KEY SCRIPTURES FROM WHICH THOSE WHO DENY INERRANCY ARGUE THEIR CASE
Because those who deny inerrancy cannot win the debate with reference to the authority of Christ, the apostles, or the testimony of key thinkers in theology until the late eighteenth century and the ascendency of post-enlightenment rationalism, the only recourse they have remaining is to locate and prove that verifiable errors exist in Scripture. The problem with this is logic is that those who hold the doctrine of inerrancy, restrict that quality to the autographa, none of which are known to exist today. Yes, we have manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts which are copies of the autographa [or, more likely, copies of copies, etc.], but inerrancy can only be ascribed to these documents to the extent that it can be proven that they completely, totally, and accurately reflect the readings found in the autographa.
This is not as much of an issue where the Old Testament is concerned as it is with the New Testament. According to McDowell, the scribes who copied the Old Testament scrolls in the days preceding and including the Talmudic era had a lengthy list of procedures they followed to ensure that the copy was an exact duplicate of the examplar being followed (1999:74).
When the Masoretes began the task of copying the Old Testament Scriptures following the Talmudic era, they invented additional safeguards to maintain the integrity of the text (McDowell, 75-77). The results of their labors, according to Packer, Tenney, and White, is that only 1 in 1,580 letters was the result of miscopying, and that of these errors, they were corrected when recopied (1980:67). This suggests that the probability of a suspect reading in the Old Testament text is less than 0.0063% [or sixty-three/ten-thousandths of one percent]. What errors are known to exist in the Old Testament manuscripts we have available today appear to be counting errors and are easily correctable from other manuscripts.
Where textual criticism and the theories as to manuscript-type priority are more crucial is when we are dealing with the New Testament text. Why is this crucial to the doctrine of inerrancy? I say that establishing the identity of the New Testament text is crucial because only with a firmly established text can we then ascertain whether or not the text contains known or provable errors of fact. This is why I lean towards Byzantine-priority [aka Majority text] theory as the most likely identity of the New Testament text instead of Alexandrian-priority [aka Westcott-Hort, or critical text] theory.
According to the proponents of critical text theory, the purity of the New Testament text ranges from 85% to 99.9%. This is a wide margin for error. And although they claim that no “major” or essential doctrine is affected by the readings deemed to be questionable, the fact of the matter is that one cannot, with any degree of logical consistency, accept both critical text theory and the doctrine of inerrancy in the autographa. The very foundation of textual criticism, regardless of whether one accepts Byzantine-priority or Alexandrian-priority, is that one of those texts is most likely or best represents the autographa.
As demonstrated by Pickering, the problem with any view based on Alexandrian-priority theory, is that one is left with a New Testament text which is riddled with inconsistencies, errors of historical and scientific facts, and flat out contradictions (2012:195-210). Thus, if one accepts the view that the Alexandrian text type is more likely to represent the text found in the autographa, one cannot escape a corollary view that the New Testament text contains errors of historical and scientific fact. To repeat what I said in the previous paragraph: one cannot, with any degree of logical consistency, maintain a view that the autographa of the New Testament were without error while maintaining at the same time that the Alexandrian text-type best represents the text found in those autographa.
Thus, those who claim to hold to inerrancy, while giving priority to the Alexandrian text-type, are guilty of wanting to have their theological cake and be able to eat it too.
Beegle, as an example of one who claims the Bible has errors, points to five passages in the Bible which to him prove that it has errors of fact.
1: Matthew 27:9-10
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”*
In this passage, Matthew connects the price paid to Judas for his betrayal and Judas’ remorse and attempting to return the money to the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin in turn using that money to purchase a potter’s field for the burial of the poor, with the prophet Jeremiah. (Cf. Jeremiah 18-19; 32:6-15; Zechariah 11:12-14.) The actual citation in the passage is almost entirely from Zechariah, thus leading the opponents of inerrancy to claim that Matthew erred in his citation.
The real situation is that this is a case where Matthew is telescoping both prophecies with one reference. It must be kept in mind that first century writers trained in the rabbinical traditions did not subscribe to Kate Turabian’s or the Modern Language Association’s concepts of notation. According to Archer, Talmudic standards of citation indicate that when citing one of what we know as the “Minor Prophets” [or what the rabbis simply called “The Twelve,” in a reference which was also connected to one of the “Major” prophets, the common practice was to attribute the citation to the better known Major prophet (1982:345. See also Criswell, 1991:1387). Another explanation which has been given is that because Jeremiah is the first book in the Prophets, it was common practice for writers of the time, when citing any of the prophets, to simply cite the quotation as being from Jeremiah (MacArthur, 1997:1447. See also Radmacher, 2007:1540; Ryrie, 1995:1568.)
