We can be confident that the Bible we have matches the Bible that the inspired authors wrote. But does that matter? If the original manuscripts contain errors, then we can’t trust our Bibles.
We have all heard examples of the Bible contradicting itself or saying something historically inaccurate. Here’s all I have time to say in a blog-length treatment. None of these have to be contradictions. Some of them seem to be contradictions, but don’t have to be.
For example, there are a few places where two different authors describe the same event, and in doing so they assign differing numbers to the same feature in the story. We must make a decision about what is going on in such cases. These could be contradictions, or they could be instances of textual variants (as I described in the last post), or it could be that one account is being precise while the other account is rounding off, or it could be that two similar (not identical) events are being described and the numbers are not meant to correlate.
A similar discrepancy involves the death of Judas Iscariot. He died soon after betraying Jesus, but Matthew says he hanged himself (Matt. 27:5) and Luke says he fell and “burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). Now, we don’t know exactly what happened, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to picture Judas hanging himself, only to have the branch from which he was hanging snap and have his entrails gush out. I’m not saying that’s how it went down, I’m just saying these two accounts aren’t incompatible.
Others will point to the color of the robe the Romans put on Jesus before his crucifixion. Matthew says it was scarlet. John says it was purple. Are these colors so different that two people watching the same event might not describe the robe as scarlet and purple, respectively?
The point is, these don’t have to be contradictions. We may not be able to prove that they are not contradictions, but neither can we prove that they are contradictions. There are good and reasonable alternatives to the accusation of contradiction.
Here’s my approach to these potential discrepancies: Given ambiguity, I’m going to side with God rather than a 21st century skeptic trying to poke holes in the most significant book ever written.
Another big reason that people discount the accuracy of the Bible is its portrayal of miraculous events. Since modern skeptics tend not to believe in the supernatural, they’re going to say the gospels are inaccurate when they portray Jesus as raising the dead or walking on water or whatever. But that’s only a problem if we begin by assuming that the types of things the Bible describes must be impossible.
Still others have questioned the Bible on the grounds that much of its content cannot be historically or archaeologically verified. This accusation has been around for a long time, but the Bible has never been proven inaccurate in this way. People will argue that there is no evidence for this or that portion of Scripture, but then, years later, evidence will turn up. And though we can be excited when archaeology confirms biblical descriptions, we shouldn’t forget that the absence of collaborating evidence does not equal inaccuracy.
Here’s the takeaway. People will always make accusations against the Bible. But there are answers out there. Skeptics will remain skeptical, but we can answer their questions. If you’re looking for a good source for answering some of the questions that skeptics will raise, along with explorations of some of the “problem passages” in the Bible, I’d recommend the following:
- The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (a well-written, accessible book that anyone can follow)
- The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (a detailed outline giving important information related to pretty much anything skeptics could ask)
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (his sections on “the Doctrine of the Word of God” are very helpful in this regard)
- The Doctrine of the Word of God by John Frame (more technical and philosophical, but thorough and excellent)
So far so good. But we still have plenty of ground to cover. Since some skeptics try to cast doubt on the Bible by pointing to the process by which it was compiled into a single book, I will examine that reality tomorrow.