Is the Bible full of errors?


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Do the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other?

Are criticisms of the Bible valid?

How do you respond to someone who brings to you many contradictions in the Bible?

While we want to help a seeker who cannot resolve Bible contradictions, doing this excessively can take up considerable amount of your time. All he has to do is spend a minute asking a question and it takes you several hours of research to answer. I have found that it is useful to point the seeker to good resources in books or the Internet that he should spend time to do research on. If he still wants your help, he should let you know what those sources are saying and why it still doesn’t answer his question. That way, we are encouraging the seeker to seek for truth himself.

This is an old book. Click here to download the soft copy.

Does the Bible contain a large number of errors?

Bible critics will tell you that the Bible contains numerous errors. In response to such a claim, Christians should not be alarmed. If a person tells you that the Bible has many errors, you should always ask him to show you where the errors are. Most people cannot even show you one.

One reason why there is a claim to such a large number of errors is because there is duplicate counting. If there is an error in one manuscript and this is being copied by another 1000 manuscripts, critics will claim that there are 1000 errors.

Should a Christian spend time discussing with critics about Biblical errors?

I think if the queries are genuine and present a real obstacle to the person coming to the saving knowledge of Christ, the Christian has the responsibility to explain them.

(1 Pet 3:15 NIV)  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

However, not all questioning is sincere. Sometimes a critic just goes through the list without spending time himself to try to understand the Bible verse. In this case, the Christian should not waste his time. He can respectfully refer his critic to many good books that are already written on the subject and ask him to show why these answers are not sufficient before spending time on the Bible difficulties.

Many of the alleged errors are well explained in books such as “Alleged discrepancies of the Bible” by John W. Haley, “Encyclopedia of Bible difficulties” by Gleason L. Archer and “When Critics ask” by Norman Geisler. You should ask the Bible critic to consult these books and tell you why the explanation given by them are not acceptable.

You will also discover that many of the so-called errors are not errors at all.

Why are there Bible errors?
Copying errors
Copying from defaced manuscripts

The Bible manuscripts that we have today are not the originals. They are copies. In the past, paper was not available and whatever had to be written down were written on papyrus, which was made from the papyrus plant.

See below an image of the papyrus plant.

Since these materials were made from plants, they could not last long before decomposing. Before they totally decompose, one has to copy the whole thing down on another papyrus in order to preserve the writings.

Errors arise when one tries to copy from a papyrus document that already started to decompose and some parts of it would be defaced.

Below is an exhibit from the Dead Sea Scrolls (comprising our oldest copies of Old Testament).

Similarity of alphabets to one another

Another factor that contributed to errors in the present Bible is the similarity of alphabetical characters to one another. Several letters of the Hebrew language bear a great resemblance to each other and as a result the copiers sometimes mistake one alphabet for another. Some examples are listed below.

Alphabets are used as numbers in Hebrew. Therefore, frequently numbers get miscopied.

Human error

Of course human fatigue plays a part in the errors too. Before the invention of printing, books were produced and multiplied by the slow laborious method of hand copying. In a process so mechanical, mistakes would inevitably occur. The most carefully printed book today is not entirely free from typographical errors. It is not surprising, therefore, that a written manuscript like the Bible will exhibit errors of some kind.

Examples of genuine copying errors.
How many years of famine?

2 Samuel 24:13 So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies…

1 Chronicles 21:11-12 So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee {12} Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes…

How old was Jehoiachin?

2 Chronicles 36:9 Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.

2 Kings 24:8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother’s name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem.

For further examples of what people call Biblical errors and a more detailed discussion on whether the Bible is reliable, refer to Appendix 1.

Copying errors do not affect Christian doctrine

The errors brought out by Bible critics to prove that the Bible cannot be trusted are only minor copying mistakes. We should not allow ourselves to be shaken by them since all these errors taken together do not affect any point of doctrine.

