How To Answer Critics
Many objections have been leveled against the doctrine of inerrancy; common objections to inerrancy are addressed here.
Inerrancy Is Not Taught in the Bible
The Objection That Inerrancy Is Not Taught in the Bible
Some critics argue that inerrancy is not taught in Scripture. There are two parts to this allegation.
First, some point out that the term “inerrancy” nowhere appears in the Bible. But this objection misses the point: The term “Trinity” nowhere appears in the Bible, nor does “substitutionary atonement.” However, these doctrines are not to be rejected for lack of exact wording; it is not a question of whether the term inerrancy is used but whether the truth of inerrancy is taught. Even the word “Bible” does not appear in the Bible!
Second, it is implied that since the doctrine of inerrancy is not explicitly taught that it is not taught at all. It can be granted that inerrancy is not formally and explicitly taught in the Bible; however, this is not to say that inerrancy is not logically and implicitly taught. The Trinity isn’t explicitly taught either, but it is the necessary logical deduction of what is taught, namely:
(1)There is only one God.
(2)There are three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who are God.
From these premises it necessarily follows that
(3)There are three persons in this one God.
Likewise, as shown, inerrancy logically follows from two premises that are clearly taught in Scripture, namely:
(1)God cannot err.
(2)The Bible is the Word of God.
(3)Therefore, the Bible cannot err.
So, like the Trinity, inerrancy is taught implicitly and logically, if not formally and explicitly.
Inerrancy Is a Late Invention
The Objection That Inerrancy Is a Late Invention
Critics of inerrancy claim that it is a late nineteenth-century invention that the Old Princeton theologians (like Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield) utilized for apologetic purposes to fight a growing liberalism in the orthodox church (see Rogers, AIB).
As a survey of the history of the doctrine of Scripture has shown (see chapters 17 and 18), this charge is without foundation. In fact, the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture has been virtually the unanimous teaching of all the great Fathers of the Christian church down through the centuries until modern times.
A few crucial examples long before the time of Warfield will illustrate the point.
In The City of God Augustine used such expressions as “Sacred Scripture” (9.5), “the words of God” (10.1), “Infallible Scripture” (11.6), “divine revelation” (13.2), and “Holy Scripture” (15.8). Elsewhere he referred to the Bible as the “oracles of God,” “God’s word,” “divine oracles,” and “divine Scripture.” With his widespread influence throughout the centuries, such a testimony has stood as an outstanding witness to the high regard given to the Scriptures in the church.
Speaking of the gospel writers, Augustine said,
When they write that He has taught and said, it should not be asserted that He did not write it, since the members only put down what they had come to know at the dictation [dictis] of the Head. [Therefore,] whatever He wanted us to read concerning His words and deeds, He commanded His disciples, His hands, to write. Hence, one cannot but receive what he reads in the Gospels, though written by the disciples, as though it were written by the very hand of the Lord Himself (HG, 1.35.54.).
Augustine added, “I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error” (L, 82.1.3).
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
Agreeing with Augustine, Aquinas confessed of Holy Scripture, “I firmly believe that none of their authors have erred in composing them” (ST, 1a.1, 8). In this same passage Aquinas referred to Scripture as “unfailing truth.”
He went on, “That God is the author of holy Scripture should be acknowledged.” Again, “The author of holy Scripture is God” (ibid., 1a.1, 10). God spoke through prophets: “Prophecy implies a certain vision of some supernatural truth beyond our reach” (ibid., 2a2ae. 174, 5). Therefore, “a true prophet is always inspired by the spirit of truth” (ibid., 2a2ae. 172, 6, ad 2); thus, his message is perfect. This is possible because of the perfection of the principal or primary Cause (God) working on the imperfect secondary cause.
