This is one of the most asked, least understood questions about the Bible. They have heard this question effectively asked often but not effectively answered. So they think they can stump you with this question. If you ask the person what errors and contradictions they have in mind, they usually don’t know. But you need to be prepared to answer it if they do know of some. At this point, it would be good to mention that you’re not the Bible Answer Man and that you may have to get back with them on it. None of us have all the answers in our head but we believe that they are out there. So if you just get the person’s email address, you can get back to them with your answer. If they give it to you, great! If they don’t give it to you, they’re not interested in hearing an answer and you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time, trouble and frustration. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to prove something to somebody who doesn’t want it proven to them.
Christians claim that there are no errors or contradictions in the original manuscripts (MS), which we don’t possess. Don’t worry as almost no ancient MS is an original. They’re almost all copies.
Because there are thousands of hand-written copies (as only a few copies of any other historical document), remember there was no printing press at this time, the Bible has a much greater chance of error than any other historical document. Just because there are some copyist errors, doesn’t mean that the Bible is full or errors and contradictions.
There are usually three types of errors/contradictions;
– spelling or word order errors
– numerical errors
– interpretation errors
Some New Testament MS’s spell John with one ‘N’ while others spell it with two ‘N’s’. This may be related to how John is spelled in that particular language. But if not, if this ‘error’ is made on one MS, any future MS’s that are copies of this one MS will have this ‘error’. If one thousand copies were made, scholars count this as one thousand errors. Other errors are word order differences., which are usually due to translating from one language to another. These are not really ‘errors’ at all. Even with this, if you compare the earliest MS copy with the latest one, the Bible is 95% word-for-word accurate. The other 5% consist mainly of interpreting errors or numerical errors.
An example of a numerical error is as follows; in the Masoretric text of 2nd Chronicles 2:22, it says Ahaziah was 42 years old, yet 2nd Kings 8:26 says he is 22 years old. He couldn’t have been 42 (a copyist error) or he would have been older than his father. Its important to keep in mind that even with this one error, 100% of the meaning of the text comes thru. There are only a very small handful of these numerical errors. Also, not one major or minor doctrine is changed because of these copyist errors. This can be said of no other ancient historical document.
An example of an interpreting error is as follows; in Matthew 28:2, he says an angel came down to Jesus’ tomb but Luke 24:4 says two angels came down. This is why police like to get more than one perspective on an accident or crime. If two people said the exact same words, the police would suspect collusion between the two witnesses. Saying two different but complementary things is not the same as saying two contradictory things. Matthew did NOT say that ONLY one angel came down. He was emphasizing what an angel said to the women. Apparently, he didn’t see the need to mention the other angel, whereas Luke (who by just about every historians viewpoint is a consummate 1st century historian) did. One account does not contradict the other account, but supplements it.
All of these alleged errors/contradictions are easily answered by…
– looking carefully at the text in question
– looking up the text in a commentary or in a book of Bible difficulties
– knowing a little bit about translating from one language into another
No ancient document comes close to the Bible for this high level of accuracy. So, if the person bringing up these ‘errors & contradictions’ is going to believe in any ancient historical accounts at all, they have to believe in the Bible if they’re being logically & rationally consistent.
For His Kingdom,
http://apologeticspress.org/AllegedDiscrepancies.aspx (great reference)
“Examine the Evidence” by Ralph O. Muncaster, pages 481-509
“Misquoting the Truth” by Timothy Paul Jones, pages 39-66
“The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible” by Robert J.Hutchinson, pages 51-67
“Hard Sayings of the Bible” by Kaiser, Davids, Bruce & Brauch
“When Skeptics Ask” by Norm Geisler