We can ask the critic to demonstrate which Christian doctrine will collapse with any of the copying errors.

What has copying errors got to do with whether a document is the Word of God?

Being free from typographical errors and being the Word of God are two different things altogether.

If I find a book that does not contain any typographical errors, I cannot come to the conclusion that that book is the Word of God.

If a document is the Word of God, copying errors will not affect its being the Word of God.

If someone takes a copy of the Quran and tries to copy it by hand, chances are there may be copying errors. By finding copying errors in the hand-copied Quran, it does not mean that the Quran is corrupted or that the copier is trying to corrupt the teachings of the Quran.

Translation errors
Do errors in translations prove that the Bible is not the word of God?

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. It was translated into English and the well known translations include the King James Version, New International Version, Revised Standard Version, etc.

The original writings of God (ie the original revelations of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek are without error. This has to be true of a perfect God who does not make mistakes. However, because the translations are done by man, it is susceptible to error.

Are there many translation errors?

A lot of care has gone into Bible translations by the Bible scholars and many claims by critics that the translations are sfilled with errors are simply not true if we examine the claims in detail.

Was “young woman” wrongly translated as “virgin”?

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (King James Version, Isaiah 7:14)

In the Revised Standard Version we read instead of the word virgin that a young woman shall conceive and bear a son.

The word for virgin in the original Hebrew is “almah”. The word refers to a young woman and always an unmarried one. The Revised Standard Version gave a literal translation of the word and has it as “young woman” while the King James Version looks at the context of the verse and translates it as “virgin”. The conception of the child was to be sign to Israel. Now there would be no sign in the simple conception of a child in the womb of an unmarried woman. Such a thing is commonplace throughout the world. The sign is clearly that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. That would be a very real sign ­­ and so it was when Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy by being conceived of the virgin Mary.

Is Jesus God’s only son or God’s only begotten son?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (KJV, John 3:16) In the RSV we read that he gave his “only Son”.

Critics claim that the omission of the word “begotten” is proof that the translations are wrong. The original Greek word, which was translated “only” and “only begotten” is “monogenes” which means “unique”. Either way there is no difference between “only Son” and “only begotten Son” for both mean the same thing and point to the fact that Jesus is the unique Son of God.

Why are there translation errors?

We find that in some instances the earliest translators either used words not generally understood, or, from not knowing the vernacular languages as well as they are now known, did not make quite perfect translations.  Hence we endeavour to perfect them, especially when a new edition is required.  This shows how much care we take to make the Bible understood by the people who speak each language.  A change of translation does not imply a change or corruption of the original text. 

Do translators of the Bible arbitrarily decide what passages to put in the Bible and what to put in the footnote?

There are also passages in the Bible that have been included in the main text by some translators while being put in the footnote by others.

For example, the Revised Standard Version in 1952 decided to leave out two passages about the ascension of Jesus because the committee thought that they were not part of the Bible. These two passages were later restored in editions of RSV after 1952 because scholars are persuaded that they are indeed part of the original text as they were found in some of the most ancient manuscripts.

The addition or removal of these two passages do not affect the teaching of Jesus’ ascension at all. There are numerous passages in the Bible which teaches that Christ ascended into heaven (John 20:17, Acts 1:9). Matthew and Mark regularly speak of the second coming of Jesus from heaven (Matthew 26:64, Mark 14:62). It is difficult to see how Jesus could come from heaven if he had not ascended there in the first place.

Examples of alleged Bible errors

Difference in wordings.
Different in wordings in Jesus’ sayings

The Bible never claimed to be entirely a word-for-word dictation of God’s message to man.

The Bible says that scripture is inspired by God.

(2 Timothy 3:16)  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

This means that scripture is not necessarily a word-for-word dictation by God to man. At times, God suggests ideas to the mind of the writer, guiding him and allowing him to clothe the content in his own language. This is consistent with what we find in the Bible. Different passages of the Bible records Jesus’ saying different with only the gist similar.

