Is That an Error in the Bible? – Part 2
Ed. Note. This article is excerpted from our series, “Is the Bible Unique or Just Another Religious Book?,” and slightly modified for publication.
We resume our look at mistakes critics make when they look at the Bible.
Here’s another mistake that critics make: They base teachings on obscure passages. The Mormons run across the verse in 1 Corinthians 15: “Else what shall they do… baptize for the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:29). It’s an obscure passage. It’s mentioned only once. They built a whole doctrine on it when the Bible tells us, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). You can’t do anything for someone after they die. “There’s a great gulf fixed” (Luke 16). We’ve got to take clear passages to interpret these passages that are not as clear.
Another mistake critics make: Forgetting the Bible is a human book with human characteristics. Sure, the Bible comes from God, but it comes through human beings, written in human language, written with human metaphors like poetry and allegory, and hyperbole. The Bible is a human book in human languages. But just because it’s written by humans doesn’t mean it errs. Jesus was human and He didn’t sin. The Bible has a human nature and it doesn’t err, but it is human. Jesus got tired, He got hungry. The Bible reflects human things, too. It speaks in human languages; speaks in human figures of speech. It talks to people where they are in their terms so they can understand it. And critics mistakenly think this is an error just because it’s human. It’s no more in error than Jesus was in sin because He got hungry or He got thirsty.
Another very often made mistake by critics is: Assuming that a partial report is a false report. The Bible has a lot of partial reports, but they’re not necessarily false. For example, Matthew says there was one angel at the tomb after the resurrection. John says there were two angels at the tomb after the resurrection. Well, that’s not a false report. Matthew gave part of the report—there was one angel there. If there are two, there’s always one. In fact, that’s an infallible mathematical principle. Whenever you have two, you always have one. What the critics do is they read into Matthew the word “only.” The word only isn’t there. Matthew didn’t say there was “only” one angel, he said there was one. And where there are two, there is always one.
Now, notice what we’re doing. We’re saying the Bible doesn’t have any errors, the critics have errors. They mistakenly view the Bible in different ways and then assume that the Bible was mistaken.
Let me give you another example: Demanding that New Testament citations always be exact quotations. We don’t do that today. The newspaper paraphrases, summarizes. The New Testament, when it quotes the Old Testament, doesn’t always give the exact words but it always gives the exact meaning.
Another mistake critics make: Assuming the divergent accounts are false ones. There are many divergent accounts in the Bible. For example, in the Gospels it says Judas hanged himself. In the book of Acts it says that Judas fell headlong, and his intestines gushed out (Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18-19). Well, that’s not a contradictory report because if you hang yourself on a tree, you can’t touch a dead body according to Jewish custom. You have to hang yourself over the edge of a cliff or somewhere at least off the ground. Somebody comes by and they see a dead body, they have to take a knife, cut the rope, the body falls on the jagged rocks below and the intestines gush out. Perfectly harmonious. Just because it’s only part of it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give us the truth.
Another error the critics make: Presuming the Bible approves of everything it records. I mean, there are some pretty gross stories, as my teenager used to tell me, in the Bible—sticking a knife in Ehud and the blubber coming out over it. Chopping up a woman in twelve pieces and sending one to every tribe of Israel. These are some pretty horrible stories. But the Bible doesn’t approve of them. David’s sin is recorded in the Bible, but it doesn’t approve of his sin. In fact, he confessed it in Psalm 51 and God forgave it in Psalm 32.
Another mistake of the critics: Forgetting the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language. The Bible is not unscientific, but it is a pre-scientific book. It was written in everyday language that anyone could understand, like: “The sun sets.” Or Joshua in Joshua 10 saying, “The sun stood still in the sky.” Now, it’s no more unscientific to say the sun stood still than to say the sun sets. And what does every scientist every day in the United States say? He’s called a meteorologist. He says, “Sunrise this morning., sunset tonight.” No scientist I’ve ever heard of looks out at the western sky ablaze with red and says to his wife, “Look at the beautiful earth rotation.” We don’t talk that way and the Bible talks in everyday language, too.
Also, another mistake you’ll often hear people make about the Bible is Assuming that round numbers are false. Round numbers aren’t false. Pi is represented in the Bible as about 3, and pi is about three. Now more precisely it’s 3.14159 and so forth. But when it says that the little sea out in front of Solomon’s temple was 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around, that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. It means they were speaking in round numbers. Scientists today use round numbers. In fact, pi doesn’t come out even. I saw a guy who recited pi to 10,000 decimal points. It took him three hours to do it. At the end of 10,000 decimal points, he was still an infinite number away from the most precise number you could get to. But for all practical purposes, 3.1 rounds off to 3. For all practical purposes, 3.3 rounds off to 3. The Bible speaks in round numbers; speaks in everyday language.
We will conclude our look at mistakes critics make in Part 3.
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