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The rule of non-contradiction is key to Greek logic. The Socratic method often walks through a binary tree of false dilemmas [1] until a conclusion is reached.

In Hermeneutics contradiction seems to be tolerated, such as in acceptance of the Trinity.

Many questions from skeptics revolve around this difference.

What is the basis for the difference? In Hermeneutics, when is contradiction not tolerable.


[1] I say false dilemmas because of the problem of universal ignorance. When a problem is defined as having only two options, it can never be known that there is not a third option of which the participants are unaware.

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[1] is also known as the fallacy of the excluded middle –  swasheck Jul 6 '12 at 16:30

2 Answers 2

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I don't think true contradictions are actually tolerated in Biblical Hermeneutics.

I think what we see is that God often uses teachings which appear to contradict (at first glance) to clarify things that we otherwise might have glossed over.

Example 1

In the following passage, Jesus uses two contradictory statements in the same sentence:

‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)' -Revelation 2:9

This 'contradiction' causes us to consider what Jesus meant by the words poverty and rich in this passage.

Example 2

We see the same sort of thing in this passage concerning a person's life:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. -Luke 9:24

Again, this glaring "contradiction" causes us to pay closer attention to the phrase and ask "what does He mean by that?"

Explanation

The Law of Non-Contradiction basically says that something can not be both true and not true at the same time in the same way. I do not believe Scripture violates this Law.

In the first example, we could use other Scriptures to show that the terms poverty and wealth can refer to either the material realm or the spiritual realm. A case could also be made that one can be rich technically speaking, but can live in poverty for the sake of giving more. There are other options as well.

In the second example, we could use other Scriptures to show that we must "lose our life" in the sense of "laying down our life" and submitting it to the will of God, "dying to our old self", "crucifying our passions", and so forth. By doing so, our life is "saved" in a different sense of the word 'life' - we are given "new life" as a "reborn creature", and begin to live for Him, with the final reward of "eternal life".

In the same way, the doctrine of the Trinity does not violate the Law of Non-Contradiction, because the doctrine simply states that God is one in one sense and three in another sense.

Hope that helps.

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Great answer. I wanted to get it established as an answer so we can refer to it in answers to skeptics, who accept the contradiction at face value rather than look for the difference in time or way the language is used. –  Bob Jones Jul 6 '12 at 18:04
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There is a bad hermeneutic rule that says an author uses the same word in the same way... this is obviously not true, in the examples you give. –  Bob Jones Jul 6 '12 at 18:05

To add to Jas 3.1's good answer, my perspective and training would point to a flaw in the logic or argumentation by the person(s). Contradictions indicate a failure to comprehend the subject matter, whether through deliberate or incidental means. As such, contradictions are accepted as ignorance which will probably be smoothed out by future iterations of scholarly rigor.

An example might be an incomplete grasp of the contemporary culture in which the writing took place. This would help smooth out how one would have received the "text" in its original context. Additionally, different literary forms serve different functions. Perhaps a contradiction is simply a misunderstanding of the functional use of a yet "undiscovered" literary form.

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Just a reminder: feel free to upvote good answers. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Jul 6 '12 at 17:54

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