Are There Errors in the Bible?

I don’t think there are errors in the Bible, and I think that valid explanations can be given for difficulties that do exist. I started a new sermon series on Ezra – Nehemiah this morning at Kenwood, and I had planned to comment on some numerical discrepancies in the text. Because of time, I decided to cut this whole section from the sermon, so here’s the portion of my manuscript that got passed right over:

The material in Ezra 2 is repeated almost exactly in Nehemiah 7, but there are some differences between the two chapters. One of those differences is that in Nehemiah 7:7 there are 12 names. Many scholars think this indicates that there were probably 12 names in Ezra 2:2, and one of the names was not copied by mistake.[1] If this is correct, the fact that there were 12 leaders of the returnees represents an intentional reconstitution of the 12 tribes of Israel. Even if this wasn’t originally the case with Ezra 2:2, it is the case with Nehemiah 7:7.

Let me be very clear about what I’m saying here. I am not saying that the author of the book of Ezra made an error. I am saying that it appears that those who copied the book of Ezra made an error. This kind of thing is why evangelicals say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs. An autograph is the hand-writing of some famous person. The autographa or autographs of the biblical manuscripts are the hand-written copies made by the authors themselves. We believe that the authors of the books of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit kept the authors from making errors. God is true and trustworthy, and what he communicated in the Scriptures through the biblical authors is true and trustworthy. So when we say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs, we are simply saying that God did not inspire every scribe who copied the Bible so as to preserve them from error.

This portion of Ezra, with the numbers at the end of chapter 1 and the names in chapter 2, seems to have been a challenge for the scribes. The reason for this is that when numbers were written in ancient Hebrew, they used a system of symbols that might not have been clear to later copyists. Derek Kidner refers to “many other indications in the Old Testament that numbers were the bane of copyists.”[2] In the same way, the similarity of many Hebrew names could have caused scribes difficulty as they copied the text. We see difficulty with numbers in two ways in this section of Ezra:

First, if we add up the numbers of vessels in Ezra 1:9–10, they total 2,499, less than half the total of 5,400 given in Ezra 1:11. This could be because of scribal error,[3] or it could be that though the total number is complete, the itemization is only an excerpt.[4]

Second, if we add up the numbers in Ezra 2, we get a total of 29,818. The numbers in Nehemiah 7 total 31,089. The number in the Greek translation, 1 Esdras, totals 30,143. But all three lists state that the total number is 42,360 (Ezra 2:64; Neh 7:66; 1 Esdras 5:41). Kidner writes, “There is general agreement that the divergences are copying errors, arising from the special difficulty of understanding or reproducing numerical lists.”[5]

How should we respond to this kind of information? One way to respond is the way Bart Ehrman does: “What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies . . .”[6] If you are looking for excuses to rebel against the Bible, you can go Ehrman’s way.

Another way to respond to this kind of information is to look at what we have and ask if what we have is enough to enable us to get at the message of Ezra? So the numbers of the temple vessels don’t add up, a name appears to have fallen out, and the numbers in Ezra 2 don’t match the total given at the end of the list. There may be valid explanations for each. The lists may be excerpts while the totals are complete. The copyists may have bungled the job. Can we understand the text in spite of these difficulties? I think we can. In fact, I think that going Ehrman’s way would be as silly as receiving a reliable written message from someone you trust, warning you about a nuclear attack, and rejecting the message because the word nuclear is misspelled. Would you risk being nuked because of a spelling error? Would you risk going to hell because there are difficulties (difficulties that have plausible explanations) in these lists in the Bible?

These difficulties do not keep us from understanding the message of the text. We can see, in spite of the question about the numbers of the vessels, that God kept his promise (Jer 27:21-22) and restored those temple vessels. We can see, in spite of the question of the numbers of the returnees, that the people of Israel are restored to their land.


[1] So Mark A. Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 18; Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 37; H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1985), 24.

[2] Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 38.

[3] So Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 46–47.

[4] See Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 35 n. 1.

[5] Ibid., 43. Cf. also Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 57.

[6] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 7.

For further reading, see my essay on inerrancy: “Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical Perspective on Scripture.”

20 Comments

Filed under Bible and Theology, Inerrancy, Manuscripts, Scripture

20 responses to “Are There Errors in the Bible?