In his commentary on Job, Aquinas declared, “It is heretical to say that any falsehood whatsoever is contained either in the gospels or in any canonical Scripture” (CBJ, 13, 1). Elsewhere he insisted that “a true prophet is always inspired by the spirit of truth in whom there is no trace of falsehood, and so he never utters untruths” (ST, 2a2ae. 172, 6, ad 2). He added, “Nothing false can underlie the literal sense of Scripture” (ibid., 1a.1, 10, ad 3). Consequently, “the truth of prophetic proclamations must needs be the same as that of divine knowledge. And falsity … cannot creep into prophecy” (ibid., 1a. 14, 3).
John Calvin (1509–1564)
John Calvin also affirmed inerrancy, declaring, “For our wisdom ought to consist in embracing with gentle docility, and without any exceptions, all that is delivered in the sacred Scriptures” (ICR, 1.18.4). Scripture is “the certain and unerring rule” (CC, Psa. 5:11).
For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men (ICR, 1.6.3.).
So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word of God, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather will have no authority at all. [Further,] nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds from him is sacred, inviolable truth (ibid., 3.2.6).
Martin Luther (1483–1546)
As we have seen, Martin Luther was even more emphatic on the inerrancy of Scripture, insisting,
When one blasphemously gives the lie to God in a single word, or says it is a minor matter if God is blasphemed or called a liar, one blasphemes the entire God and makes light of all blasphemy (WL, 37:26.).
So the Holy Ghost has had to bear the blame of not being able to speak correctly but that like a drunkard or a fool He jumbles the whole and uses wild, strange words and phrases. [Thus] it cannot be otherwise, because the Holy Ghost is wise and also makes the prophets wise. But one who is wise must be able to speak correctly; that never fails. But because whoever does not hear well or does not know the language well may think he speaks ill because he hears or understands scarcely half the words (Reu, LS, 44, italics original).
Luther went so far as to say that inerrancy was an all-or-nothing matter:
And whoever is so bold that he ventures to accuse God of fraud and deception in a single word and does so willfully again and again after he has been warned and instructed once or twice will likewise certainly venture to accuse God of fraud and deception in all His words. [Therefore,] it is true absolutely and without exception, that everything is believed or nothing is believed. The Holy Ghost does not suffer Himself to be separated or divided so that He should teach and cause to be believed one doctrine rightly and another falsely (ibid., 33, italics original).
The clear, emphatic, and repeated affirmation of the inerrancy of Holy Scripture by the great Fathers and Reformers refutes the charge that inerrancy is a late nineteenth-century creation; this allegation is totally without foundation (see Woodbridge, RMP).
Inerrancy Is Based on Non-Existent Originals
The Objection That Inerrancy Is Based on Non-Existent Originals
Some object to inerrancy because it affirms that only the original text is inerrant (there being admitted errors in the copies), and the originals are not extant. Hence, all the doctrine of inerrancy provides is a non-existent authority; supposedly, this isn’t any different than having no Bible at all.
This allegation is unfounded. First of all, it is not true that we do not possess the original text. We do possess it in well-preserved copies; it is the original manuscripts we do not have. We do have an accurate copy of the original text represented in these manuscripts (see Geisler and Nix, GIB, chapter 11); the nearly 5,800 New Testament manuscripts we possess contain all or nearly all of the original text, and we can reconstruct the original text with over 99 percent accuracy.
Also, there is a difference between the text and the truth of the text. While the exact text of the original can only be reconstructed with 99 percent or so accuracy, nevertheless, 100 percent of the truth comes through. For example, recall that if you received notification that “Y#U HAVE WON 10 MILLION DOLLARS,” you would have no problem understanding 100 percent of the message, even though the text is nearly 4 percent in error (1 letter out of 26).
To illustrate, were the original U.S. Constitution to be destroyed, we would not lose the constitutional authority for our country, even if all we had were copies with flaws in them. The original could be reconstructed with enough certainty to assure the continuance of our constitutional republic. The same is true of the Bible in our hands. Even though it is based on copies, they are accurate copies that convey to us 100 percent of all essential truths in the original.
