6-3 The Inconsistency of God: Bible Paradoxes

What follows is admittedly rather complex- at first reading. But please persevere. Because every honest Bible student, every sincere follower of God, will find themselves faced with Bible paradoxes and contradictions which can be extremely worrying; until we have a framework upon which to hang them and within which to understand them.

What I want to put to you is that God is very often inconsistent- to our human eyes. Indeed, the closer we analyse the Bible, the more we meditate upon God's ways, the more evident it becomes that contradictions and paradoxes are woven throughout the fabric of God's self-revelation to us. Of course, there are some apparent paradoxes and contradictions which can be easily resolved. But there are others, I suggest, which simply cannot be resolved by us. Exactly why God has revealed Himself in this way is hard to completely understand. But perhaps one simple reason is that He wishes to teach us the extent to which His ways are higher than ours; He wishes to instil into us a far deeper spiritual humility, a deeper sense that as a dog is to a man, so is a man to God. The word 'acceptance' is absolutely vital in all this. A dog accepts his dependence on his master, he loves his master, but he is aware that he simply has no real handle on how to comprehend his master's actions. If God is not inconsistent, then it follows that God must always appear consistent to human eyes. This would mean that God was somehow bound to act and explain Himself in a way that was neat and tidy in our human terms. It seems that this is what we would rather have; a God that was a super-man, a man like us who was just super-powerful. But God is God, and not a super-man. Therefore His ways and thoughts must be intrinsically higher than ours; as far above ours as the heaven is above earth (Is. 55:9). And if we seriously accept this, it is apparent that God is going to act in ways which are totally and inexplicably inconsistent to our eyes; not just ways which are hard to reconcile, but ways which are irreconcilable. And therefore there are Bible paradoxes. Not least is this shown in the mystery of the salvation of man which He wrought in Christ. The woman of Tekoah realised some of this when she spoke of how “We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again…yet doth [God] devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him” (2 Sam. 14:14). Her point was that as God in some sense breaks His own laws, e.g. that sin leads to permanent death, so surely David likewise could have the same spirit of grace and bring about the salvation of someone rightly appointed to death. This explains the many purposeful paradoxes and apparent contradictions within the book of Ecclesiastes. Mark Vincent has well  observed: “They are part of the way of things “under the sun”; they are not puzzles to be “solved” by a crusade of reconciliation...God’s ways are ultimately inscrutable to human view. There will always be things that we cannot fully understand...for the Preacher tells us that we “shall not be able to find it”” (‘Yes...But....’,   Tidings, Vol. 62 No. 5 p. 178). 

The statements in the first two columns following could each be supported by many Bible verses and doctrines. These have not been added because it is not the purpose of this study to analyse the issues themselves, but rather the principle of contradiction. 

Principle 1

Principle 2


1. People are predestined to either be in the Kingdom, or not to be. We are not just predestined to be called, i.e. to be given the opportunity; some are predestined to achieve the image of Christ in their lives. Others stumble at God's word, because they were ordained to do so.

God finds fault with those who do stumble at His word, and He is pleased with the obedience of the righteous. In other words, there is freewill.

Normally we try to explain this by saying that God's predestination takes into account our freewill decisions. But not only is this never taught in Scripture; this theory makes the concept of predestination meaningless. Paul tackles this problem in Rom. 9; and he doesn't start talking about freewill. All he says is that it is not for us to question God if He finds fault with someone He has predestined to destruction. And in the context, Paul is arguing that the fact there is this inexplicable predestination should humble us, as it should have humbled Israel, who were predestined to God's favour not because of their own freewill efforts to be obedient.

2. Adam was to die in the day he ate the fruit.

No man can redeem his brother, or bear the iniquity of another (Ez. 18:20).

But he didn't. This is one of the most well known Bible paradoxes. 

But Christ, as a man,  acceptably bore our iniquity.

This is one of redemption's finest mysteries. No theory of atonement can ever explain the paradox of redemption.

3. Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days from Jonah's preaching; regardless of whether it repented.

God changed His mind. This didn't happen.

God's word is presented to us as always true and reliable; which it is, ultimately.

