|Volume 18 Number 6 June 2016||
James P. Chaisson
It is no surprise to us when we read or hear atheists and agnostics attacking the Word of God, but when the attack comes from those who claim to be Christians, it can take us by surprise. There has been an increasing amount of attacks upon the Bible as God’s infallible and inerrant Word over the past few decades. Many in Christendom are falling prey to a very liberal reading of Scripture, and some are even attacking its inerrancy, using the very same arguments that the unbelieving use.
Supposed Contradictions and Errors
It is very common when reading books by people like Bart Ehrman and Dan Barker to come across statements like, “The Bible is full of errors and contradictions.” In fact, this is extremely common to hear from those who have never even read the Bible.
Some, in an attempt to prove the Bible contains contradictions, will point to the number of horse stalls that Solomon is said to have had in 2 Chronicles 9:25 (4,000) and 1 Kings 4:26 (40,000). They claim that this is a clear contradiction and proof that the Bible contains errors. Is this really a contradiction? For those wishing to disprove the Bible it is, but this may simply be an issue of copyist error (Geisler and Howe 180). The Scriptures, along with all ancient documents, were copied by hand until the printing press was invented, and there were times when copyists would make mistakes. Yet, this may not be a copyist error either. It may be that the 4,000 mentioned in 2 Chronicles is speaking of horse stables while the 40,000 mentioned in 1 Kings is speaking of individual stalls. If each stable housed 10 stalls (there is archaeological evidence for this), then that would account for the supposed contradiction (Stewards).
Other supposed contradictions are put forward as questions. Sometimes people will ask, “Were there two men or two angels at the tomb of Jesus (Luke 24:4; John 20:12)?” A lot of these supposed contradictions disappear when we allow for harmonization. Harmonization looks at two texts and asks if they might be complementary. This method is considered valid by many scholars. C.L. Blomberg in his article on “The Unity and Diversity of Scripture” says, “Harmonizing apparently discrepant texts is a legitimate technique which most historians, ancient and modern, utilize” (Bloomberg 71).
It is important to recognize that one text may simply state what someone saw, and another may explain the event. It is not a contradiction for one author to speak of two men and another to identify those men as angels (Luke 24:4; John 20:12). In Genesis 18:22, we are told that “two men” went down towards Sodom after speaking with Abraham. In the very next chapter we are told that those two men were angels (Genesis 19:1). This is not a contradiction or an error; angels often appeared in human form throughout the Bible. So, one text tells us that there were two men, and the other explains that those two men were really angels.
Attacks from within
We can understand when atheists and agnostics use these kinds of arguments, but when a man stands up on Sunday morning and preaches from the pulpit that the Bible contains errors, it can leave people scratching their heads. Even more than that, it can cause some to have a crisis of faith.
If the Bible contains errors and contradictions, then it simply cannot be trusted. If, as some are saying from within Christendom that the Bible is unreliable in some areas, then what assurance do we have that there are not other errors that they simply have not discovered yet? Further, if there are a few errors, then might there be a lot of errors? If there are a lot, then how can we trust the Bible? The ultimate authority on these matters becomes the person making the claim that the Bible has errors. He will tell us what passages that he believes are in error, but where do we draw the line? Where do you draw the line and say, “This Scripture is in error, but this other one is not”?
A door is being unlocked that ultimately can lead to the complete abandonment of the Scriptures. Once the Scriptures are abandoned, you can ultimately do as you like, such as appoint women elders because after all Paul was wrong when he said that an overseer “must be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2); maybe that was just his own personal opinion. Once a person believes that the Bible contains errors, then why not allow homosexual marriage; after all, the Bible has been wrong in other areas, then why not on this topic, too? One biblical scholar said, “Almost every single collapse involving denominations and churches in regard to historic Christian beliefs can be traced back to a degradation in that group’s view of the Bible as the inspired and inerrant revelation of God’s truth. Once this foundation is lost, the house that was built upon it cannot long stand” (White 43).
The Claims of the Bible
What can we say about the inspiration and reliability of the Bible? The first thing to note is that the Bible itself claims to be the inspired Word of God. In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase “thus saith the Lord” is found 415 times. King David and other Old Testament figures claimed to be speaking and writing the words of God (Exodus 34:27; 2 Samuel 23:2; Jeremiah 30:2).
Not only do we find that the Old Testament Scriptures claim to be inspired by God, we also find that Jesus and the New Testament authors believed it as well. The Old Testament was seen as God’s divinely inspired and authoritative Word (Mark 12:10; John 2:22; Acts 8:32; Romans 11:2). Jesus quoted the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God throughout His ministry. Not only did Jesus quote the Old Testament as divinely inspired, His enemies also accepted those Scriptures as God’s inspired Word. He would frequently say, “Have you not read” (Matthew 12:3, 19:4) or “It is written” to add weight to what He was saying and doing (Matthew 22:29-32; Mark 14:27; Luke 4:4). After surveying a few New Testament texts where Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays make this statement: “Thus it appears that Jesus treated the Old Testament as if it were accurate and without error down to the level of verb tenses and pronouns. To us this looks like a good model to follow” (411).
