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What if the Bible has errors?


I’m guessing you’re already fuming mad. Ready to tar and feather me for even suggesting such a thing … that the Bible has errors. Heretic — off with his head!


The truth is I fully believe what Paul said to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Of course, I also embrace what Jesus Himself said about the Bible: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17) and “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

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Moreover, I’m a fan of the Chicago statement on biblical inerrancy, part of which reads: “God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”

When it comes to the Bible having errors, I agree with the same statement of faith that says: “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”

So, if I believe this, why am I writing an article that poses the question of whether the Bible contains errors? Because, in my experience, when someone stiff-arms Scripture and says it’s due to supposed errors, contradictions, etc., the issues they raise — how should I put this — don’t amount to squat.

Or to rephrase: everyone is still on the hook for what the Bible says about the big-picture things — God, Jesus, sin, the cross, Christ’s resurrection, Heaven and Hell — none of which are in dispute over presumed secondary detail mismatches. And spoiler alert: in most all cases, any supposed minor contradictions in Scripture can be reasonably explained and inerrancy preserved.  

It is written

It’s always baffled me why people can’t embrace the fact that a book can be without error. A phone book can't be 100% correct, can it?

Maybe it’s because people get tripped up over the terms inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration, all of which play a part in the Bible being true in what it says.  

Inerrancy says the Bible does not err; infallibility says the Bible cannot err. And inspiration is God’s superintending of human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded, without error in the words of the original autographs, His revelation to humanity.

Further, since God is the one speaking, if God cannot err (and He can’t), and the Bible is the Word of God (it is), therefore, the Bible cannot err. Against this stands positions like neo-orthodoxy that claim Scripture is inspired but the human writers could only produce a record with errors.

The most often used Bible phrase that declares the truth of Scripture is “It is written…”, which appears some 92 times. In the Hellenistic world at that time, “it is written” was the formula used when people referred to the terms of an unalterable agreement, which is exactly how biblical authors like Paul use it.

That said, when something in the Bible “is written”, is it always to be taken literally and at face value? Of course not.

For example, Jesus is not a literal “door” even though He said, “I am the door” (John 10:9). We’re also not to take the bad advice offered by Job’s friends in the many chapters that record their words.

Being a literary work, the Bible contains all sorts of devices such as phenomenological language, hyperbole, metaphors, anthropomorphisms, personifications, symbolisms, etc., to teach its truth. Further, Scripture records many things that it doesn’t approve of and describes many things that are not necessarily prescribed. Lastly, there are cases (e.g., occurrences in Jesus’ Gospel teachings) where the exact words (ipsissima verba) may not be maintained but the “voice” (ipsissima vox — the meaning) is.  

OK, but what about apparent contradictions? For example, in Matthew Jesus tells Peter he’ll deny Him “before a rooster crows” (26:34), but in Mark, He says the denial will happen before “a rooster crows twice” (14:30). In Matthew (8:28-34), Jesus confronts two possessed men whose demons are sent into a herd of swine whereas in Mark (5:1-17) and Luke (8:26-37), only one possessed man is referenced.  

Years ago, skeptic Bart Ehrman wrote about attending a Bible conference where he said the Christian position of inerrancy on issues like this seemed to be shifting, and “the current view seems to be much more open to the possibility that there are places that we simply can’t figure it out, places that do appear to be contradictory. And here is the KICKER. When they (the evangelicals who take this view) admit there are apparent contradictions, then they say that the details are not important.  What matters is the major message. The ultimate point. The big picture. The gist. The gist of what a passage is trying to teach is what is inspired and inerrant. Not the picayune details.”

Bart’s right about the big picture things being of primary importance. As one person put it, it’s not the discrepancies in the Bible that bothered him but rather the clear and undisputed content that's there.  

This means you’re not going to find a place in the Bible that says Jesus isn’t the Son of God. Or that He stayed dead. Or that you can earn your way to Heaven.

But are there alleged secondary detail conflicts like whether a rooster crowed once or twice before Peter denied He knew Jesus? Yep, they’re there.

Even so, good explanations exist for them. For example, Dr. Mike Licona’s work, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, tackles such things head-on. Licona discusses how ancient biographies utilize various “compositional devices” such as paraphrasing, transferal, expansion of narrative details, spotlighting, simplification, displacement, compression, and conflation to weave together their stories, and the gospel accounts are no exception.

For example, the rooster crow discrepancy: it’s likely Matthew was using Mark as his source material and is employing the literary device of paraphrasing. The single possessed man referenced in Mark and Luke is a perfect example of spotlighting where an author “shines the light” on a particular personality in a story although others may be present.    

Investigating such things is fine as long as (again) you don’t miss for forest for the trees. When the Titanic sank, there were conflicting accounts over whether it broke up before or after it sank, but no one today disputes it’s at the bottom of the ocean.

This brings us to the real reason why, with so much good evidence for accepting what Scripture says, some people still drop-kick the Bible out of their lives. It’s hard to listen to but here goes anyway.

A. W. Tozer writes, “The Bible is not addressed to just anybody. Its message is directed to a chosen few… As the pillar of fire gave light to Israel but was cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, so our Lord’s words shine in the hearts of His people but leave the self-confident unbeliever in the obscurity of moral night.”

Jesus put it more simply: “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47).

I can tell you from my own life that is 100% correct. My hope is if you dismiss the Bible and are currently “not of God,” that you will be soon. My advice to you is, don’t get tripped up by details that are seemingly at odds, which have reasonable explanations, but instead focus on Jesus Himself and that empty tomb that’s always going to be there. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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