What Do We Do With The Errors In The Bible?
Let me show you something from the Bible.
"Take... no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food" (Matt. 10:9-10)
"Take nothing for [your] journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in [your] belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics" (Mark 6:8-9)
"Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money - not even an extra tunic" (Luke 9:3)
Did you catch that?
Did Jesus say to take a staff, as Mark states, or not to take a staff, as Matthew and Luke state?
Did Jesus say to wear sandals, as Mark reports, or not to wear sandals, as Matthew reports?
Now, these accounts don't affect any major doctrines, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation, but they obviously don't agree.
The logic doesn't add up for post-modern Christians. It goes something like this:
- God is perfect and thus cannot err
- Scripture is God-breathed (inspired)
- What God breathes retains His perfect character
- Scripture cannot err
If Scripture errs, then we are left with only two options.
- God is imperfect
- The Bible is imperfect
This dilemma poses a problem for Christians. Either they must concede that God is in error or their holy text is in error. Either way, it is not an ideal conclusion.
The opening example is just one instance of an error found in the Bible. There are several other textual, historical, and scientific errors scattered throughout the Scriptures.
As Christians, how do we reconcile the fact that our God is a perfect God but the text that he inspired to guide us has its faults?
Before I answer that question allow me to expound on some theological stances concerning this very issue.
"Inerrancy is the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrines or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences." This is the view that has been predominantly held by the church throughout history. The Bible is "without error" is another way to look at the inerrancy position.
"Biblical infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true. It is the 'belief that the Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose.'" Essentially, the infallibilist position states that the Bible is completely trustworthy and true as it pertains to Christian living and practice. Science and history are not the main focus of the Bible, so it should not necessarily be interpreted through those lenses.
Both inerrantists and infallibilists agree that the Bible is inspired by God. However, they disagree that the Bible is completely correct on all matters that it addresses. Inerrantists say that it is correct in all matters it addresses (such as faith, science, history, etc.) and infallibilists say that it is correct in all matters pertaining to faith and Christian practice. It's kind of confusing, I know.
I don't want to leave you guys hanging. So, here is my conclusion.
So, what do we do?
- Consider the starting point. When we look at the errors in the Bible, where do we begin? Do we begin with the alleged errors and then draw conclusions about the Bible's errant nature? Or do we begin with the inerrant nature of the Bible taught in the Bible and draw conclusions about the alleged errors? Faith in the Bible must assume the second starting point. Jesus and the early church started with the inerrant nature of the Bible and proceeded from that point.
- Wait. Often times, data doesn't match up with a scientist's proposed theory. This happens all of the time. Sometimes the data even contradicts a scientist's theory. But that doesn't cause the scientists to give up on the theory. Rather, the scientist patiently waits for the data to be explained. As human beings living in the 21st century, our perspective is quite limited when it comes to interpreting a book that was written 2,000 years ago. We don't have all of the necessary data. What we can do though is wait patiently for all of the data to be revealed.
- Apply the same standard of accuracy that the writers intended. It's no surprise that the biblical authors in the 1st century had a different standard of accuracy than we do today. Often times, people in the 1st century didn't spend as much time on the details as they did on the gist of the story that they were telling. This can explain the discrepancy that I opened with. The details are found in what Jesus asked His disciples to bring. The gist of the story is that he was sending out His disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. All three gospels account for that.
What do you think about the alleged errors in the Bible? How would you explain them? Do you consider yourself an infallibilist or an inerrantist? Let me know in the comments section!
-Tyler W. Hanna