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

Don Stewart :: In What Sense Is the Bible Perfect?

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In What Sense Is the Bible Perfect?

Answering Bible Difficulties – Question 4

Christians often speak about God’s Word being “perfect.” In fact, the Scripture itself testifies to its perfection. We read the following in Psalms:

The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the untrained. (Psalm 19:7 NET)

What do we mean by this idea? In what sense is the Bible perfect? There are several points that should be made.

1. 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—it speaks in approximation. The words are imprecise, but nevertheless they are true.

2. There Is No Such Thing as Scientific Precision in Scripture

The Bible does not speak in scientific language, nor does it speak with scientific precision. For example, there are several occasions in Scripture where numbers are given as approximations. They include the following:

The Age of Jesus at the Beginning of His Ministry Is an Example of Imprecision

We do not know Jesus’ exact age when He began His public ministry. Luke says the following about Him:

When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli. (Luke 3:23 NASB)

The age of Jesus is not precisely given—He was about thirty years of age. He could have been older or younger.

The Bible Gives an Imprecise Time of the Transfiguration

When speaking of the transfiguration of Jesus, Luke records the event in this manner:

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. (Luke 9:28 ESV)

Luke says that it occurred about eight days later—nothing more specific is given. Therefore, it could have been seven or nine days later. There is no attempt to be exact.

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 to Christ. We are then told the following about them:

There were in all about twelve men. (Acts 19:7 NASB)

Approximately twelve disciples were there. There could have been more or less. The description is meant to be imprecise.

We Do Not Know How Many People Paul Baptized

There is another illustration of imprecision in the number of people that Paul baptized. He wrote the following to the church at Corinth:

I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. (1 Corinthians 1:14-16 KJV)

Paul was not certain how many people he baptized. There is obviously no scientific precision in this example.

There Are Examples in Scripture 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:

Now the children of Reuben, Israel’s oldest son, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers’ house, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war: those who were numbered of the tribe of Reuben were forty-six thousand five hundred. From the children of Simeon, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers’ house, of those who were numbered, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war: those who were numbered of the tribe of Simeon were fifty-nine thousand three hundred. (Numbers 1:20-23 NKJV)

The numbers for each tribe were approximated in the same way (they were rounded off to the nearest hundred).

Furthermore, 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. The writers of Scripture, as well as its original readers, understood this.

Conclusion: The Bible Must Be Allowed to Speak Imprecisely at Times

Therefore, when we speak of the Bible being perfect, it is relatively perfect, not absolutely perfect. It is as perfect as it needs to be. It is true in everything that it says, but sometimes the truths are only approximate. Consequently, we should not expect to find precise scientific language, or scientific descriptions.

Summary – Question 4
In What Sense Is the Bible Perfect?

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 from the Word of God.

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