TOUGH QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Are there errors in the Bible?

Sat, Feb 21, 2015 by Lily Lim

As Christians, we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. The term “inerrancy” refers to the fact the Bible is without error. Although there are some minor copyist mistakes in copies and translations, there are no errors in the original text of the Bible.


Logically, God cannot make a mistake (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18); and since the Bible is God’s Word (John 10:34-35), it cannot contain error. Just as Paul wrote to Timothy that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and God cannot speak untruth, this means that the Bible cannot contain any untruth.

 

Are there errors in Bible manuscripts and translations?
There are minor copyist mistakes in the Bible manuscripts. For example, in 2 Chronicles 9:25 we learn that Solomon had four thousand horse stalls, but the Masoretic Text1 of 1 Kings 4:26 says he had forty thousand horse stalls. This would have been too many for the twelve thousand horsemen Solomon had.

 

Another example of a copyist’s error is clear from Masoretic Text of 2 Chronicles 22:2, which says Ahaziah was 42 years old, but 2 Kings 8:26 tells us that Ahaziah was 22 years old. He could not have been 42 years old, or he would have been older than his father. With regard to copyist errors, it is prudent to note that no original manuscript has ever been found with an error in it. In most cases the error is obvious from the context or the material found in parallel passages; and they do not affect the central message of the Bible.


The Bible also contains some problematic passages with biblical accounts containing apparent discrepancies with references in secular history and claims of science. There are also contradictions between parallel passages; for example, in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and the Gospels in the New Testament. Contradictions include matters of chronology, numbers, and other details.

How are these problems to be dealt with?

Several approaches have been taken: Benjamin Warfield maintained “the doctrinal teaching of biblical inerrancy is in itself such a strong consideration that the phenomena can virtually be ignored.”2 Another theologian, Dewey Beegle, contended that “the problematic phenomena require us to abandon belief in biblical inerrancy.”3 There were also suggestions to abolish all these bothersome phenomena by harmonizing all the differences. However, no satisfactory solutions were offered. Perhaps, we should take heed the wisdom of St Augustine, “If
we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, the author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.”4


1 The Masoretic Text is the Hebrew text of the Scriptures approved for general use in Judaism. It is also widely used in translations of the Old Testament of Christian Bibles. It was primarily compiled, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the seventh and tenth centuries.


2 Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. Samuel G. Craig (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1951), 219-20.


3 Dewey Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 195-7.


4 St. Augustine. Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 11.5 in Philip Schaff, A Select Library of the Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), vol. 4.


The Bible is “a revelation of the mind and will and character and being of an infinitely great, perfectly wise and absolutely holy God.”5 This revelation, authored by God, is made to men; finite beings who are imperfect in intellectual development and consequently, in knowledge, and who are also imperfect in character and consequently, in spiritual discernment.


The mistakes are not in the revelation of God, but are in the misinterpretation of man.


We must, therefore, reaffirm that the copies and translations are also the Word of God to the degree that they preserve the original message. There’s bound to be difficulty when the finite tries to understand the infinite.


I have been cornered by Christians who desire to live Bible-centred lives and are sincerely concerned about their faith. They’re aware the answers they seek can be found in the Word of God. However, they struggle for answers to a question such as: “How do you explain that the Bible is the Word of God?” Questions can in turn be counter-posed: “How do you account
for the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible if it is of human origin?” “How do you account for the marvelous unity of the 66 books of the Bible, written under circumstances and timing so diverse and remote from one another?”


We ought to also recognize that the Bible should be judged in terms of the cultural setting in which it was expressed. For example, we should not expect that the standards of accuracy to which the printing press and mass media of our time to be comparable to that of the first century. There is a wide diversity between our culture and that of biblical times.


Another common mistake of critics is to take a text out of proper context. For example, some claim that the Bible says “there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). However, reading the full context we find that the verse actually says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.,’” (Psalm 14:1). As the adage goes, “A text out of context is a pretext.”6


An objection to or difficulty in believing a doctrine does not in any way prove the doctrine to be untrue. There have been doctrines in sciences regarded as true today that were not accepted in the past. For example, the Copernican theory, now so universally accepted, encountered difficulties when it was initially proclaimed.


One would be a superficial Christian if he gives up his belief in the divine origin and inerrancy of the Bible because of some facts that he cannot reconcile with that doctrine.


The Bible is the Word of God!

We must realize that the Bible has the power to save, to forgive, to bring peace and hope and joy, to lift men before God. How to account for it if the Bible is not the Word of God in a sense that no other book is the Word of God? The seeming defects of the Bible are exceedingly insignificant and pale in comparison with the unparalleled glories that make the Bible stand apart from all other books in the world. Mark Twain was right when he concluded that it was not the part of the Bible he did not understand that bothered him the most, but the parts that he did understand!


5 R.A. Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible: Alleged Errors and Contradictions (Chicago, IL: Moody Press), 10.


6 G.L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 17.



Lily Lim is a Faculty of the School of Theology (English) in TCA College. She is a candidate for the Doctor of Missiology with Fuller Theological Seminary (USA). Among Lily’s area of research is the study of religious interactions in a pluralistic society, especially in the Asian context.


 

This story first appeared in The Trinitarian Magazine Issue 1/2015.

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