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  2. RD

    I have to ask, since we have no original copies of any of the Bible how can we say that the originals were without error? We’ve never read any of the originals have we?

    And what about those instances in scripture where the differences are more than just numbers or a name left off a list? There isn’t enough room on the comments section to begin listing all of the discrepancies that we find in the scriptures. Perhaps the two places where there are the most discrepancies are in the accounts we have of Jesus’ birth and the death and resurrection.

    As you say, though, what matters is reading the spirit of the message that God intends. The Holy Spirit speaks into each life that reads these scriptures.

    • RD,

      We can say that the originals are without error because (1) God doesn’t lie, (2) God doesn’t make mistakes, and (3) God inspired the authors and preserved them from error.

      As for the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus, I wouldn’t view any of that as contradictory material. There are different presentations of the same events, but there is agreement on what happened.

      Blessings,

      JMH

  3. Noah

    Jim,
    Thanks for posting these notes. I was working over the same questions in my mind during the sermon and wondered how much you would speak to textual discrepancies. Seminary has been a challenging time for me to work through what is meant by “infallible” and I am thankful for thousands of different copies which preserve the integrity of the original message of the autographs. I still struggle at times with how to approach this point when teaching church members (especially when they hear that there is an “error” in the Bible!) and would appreciate any further advice. Thanks, both for this and the message this morning!

  4. This is very good material (IMHO). I think the church needs more orthodox yet honest pastoral teaching such as this (I am reminded of the eminent Daniel Wallace).

  5. RD

    Jim,

    I can appreciate your comments and certainly understand that this is one way to try to stay within the framework of scriptural inerrancy. I just think it lacks a certain intellectual integrity to attempt this. And, to folks who are not actively a part of the church, it appears as if literalists are some kind of folk cult who refuse to admit the obvious. It starts the discussions one has regarding God, Jesus, salvation, etc out on a really bad note since one has to try to convince, in the face of some rather obvious examples, that inerrancy is a fact.

    You say we can be assured that the original writings are all without any error, even though we have never seen any of these originals. Where, in the scriptures that we do have, is there a statement that they exist without error?

    As to the resurrection narratives, well, there clearly is more going on in each gospel account than mere slight differences of eye-witness testimony. The most glaring seems to be John’s insistance that the crucifixion took place on the day before the passover meal. The synoptics all seem to recount that the last supper was actually the passover meal. It seems as if it would be about like two of president Kennedy’s intimate staffers recounting which day he was shot and disagreeing on the day it happened. Of course, there are other very specific detail differences.

    I’m certainly not trying to be argumentative. I think this is a very important issue, as was stated by one of your other commentors earlier.

    Thanks for the dialogue!!

    RD

    • RD,

      Thanks for your note. My contention is that you have to know far more than can be known to maintain that the Autographs of the Scriptures are in error. Take the instance you cite – John and the Synoptics on the date of the crucifixion. There are various ways to reconcile these, but there is a lot we don’t know. There is some evidence that the passover meal was actually eaten on more than one day to make room for all the pilgrims. There is other evidence that there were different groups in Jerusalem who disagreed with each other on how to establish the correct date for the passover. And these aren’t the only possibilities. I think that the evidence in our possession could be reconciled and understood to say the same thing in a number of different ways. Do we have evidence that conclusively proves that each of those possible harmonizations is false? I don’t think so, and I’m willing to suspend judgment.

      Here are the kinds of statements in the Bible that lead me to think it is claiming to be error free:

      Psalm 12:6(7), The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times

      Psalm 19:7, The law of the Lord is perfect

      Psalm 119:89, Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens

      Psalm 119:96, I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad

      Psalm 119:160, The sum of your words is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever

      Proverbs 30:5, Every word of God proves true

      Matt 5:18, Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the law until all is accomplished

      Mark 13:31, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away

      John 10:35, The Scripture cannot be broken

      John 17:17, Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth

      Acts 1:16, Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David. . .

      Acts 3:18, But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets . . .

      2 Thess 2:13, . . . when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God

      2 Tim 3:16-17, 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 competent, equipped for every good work

      2 Pet 1:20-21, . . . no prophecy of Scripture comes from someones own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

      Thanks to you, too!

      Jim

  6. RD

    Jim,

    Very good points, all. And I appreciate you taking the time to reference the many scriptures regarding the “perfection” of God’s word.