A similar situation appears in Mark 1:2-3, in which Mark quotes from both Malachi and Isaiah, but attributes the quotation to Isaiah. Given the fact that Mark attributes the quote to Isaiah and not Jeremiah, it would appear the explanation provided by Archer is more plausible, but regardless, there is no demonstrable error in either case.
2: Jude 14-15
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
Beegle claims this is in error in Scripture because Jude attributes the prophecy to Enoch (1973:176-179). The prophecy comes from the pseudopigraphical Book of Enoch. Beegle also believes this to be an error because Jude counts Enoch being in the seventh generation from Adam according to Genesis 5. He also claims that the prophecy itself is spurious.
Beegle’s reasoning, if it can truly be called reasoning and not mere gainsaying, is unconvincing at best. In the first place, he disputes Jude’s citation because Genesis 5 shows Enoch to be in the sixth generation following Adam. But the Greek text does not say that Enoch was in the seventh generation following Adam. The Greek says that he was the seventh apo Adam, indicating, according to Thayer, that he was the seventh of that order. Beegle has not only disingenuously not told us what the text actually says [and means], but he has also not informed us concerning the Hebrew practice of inclusive counting, so that we do not begin numbering the generations of Adam with Seth, but with Adam himself—thus Enoch is the seventh of the order of Adam and no error exists in the counting.
It must also be noted here that simply because Jude is citing a non-canonical source does not make the source spurious. Even though the Book of Enoch is not canonical and was not written by Enoch, it is within the province of God’s sovereignty through the Holy Spirit to have inspired such a prophecy through Enoch, and for that prophecy to have been preserved in the book which bears his name. It is also within His province and sovereignty to so inspire its inclusion in Jude’s epistle as genuine and authoritative.
Beegle’s use of this example is selective at best, if not disingenuous and duplicitous. He does not follow the same standard when Paul, for example, cites the pagan poet Aretus in Acts 17:28 (Archer, 430. See also Geisler & Howe, 1992:549-550). Whatever may be said of Beegle’s motives, his logic is specious and given to sophistry rather than sound reasoning.
3: Acts 21:10-11, 27-40
And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” (Acts 21:10-11)
When the prophecy is compared to what actually happened at Paul’s arrest, several problems become apparent. The text does not indicate whether Paul’s hands and feet were bound by the Jews at Jerusalem. The scripture simply says that the Jews took hold of Paul and “dragged him out of the temple (21:30).” Following that, the text says that “they were seeking to kill him (21:31).” The account of Paul’s arrest further indicates that, rather than the Jews turning Paul over to the Romans willingly, the Romans rescued Paul from the Jews and took Paul against the wishes of the Jews—and then Paul was placed in chains.
One explanation which has been offered is that Agabus’ erred in his prophecy, but the doctrine of inerrancy is not compromised because all that is affirmed in Acts 21:10-11 is that Agabus delivered the prophecy. Those who adopt this view state the text does not affirm Agabus was accurate in delivery of the details of the prophecy.
There is another explanation, a better one which conforms to the doctrine of inerrancy without compromising the accuracy of the prophecy given by Agabus.
First off, there is nothing in Agabus’ prophecy which states that the Jews at Jerusalem would willingly deliver Paul into the hands of the Gentiles. The lack of any qualification by Agabus concerning this issue means there is no error. Had Agabus stated the Jews would willingly turn Paul over to the Gentiles, then there would be error on this point.
The second issue is that nowhere does the text say that Paul was not first bound by the Jews. There is nothing which states that he was not already bound when the Romans placed him in chains. Keep in mind, those who attribute error to Agabus must prove that Paul had not been bound prior to the Romans taking him into custody. It cannot be proven from the passage and therefore we cannot attribute error to Agabus’ prophecy simply because his prophecy contains details not indicated elsewhere in the text.
Therefore we can only find error in Agabus’ prophecy if we can prove conclusively from Scripture the following: (1) that Paul was not bound prior to his being taken into custody by the Romans, and (2) that Agabus’ prophecy specified that Paul would be surrendered by the Jews to the Gentile authorities willingly. In the absence of such proof, there is no error.
