By the Numbers

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bible Errors or Critic's Errors?

Bible Errors or Critic’s Error?

Atheist Lee Strobel was a journalist living for himself caring about professional success, not moral living. He liked to provoke Christians citing apparent Bible contradictions and difficulties. Not having answers Christians become flustered and embarrassed which made Lee feel smug and superior. He wondered how people could be so naive and dumb to believe the Bible with all its mistakes and absurdities. But when his wife became a Christian, he saw wonderful changes in her life. He began to think that maybe he was judgmental and should look more closely at the Bible. He too became a Christian and his attitude and life changed to godly interests.

Christian philosopher, logician, theologian, author and debater, Dr. Norman Geisler studied the Bible intensely for forty years and made a list of 800 alleged contradictions and errors. Yes, he knew there were difficulties and alleged contradictions. But he knew this as a logically valid syllogism.

God cannot err.
The Bible is God’s Word.
Therefore, the Bible cannot err.

The Bible says, “God is truth” (John 14:6). Jesus said to the Father, “Your Word Is truth” (John 17:17). The Psalmist exclaimed, “Your word is truth” (Ps.119:160). Inspiration is God’s breathing out his truth and God cannot lie (2 Tim. 3:16; Titus 1:2). Yes, men wrote it in their own styles, vocabulary and perspectives but God directed their wills and their pens to record the truth (2 Peter 1:20). So what the Bible says, God says. And yes, humans err, but Jesus was the all-knowing God-man. And that makes a huge difference.

Truth is what corresponds to reality. And Bible truth relates not only to spiritual and moral matters but to history and science as well--it’s simply impossible to separate the two. For example, Christ’s incarnation, virgin birth, not being sinful, miracles, death and resurrection are all vital spiritual teachings, yet inseparable from historical and scientific realities. Jesus said the Old Testament already written was God’s Word and the New Testament yet to be written would be too.

What Bible critics often deny, the archaeologists’ spade has repeatedly dug from the ground. Satan always seeks to instill doubt in the trustworthiness of what God said (Gen. 3:1) and to blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). When one finds an apparent error, acknowledge that it may be in the copies not the original manuscript, or may be a faulty translation, or a wrong interpretation. Dr. Geisler has come up with seventeen common sense principles of interpretation that the critics always seem to ignore. I’ll briefly discuss seven with examples, and suggest sources for resolving alleged errors.    

Critics assume the Unexplained is Unexplainable. Is it wise to assume this passage an impossible contradiction that can’t be explained? Are we certain we haven’t overlooked something? At one time scientists had no natural explanation for meteors, eclipses, tornadoes, and hurricanes. But they didn’t throw up their hands in despair and stop all research. Instead, it challenged and motivated them to further research and discovery. At one time critics said there was no writing in Moses’ day. But writing was discovered two thousand years predating Moses. Critics said the Hittite empire mentioned only in the Bible didn’t exist until the Hittite library was discovered in Turkey. That’s only two of a great many examples.
Critics presume the Bible Guilty Until Proven Innocent. Truth is told far more often than falsity. In all communications, we must assume information given is correct until found faulty. For example, with road signs, traffic signals, food labels, restroom signs, law suits. If these weren’t correct, then accidents, poisoned foods, embarrassment, and jail sentences would destroy us. Innocence isn’t some special privilege granted the Bible but the fair and intelligent approach true in all of life. By signaling out the Bible for negative destructive comment, could the critics be revealing an unfair and hostile prejudice?
Critics Confuse Our Fallible Interpretations with God’s Infallible Revelation. As limited human beings, we all make mistakes. Jesus, the God-man said, “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; Luke 16:17). Scripture is final authority on all it discusses. But we finite humans can misinterpret both God’s Word and God’s world. So keep these two principles in mind: Certain scientific fact today can become changing scientific fantasy tomorrow. And while God’s Word is always right, its human interpreters might not be right. When all truth is in and properly understood, there should be no final conflict between science and Scripture.

Critics Fail to Understand the Context of the Passage. The Bible says, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Wrenching Bible statements from their context can make the Bible seem contradictory and teach things it doesn’t teach. In context, the verse says, "The fool has said in his heart, there’s no God." The Bible interpreter should consider the immediate context, the historical context, and the whole Bible context in some passages. Jesus’ statement “Give unto him who asks you.” wouldn’t mean you’re to give nuclear weapons to a terrorist nation or a loaded pistol to a child. Disregarding context is perhaps the greatest interpreter’s fault.

Critics may Neglect to Interpret Difficult Passages by Clear Ones. Some passages aren’t clear and may appear to teach things opposed to other things clearly taught in the Bible. The classic one is Paul verses James in salvation teaching. James is teaching that salvation before men is seen in good works (James 2:14-26). Whereas Paul is teaching justification before God is by grace through faith taught clearly in many passages (Rom. 4:5; 11:6; Titus 3:5-7; Eph. 2:8-9). Another passage is Philippians 2:12-13. Here Paul is saying in reverence and awe toward God we are responsible to outwardly display the good deeds that God enables us to will and do for his good pleasure. 

Critics may Base a Teaching on an Obscure Passage. Important teachings of Scripture are clear and taught in many places. Things that are rare and obscure should not be regarded as important doctrines. For example, First Corinthians 15:29 mentions “baptized for the dead.” Just what that means we can’t be sure and should not base a doctrine upon it. One snake-handling group built their whole religion around Mark 16:18 “they will take up serpents . . . and it will not harm them.” Paul did this on the island of Malta but it’s not God’s command to the church (Acts 28:3-6).

Critics Presume the Bible Approves all it Records. It doesn’t. Critics point to Rahab’s lie, David’s adultery, Solomon’s polygamy, Moses’ murder and say the Bible’s a shameful immoral book. Inspiration insures a true and accurate record but not God’s approval of human sin. The Bible shows as no other book does how sinful even the best of us are and how desperately we all need God’s grace and forgiveness.

Now if we really don’t want answers to such problems as the critics above raise. Then, of course, we will ignore such answers as given above and feel justified being free to live our own life apart from God and fulfill our own sinful desires. But if we honestly seek to know the truth to alleged errors, I suggest just two sources. When Critics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. And, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, by Gleason L. Archer.

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