Critics of the Bible often claim it's full of inconsistencies. For some Christians, errors in translated versions, such as the KJV, are "too much evidence", and they have begun to consider the Bible to have some "small" errors, but to be right in its overall message. But if God inspired prophets and priests to give flawless and accurate revelations to their recipients, why would he not do the same for the book filled with His message for all mankind? So we examine below the various issues surrounding inerrancy's truth, validity, and consistency.
I'd like to point out that the very subject of this article necessitates that it's written from the Christian point of view that all the books of the Bible are authentic. If someone wants to object that, for example, the Gospels are forgeries, then obviously inerrancy doesn't exist in the Bible. But the question here is whether inerrancy was presumed by the biblical books even if they're authentic, to what degree, and how it was understood.
Therefore, this article argues about the existence of inerrancy from the assumption that all Old and New Testament books are authentic and looks at how the early Church and Jews thought of it.
I. Origin and History of the Doctrine of Inerrancy
I have seen it said, by a Christian no less, that the doctrine of inerrancy is one of the worst hindrances to be invented with respect to Christian doctrine, and that it is a big, unnecessary thing that creates problems. Of course, this was because he felt the pressure of all the postmodern criticisms that one has heard levelled at the Bible.
But as far as I remember, there was the implication that the doctrine of inerrancy was a relatively modern invention that didn't exist in ancient times. Needless to say, the doctrine of inerrancy is not modern belief; in fact it is a very ancient one.
We can go as far back as Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century, who wrote that the authors of the Bible were without error (Epistolae 82, i.3). This already removes any claims of a modern invention of the doctrine. From here we can go straight to the biblical text to see if it says anything on the subject. Many verses imply or allude to inerrancy, though do not directly state it (e.g. Romans 15:4). There are also numerous verses in the Old Testament that say that "God's Word cannot be changed" or the like, but this is meant to be a reference to God's law and commands, not the written text of the Bible itself. However, three verses that I know of directly confirm inerrancy:
1. 2 Timothy 3:16 - "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," - We all know this verse and it speaks for itself. Although Paul has in mind the Old Testament in that verse, this obviously extends to the New Testament as well.
2. John 10:34-35 - "Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—" - Here Jesus cites Psalm 82:6 in trying to contradict the Jews who were discontent with his claim that he was the Son of God. He appeals to Scripture's inerrancy in the last part of verse 35 in order to confirm his point.
3. Acts 1:16 - "“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus." - The same way that prophecies are spoken error-free by God's Spirit, so is the Scripture to which Peter alludes (Psalm 41).
Besides these verses, there is an indirect reference that strongly implies inspiration. In Matthew 5:18 we read: "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Now, wouldn't it be very strange to say this if the Law had entire sections of errors? So our best conclusion is to say that the ancient Christians and the New Testament teach inerrancy.
The answer that you might hear is always the same: "Well for these verses to prove anything, we have to assume inerrancy. Peter could have been wrong or misquoted in Acts 1:16, John 10:35 could have been a misquote of Jesus, and the author of 2 Timothy 3:16 could have been mistaken." Let's think about this without assuming inerrancy. If God wanted to send a message or prophecy to a person/group of people, he would obviously say: 1) something important, and 2) something true. If God doesn't say something true, then this is either because He is lying or because He doesn't know any better. Obviously God doesn't lie. And obviously He knows all things.
Therefore, we establish that anything spoken/revealed by God to a person is true. This is the case with the numerous prophecies given by prophets to kings and so on. Just imagine king Ahab asking Micaiah whether he would be victorious over the Syrians and being told that he would lose, but that he'd live to be 80 years old, instead of dying on the battlefield. Micaiah himself refutes the idea that something untrue can come from God by saying, "If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me." (1 Kings 22:28).
