Skip to comments.What to Say When Someone Says "The Bible Has Errors"
Posted on 03/07/2012 6:43:36 AM PST by SeekAndFind
By Jonathan Dodson
Most people question the reliability of the Bible. You’ve probably been in a conversation with a friend or met someone in a coffeeshop who said: “How can you be a Christian when the Bible has so many errors?” How should we respond? What do you say?
Instead of asking them to name one, I suggest you name one or two of the errors. Does your Bible contain errors? Yes. The Bible that most people possess is a translation of the Greek and Hebrew copies of copies of the original documents of Scripture. As you can imagine, errors have crept in over the centuries of copying. Scribes fall asleep, misspell, take their eyes off the manuscript, and so on. I recommend telling people what kind of errors have crept into the Bible. Starting with the New Testament, Dan Wallace, New Testament scholar and founder the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, lists four types of errors in Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning.
Types of Errors
1) Spelling & Nonsense Errors. These are errors occur when a scribe wrote a word that makes no sense in its context, usually because they were tired or took their eyes off the page.Some of these errors are quite comical, such as "we were horses among you" (Gk. hippoi, "horses," instead of ēpioi, "gentle," or nēpioi, "little children") in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 in one late manuscript. Obviously, Paul isn’t saying he acted like a horse among them. That would be self-injury! These kinds of errors are easily corrected.
2) Minor Changes. These minor changes are as small as the presence or absence of an article "the" or changed word order, which can vary considerably in Greek. Depending on the sentence, Greek grammar allows the sentence to be written up to 18 times, while still saying the same thing! So just because a sentence wasn’t copied in the same order, doesn’t mean that we lost the meaning.
3) Meaningful but not Plausible. These errors have meaning but aren't a plausible reflection of the original text. For example, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, instead of "the gospel of God" (the reading of almost all the manuscripts), a late medieval copy has "the gospel of Christ." There is a meaning difference between God and Christ, but the overall manuscript evidence points clearly in one direction, making the error plain and not plausibly part of the original.
4) Meaningful and Plausible. These are errors that have meaning and that the alternate reading is plausible as a reflection of the original wording. These types of errors account for less than 1% of all variants and typically involve a single word or phrase. The biggest of these types of errors is the ending of the Gospel of Mark, which most contemporary scholars to not regard as original. Our translations even footnote that!
Is the Bible Reliable?
So, is the Bible reliable? Well, the reliability of our English translations depends largely upon the quality of the manuscripts they were translated from. The quality depends, in part, on how recent the manuscripts are. Scholars like Bart Ehrman have asserted that we don't have manuscripts that are early enough. However, the manuscript evidence is quite impressive:
What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”.
So, when someone asserts that the Bible says errors, we can reply by saying: “Yes, our Bible translations do have errors, let me tell you about them. But as you can see, less than 1% of them are meaningful and those errors don’t affect the major teachings of the Christian faith. In fact, there are 1000 times more manuscripts of the Bible than the most documented Greco-Roman historian by Suetonius. So, if we’re going to be skeptical about ancient books, we should be 1000 times more skeptical of the Greco-Roman histories. The Bible is, in fact, incredibly reliable.”
Contrary to popular assertion, that as time rolls on we get further and further away from the original with each new discovery, we actually get closer and closer to the original text. As Wallace puts it, we have "an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the biblical documents." Therefore, we can be confident that what we read in our modern translations of the the ancient texts is approximately 99% accurate. It is very reliable.
For Further Study (order easy to difficult):
The translations of the Bible are guided by God’s hand. They are meant to instruct us on matters of life and morals. It is how God tells us of our relationship to Him and, for Christians, His Son.
It is when people try to use it for other purposes, such as a science text, that translation errors (what was meant by “yom” anyway?) become important. The point of Genesis is that God created the world and us. It isn’t a “how to” guide.
See www.faithfacts.org for more apologetics facts.
That opinion is not universal, the great mass of Byzantine manuscripts include it. I think a very strong case can be made that the last 12 verses of Mark are the inspired Word of God. I'm afraid exclusion rests on isolated manuscripts and subjective academic imagination producing an artificial "eclectic text".
Does God guide the translations of all of the new versions of the Bible? Even he ones that are politically correct?
But in modern times with Harold Lindsell's "Battle for the Bible" a warning went out to the church in general that this was happening in every seminary of every denomination and would destroy much of the foundation of visible church
I believe Francis Schaeffer called this the watershed issue in "The Great Evangelical Disaster"...
I call em a doodie head and move on.
Why the assumption it was because they were 'tired or took their eyes off the page'? That seems like quite an assumption. It could easily been simple context we don't understand. Just like in your example, we call children 'kids' but in some cultures, that means baby goats.
Imagine two thousand years from now, someone reads that "SeekandFind took his Jaguar to watch the Rams battle the Lions. They later ate Buffalo Wings and drank Fuzzy Nipples". Without context, the picture that paints is quite different from reality.
re: “The translations of the Bible are guided by Gods hand.”
I’m not sure what you mean by this statement regarding translations - could you elaborate further? Remember, it is the original autographs (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.) that are inerrant - not “translations”.
I’m not denying that God is involved in preserving His word through the centuries, but I think we are opening ourselves up to error and embarrassment to promote the idea that specific “translations” are “guided by God’s hand.”
Also, I think you sell the Bible short when you say it is not a science text. It depends on the passage you’re speaking of. The Bible is not one kind of writing - it includes biography, historical narrative, poetry, allegory, preaching, prophesy, and, sometimes scientific statements. The problem is, you have to know the Biblical text well enough, the context of the passage, and it’s history in order to know what type of literature you’re reading.
Some people want to group the whole Bible into being all “allegorical” or all history, or all science. You can’t do that with the Bible. Just a thought.
Yeah, I guess God also guided the hand of Constantine and his bishops as well as King James and his bishops. These “versions” of the bible were “inspired” by political motives far more than religious motives.
It has always amazed me how so many people become entrenched in the concept of infallibility of the bible, in particular the old testament, but deride the concept catholics have of the infallibility of the pope.
It might be better service to God if the lessons of the bible, especially the new testament, were given more attention than the carefully edited collection of old testament books which were collected and edited by emperors and kings.
Let me say, in all sincerity and kindeness, you're clueles about the subject of how these translations came about, and those since then. Willfully ignorant, in fact.
No, this would not have been only oral tradition. There were written records at that time Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Remember Stephen said Moses was one of the most learned men of his day (raised and educated in Pharaoh's household) so he would have had access to many written records.
Yes, oral tradition before Moses' time would certainly have been part of the way history was transmitted. However, that was the way they communicated back then; because of our culture we don't trust it. However, that was ingrained in ancient times and was as trustworthy (or more so) than our written tradition is today. Think of Homer...he and others were trained to recite Illiad-length words and if they got some words wrong they would hear about it. And Homer was late in the tradition...earlier ones had even better memories.
but the words used would not be ones used by someone before the exile
I would like to know exactly what you're referencing here.
Goes to the basic problem with sola scriptura: too many personal interpretations and errors introduced by biases and the like.
Christ founded his Church and promised that the Holy Spirit would guide it in all Truth.
That promise was True.
RE: Christ founded his Church and promised that the Holy Spirit would guide it in all Truth.
Therefore your conclusion is the Holy Spirit ONLY guides the Vatican infallibly?
The ancient patristic writings provides evidence of a universally accepted canon long before Constantine or any council of bishops.
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