Why are there two versions of the Ten Commandments?

Critics have wondered why there are two versions of the ten commandments (in Exod 20:1-17 and Deut 5:1-21) when it was the same God who gave them.

The ten commandments were first given by God in Exod 20. Moses later reviewed the Law with the people. It was not his intention to give an exact word-for-word recitation of the law as stated in Exod 20. In reviewing the Law, Moses also expounded and explained the implications of the Law.

Different meaning of the same word
Does God tempt man?

(Gen 22:1 KJV)  And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

(James 1:13 KJV)  Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

There is an apparent contradiction because the same word “tempt” has two different meanings.

In Gen 22:1, the word “tempt” means to put someone or something to the test. It is translated from the Hebrew word “nissah”. In the Greek Old Testament, it is translated as “peirazo”. This same word is used of David trying out Saul’s armor (1 Sam 17:39).

In James 1:13, the word “tempt” is used to refer to luring a person into sin. God, being holy, cannot tempt anyone with sin.

Does God repent?

(Num 23:19 KJV)  God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

(Jonah 3:10 KJV)  And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

God does not repent or change His mind in terms of principles. But because His principles and character is unchangeable, His responses to man must necessarily change when men changes.

For example, God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. He has declared this and it will never change. However, when God wants to punish a wicked man and he turns from his wicked ways, God necessarily changes his response towards that person in line with His principles.

Peculiarities of Oriental thought
Who moved David to number (ie take a consensus of) Israel?

In 2 Samuel 24:1 that the Lord moved David to number Israel and in 1 Chronicles 21:1, it was Satan who provoked him to do so.

2 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

If one were to understand the text correctly, there is no error at all. Satan was the one who directly incited David to take a census. This taking of the census was sinful in the sight of God because it shows that David did not fully trust God to protect him and had to take a census to get security from numbers. Since the act is sinful, God could not have been the direct cause. The Bible is clear that God cannot tempt anyone to do evil. (James 1:13)

But in 2 Sam 24:1, God was stated as the one who incited David to commit that sin. This has to do with the peculiarity of the Hebrew thought. According to Hebrew thinking, whatever God permits,  He is deemed to have committed it. By allowing Satan to incite David into this census-taking, God is viewed as having brought about the act. This is so because the Jews believe that even Satan has to get God’s permission before he can do anything to human beings. (Job 1:12; 2:6-7, 10).

Fable of Jotham

Some Bible critics say that the Bible contains myths and fables, giving Judges 9:7-20 as an example. The story speaks about trees talking to one another and annointing their king.

However if one reads the passage, there would be no doubt that Jotham was using the story as an illustration that many worthy men (as represented by the good trees – olive, fig, vine) have not vied to be king because they would rather serve the people but a worthless man like Abimelech (represented by a worthless tree – thornbush) have ambitioned to be king.

This use of anthropomorphism (the attribution of human form or qualities to that which is not human) is clearly seen in this passage for the sake of illustration as it is shown also in the following passage of the Quran.

Imagined errors

Many of the alleged errors are not errors at all. People think that they are errors because they fail to understand the text. Below are some examples.

Why is the genealogy (ie ancestor tree) of Jesus different?

Critics have claimed that the genealogy of Jesus given by Matthew in chapter 1:1-­17 is different from the one given by Luke in chapter 3:23­-38. Between David and Jesus there are 26 names according to Matthew’s account but 41 names according to Luke’s.

Actually they are different because Matthew gives Joseph’s while Luke gives Mary’s genealogy.  Note that Luke’s genealogy goes through Heli. According to Jewish tradition, Mary was the daughter of Heli.

But wasn’t Joseph described as the son of Heli? No, the genealogy did not say that Joseph was the son of Heli. It says that Jesus was thought to be the son of Joseph. It then goes on to list the ancestors of Jesus, first mentioning Heli, the father of Mary.