Now if God only gives 100% error-free prophecies to his prophets, doesn't it stand to reason that He would give 100% error-free instructions to the authors of His book - the Bible? This application extends to the books that were chosen to be part of the Old and New Testament canons, so the collection of the New Testament canon was also guided by God, albeit indirectly. This is confirmed by the fact that the New Testament considers the Old Testament to be Scripture, yet the process of collecting the Old Testament canon was essentially the same method as the one of the New (of course with minor differences such as councils, etc). One can also maintain that God could have given a 100% error-free inspiration, but that the writer of the Holy Writ forgot or made a mistake of some of it. But this really begs the question of why God would allow this to happen? Someone can answer, "Well it happened with the copies, didn't it?" But this is actually a mistaken analogy. The vast majority of the supposed errors in copies of manuscripts revolve around deviations from the original manuscripts; not errors with respect to truth (history, logic, math, etc). The places that copyist errors have corrupted such truths are well-known (except for names and numbers and other details we can't verify). I think God could have easily prevented the originals from getting any of His message wrong, much like an artist can fully express his conception on a canvas, and not worry about deficient copies of his artwork (e.g. a wallpaper of the Mona Lisa that has some colors faint or off hue). Moreover, in those days memory was far better than in our own, possibly due to less "noise" - people in the 16th century could walk out after a sermon and recite it perfectly to the word. So we really can't object that one has to assume inerrancy in the Bible in order to prove inerrancy.
Of course, the view of the inerrancy of Scripture wasn't limited to the ancient Christians. It is well-known that the Jewish scribes were so insistent on the absence of errors from their copies of the Bible that even one error (in terms of a letter) would cause the whole manuscript to be burned. The early first century Jewish writer, Philo, considered a translation of the Pentateuch to be inspired (Life of Moses, II.38-40). Imagine what he thought of the actual books Moses wrote himself! And we can be sure that he didn't think anything less of the rest of the Tanakh.
It is true that the practice and idea of every single letter being correct in the Torah/Tanakh may have come late in Judaism. We do see variations in the textual transmission of the Old Testament in places such as the Dead Sea Scrolls versus the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint (LXX), but this isn't any different from the case of the New Testament which was considered inerrant, or at least authoritative enough to be copied with care, at a very early stage (1 Clement, written c.96 AD, in chapter 34 considers 1 Corinthians Scripture). Moreover, some practices may not have been seen as problematic. For example, the Masoretes decided to add vowels to the Hebrew text of the Bible which originally didn't have them. Similarly, books such as Ecclesiastes seem to have been copied in language contemporary to the scribe copying the book (kind of like copying the KJV, but writing it in 20th century English). Without a doubt the Old Testament laws had to be error-free in places such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So, we really don't have a case for an errant origin of the Old (or New) Testament.
Overall, we cannot dismiss the doctrine of inerrancy as some late innovation without precedent - it is firmly rooted in both Jewish and Christian history.
II. What inspiration is and how it works
So how did the biblical authors record the divine revelation they received onto the books? Prophecy in the Old Testament was usually given as a revelation which the prophet then remembered and brought to the recipient, through his own memory. But this wasn’t always the case, as we see in Saul’s case in 1 Samuel 10:9-13, 19:20-24. So we have two options: either the biblical authors received a revelation which they remembered and wrote down, or they were directly “moved” while writing the actual books.
The Bible strongly hints that the second situation was the case. In Mark 12:36, Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1, saying that David spoke by the Holy Spirit. It is somewhat possible to understand this to mean that he was repeating what he had understood through revelation. However, this is even less likely, when Jesus said that the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), so he certainly excluded the possibility that the scribe might have made an error through forgetting/confusing something. Moreover, in the same way that Saul was “moved” to prophesy in 1 Samuel 10 and 19 (and in the second case, this was far from his goal), in the same way the biblical authors could have been influenced. I say influenced, because neither Saul nor the biblical authors had their choice removed from them - they had control, but yielded to God, the same way a person who knows how to ride a bike yields to his habit of rote memory and doesn’t really think about it.
So what about allegations of “sloppy” writing in some of the biblical books? For example, Mark’s gospel is noted for its “bad” Greek. How does this square with biblical inspiration? Let’s take a look at a basic fact. Nobody disputes that the authors of the Bible wrote in their own language and used their own expressions: the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and some Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. So inspiration could be an “indescribable sound/feeling” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), or prophesying in tongues (1 Corinthians 14), or it could be an author writing (true) things down in the language and expression that he understood best. In such a situation, we cannot fault Mark if his Greek wasn't as eloquent as, say, Luke's, or any of the more polished Greco-Roman writers such as Xenophon. There is a big difference between incorrect grammar and belabored or "rough" language.
