Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

1 Peter 3:18

Certain verses in the Bible seem to contradict others. What should we do when come to one of those verses? In this lab, John Piper illustrates how he resolves an apparent contradiction.

Principle for Bible Reading

Searching in Concentric Circles

When trying to determine how an author uses a word or phrase in a particular verse, it is often helpful to start by searching for the same word or phrase in the immediate context, and then moving outward — like a stone dropped in a pond. We call this searching in concentric circles. The innermost circle is the immediate verse, phrase, or word, which then moves into:

  • The paragraph
  • Then the chapter
  • Then its book as a whole
  • Then other books written by the same author
  • Then the same Testament (New or Old) as a whole
  • Then the whole Bible

In This Lab

Pastor John wants to understand what it means that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Does this mean Jesus’s body wasn’t raised from the dead? To answer this, he looks at the immediate context, then moves to other places in 1 Peter (1:3, 3:21). After this, he searches in the New Testament: the Gospels for the historical account of Jesus post-resurrection (Luke 24:39–43), and then finally other epistles (Philippians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15).

For more on concentric circles.

An Example

If you were wondering what it means to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7), you might begin by looking for clues about “the light” in:

  • The immediate verse: 1 John 1:7
  • Then the paragraph which contains the verse: 1 John 1:5–10.
  • Then the chapter: 1 John 1.
  • Then the book of the Bible: 1 John.
  • Then other books of the Bible written by the same author: John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation.
  • Then the New Testament.
  • Then in the rest of the Bible.

Study Questions

  1. Can you think of anywhere the Bible seems to contradicts itself? What steps would you use to try and resolve the tension?
  2. What could it mean that Jesus was “made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18)?
  3. It has been argued that Jesus didn’t rise bodily from the dead. Some cite 1 Peter 3:18 as saying that Jesus rose in his spirit, but not in his body. How would you go about responding to those people?