Week Two: Does the Bible contain mistakes?
What has more power than an atomic bomb, more knowledge than Albert Einstein, and more value than pure gold? The Bible! It is the best-selling book of all time, and its truths have changed the world in large and small ways.
Last week we saw that the Bible claims to be the word of God. Over forty different men who came from all walks of life wrote the sixty-six books of the Bible. But since those men were human and humans aren’t perfect, how do we know the Bible is trustworthy? Isn’t it possible that somehow, in some way, it contains a few mistakes?
Let’s think about it. God cannot lie and he cannot make mistakes. Since the Bible is his word, the Bible cannot contain mistakes. The belief that God’s word is perfect, true, and without mistakes in the original manuscripts is called inerrancy.
The men who wrote the Bible knew God could not lie:
“For you are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth . . .” (2 Samuel 7:28).
“This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began” (Titus 1:2).
The Bible itself promises that its words are true:
“The Lord’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over” (Psalm 12:6).
“Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven” (Ps. 119:89).
Jesus said, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 17:17).
The Bible is not an encyclopedia; it does not tell us everything about everything. But in everything it does teach, it is trustworthy. Before you start to think of possible exceptions, let’s back up and review a few considerations:
· Sometimes the writers of the Bible use poetic speech. For instance, I could say, “The Lord is my shepherd” without meaning that I’m an actual sheep, complete with wooly coat and four legs. That’s poetic language in which I’m saying that I’m like a sheep and the Lord is like a shepherd because he guides me and protects me. Just because I’m not a real lamb doesn’t mean the Bible is untrue.
· Sometimes the Bible writers used round numbers. For instance, in Genesis 15:13 God told Abraham that the children of Israel would be strangers in a foreign land for 400 years. He was using a round number. In Exodus 12:40 we learn that the “people of Israel had lived in Egypt and Canaan for 430 years. In fact, it was on the last day of the 430th year that all the Lord’s forces left the land.” In this passage, Moses was being very specific, down to the day. In Galatians 3:16-17, Paul confirmed that 430 years stood between the promise given to Abraham and the exodus and law-giving under Moses. So just because a number is rounded off in one passage doesn’t mean it’s not true in another.
Why do some Bibles use different words than others? Because the Bible has been translated into many different languages and many different styles. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic; the New Testament was written in Greek. Since you read and speak English, you need to read an English Bible. So whether you read the King James Version, the New Living Translation, the Message, the New International Version, or something else, you should realize that you are not reading the Bible as it was originally written.
So how can we be sure the Bible in our hand is worthy of our trust?
People who translate Bibles are usually extremely careful to get it right—they respect the word of God and do not want to make a mistake. However, because people are human, mistakes do sometimes creep in—for instance, in one King James Version the verse “let the children be filled” was printed “let the children be killed.” (I’ll bet they did a quick reprinting when they discovered that mistake!) That’s why it’s a good idea to consult several different Bibles if you have a question about a particular verse.
Why do people keep printing different versions of the Bible? Different versions are published because language is constantly changing. You know what the web is, what it means to IM someone, and what it means to be Googled, but a few years ago Google and IM meant nothing, and “the web” applied only to spiders! The King James Version of the Bible is lovely and poetic, but it was written in Shakespeare’s day . . . modern people don’t use words like “verily” and “trow.”
Let’s say that Elvis Presley once wrote a song on a napkin. Just for fun, let’s say he gave the napkin to a man who spoke Spanish, and this man went throughout Mexico singing this song in Spanish. The song became such a hit, in fact, that other people sang it, too—in French and Italian, Japanese and Greek. It would sound different in all those languages, right? But no matter how many times you translated it, you could never change the words Elvis wrote on the napkin. They would always remain perfect and complete, just the way he wrote them. However, occasionally a translator might make a mistake.
Translators of the Bible have made occasional mistakes, too. The good news is that we have many more ancient manuscript copies of the Bible than of any other book in the ancient world. Comparisons of our modern Bibles and those ancient manuscripts have demonstrated that our modern English Bible is very accurate. No original manuscript has ever been found with a mistake in it. Furthermore, the mistakes that have been found in copies are small things that are often corrected in another place in Scripture.
For instance: in your Bible, 2 Chronicles 9:25 says that Solomon had 4,000 horse stalls, but 1 Kings 4:26 may say (depending upon which Bible version you have) he had 40,000 horse stalls . . . and 12,000 horses. Obviously, which passage do you think is accurate? Most modern Bibles have corrected these small errors either in the text or in footnotes.
Thousands of men and women over the years have given their lives to the study and preservation of the Holy Scriptures. God Himself has watched over His Word, and his people have guarded it, even given their lives for it so that others could read the truth about God and his love for them. The Bible is completely trustworthy. You can stake your life on it.
Memory verse: “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word” (Psalm 119:9).
1. Before the invention of the printing press, Bibles had to be copied carefully, word for word, by hand. William Tyndale, known as the “father of the English Bible,” believed that all people had the right to read the Word of God in their own language. Many leaders of the church were terrified lest people begin to read the Bible and think for themselves, so they persecuted Tyndale and other translators. In October 1536, Tyndale was tried for heresy and treason in an unfair trial, then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England's eyes.” This prayer was answered three years later when King Henry VIII published the “Great Bible” for all Englishmen to read.
William Tyndale is not the only man to give his life so that you and I could read a Bible—he is one of hundreds who have done so. Knowing this, how do you feel about the Bible you hold in your hands now?
2. What do the following verses mean? “O Lord, you are righteous, and your regulations are fair. Your laws are perfect, and completely trustworthy” (Ps. 119:137-138).
3. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that anyone can know there is a God simply by looking around him: “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”
Though people can know about God by looking at the creation and realizing that there had to be a creator, they can’t know about Jesus unless they read the Bible or hear the story of Jesus from someone who’s willing to tell them. Creation tells anyone with a willing heart that God created the world and everything in it. The Bible, however, goes a step further—it tells people that sin entered the world and Jesus came to pay the price for mankind’s sin. Without the Bible, people would see that God exists . . . and not have any idea how to reach him.
You’ve heard about people who try all kinds of ways to get to God—through sacrifice, trying to do good deeds, and by observing superstitions. Why is it important that we give them the Bible so they can learn the entire truth?
4. God’s word is not only trustworthy, it is complete. Consider the following Scriptures:
· “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you” (Deut. 4:2).
· “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).
· “And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book” (Rev. 22:18).
Now . . . in light of the verses above, how should you react to someone who tells you of another book of Scripture that is supposedly inspired by God? Are there any other “sacred writings” we should be reading and believing?
Next week we’ll find out.