Biblical Inerrancy and Alleged Bible Contradictions

 

I want to know one thing, the way to Heaven. God Himself has condescended to teach the Way. He has written it down in a Book. O give me that Book!”-John Wesley

 

God’s Word changes lives! I, as well as multitudes of others, know this from personal experience. In the pages of the Bible, you can find the solution to anything you may be facing.

That is why I felt it was vitally important that these teachings include a defense of the reliability of the Bible. Almost any theological issue is in one way or another related to this one. In order to properly relate to God, and follow His plan for our lives, we MUST be able to trust that He has given us accurate instructions on how to do so.

The Bible is a revelation, which means, “to uncover or reveal.” God WANTS to reveal Himself to us. He loves us passionately, and He desires to have fellowship with us. He wants us to come to Him, and talk to Him, and He wants to talk to us as well. His primary means of doing this is through His Word, the Bible. This is why we must approach the Scriptures with the proper reverence. God’s Word is eternal (Isaiah 40:8,1 Peter 1:25), it is not to be added to or taken away from (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18-19), and all doctrine and revelation must be tested in light of it (Isaiah 8:20; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15, Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 2 Peter 2:1-2).

Throughout church history, until fairly recently, the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture was a foregone conclusion. Dallas Theological Seminary professor P.D. Feinberg writes:

 

Biblical inerrancy has been the view of the church throughout its history. As part of the corpus of orthodox doctrine, the position until relatively recently has seldom been questioned and so was assumed and seldom defended through church history. Nevertheless, in each period of the church’s history clear affirmations of the doctrine can be found.

 

My premise is based on this: I don’t believe that a perfect God would inspire error (see Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). I realize that He used imperfect human beings to write it, but if you had a letter of world-changing importance to write, wouldn’t you see to it that the person who dictated it for you did it accurately? The integrity of Scripture is a reflection of the integrity of God. After all, if He didn’t accurately preserve for us the Truth He was going to judge the world by, then we would have a right to question His justice.

We must understand exactly what is at stake here. If we open the Bible up to the possibility of error, we have no foundation for our faith. What if the plan of salvation contains error? What if the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Lord’s Prayer are wrong? How do we know we are living for God at all, if He hasn’t accurately shown us how to do it? Remember,the first lie Satan ever told the human race was designed to cast doubt on the Word of God, “Yea, hath God said…?” (see Genesis 3:1-5.)

Let’s look at just a few of the reasons God gave us the Bible;

  • To make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 1:16; James 1:21)
  • To make Jesus Christ known (John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
  • To produce profit in doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • To build our faith (Romans 10:17)
  • To keep us from sin (Psalm 119:11)
  • To help us grow spiritually (1 Peter 2:2)
  • To be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)
  • To discern the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)

These are pretty tall orders, wouldn’t you say? If the Bible is going to accomplish these things, it would absolutely necessitate that it be without error, and totally reliable.

Next, let’s look at the testimony of Jesus and the Bible authors. They all believed in the infallibility of Scripture. Consider the following statements from;

  • JESUS: “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17)
  • He rebuked the Pharisees by saying “You err, not knowing the Scriptures.” (Matthew 22:29)
  • “….. the Scripture cannot be broken.”(John 10:35)
  • He emphasized repeatedly that Scripture must be fulfilled. (Matthew 26:56; Luke 4:21; Luke 22:37.)
  • DAVID-“The sum of Thy Word is Truth” (Psalm 119:160)
  • SOLOMON-“Every Word of God is pure” (Proverbs 30:5)
  • PETER- “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold” (Acts 1:16)
  • PAUL- “ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added)

The authenticity of the Bible is also verified by manuscript evidence. There are literally THOUSANDS of manuscripts, written in a variety of different languages, many of them dating back far before the time of Constantine, and new ones are being discovered constantly. They all verify the accuracy and integrity of Scripture. This is also proof that church councils or other groups could not have altered the texts, because there has never been a time in history that any one person, or group of people, has had possession of all the manuscripts. Even if someone had changed some of them, these changes would have stood out like a sore thumb when compared to the others. In addition to this, we can read the writings of the early church fathers, which quote extensively from both Testaments, and repeatedly affirm their authenticity.

Kenneth Kantzer writes;”

The faith of some is hindered by what seems to them to be false statements or self-contradiction.We need ,therefore,to clear away such false obstacles to faith.If there remains any obstacle to faith,it should be the stumbling block of the cross, or the cost of discipleship rather than animaginary obstacle that could easily be eliminated.In spite of what we sometimes hear,God never asks us to crucify our intellects in order to believe.²

One of the key texts in discussing this issue is 2 Timothy 3:16, which tells us that “ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”The word “inspiration” literally means “God breathed.” Isn’t that beautiful? God “breathed “His Word to us! Although our modern versions may not carry the same weight as the originals, God has seen to us that we accurately have His Word today. Josh McDowell writes:

No one manuscript or translation is inspired, only the originals. However, for all intents and purposes, they are virtually inspired since, with today’s great number of manuscripts available for scrutiny, the science of textual criticism can render us an accurate representation. Therefore, we can be assured that when we read the Bible we are reading the inspired Word of God.³

I will now look at a few of the alleged discrepancies in the Bible, along with the explanations. Obviously, for time and space reasons, this study

will not be exhaustive .

