Also See Academia’s Asinine Assault on the Bible
Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament AND Differences and Discrepancies in the Old Testament
How Was The Bible Written
Critics claim the Bible is filled with errors. Some even speak of thousands of mistakes. However, orthodox Christians through the ages have claimed that the Bible is without error in the original text ("autographs"; see my book, Decide for Yourself). "If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture," Augustine wisely noted, "it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken’; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood" (Augustine, 11.5). Not one error that extends to the original text of the Bible has ever been demonstrated.
Why the Bible Cannot Err.
The argument for an errorless (inerrant) Bible can be put in this logical form:
God cannot err.
The Bible is the Word of God.
Therefore, the Bible cannot err.
God Cannot Err.
Logically, the argument is valid. So, if the premises are true, the conclusion is also true. If the theistic God exists, then the first premise is true. For an infinitely perfect, all-knowing God cannot make a mistake. The Scriptures testify to this, declaring emphatically that "it is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). Paul speaks of the "God who does not lie" (Titus 1:2). He is a God who, even if we are faithless, ‘’remains faithful; he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). God is truth (John 14:6), and so is his word. Jesus said to the Father, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). The psalmist exclaimed, "The entirety of Your word is truth" (Ps. 119:160).
The Bible Is the Word of God.
Jesus, who is the Son of God referred to the Old Testament as the "Word of God" which "cannot be broken" (John 10:35). He said, "until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matt. 5:18). Paul added, "All Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). It came "out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Although human authors recorded the messages, "prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, "You nullify the word of God by your tradition" (Mark 7:13). Jesus turned their attention to the written Word of God by affirming over and over again, "It is written" (for example, Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). This phrase occurs more than ninety times in the New Testament, a strong indication of divine authority. Stressing the unfailing nature of God’s truth, the apostle Paul referred to the Scriptures as "the word of God" (Rom. 9:6). The writer of Hebrews declared that "the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
Therefore, the Bible Cannot Err.
If God cannot err and if the Bible is the Word of God, then the Bible cannot err. God has spoken, and he has not stuttered. The God of truth has given us the Word of truth, and it does not contain any untruth. The Bible is the unerring Word of God. This is not to say that there are not difficulties in our Bibles. But God’s people can approach difficult texts with confidence, knowing that they are not actual errors; God did not err.
Errors in Science and History?
Some have suggested that Scripture can always be trusted on matters of faith and life, or moral matters, but it is not always correct on historical matters. They rely on it in the spiritual domain, but not in the sphere of science. If true, this would render the Bible ineffective as a divine authority, since the historical and scientific is inextricably interwoven with the spiritual. [Also See Scientific Facts In The Bible ]
A close examination of Scripture reveals that the scientific (factual) and spiritual truths of Scripture are often inseparable. One cannot separate the spiritual truth of Christ’s resurrection from the fact that his body permanently and physically vacated the tomb and walked among people (Matt. 28:6; 1 Cor. 15:13-19). If Jesus was not born of a biological virgin, then he is no different from the rest of the human race, on whom the stigma of Adam’s sin rests (Rom. 5:12). Likewise, the death of Christ for our sins cannot be detached from the literal shedding of his blood on the cross, for "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). Adam’s existence and fall cannot be a myth. If there were no literal Adam and no actual fall, then the spiritual teaching about inherited sin and physical and spiritual death are wrong (Rom. 5:12). Historical reality and the theological doctrine stand or fall together.
Also, the doctrine of the incarnation is inseparable from the historical truth about Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1, 14). Jesus’ moral teaching about marriage was based on his teaching about a literal Adam and Eve who were joined by God in marriage (Matt. 19:4-5). The moral or theological teaching is devoid of meaning apart from the historical or factual event. If one denies that the literal space-time event occurred, then there is no basis for believing the scriptural doctrine built upon it, or anything else, for all is then untrustworthy.
