Does The Bible Contain Errors?




Does The Bible Contain Errors? This is a question that I think the answer to is very important. As Christians, God’s Word is the very rock on which we base our lives. Jesus said "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great. “ - Luke 6:47-49

So, Jesus; our wonderful God and Savior (see John 1, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1), says that those who are wise will build their lives on His teachings. Those who do will be protected when winds come and floods occur. I take that to mean that things will go well for us in hard times if we obey the word of God. That’s not to say life will be easy or always happy (I’m not advocating a prosperity gospel here), but that it won’t be unnecessarily difficult. Often times we make things harder on ourselves than they have to be simply because we refused to heed God’s instructions, think of people like Jonah for example. The importance of The Bible for our lives was stated in Psalm 119:105; “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” So clearly the truth of scripture's reliability is very important.

*What Is Not At Stake Here?

Now, first, I’d like to say what is NOT at stake. I don’t think, like some might, that the entire Christian Worldview would crumble if there were a few errors in The Bible. I do think errors in The Bible would be very problematic, but I wouldn’t stop being a Christian if I thought there were an error or two. For one thing, the arguments and evidence for God’s existence is extremely powerful. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Universal Fine Tuning Argument, The Local Fine Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, etc. etc. point powerfully to the existence of God. Those syllogisms are logically valid and all of the premises in those arguments are true. Even if an error were found in scripture, it would not follow that God does not exist. Moreover, it wouldn’t even follow that Jesus did not rise from the dead. When I provide the unbeliever with evidence for Jesus Christ’s resurrection, I never presuppose the inerrancy or even the divine inspiration of The Bible. When I argue for the resurrection, I treat the gospel accounts and the epistles just as a historian would treat any other document of ancient history, applying certain tests-of-authenticity to the narratives (the principle of embarrassment, multiple attestation, enemy testimony, etc.). For example, if a biblical author writes something that's embarrassing to himself or someone he admires, then that is evidence that the event is more likely historical than not. Why? Because people don't make up lies about themselves to make them look bad or get themselves into trouble. If they lie, they make up lies to make themselves look good or to get themselves out of trouble. Or if an event is mentioned in two documents that don't rely on one another or quote from one another, then that means that the is far more likely to be historical than not. Why? Because the more and more documents that an event is mentioned in, the less and less likely that all of these people made up the same story. So I don’t treat the gospel narratives as inerrant, inspired scripture. So the evidence for the resurrection does not hinge on the inerrancy of The Bible. Jesus still rose from the dead even if The Bible contains a false statement.

So let’s not allow the skeptic to think that biblical errancy proves more than it does.

*In That Case, What IS At Stake Here?

That said, I would be bothered if I discovered there were errors in The Bible. For one thing, I would have to wonder why God didn’t take more care in guiding his human authors. Certainly God knew the importance of what Moses, Joshua, Matthew, John, and the others were writing down. Wouldn’t He have made sure that mistakes didn’t creep in? If Moses were going to make a scientific error in the creation account, or whatever, why didn’t God shout from Heaven “Hey! Don’t write that down! That’s not true!”

Errors in The Bible, while not disproving theism or the resurrection of Jesus, would certainly seem to argue against divine inspiration. Norman Geisler makes this argument in “The Big Book Of Bible Difficulties”

1: Anything inspired by God cannot be in error.
2: The Bible is inspired by God.
3: Therefore, The Bible cannot be in error.

This is a logically valid syllogism. That is to say, the conclusion follows from the premises by the laws of logic. For most people, the first premise is indisputable. The controversial premise is premise 2. When it comes to premise two, I would argue for the inspiration of The Bible from things like the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus, and the scientific accuracy of the creation accounts (Hugh Ross discusses this in “The Genesis Question” and “Navigating Genesis”). The Bible is the only holy book that gives an accurate description of God, descriptions we conclude from natural theology. The natural theology arguments, some of which mentioned above, give us a being who is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, supernatural, personal (The Kalam Cosmological Argument), intelligent enough to design a life permitting universe, galaxy, and planet, (The Fine Tuning Arguments), intelligent enough to design life (The DNA-To-Design Argument, irreducible complexity), morally perfect (The Moral Argument), and a being that is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, necessary in existence, morally perfect, and all loving (The Ontological Argument). None of the polytheistic religions and none of the pantheistic religions give us a being that has all of these attributes. Only Judeo-Christianity does. This is one reason why I think The Bible is divine over other holy books. Only The Bible gives us a deity who has all of the attributes that these Natural Theology Arguments describe. I’d amonish you to click on these links to investigate the arguments further whenever you have the time to do so. I don’t have the space to propound each one of these arguments.