    You’re correct about the Passover spanning several days. And the Essene sect was one of the Jewish groups who held to a different day regarding observance of the Passover seder. Still, the fact remains that regardless of the reasons why, the synoptics depict a different day for the crucifixion than does John. Personally, I don’t think the Last Supper was a Passover seder (observent Jews would not have excluded their entire families from the actual Passover seder; wives, children, grandparents, etc would all have been included and it wouldn’t have been a meal of only men). I think John’s gospel account is the accurate account largely because of this fact. John does not depict a last supper per se, simply a gathering for a meal. Could the other gospel writers have been making a theological statement by placing Jesus’ meal with his disciples on the evening of the first night of Passover? And, there are certainly other discrepancies in the resurrection narratives, all ranging from minor to more detailed (how many women found the empty tomb? Did Jesus directly address them or did an angel? Or more than one angel? Did Jesus tell his disciples NOT to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or were the disciples instructed to go back to the Galilee where Jesus would meet them?) And this does not even touch on the vast differences between the Matthew birth narrative and the Luke birth narrative. There are just SO many cases where scripture contradicts and confuses IF we try to hold to a literal, inerrant view. Recognizing the texts for what they are, texts written by men who were communicating with specific communities about specific ideas concerning Jesus and the early church, in no way diminishes the Bible’s inspiration.

    As to the verses you site, so many of them are flowing, beautiful poetic expressions, similar to Brownings “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” of our own day. The Psalms are exactly that in so many instances. It in no way takes away from the inspiration or the beauty of the psalmist’s utterances, of course. Is that kind of emotional, poetic expression really a statement of fact regarding the written Bible as it exists today?

    • RD,

      Thanks for your note. I think that convincing harmonizations are available for the birth and crucifixion narratives, and I would argue that while there may be different accounts of the same events, none of these events contradict one another. A real contradiction does not merely provide alternative information, it contradicts–as in speaks against–what is asserted in the other narrative.

      And on the meaning of the texts I cited in my previous comment, I think my reading of those texts to mean that Scripture has no error is the one that represents the view of most Christians throughout the history of the church and around the world. I think your reading would be extremely rare . . .

      Blessings!

      JMH

  7. steve hays

    RD

    “I can appreciate your comments and certainly understand that this is one way to try to stay within the framework of scriptural inerrancy. I just think it lacks a certain intellectual integrity to attempt this. And, to folks who are not actively a part of the church, it appears as if literalists are some kind of folk cult who refuse to admit the obvious. It starts the discussions one has regarding God, Jesus, salvation, etc out on a really bad note since one has to try to convince, in the face of some rather obvious examples, that inerrancy is a fact.”

    Dr. Hamilton is generally speaking as a Christian to fellow Christians. That’s his primary constituency here. So, yes, he takes certain things for granted. But that in-house perspective is true for any in-group discussion. Atheist blogs take certain things for granted. Darwinian blogs take certain things for granted. Vegan blogs take certain things for granted. Naturally things look different to an outsider than an insider, but what is outside to you is inside to us, and what is inside to you is outside to us.

    And that doesn’t mean that Christians can’t make a case for their positions. But Dr. Hamilton’s blog is a Christian blog, so that’s the default setting. There’s nothing “cultic” about that unless you want to say the same thing about any blog with any ideological viewpoint.

    “You say we can be assured that the original writings are all without any error, even though we have never seen any of these originals.”

    There’s nothing unusual about believing things we haven’t seen. Many people believe in modern cosmology, or historical geology, or universal common descent through macroevolution, even though various aspects of their belief are several steps removed from direct observation. Rather, they believe this because they think they have evidence which indirectly points to these things. (Of course, some of us think the evidence points in a different direction.)

    Roger Penrose believes in abstract objects, although he can’t see them (since they’re not empirical objects to begin with). Edward Witten believes in cosmic strings, although they are inherently unobservable.

    I assume that Dr. Hamilton is speaking in shorthand. He believes the autographa are inerrant because he believes in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture. And there are many different lines of evidence for the inspiration of Scripture.

    No, we don’t have direct access to the autographa, but then, we don’t have direct access to many things we believe in. We believe in other minds, but we don’t have direct access to other minds.

    “The most glaring seems to be John’s insistance that the crucifixion took place on the day before the passover meal. The synoptics all seem to recount that the last supper was actually the passover meal.”

