Diversity and Contradiction in the OT

Some quarters of biblical scholarship have exaggerated supposed contradiction and diversity within the Old Testament, others have denied it altogether. But there is a certain amount of it there. Genuine contradictions do occur, still, much of the diversity does not amount to mutual opposition. Given the emphasis placed upon diversity and contradiction in recent scholarship, John Goldingay provides a helpful and revealing analysis of the “degrees of diversity and forms of contradiction” in the Old Testament. Here is the four-fold typology here uses for his analysis:[1]

  • Formal Contradiction – “Formal contradiction involves a difference at the level of words which is not a difference at the level of substance.” (16)
  • Contextual Contradiction – “Contextual contradiction denotes a difference reflecting the variety in circumstances which different statements address.” (19)
  • Substantial Contradiction – “Substantial contradiction involves a true divergence in viewpoint on the part of the speakers whose disagreement is neither merely verbal nor merely contextual.” (21)
  • Fundamental Contradiction – “Fundamental contradiction denotes a disagreement which is a matter of substance and which indicates a basic disharmony at the level of “ethical stance” or “religious outlook”.” (24)

Much of the evidence for contradiction marshalled by scholars falls in the first two categories.

[1] Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 15-25

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