In brief, the Bible in our hands is the infallible and inerrant Word of God insofar as it has been copied accurately. And it has been copied so accurately as to assure us that nothing in the essential message has been lost (see Geisler and Nix, GIB, chapters 22 and 26).
Inerrancy Is Unnecessary
The Objection That Inerrancy Is Unnecessary
The answers to the previous objections lead to another: If errant copies of the original text are sufficient, then why did God have to inspire errorless originals? If a scratched record can convey the music of its master, then an errant Bible can convey to us the truth of the Master.
The response to this is simple. The reason the original text cannot err is that it was breathed out by God, and God cannot err. The copies, while demonstrated to have been providentially preserved from substantial error, are not breathed out by God. Hence, there can be errors in the copies.
To demonstrate, all human beings are imperfect copies of Adam, who was directly created by God. Nonetheless, as imperfect a copy as we may be, we are still 100 percent human. Adam was no more human than we are, yet there is a significant difference between Adam as he came fresh from the hand of the Creator, with absolutely no imperfections, and the imperfect copies of the original Adam that we are. We can no more conceive of God’s breathing out an imperfect original text than we can of His breathing the breath of life into an imperfect Adam. What comes directly from the hand (or mouth) of the Creator must be perfect, and only later copies of it can be imperfect. To claim errors in the original Adam or Bible is to allege that there are flaws in the very nature of God.
Inerrancy Is an Unfalsifiable View
The Objection That Inerrancy Is an Unfalsifiable View
Some critics insist that inerrantists have placed the bar so high for anyone to prove an error in the Bible that they have made the view unfalsifiable; that the standards for disproof are so high that there is no way to disprove it.
In response to this charge, we must point out several things.
First, the principle of falsifiability itself can be challenged. Is the principle itself falsifiable? If not, then it is self-defeating.
Second, even those who hold the principle often distinguish between what is falsifiable in principle and what is falsifiable in fact (see Flew, “M” in Edwards, EP). For instance, the claim that “there is no intelligent life in outer space” is falsifiable in principle, or it would be, if we could examine every nook and cranny of the cosmos. But since this is not presently possible, this statement is not falsifiable in fact.
Third, the doctrine of inerrancy is falsifiable in fact. All that is necessary is to either:
(1)find an actual error in an existing but accurate copy of Scripture;
(2)find an original manuscript with an error in it.
Incidentally, since earlier manuscripts (of other works) than the originals (of Scripture) have already been found, it is not beyond possibility to find an original.
Fourth, there is an even more decisive way to falsify evangelical Christianity—find the body of Jesus. If this could be done, according to the Bible itself, we would still be in our sins and our faith would be vain (1 Cor. 15:14–18). The truth is that it is not the evangelical view of Christianity that is unfalsifiable but the non-evangelical view, for according to non-evangelicals, finding the dead corpse of Jesus in the grave or even an original manuscript with an error would not be against their faith, since they do not believe either in the Resurrection of Christ or the inerrancy of Scripture. If one believes nothing, then nothing in his faith can be disproven.
Inerrancy Is Not a Fundamental Doctrine
The Objection That Inerrancy Is Not a Fundamental Doctrine
It has also been objected that the doctrine of inerrancy is not a fundamental truth of the Christian faith; hence, even if true, its importance is overestimated. Being a minor truth, supposedly, it should not be given major importance.
For one thing, by way of response, by almost any count of fundamentals of the faith, the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is to be included, as it is the foundation of all other doctrines. Every other fundamental of the Christian faith is based on the Scripture—if it does not have divine authority, then we have no divine authority for any doctrine to which we adhere. As the basis of all other doctrines, the inerrancy of the Bible is a fundamental of the Fundamentals, and if a fundamental of the Fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental? The answer is: fundamentally nothing.
