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

Don Stewart :: What about the Mistakes in the Various Copies of the Bible?

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What about the Mistakes in the Various Copies of the Bible?

Answering Bible Difficulties – Question 25

The mistakes in the different copies of the biblical manuscripts have also been used as an argument against inerrancy. Since there are mistakes in the copies, it is wrong to assert inerrancy. How can one claim an inerrant original if all the copies have errors? The following points need to be made about this issue.

Mistakes Were Made in Copying Scripture

To begin with, we do admit that mistakes were made in copying. We can cite a few examples:

How Old Was Ahaziah?

We find a discrepancy when we compare what the Bible says about the age of Ahaziah when he became king. We read the following in the Book of Second Kings:

Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king and he reigned for one year in Jerusalem. His mother was Athaliah, the granddaughter of King Omri of Israel. (2 Kings 8:26 NIV)

According to Second Kings, Ahaziah was twenty-two when he became king. However, his age is given as forty-two in Chronicles. It says:

Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri? (2 Chronicles 22:2 KJV)

Which of these is correct? Was he twenty-two or forty-two when he began to reign?

It should be noted that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, as well as certain Syriac manuscripts, read twenty-two here in Chronicles while the traditional Hebrew text says forty-two. This would make the text in Chronicles agree with the text in Kings.

A number of English translations follow the Septuagint and translate it as twenty-two. For example, the New International Version says:

Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. (2 Chronicles 22:2 NIV)

Thus, there is no contradiction here if the New International Version has the correct reading.

How Many Stalls for Horses Did Solomon Have?

There are other examples. In Second Chronicles, the Bible says that Solomon had four thousand stalls for his horses. In Second Chronicles, we read:

Solomon had four thousand stalls for his chariot horses and twelve thousand horses. He kept them in assigned cities and in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 9:25 NIV)

However, in First Kings, it says Solomon had forty thousand stalls for his horses:

And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. (1 Kings 4:26 KJV)

The English Standard Version also reads forty thousand in the Book of First Kings:

Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. (1 Kings 4:26 ESV)

However, some translations read “four thousand” in First Kings. An example of this is the New English Translation. It reads as follows:

Solomon had four thousand stalls for his chariot horses and twelve thousand horses. (1 Kings 4:26 NET)

They do this because some Greek manuscripts read four thousand. With this translation there is no problem.

Other Problem Passages

However, there are a number of discrepancies in some English translations where there is no obvious solution. What do we make of these problems? Are they genuine errors? There are a couple of observations that need to be made.

Copies Are Not the Same as the Original

The solution to this question is simple. Copies of the various portions of Scripture are not the same as the original. A mistake in a copy is not the same as a mistake in the original. A mistake in a copy is a human mistake. If there was a mistake in the original, then it would have been God making that mistake. But God does not make mistakes. The Bible makes this very clear! Therefore, any copy of Scripture is only authoritative to the extent that it accurately reproduces the original. Since we don’t hold any human author responsible for mistakes in copies of an ordinary book, we should not hold God responsible for mistakes in copies of Scripture.

The Errors Decrease the Further We Go Back

Furthermore, as we get closer in time to the originals, the number of copyists’ errors in the manuscripts decrease—they become fewer and fewer. Thus, most of the errors are able to be cleared up by closely examining the manuscript evidence. This is another reason that we should have trust in the text as it now stands.

The Text Is in Great Shape

The New Testament is also in great textual shape. The continuing work of New Testament textual criticism refines the present text. For all intents and purposes, the text of both testaments fairly represents the inerrant original.

We Know Where the Textual Problems Are

Furthermore, we are aware where these variant readings are. In modern translations, there are marginal notes that allow the reader to be aware of the various possible readings. In the margins, there will be statements such as, “Some ancient authorities read,” “other ancient manuscripts add,” or “the oldest manuscripts read.” Consequently, the original is not lost.

There Is No Doctrine of Scripture or Any Command Threatened by a Variation in the Text

It must be stressed that no doctrine of Scripture, nor any command to believers, is threatened by a variant reading. The manuscript variations do not materially affect the meaning of the text. Inerrancy is not affected by errors in copies copied from the original. This is not an issue.

The General Sense of Any Passage of Scripture Is Clear

In addition, the general sense of a passage is clear from the context. The variant readings do not really affect the overall context, or the basic sense of the passage. This is true for the entire Scripture. This is very important to keep in mind.

Should We Expect There to Be No Mistakes in Scripture?

It is argued that if God really wanted an inerrant Bible, then there would not have been any mistakes in the copies. The fact that the copies have demonstrable mistakes shows that an inerrant Bible was not something necessary in the plan of God. How do we respond to this objection?

This Objection Has No Merit

This objection has no basis in fact. First, it is not rational to think that God would supernaturally protect every scribe from error each and every time the text of Scripture was copied. The New Testament alone has been copied hundreds of thousands of times. To assume that God would protect each scribe, every time they copied the text of Scripture, is not reasonable.

We Should Not Speculate about What God Should Have Done

In addition, we should be careful not to speculate on what we think God should have done, or might have done. No human being is in a position to do this. A person could also say that if God really cared about His Word, then He would not have allowed any false teachings to be brought into the church. Yet, He allowed false teaching to arise, and warned believers about them. We simply do not know enough to say what God should have done. We are not God.

The Lord Himself has warned humanity about the limitations all of us have. He said:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 KJV)

We should not try to second guess God.

Consequently, the idea of an inerrant Bible is not refuted by mistakes in certain of the copies.

Summary – Question 25
What about the Mistakes in the Various Copies of the Biblical Manuscripts?

The various manuscript copies have errors in them. This has caused some to deny the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Yet, no one claims that each manuscript was copied without errors being made. The only error-free documents were the originals. While no one has ever denied that mistakes can be found in the various copies that have been made, this fact has nothing to do with the original.

Furthermore, the closer we get to the original wording of the text, we find that the errors become less and less.

In addition, the variant readings that do exist do not threaten any doctrine of Scripture, or any command that God gives to believers. Moreover, the sense of any passage can be gathered from the immediate context—the variants in the manuscripts do not affect the overall content.

Consequently, there is every good reason to believe that the originals were error free.

Don’t the Missing Autographs Disprove Inerrancy? ← Prior Section
Have the Discoveries of Modern Science Shown That the Bible Contains Scientific Errors? Next Section →
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