One of the skeptic’s favorite arguments against Christianity is that the Bible contains contradictions. If the Bible contradicts itself, they posit, then they would have a strong case that the Bible isn’t a work of divine inspiration.

Naturally, we disagree with their claim. In another sense, though, many Christians give the implication that the Bible does, in fact, contradict itself. If we’re not careful in the way we use the Scriptures and promote what we believe on certain doctrinal points, we’ll assert that the Bible has a number of contradictions.

This mistaken approach is what I call “Scripture wars,” when one speaks as though one Bible verse can be used as a trump card over another. It’s easy to recognize this mistake among those who disagree with us in various doctrinal points:

  • “Yeah, 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism now saves you, but Ephesians 2:8 says we’re saved by grace through faith.”
  • “I know the New Testament only tells us to sing, but in the Old Testament they used instruments.”
  • “Sure, 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 prohibit women from preaching, but Philip’s daughters… but Deborah… but Huldah… but Priscilla…”

The message is essentially “Because I have this other verse, the Bible verse you’re quoting doesn’t matter.” This often works in reverse too, though. We in the churches of Christ can make the same misstep in our argumentation, robbing the Bible of its depth and implying it has contradicted itself. A few examples:

  • “Yeah, Ephesians 2:8 says we’re saved by grace through faith, but 1 Peter 3:21 says ‘baptism now saves you’ so you can’t just say that we’re saved by grace through faith.”
  • “Sure, Romans 3:28 says we’re justified apart from works but James 2:17 says faith without works is dead.”
  • “I know Matthew 7:1 says do not judge lest you be judged, but John 7:24 says we should judge with righteous judgment.”

It’s imperative that we all commit to never use Bible verses against one another. It’s easier to do things that way, but the broader effect is that it undermines Scriptures and limits our understanding. We can say we believe the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, but if we use one verse to shoot down another, we’re effectively claiming the Bible contains contradictions. When we do that, we’re just telling the other person that our Bible verse is more important than theirs. It shouldn’t surprise us when they disagree and believe that their Bible verse is more important than ours.

How do we keep from making this mistake? We must keep each verse we use in its context.

The answer to someone who says we don’t need baptism because of Ephesians 2:8 isn’t to throw 1 Peter 3:21 at them. It’s to help them understand Ephesians 2:8 in its own context and affirm what Paul meant when he said we’re saved by grace through faith. Then we can talk about baptism using those verses in their own proper context.

The answer to the faith and works debate is not to make the classic mistake of pitting James and Paul against each other. It’s to figure out what Paul meant by “works” in his context and what James meant by “works” in his context.

The answer to the common claim that “the Bible says don’t judge” isn’t to quote another verse and leave the implication the Bible is unclear on the matter. The answer is to explain what Jesus meant when He said “do not judge lest you be judged.”

Each Bible verse has an important meaning in its own context. To take that meaning away from it by dismissing the verse with an other verse makes us miss that important meaning entirely. We’ll be blessed if we view different Bible verses as being full of rich meaning rather than seeing them as a hierarchy of trump cards to be used over against each other.