    And what have you actually read on the subject? For instance, Roger Beckwith discusses this in Calendar & Chronology, Jewish and Christian. Have you read it?

    “And, there are certainly other discrepancies in the resurrection narratives, all ranging from minor to more detailed (how many women found the empty tomb? Did Jesus directly address them or did an angel? Or more than one angel? Did Jesus tell his disciples NOT to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or were the disciples instructed to go back to the Galilee where Jesus would meet them?) And this does not even touch on the vast differences between the Matthew birth narrative and the Luke birth narrative. There are just SO many cases where scripture contradicts and confuses IF we try to hold to a literal, inerrant view.”

    The fundamental problem here is not so much individual cases, but your whole hermeneutical approach. You take such a one-dimensional view of historical narrative. Have you ever read some standard monographs on Biblical hermeneutics–like V. Philips Long, The Art of Biblical History, Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament, and Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2nd ed.)?

    “Recognizing the texts for what they are, texts written by men who were communicating with specific communities about specific ideas concerning Jesus and the early church, in no way diminishes the Bible’s inspiration.”

    Of course, that’s a classic intellectual compromise. It doesn’t impress conservatives, and, what is more, it doesn’t impress liberals like James Barr. That’s highly ironic when you accuse Dr. Hamilton of lacking intellectual integrity. For your alternative is a makeshift position.

  8. RD

    Jim,

    First, let me apologize to you if my earlier statements seemed to imply that I think you lack intellectual integrity. I certainly did not mean to assert that. I think you bring great intellectual rigor to your discussions and to your interpretation of the scriptures. I hope no offense was taken.

    Steve, I understand that this is a conservative Christian blog. My comments and thoughts were given in reply to the subject of this particular post: Are there errors in the Bible? I believe there are. I don’t believe that these errors and contradictions do anything to diminish the inspiration and truth that is given to us in holy scripture. You list a good many books which I should consult. I appreciate you taking time to provide me with resource material to investigate. I’ll do that. Let me say, though, that the list of authors you site might well be opposed by a list of authors I might site. Thus is the nature of the Christian walk. The truth is that the Christian church, since it began to take shape in the decades following the Lord’s resurrection, has never agreed on every theological point. There is still disagreement, for example, among some Christian groups in various parts of the world about which books should be included in the true canon. This isn’t new. Luther had different ideas of his own regarding the holy inspiration of certain texts. Ideas about salvation and eschatology vary from denomination to denomination. Each group feels that they have a complete understanding of the scriptures in total, and that other groups who don’t adhere to this understanding are, somehow, misguided. That’s pretty much natural, I suppose, all of us being sinful, flawed human beings after all.

    I think there are Christians that read this blog who do not agree with every thought that is expressed here, either by Jim or by other commentators. I think that’s good for the faith and good for readers who might stumble upon these thoughts and decide to follow along and investigate the faith for themselves. If this is supposed to be a blog where only like-minded folk can gather and contribute, then it really does begin to feel like a kind of folk cult. I don’t think this is the case, though. At least I hope not.

    • RD,

      Thanks for your humble willingness to apologize, though I’m happy to say I didn’t feel you had impuned my intellectual integrity. I’m glad you’re here and grateful for the interaction.

      I do think that while there have been significant figures who have questioned the boundaries of the canon (Luther, and see the questions raised about the five OT books in the rabbinical discussions), the fact that the main stream of Jewish and Christian tradition on these matters remained unaffected shows that these questions are marginal opinions that have no (or at best very little) influence. Where there are other groups that have different canons (the so-called deutero-canonical books or the bizarre canon of the Ethiopic church) they are not relying on the questions of the Rabbis about, say, Ezekiel, nor are they relying on Luther’s questions about James. . .

      So I think that the big central current of “The Great Tradition” is that the 66 books now recognized in the Protestant canon have always been regarded as being inspired by God, and John Woodbridge in his response to Rogers and McKim shows that regarding them as inspired has for the vast majority of Christians across time also entailed the view that they were without error.

      Thanks for the interaction, RD. I would love to know more about where you are, where you studied, where you serve, etc., if you feel inclined to email me or facebook me.

