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What about the Mistakes, Errors, And Contradictions in the Bible?

The Nature of Biblical Inerrancy


The doctrine of biblical inerrancy asserts that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is without error in all that it affirms. This belief is grounded in the understanding that the Scriptures are divinely inspired. As 2 Timothy 3:16 states, "All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." The term "inspired by God" literally means "God-breathed," indicating that the Scriptures originate from God Himself. Consequently, they are trustworthy and reliable.


Moreover, 2 Peter 1:21 reinforces the divine origin of Scripture: "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." This passage highlights that the human authors of the Bible wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ensuring that their writings were free from error. The inerrancy of the Bible, therefore, is not a claim about every copy or translation but about the original autographs.



Alleged Contradictions and Contextual Clarifications


Critics often point to alleged contradictions in the Bible to challenge its inerrancy. However, many of these supposed contradictions can be resolved through a careful examination of the context, language, and cultural background. The Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation, which seeks to understand the text as the original audience would have, is particularly useful in addressing these issues.


For example, consider the accounts of Judas Iscariot's death in Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18. Matthew states, "And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself." Acts, however, records, "Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out." At first glance, these accounts appear contradictory. However, they can be harmonized by understanding that both events could have occurred: Judas hanged himself, and after his body decomposed, it fell and burst open. This explanation respects the integrity of both passages without forcing a contradiction.



Variations in Gospel Accounts


The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sometimes present variations in their accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. These differences are often cited as contradictions. However, it is important to recognize that each Gospel writer had a unique perspective and purpose, which influenced their selection and presentation of events.


For instance, the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record Jesus cleansing the temple towards the end of His ministry (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46), while John places a similar event at the beginning (John 2:13-16). One plausible explanation is that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once at the beginning of His ministry and once towards the end. Alternatively, John may have arranged his Gospel thematically rather than chronologically, focusing on the significance of the event rather than its exact timing.



Numerical Discrepancies


Numerical discrepancies are another area where critics claim the Bible contains errors. A well-known example is the differing numbers of fighting men in Israel as reported in 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5. 2 Samuel 24:9 states, "And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men." In contrast, 1 Chronicles 21:5 reports, "And Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah was four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword."


Several factors could account for this difference. It is possible that the numbers were rounded or that different methods of counting were used. Another explanation is that the Chronicler included additional groups of soldiers not counted in Samuel's account. These variations do not undermine the overall reliability of the biblical narrative but reflect the complexity of ancient record-keeping practices.



Scribal Errors and Textual Variants


Over centuries of transmission, scribal errors and textual variants have inevitably occurred in the manuscripts of the Bible. These errors include misspellings, duplications, and omissions. However, the discipline of textual criticism allows scholars to compare thousands of manuscripts to reconstruct the original text with a high degree of confidence.


One famous example is the so-called "Johannine Comma" in 1 John 5:7-8. The King James Version includes the phrase "in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth." However, this phrase is absent from the earliest Greek manuscripts and is widely considered a later addition. Modern translations, based on more reliable manuscripts, omit this phrase. Such textual variants, while notable, do not affect the core doctrines of the Christian faith and are identified and addressed through scholarly research.



Harmonizing Difficult Passages


Many alleged contradictions can be harmonized by understanding the historical and cultural context of the passages. For instance, the different genealogies of Jesus presented in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 have been cited as a contradiction. Matthew traces Jesus' lineage through David's son Solomon, while Luke traces it through David's son Nathan. A common explanation is that Matthew records Joseph's genealogy, emphasizing Jesus' legal right to David's throne, while Luke records Mary's genealogy, emphasizing Jesus' biological descent from David.


Another example is the differing accounts of the death of King Saul. 1 Samuel 31:4 states that Saul took his own life by falling on his sword, while 2 Samuel 1:10 records an Amalekite claiming to have killed Saul at his request. One plausible explanation is that Saul attempted to take his own life but did not die immediately, and the Amalekite, finding him mortally wounded, finished the task. This harmonization respects both accounts and resolves the apparent discrepancy.



