BIBLICAL CONTRADICTIONS REGARDING SALVATION
DISCUSSIONThe Bible not only contradicts itself on the topic of salvation, but it may do so in as many as four different ways. First of all, it may contradict itself on the issue of what it is that people are saved from, whether it is eternal torment or just annihilation. The eternal-torment doctrine, which is the traditional idea, is supported by various biblical verses.1 However, there are other verses2 which imply the annihilation doctrine, an idea advocated by Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and various other religious groups. And still other verses declare that unsaved sinners perish,3 whatever that means.
The second way in which the Bible may contradict itself is on the issue of whether or not everyone will eventually be saved. Some verses imply such a universalistic notion.4 But the traditional doctrine, that some will be saved and some won't, is supported by many more passages. Jesus even says in the gospels (Matt. 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-24) that very few will get saved.
The third form of contradiction concerns the issue of whether salvation is completely predestined by God or whether it depends, instead, on what people do or believe in their life on earth. The doctrine of predestination, associated with the theology of John Calvin, is well supported in Scripture.5 On the other hand, the opposing idea, which emphasizes human free will, is also well supported.6 Some ministries, such as that of Billy Graham, are based entirely on the idea that people need to make a free-will decision to “come to Christ and accept his offer of salvation.”
Finally, assuming that salvation does depend on what people do or believe, there is the issue of what, exactly, they need to do or to believe in order to be saved. In other words, what are the necessary (and sufficient) conditions for salvation? In this area, too, the Bible contradicts itself. This fourth mode of contradiction will be the subject matter of the present essay. What I shall do is to describe various types of people and show, with respect to each of them, that the Bible does indeed contradict itself on the issue of whether or not such a person will be saved.
Person #1: Someone who believes in God's son but who has never repented. This person believes in God and believes that God has a son and also believes that the son is the Savior of humanity. However, this person has never reflected on his/her sins and repented for them.
That such a person will definitely be saved is established by John 3:36, according to which "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." It is also supported by other verses as well.7 However, according to Luke 13:3 & 13:5, "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." This entails that the person described, who has not repented, would not be saved if he/she were to die. The contradiction here is quite obvious.
It might be objected that to really "believe in" the Son, in the sense meant in John 3, a person would have to have repented, for that is the only way to take the Son as one's Savior. But this is unsound. To take the Son as one's Savior does not require repentance for one's sins. A person may believe that the Son atoned for the sins of humanity and, when he did that, he "gave himself [as] a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). Thus, since mankind's "sin-debt" to God has already been paid, it is not necessary for each person to repent for his/her sins in order to obtain salvation. Now, even if this is not true, it is nevertheless a possible belief, even supported by the Bible (see note 4). A person who holds such a belief would certainly be "believing in God's son" even though he/she has not repented. So the objection is a failure.
Person #2: Someone who believes in God's son, but who has never, or hardly ever, done any good deeds for needy people, and who has done many bad deeds. As shown above, the Bible (for example, in John 3) declares such a person to be saved on the basis of his/her belief in God's son. So person #2 will definitely get saved. However, elsewhere (for example, at Matt. 25:41-46), the Bible claims that such a person will not be saved because of his/her lack of charity.8 The requirement that one do good deeds for needy people in order to be saved is very clearly set forth in Scripture. Thus, the Bible contradicts itself regarding the salvation of person #2.
It may be objected that there cannot exist anyone like person #2 because to really "believe in" the Son, one would have to perform good deeds and avoid bad deeds, for that is required by being a true follower of the Lord. But this argument is off the track. First, a person's belief in the Son could be just recently acquired, whereas the bad deeds might be in the person's past. This in itself shows that one could have the belief without performing the good deeds. Second, one need not be a "true follower of the Lord" in order to believe in the Son. As described above, one could be a universalist and believe that the Son atoned for everybody and that therefore everybody is automatically saved, whether they do good deeds or not. Even if this universalist belief is false, the mere possibility that someone might hold it guarantees the possibility of our person #2. Hence, one could indeed believe in God's son without doing good deeds, and that makes the objection a failure. We are thus left with the result that the Bible contradicts itself regarding the salvation of such a person.
Person #3: Someone who has called upon the name of the Lord, but who has never, or hardly ever, done any good deeds for needy people, and who has done many bad deeds. In two verses, Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13, there is the remarkable pronouncement that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is enough to guarantee salvation for person #3. However, as we saw above for person #2, according to other verses, salvation requires charity. So person #3 will not be saved, because of his/her lack of charity. Thus, the Bible contradicts itself regarding person #3.
If it is objected that one needs to be charitable in order to sincerely call upon the name of the Lord, then the reply is simply "Not so!" The classic case of repentance and conversion is that of one who has been wicked in life and now wishes to change. So the person now calls upon the name of the Lord for the first time. Suppose he/she is then suddenly struck dead by lightning. Such a person would have called upon the name of the Lord without being charitable. Consequently, the objection fails. Although some parts of the Bible say that such a person would be saved, other parts say that he/she would not be saved. The contradiction is quite evident.