4. God's purpose is unchanging; He reveals Himself, and we must accept that what He says will happen.

God said He would bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and lead them to the land of Canaan.

Human prayer and behaviour can change God's expressed purpose. Another Bible paradox.

God brought them out of Egypt and destroyed them in the wilderness, just as they feared; He changed His purpose with them half way through (Num. 14:34 AVmg.).

God's purpose is presented to us as a solid rock; which it is, ultimately. Surely here and in nos. 2 and 3 above, God is asking us to believe that His word and purpose are sure from His perspective, although in human eyes His word and purpose may appear most variable.

5. There is a fixed date for Christ's return, arranged by God from the beginning, after certain things have happened.

It seems Solomon could have been the Messiah, if he had continued in faith; Christ perhaps would have established His Kingdom in the first century, had Israel accepted him. Many passages suggest that Christ's coming can be hastened by our prayers, our growth in spirituality as a community, the world-wide spreading of the Gospel, and Israel's repentance- among others.

Here particularly is one of those Bible paradoxes which defies reconciliation.

God answers prayer as a result of the fact that we believe and as a token that we are acceptable before Him (1 Jn. 5:14 etc.)

But there are examples of where God answers the prayers of those who don't believe with a full faith, and even of those who later will be condemned (Zacharias; the believers praying for Peter's release; Mt. 7;21-23)

The relationship between faith and answered prayer is not so simple as it appears in some passages. God is working with us at a higher level than simply responding to our words as a token of His acceptance of our faith.

6. God hates divorce; He only allowed it for Israel " for the hardness of your hearts" . Under the Law of Moses, God forbade His people to re-marry the wife they divorced.

But God divorced Israel, His wife, because she was unfaithful. Yet He asks her to return to Him and re-marry. He breaks His own law, committing what He described as " abomination" , in order to show His love for Israel. Likewise, the law taught that the firstborn was to have a double portion above his brethren. But we are made joint-heirs with Christ, the firstborn (Rom. 8:17). This is yet another paradox of grace.

This sounds like God saying 'Do as I say, not as I do'. We grow up expecting our parents, our school teachers, our bosses to be consistent, to be living examples of the behaviour they expect from us. And we feel we should do likewise when we become parents, teachers, bosses...but God is only like a Father to us in some ways. He is God, not man; so He won't be consistent as a human father should be.

God's laws are absolute, and He warns from examples of previous disobedience.

7. David murdered, committed adultery and even the deadly sin of presumption (2 Sam. 12:9 cp. Num. 15:31). Yet these were overlooked by God as if they were 'surface' sins; the real man David was accepted by God and held up as a wondrous example to all the faithful.

Likewise Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had a very human side, full of these 'surface' weaknesses (if indeed such things exist). Yet they are held up as heroes of faith.

Yet He makes concessions to human weakness (see 2.7). Having reminded Israel of how they sinned with the Midianites, He allows them to keep unmarried Midianites as wives (Num. 31:16,18).

Uzzah's sin in touching the ark is recorded in such a way as to suggest that he was trying to help God; he loved God, in his own way. Yet God destroyed him, apparently, for one sin. Moses likewise was barred from the land for one sin. The record of Eli paints him as a nice old boy who basically loved God, although (like most parents) he was a bit soft on his kids. But God rejected him for this.

Such is His softness towards us, and more essentially, His earnest desire to save men who may not 'make it' on the basis of straight obedience. Again, Bible paradoxes abound in this area. 

Of course we could reconcile these two columns by saying that God knows the heart; as indeed He does. But my point is that these records are presented in such a way as to invite the observation, on a human level, that God is not consistent. We are assuming that God knew that  Eli and Uzzah were very wicked compared to (say) David or Jacob, and so that was why He was very hard on them.  But this is only guesswork. Isn't it better to do as God intended, and accept that this is a contradiction within God's self-revelation?

8. Many of the faithful had more than one wife; many of them behaved in a manner inconsistent with God's standards of marriage. Thus Abraham is presented as having almost a casual relationship with his slave-girl Hagar because he and his wife didn't think God's promise of a seed was going to be fulfilled through Sarah.