Understanding Literary Genres and Devices


The Bible employs various literary genres and devices, including poetry, parable, and hyperbole, which must be interpreted accordingly. Recognizing these genres helps clarify passages that might otherwise be misunderstood as contradictions or errors. For example, Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:29, "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you," is clearly hyperbolic, emphasizing the severity of sin rather than prescribing literal self-mutilation.


Similarly, the imprecatory psalms, such as Psalm 137:9, "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock," express intense emotions and desires for justice in poetic form. Understanding these as expressions of human anguish and calls for divine justice, rather than literal prescriptions for action, resolves potential ethical dilemmas.



The Role of Faith and Reason in Addressing Difficulties


While historical, contextual, and textual analyses address many alleged contradictions and errors, faith also plays a crucial role in accepting the reliability of the Bible. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith in the Bible's inerrancy is not blind belief but is grounded in the reasonable evidence provided by Scripture and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.


Christian apologetics bridges the gap between faith and reason, demonstrating that belief in the Bible's inerrancy is intellectually viable and spiritually enriching. As 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." This call to defend the faith includes addressing challenges to the Bible's reliability with well-reasoned responses.



The Witness of Jesus and the Apostles


The testimony of Jesus and the apostles provides additional assurance of the Bible's reliability. Jesus affirmed the authority and reliability of the Old Testament, stating in Matthew 5:18, "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Jesus' endorsement of the Scriptures as trustworthy and enduring underscores their divine origin and reliability.


The apostles also affirmed the reliability of Scripture. Peter, in 2 Peter 1:16-21, emphasizes the prophetic nature of Scripture and its divine inspiration. Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16, asserts the usefulness and divine origin of all Scripture. These affirmations from Jesus and the apostles reinforce the Christian conviction that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.



Addressing Ethical and Scientific Challenges


Some critics argue that the Bible contains ethical or scientific errors, challenging its reliability. However, many of these challenges arise from misunderstandings of the Bible's purpose and genre. The Bible is not a scientific textbook but a theological and historical document that conveys spiritual truths through various literary forms.


For example, the creation accounts in Genesis are often critiqued for their perceived conflict with modern scientific understandings. However, the purpose of these accounts is not to provide a scientific explanation of the origins of the universe but to convey theological truths about God's creative power and the relationship between God and creation. Recognizing the genre and intent of these passages helps reconcile perceived conflicts with scientific knowledge.


Ethical challenges, such as the Bible's depiction of violence or its treatment of women and slavery, must be understood in their historical and cultural context. The Bible records the realities of ancient societies and God's redemptive work within those contexts. While certain practices described in the Bible reflect the cultural norms of the time, the overarching biblical narrative reveals God's progressive revelation of justice, mercy, and love.



The Consistency and Coherence of the Biblical Narrative


Despite being written over a span of 1,500 years by more than 40 authors from diverse backgrounds, the Bible exhibits remarkable consistency and coherence. This unity is evident in the overarching narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration that runs throughout the Scriptures. The consistency of themes, prophecies, and teachings across different books and authors points to the divine inspiration of the Bible.


For example, the prophecy of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, written around 700 B.C.E., finds its fulfillment in the New Testament account of Jesus' crucifixion. Isaiah 53:5 states, "But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed." The precise fulfillment of this prophecy in the life and death of Jesus underscores the coherence and reliability of the biblical narrative.



Conclusion on the Inerrancy of the Bible


The Bible, in its original manuscripts, is the inerrant and inspired Word of God. Alleged contradictions and errors can often be resolved through careful examination of the context, language, and literary genres. The Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation, along with textual criticism, provides robust tools for understanding and defending the reliability of the Scriptures. Faith in the Bible's inerrancy is grounded in reasonable evidence and the testimony of Jesus and the apostles, demonstrating that the Bible is a trustworthy and reliable revelation of God's truth.


About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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