(Luke 3:23 NIV)  Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli….

Didn’t Matthew’s genealogy say that Joseph is the father of Jesus which is wrong since the Bible also teaches that Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit? Actually, Matthew did not say that Joseph was the father of Jesus. Here is what it says:

(Matthew 1:16 NIV)  and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Date of man’s creation.

Some geologists have dated the advent of man as far back as 1 million years; others may even go further back. Critics therefore claim that the bible is wrong in teaching that man was created at about 4000 B.C. The method of calculation is as follows: If we reconstruct the genealogy of Adam, which is described in Genesis 5 and 11:10-32, we arrive at the conclusion that Abraham (Abram) was born 1948 years after Adam. To estimate the time separating Abraham from Jesus, we turn to Matthew 1 which lists 40 people spanning an estimated 2000 years. Thus the critic who estimated that the time between Abraham and Jesus is 2000 years comes to the conclusion that the bible must be claiming that the first man, Adam must be created 4000 years before Christ.

There is an error in this method of computation. While the genealogy between Adam and Abraham is precise, with exact dates given, we cannot possibly estimate the time span between Abraham and Jesus. Genealogies often compressed history, meaning that not every generation of ancestors was specifically listed. It was common practice among the Jews to distribute their genealogies into divisions according to some favourite number as can be seen from verse 17 and that in order to do this, generations were left out. Thus the word “beget” instead of meaning “father of” can also be translated “ancestor of”.

This truth becomes evident when we turn to look at another genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23­28. Although the author uses the word “son” to connect the names, the word could very well be translated “descendant” according to Jewish usage. In Matthew 1:1, Jesus Christ is called the Son of David and Son of Abraham. Likewise in Luke 1:32, David is called Jesus’ father.

In conclusion, if we understand the peculiarity of the Greek language and recognize the possibility of gaps in the genealogy, then the bible will not be accused of claiming that Adam was created around 4000 B.C.

Genesis account of creation

Another common “mistake” of the bible is the Genesis account of Creation. Critics claim that the bible must be wrong in saying that God created the world in six days. This is because scientists have proven that the earth actually took millions of years to evolve and cannot be created in 6 days. At face value, there seem to be a contradiction between the biblical account and science. However, if you were to truly understand God, you wouldn’t think that there is a contradiction. You see, the bible speaks of God as creating the universe through His command. “By the word of the Lord, were the heavens made; and all the hosts of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6­9). Therefore God spoke and the universe came into existence. He needn’t have to wait millions of years for the universe to be created by the natural process as the critics seem to imply. God could have created everything at full maturity, with the appearance of having gone through the normal development stages. Examples of this would be Adam and Eve created fully grown, and the wine Jesus created in Cana, fully fermented in an instant of time (John 2:1­12). Do critics really believe that if God wanted to create a chicken, He has no choice but to create an egg and watch it mature.

Briefly, the events in 6 days of creation (Gen 1) are summarized as follows:

Beginning Heavens and earth created

Day 1 Light created, day and night established

Day 2 Water separated, sky formed

Day 3 Dry land formed, vegetation created

Day 4 Light in the sky, sun and moon “made”

Day 5 Living creatures created

Day 6 Man created

Alleged errors of the Genesis account of creation are as follows:

1) How could light be created in day 1 before the creation of stars that produces the light in day 4?

2) How could vegetation exist in day 3 before the creation of the Sun in day 4?

