Are There Any Errors in the Bible?
“Telephone” is childhood game that you’re probably familiar with. I remember sitting in a circle with other kids as we each took turns listening to a neighbor on one side of us whisper some silly message into our ear, then we passed along that information by whispering into the other neighbor’s ear. Around the circle went the message until it got back to the original person who started it. The bigger the circle, the more potential there was for the message to morph into something very different from what it was when it started. Sometimes, a kid would intentionally change the message, just to be silly. The game vividly illustrated how easily stories change over time as they’re passed along, particularly in verbal exchanges.
I learned a lesson from playing that game. I developed a strong skepticism toward any information passed along to me through many people. The closer it came from the original source, the more I trusted it.
A basic doctrine of Christianity is the inerrancy of Scripture. This means: what the Bible says is true.
“The inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” –Wayne Grudem
Melanie asked an important question in the last part of our doctrine series, How Do We Know the Bible is God’s Word? She showed how the Bible unequivocally claims that, though human authors wrote the Scriptures, they did so under divine inspiration and that it is, indeed, God’s Word.
Are there any errors in the Scriptures?
Before we move on, let’s say we accept the premise that the Scriptures are God’s Word (I do). Even so, how do we know that there aren’t any errors? After all, the Bible is an ancient book that has been translated many times over, going through one of the biggest games of “telephone”, ever. Hasn’t it?
First of all, let’s clarify that the doctrine of inerrancy is specific in two words, original manuscript.
There are several challenges to the doctrine of inerrancy, as well as strong arguments against those challenges. Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology book goes into more detail on several of these ideas, but the focus I will delve into, for now, is the objection that since we have no “inerrant manuscripts”, talk about an inerrant Bible is misleading.
Here are two extremes to avoid: **
1. Radical skepticism: We can’t possibly tell what the original text said because its been translated so much that we have no idea.
2. Absolute Certainty: The Bible I have in my hands, this Bible, is exactly the Word of God in every single word.
First, in addressing radical skepticism…the original New Testament was 27 different documents sent to various churches and individuals. These were all written on papyrus (on scrolls). We don’t have any NT documents written on scrolls. So, no, we don’t have the originals- but we do have 5,839 Greek New Testament manuscripts (20,000-25,000 when counting other translations).
The first of these manuscripts is dated 150 years after the completion of the New Testament. Through textual criticism, scholars can get a very accurate idea of what the original manuscripts said.
Not only do we have many ancient New Testament manuscripts to compare, but we also have countless writings from the early Church Fathers, in which they quote Scriptures.
“If we wiped out all these manuscripts, we would still be able to produce the entire New Testament many, many times over just from quotations of the Church Fathers.” –Dr. David B. Wallace
Compare this to the earliest manuscript we have that tells of Alexander the Great. It was written 1,000 years after he existed. There are only 20 copies of Plato’s writings, for example, and we have similar numbers for other ancient authors. On the basis of manuscript evidence, we have 1,000 times more evidence that Jesus Christ existed than we do Alexander the Great.
“At bottom, textual criticism for virtually all other ancient literature relies on creative conjectures, or imaginative guesses, at restructuring the wording of the original. Not so with the New Testament.” – Dr. David B. Wallace
Second, in addressing absolute certainty…it would be naïve to say that there are no human errors in the various translations we have of the Bible. For example, if you have the New International Version (NIV) that came out in 1984 and you compared it to the revised NIV that came out in 2011, you would find 2 dozen places that have been updated, after scholars were convinced this rather than that is the original wording.
The King James Bible that was published in 1611 was based on 7 Greek New Testament manuscripts (the earliest of which came from the 11th century). Now, 400 years later, we have over 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts (the earliest comes from the 2nd century).
“We’re getting closer and closer to the original text, not farther away.” –Dr. David B. Wallace
Finally, when comparing different ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, it’s important to note, that while there are some textual variants, over 99% of those variants make no difference at all (they’re usually differences in spelling). Of the remaining 1%, none of the variants affect any theological beliefs.
@@The doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy is vital and it’s true@@
Problems with denying inerrancy:
1. Implies that God intentionally spoke falsely to us
“…denial of inerrancy that still claims that the words of Scripture are God-breathed words necessarily implies that God intentionally spoke falsely to us” –Wayne Grudem
2. Can we really trust God is inerrancy is denied?
If we become convinced that God has spoken falsely in a minor matter in Scripture, we will begin to disobey initially those sections that we are least inclined to trust. That decline in trust will increase, to the great detriment of our spiritual lives.
3. Placing our own minds at a higher standard of truth than God’s Word, itself, is wrong
This is the root of all intellectual sin.
The Bible is over 1,900 years old and there aren’t any “new” problems in Scripture. For hundreds of years, highly competent Bible scholars have studied the texts and still have found no difficulty in holding to inerrancy.
By all means, seek truth. For a word nerd, like me, I find studies of the original manuscripts of the Bible to be quite fascinating. If there are errors in the modern translations, we need to know about them and correct them. I’m confident, though, that unlike my childhood games of “telephone”, the Bible always tells the truth.
We CAN get back to the original manuscript, through careful study, and know what God’s Word says. And what God’s word says, is always true. The Bible is inerrant.
The more I learn about how God has protected his Word, the more in awe I am.
The Bible is a precious gift that we have from God, his very own Word, and it can be trusted.
“The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” Psalm 12:6
Join us as we take a clear and practical look at some of the most basic and essential tenants of the Christian life – the doctrines of the faith.
Each week, we will highlight and explain a core doctrine. Then, we will pose the question, “Why does this matter to you and me?”
You can catch all of this year’s “Delight in Doctrine” posts by clicking HERE.
For the purposes of the study, our main texts will be first, the Bible, of course, and Wayne Grudem’s classic, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.
It is our prayer that by the end of 2017, we will all find more delight in understanding what we believe and why we believe it.
“…And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 (ESV)
Note…Amazon affiliate links are used throughout this post. If you click on a link and buy a book, I receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you. Thank you!
Linking up with Deb Wolf at #faithandfriends (Friday), #GraceandTruth (Friday), Holly Gerth at #coffeeforyourheart (Wednesday),Sherry at #homesweethome (Thursday), Susanne Eller at #livefreeThursday, Kelly at #RaRalinkup (Tuesday), and Lori at #Momentsofhope (Monday)