With this in mind, I would like to make an even bigger point. If inspiration does not change how one writes grammar-wise and expresses himself in the language of his choosing, then inspiration wouldn't have changed things such as the way the author prepared his format. What I mean is this: Paul, Peter, James and John write letters and epistles under inspiration and so the books have the format of such. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John write Gospels and therefore their formats are different. Would it then be impossible that the way these books were prepared was also not tampered with in the small details? If the authors of the Gospels included stories that they heard or read elsewhere, then why is it impossible for the inclusion of information from such sources to be under the guidance of inspiration? Or when Paul says that the letter to the Roman church was written by his amanuensis, Tertius (Romans 16:22), is it impossible that both were under inspiration, or Paul only, with Tertius not making a mistake? Certainly not, in my opinion. If Sylvanus was the one who acted as scribe for Peter in 1 Peter, as seems from the difference in language between 1 Peter and 2 Peter, there is nothing impossible for both of them to have been inspired and for Sylvanus to suggest words that are better. Or perhaps Peter approved them under inspiration, if Sylvanus wasn't inspired.
In support of this view one can cite Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter 39, where he quotes Papias on the origin of the Gospel of Mark. He writes,
Papias gives also in his own work other accounts of the words of the Lord on the authority of Aristion who was mentioned above, and traditions as handed down by the presbyter John; to which we refer those who are fond of learning. But now we must add to the words of his which we have already quoted the tradition which he gives in regard to Mark, the author of the Gospel.
Papias does not explicitly mention inerrancy, though he strongly implies it. Eusebius, however, quotes Papias uncritically and without comment on something that McCabe accuses Luke 1:1-4 of proof of non-inspiration. The way Papias describes the origin of the Gospel of Mark is much like what Luke 1:1-4 tells us, and it's the same as our theory about Sylvanus and Peter above. In Eusebius' day every Christian, regardless of creed, accepted the doctrine of inerrancy, so we see that the early Christians did not have an issue with such a view of inspiration, nor should we see it as problematic.
“This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” These things are related by Papias concerning Mark. (Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter 39, 14-15)
Simply put, the genre that each book was written in, remained the same: Gospels gathered information from reliable sources, letters sometimes used amanuenses, and then there's the classical understanding of inspiration in the case of Revelation. In this way, we can understand how Paul seems to be differentiating between his own opinion and that of God's in 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12 - he is doing nothing more than giving his own opinion under divine inspiration, which happens to be (pretty accurate) advice. Similarly, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross, even though he completely understood the purpose of his death, as well as that God hadn't forsaken him in any fundamental sense.
III. Verses cited against Inerrancy
Although we've given some verses in the first section that support inerrancy, some verses have been given as evidence to the contrary. Here we list them:
1. Luke 1:1-4 - Joseph McCabe writes that, although believers consider the Gospels inspired, "the opening verses of Luke plainly say the contrary" (The Story of Religious Controversy, "Did Jesus Ever Live?"). McCabe mentions earlier in that same chapter that the prologue shows Luke isn't an eyewitness, so his argument is that the fact that Luke gathered his information from what he heard means that his Gospel wasn't inspired. To this I answer that what Luke heard, he wrote down under inspiration, with details fixed and some added and removed, because the inspiration did not change the way the man wrote, but only what facts he related and the central plan and purpose of his Gospel. Luke obviously wrote down traditions that existed in Christianity prior to the composition of his Gospel. But as we discussed in he previous section, this is all in line with the genre of Luke's work. There is nothing uninspired about learning stories about Jesus from natural sources and using them in an inspired work any more than using examples from one's own life (which are learned naturally) in the same inspired work, or the type of vocabulary the authors used, which they also, obviously, learned through non-miraculous means.
2. 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12 - These verses seem to have Paul acting as if 1 Corinthians contained some of his own opinion, and some of God's, whereas if the letter was inspired, all of it would be God's command/advice. This, however, is based on a misunderstanding of the phrase, "To the rest I say - I and not the Lord..." (v.12). Paul is speaking from his own point of view and there is nothing impossible for his point of view to be correct and thus recorded under divine inspiration. Moreover, the issue is about commands and verse 12 talks about practical advice, which is nevertheless the best in such a situation. I would also like to note that in 1 Cor. 7:6, Paul says that he is giving his opinion by "way of permission", that God is allowing Paul's correct opinion to be recorded under inspiration, and this is how Origen seems to have understood the phrase [Origen, Commentary on John, Book 10, Chapter 5].