Answer to question 1

“In the beginning, God created (Hebrew bara) the heavens and the earth.” (v.1) This means that at the very start, before even the 6 days of creation, God created the entire universe (ie the heavens and the earth). The beginning does not refer to the 6 days of creation because the verse that immediately follows state that the earth was without form and void and was in darkness (v.2). You see, right from day 1, the earth already existed. There was no mention that the earth was created. Then God made light in day 1 probably by making the sun function and give out light. Then He probably made the earth rotate so that there is day and night. In day 2, God made the firmament (ie sky) by dividing the waters that were under the firmament (ie sea) from the water that were above the firmament (ie clouds). Up to now, the entire sky was filled with moisture so God had to separate the water that was on the surface of the earth with the dense clouds above. In day 3, vegetation was created and in day 4 we were told that God “made” the sun and the moon. Day 4 is where the confusion begins. Day 4 does not describe the creation of stars. The stars, including the Sun, were already created in v.1 but were made to shine in the expanse of the sky. This is only possible after day 3 when God transformed the atmosphere of thick moisture into clouds, sea and clear sky. With clouds this dense, we could not tell the time of day, the season of the year or any other sign we read from the sun together. So when God “made (Hebrew asah)” the sun to function as signs and seasons for days and years, He accomplished this by breaking the clouds and letting the sun shine through.

Genesis 1:14-19 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, {15} and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. {16} God made (Hebrew asah) two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made (Hebrew asah) the stars. {17} God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, {18} to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. {19} And there was evening, and there was morning–the fourth day.

The Hebrew word used asah does not always have the same connotation as the word bara which always mean “to create something out of nothing” (Gen 1:1). In fact, the word asah occurs over 2600 times in the Old Testament but is used the same way as bara (ie to mean creating something out of nothing) only about 60 times. Asah can mean simply doing work or doing something. Note the following:

Genesis 3:13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done (Hebrew asah)?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Exodus 20:9-11 Six days you shall labour and do (Hebrew asah) all your work, {10} but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. {11} For in six days the LORD made (Hebrew asah) the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Notice especially Exod 20:11 which says that “For in six days the LORD made (Hebrew asah) the heavens and the earth”. The earth was created (Hebrew bara) in the beginning but created (Hebrew asah–worked on) during the 6 days of creation.

Answer to question 2

There is no contradiction in vegetation appearing on the earth before the clouds were broken, so that the Sun could shine through directly. Before the clouds were broken, there was still considerable internal heat in the earth. We know that because if not the clouds would have been broken. It is the heat that keeps the water suspended in the atmosphere. This means that just before the clouds were broken, we had a hothouse condition on the earth. A hothouse is a heated building with glass roof and sides for growing plants. The clouds above scattered the rays of light from the Sun so that they would not burn the vegetation, just as though a semiopaque glass is over a hothouse. And the interior heat within the earth kept everything warm so that vegetation could grow.

3) Why does the second account of creation in Genesis 2:4­7 contradict the first?

Genesis 2:4-7 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, {5} And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. {6} But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. {7} And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

As to the different accounts of creation in Genesis chapter 1 and 2, it is clear that these differences arise simply from the condensation of the narrative in the first chapter and from the disregard of chronological order in the second.

The flood

Critics claimed that there are inconsistencies in the account of the flood described in Genesis 7. Firstly, there is the question of how many pairs of each animal were brought into the ark. When God first instructed Noah, He told him to bring a pair of every animal (Genesis 6:19,20). Later, God told Noah to bring in a pair of every unclean animal but seven pairs of every clean animal (Genesis 7:2,3). So here is the confusion.

Many bible scholars understand God’s first commandment to Noah to be a general one, emphasizing the fact that animals must be collected in pairs. However, later, after a period of 120 days, God specifically told Noah that of clean animals, he required seven pairs and of unclean, he required one. Noah then followed this last commandment closely. Note that the animals were not collected in twos as some critic claims, implying that Noah disregarded God’s last commandment. Instead the animals were collected two by two (Gen 7:8-9), which means 2 at a time. Thus Noah did not disregard this later and more specific commandment.

Another alleged contradiction is the duration of the flood. According to critics, Genesis 7:4 which says that it will rain for 40 days and 40 nights contradict with Genesis 7:24 which says that the water covered the earth for 150 days. Of course, there is no contradiction at all. The rain lasted for 40 days and nights but it took the water 150 days to subside.

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