What's a Bible difficulty? A Bible difficulty is an apparent problem posed by the biblical record. It might be called an error, a mistake, a difficulty, a challenge, a contradiction, or any number of other terms. Critics of the Bible are sometimes hostile in their claims that the Bible is "full of contradictions" or "difficulties," but these apparent problems are also brought up by committed Christians wanting to make sense of God's Word.
Rather than get into a number of specific examples, it will be more beneficial to learn some key tips for handling Bible difficulties. That way, whenever you encounter a seeming problem in the Bible, you will be able to use these tips as a starting point for resolving the difficulty.
Essentially, handling Bible difficulties is a matter of hermeneutics or interpretation (specifically, biblical interpretation). But other factors also come into play when interpreting, such as looking for a reasonable explanation, carefully making comparisons to other passages when necessary, and in general puzzling through possible answers and satisfactory resolutions to apparent problems.
Theologically liberal approaches to the Bible, on the other hand, often simply accept contradictions as part of a flawed record. But if the Bible is God's Word, and if God is all knowing and all powerful, it stands to reason we should be able to trust the Bible.
What are some helpful general tips for handling Bible difficulties? Fortunately, a number of Bible scholars have offered their insights. Here are some tips gleaned from the late Gleason Archer's fine book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties12
In addition to Archer's helpful tips for handling Bible difficulties, When Critics Ask also offers its share of useful insights. Here's a selection of the advice:
Does the Bible contain some difficult passages? Yes. Are they unresolvable? No. Whenever a critic or sincere believer comes across an alleged Bible difficulty, it has always been answered. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness …" (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV)
Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 1982), pp. 15-17.
Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (Victor Books, 1992), pp. 15-26.
Geisler and Howe cover twelve additional "mistakes" in reference to biblical interpretation and handling Bible difficulties. Other helpful resources in addition to Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties and When Critics Ask include Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul (IVP, 1977), Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson (Baker, 1984), Scripture Twisting by James Sire (IVP, 1980), and Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by William Klein, Craig Blomberg, et. al. (Thomas Nelson, 2004).