Jesus often directly compared Old Testament events with important spiritual truths. He related his death and resurrection to Jonah and the great fish (Matt. 12:40), his second coming to Noah and the flood (Matt. 24:37-39). Both the occasion and the manner of comparison make it clear that Jesus was affirming the historicity of those Old Testament events. Jesus asserted to Nicodemus, "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (John 3:12). The corollary to that statement is that, if the Bible does not speak truthfully about the physical world, it cannot be trusted when it speaks about the spiritual world. The two are intimately related.
Inspiration includes not only all that the Bible explicitly teaches, but everything the Bible touches. This is true of history science, or mathematics—whatever the Bible declares is true, Whether a major or a minor point. The Bible is God’s Word, and God does not deviate from the truth. All the parts are as true as the whole they comprise.
If Inspired, Then Inerrant.
Inerrancy is a logical result of inspiration. Inerrancy means "wholly true and without error. And what God breathes out (inspires) must be wholly true (inerrant). However, it is helpful to specify more clearly what is meant by "truth" and what would constitute an "error". Truth is that which corresponds to reality. Error is what does not correspond to reality. Nothing mistaken can be true, even if the author intended the true. Otherwise, every sincere utterance ever made is true, even the grossly mistaken.
Some biblical scholars argue that the Bible cannot be inerrant through some faulty reasoning:
1. The Bible is a human book.
2. Humans err.
3. Therefore, the Bible errs.
The error of this reason can be seen from equally erroneous reasoning:
1. Jesus was a human being.
2. Human beings sin.
3. Therefore, Jesus sinned.
One can readily see that this conclusion is wrong. Jesus was "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15; see also 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 2:1; 3:3). But, if Jesus never sinned, what is wrong with the above argument that Jesus is human and humans sin, therefore, Jesus sinned? Where does the logic go astray?
The mistake is to assume that Jesus is simply human. Mere human beings sin. But, Jesus was not a mere human being. He was also God. Likewise, the Bible is not merely a human book; it is also the Word of God. Like Jesus, it has divine elements that negate the statement that anything human errs. They are divine and cannot err. There can no more be an error in God’s written Word than there was a sin in God’s living Word.
In the next article we will begin to look at how to approach Bible difficulties.
Approaching Bible Difficulties.
As Augustine said above, mistakes come not in the revelation of God, but in the misinterpretations of man. Except where scribal errors and extraneous changes crept into textual families over the centuries, all the critics’ allegations of error in the Bible are based on errors of their own. Most problems fall into one of the following categories.
IPS Note: While Augustine was absolutely right in what he said, this article fails to mention that he himself was the biggest promoter of false Catholic doctrine. Among much else he taught that salvation is not to be found outside of the Catholic Church, tradition is on par with the authority of the Scriptures, praying for the departed does some good and the reality of purgatory. That Protestants hold him and the heretic Origen in such high esteem is mind boggling.
See The Sins of Augustine
Assuming the Unexplained Is Unexplainable. No informed person would claim to be able to fully explain all Bible difficulties. However, it is a mistake for the critic to assume that the explained cannot and will not be explained. When a scientist comes upon an anomaly in nature, he does not give up further scientific exploration. Rather, the unexplained motivates further study. Scientists once could not explain meteors, eclipses, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Until recently, scientists did not know how the bumble-bee could fly. All of these mysteries have yielded their secrets to relentless patience. Scientists do not now know how life can grow on thermovents in the depths of the sea. But, no scientist throws in the towel and cries "contradiction!"
The true biblical scholar approaches the Bible with the same presumption that there are answers to the thus-far unexplained. When something is encountered for which no explanation is known, the student goes on with research, looking out for the means to discover an answer. There is rational reason for faith that an answer will be found, because most once-unsolvable problems have now been answered by science, textual study, archaeology, linguistics, or another discipline. Critics once proposed that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible, because Moses’ culture was preliterate. Now we know that writing had existed thousands of years before Moses.
