What do we do when the Bible seems to contradict itself? For example, in Galatians 1:10 Paul says, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” But in 1 Corinthians 10:33 he says, “[I] try to please everyone in everything I do.” At first glance, these verses appear to be in conflict. What do we do here? Do we please men or not? Can we even know?
At heart, we want to be obedient to the whole Bible – even both of these seemingly contradictory passages. But take heart! There is hope. God gave us a book. More specifically, God gave us 66 books that join together to make one beautiful, unified, and progressive story of God's glorious work. It is easy to forget, but the Bible is a book – a book full of characters and stories, meaning and history, letters and poetry, nouns and verbs and logic. So when we encounter verses that seem to contradict each other, we should remember: context is king. What I mean is that a verse should be read in its context. Bible verses are like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle: they look beautiful and make the most sense when they fit together. We must seek to understand verses in their context.
So, what does context tell us about Galatians 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 10:33? In Galatians 1, Paul is specifically talking about preaching the true gospel. In the face of a false teaching, Paul refuses to serve gospel-distorting men and their wishes. Paul is willing to be disliked and even unpleasant for the sake of the gospel of God. But this is not the case in 1 Corinthians 10. Here, Paul has been discussing issues of conscience and liberty. Therefore, it is fitting for him to “try to please everyone” in these subjective matters. Paul is concerned for the “glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31) in salvation, and he does not want debatable matters of practice to interfere with this goal. In both passages, Paul is concerned for the glory of God, and it is God’s glory that determines if Paul will try to be pleasing to others or not. Paul will seek to “please” men if the pleasing brings about unity in the church, despite differences in conscience, for the glory of God. And Paul will not try to “please” men if that would dishonor God Himself and His gospel.
God wrote the best book in history. It is not only the best-selling book ever, but it is eternally true (Is 40:8; 1 Pet 1:25). So, when you come across one verse that seems to contradict another, try these three steps:
- First, pray for joyful and obedient understanding. God is the Lord who opens eyes and changes hearts. Therefore, ask and you shall receive.
- Second, know that the Bible coheres even if you cannot “do the math.” Keep seeking to understand, but trust God in faith when you don’t have it figured out. God knows how this verse works, even when you do not.
- Third, read, read, read! This book is meant to be read, studied, and meditated over for a lifetime. So, be like a tree drawing from the deep springs of the eternal river of God and let Him grow you into an oak of righteousness.