3. Amanuenses - An amanuensis was the scribe for an author. He was the person actually writing the letter as the "author" behind it spoke. He sometimes made alterations, or suggestions. Paul uses an amanuensis at least once (Romans 16:22) and 1 Peter most likely does so as well (Sylvanus - 1 Peter 5:12), especially seeing the difference in style between 1 Peter and 2 Peter. But as we have noted in the previous section, both the amanuensis and the author could have been inspired, or the amanuensis could have written down the inspiration errorlessly. Even suggestions by the amanuensis do not require him to be inspired, as the inspired author would be the one to approve them (if they were asked as a better way of phrasing).
IV. Quotations of Apocrypha, Greek Poets, and so on
The Greek poets, especially in ancient days, such as Epimenides' day (600 BC), were intricately connected with religious belief - pagan Greek religious belief. The same can be seen in other cultures such as Arabia where "poet" was basically a synonym for "prophet" in Muhammad's day and earlier. Occasionally one will see Paul quoting a Greek poet in his letters (and once in Acts). I've rarely seen this as an objection against the inspiration of the Bible, but I have seen it used as such, the implied argument having been that these Greek authors, some of them writing from a religious angle, would not be quoted (as if they were Scripture?). The problem is that Paul never quotes anything but the Old Testament as Scripture and only uses Greek poets to prove a point. This would be no different than if one quotes the Greek pagan Xenophanes on the nature of God, and we agree with it, when it so closely matches what Scripture and common sense about the perfection of God should lead us to believe (i.e. God is perfect, just, loving, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc). Read what this Xenophanes says about what the True God would be like, and equally as importantly, what He is not:
Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another...But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form. Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds. The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair. The gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning, but by seeking they find in time what is better. One god, the greatest among gods and men, neither in form like unto mortals nor in thought.... He sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over. But without toil he swayeth all things by the thought of his mind. And he abideth ever in the selfsame place, moving not at all; nor doth it befit him to go about now hither now thither. (W. H. Auden (ed.), The Portable Greek Reader)
I find this to be one of the most amazing statements in pre-Christian religious thought. This shows that even the Greek philosophers that had no contact with Judaism or Christianity understood that their idols and false gods were nothing logical. Xenophanes obviously believes in polytheism, "One god, the greatest among gods and men," but we can obviously agree with everything that follows that statement as completely in-tune with Christian theology! But that certainly wouldn't make us polytheists or pagans if we quoted Xenophanes, saying we agree with him. In the same way it doesn't make Paul a syncretist to quote a non-Christian poet or philosopher whose thoughts in a certain place happened to be insightfully true, as in the case of Xenophanes.
The Greek concept of righteousness, or theosebeia, does not denote Greek paganism. This is piety in the sense of religious devotion and so one doesn't need to limit it to a particular religion. The Jews have had a similar concept with the Noahide Laws. These were formulated as early as 200 AD. They are seven precepts that Gentiles all over the world are to observe universally: a conscience - the same exact thing Paul speaks of when he says that, "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:14-16). This is also how the early Christians understood the citations of pagan poets on religious matters and never had a problem with it. For example, Origen writes:
[H]e [Paul] becomes (1 Cor. 9:20-22) to the Jews as a Jew that he may gain the Jews, and to those under the law as under the law that he may gain those under the law, and to them that are without law as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that he may gain those without law...When he shaves his head and makes an offering, (Acts 21:24, 26) or when he circumcises Timothy, (Acts 16:3) he is a Jew; but when he says to the Athenians, (Acts 17:23) “I found an altar with the inscription, To the unknown God. That, then, which ye worship not knowing it, that declare I unto you,” and, “As also some of your own poets have said, For we also are His offspring,” then he becomes to those without the law as without the law, adjuring the least religious of men to espouse religion, and turning to his own purpose the saying of the poet, “From Love do we begin; his race are we.” (Aratus, Phenom. 5) And instances might perhaps be found where, to men not Jews and yet under the law, he is under the law. [Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 10, Chapter 5]
Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, and many others have recognized the use of non-Christian poets who expounded upon righteousness (as a religious doctrine) in Paul. They clearly understood that the theological thought behind these pagan poets was what Paul cited, and not the religious dogma of their pagan belief. Nevertheless, let's examine each of the verses where Paul quotes a pagan poet.