4: 2 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1
Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1) Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)
This is another passage which Beegle cites as a contradiction, and, therefore, in error (1973:194-195). Yet it appears, for one who is supposed to have been theologically trained and conversant in Scripture, that he has not fully considered all of the evidence in Scripture in which Satan or demonic entities are involved with men, yet under the sovereign control of God. Beegle also errs in confusing causation with instrumentality or the cause and the agent.
As the first example, one only has to consider the trials which Job underwent. In the account in Scripture, God is clearly Sovereign, yet Satan is the agent (Job 1-2).
A second example is found in the account of Ahab being led to his destruction in 1 Kings 22. When God’s plan was for Ahab to die in battle as the just punishment for all the evil he had done, He asked who would entice Ahab to enter into battle. The account records that an evil spirit offered to put lying words into the mouths of Ahab’s court prophets.
Scripture is replete with other examples in which God’s sovereign plans are accomplished through people making moral/spiritual choices which are induced either by Satan or evil motives: Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, Jesus being betrayed by Judas, Paul being taken prisoner by the Jewish people in Acts 21.
The only difference between the accounts of Job and Ahab and the accounts of David’s census is that in the accounts of Job and Ahab, God has been pleased to reveal the connection between his sovereignty which limits the influence of Satan, while in the account of David, that connection is implicit rather than explicit. There is no contradiction when one rightly understands the sovereignty of God.
5: 1 Kings 7:23
And he made the sea of cast bronze, ten cubits from one brim to the other; it was completely round. Its height was five cubits and a line of thirty cubits measured it’s circumference.
Errantists cite this as a demonstration of errors in the Bible because the ratio of the circumference to the diameter does not equal the mathematical concept of pi exactly. There are three problems with this argument.
In the first place, the text states this was completely round. We know the diameter of the sea was ten cubits [approximately 15 feet]. As it is described as being round [or semi-spherical in three dimensional terms], we would expect the depth [or height as Scripture notes it] to be equal to the radius, which is one-half of the diameter. Well, the depth of the sea is five cubits, which is one-half of the diameter of 10 cubits, so the ratio is preserved.
In the second place, the doctrine of inerrancy does not require the ratio of the circumference of the bronze sea to its diameter be technically precise in twenty-first century terms. Rounded to whole numbers, the ratio of 3:1 indicated in the text is accurate. While the ratio indicated in this passage is not precise to the fourth place, it is no more in error than saying the population of Saint Joseph, Missouri, in the 2010 census was 76,500, when the actual figure was 76,780 [according to WikiPedia].
In the third place, Solomon’s reign began, according to most sources, around 971 B.C. (Packer, et al., 49) Scripture informs the reader that the work on building the temple began “in the fourth year” of his reigh “in the month of Ziv, which is the second month (1 Kings 6:1).” The construction of the temple and its furnishings was completed “in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month (1 Kings 6:38).” This means the construction took place circa 967 to 960 or 959 BC. This is important because the more precise value for pi which is used today was not established until Archimedes (c. 287-212 BC). Archimedes placed the value of pi as being between 3-1/7 and 3-10/71. While the ratio indicated in this passage may suffer from a lack of mathematical precision in twenty-first century terms, it is not an error.
To assert that errors exist in Scripture is to place the critic making such assertions in a position of Deity, as if that person has acquired the vast knowledge of all time and history, and science, a clear violation of Aristotle’s dictum that the benefit of the doubt is always to be accorded to the document and not to the critic unless there is clear evidence otherwise.
The errors alleged to exist in Scripture, show themselves not to be errors when one seeks to understand the nature of the pericope and correlate all known information rather than simply dismissing the passage in question as being in error, but not really important to God’s purpose. God has not allowed us the luxury or authority to pick and choose which passages we can accept as true and of soteriological significance and which passages can be dismissed. Such dismissiveness denies the fundamental point being made by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (emphasis added)
*Unless noted otherwise, all Bible references are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Archer, Gleason L. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.
Beegle, Dewey M. The Inspiration of Scripture. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963.
________. Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.
Criswell, W. A., ed. The Believer’s Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991. [Subsequently reissued as The Holy Bible, Baptist Study Edition.]
MacArthur, John A. The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Packer, James I., Tenney, Merrill C., and White, William, Jr. The Bible Almanac. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980.
Pickering, Wilbur N. The Identity of the New Testament Text III. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012. This is also available as downloadable files in .pdf format from: http://www.walkinhiscommandments.com/pickering10.htm
Radmacher, Earl C., ed. The NKJV Study Bible, 2nd Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Ryrie, Charles C. The Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.