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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: Aren’t There Examples of Demonstrable Errors in the Bible?

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Aren’t There Examples of Demonstrable Errors in the Bible?

Answering Bible Difficulties – Question 15

It is claimed that there are clear examples of demonstrable errors in the Bible. This is the real issue in the matter of biblical inerrancy. If a genuine contradiction, or error, can be clearly demonstrated, then the concept of the inerrancy of the Scripture must fall by the wayside. Critics are quick to point out that there are demonstrable errors in Scripture. What are we to make of these accusations?

There Are Difficulties in Scripture, Not Errors

We would respond to this charge by admitting there are indeed difficulties in Scripture. However, it is not necessary to conclude that these difficulties are errors. A number of points need to be made about this important issue.

Bible Difficulties in Scripture Fit into Three Categories

The so-called errors in the Bible can be divided into three basic categories. They include the following:

1. Some Difficulties Are Due to a Misunderstanding of Scripture

In the first category there is a misunderstanding of what the Bible says, or does not say. The error is with the person attributing something to Scripture that is not there. This could be a problem with the translation or with the understanding of the text as it now stands. When properly translated and understood in context, the supposed error vanishes. This is why we closely need to look at the biblical text.

2. Most Difficulties Have a Legitimate Solution

There is another category of so-called errors, which, in actuality, are merely difficulties. At first glance, they appear to be errors in Scripture. However, these difficulties have legitimate solutions that can resolve the problem.

It is a basic principle of historical study that if there is a reasonable way of harmonizing two statements, then this should be preferred to saying the document is inaccurate or in error. This is true whether the statements are found in the one writer, or in different writers. Consequently, these types of difficulties cannot be called errors if a reasonable solution can be offered.

Furthermore, we should not think that these Bible difficulties have been only recently discovered by modern scholarship. Most Bible difficulties have been recognized from the beginning and have been dealt with long ago by the early Christians. They offered satisfactory solutions to the problems.

3. There Are Only a Few Bible Difficulties That Presently Do Not Have Clear Solutions: in Some Cases We Must Wait and See

There are a small number of places in Scripture where there is presently no clear solution to the difficulty. However, rarely do we find that there is no obvious solution to a biblical problem, or a solution that does not carry conviction. It is mainly these places where critics accuse the Bible of error.

There are few things that need to be said about difficulties in this category:

First, the fact that there is presently no clear solution to a particular difficulty does not mean there will never be a solution. As advances in linguistics, history, and archaeology continue to take place, more and more of the so-called errors of Scripture now have plausible solutions.

In almost every case where a so-called error is found, there is at least some plausible explanation to the difficulty. The point is that we do not have to commit intellectual suicide by believing in an error-free Bible.

In addition, there have been a number of instances in the past where the Bible was accused of being in error but now it is not. The history of biblical criticism is filled with examples of “proofs” of the inaccuracy of Scripture that were once taken for granted. However, further knowledge has shown that the error was on the part of the one who criticized the Bible as being untrue; not on the Scripture. Since this has happened so many times in the past, no one should be quick to accuse the Scripture of error ? especially when it has proven its trustworthiness time and time again.

The point is this: the Bible is academically defensible. The objections that arise to the doctrine of inerrancy can be reasonably answered. A believer does not have to be embarrassed for believing and promoting the inerrancy, or total trustworthiness, of Scripture.

For those few places where no clear solution is presently available, the believer waits for further knowledge to vindicate Scripture. As we have seen so often in the past, further knowledge has erased Bible difficulties time and time again. Therefore, as time goes by, more and more of these types of difficulties will be solved.

The Proper Attitude Is Essential in Dealing with These Types of Difficulties

The key is to have the proper attitude toward the entire Bible, and the difficulties found within its pages. The acceptance of the doctrine of inerrancy means believers submit themselves to the authority of God’s Word. We place our faith in the God of truth who has divinely inspired the Bible. The difficulties in Scripture must be kept in perspective with everything else we know about God and His Word.

