Alleged Errors in the Bible
Do you feel embarrassed when someone points what seems to be an error in the bible and you have no answer for it? Fear not! Chances are very good that this question has been asked and answered many times in the last 2,000 years. All you have to do is a little digging to find the answer. Such a questioning spirit, far from being denounced, is endorsed by the bible itself when it says to “…test everything. Hold on to what is good.” (1st Thessalonians 5:21).
A funny thing about skeptics is that they know what they believe but most of them have NEVER sought out what Christians believe about their “errors”. We’ll look at 5 types of errors in the bible;
– New Testament quotations of Old Testament passages
– historical errors
– scientific errors
– moral errors
– Genesis 7:4 says the Flood lasted 40 days but Genesis 7:11 says it lasted one full year. Verse 4 says the rain fell for 40 days while verse 11 says it took one year for the waters to dry up enough for Noah and his family to leave the Ark and step on to dry land.
– Genesis 6:19 says at least 2 of “all that lives” went into the Ark. But Genesis 7:2 says that 7 pairs of clean animals and 2 pair of every unclean animal went into the Ark. Genesis 7:2 is just more specific than Genesis 6:9, delineating the difference between clean and unclean animals.
– Genesis 11:31 says Abraham came from Ur (in southern Iraq) but Genesis 29:4-13 says he came from Haran (in northern Iraq). If you look at an ancient map, you’ll see that Abraham originally came from Ur, then his family moved to Haran where he received his call from God.
– Genesis 22:2 calls Isaac Abraham’s only son but Genesis 16: 1,2 15 said he had Ishmael before that and Genesis 25:1,2 says he had other sons. Ishmael was conceived with a concubine and his other sons were conceived with his 2nd wife. Isaac, who was conceived with his 1st wife Sarah, was the child of promise (Genesis 17:16,19) and the rightful, primary heir (Genesis 25:5,6). Isaac was the only “son of the covenant”.
– the two separate creation accounts in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. But they’re not separate accounts. Genesis 1 is a more general, chronological account of the creation of the cosmos and earth. Genesis 2 is a more specific account of Adam and Eve’s creation. They’re
not separate accounts but complimentary accounts.
Alleged Errors of New Testament quotations of Old Testament scriptures:
New Testament authors appear to misquote Old Testament scriptures often. Matthew 4:14-16 quotes Isaiah 9:12 but the quotation doesn’t match Isaiah in either the Greek or Hebrew version. These types of examples can be easily explained by knowing something of Jewish culture. Jews in Jesus’ time quoted the bible by memory. Copies of the scriptures were not plentiful as the printing press hadn’t been invented yet. But quoting anything from memory usually doesn’t come out verbatim. Also, they sometimes only had access to a very loose Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew quotation. Its little wonder that the texts are not word-for-word quotations, but none of them are contradictory to the other scriptures. The Jews of that time understood these quotations quite well. There was never a disagreement with what they meant until hundreds of years later.
Alleged Historical Errors:
For example, Genesis 14:14 describes Abram pursuing the surviving kings of Sodom and Gomorrah to the city of Dan, which wasn’t called that in Abram’s day. But this isn’t an error. Some of the Old Testament events were passed on orally before they were written down. When they were written down, the writer often referred to their names at that point. It would be like someone saying the Indians occupied the land of Detroit (even though it wasn’t named Detroit at that time).
A more serious discrepancy is when Genesis 23 refers to Abraham buying a cave from a Hittite…or that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was a Hittite (2nd Samuel 1). Until 1906, we knew nothing of Hittites archaeologically. Many archaeologists thought this was an error in the bible. But in 1906, archaeologist Hugo Wuickler found more than 10,000 clay tablets of the royal Hittite library. The Hittite nation was located right where the bible said it was. There are still many people, places and events in the bible that we don’t have proof that they existed…yet. But we have proof of so many other things that it’s probably just a matter of time before we find them. Remember, archaeology is a relatively new science. It’s just in the 19th & 20th centuries that most of these places have even been excavated.
Nearly 100 biblical people, dozens of biblical cities and over 60 historical details in John’s Gospel, plus many other things have been confirmed thru archaeological research. The Israeli Antiquities Authority has over 100,000 artifacts that have been discovered in Israel alone since 1948.
Alleged Scientific Errors:
Leviticus 11:19 calls a ‘bat’ a bird. Leviticus 11:21-24 says grasshoppers and beetles “walk on all fours”. But insects have 6 legs, not 4.