Acts 17:28 - 'for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’' This verse quotes not one, but two (or perhaps with Cleanthes, three!) poets. The first quote is from Epimenides of Crete (c. 600 BC), the second is from Aratus' Phainomena. There is even more from Aratus that Paul paraphrases ("from love do we begin; his race are we" - Aratus, Phen. 5). In these quotes, Paul is using pagan poets' theological statements about Zeus, to describe something about God! But is this really syncretism and therefore evidence of non-inspiration? Obviously a pagan Greek poet can get something true, either by accident, or through some deeper thinking. When Paul quotes these two poets, he isn't agreeing with them with the deity they are talking about, but with the concept they are expounding. Paul is merely trying to explain Christian (and Jewish) theology to the pagans at Athens and is trying to prove his case by saying, "Look, even your own poets say the same thing!" So to consider Paul's citation of Greek poets as some kind of evidence of syncretism is a misconception. The earliest Christians knew about this (see Origen, Commentary on John, Book 10, Chapter 5, quoted above), and understood that there was no syncretism.
1 Corinthians 15:33 - 'Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”' This citation probably comes from Menander's comedy, Thais. Menander (late 4th century BC) was the best representative of the Greek New Comedy movement. He was famous enough in Paul's day for Plutarch to compare him to the great Old comedian, Aristophanes (fl. 5th century BC). For Paul to quote the obviously true practical advice found in one of Menander's comedies is neither surprising, nor alarming for the doctrine of inspiration, any more than agreeing with Xenophanes' descriptions of "The True God", means we agree with Xenophanes' Greek pagan religion (see above).
Titus 1:12-14 - 'One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.' Here Paul refers to Epimenides of Crete again, as in Acts 17:28. He calls Epimenides "a prophet of their own" with respect to the Cretans, though this is obviously a description of a poet that the pagan Greeks considered a prophet, and thus Paul certainly doesn't consider him one. It is no more a syncretism by Paul to figuratively say that he was one of the Cretans' prophet, any more than the Old or New Testament referring to other people's gods means that it acknowledges the existence of those gods - it's simply a description of other nations' religion with respect to themselves.
1 Timothy 5:4 - 'But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.' This is supposed to be very similar to a parallel in Terence (Andria, Act IV), though I haven't been able to find it. But assuming there is a parallel, is it impossible that both Terence and Paul could have considered piety to start at home with the parent giving it to the child, with Paul quoting Terence as he does Menander? There's nothing pagan theologically or otherwise in such a moral outlook.
Acts 26:14 - 'And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’' This is found in Euripides' Bacchae, and Aeschylus' Agamemnon. The context in Euripides is that Pentheus has been imprisoning followers of Bacchus and not allowing them to perform the rites of his cult. When he tries to imprison Bacchus himself, disguised in human form, the chains fall off him. Bacchus tells him to release the prisoners and not to continue the ban on the rites, saying that he is disobeying a god, and thus kicking against the goads. This, however, is certainly not the source for Luke. In Luke's day the saying was commonplace to refer to disobeying divine will as "kicking against the goads". The fourth century Roman emperor who tried to return Rome to paganism, Julian, writes:
The whole world is my city and fatherland, and my friends are the gods and lesser divinities and all good men whoever and wherever they may be. Yet it is right to respect also the country where I was born, since this is the divine law, and to obey all her commands and not oppose them, or as the proverb says kick against the pricks. For inexorable, as the saying goes, is the yoke of necessity. (Loeb Classical Library)
He certainly wouldn't have been a fan of Christian phrases, so his source would not have been Acts, as it seems to have been for countless Christian writers in his age (Ignatius of Antioch, Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Theodorus Studites, John of Damascus, etc). The widespread usage of the saying is further attested by Diogenianus of Heraclea (fl. early 2nd century), who wrote:
You are kicking against the pricks: the saying is clear.
