This is another post from my apologetics series. These questions are ones that have been discussed in my apologetics group at Mississippi State Wesley Foundation.
Mistakes in the Bible: How can we trust it?
If the bible is “divinely inspired”, why are there so many inconsistencies and errors? (see this website for examples: http://www.freethoughtdebater.org/2011/12/30/bible-errors-and-contradictions/)
1. Original infallibility argument. Maintain that the original manuscripts were perfect and without error, but that mankind over time has introduced small errors in translation. This is ultimately unsatisfactory, as it leaves us without any way to determine what still is or isn’t divinely inspired. Whether the original was perfect or not, we don’t have it anymore. How then could we be certain that what we’re reading is accurate and what God wanted at all? One could respond that God has guided the biblical translators enough to avoid such a drastic deterioration of scripture, but this too will leave many unsatisfied.
2. Deny errors. One could hold that there are no errors at all in the bible, and that even in its modern form it is perfect and exactly as God wanted it. Doing this would require a vast amount of work, as one would have to go through every single supposed contradiction and show why they do not conflict. Furthermore, there are many errors which would be immensely difficult to reconcile, requiring what many would consider to be “mental gymnastics”, or denying the obvious. Nevertheless, it is possible to pursue such a position, though it may be unsatisfactory or appear downright unintellectual to many.
3. Alternative purpose argument. One could take up the position that scripture was never intended to be a strictly historical or scientific record, but instead its primary aim is to be theologically sound. Though there may be small errors and contradictions in scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit ensures that the theological meaning God wants to express is still clear and present within scripture. Many supposed errors, such as those within the four Gospels, could be explained as done on purpose then. It may be that the point wasn’t to relay an accurate historical portrait of Jesus, but that each Gospel aimed at making a particular theological point, and did this in a narrative or culturally relative fashion that sometimes required highlighting one thing over another, omittance of certain events, or a slightly different arrangement of events. This would not technically be an error, but instead a purposeful design that fulfills its end goal: to accurately describe what Jesus and God are like, not to describe what and when they did things. This response can also be very unsatisfying for some. While it doesn’t require that all of the Bible be fictitious, is does leave it open and vague as to what exactly happened, how it happened, when it happened, and where it happened. Ultimately, a proponent of this position is putting it on faith that at least most, if not all, of the things described in scripture happened in a similar way as they are depicted in the Bible. While many events can find support from alternative sources (i.e. ancient historians or archaeology), not all of them can. For these events we only have our faith.