But another reason I believe that The Bible is divine is because of the historical evidence for Jesus’ self understanding and resurrection. If Jesus claimed to be God and rose from the dead, then that is good evidence that He was telling the truth. If it can be historically established that Jesus claimed to be God and subsequently was resurrected from the dead, to me, that’s good evidence that not only was His claims to be God true, but also all of his spiritual teachings were true also. Why? Because raising Jesus was God implicitly placing His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. If Jesus wasn’t God, then claiming to be God would have been blasphemy. I just don’t think God would breathe new life into a heretic and a blasphemer. So Jesus must have been telling the truth.

What did Jesus teach? He taught that the Old Testament was the inspired word of God. We can see that in cases such as His temptation in the wilderness. He quoted scripture to refute Satan’s lies (see Matthew 4:1-11).

So those would be my arguments for believing The Bible is sent from God. A human made book wouldn’t get so many attributes of God correct, a human made book wouldn’t be scientifically accurate (see my post “The Bible and Modern Science"), and Jesus’ own words about The Bible have a lot of weight given that God raised Jesus from the dead in order to prove his claims correct.

As for the first premise, the non-controversial one, I would argue that God cannot err. He cannot make mistakes given that He’s a maximally great being (see The Ontological Argument). If He can’t make mistakes, if The Bible comes from Him, if God oversaw the writing of The Bible, how could The Bible be in error? If The Bible was in error, we’d have an imperfect work coming from a perfect Author. An imperfect work cannot come from an perfect Author. Moreover, given the importance that scripture has to the believer’s life, surely God would take great pains to prevent false statements from seeping in. After all, this book is what we’re building our very lives on (Luke 6:47-49, Psalm 119:105).

Given the truth of the two premises (which, yes, I know, I’ve defended out of order), the truth follows “Therefore, The Bible cannot be in error).

*What Inerrancy Is and Is NOT.

Biblical inerrancy is not the view that every single translation will be without error. That is clearly false. It is also not the view that every single manuscript will be without error. We know that some scribes made spelling errors, and grammatical errors. Rather, Biblical Inerrancy is the view that every propositional statement in The Bible is true. Whenever The Bible makes a statement, the inerrantist will say that because it’s in scripture, it is true.

*Are There Errors In Scripture?

Many skeptics and very liberal Christians will argue that there are false statements in The Bible. I can’t go into an exhaustive list of these alleged discrepancies here so if you want to delve really in depth into this topic, check out Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe’s book “The Big Book Of Bible Difficulties”. In that book, they answer accusations of errors upon scripture from Genesis all the way to Revelation.

But I will address 5 of the errors skeptics often bring up.

1: The Bible Says The Sun Was Created After The Earth

Although Young Earth Creationists believe this, I certainly don’t. I already wrote about this issue in another post, so I won’t rehash my case here. Instead, I’ll redirect you to my post titled “When Did God Create The Sun?” I think The Bible is actually pretty accurate when it comes to the timing of the creation of the sun. I think it matches what science tells us (at least if you take the day-age Old Earth Creationist view like I do).

2: The Bible Says God Created Space and Time, and the planet Earth At The Same Time.

Some skeptics interpret Genesis 1:1 as saying that God created the space-time realm of our universe and the planet Earth at the same time. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. They will point out that this contradicts Big Bang Cosmology (which is ironic, because I think Big Bang cosmology supports the truth of Genesis 1:1). I think these skeptics are very mistaken in their interpretation of this Bible verse. When I read Genesis 1:1 for the very first time, I did not interpret it as saying that God created the heavens and the planet Earth at the same time. I interpreted it as saying that God first created the heavens and then created the Earth.

As an analogy, consider the following statement; “I went to Hawaii for my vacation last summer. While I was there, I went surfing and build a sand castle.” Now, would you interpret that statement as me saying that while I was in Hawaii that I was building a sand castle while I was standing on my surfboard? No. Of course not. You would interpret my statement as me saying that while I was in Hawaii, I went surfing, and after that I built a sand castle. I did one activity and then the other one. When I first read Genesis 1:1, I interpreted it in exactly the same way.