So we can be sure that Luke did not read Euripides or Aeschylus, or even Pindar, who mentions it as well - the proverb was in popular usage to denote defying divine will, and perhaps irresistible force in general. It wouldn't be strange for Jesus to say this to Paul, as he was acquainted with Hellenism and Greek culture well enough, as Acts and his letters show, to understand the expression. The phrase simply seems to have become general usage for rejection of divine will which Jews and Christians could apply to God, much like the Greek word for God, theos, was originally for a god in the Greek pantheon, and was adapted by the Jews and then Christians for God - Theos. Had the phrase had any pagan overtones, the numerous Christian writers that used it after (and because of) Acts would have certainly tried to explain the matter. To use a phrase that originally had (pagan) religious meaning, but became common usage is not syncretism any more than participation in the Olympic Games, which were founded in honor of Zeus, or using the symbol of the laurel wreath today makes one a devotee of the ancient Greek pagan religion.
Jude 1:9, 14 - These verses quote two books that are not in the Bible. For an extensive survey of other non-canonical book references in the Bible, see "Lost" Books of the Bible?.
I'll only briefly talk about Jude 1:9, 14 and 1-2 Peter here, giving a general summary of the information found in the link. Jude quotes 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses. 1-2 Peter also cite some of 1 Enoch's elements and 2 Peter 2:22 seems to quote The Story of Ahikar. This is nothing more than the same example from above when Paul quotes various Greek poets, even calling one a Cretan "prophet of their own" figuratively. The points in 1 Enoch (and the Assumption of Moses) are used as proof of aspects of Christian theology that are already believed by 1 Peter and Jude. These are nothing more than instructions on righteousness, punishment of fallen angels, and the idea of a few believers in the end who are going to be saved by God's armies (i.e. Daniel 11-12, Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 20:7-9).
In those citations, there isn't anything that is cited that introduces some new doctrine as if the referenced writings (1 Enoch, The Assumption of Moses) are authoritative - they are merely used to say that the Christian interpretation of theology is an inescapable conclusion even amongst the Jews of that area (Asia Minor). 1 Peter 1:1 is addressed to Asia Minor, and probably the other two letters have a similar geographical location seeing the affinity with that region in 1 Peter with Peter. The Jews addressed in Asia Minor had a very high reverence for Noah since the second century BC [Ben Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Vol. 2, (2007), p.190]. This would have made 1 Enoch, which deals extensively with Noah, particularly popular with them, and thus Jude, 1 Peter and 2 Peter would have without a doubt wanted to do what Paul did at the Aeropagus in Athens: to have something the audience cherished to inescapably confirm the Christian message. This doesn't make Jude and 1-2 Peter accept 1 Enoch (or Assumption of Moses) as Scripture, especially since the only two actual quotes of the two apocrypha (Jude 1:9, 14) can both be found in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 33:2, Zechariah 3:2), and the rest of the references are nothing new to Christian theology. Jude and 1-2 Peter are basically saying: "Christian theology says this and so do the writings (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses) which you believe." It is simply like assuming that the square root of 2 is rational in order to prove that it's not. Similar examples can be found in the Talmud, such as citations of Sirach (see link above for further information), which was not believed by the Jews to be canonical.
V. Copyist Errors
1. Imperfection in God's Word?
This topic is both famous and infamous. One out of three critics will quote you from the KJV supposed contradictions such as, "How many stalls of horses did Solomon have: 40,000 (1 Kings 4:26) or 4000 (2 Chronicles 9:25)?" When apologists reply that these are errors in the manuscript tradition found in versions such as the KJV, the reply is usually either dismissed as an "escape" tactic, or the general idea of any Bible copy having an error is then cited as proof of a contradiction and a refutation of divine inspiration and "perfection".
But let's think about that second argument. Would anyone argue that the Bible has errors if someone went to a hotel that had one of those Bibles, ripped out a few pages, and left it there. Or does the Jefferson Bible, which Thomas Jefferson wrote by editing the miraculous elements out of the Gospels, constitute proof of errors in the Bible or its transmission?