Critics once believed that Bible references to the Hittite people were totally fictional. Such a people by that name had never existed. Now that the Hittites’ national library has been found in Turkey, the skeptics’ once-confident assertions seem humorous. Indications from archaeological studies are that similar scoffings about the route and date of the Exodus will soon be silenced. These and many more examples inspire confidence that the biblical difficulties that have not been explained are not mistakes in the Bible.
Assuming the Bible is Guilty of Error unless Proven Innocent.
Many critics assume the Bible is wrong until something proves it right. However, like an American citizen charged with an offense, the Bible should be read with at least the same presumption of accuracy given to other literature that claims to be nonfiction. This is the way we approach all human communications. If we did not, life would not be possible. If we assumed that road signs and traffic signals were not telling the truth, we would probably be dead before we could prove otherwise. If we assumed food packages mislabeled, we would have to open up all cans and packages before buying.
The Bible, like any other book, should be presumed to be telling us what the authors said, experienced, and heard. Negative critics begin with just the opposite presumption. Little wonder they conclude the Bible is riddled with error.
Confusing Interpretations with Revelation.
Jesus affirmed that the "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). As an infallible book, the Bible is also irrevocable. Jesus declared, "Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished" (Matt. 5:18; cf. Luke 16:17). The Scriptures also have final authority, being the last word on all it discusses. Jesus employed the Bible to resist the tempter (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), to settle doctrinal disputes (Matt. 21:42), and to vindicate his authority (Mark 11:17). Sometimes a biblical teaching rests on a small historical detail (Heb. 7:4-10), a word or phrase (Acts 15:13-17), or the difference between the singular and the plural (Gal. 3:16).
But, while the Bible is infallible, human interpretations are not. Even though God’s word is perfect (Ps. 19:7), as long as imperfect human beings exist, there will be misinterpretations of God’s Word and false views about his world. In view of this, one should not be hasty in assuming that a currently dominant assumption in science is the final word. Some of yesterday’s irrefutable laws are considered errors by today’s scientists. So, contradictions between popular opinions in science and widely accepted interpretations of the Bible can be expected. But this falls short of proving there is a real contradiction.
Failure to Understand the Context.
The most common mistake of all Bible interpreters, including some critical scholars, is to read a text outside its proper context. As the adage goes, "A text out of context is a pretext." One can prove anything from the Bible by this mistaken procedure. The Bible says, "there is no God" (Ps. 14:1). Of course, the context is: "The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God."’ One may claim that Jesus admonished us "not to resist evil" (Matt. 5:39), but the antiretaliatory context in which he cast this statement must not be ignored. Many read Jesus’ statement to "Give to him who asks you," as though one had an obligation to give a gun to a small child. Failure to note that meaning is determined by context is a chief sin of those who find fault with the Bible.
Also See Context is CRUCIAL
Interpreting the Difficult by the Clear.
Some passages are hard to understand or appear to contradict some other part of Scripture. James appears to be saying that salvation is by works (James 2:14-26), whereas Paul teaches that it is by grace. Paul says Christians are "saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). And, "to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5). Also, it is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5-6).
A careful reading of all that James says and all that Paul says shows that Paul is speaking about justification before God (by faith alone), whereas James is referring to justification before others (who only see what we do). And James and Paul both speak of the fruitfulness that always comes in the life of one who loves God.
A similar example, this time involving Paul, is found in Philippians 2:12. Paul says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This appears to say salvation is by works. But this is flatly contradicted by the above texts, and a host of other Scriptures. When this difficult statement about "working out our salvation" is understood in the light of clear passages, we can see that it does not mean we are saved by works. In fact, what it means is found in the very next verse. We are to work salvation out because God’s grace has worked it in our hearts. In Paul’s words, "for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
(See The Myth of Faith Alone and What Is Holiness?)
Teaching on an Obscure Passage.
