Is not the Bible Full of Contradictions and Errors?

Paul Derengowski, ThM

From one of the first dialogues to ever take place in human history unto the present there has been the constant rhetorical mantra heard by skeptics and unbelievers alike questioning the integrity and veracity of God’s Word.  The serpent in the Garden of Eden merely chided Eve by asking, “Hath God said?”  In our present day and age the inquiry has been much more lengthy, but not anymore sophisticated, as one claim, assertion, or accusation after another has been raised to question whether or not “God said” what He did in the Bible.  The end result is that those same critics falsely assume that the Bible is either full of errors or contradictions.  Yet, amid all the clamor there are at least three fundamental problems with most of the accusations, with none of the accusations ever definitively pointing to an actual error or contradiction.  Those problems are ignorance, neglect, and forgetfulness.

Critics of the Bible are ignorant in the sense that often when they present their alleged error or contradiction it is presented by ignoring the context in which a particular statement was made.  A classic example of this is when two statements are stripped from their context and then placed side-by-side.  The critic erroneously assumes that just because two statements contradict each other apart from their contexts that the claim of contradiction or error is just.  Nothing could be further from the truth, though.  For if one used the same method to criticize the critic’s comments, before long a case could be made that all atheists were God-fearing people acting in the best interests of humanity as they strive to preach the gospel with clarity and conviction from either their pulpits on Sunday or from the street’s corners of America on a daily basis.

A second problem that characterizes the approach of most critics and skeptics of the Bible is that they regularly neglect to take into account the literary genres, or even just basic grammatical style, before setting out to rail on the biblical text.  For instance, on a popular atheist website, a list of alleged contradictions is given, with one of them showing a conflict between Psalm 145:9, “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works,” and Jeremiah 13:14, “‘And I will dash them against each other, both the fathers and the sons together,’ declares the Lord.  ‘I will not show pity nor be sorry nor have compassion that I should destroy them.’”  From the foregoing it is obvious that not only has the genre been neglected, with the Psalms speaking in poetic imagery of a God who is merciful to all, but the narrative prose of Jeremiah which depicts God as a God who will not tolerate sin and idolatry, particularly when it is His own people engaging in them.  Otherwise, to accept such an egregious oversight on the part of the critic as normative, and then applied elsewhere (such as reading a newspaper) would be to stifle meaningful communication whatsoever.

The third problem with the accusation that the Bible is full of errors or contradictions stems from the fact that most critics forget that when it comes to discerning genuine errors, they are basing their conclusions on what they have seen in subsequent copies or versions of the Bible, and not the original manuscript itself.  In other words, it is conceded that there was copyist and scribal errors made during the transmission of the Bible, but that those errors do not apply to the original document given by God, since God cannot error, and He, ultimately, is its author.  Moreover, despite the concession, the alleged errors that were made were (1) few in number, many of which appear as variants in the apparatus’ of any given Hebrew or Greek text, (2) have since been corrected, and (3) had no bearing upon any biblical doctrine upon which Christians base their faith.  Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that those who committed copyist errors in transmission did not do so with malicious intent in mind.  Instead it was with the express purpose of the copyist to add clarity where otherwise there might have been a question.  Whatever the case, the original documents which comprised what is known as the Bible was free from any scribal error, and that needs to be kept in mind when considering textual difficulties that some assume undermine the whole integrity of the Bible. 1

Therefore, despite all the allegations that the Bible is full of errors, contradictions, lies, distortions, or whatever, a brief survey of the evidence presented to support such vitriolic charges is misguided at best.  Generally the text of the Bible has either been ripped from its context, the literary genre has been ignored whereby texts have been equivocated to say things that the authors never intended, or a convenient forgetting of just how the Bible came to be, and where a scribal error is applicable has also been forgotten, to arrive at such charges.  It almost makes one wonder whether or not those doing the criticizing have actually read the Bible at all.  In fact, Geisler and Howe make a similar point when they concluded,

After forty years of continual and careful study of the Bible, one can only conclude that those who think they have discovered a mistake in the Bible do not know too much about the Bible—they know too little about it!  This does not mean, of course, that we understand all the difficulties in the Scriptures.  But it does lead us to believe that Mark Twain was correct when he concluded that it was not the part of the Bible he did not understand that bothered him the most, but the part he did understand! 2

To which we say, Amen!

Notes:

  1. For a fuller treatment of the textual transmission process and alleged errors in the Bible, see Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (New York: Oxford, 1992), Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), and J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).
  2. Norman Geisler and Thomas How, When Critics Ask (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 26.  This book, as well as Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, should be on the shelf of every Bible-believing Christian, for the express purpose of helping to counter the many specious claims by those who have not read the Bible, and yet feel compelled to criticize it.