However, that’s not quite right either. In the original Hebrew language, the word used there is “Hashemaiyimwahaerets”. It’s a compound noun in Hebrew. You see, in ancient Hebrew, they had no word for universe. So whenever someone wanted to refer to all physical reality, they would use the phrase “Hashemayimwahaerets” which is translated in our English Bibles as “The Heavens And The Earth”. So, as you can see, what Genesis 1:1 is really saying is: “In the beginning, God created the universe” which is obviously consistent with The Big Bang Theory. The universe had a beginning a finite time ago, and it was brought into existence by a transcendent cause.

3: The Bible Says That Bats Are Birds.

“These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, and the kite and the falcon in its kind, every raven in its kind, and the ostrich and the owl and the sea gull and the hawk in its kind, and the little owl and the cormorant and the great owl, [and the white owl and the pelican and the carrion vulture, and the stork, the heron in its kinds, and the hoopoe, and the bat." -- Leviticus 11:13-19

This one atheist I used to talk to on Twitter used to run this one into the ground, and he stubbornly refused to admit that this wasn’t really an error. Well, at first you might think he had good reasons for refusing to admit that, right? After all, science tells us that bats are mammals, not birds.

I think the best refutation of this argument comes from Matt Slick of CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry). This is what Matt Slick of CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) wrote. He writes:

“The Bible is not meant to be a scientific description of modern biological categories. Instead, it is often written from the perspective of what we see. In other words, it makes generic categorizations. In this case, the bat is categorized as a bird because like birds, it flies and is similar in size to most birds. If we did not know that it was a mammal, it would be natural to call it a bird. To the Hebrew of ancient times, calling it a bird was perfectly logical. But, in modern times we categorize animal species more specifically and have categorized the bat as a mammal and not a bird. Also, we must be aware that it is modern science that has a different classification system than ancient times. To the ancients, creatures such as a bat were considered birds since they categorized all flying animals as birds. If that is the category that they used, then they were correct. It is not an error. It is a difference of categorization procedures. The critic has imposed upon the ancient text a modern system of categorization and then said that the Bible is wrong.  This is a big error in thinking.”

4: The Bible Says That The Earth Is Square And Has Four Corners.

There are some verses in the Bible that suggest (from the English translations) that the earth has four corners. An example is from Isaiah:

“And He will lift up a standard for the nations, And will assemble the banished ones of Israel, And I will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” - Isaiah 11:12, NASB

Actually, what these four "corners" refer to are the points of the compass - north, south, east, and west. In reality, the Hebrew word has nothing to do with corners whatsoever. In fact, the word kanaph refers to the wing or extremity of birds. The word is translated as a form of "wing" in many, many places. It is also used to refer to the wing of an army. Evidentally, the English translators thought it was weird to say that the planet Earth had wings, so they decided to render the word “corners” instead, thus giving the atheist a non-existent error to laugh at. Some of the more recent versions of The Bible translate the word kanaph into the English word "quarters." It certainly has nothing to do with squares, but refers to the furthermost places of our planet.

5: The Bible Teaches Dome Cosmology

Atheists claim that the firmament (KJV) or expanse (NASB, NIV) was a solid dome in which the stars and sun were placed. However, the Hebrew word, raqia, translated "firmament" is definitely not a solid structure. We know this because of verses like Genesis 1:20. Genesis 1:20 says Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” Let me ask you, what kind of bird can fly through or above a solid dome? Are these ghost birds we’re talking about, such that they can phase through solid objects? The only verse in which the word "dome" is used is an obscure verse from the book of Amos, and THAT is only in the NASB translation. The Hebrew word we’re talking about here is aguddah, meaning a band:- band, bands, bunch. The other translations use the word "foundation" (NIV) and troop (KJV). To see a more in depth refutation of this ridiculous claim, see Richard Deem’s Article “The Bible Teaches That The Heavens Were a Solid Dome, Embedded With Stars?” on GodandScience.org.

There's more I wish I could say, but I'll end this here. Before I post this, I'd like to add that I know of several ALLEGED errors in scripture, but for all of the alleged errors I've had brought to my attention, I've found that it was the critic who was in error rather than The Bible itself. 

I'll end the blog post with this verse: “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." - Proverbs 30:5