Some passages in the Bible are difficult because their meaning is obscure. This is usually because a key word in the text is used only once (or rarely), so it is difficult to know what the author is saying unless it can be inferred from the context. One of the best known passages in the Bible contains a word that appears nowhere else in all existing Greek literature up to the time the New Testament was written. This word appears in what is popularly known as the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:11). It is usually translated, "Give us this day our daily bread." The word in question is the one translated "daily"—(epiousion). Experts in Greek still have not come to any agreement as to its origin, or its precise meaning. Different commentators try to establish links with Greek words that are known, and many suggested meanings have been proposed:
Give us this day our continuous bread.
Give us this day our supersubstantial (a supernatural gift from heaven) bread.
Give us this day bread for our sustenance.
Give us this day our daily (or, what we need for today) bread.
Each one of these proposals has its defenders, each makes sense in the context, and each is a possibility based on the limited linguistic information. There does not seem to be a compelling reason to depart from what has become the generally accepted translation, but it does add difficulty, because the meaning of some key word is obscure.
At other times, the words are clear but the meaning is not evident because we are missing some background information that the first readers had. This is surely true in 1 Corinthians 15:20 where Paul speaks of those who were "baptized for the dead." Is he referring to dead believers who were not baptized and others were being baptized for them so they could be saved (as Mormons claim)? Or, is he referring to others being baptized into the church to fill the ranks of those who have passed on? Or is he referring to a believer being baptized "for" (i.e., "with a view to") his own death and burial with Christ? Or to something else?
See Did Jesus Establish Baptism for The Dead?
When we are not sure, then several things should be kept in mind. First, we should not build a doctrine on an obscure passage. The rule of thumb in the Bible is "The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things." This is called the "perspicuity" (clarity) of Scripture. If something is important, it is clearly taught and probably in more than one place. Second, when a given passage is not clear, we should never conclude that it means something that is opposed to another plain teaching of Scripture.
See Section Reading and Understanding The Bible
Forgetting the Bible’s Human Characteristics.
With the exception of small sections such as the Ten Commandments, which were "written with the finger of God" (Exod. 31:18), the Bible was not verbally dictated. The writers were not secretaries of the Holy Spirit. They were human composers employing their own literary styles and idiosyncrasies. These human authors sometimes used human sources for their material (Josh. 10:13; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). In fact, every book of the Bible is the composition of a human writer—about forty of them in all. The Bible also manifests different human literary styles. Writers speak from an observer’s standpoint when they write of the sun rising or setting (Josh. 1:15). They also reveal human thought patterns, including memory lapses (1 Cor. 1:14-16), as well as human emotions (Gal. 4:14). The Bible discloses specific human interests. Hosea has a rural interest, Luke a medical concern, and James a love of nature. Biblical authors include a lawgiver (Moses), a general (Joshua), prophets (Samuel, Isaiah, et al.), kings (David and Solomon), a musician (Asaph), a herdsman (Amos), a prince and statesman (Daniel), a priest (Ezra), a tax collector (Matthew), a physician (Luke), a scholar (Paul), and fishermen (Peter and John). With such a variety of occupations represented by biblical writers, it is only natural that their personal interests and differences should be reflected in their writings.
Like Christ, the Bible is completely human, yet without error. Forgetting the humanity of Scripture can lead to falsely impugning its integrity by expecting a level of expression higher than that which is customary to a human document. This will become more obvious as we discuss the next mistakes of the critics.
Assuming a Partial Report Is a False Report.
Critics often jump to the conclusion that a partial report is false. However, this is not so. If it were, most of what has ever been said would be false, since seldom does time or space permit an absolutely complete report. Occasionally biblical writers express the same thing in different ways, or at least from different viewpoints, at different times, stressing different things. Hence, inspiration does not exclude a diversity of expression. The four Gospels relate the same story—often the same incidents—in different ways to different groups of people and sometimes even quotes the same saying with different words. Compare, for example, Peter’s famous confession in the Gospels:
Matthew: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16).