      Blessings,

      Jim

    • PS: I grant that there are things that I would call “discrepancies” or “difficulties” in the Bible. Some call them errors. I’m not willing to bang the gavel against the Bible in that way, since I don’t think I have, or ever could have, the kind of conclusive, exhaustive, final knowledge necessary to pronounce the judgment that the Bible is in error. I’m willing to leave the question open for a number of reasons: these discrepancies could arise because the copyists made errors; they could result from authorial moves or literary conventions that I don’t fully understand; and there are a variety of possible harmonizations/explanations for them as they do stand. So I’m willing to maintain that the Bible is without error, trusting that what some conclude are errors are not, in fact, mistakes. This is the position of humble trust articulated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

      Blessings!

      Jim

  9. steve hays

    RD

    “Steve, I understand that this is a conservative Christian blog. My comments and thoughts were given in reply to the subject of this particular post: Are there errors in the Bible? I believe there are. I don’t believe that these errors and contradictions do anything to diminish the inspiration and truth that is given to us in holy scripture.”

    The problem is that you’re substituting your own theory of inspiration for the self-witness of Scripture. That’s inherently artificial. You apparently reduce “inspiration” to something equivalent to “artistic inspiration.” That, however, is not how Scripture describes the nature of Scriptural inspiration (as writers like Warfield have documented).

    So we need to distinguish two different issues: (i) What is the self-witness of Scripture regarding the nature of its own inspiration? and (ii) are you prepared to accept the self-witness of Scripture?

    If you reject the self-witness of Scripture because you think the Bible contains errors, so be it. But to swap out the self-understanding of Scripture, then swap in your stopgap theory, is not being true to Scripture. Rather, that superimposes a clearly extrinsic schema on the text of Scripture. Either accept or reject the Bible on its own terms.

    “I’ll do that. Let me say, though, that the list of authors you site might well be opposed by a list of authors I might site.”

    I don’t cite these scholars as authority figures. If your authors disagree with my authors, then we need to evaluate their respective arguments.

    “There is still disagreement, for example, among some Christian groups in various parts of the world about which books should be included in the true canon. This isn’t new. Luther had different ideas of his own regarding the holy inspiration of certain texts.”

    1.You’re conflating two distinct issues:

    i) Which books are canonical? Which books constitute inspired Scripture?

    ii) What’s the nature of inspiration?

    To deny that a book is canonical is not the same thing as claiming that a canonic book is “inspired” in some lower sense, viz. poetic inspiration, partial inspiration, limited inerrancy.

    2.I’d also add that the question of canonicity isn’t an inherently liberal/conservative issue. For instance, the late David Noel Freedman was a liberal OT scholar. Yet he argued that the entire OT canon (exclusive of Daniel) was finalized in the time of Ezra. (I’d add that John Sailhamer builds on that argument and incorporates Daniel into that argument, in The Meaning of the Pentateuch.)

    “Each group feels that they have a complete understanding of the scriptures in total, and that other groups who don’t adhere to this understanding are, somehow, misguided.”

    And liberals think that conservatives are misguided. So it’s not as if liberals are more intellectually modest in their own predilections.

    “If this is supposed to be a blog where only like-minded folk can gather and contribute, then it really does begin to feel like a kind of folk cult.”

    The problem is when you selectively apply the “folk cultic” classification to conservative Christians, even though the same group dynamics apply to any subculture. That’s invidious and one-sided. If you’re going to use sociological categories, then use them consistently. Don’t exempt yourself.

    Finally, we should expect obscurities in a collection of books written between about 2000-3500 years ago.

  10. RD

    Jim,

    I’m very glad you didn’t take offense at my comments. And, Steve, I hope I’ve not offended you, either. My comment about conservative Christianity running the risk of being viewed as a folk cult is based on the view that many of my non-Christian associates hold. They are not the only ones to express this view. Many Christians are beginning to become concerned that a rigid stance on biblical inerrancy and a refusal to honestly engage science and archaeology are creating this perception (see comments of OT scholar Bruce Waltke).

    You asked if I hold to the belief that scripture is self-witnessing to itself. I don’t see that the Bible offers a valid “self-witness” to inerrancy. Verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 are often given as examples that all scripture is the result of the literal breath of God. To my mind this particular verse is the one most commonly stated in support of inerrancy. But even if we want to use this verse as a support, the writer of 2 Timothy is referring to OT scripture, since New Testament canon did not exist at the time of his writing. I did read scripture in this way for over thirty years and certainly understand the conviction behind this view. I just no longer see that as the way that God intends for us to view this collection of texts.