Thus, one cannot be under the authority of the Bible and, at the same time, be free to accuse it of error. We should always give the Bible the benefit of the doubt until a demonstrable error can be clearly proven. Therefore, when we encounter an historical or theological problem, we honestly face the problem and do not ignore it, but at the same time we do not assume that the Bible is in error.

Unresolved problems still remain, but this is all that they are; problems. They are not proof of the inaccuracy of Scripture. What we have today is not proof of error; we have only theories and speculation. This is not the same as evidence. Consequently, believers should not abandon their faith in an inerrant Bible merely because of a few difficulties. The Christian must study the Bible with the belief that it is true in all that it says.

Abraham: an Example of How to Deal with Alleged Contradictions in Scripture

There is a biblical example that helps us deal with the issue of alleged contradictions in the Word of God. This is found in the life of Abraham. Abraham had been promised that God would give him a son and it would be through that promised son a number of things would be fulfilled. This promise was very specific. The Bible says:

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” (Genesis 17:19 NIV)

Abraham had God’s solemn word about the number of his descendants he would have through his son Isaac. As promised, he and Sarah did have a son and Abraham named him Isaac:

Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. (Genesis 21:3 NIV)

However, Abraham was eventually faced with a dilemma. Before Isaac was married and had any children that would fulfill the promises of God, Abraham was told to take Isaac and offer him as a human sacrifice. The Bible says:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2 NIV)

Abraham was faced with a seeming contradiction in God’s Word. On the one hand, he was promised that Isaac would be the son through whom a number of specific promises would be fulfilled. Yet, God was now telling Abraham to take the son of promise and put him to death. This commandment that God gave Abraham apparently contradicted His earlier promise.

Abraham had a number of options. He could have ignored God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. He may have considered that God was testing him to see if he would use his own powers of reason and sense of morality.

Second, Abraham could have believed that God was lying to him when He made the promises concerning Isaac. It was all a cruel hoax.

Finally, Abraham could have concluded that he did not properly understand either God?s original promise or the command to sacrifice Isaac.

However, Abraham did none of these three things. Instead, he trusted God.

The Way Abraham Resolved the Difficulty He Had

The way in which Abraham resolved this difficulty should be instructive for all of us. He obeyed the Word of God without question. The writer to the Hebrews says the following of Abraham and his obedience:

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead-- and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19 NRSV)

Abraham did not know how God would resolve these seeming contradictions. Yet, he believed God anyway. While it seemed that it would have been impossible for Isaac to fulfill the promises that God made to Abraham, Abraham still chose to trust God. If necessary, Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. Yet, it was not necessary. God stopped Abraham as he was about to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.

Therefore, in the Old Testament character Abraham, we find the example of how to respond to so-called contradictions that are found in God’s Word. We trust in God and wait for Him to resolve the issue in His good time.

God honored Abraham’s faith in the face of a seemingly impossible difficulty. He will also honor our faith when we face difficulties associated with Scripture.

Summary – Question 15
Aren’t There Examples of Demonstrable Errors in the Bible?

It has been alleged that there are obvious errors in the Bible and thus the doctrine of inerrancy is clearly untrue. However the examples that are usually given are difficulties, not errors. Furthermore, most difficulties in Scripture have plausible explanations. There are only a few Bible difficulties where no adequate solution is presently known. Again, this does not mean the Scripture is in error ? it only means that no reasonable solution is available at the present time.

An example of how to deal with Bible difficulties can be found in the life of Abraham. Abraham was told to take Isaac, the son in whom God made many promises, and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham obeyed, but God stopped him from sacrificing his son. Abraham’s example of faith in the Lord, is a model for us all.

What Specific Objections Have Been Made Against the Inerrancy or the Trustworthiness of Scripture? ← Prior Section
Would the Discovery of One Small Error Cause Everything in Scripture to Be Rejected? Next Section →
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