Mark: "You are the Christ" (8:29).
Luke: "The Christ of God" (9:20).
Even the Ten Commandments, which were "written by the finger of God" (Deut. 9:10), are stated with variations the second time they are recorded (cf. Exod. 20:8-11 with Deut. 5:12-15). There are many differences between the books of Kings and Chronicles in their description of identical events, yet they harbor no contradiction in the events they narrate. If such important utterances can be stated in different ways, then there is no reason the rest of Scripture cannot speak truth without employing a wooden literalness of expression.
New Testament Citations of the Old Testaments.
Critics often point to variations in the New Testament use of Old Testament Scriptures as a proof of error. They forget that every citation need not be an exact quotation. Sometimes we use indirect and sometimes direct quotations. It was then (and is today) perfectly acceptable literary style to give the essence of a statement without using precisely the same words. The same meaning can be conveyed without using the same verbal expressions.
Variations in the New Testament citations of the Old Testament fall into different categories. Sometimes they are because there is a change of speaker. For example, Zechariah records the Lord as saying, "they will look on me whom they have pierced" (12:10). When this is cited in the New Testament, John, not God, is speaking. So it is changed to "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (John 19:37).
At other times, writers cite only part of the Old Testament text. Jesus did this at his home synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19 citing Isa. 61:1-2). In fact, he stopped in the middle of a sentence. Had he gone any farther he could not have made his central point from the text, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (vs. 21). The very next phrase, "And the day of vengeance of our God," refers to his second coming.
Sometimes the New Testament paraphrases or summarizes the Old Testament text (e.g., Matt. 2:6). Others blend two texts into one (Matt. 27:9-10). Occasionally a general truth is mentioned, without citing a specific text. For example, Matthew said Jesus moved to Nazareth "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘he shall be called a Nazarene"’ (Matt. 2:23). Notice, Matthew quotes no given prophet, but rather "prophets in general." Several texts speak of the Messiah’s lowliness. To be from Nazareth, a Nazarene, was a byword for low status in the Israel of Jesus’ day.
There are instances where the New Testament applies a text in a different way than the Old Testament did. For example, Hosea applies "Out of Egypt have I called My Son" to the Messianic nation, and Matthew applies it to the product of that nation, the Messiah (Matt. 2:15 from Hosea 11:1). In no case does the New Testament misinterpret or misapply the Old Testament, nor draw some invalid implication from it. The New Testament makes no mistakes in citing the Old Testament, as critics do in citing the New Testament.
Assuming Divergent Accounts Are False.
Because two or more accounts of the same event differ, does not mean they are mutually exclusive. Matthew 28:5 says there was one angel at the tomb after the resurrection, whereas John informs us there were two (20:12). But these are not contradictory reports. An infallible mathematical rule easily explains this problem: Where there are two, there is always one. Matthew did not say there was only one angel. There may also have been one angel at the tomb at one point on this confusing morning and two at another. One has to add the word "only" to Matthew’s account to make it contradict John’s. But if the critic comes to the texts to show they err, then the error is not in the Bible, but in the critic.
Likewise, Matthew (27:5) informs us that Judas hanged himself. But Luke says that "he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out" (Acts 1:18). Once more, these accounts are not mutually exclusive. If Judas hanged himself from a tree over the edge of a cliff or gully in this rocky area, and his body fell on sharp rocks below, then his entrails would gush out just as Luke vividly describes.
Presuming That the Bible Approves of All It Records.
It is a mistake to assume that everything contained in the Bible is commended by the Bible. The whole Bible is true (John 17:17), but it records some lies, for example, Satan’s (Gen. 3:4; cf. John 8:44) and Rahab’s (Josh. 2:4). Inspiration encompasses the Bible fully in the sense that it records accurately and truthfully even the lies and errors of sinful beings. The truth of Scripture is found in what the Bible reveals, not in everything it records. Unless this distinction is held, it may be incorrectly concluded that the Bible teaches immorality because it narrates David’s sin (2 Sam. 11:4), that it promotes polygamy because it records Solomon’s (1 Kings 11:3), or that it affirms atheism because it quotes the fool as saying "there is no God" (Ps. 14:1).
