: it's the community that makes the whole Bible coherent, and each Christian tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.) has their own variations on how to do it, while agreeing on the fundamentals.

That is NOT to say that the canon and the hermeneutical tradition are arbitrary, but a collective prayerful decision arrived after hundreds of years of experience with the main character AND the ultimate origin of the revelation: the monotheistic creator God who is coherent in Himself. Hermeneutics should always be in the service of our best human efforts to understand the nature of God and His dealings with us in order for every believer to be more conformed to God's character.

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  • . . . . . so, in the end, it is God, himself, upon whom one is utterly dependent. For the 'community' is not only hopelessly diverse and schismatic, but so utterly prone to failure, in contemporary experience and in historical fact.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 3 '20 at 22:54
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    @NigelJ Of course. All Christian traditions agree that the ultimate monotheistic creator God is the one who revealed the scriptures to man, and that the Bible is His Word to us, but it seems God leaves it open to how His Word can be interpreted differently by communities throughout history. The net result is that each believer from whichever mainstream tradition should commune directly with Him in our hearts. Dec 3 '20 at 23:05
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I'll give you a few examples of why people expect this

  1. Catholic Liturgy
  • In the Old and New forms of the Catholic Mass, there is a reading from the rest of the Bible and the Gospel, these almost always have some common thread, whether it's the 3 readings for Novus Ordo or the two for the Extraordinary Form. In the Novus Ordo, the first reading and the third reading have something to do with each other, like majorly, not trivially and it's obvious to everyone. You can check it out for yourself on the usccb's website for each Sunday Mass.
  • This weekend, for instance the second Sunday of Advent, we've got the OT prophecy for a "Voice crying out in the Wilderness" and the beginning of the NT Gospel of Mark, talking about John the Baptist, who was that voice.
  1. All the a,b,c Footnotes
  • Anybody who reads a 1000+ page study bible knows that the footnotes don't respect OT/NT boundaries, they're constantly going between Testaments and authors and centuries, they weave in and out of different styles in the OT too. It's not abnormal for Job, Leviticus and Lamentations to be referenced in a Gospel. This has an effect on people, making them think there's some hidden agenda where everything in the Bible was written for a purpose.
  1. Jesus, Mark and Paul do it
  • Jesus pulls out Isaiah and says, this is being fulfulled in your midst, Jesus says "You heard it said..." "I say to you", etc.. Directly referencing OT laws
  • Mark consistently says in his Gospel that, "this was done so that ... was fulfilled"
  • Paul recapitulates the entire OT in his letter to the Hebrews, explaining why everything found its fulfillment in Jesus
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There's an episode of oneminuteapologist where the guest Dr. Norman Geisler answers the question "Is the Bible reliable?". It all breaks down to the following

Premise 1. God can't err.

Premise 2. The Bible is the word of God.

Conclusion. Therefore, the Bible cannot err.

Dr. Norman Geisler also asks the rhetorical question

How many mistakes can an omniscient person make?

which is answered with "None" and can directly address your concern about having many years in between the Old and the New Testament.

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Hello Theoreticalminimum. It's a very valid and common question. I hope this helps. I want to give 3 reasons or 3 different sources to explain why people [Christians] not only expect there to be consistency, but hold it as being without error and inspired by God.

    1. I'll use scripture itself,
    1. I'll use mathematical probability/ statistics and
    1. I'll use the secular field of textual criticism.

- 1. for Christians, the Bible is the Inspired word of God. For Christians, the Bible is the highest and final authority for faith and life - Protestant Christians place scripture higher than church tradition, but Catholics put tradition higher than the Bible. If a person says they believe the whole Bible- or they accept it as God's word, then it means that they believe it is without error, because it says it is inspired and without error. …15 From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16. 2 Peter 1:21 For no such prophecy was ever brought about through human initiative, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. - 2. Peter Stoner was a professor of Statistics, and he did this research along with his students and published his group study. There are over 350 prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. These are written by 7-10 different writers and prophets, all who lived more than 400 years before Christ was even born. Peter Stoner picked 8 very specific prophecies which were so specific that even if someone was well aware of these, that you can't manipulate things to make them happen, - like how a person will die. These were written by different writers, independent of each other, who lived in different times and places. They couldn't meet for coffee and collaborate their ideas and make their predictions match.
The odds of just 8 independent prophesies coming true, written more than 400 years before Christ was born, is 1 in 10 to the 27th power. 1 with 27 zeros after it. To put this in perspective - it's the same odds as filling the entire state of Texas 1 foot deep with quarters, and marking one special quarter, with red paint, and putting a blind-folded man in the middle, and having him walk anywhere in Texas he wants, and picking out the marked quarter on the first try.
- 3. Last is the field of textual criticism. In analyzing ancient manuscripts, experts look at how many copies exist, and how long after the events happened were these recorded. Caesar’s firsthand account of the Gallic Wars has 251 manuscripts, dated 900 years from the events, written 10-44 B.C., with the earliest copy dated A.D. 1000. Tacitus’ Greek history (Annals) has 33 manuscripts, dated 750 years from the events, written in A.D. 100, with the earliest copy dated A.D. 850. Thucydides’ work has 50 manuscripts, dated 1300 years from the events, written 460-400 B.C., with the earliest copy dated A.D. 900. Sophocles’ work (Tragedies) has 193 manuscripts (previously 100), dated 1200 years from the events, written 496-406 B.C., with the earliest copy dated A.D. 900. Livy’s work (History of Rome) has 150 manuscripts (previously 19), dated 400 years from the events, written 59 B.C.- A.D. 17, with the earliest copy dated A.D. 400. Demosthenes’ Speeches has 340 manuscripts (previously 200), dated 1400 years from the events, written 300 B.C., with the earliest copy dated A.D. 1100. In second place is Homer’s Iliad, the history of the Trojan War, 1757 manuscripts, dated 400 years from the events, written 800 B.C., with the earliest copy dated 400 B.C.

In first place is the Bible’s New Testament! The total count for early New Testament Manuscripts available today is over 25,000! and Josh McDowell has recently claimed that we have closer to 66,000 with the advent of many discoveries in artifacts, like mummy wrappings, that contain Biblical manuscript fragments. Numbers include: 5795 (up from 5366) Greek Manuscripts dated 30 to 150 years from the events, written A.D. 49-95 with the eariest copy dated A.D. 117 - Less than 50 years after the last writer died. No other ancient manuscript of any field, history, poetry, religion, or science even comes close in terms of the high number of early manuscripts and the short span from when the events happened to being written down. hope this is helpful for you and the others who read it.
Josh McDowell,- Evidence that Demands a Verdict & Lee Strobel - Case for Christ

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