Are There Errors in the Bible?
You may have wondered or were asked this question. Read on as Rev Dr Joseph Tan, Acting Dean of the School of Theology (English), TCA College, expounds on the topic.
By Rev Dr Joseph Tan
How can we be sure that the Bible is free from errors? Can we truly trust it? Is it reliable?
Though the Bible contains some discrepancies in numbering and ordering of events, it does not contain any errors. Errors are defined as mistakes or contradictions made by the authors, which mislead or mis-inform and thus undermine or compromise the intent of the message.
Cultural Context and Writing Conventions
Bible inerrancy (lack of error) is defined by Millard Erickson as “The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purpose for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”
This definition recognizes the differences in writing conventions between ancient and modern times, which is important in affirming that no major point of theology is threatened by any discrepancy, difference or supposed error.
Supposed Contradictions in the Old Testament
An example of a contradiction is the identity of the person who incited King David to count the fighting men. 2 Samuel 24:1 says it was God, while 1 Chronicles 21:1 states it was Satan. This difference merely represents different perspective of the authors. They were writing from different historical contexts and theological objectives to different audiences. Therefore, it is not a contradiction or error.
Another example of a supposed contradiction is when did Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in 605 BC. Jeremiah 25:1 states it was in “the fourth year of Jehoiakim,” while Daniel 1:1 indicates it was in Jehoiakim’s third year. This is also not a contradiction and is easily explained, as Daniel was using a Babylonian dating system, while Jeremiah was using a Palestinian system of dating which includes the ascension year.
Original Text Inspired by God
With regards to differences in English translations, the various translations may differ as to the precise wording of a given passage, but it is the original text which is inspired and inerrant, not the later copies and translations.
Alleged Errors in the New Testament
Alleged errors in the New Testament can be shown to be overstated. An error is where it misinforms and mislead readers from the truth. The difference in the identity of Joseph’s father in Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 is not an error. Matthew and Luke were writing at least 50 years after Jesus and could have relied on their recollection or on the oral traditions that related Jacob or Heli as the father of Joseph. The point both authors were making for the Jewish audience is that genealogy or family tree is very important and is a matter of honor in society. The difference in the names of Jacob or Heli does not change anything. The truth remains that Joseph was a socially respectable person, regardless of the difference.
Another example is the seeming difference between when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples according to John 20:22 and Acts 1:3-8. Was it after Jesus’ resurrection or after His ascension? What matters is Jesus was a Spirit-filled person and His followers too were Spirit-filled. John and Luke’s version of the timing when the Spirit was given may differ, but it does not change the fact that the disciples received the Holy Spirit, which was an identity mark of the early followers of Jesus.
Inspiration, Inerrancy, Authority
Discussion of errors and inerrancy inevitably involves the subject of inspiration. Inspiration, inerrancy, and authority are necessarily linked; what impacts one impacts the others, and when one is strong (or weak), so are the others. Divine inspiration is about the words of God imparted through the words of men. Some theories of inspiration emphasize only the “words of men” and others only the “words of God.” The “verbal theory” best captures the quality of the Bible as the words of God in the words of men, extending God’s influence over the authors to both their thoughts and, the very words they wrote. This verbal inspiration applies to both writers and their writing, as Erickson explains,
By inspiration of Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers that rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote being the Word of God . . . (verbal) inspiration involved God’s directing the thoughts of the writers, so that those thoughts were precisely the ones that he wished expressed. At times these thoughts were very specific (to the very words); at other times they were more general.
This inspiration applies to the 66 books in our Bible but not to any other. As the canon of Scripture, it is that “collection of writings with an inherent authority as uniquely inspired by God. Canonization was a long process which the early church went through which recognized that authority already existing in certain writings but did not bestow it from an outside sources.”
The books of the Old Testament were already recognized as canonical by the early church, but recognizing this authority in writings from the early church came as they acknowledged the work as coming from an apostle or someone who had access to an apostle, possessing a high Christology (viewing Jesus as divine Son of God), and being useful throughout the whole church for worship and edification. By the end of the fourth century the canon was definitively settled and accepted.
In this process Christians recognized the providence of God in providing a revelation of Himself in the written Word. The 27 New Testament books were not merely added to the Old Testament, but rather became the New Testament, the second part or continuation of the Christian Bible. God Himself providentially chose these books and oversaw their formation together as one body of scripture.
Veracity of the Bible Undeniable
As we examine the text, explain the issues, and respond to the challenges, we can confidently affirm the Bible’s inerrancy and its verbal inspiration. We can trust God for the accurate transmission of His word through the Biblical writers to us. Trust is based on a relationship with a person.
Therefore, if we say we trust God, we will trust His Word. Trusting His Word gives us confidence in its authority as we read the Bible devotionally, study it, and preach from it, that it is truly the Word of God conveyed through the words of men.
Together, the 66 books of the Bible reveal to us everything we need to know about God. Since it is also written in the words of men, it connects with us and unveils humanity’s needs and longings. As the inerrant, inspired, authoritative Word of God, we can trust the veracity of the Bible.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 201-202.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 169.
 Robert Plummer, The Story of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2013), 61.
Reflect & Respond
Do you trust God and trust His Word?
How are you treating the Word of God? Are you faithfully studying His Word and applying the Word of God in your live?
Sign up for Trinity Academy's Bible Series on 1 & 2 Chronicles, Sep 5 & 12 at https://bit.ly/TA_Courses
Check out resources below for further study, or check out the different theological classes at TCA College at www.tca.edu.sg
Sources for further study
Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2016.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.
Farnell, F. David, ed. Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015.
Gamble, Harry Y. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
Geisler, Norman. Biblical Inerrancy: The Historical Evidence. Matthews, NC: Bastion Books, 2013.
Haley, John. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1992.
Kitchen, Kenneth. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 2003.