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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Tension in the Bible

Contradicting verses strengthen understanding


One evening a student in adult Bible study raised an interesting question: "Why did God allow some verses in the Bible to contradict one another? Why don't they all just agree?" When I asked her for an example, she asked how to reconcile verses which point out that a person is a perpetual sinner with others that claim eternal saint status. We took some time to consider the dilemma: Is there a constructive role for such tension in the Bible?

We all sin. In 1 Kings 8:46 and again in Romans 3:23, the writers of Scripture point out the universality of sin. In fact, there is "no one who does good, no, not one," the psalmist declared (Psalm 14:3). We all agreed it isn't hard to picture human imperfection, nor is it hard to accept that we are perpetually sinners. After all, we tend to prove it every day by the poor choices we make and by the things we fail to say and do on a regular basis.

Next, the group read that God chooses who will receive mercy and grace (Exodus 33:19). Again in Romans 9:15-16, the Bible states that God alone determines who will receive mercy and grace. After reading 1 John 1:9, we all agreed that if any person confesses his or her sins, God is faithful and just and forgives each person. The consensus was clear: God's grace made us saints. So if we are forgiven and become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), why are we still considered perpetual sinners?


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