Are there errors in the Bible? If so, what kind of errors and how do they affect its inspired character? Are there contradictions between the authors of the Bible? How are these explained?
Claims that the Bible is divinely revealed and inspired create the expectation that the text is perfect, without grammatical errors, internally in harmony, and impeccable from a scientific and historical point of view. In reality, anyone can find articles with sensational headlines about the errors in the Bible.
The statement, “The Bible contains errors” is generally based on certain “contradictions” found in it or the differences between copies or variants of the Bible. However, before drawing conclusions, it must be understood that the primary purpose of the Holy Scripture is to present the character of God to people in a language accessible to those who lived between the 15th centuries BC. and 1 AD (the period in which the Bible was written) in such a way that they understand Him, trust Him, and are saved.
Consequently, it is a mistake for a modern reader to look for specific technical or scientific indications in the Bible. Nevertheless, general scientific observations are not contradicted by the Bible.
The Bible was originally written on papyrus and, as with all documents typically used in Antiquity, we no longer have the original manuscripts, but its copies. In this context, the Bible asserts itself as the best-preserved document of Antiquity, with the highest percentage of accuracy and fidelity of transmission to this day. The certainty of the experts is a result of the existence of multiple old manuscripts in the original languages or translations.
In the case of the New Testament, we have approximately 30,000 ancient Greek manuscripts and translations. In the first three centuries of the Christian era, the church fathers quoted extensively from the New Testament—about 36,000 times—therefore we could reproduce the content of the New Testament from these quotations. If a mistake has crept into a manuscript, with the help of hundreds of other variants we can correct the mistake. In short, what we have today is the text that the authors originally wrote.
The correctness of the historical and geographical details allows us to place the biblical accounts in time and space, which makes it impossible to label the biblical text as a myth, fairy tale, or legend.
However, we see apparent contradictions in the Bible. The most famous “contradictions” are attributed to the gospels, which are actually four accounts of the life of Jesus that show a high degree of commonality. Nevertheless, the gospels also provide different details. Do these bear the imprint of divine inspiration?
In authentic eyewitness accounts it is to be expected that the basics will be the same, while the details differ. If the stories told by the witnesses were identical in every little respect, any judge would suspect that the testimony given was fabricated and not at all true.
Some examples of such differences:
- Was there one angel at Jesus’s tomb, as Matthew (28:2) says, or two, as John (20:12) says? Such accounts are complementary, not contradictory: Matthew tells us about the angel who spoke, the one who was prominent, while John keeps the memory of the two angels present (one of whom spoke).
- Was the herd of pigs drowned in Gerasa, as Mark and Luke say, or in Gadara, as Matthew says? Gadara is the name of the province where the town of Gerasa (Heb. Khersa) was located, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, as contemporary archeology proves.
- The differences in the biography of Jesus presented by Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) can be explained by the different genealogical lines traced by the two authors—Matthew speaks of Joseph’s ancestors, while Luke speaks of the ancestors of Mary.
We see that most contradictions have reasonable explanations. We could speak of errors or mistakes if we could find no acceptable way to reconcile verses or passages that seem to contradict each other.
In conclusion, we have no errors in the Bible that affect the essence of its message. On the contrary, the preservation and transmission of the text to this day bears the same imprint of divine intervention, as in the case of its revelation and inspiration.