    The notion that the original autographs are indeed infallible seems absolutely silly and seems to make God out to be silly as well. If God’s intentions are for us to have his completely inerrant word how much sense does it make that God would inspire absolutely infallible original manuscripts and then not protect those originals so that we have them to use? To say that God inspired the originals but didn’t necessarily inspire the copiests doesn’t sit well with many who are asking serious questions about Christianity today. It sounds too much like the Ethiopian church that purports to have the actual ark of the covenant inside it’s sanctuary. Of course, no one is allowed to actually SEE it, but we are to believe that it is there and that it is the original.

    Scripture is intricate and messy and beautiful and powerful and mysterious and, yes, divinely inspired. God, I believe, speaks through the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament canon. Each hold great eternal truths, but I think it is a mistake to take, as you say, a collection of writings that are 2000-3500 years old and make the claim that every word, every proclaimed law, every historical piece of presented information is completely and eternally true.

  11. steve hays

    RD

    “My comment about conservative Christianity running the risk of being viewed as a folk cult is based on the view that many of my non-Christian associates hold.”

    There’s a word for that: prejudice.

    “Many Christians are beginning to become concerned that a rigid stance on biblical inerrancy…”

    i) You speak as if the doctrine of inspiration is negotiable and revisable. That betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian faith. Christianity is a revealed religion. Take it or leave it.

    It can’t be redefined as something else, and still be a revealed religion. It is only true on the terms and conditions under which it was given. It’s not something you can tamper after the fact, like rewriting a screenplay.

    ii) I also don’t know what you mean by Christians “beginning” to become concerned. These debates have been in a state of overdrive since the 19C. Nothing new about this.

    “And a refusal to honestly engage science and archaeology are creating this perception (see comments of OT scholar Bruce Waltke).”

    Well, that’s a rather presumptuous statement to make. For instance, John Currid is an OT prof. at RTS. He subscribes to inerrancy. And he’s a field archeologist with a doctorate in archaeology from the Oriental Institute of Chicago. Do you think you know something about archaeology that he doesn’t?

    Or take James Hoffmeier, a native Egyptian, field archeologist, and prof. of archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school, who also subscribes to inerrancy. Do you think you know something about archaeology he doesn’t?

    I could run down a long list of conservative Bible scholars with comparable credentials. Who are you to say that they refuse to honestly engage the archeological findings? Have you even studied their work?

    Science? Do you think you know something about science that scientifically credentialed inerrantists like Kurt Wise, John Byl, Jonathan Sarfati, Andrew Snelling, Marcus Ross, John Collins, and Vern Poythress (to name a few) do not?

    Who are you to say that they honestly refuse to engage science? Have you even studied their work?

    “You asked if I hold to the belief that scripture is self-witnessing to itself.”

    No, I didn’t ask you what you believed. There’s a distinction between whether the Bible teaches something, and whether you believe it. At this stage of the argument I’m simply dealing with what the Bible says about itself–whether or not you agree with what the Bible says.

    “I don’t see that the Bible offers a valid ‘self-witness” to inerrancy.’

    I didn’t mention inerrancy, per se. Rather, I brought up the self-witness of Scripture regarding the nature of its own inspiration, in contrast to your theory of “poetic inspiration.” The immediate question at issue is whether you are imputing to Scripture a different model of inspiration than Scripture imputes to itself.

    “Verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 are often given as examples that all scripture is the result of the literal breath of God.”

    i) I didn’t quote that verse. Rather, I referred you to the work of Warfield. I take it from your response that you haven’t read him.

    Take the paradigm-case of prophetic inspiration. In the OT, the distinction between a true prophet and a false prophet is that a true prophet speaks the very words of God. That’s completely different from your theory of poetic inspiration.

    And that carries with it the implication that if a prophet is speaking the words of God, then his words are true.

    ii) BTW, no one is arguing that God’s “literal” breath is the cause of Scripture. Rather, breath is a metaphor for the action of the Holy Spirit.