Person #4: Someone who has devoted his/her life to helping needy people, but who has never repented and does not believe in God's son. A charitable Muslim or Jew, or any non-Christian like the Good Samaritan (of Luke 10:30-37), might meet this description. Such a person may be quite devout in his/her religion and may love God maximally (see Luke 10:27). He/she might be a devout Jew such as Job, as described in Job 1:1. But the important point here is that he/she loves other people equally with himself or herself and acts accordingly. To be so charitable, according to the Bible, is sufficient for salvation.9 Although some evangelists deny that there is any doctrine of "salvation by good works" in the Bible, it is clear that they are mistaken.
However, as we have seen above in connection with person #1, the Bible also declares that repentance is necessary for salvation, and that in itself would exclude person #4. But s/he is doubly damned for also not believing in God's son. The Bible very clearly states that a person must believe in God's son, or in Jesus Christ as God's son, in order to be saved.10 In John 8:21-25, Jesus himself tells the Jews that if they do not believe that he is God's son, as he had been claiming, then they will die in their sins, which means that they would not be saved. In other words, the Bible does indeed imply the extraordinary conclusion that all the billions of non-Christians in the world are damned, no matter how good or kind or charitable they may be. It follows that the Bible contradicts itself here. It claims that person #4 will be saved and also that person #4 will not be saved.
Person #5: Someone who has done everything thus far mentioned (call upon the Lord, believe in Jesus as God's son, repent, perform good deeds), but who fails to satisfy other requirements for salvation specified in the Bible. Among those other requirements are the following:
(a) Be born of water and of the Spirit. (John 3:5)
(b) Eat Jesus's flesh and drink his blood. (John 6:53)
(c) Receive the kingdom of God as a little child. (Mark 10:15)
(d) Believe that God rewards everyone who diligently seeks him. (Heb. 11:6)
Each of these is declared to be an absolutely necessary condition for salvation. Anyone who fails to satisfy it is automatically damned. But each is somewhat unclear. Condition (a) may possibly refer to the ritual of baptism.11 And perhaps condition (b) refers to the ritual of "taking communion." Nevertheless, whatever they may mean, it seems quite clear that a person need not satisfy all four conditions, (a)-(d), to be the sort of person previously described (a believer in God's son, etc.). For example, someone could believe in God's son without also having to believe that God rewards everyone who diligently seeks him. In fact, it even says at Romans 3:11 that no one seeks God. A person who accepts that verse would be unlikely to satisfy condition (d). The result, then, is that the Bible again contradicts itself. Some of its verses entail that person #5 will be saved, whereas other verses, the ones that proclaim conditions (a)-(d), entail that person #5, who fails to satisfy those conditions, will not be saved.
The defect in the Bible is obvious. It specifies a whole slew of necessary conditions for salvation, including repenting, being born again (John 3:3), believing the gospel (Mark 16:16), believing in God's son, doing good deeds, and conditions (a)-(d), above. So any sufficient condition for salvation, to be logical, would have to include or entail all of those necessary conditions. But there is where the Bible goes wrong. It specifies several sufficient conditions for salvation, including believing in God's son, calling upon the name of the Lord, keeping the commandments, doing good deeds, etc., but, although there is some overlap between the two sets, none of the sufficient conditions includes or entails all of the necessary conditions. Yet each sufficient condition is such that whoever satisfies it is supposed to be automatically saved. Contradictions therefore abound because there are persons who satisfy one or more of the sufficient conditions while failing to satisfy one or more of the necessary conditions. For each such person, the Bible declares that s/he, having satisfied the sufficient condition(s), will be saved, but, also, that s/he, having failed to satisfy the necessary condition(s), will not be saved. Persons 1-5, described above, represent only some of the possible combinations that yield Biblical contradictions regarding salvation.
Christians make the claim that the meaning of life lies in the attainment of salvation in the afterlife. But the entire foundation of their soteriology, or doctrine of salvation, is undermined by the given biblical contradictions, for there is no other basis for that doctrine than the Bible. It is amazing that most Christians will continue to make the claim about the meaning of life even when all this is pointed out to them.
1. Isa. 33:14; Matt. 13:40-42, 25:41,46; Mark 9:43-48; Jude 6-7; Rev. 14:10-11.
2. Ezek. 18:4; Matt. 7:13, 10:28; Acts 3:23; Heb. 10:39 (perdition = annihilation); 2 Pet. 3:7.
3. Luke 13:3,5; John 3:15-16; 1 Cor. 15:18; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Pet. 3:9.
4. John 12:32; Rom. 5:18, 11:32; 1 Cor. 15:22; Col. 1:20; 1 Tim. 2:4,6; 1 John 2:2.
5. Psalms 65:4; Prov. 16:9, 20:24; Isa. 46:9-11; Jer. 10:23; John 6:44,64-65, 15:16; Acts 15:18;
Rom. 8:28-30, 9:18; Eph. 1:4-5,11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 13:8, 17:8.
6. Passages that specify conditions for salvation that are within human control (such as doing
good deeds, for example) would support this idea. See the references in notes 8 & 9, below.
7. John 3:15-16, 6:40,47, 11:25; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9; 1 John 5:12.
8. See also John 5:28-29, Rom. 2:5-10, and Jas. 2:14-26.
9. Matt. 25:34-40,46; Luke 10:25-37; John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:5-7,10; Jas. 2:24. [On the matter of behaving well, see also Matt. 19:16-17, Mark 10:17-21, Luke 18:18-22, and John 8:51.]
10. Mark 16:16; John 3:18,36, 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; 1 John 5:12.
11. Note the references to baptism in Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38.
2004 Theodore M. Drange
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