The apostle Paul, speaking about the Old Testament, said that “[a]ll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). The writer to the Hebrews used the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of all to which the law and the prophets pointed. If the Old Testament contained errors and contradictions, why use it to prove anything?
So far, we have seen that the Old Testament writings claimed to be the inspired Word of God. We have also noted that Jesus and the New Testament authors viewed the Old Testament as divinely inspired, inerrant and authoritative. There is not a hint anywhere in the New Testament that anyone thought the Old Testament contained errors or contradictions.
Now let’s consider the New Testament writings. Jesus Himself claimed to speak the very words of God (John 18:37). When He was debating, He said, “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:46-47). Jesus made a clear connection between what He was teaching and God’s Word. The apostle Paul viewed his own writings as Scripture by saying, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:37-38). Paul believed that he was inspired by God and that those who were spiritual should recognize it. The apostle John as well thought that what he taught was from God. He said, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). In the Book of Revelation, he made it clear that what he was shown and told to write down were the very words of God (Revelation 1:10-11; 19:9). The apostle Peter viewed Paul’s writings as equal to the inspired Scriptures, saying, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). People were twisting Paul’s words as they had done with the other Scriptures.
The fact that the Bible claims to be the Word of God doesn’t necessarily make it so, but we do need to take seriously its own claim. Eminent scholar John Warwick Montgomery said, “Historical and literary scholarship continues to follow Aristotle’s eminently just dictum that the benefit of doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself” (46). What does this mean? Dr. Montgomery continued, “This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies” (46).
Some Evidence to Consider
It’s one thing for the Bible to claim to be divinely inspired (that claim needs to be seriously considered as noted above), but it is quite another to prove it. Here I present only a sampling of the evidence that could be presented to show that the Bible is reliable and divinely inspired.
The Bible contains remarkable scientific foreknowledge. There are things found in the pages of Scripture that we are only in our modern day discovering. For example, God told Abraham to administer circumcision on the eighth day of a child’s life (Genesis 17:12). Why on the eighth day? Because God commanded it, of course, but is there any reason medically that this day would be the best? We now know that this is the best day to circumcise a child because the body produces high levels of vitamin K and prothrombin, which are blood clotting agents. Dr. Thompson mentioned in a question and answer article on Apologetics Press’s website:
On the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin present actually is elevated above one-hundred percent of normal – and is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it… Moses’ information, as recorded in Genesis 17:12, not only was scientifically accurate, but was years ahead of its time. How did Moses have access to such information? The answer, of course, is provided by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 – “Every scripture is inspired of God.” (Thompson)
We might also consider the fact that the Bible contains hundreds of fulfilled prophecies. One such example is that of the death of Jesus. Seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth, the prophet Isaiah mentioned what would happen to the Messiah. Isaiah 53 speaks of how the Messiah would be hated for no valid reason, how He would be pierced and how He would be silent before his accusers. Psalm 22 mentions how the Messiah would be executed by crucifixion (Psalm 22:16), which was not the common method of execution by the Jews – stoning was. These and more than 300 other prophecies are fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth (McDowell). Clearly the Bible is more than a collection of human writings. Those writings are the divinely inspired words of Almighty God, inerrant and infallible.
The Bible claims to be the inspired Word of Almighty God from beginning to end. When the Bible speaks about geography, it’s reliable. When it mentions rulers and empires, it’s reliable. History and archeology have proven the reliability of the Bible again and again. Science has shown there is divine foreknowledge contained within the Bible. Prophecies found hundreds and thousands of years before Christ find their miraculous fulfillment in Him. There is more than enough evidence to prove that the Bible is trustworthy, reliable and authoritative. The Bible truly is the Word of God.
Let me end with what I think is a great quote by a man named H.L. Hasting, who said, “Infidels have been at work nearly eighteen hundred years, firing away at it [the Bible], and making about as much impression on it as you would shooting boiled peas at Gibraltar” (8).
Bart Ehrman is an agnostic, biblical scholar.
Dan Barker is an atheist and co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Blomberg, C.L. “The Unity and Diversity of Scripture.” ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity P., 2000.
Duvall, J. Scott and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Geisler, Norman L. and Thomas A. Howe. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992.
Hastings, H.L. The Inspiration of the Bible. Boston: Hastings, 1893.
McDowell, Joshua. A Ready Defense. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1992.
Montgomery, John Warwick. Where Is History Going? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969.
Stewards, Ted. Apologetics II. Lubbock: Sunset International Bible Institute, n.d.
Thompson, Bert. “Biblical Accuracy and Circumcision on the 8th Day.” Apologetics Press. 1997. 29 Dec 2014. <https://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=13&article=1118>.
White, James R. Scripture Alone. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2004.