In addition, the doctrine of inerrancy was not only affirmed by virtually all the great Fathers of the church (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Bible, Moody), it is also the foundation of all churches’ creeds, councils, and confessions. Inasmuch as the teachings of the church were the basis for what we call orthodoxy, so must be the authority of Scripture, on which the Fathers of the church based their pronouncements.
Inerrancy Should Not Be a Test for Orthodoxy
The Objection That Inerrancy Should Not Be a Test for Orthodoxy
This objection follows from the one before it. If inerrancy is not a major doctrine, then it should not be a test for orthodoxy. However, as shown, it is a major teaching of Scripture, and, thus, it is a test of orthodoxy.
Of course, inerrancy is not a test of salvation—one can deny inerrancy and still be saved. Salvation depends on believing certain soteriological truths, such as the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins (see 1 Cor. 15:1–4; Rom. 10:9), and not on accepting all fundamental doctrines (e.g., the inspiration of Scripture and the second coming of Christ). One can be saved without believing in all doctrines essential to orthodoxy, but he cannot be a consistent evangelical without embracing all of them.
One other distinction is important here. A person can be evangelical or orthodox on all other fundamentals of the faith and still be unorthodox on this one, as inconsistent as it may be. For example, the neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth affirmed the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection, yet he denied the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Thus, he was orthodox on the rest of these fundamentals but unorthodox on his view of Scripture.
Inerrancy Is a Divisive Doctrine
The Objection That Inerrancy Is a Divisive Doctrine
It is not uncommon to hear the charge that inerrancy is a divisive doctrine, unnecessarily dividing one believer from another against the Bible’s call for the unity of all believers (Eph. 4:3–6).
Besides the emotional connotation of the word divisive, this allegation should also be rejected for several other reasons.
First, not everything that divides is divisive. A center aisle in a church divides one side from the other, but it is not thereby divisive. Marriage divides a person from all other individuals of the opposite sex, but it does not necessarily make one divisive toward them. Likewise, doctrine divides those who affirm it from those who deny it, but this does not mean it is a divisive doctrine.
Second, even if a doctrine were divisive simply because it divides, those who affirm the orthodox doctrine should not be considered divisive but rather those who deny it. For example, it should not be evangelicals who adhere to the deity of Christ who are called divisive, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject it; likewise, it is not those who affirm the Trinity who are divisive but the Oneness Pentecostals (who hold that only Christ is God), who discard it. Let’s put the shoe on the right foot.
Third, if taking a stand on a doctrine automatically makes it divisive and thereby wrong, then all stands for any doctrine would be wrong, for there is not an essential doctrine of the Christian faith that is not denied by some heresy somewhere.
Fourth, when push comes to shove, on essentials it is better to be divided by truth than to be united by error. All truth divides one from error; the real problem is not those who divide by standing for truth but those who divide by falling for error. The ancient dictum applies here: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity. But by any measure of consistency, the doctrines of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture are essential teachings of the Christian faith.
Objection to the Term “Inerrancy”
The Objection to the Term “Inerrancy”
Even some who believe in the errorlessness of the Bible object to the term because they believe it is either too negative or too technical. However, both reasons are misdirected.
First of all, while the term inerrancy can have a technical scientific connotation, it need not. Like most other words, there is a range of usage that must be determined by the context in which it is used.
This is not to say that no other terms are acceptable. One can also speak of the “errorlessness” of the Bible or that Scripture is “without error.” The bottom line is not to insist on the term but on the truth of the matter.
Also, as to the term being negative (not-errant), two things are important to observe. For one, many of the Ten Commandments are negative; surely they should not be rejected for the same reason. Also, many terms for attributes of God are also negative, such as God is in-finite (not-finite) and im-mutable (not-changeable).
For another, negative terms are often more clear than positive ones. Try stating “You shall not commit adultery” in only positive terms. Take the two statements “The Bible is true” and “The Bible is without error.” The latter is clearer than the former, since “true” can mean either wholly true or partly true, while “without error” must mean wholly true.