    “The notion that the original autographs are indeed infallible seems absolutely silly and seems to make God out to be silly as well. If God’s intentions are for us to have his completely inerrant word how much sense does it make that God would inspire absolutely infallible original manuscripts and then not protect those originals so that we have them to use? To say that God inspired the originals but didn’t necessarily inspire the copiests doesn’t sit well with many who are asking serious questions about Christianity today”

    If they’re asking serious questions, then they need to demonstrate some level of intellectual seriousness by framing questions properly and acquainting themselves with standard conservative scholarship. Otherwise, what comes across is a pose of seriousness without the corresponding spadework.

    i) There is a major difference between errant copies of errant records, and errant copies of inerrant records.

    a) For one thing, it wouldn’t even be possible to have an uninspired record of many Biblical events. For some of these events are naturally unknowable. Future events. Private conversations. What someone was thinking. The plan of God. The fact that God even has a plan. And so on and so forth.

    b) Moreover, while some events are naturally knowable, their theological significance is naturally unknowable.

    In cases of (a) and (b), a supernatural means of knowledge is a necessary means of knowledge. For such items of knowledge would be otherwise unobtainable were it not for God’s prophetic word.

    c) Furthermore, necessity is not the only consideration. There can be higher and lower degrees of certainty. And there are many times when that distinction is hardly inconsequential.

    In general, we remember events better than words. We may not be very good at verbatim recollection.

    What we generally remember is a paraphrase of what somebody said rather than his verbatim utterance. And, of course, sometimes we misremember what he said.

    There is also a difference between paraphrasing a verbatim recollection and a paraphrastic recollection. If you have a verbatim recollection of what somebody said, then you can accurately paraphrase his statement. But if all you remember is a paraphrase, then you can’t compare the paraphrase with the original.

    Likewise, we tend to remember some events better than others. And, of course, some people have more reliable memories than others.

    As such, there is a major difference between inspired and uninspired records of what was said and done. If all we had were uninspired records to go by, that would create systematic, insoluble uncertainties.

    “It sounds too much like the Ethiopian church that purports to have the actual ark of the covenant inside it’s sanctuary. Of course, no one is allowed to actually SEE it, but we are to believe that it is there and that it is the original.”

    Do you believe that Ft. Knox has gold bullion? Have you ever seen it? Are you allowed to go into the vaults and see it for yourself?

  12. steve hays

    RD

    “Many Christians are beginning to become concerned that a rigid stance on biblical inerrancy and a refusal to honestly engage science and archaeology are creating this perception (see comments of OT scholar Bruce Waltke).”

    Bruce Waltke is no opponent of inerrancy. To the contrary, he’s quite critical of scholars who advance more liberal views of inspiration. For instance:

    “Enns believes his theory of incarnation is consistent with Warfield’s concursive theory of inspiration. I do not. A theory that entails notions that holy Scripture contains flat out contradictions, ludicrous har monization, earlier revelations that are misleading and/or less than truthful, and doctrines that are represented as based on historical fact, but in fact are based on fabricated history, in my judgment, is inconsistent with the doctrine that God inspired every word of holy Scripture. To be sure, the Scripture is fully human, but it is just as fully the Word of God, with whom there is no shadow of turning and who will not lie to or mislead his elect… My conscience, infor med by holy Scripture, persuades me that our inerrant God represents truth in infallible Scripture,” WTJ 71 (2009), 94-95.

  13. RD

    Steve,

    Clearly I have caused you great anxiety. For this I sincerely apologize. Unfortunately, these comment fields don’t allow for a very effective give and take. As I say, I completely understand your conviction. It was a conviction I wholeheartedly held for over thirty years. But we are now getting to a place in the discussion where we each will begin citing various scholars and theologians who share our own views. That ceases to be productive, I think.

  14. RD said:

    Steve,

    Clearly I have caused you great anxiety.

    Well, actually, I don’t think that’s the case at all. As I read him, Steve’s responses aren’t anxious sounding. Rather, they’re quite matter-of-fact sounding.

    By the way, I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but I don’t quite understand how you can so “clearly” intuit someone’s anxiety whom you’ve never so much as spoken to face-to-face but at the same time (whether you agree or disagree) have difficulty taking what the Bible says about itself even though it’s right there in front of you and you can just pick it up and read it.🙂

    Unfortunately, these comment fields don’t allow for a very effective give and take. As I say, I completely understand your conviction. It was a conviction I wholeheartedly held for over thirty years.

