I received the following question:

There was an article in “The Onion” that suggested a contradiction in the Bible. I’m not sure how genuine the article content is, as this publication is supposed to be a satirical one!

Slight Inconsistency Found In Bible

STILLWATER, OK–The world’s theological community is in an uproar following Monday’s discovery of a slight inconsistency in the Bible. “I was reading Jeremiah 17:4, in which God says, ‘Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever,'” said Pastor Theodore Strait of First Lutheran Church in Stillwater. “And I immediately recalled Jeremiah 3:12, which says, ‘For I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever.’ I thought, how can this possibly be? The Bible, contradicting itself?” Biblical scholars are scrambling to explain the strange paradox, believed to be the first time a passage in the Bible has been found to contain flaws in logic.

In Jeremiah there are indeed these two statements.  The author of this article, though, has failed to take into account the contexts of these statements, a failure which is usually the case in any accusation against the Bible.  The context of Jeremiah 3:12 is “‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the Lord, ‘And I will not cause My anger to fall on you; For I am merciful,’ says the Lord, ‘And I will not remain angry forever.’”  Thus we see that His promise not to remain angry forever is based on their repentance.  He will not remain angry forever if they will return to Him.  The context of Jeremiah 17:4, however, is, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; With the point of a diamond it is engraved On the tablet of their heart, And on the horns of your altars.”  (Jeremiah 17:1)  At this point (which you will note is later in the book than the other statement) it is stated that the sin of Judah is so engraved in their hearts that it cannot be removed, and therefore the Lord will kindle a fire in His anger that will burn forever.  He seems to no longer consider repentance as being even possible for this people.  Do you see?  The promise of His anger not lasting forever was only to be fulfilled if they would repent.  When they did not repent, however, He swore that He would kindle a fire in His anger that would burn forever.

Secondly, note that a fire kindled in anger is not the same as the anger itself.  The fire is said to last forever in the second verse, whereas it is His anger that will not last forever in the first verse.

And finally, the word for “forever” here is in Hebrew “for the olam.”  An olam is something that flows.  So something that lasts “for the flow” is something that continues on until it reaches a completion.  When speaking of time it means “perpetually,” but this can just be until a finishing point, such as a person’s death. Until he dies, he does this perpetually, and so forth. Of course, it could continue for time without end, but this depends upon the context, and what is being spoken of. When it speaks of something like fire, fire does reach a completion…often when everything that there is to burn has burned up.  A fire that lasts “for the flow” then, does not necessarily last “forever” as we would think of it in English.  An anger that lasts “for the flow” would last until it had destroyed those whom it was directed against.  The two may be similar, but need not necessarily be the same thing.

Usually such questions are answered most readily by a look at the context, as in the first point.  Sometimes merely paying attention to detail will help clear up the matter as in my second point.  And sometimes a look at the original languages can help clear up the supposed discrepancy, as in my third point.  I have found that these three methods are usually sufficient to clear up most difficulties and answer most supposed contradictions.

In conclusion, I would point out that the obviously sarcastic tone of this article reveals that the writer of it is no doubt someone whom the Bible calls a “scoffer” or a “mocker.”  These sorts of people ridicule the Word of God and any who trust in it.  They usually are not great scholars who are criticizing the Bible for legitimate problems.  Rather, they are rejecting the Bible because they are unwilling to accept its moral commands.  In other words, they reject the Bible not because it contains intellectual deficiencies, but rather because they themselves are morally deficient, and do not wish to have to admit to a higher standard that would condemn their actions.

A brief look at other, anti-Christian articles on the site was enough to convince me that this is the case with these people.  They make fun in one article of Christians who have waited until marriage to have sex, acting like they will have a terrible experience and never truly enjoy sex with each other.  This is a silly attitude, however, as the alternative they are talking about usually boils down to a first sexual encounter as a scared teenager in the back of a car somewhere, and this is supposed to be better than a loving experience between two people who care for each other so much that they’ve committed their lives to each other?  Not to mention that unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and the other obvious ills of unmarried sex are clear and should be a warning to all that waiting until marriage is the superior choice.  Yet these people mock at the Bible and those who believe it, as if their multiple partners and “casual sex” were so much better.  I know this wasn’t the article you sent me, but it was on the same website and I think provides some evidence for my characterization of the type of people who wrote this article.  Such usually do not go to the Bible to find out if it is true or not.  They only go searching for the first thing that they can possibly find to discredit it so they can continue with their immoral lifestyle.  However, the Bible is indeed God’s Word, and God does indeed hold people to a higher standard.  These people will have to answer for their actions to God someday, as the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death,” and, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”  I would pray for them, however, that they can come to know the love and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ.  Those who believe and trust in Him can have all their sins forgiven: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”