Elsewhere God is extremely critical of any marital inconsistencies.

Are we really to believe that sometimes the same behaviour is seen by God as a serious sin, whereas at others He overlooks it, treating these things as (apparently) 'surface sins'? Surely God is a God of principle, and His principles are true for all time? Yet His grace and understanding is such that the way He deals with men must sometimes leave us with a sense of paradox as we examine it.

9. Our salvation is by pure grace; the more we mature spiritually, the more we see that there is absolutely nothing which we can do to attain our own redemption. We are saved by grace, not our works, nor by any acts of obedience to a set of commands (see Rom. 1-7 in the RVmg.).

God will not justify the wicked (Ex. 23:7); and He hates those who do so (Prov. 17:15 cp. 24:24; Is. 5:23)

Jesus said: " If ye love me, keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15), alluding to Moses' statement that God would only save Israel if they shewed their love for Him by keeping the Mosaic commandments (Ex. 20:6). Works and acts of obedience are important; e.g. baptism.

But God justifies sinners by grace.

10. Israel have been rejected as God's people; " Ye are not my people" , He clearly told them. Paul appears to quote this out of context in Romans. In the same section, he seems to get things twisted  when he talks of how the bad, wild tree has been grafted into the good one; it's done the other way round. These designed inconsistencies are surely to show that the meaning of grace can only be understood in terms of contradiction and paradox, when we try to express it in human terms.

“He that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will show them no favour” (Is. 27:11)

God said He would destroy Israel in Egypt (Ez.. 20:8). But He didn't.

Yet in another sense, Israel have not been rejected, due to God's 'illogical' level of love for them: " How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee up, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together" (Hos. 11:8).

His grace and judgment of sin are all linked together within His character: " I have given the love of my soul into the hand of her enemies" (Jer. 12:7).

But the very fact that God did form and make Israel is the reason God gives for appealing to them to receive His ever-available mercy (Is. 43:1; 44:2; 49:15)

" But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted" (Ez. 20:9)

This apparent contradiction shows how God's love and grace towards His people defies even His own stated purpose; the love of God cannot be presented to us without the use of contradiction and paradox. We as human beings simply lack the paradigms to handle the love of God for us. Therefore there have to be Bible paradoxes.

The way these passages all occur within Isaiah encourages us to connect them. He will not have mercy on them, He will not pity them (as Ezekiel often says)- but He does.

God swore that He would destroy Israel in the wilderness (Ez. 20:21).

God would punish Israel at the hand of the Babylonians according to their sins, proportionate to them (Ez. 7:4,9; 5:11; 8:19; 9:10).

God 'withdrew His hand', He took back this promise (Ez. 20:22).

When Israel were punished by the Babylonians, Ezra (9:13) realized that they had not been punished proportionate to their sins.

Is. 40:2, again in the context of Israel's punishment by the Babylonians, says that their judgment had been double what it ought to have been; and yet Ezra says it was less than the promised proportionate recompense for their sins. Here we have the utter, inconsistent grace of God; almost taking guilt for punishing them (cp. how God likewise takes the blame in Is. 54:6-8, as if He had forsaken Israel as a sweet innocent young wife). The way God restored double to Job at the end has echoes of how a thief had to restore double (Ex. 22:2-4)- as if God in His love for Job wished to show Himself as having been somehow ‘guilty’ for taking away from Job what He had?

If God says He will punish someone for their sins after they have had space for repentance, then He will.

In Rev. 2:21,22 Jezebel was given space to repent but didn’t, therefore judgment was pronounced; but even then, if she repented, she wouldn’t be punished.

This is simply the eagerness of God for human repentance.

The wound of Israel was incurable- said Yahweh Himself (Jer. 30:12).

All Judah would be destroyed (Jer. 44:11).

Israel were the branches which were lopped off.

The fig tree would never bear fruit (Mk. 11:14).

But Yahweh healed the incurable (Jer. 30:17).

But the same chapter speaks of a remnant that would not be (:14,28).