    Hm, I’m not sure what your anecdotal reference is meant to imply or demonstrate? Of course, this is just your experience. But others have had a different experience. Other scholars have held onto inerrancy for over thirty years. And not merely “held onto” but in fact interacted with non-inerrantists at levels which I’m afraid it doesn’t sound like you’ve plumbed, and are still convinced inerrancy is correct. Take D.A. Carson or G.K. Beale, for example. Likewise take Steve Hays, whom you’ve been interacting with here.

    But we are now getting to a place in the discussion where we each will begin citing various scholars and theologians who share our own views. That ceases to be productive, I think.

    I don’t see how it’d be counterproductive if, for instance, we see which scholars have the better/worse arguments.

    As well, and with due respect, I hardly think we’re “now getting to a place in the discussion where we each will begin citing various scholars and theologians who sare our own views” considering that you haven’t so much as begun to directly interact with the points Steve has brought up.

  15. RD

    The title of this particular blog post is Are There Errors in the Bible? I don’t agree with Steve and Patrick (and, yes, Jim, as well) who believe that there aren’t errors in the text. I respect their views and their position, I just don’t share their views.

    I’ve not gone back to read my previous comments but I believe I brought up the crucifixion confusions between John’s gospel and the synoptics (and between the synoptics themselves). Did Jesus instruct his disciples to go ahead of him into Galilee where he met them later? Did he instruct them not to leave Jerusalem but to remain and wait for the Holy Spirit? How many angels presented themselves to the women at the empty tomb? How many women were at the empty tomb?

    In Luke chapter 2 we are given an account of what Joseph and Mary did following the birth of Jesus. Eight days after his birth they took Jesus to the temple in order to observe Jewish law. Following this 2:39 tells us that Joseph and Mary “…returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.” Matthew’s gospel has them fleeing into Egypt to await the death of Herod. They end up in Nazareth almost as an afterthought, really, because they learn that Herod’s son had taken over for his father. Luke states that Nazareth is their “own town” clearly indicating that they lived there prior to the birth of Jesus. Which account is correct? All of these “differences” are not consequential to theology, really, but they are differences.

    Something that is theologically consequential is the difference between 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. Who is responsible, according to the scriptures, for inciting David to take the census that led to God’s killing of thousands of people? The two accounts are all but identical save for the very important first verse in each writer’s account. The writer of Samuel indicates that God incited David to take this census. The writer of Chronicles indicates that it was not God but Satan. Which was it? Our understanding of the nature of God is vastly different depending on which account we take to be the literal account.

    If we take all scripture literally then how do we reconcile ourselves to Moses’ comments in Deut 32 where he offers an ancient tale of how YHWH became the God of Israel? If we accept that this is literally true – that El Elyon divided the nations based on the number of lesser Gods (“sons of God” according to the Dead Sea scrolls) and that YHWH was given Israel as his portion – then it should have somehow altered our theology in certain ways. It hasn’t (that I know of). I’ve never been taught that YHWH is Israel’s God because El Elyon appointed YHWH to that position. But doesn’t Moses say this in Deut 32:8?

    Lists of scholars, theologians, authors, scientists and clergy who do not adhere to complete biblical inerrancy? Theologians Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, Emil Brunner and Bernard Ramm. Biblical scholars Dom Crossan, Marcus Borg, Paula Fredrikson, Luke Timothy Johnson. Scientists John Polkinghorne and Francis S. Collins. Author/clergy Tom Wright, Brian McLaren and Dr. Billy Graham. The list can go on and on.

    As for my comment about prof Waltke I was referring to his comments concerning evolution – ““…if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.” – which clearly do not represent the view that all scripture is completely inerrant. I know he restated his comments later, but even then he admitted to adhering more to the creation views shared by Francis S. Collins.

    If it appears that I have tried to lead any of you to believe that I have “plumbed” the theological depths or interacted with noted theologians, I apologize. I am certainly no scholar. I never completed college. I accepted Jesus as my Lord over 40 years ago and have walked the faith journey with him ever since. I was merely trying to share my thoughts, just as Jim shares his and as others who comment here share theirs. I responded to the open question presented to us in the title of this blog entry. I don’t completely agree with all I read here, but I learn a lot and I pray about the discussions and comments. But I do firmly feel that taking a rigid, literalistic view of all scripture actually hurts the cause of Christ and diminishes the Christian message to the world. I understand that most folks who read this blog won’t share that view.

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