The question then quickly revolves around the fact that a large majority of the Bibles in the past have had these mistakes (in the present most have corrected the manuscript tradition in places where there was a clear deviation). But we can already note a philosophical assumption - an irrelevant detail such as the number of Solomon's horse-stables in one particular version hardly makes the Bible imperfect. The early Christians never considered translations and manuscript versions that had errors to mean that Scripture itself had errors, even when present in a large majority of the text. For example, when Philoxenos of Mabbug decided to make a more literal translation of the Greek New Testament, he wrote:
When those of old undertook to translate these passages they made mistakes in many things, whether intentionally or through ignorance. These mistakes concerned not only what is taught about the Economy in the flesh, but various other things concerning different matters. It was for this reason that we have now taken the trouble to have the Holy Scriptures translated anew from Greek into Syriac. Syriac Translations of the Bible: The Philoxenian
Had someone told Philoxenus that the Bible has errors because the Peshitta did, he would have quickly answered that man, not God's Word, made errors in translating the Holy Scriptures, whether intentionally or not.
2. Evidence of Biblical Unreliability?
In versions such as the KJV, in 2 Samuel 8:4 David captures 1700 horsemen, but in 1 Chronicles 18:4 it is 7000. The true value was probably 1700 - in those days cavalry was usually a small fraction of the number of infantry. Having noted above that this copyist error does not invalidate the Bible being perfect or God's Word, do such deviations in the manuscript tradition make the Bible's instructions unreliable?
With 200 years of archaeology and textual criticism, modern versions of the Bible have the text basically the way it was written thousands of years ago. There are minor variations between copies, but usually we know which words are questionable, and they involve variations such as "Jesus Christ" vs "Christ Jesus". We know which words are under question and it is usually nothing besides a few letters or words. We do have some examples of major variations, such as the "Western" text of Acts which has 10% more text than the one in today's Bibles, but this was just one small branch of manuscripts, with mostly explanatory notes, a sort of commentary that was done in the Greco-Roman world on many works ranging from the plays of Aristophanes to the works of Posidonius. For example, it has been famously noted that in Acts 5:12 Peter and John are at Solomon's Portico. However, later (verses 14-15) they are outside. The "Western" Acts explains that in the meantime they went outside to heal. We can already see that these differences are not crucial regarding Christian doctrine at all. But if we can talk about an author's style, then we know that we have the text basically the same way that he wrote it. God didn't deprive any Christian with access to the Bible at any point in history with respect to what He wants behavior and salvation-wise. If someone wants to argue that a numerical value, one of the first things to become obscured in scribal copies of anything, which wasn't present in the originals proves the Bible unclear in its message, somehow disproves the Bible as being God's Word, then they haven't understood the purpose of the Bible.
Such variations are called "contradictions" by some from other religions such as Islam, sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses, and unbelievers in general. But the word is really a misnomer: a variation is not really an error or a contradiction - as we have noted above these do not make the Bible somehow "imperfect" when the original writings had no errors. But are the Bible's instructions reliable: can we know what it teaches with these "variations" present in the manuscript tradition?
The answer is, "Without a doubt we do!" Atheist Richard Carrier, in a debate with James Patrick Holding (here) claims that if the Bible were a guide as to how to build a rocket, he wouldn't get on that Rocket with a c.2.5% variation in the text. This is a very, very poor analogy. The Bible's message is very simple - love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39), and that's its whole message (Matthew 22:40). Most of the rest of it is wisdom, examples from history for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11), and moral instructions in general with some specific situations that are constantly reiterated (such as being free from the Law). To say that the Bible is an incomplete, untrustworthy "rocket ship instruction book" is to have completely missed the point.
IV. Why does the Bible need to be inerrant to be true and perfect, or to be God's Word?
1. Can't the Bible be "essentially true" even if there are some "little" errors?
But some people might say, “Well so what if the Bible has some little errors. It’s still a good and useful book.” There are many problems with this statement. First of all, this is pretty much a concession that people make in the face of pressure to accept someone’s point of view. “Some little errors” pretty soon becomes “many little errors”, which becomes “many big errors” and eventually that attitude leads those very same people to throw out the Bible entirely. Moreover, if the Bible couldn’t get historical facts right, how can we trust it to have spiritual things correctly?