Inerrancy Is Contrary to Fact
The Objection That Inerrancy Is Contrary to Fact
Finally, some insist that the doctrine of inerrancy is contrary to fact—that there are demonstrable errors in the Bible.
This view, however, makes errors of its own. The fact is that no one has ever demonstrated that there is an error in the original text of the Bible; rather, those who allege errors in the Bible have been found in error. Here is a list of the errors of those who claim to find errors in the Bible (Geisler and Howe, The Big book of Bible Difficulties, chapter 1):
Mistake 1: Assuming That the Unexplained Is Not Explainable
No scientist would assume that what is unexplained in nature is unexplainable; rather, they keep on doing research. Neither should any Bible critic assume that what is not yet explained in the Bible never will be explained. Both scientists and biblical scholars should keep looking for an answer.
Mistake 2: Presuming the Bible Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Like an American citizen charged with an offense, the Bible should be presumed innocent until it is proven guilty. This is not asking anything special for the Bible; it is the way we approach all human communication. If we did not, life would not be possible; for example, if we assumed road signs and traffic signals were not telling the truth, we would probably be dead before we could prove they were.
Mistake 3: Confusing Our Fallible Interpretations with God’s Infallible Revelation
Human beings, whether scientists or biblical scholars, are finite, and finite beings make mistakes. That is why there are erasers on pencils, correcting fluid for typing, and a “delete” button on keyboards. And even though God’s Word is perfect (Psa. 19:7), as long as imperfect human beings exist, there will be misinterpretations of God’s Word and false views about His world. None of these prove errors in God’s revelations but only errors in our interpretations of them.
Mistake 4: Failing to Understand the Context of the Passage
Perhaps the most common mistake of critics is to take a text out of its proper context. As the adage goes, “A text out of context is a pretext.” One can prove anything from the Bible by this mistaken procedure. The Bible says, “There is no God” (Psa. 14:1). Of course, the context is that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”
Mistake 5: Neglecting to Interpret Difficult Passages in the Light of Clear Ones
Some passages of Scripture are hard to understand. Sometimes the difficulty is due to obscurity; at other times, it is due to the fact that passages appear to be teaching something contrary to what some other part of Scripture is clearly teaching. For example, James appears to be saying salvation is by works (James 2:14–26), whereas Paul taught clearly that it was by grace (Rom. 4:5; Titus 3:5–7; Eph. 2:8–9). In this case, James should not be construed so as to contradict Paul—Paul is speaking about justification before God (which is by faith alone), whereas James is referring to justification before men (who cannot see our faith, but only our works).
Mistake 6: Basing a Teaching on an Obscure Passage
Some passages in the Bible are difficult because their meaning is obscure, often because the context is not clear. This is true in 1 Corinthians 15:29, where Paul says, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” Since the context is not clear, one cannot be certain that Paul is recommending this practice; he may only be alluding to what some were wrongly doing (cf. the use of “they” rather than “we”). At any rate, since the context is not clear, it is a mistake to assume that Paul is recommending a practice that is against other clear teachings of Scripture, such as salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7).
Mistake 7: Forgetting That the Bible Is a Human Book with Human Characteristics
In addition to having divine authorship, the Bible was written by human beings, each with their own style and idiosyncrasies. These human authors, about forty in all, sometimes used human sources for their material (Josh. 10:13; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). They manifest different human literary styles, from the mournful meter of Lamentations to the exalted poetry of Isaiah and the simple grammar of John. They also manifest human perspectives, whether a shepherd (David), a lawgiver (Moses), a prophet (Daniel), or a priest (Chronicles). They also reveal human thought patterns, including memory lapses (1 Cor. 1:14–16) and emotions (Gal. 4:14). The Bible discloses specific human interests, such as rural (Amos), medical (Luke), natural (James), or political (Kings).