But these “errors” are just an attempt to impose scientific language on passages that weren’t meant to be read that way. Today, we often say that the Sun rises at 6AM. Scientifically speaking, the Sun doesn’t move. So, are we lying when we say that? Of course not! That language is not meant to be taken scientifically. Now let’s look at the above examples in light of this:
-Leviticus 11:19…the Hebrew word for “bird” could also be translated “flying thing”. In other passages, the same word is used for birds and bats. It just refers to them “flying”.
-Leviticus 11:21-24…the phrase “walks on all fours” is just a colloquial expression, not a scientific one. It just means they’re walking on their legs. The modern phrase “the 4 corners of the Earth” doesn’t mean that the Earth is flat. It’s just a way of describing how far points on the Earth are separated from each other. In Psalm 6:6, the psalmist says he cried so much that he drenched his couch with tears. Do you really think if you touched his couch it would be wet? Of course it wouldn’t be. It’s just a colloquial expression that means he cried a lot. The bible, being written in the everyday language of its time, has many such expressions.
Other errors skeptics say are impossible are things like:
-Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:24) or
-a burning bush that isn’t consumed (Exodus 3:2-5)
These aren’t refutations. They’re dogmatic assertions that miracles can’t happen. We can answer these questions in two ways;
1)…just because we cannot understand it now doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Many things we’ve discovered in the last 100 years, past peoples would have said couldn’t happen. An airplane flying is one of them.
2)…if there is an all-powerful God who created the physical laws of the universe, does it make sense to say He couldn’t abrogate those laws at His discretion?
Alleged Moral Errors:
This is probably the biggest area of attack that skeptics and atheists launch against the bible. Noam Chomsky says, “The bible is one of the most genocidal books in history”. Richard Dawkins says, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction…a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously, malevolent bully”. WOW! What a mouthful! But are these charges true?
In looking at the following verses, we have to say that God did order the Israelites to kill certain nations. Exodus 23:32-33 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-6 20:16-18
It’s important to point out that these verses apply to these Canaanite nations only and are not meant to apply to just any nation.
OK, so what was it that God had against these Canaanite nations? We know from other scriptures and from history that the Canaanites practiced…
– sacrificing innocent children to their gods by burning them on altars
– bestiality (having sex with animals)
– gang rape
– very perverted sexual practices
But God did not quickly judge the Canaanites. He gave these people hundreds of years to change their ways. Genesis 15:13-16 says that “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”. There comes a point in some peoples lives where they will never change, no matter what. At that point, God stepped in to stop the carnage. These nations were cut off to prevent the corruption of the rest of the world and Israel (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
Deuteronomy 9: 5 says, “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations”. When a nation starts burning its children as a gift to the gods (Leviticus 18:21) and practices sodomy, bestiality and all sorts of sinful behavior (Leviticus 18:25-30), judgement will come to stop the sin from spreading. Just as surgeons do not hesitate to amputate a gangrenous limb, so God will do the same. This is not doing evil so good may come. It is removing the cancer that would have eventually killed the good.
People who attack the bible on moral grounds usually make the mistake of anachronism. They apply our standards of justice to God acting back then. They don’t realize that our standards of justice come from applying biblical standards over hundreds of years. God meets people where they’re at, not where we’re at, and applies His justice to them. We forget that throughout history, barbarism has been the rule rather than the exception. Some examples are…
– archaeological excavations at Carthage, the west African colony, have found 20,000 urns of sacrificed infants. They believe that child sacrifice took place continuously for nearly 600 years. Child sacrifice was done for a number of reasons. Because some god demanded it, because you wanted a good harvest that year, or success in your business, etc.
– in the palace relief of Assyrian king Ashur-nasir-pal II (884-859 BC), his armies are cheerfully depicted skinning captured enemies alive, cutting off hands and feet and ears, pulling out tongues and eyes and decapitating mounds of heads to further terrify their enemies.
But gradually, over centuries thru the words of His prophets, God lead His people to greater levels of compassion and mercy. Much of this can be seen in our course “How Christianity Changed the World” on this website.
Modern critics who say the bible justifies war and genocide are looking at isolated passages taken out of their historical and textual context. Remember war is just one of the punishments that God metes out for injustice and bloodshed. Isaiah 4:26,28 affirms this.
What about the moral laws of Leviticus chapters 18 thru 20? I’ve done an FAQ on this at http://BSSSB-LLC.com/why-are-some-old-testament-laws-valid-for-us-today-but-others-aren%27t.
I’ve also done an FAQ on bible errors and contradictions at http://BSSSB-LLC.com/what-about-all-those-errors-and-contradictions-in-the-bible/.
“Hard Sayings of the Bible” by Kaiser, Davids, Bruce & Brauch
“When Skeptics Ask” by Geisler & Brooks
“The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible” by Robert Hutchinson
“Answers to Your Bible Questions” by Ed Strauss
For His Kingdom,