2. What about all those Bible contradictions?
You will often find skeptics of the Bible saying that it is full of contradictions and inconsistencies. This issue is dealt with extensively in detail at the Bible contradictions page (see: Bible contradictions). Usually the objections range from the absurd to some more serious questions about history and the like in the Old and New Testament. Typically, I’ve seen alleged contradictions come in these categories:
- Copyist errors and name variations - Of copyist errors we gave some examples above. In the case of name variations that were completely acceptable then as they are in modern times (i.e. how Peter Forsskål would spell his name, depending on whether his recipients were German, English, etc), the example of Araunah (2 Samuel 24:24) vs. Ornan (1 Chronicles 21:24-25) comes to mind. Variant spellings can commonly be seen throughout the Bible, such as Nebuchadnezzar (original: Nebuchadrezzar).
- Inability to detect figurative language such as metaphors and hyperbole - when Job describes rain as jars pouring from the sky (Job 38:37), this is not to be taken literally as elsewhere (Job 26:8) the book describes the actual process when it is being literal and not figurative.
- Misunderstanding of cultural expressions - of these kind we can mention examples such as the statement that David's mighty warriors once killed 300 or 800 enemy soldiers in a single battle, or the question whether the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 personally met Jesus or through servant messengers.
- General practices out of convenience - under this category fall the objection-questions such as, “Is the bat a bird?”, and the mention of the daric in king David's time (1 Chronicles 29:7).
- Inability to understand a point, pesher/midrash - Various verses fall under this category, especially prophecies said to have been fulfilled by Jesus, as well as figurative/typological statements such as Jeremiah stating that God didn't require sacrifice from the Hebrews (Jeremiah 7:22 - the point is that this wasn't the main idea of what God wanted).
- The Bible and non-biblical sources - This section often provides evidence that the Bible is correct about certain historical facts. Sometimes it is maintained that the opposite is the case, but this is usually due to an erroneous interpretation of the evidence (i.e. the existence of an Egyptian pharaoh named Zerah, mentioned in 2 Chronicles 14:9), or because the evidence simply hadn't been found yet (the Pool of Siloam - discovered in 2004; considered nonexistent until then).
- Absence of evidence - A lack of extrabiblical evidence for the existence of Abraham or Samson in no way disproves them. Many details in history are known only through the work of a single person whose writing survived, such as a diarist. A number of things were considered unimportant in their day, or forgotten, or unable to be recorded in writing by parties of interest. For example, virtually half of the philosophers mentioned in Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae would've been unknown if it hadn't been for his work.
- Complex historical/theological narratives - Jonah 1:7-10; tangled history (in Acts 7?). People sometimes summarized things for brevity's sake, and rearranged order and metaphor were employed quite frequently. Thucydides famously said regarding his historical work, that in places where he didn't have access to the actual speech by an important figure during a crucial event, he wrote one as best and close as he could to what was actually said. This doesn't mean that he invented speeches in their sense or entity (only in the details), but clearly one couldn't hang him if it could be discovered that so and so general didn't actually start his speech technicall with, "Hear, O countrymen!" Sometimes a summary smoothes over, omits, rearranges, and changes certain implications about details. One must remember that summaries (smoothing over), omission, rearrangement (merely by presentation and without statement of fact) and implications about detail change (implications and not assertions) with expressions and intent with respect to the proper audience are not errors the way a journalist or defendant in court today or any day (such as ancient contempt of Herodotus' inaccuracies) would be held accountable for. For example, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is presented as not having gone to preach or do miracles outside Galilee until the Passover on which he was killed. We know from John (and from minor references in the Synoptics such as Luke 4:44) that this wasn't the case. The Temple cleansing is another example: the Synoptics (MT/MK/LK) place it at the end of Jesus' ministry, John at the beginning (John 2). Some authors suppose there were two cleansings, but this does not seem probable to me, especially seeing the similar language with which it's described. Another example is the Resurrection accounts, one or two demoniacs healed(?) (Matthew 8:28-34 vs Mark 5:1-20//Luke 8:26-39), or even John's Gospel compared with the other three.
In conclusion, to the question of Bible contradictions, many, many of them are nothing but empty attacks. These are by skeptics who either: a) simply repeat what they've read elsewhere without examining anything, or b) want to get as many empty and absurd objections into one place as possible, because perhaps they think that this will equal a valid one (Skeptic's Annotated Bible site for example). There are few legitimate questions surrounding biblical contradictions, which shows the Bible's overall consistency.