However, like Christ the Living Word, the written Word of God is completely human, yet without error. Forgetting the humanity of Scripture can lead to falsely impugning its integrity by expecting a level of expression higher than what is customary to a human document.
Mistake 8: Assuming That a Partial Report Is a False Report
The four gospels relate the same story in different ways to different groups of people and sometimes even quote the same saying with different words. For example, Matthew recorded Peter as saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16); Mark wrote, “You are the Christ” (8:29); and Luke said, “The Christ of God” (9:20). These are not contradictory but complementary; each gives part, but none the whole.
Mistake 9: Demanding That New Testament Citations of the Old Testament Always Be Exact Quotations
Critics sometimes mistakenly assume that every New Testament citation needs to be an exact quotation. Even today it is an accepted literary practice to quote the essence of a statement without using precisely the same words. The same meaning can be conveyed without using the same verbal expressions.
Sometimes the New Testament paraphrases or summarizes the Old Testament text (e.g., Mat. 2:6; cf. Mic. 5:2); others blend two texts into one (Mat. 27:9–10, cf. Jer. 32:6–9); occasionally a general truth is mentioned without citing a specific text (Mat. 2:23, cf. Zech. 11:12–13). There are also instances where the New Testament applies a text in a different way than the Old Testament did (Mat. 2:15, cf. Hos. 11:1), but in no case does the New Testament misinterpret or misapply the Old Testament (see Archer, OTQNT).
Mistake 10: Assuming That Divergent Accounts Are False Ones
Critics also err in assuming that because two or more accounts of the same event differ, they are mutually exclusive. For example, Matthew says there was one angel at the tomb after the Resurrection (28:5), whereas John informs us there were two (20:12). These are not contradictory reports. In fact, there is an infallible mathematical rule that easily explains this problem: Wherever there are two, there is always one—it never fails! Matthew did not say there was only one angel; one has to add the word “only” to Matthew’s account to make it contradict John’s. If the critic comes to the Bible in order to show it errs, then the error is not in the Bible, but in the critic.
Mistake 11: Presuming That the Bible Approves of All It Records
It is a mistake to assume that everything recorded in the Bible is approved by the Bible. For example, it documents Satan’s words (Gen. 3:4; cf. John 8:44) but does not affirm them; it gives a true record that he lied, but it does not imply that these lies are the truth. Likewise, the Bible records David’s adultery (2 Sam. 12) and Solomon’s polygamy (1 Kings 11), but it does not endorse them.
Mistake 12: Forgetting That the Bible Uses Non-Technical, Everyday Language
To be true, a source does not have to use scholarly, technical, or so-called “scientific” terminology. The Bible is written for the common person of every generation, and it therefore uses everyday language. The use of observational, nonscientific language is not unscientific, it is merely prescientific. It is no more unscientific to speak of the sun “standing still” (Josh. 10:12) than to refer to the sun “rising” (Josh. 1:15). Contemporary meteorologists still speak daily of the time of “sunrise” and “sunset.”
Mistake 13: Assuming That Round Numbers Are False
Another mistake sometimes made by Bible critics is claiming that round numbers are false. Not so. Like most ordinary speech, the Bible uses round numbers (1 Chron. 19:18; 21:5); for example, it refers to the diameter of something as being about one-third of the circumference of something (1 Kings 7:23). This may be imprecise from the standpoint of a contemporary technological society to speak of 3.14159265 … as 3, but it is not incorrect for an ancient, non-technological people. At any rate, 3.14 … rounds off to 3.