But they were to be grafted back on to the living tree (Rom. 11)

But Israel will blossom and bud and fill the earth with fruit (Is. 27:6); hence the fig tree bearing fruit when it has been condemned never to bear fruit is such a dramatic sign (Lk. 21:29,30.)

This is the Bible paradox of God's love of Israel and desire for their redemption.

This is an apparent horticultural blunder. A dead, rejected branch can't get life by being tied on to a living tree. But in the miracle of Israel's latter day redemption, this is how it will be.

The Lord spoke His words about Israel's future budding with full knowledge that He (and several OT passages) had condemned her to eternal barrenness. He knew, however, the paradox of grace.

God promised that even if Israel sinned, He would never break His covenant with them (Lev. 26:44; Jud. 2:1).

But He did (Zech. 11:10 cp. Jer. 14:21), as witnessed by the termination of the Law of Moses, which was the basis of His covenant with Israel. His love creates yet another Bible paradox.

Israel broke the covenant by their disobedience (Lev. 26:15; Dt. 31:16 and many others). God therefore broke His part of the covenant. Yet God made His promises concerning the unbreakable covenant because He chose to speak in words which did not reflect His foreknowledge that Israel would sin. The apparent contradiction is resolvable by realizing that God did not set His mind upon Israel's future apostasy when He made the 'unbreakable' covenant with them. And yet the paradox still ultimately stands; that He broke His covenant with them when they sinned. He worked through this punishment in order to establish an even more gracious new covenant.

God said He would not spare or pity Israel in pouring out His judgments on them. He even warns them not to think that He is merely threatening, giving yet another warning (" the sounding again of the mountains" in echo), but that He is deadly serious (Ez. 7:7, 4, 9; 5:11; 8:18; 9:10; Jer. 13:14; 21:7).

But God did pity Israel at the time of judging them (s.w. Ez. 36:21; Mal. 3:17,18).

Joel (2:17) realized that God has the capacity, in His grace, to change His stated purpose at the last minute, and therefore he exhorts the priests to ask God to " spare" them when He pours out His judgments; although He had said that He would not do this.

11. Christ was fully like us, our representative and example, an inspiration to us in our hour by hour battle with the flesh.

God will not let His Name be polluted by His people (Is. 48:11; Ez. 20:9).

The orthodox idea of ransom payment substitution is wrong. Christ didn't give His blood to purchase us in a substitutionary sense.

Yet Christ was God's son, He was more than a " mere man" , He evidently had some " bias" (in the words of Robert Roberts) towards righteousness which we don't have  (1) .

But God polluted His people (Is. 47:6). They did pollute His Name (Jer. 34:16; Mal. 1:7)

But to whom did Christ pay the price of our redemption? Not to God (or else it would have been substitution); not to the devil, as orthodoxy wrongly supposes.

God's manifestation in Christ was and is a " mystery" (1 Tim. 3:16). Yet without doubt we are intended to take comfort and inspiration from Christ's humanity; i.e. from something we accept and believe, but which appears contradictory.

God invites us to see His efforts to stop His Name being polluted as somehow defeated by the extent of Israel's pollutions. This theme comes out clearly in Ezekiel: they polluted Him, but He strove lest His Name should be polluted. Here is the extent of freewill which God gives man to sin- and also the extent of the hopefulness of God. It's as if He didn't imagine they would pollute Him as much as they did.

 On one level, the atonement can be logically explained. On another, it cannot be (2). The veil, an eloquent symbol of the flesh of Jesus, was made of mixed fibres, something which was otherwise forbidden under the Law. This perhaps reflected how the Lord’s nature and the atonement God wrought through Him was and is in some ways contradictory, to human eyes.

12. On the Sabbath, the priests profaned the Sabbath.

“Whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work [in the sabbath], the same soul will I destroy from among his people” (Lev. 32:30)

No work was to be done on the Sabbath.

But God in the prophets complains that His people  don’t keep the Sabbath. He didn’t cut off the individuals as He threatened. Behold the Bible paradox.

The Lord (Mt. 12:5) said that the priests " profaned" the Sabbath; He didn't say that because they kept the spirit of it, that was O.K. By using a word as extreme as " profaned" He seems to be even emphasizing the point.