Forgetting That the Bible Is Nontechnical.
To be true, something does not have to use scholarly, technical, or so-called "scientific" language. The Bible is written for the common person of every generation, and it therefore uses common, every-day language. The use of observational, nonscientific language is not unscientific, it is merely prescientific. The Scriptures were written in ancient times by ancient standards, and it would be anachronistic to superimpose modern scientific standards upon them. However, it is no more unscientific to speak of the sun "standing still" (Josh. 10:12) than to refer to the sun rising (Josh. 1:16). Meteorologists still refer to the times of "sunrise" and "sunset."
Assuming Round Numbers Are False.
Like ordinary speech, the Bible uses round numbers (see Josh. 3:4; cf. 4:13). It refers to the diameter as being about one-third of the circumference of something (1 Chron. 19:18; 21:5). While this technically is only an approximation (see Lindsell, 165-66); it may be imprecise from the standpoint of a technological society to speak of 3.14159265 as "3," but it is not incorrect. It is sufficient for a "cast metal sea" (2 Chron. 4:2) in an ancient Hebrew temple, even though it would not suffice for a computer in a modern rocket. One should not expect to see actors referring to a wrist watch in a Shakespearean play, nor people in a prescientific age to use precise numbers.
Neglecting to Note Literary Devices.
Human language is not limited to one mode of expression. So there is no reason to suppose that only one literary genre was used in a divinely inspired Book. The Bible reveals a number of literary devices: Whole books are written as poetry (e.g., Job, Psalms, Proverbs). The Synoptic Gospels feature parables. In Galatians 4, Paul utilizes an allegory. The New Testament abounds with metaphors (2 Cor. 3:2-3; James 3:6), similes (Matt. 20:1; James 1:6), hyperbole (John 21:25; 2 Cor. 3:2; Col. 1:23), and even poetic figures (Job 41:1). Jesus employed satire (Matt. 19:24; 23:24). Figures of speech are common throughout the Bible.
It is not a mistake for a biblical writer to use a figure of speech, but it is a mistake for a reader to take a figure of speech literally. Obviously when the Bible speaks of the believer resting under the shadow of God’s "wings" (Ps. 36:7) it does not mean that God is a feathered bird. When the Bible says God "awakes" (Ps. 44:23), as though he were sleeping, it means God is roused to action.
InPlainSite Note: Taking a figure of speech literally is a common mistake made by proponents of ‘Original Sin’ when they use verses from Psalms 51 and 58 as proof texts.
See Original Sin.. Fact or Fable
Forgetting That Only the Original Text Is Inerrant.
Genuine mistakes have been found—in copies of Bible text made hundreds of years after the autographs. God only uttered the original text of Scripture, not the copies. Therefore, only the original text is without error. Inspiration does not guarantee that every copy is without error, especially in copies made from copies made from copies made from copies. Therefore, we are to expect that minor errors are to be found in manuscript copies.
For example, 2 Kings 8:26 gives the age of King Ahaziah as twenty-two, whereas 2 Chronicles 22:2 says forty-two. The later number cannot be correct, or he would have been older than his father. This is obviously a copyist error, but it does not alter the inerrancy of the original.
First, these are errors in the copies, not the originals. Second, they are minor errors (often in names or numbers) which do not affect any teaching. Third, these copyist errors are relatively few in number. Fourth, usually by the context, or by another Scripture, we know which is in error. For example, Ahaziah must have been twenty-two. Finally, though there is a copyist error, the entire message comes through. For example, if you received a letter with the following statement, would you assume you could collect some money?
