Christians often speak about God's Word being "perfect." In fact, the Scripture itself testifies to its perfection.
The Law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7).
What do we mean by this idea?There Is Absolute And Relative Perfection
It must be stressed that the word perfect can be used in an absolute or relative sense. When applied to Scripture it must be applied in a relative sense. Often times we find the language of Scripture doing what other languages do – they speak in approximation.
There Is No Scientific Precision In Scripture
The Bible does not speak in scientific language nor does it speak with scientific precision. For example there are a number of occasions in Scripture where numbers are given as approximations.The Age Of Jesus As An Example Of Imprecision
When Jesus began His public ministry Luke says the following about Him.
The age of Jesus is not precisely given – He was about thirty years of age.
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli (Luke 3:23)
The Imprecise Time Of The Transfiguration
When speaking of the transfiguration of Jesus Luke records the event in this manner.
Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28)
Luke says that it occurred about eight days later – nothing more specific is given.
Paul And The Imprecise Number Of Disciples At Ephesus
Paul met a number of disciples in Ephesus and then preached Jesus to them. These men responded and were converted. We are then told the following about them.
There were about twelve men in all (Acts 19:7).
Approximately twelve disciples were there. There could have been more or less. The description is meant to be imprecise.How Many People Did Paul Baptize?
There is another illustration of imprecision in the number of people that Paul baptized.
I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) (1 Corinthians 1:14-16)
There is obviously no scientific precision in these examples.There Are Examples Of Numbers Rounded Off
We also find numerous examples in Scripture of numbers being rounded off. For example, when Moses was told to take a census of the number of men available to fight he wrote the following.
The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500. From the descendants of Simeon: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were counted and listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Simeon was 59,300 (Number 1:21-23).
The numbers for each tribe were approximated in the same way (rounded off to the nearest hundred).Any Precise Number Would Have Been Impossible
In addition, the precise count of any nation or tribe would vary from day to day with additions of births and subtractions by death. The round numbers are designed to be imprecise or approximate.Summary
The Bible is perfect in the sense that it is true. What it records matches with reality. However we must be careful not to make the Bible try to be something that it is not. It is not written in scientific language and it is not scientifically exact.
We find that the Scripture speaks in approximations on a number of occasions. For example, Jesus was about thirty years of age when He began his public ministry. It was about eight days after certain events when Jesus was transfigured, and there were about twelve disciples that Paul ministered to in Ephesus. Neither does Paul specify exactly whom he baptized – he does not exactly recall how many there were. In none of these examples do we find any precise numbers.
The lack of specificity can also be seen in the way the Bible handles large numbers. Many times the large numbers are rounded off.
There is certainly nothing wrong or errant about writing in approximation. All languages do it. Scripture is the communication of God's truth to humanity in the same forms that all of us understand. Consequently speaking in approximation and rounding off numbers is something that we should expect.