This isn’t to say that God says but doesn’t do. It’s just that His grace and patience is beyond His law.

13. God imputes His righteousness to men; He counts them as if they are righteous, even though they are not.

Thus He speaks of the reforms of David, Hezekiah and Josiah as being so thorough when in fact they overlooked basic things like the keeping of tabernacles (Neh. 9:17)

Personal righteousness and obedience is vital for salvation.

The keeping of the feasts was a vital sign that a man was in covenant with God.

Salvation is by both obedience and by grace, whereby we are counted as obedient even though we are not. God is so sensitive to human effort to be spiritual that it seems He may exercise His prerogative to overlook other failures; although there are many examples of where a man spiritual in many ways is rejected because he failed in just one other area (e.g. Eli).

14. God cannot be seen.

God speaks as if He died, and therefore Israel was left as a widow (Is. 54:4,6).

God forgets our sins.

Moses saw God.

But God cannot die.

God can't by nature forget.

It is quite possible to understand this as an Angelic manifestation. But in keeping with what we are seeing of the 'inconsistency' of God, could it not be that God did actually concede to the humanity of Moses, and actually come down to earth and let Moses see His back parts?

God wants to somehow save Israel from the shame of the fact He divorced them for their unfaithfulness. He goes to the extent of apparently denying His very nature to do this.

He will insult His own nature to show us the extent of His forgiveness. He can even limit His omniscience.

15. Scripture interprets Scripture. Yet this leads to the conclusion that the beast in Revelation is a symbol of Arab opposition to natural Israel in the last days.

The Bible is inspired by God. Therefore every detail is correct and significant.

Scripture interprets Scripture. Yet this leads to the conclusion that the beast in Revelation is a continuation of the Roman empire in a religious form; i.e. it refers to the Catholic church persecuting the believers throughout history.

Sometimes the Bible is very vague. Under inspiration, Paul seems to have forgotten the exact quotation, or to have been deliberately vague, when he speaks of " one in a certain place testified" (Heb. 2:6). There are times when the Spirit uses very approximate numbers rather than exact (" about the space of four hundred and fifty years" , Acts 13:20 cp. 1 Kings 6:1). The reference to " seventy" in Judges 9:56 also doesn't seem exact. Seven and a half years (2 Sam. 2:11) becomes " seven years" (1 Kings 2:11); three months and ten days (2 Chron. 36:9) becomes " three months" (2 Kings 24:8). And 1 Kings 7:23 gives the circumference of the laver as “thirty cubits”, although it was ten cubits broad. Taking ‘pi’ to be 3.14, it is apparent that the circumference would have been 31.4 cubits; but the Spirit says, summing up, “thirty”.

It is hard to reconcile these two interpretations. Yet both are Biblical. Bible-minded brethren just can't agree with each other on prophecy. Why? There is no paradigm of thinking which will draw them towards the same conclusions; the simple fact is that God's sure word of prophecy can be taken more than one way, although the subsequent interpretations appear to be mutually contradictory.

Surely this is to show that God is God, not man. His word is not contradictory, but in ensuring this, God does not sink down to the level of a man who wanted to write a faultless book, carefully ensuring that every figure exactly tallied. He has a spiritual culture much higher than this. And this is behind the many Bible paradoxes which we meet.

These Bible paradoxes or 'inconsistencies' all have their 'explanations'; explanations which sometimes I have given. Yet all those 'explanations' somehow lack the ring of truth; there is a sense of 'getting round' the problem rather than satisfactorily explaining it. It has to be said that bad feeling has often occurred amongst us over many of the above contradictions. Brethren are convinced that their perspective is the Biblical one, and they cannot understand how other brethren can find Biblical support for an opposing idea. What I am suggesting is that these kind of things simply cannot be resolved by any amount of human words or reasoning, They are Divinely created Bible paradoxes, and surely the key is to recognize them for what they are, to appreciate our inability to reconcile them; and to learn an appropriate humility in our dealings with our brethren, and above all with our God who is so far beyond our comprehension.  