Even though there is a mistake in the first word, the entire message comes through—you are ten million dollars richer! And if you received another letter the next day that read like this, you would be even more sure:
The more mistakes of this kind there are (each in a different place), the more sure you are of the original message. This is why scribal mistakes in the biblical manuscripts do not affect the basic message of the Bible—and why studies of the ancient manuscripts are so important. A Christian can read a modern translation with confidence that it conveys the complete truth of the original Word of God.
See Are Biblical Documents Reliable?
Confusing General with Universal Statements.
Critics often jump to the conclusion that unqualified statements admit no exceptions. They seize upon verses that offer general truths and then point with glee to obvious exceptions. Such statements are only intended to be generalizations.
The Book of Proverbs has many of these. Proverbial sayings, by their very nature, offer general guidance, not universal assurance. They are rules for life, but rules that admit of exceptions. Proverbs 16:7 affirms that "when a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." This obviously was not intended to be a universal truth. Paul was pleasing to the Lord and his enemies stoned him (Acts 14:19). Jesus was pleasing the Lord, and his enemies crucified him. Nonetheless, it is a general truth that one who acts in a way pleasing to God can minimize his enemies’ antagonism.
Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." However, other Scripture passages and experience show that this is not always true. Indeed, some godly persons in the Bible (including Job, Eli, and David) had wayward children. This proverb does not contradict experience because it is a general principle that applies in a general way, but allows for individual exceptions. Proverbs are not designed to be absolute guarantees. Rather, they express truths that provide helpful advice and guidance by which the individual should conduct his daily life.
Proverbs are wisdom (general guides), not law (universally binding imperatives). When the Bible declares "You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45), then there are no exceptions. Holiness, goodness, love, truth, and justice are rooted in the very nature of an unchanging God. But wisdom literature applies God’s universal truths to life’s changing circumstances. The results will not always be the same. Nonetheless, they are helpful guides.
Forgetting That Later Revelation Supersedes Earlier.
Sometimes critics do not recognize progressive revelation. God does not reveal everything at once, nor does he lay down the same conditions for every period of history. Some of his later revelations will supersede his earlier statements. Bible critics sometimes confuse a change in revelation with a mistake That a parent allows a very small child to eat with his fingers but demands that an older child use a fork and spoon, is not a contradiction. This is progressive revelation, with each command suited to the circumstance.
There was a time when God tested the human race by forbidding them to eat of a specific tree in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16-17). This command is no longer in effect, but the later revelation does not contradict this former revelation. Also, there was a period (under the Mosaic law) when God commanded that animals be sacrificed for people’s sin. However, since Christ offered the perfect sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:11-14), this Old Testament command is no longer in effect. There is no contradiction between the later and the former commands.
Likewise, when God created the human race, he commanded that they eat only fruit and vegetables (Gen. 1:29). But later, when conditions changed after the flood, God commanded that they also eat meat (Gen. 9:3). This change from herbivorous to omnivorous status is progressive revelation, but it is not a contradiction. In fact, all these subsequent revelations were simply different commands for different people at different times in God’s overall plan of redemption.
Of course, God cannot change commands that have to do with his unchangeable nature (cf. Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18). For example, since God is love (1 John 4:16), he cannot command that we hate him. Nor can he command what is logically impossible, for example, to both offer and not offer a sacrifice for sin at the same time and in the same sense. But these moral and logical limits notwithstanding, God can and has given noncontradictory, progressive revelations which, if taken out of its proper context and juxtaposed, can look contradictory. This is as much a mistake as to assume a parent is self-contradictory for allowing a sixteen-year-old to stay up later at night than a six-year-old.
After forty years of continual and careful study of the Bible, I can only conclude that those who 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 how to resolve all the difficulties in the Scriptures. But we have seen enough problems resolved to know these also admit answers. Meanwhile, Mark Twain had a point when he concluded that it was not the parts of the Bible he did not understand that bothered him—but the parts he did understand!