  1. IN SOME CASES,A WORD OR PHRASE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN TRANSLATED AS ACCURATELY AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN or sometimes the Hebrew and Greek words didn’t have an exact English equivalent. This is why I recommend that every Bible student own good word study tools, such as Strong’s Concordance and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. They are very helpful when dealing with these matters. An example of such a situation occurs in Acts. When Paul had his dramatic encounter with God on Damascus road. Acts 9:7 states that Paul and his traveling companions heard the voice of God. However, in Acts 22:9, Paul says that only he, not his companions, heard the voice. How can both statements be correct? The Greek verb translated “to hear” can also be translated “to understand.” Therefore, they all HEARD the voice, but only Paul UNDERSTOOD the message.
  2. IN TRANSCRIBING THE TEXT, SOMETIMES MINOR TEXTUAL VARIANCES OCCURRED. Suppose a college professor wrote a paper, asked everyone in hisclass to copy it, then destroyed the original. The students doing the copying would occasionally make typographical errors. There would bemisspelled words, misplaced punctuation, etc. However, when the copies were compared to each other, the mistakes would be easy to spot and the class could know beyond any doubt that they had the exact message the professor wanted to convey. This is similar to the way the Bible was distributed in ancient times. From the very beginning, the Scriptures were copied, copied and then copied some more until copies had been sent all over the world! While it is true that we do not have the original Bible documents today, we have thousands of manuscripts which date back to the earliest periods in church history. By comparing them , Bible translators were able to know with precise accuracy what the original manuscripts said. However, in some cases, these copyist’s errors did come through into some English translations. An example of this would be the number of horsestalls King Solomon owned.2 Chronicles 9:25 says he had 4000, while 1 Kings 4:26 lists the number at 40,000.In reality, this discrepancy only appeared in a few manuscripts of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). It was not in the originals and therefore, is not a contradiction at all .In light of this, many modern translations do not have this discrepancy.
  3. ONE DESCRIPTION OF AN EVENT MAY INCLUDE DETAILS THAT ANOTHER ACCOUNTDOES NOT. The most obvious example of this would be each Gospel’s uniquediscriptions of the events following Jesus’ resurrection. Many skeptics are quick to point to these as glaring contradictions in Scripture. However, this is not the case at all. Additional details of an event are supplementary, not contradictory. The notes on Matthew 28 in the Scofield Study Bible combine all four narratives to produce a very helpful time line of the post-resurrection events;
  • Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome start for the sepulchre, followed by other women bearing spices. The three find the stonerolled away and Mary Magdalene goes to tell the disciples (Luke
    23:55-24:9; John 20:1-2).
     
  • Mary ,the mother of James, draws nearer to the tomb and sees the angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:2). She goes back to meet the other women following with the spices.
     
  • Meanwhile, Peter and John, warned by Mary Magdalene, arrive,look in and go away (John 20:3-10). Mary Magdalene returns weeping,sees the two angels, then Jesus (John 20:11-18) and goes as He bade her to tell the disciples. 
  • Mary (mother of James and Joses), meanwhile, has met the women with the spices and returning with them, they see the TWO angels (Luke 24:4-5;Mark 16:5). They also receive the angelic message and going to seek the disciples, are met by Jesus (Matthew 28:8-10).

4. SEEMINGLY CONTRADICTORY ACCOUNTS OF AN EVENT MAY IN REALITY BE ACCOUNTS OF SIMILAR, BUT SEPARATE EVENTS. Matthew 20:29-34 ,Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43 all contain accounts of blind men healed by Jesus at the edge of the city of Jericho. Matthew describes the healing of two blind men as Jesus left Jericho, In Mark, one of the healed blind men’s name-Bartimaeus-is given, and he is also healed as Jesus and His disciples left Jericho .If these describe the same event, the presence of a second person is again, a supplementary detail, not a contradiction. However,Luke’s account describes Jesus healing a blind man as He ENTERED Jericho. Some assume that this refers to one of the previously mentioned events and that this is a contradiction.

However, it must be remembered that Jericho was a very large city of about 100,000 people, and that eye disease was very common in that part of the world. I see no reason to doubt that Luke describes a totally separate event from the one(s) described by Matthew and Mark. (Note;another possible explanation is that Jericho was divided into “old” and “new” sections. It is possible that Jesus and His disciples were

leaving one and entering the other when the healing(s) occurred, therefore leaving open the possibility that these could indeed all be referring to the same event).

This has been a fascinating and rewarding study for me, and I pray it was

for you also God has not left us in the dark. He has lovingly provided His Word for us and wants to see it become a living reality in our lives. The inerrancy debate can really be summarized in two very simple

questions:

  • Is God not powerful enough to keep His Word pure?
  • Would His love, providence and integrity permit Him to do otherwise?

When we understand these basic attributes of God’s nature, accepting the trustworthiness of the Bible is easy. In closing, I will again quote Josh McDowell;

Solutions to apparent Bible contradictions provide confidence that other alleged conflicts also have solutions .Often the solutions reveal just how precisely God has

communicated to us in the Bible. Apparent contradictions become assuring

confirmation of the Bible’s minute accuracy and trustworthiness.

Keep It Real,

James

NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A.Elwell, page 63, copywrite 1991 by Baker Book House co.
  2. From the forward to Gleason Archer’s book, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, page 8,Z ondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids

    Michigan,1982

  3. McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. Page177. Here’s Life Publishers Inc. San Bernidino,California,1990)

  4. Ibid. Page 133.

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