Acceptance of our inability to resolve these inconsistencies  is surely what God wants. Yet acceptance is a concept increasingly foreign to our age; every problem must have its resolution, our understanding must be capable of comprehending everything we come into contact with. We live with the sense that we are highly logical, rational creatures. Yet we are  far from logical in spiritual terms. We have the peerless love of Christ behind us, and the matchless hope of the eternal Kingdom in front of us. And yet we sin, we are indifferent, we turn away from the glory of these things, like Israel we effectively say that we don't want to hear. Each sin is the utmost statement of our total illogicality. We know, we perceive, we understand so much (relative to the man next to us in the bus); yet we simply will not apply the majority of this knowledge to our lives. We live under an illusion of logicality. We are ultimately illogical creatures. Surely the purpose of God's (apparent) inconsistency is to shatter our perception that we are ultimately rational and logical. We are not. We need to learn to accept that we have no sense of what is true logic; God's reasoning, His logic, is not ours. 

It seems to me that God's word and His ways being stamped with this (apparent) inconsistency is the greatest proof that God is God, that the Bible is His word. Recently I was talking to a leading Russian mathematician in a Moscow hotel. He said that his study of mathematics had taken him outside the realm of the consistent and logical, and had persuaded him not only that there is a God, but of man's smallness. We might think maths is a logical, pure science. After all, 2 + 2 =4, not 4.1. or 5. Yet the closer you study it, the more you see a designed inconsistency. As a 15 year old studying for my Maths O-level, I struggled (and still do) with the  idea that parallel lines meet at infinity. If they are parallel at the start, surely they are after 10 kilometres, and surely they are however far you go. But no. Mathematically, they meet- at infinity. The acceptance  of this 'inconsistent' principle is at the root of a number of mathematical formulae- without which (e.g.) man would never have got into space. And so it is with God's self-revelation in the Bible paradoxes. There is a designed inconsistency there which must be accepted, just as there is in mathematics, which is in itself proof that God is God, not a man; that He is there, in all His moral and intellectual splendour and magnificence, and that His word to us is His word, not man's word.

Hard questions

Perhaps we should leave it there. But I am repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) asked the following questions by newly baptized brethren and sisters:

1. God says He is a God of love, that He wants to save men. Yet so many live and die without being given even the chance of knowing His plan. According to the Bible, they will stay dead with no second chance.

2. Babies and young children die, including those of believers. According to the Biblical principles of resurrection, judgment and the need for baptism, they will remain dead. Yet how can we reconcile this with a sensitive God of love?

3. The Bible teaches that we should separate from those who leave the Faith or teach false doctrine. But some Christians won't do that. So in order to separate from those who are in the wrong, we also have to separate from those who are more or less believing what we believe, but who won't separate from what is wrong. Surely it's wrong not to break bread with those who are also in the one body of Christ? Yet it's also very wrong to allow the yeast (leaven) of false doctrine into the body; this means separating from those who let themselves be influenced by it.  

All these are fair questions. No answer is completely satisfactory. Because of our refusal to accept the apparent inconsistency of God, we can be driven to unBiblical doctrines; e.g. that there will be a 'second chance'. Or we end up making assumptions (e.g. this child died because knew ultimately it wouldn't accept the Faith) which are pure guesswork and almost an insult to God's omnipotence. We simply must not throw away our understanding of basic Bible doctrine; nor must we lose our appreciation of the love and grace of God. The only way- to my mind- to cope with these questions is through appreciating the principle of the inconsistency of God; to recognize the need for acceptance of what appears humanly impossible to understand. The grace of God, our redemption through the death of a perfect man...these things can be understood, on one level (and they can be misunderstood, too). Because there is so much misunderstanding, we have rightly given emphasis to what the correct understanding should be. But ultimately, in fundamental essence, the issues of the atonement and the saving grace of God are beyond us. Sometimes God seems to play on this fact, in that He makes statements which are evidently paradoxical. Thus Jer. 30:16 says that He would punish Israel for their sins at the hand of their invaders, and therefore these invaders would themselves be destroyed. God's love for Israel is such that even in their guilt He still avenges them. And the only way to really explain such love is to use Bible paradoxes and apparent contradiction.  