Mistake 14: Neglecting to Note That the Bible Uses Different Literary Devices
As a human book, the Bible uses various human literary devices. Several whole books are written in poetic style (e.g., Job, Psalms, Proverbs); the Synoptic Gospels are filled with parables; in Galatians 4, Paul utilizes an allegory; the New Testament abounds with metaphors (e.g., 2 Cor. 3:2–3; James 3:6) and similes (cf. Mat. 20:1; James 1:6); hyperboles may also be found (e.g., Col. 1:23; John 21:25; 2 Cor. 3:2), and possibly even poetic figures (Job 41:1); Jesus employed satire (Mat. 19:24 with 23:24); and figures of speech are common. It is incorrect to assume that all these should be taken literally, thus resulting in contradictions. All of the Bible is literally true, but not all the Bible is true literally (there are symbols and figures of speech too).
Mistake 15: Forgetting That Only the Original Text, Not Every Copy of Scripture, Is Without Error
When critics do come upon a genuine error in a biblical manuscript copy, they make another mistake—they assume it was in the original inspired text of Scripture. They forget that God uttered only the original text of Scripture, not the imperfect copies. Inspiration does not guarantee that every copy of the original is without error, and, therefore, we are to expect that minor errors will be found in manuscript copies.
When we run into a so-called “error” in the Bible, we must assume one of two things: either the manuscript was not copied correctly, or we have not understood it rightly. What we may not assume is that God made an error in inspiring the original text.
Several things should be observed about these copyist errors.
First, they are errors in the copies, not the originals. No one has ever found an original manuscript with an error in it.
Second, they are minor errors (often in names or numbers) that do not affect any doctrine of the Christian faith.
Third, these copyist errors are relatively few in number.
Fourth, usually by the context, or by another Scripture, we know which one is in error.
Mistake 16: Confusing General Statements with Universal Ones
Critics often jump to the conclusion that unqualified statements admit no exceptions. For instance, proverbial sayings by their very nature offer only general guidance, not universal assurance. Proverbs 16:7 is a case in point—it affirms that “when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” This obviously was not intended to be a universal truth, for Paul was pleasing to the Lord and his enemies stoned him (Acts 14:19), while Jesus was pleasing to the Lord and His enemies crucified Him. It is a mistake to take a general statement as a necessarily particular one.
Mistake 17: Forgetting That Later Revelation Supersedes Previous Revelation
Sometimes critics of Scripture forget the principle of progressive revelation. God does not reveal everything at once, nor does He always lay down the same conditions for every period of time. Therefore, some of His later revelation will supersede His former statements. But this is a change of revelation, not a change in revelation. Bible critics sometimes confuse a change in revelation with a mistake. For example, the fact that a parent allows a very small child to eat with his fingers only to tell him later to use a spoon, is not a contradiction. Nor is the parent contradicting himself to suggest later that the child should use a fork, not a spoon, to eat his vegetables. This is progressive revelation, each command suited to fit the particular circumstance in which the person finds himself.
There was a time when God tested the human race by forbidding them to eat of a specific tree in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16–17). This command is no longer in effect, but the latter revelation does not contradict the former revelation—it simply supersedes it. Also, there was a period (under the Mosaic Law) when God commanded that animals be sacrificed for people’s sins. However, since Christ offered the perfect sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:11–14), this Old Testament command is no longer in effect. Here again, there is no contradiction between the former and the latter commands; there is simply a change of revelation, for new directions are given by which God’s people are to live.
Don’t forget Augustine’s counsel about alleged errors in the Bible:
If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, “The author of this book is mistaken;” but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.
The mistakes are not in the revelation of God, but are in the misinterpretations of man; the Bible is without mistake, the critics are not.
Mistake 18: The Allegation That Grammatical Irregularities Are Errors
Like most human books, the Bible has grammatically irregular construction. It is a mistake, however, to assume this is an error.
First, there is no absolute standard for grammar. There are regular and irregular usages, but no real grammatical errors.
Second, grammar as such does not deal with truth but is only the form through which verbal truth is expressed. So an error could be expressed in good (regular) grammar, and the truth could be expressed in bad (irregular) grammar.
Third, irregular grammar is often a more forceful expression of an idea, as slang reveals.
Content above is from Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Introduction, Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2002), 499-512.