The issue of fellowship is an especially vexing Bible paradox. We are commanded that we must preserve the unity of the one body of Christ, and fellowship within it. Yet to fellowship with error is serious indeed; Israel were condemned because they allowed those outside the covenant to partake of the sacrifices which symbolised their covenant with God (cp. the breaking of bread; 2 Chron. 23:19; Is. 26:2; Ez. 44:7 cp. Rev. 22:14). The problem is that we can't tell who exactly is in the body of Christ. It is true, both Biblically and from the Christian experience, that if we take a 'soft' attitude to fellowship, reasoning that we must accept anyone into fellowship, then we will end up losing any concept of Biblical, Christ-centred fellowship. We know there is one body, but there are invisible limits to it. In this lies the problem. Therefore if we say 'I will fellowship anyone, because I have a Biblical duty to do so', we will end up fellowshipping with anyone who is willing to fellowship with us. And the yeast of false doctrine and immoral behaviour will inevitably affect us, so that we lose the Faith. Yet if we focus instead on the Scriptures that teach we must separate from false teachers, we end up needing to also separate from those who tolerate false teachers, without themselves being apostate. And so we will very easily get into a mind-set which results in endless subdivision and hunting out of false teachers and those willing to tolerate them. Anglo-Saxon Christians have agonized, really agonized, over this issue. It cannot be denied that we must separate from that which is false. The Gospel is fundamentally a call to separation, a deliverance from what is false, as Israel were delivered from Egypt. In some sense, our redemption, our eternal destiny, depends upon this. Yet our salvation also depends upon showing the softness, the love, the patience, which we will stand in need of at the judgment. For as we judge, so will we be judged. The attitude of the Lord Jesus towards us in that day will be proportionate to our attitude towards our brethren in this brief life.  

The balance between these two 'columns' of Bible paradoxes is hard indeed. It seems that in the Lord Jesus alone we see the perfect fusion of " grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14); in Him alone mercy and truth met together, in His personality alone righteousness and peace kissed each other (in the words of the beautiful Messianic prophecy of Ps. 85:10).  Somehow it seems that we both individually and collectively cannot achieve this. We are either too soft and compromise and lose the Faith, or we are too hard and lose the spirit of Christ our Lord, without which we are " none of his" (Rom. 8:9). The result of this is that whenever the Truth is revived, that community is in a sense born to roll downhill; after two or three generations the Truth is lost. Either they destroy themselves through bitter subdivision, or they compromise with error and lose the Faith. Perhaps it is God's plan that no one community should hold the Faith through many generations; perhaps this is one explanation of the paradox within Bible teaching about fellowship. But perhaps the 'contradiction' is there to teach us - or try to teach us- the need for us to rise up to the challenge of showing " grace and truth" in our thinking and judging, even though we cannot fully achieve it; to realize our tragic inability in this, to recognize that within our limited nature this must be an unsolveable paradox. And thereby we should be led to appreciate more the beauty and the wonder of the way in which these two concepts are linked together in the Father and His Son, and to yearn more to perceive and enter into the glory of God's Name, which totally incorporates these two humanly opposed aspects (Ex. 34:6,7; Rom. 11:22).  


(1) " It is sufficient to believe that Christ was the word made flesh, that according to the flesh He was the seed of David...these are the fruit-producing facts of the case. They are inducive to reverence, love and comfort. But when we are asked to define " how" as a matter of literal, scientific, metaphysical process this dayspring from on high hath visited us, we are at once in the region of the incomprehensible...for not only can we not know, but even if we could, it would be of no practical value. It is not the comprehension of Divine modes, but the doing of His will that commends us to God. We cannot know the Divine modes of working...we believe Jesus was God manifest in the flesh; we know not how; by the Spirit truly...but this does not define the process, which is incomprehensible to man" (Robert Roberts, Seasons Of Comfort, 1915 ed., p.213).

(2) William Barclay also notes and discusses the unresolved contradictions surrounding the NT use of the Greek word lutron / ransom payment (New Testament Words).

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