There ARE Actual Errors in the Bible

Posted on September 24, 2020

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By David Ettinger

Which is True?
This is an alarming headline for some of you, but it’s true: There really are errors in the Bible.

But don’t we evangelicals hold that the Bible is “inerrant,” that is, without error – the actual ordained, God-breathed Word of God Himself? Yes, we do, and it is true. Yet, the Bible still contains errors.

How can both be true? Let’s take a brief look.

Obvious Errors
One of the major “hot spots” for biblical errors is the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel. A quick rundown:

1 Samuel 6:19: During battle, the Philistines captured the Ark of God from the Israelites (1 Samuel 4:11). However, they suffered greatly for it (5:6-12), and sought to return the Ark to the Israelites (6:1-3). They did so, placing it upon two cows hitched to a cart (6:11) and sending them on their way to the city of Beth-shemesh. We read in verse 19: “[God] struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men …”

Conservative Bible scholars almost unanimously agree that this number is terribly wrong. First, they question if an Israeli city at that time could even have such a population. Second, they question the enormity of this death toll in a nation with such a small population by today’s standards. What if 50,000 Americans suddenly died in one day; it would be catastrophic. How much more so in tiny-by-comparison Israel? The likely number of deaths was 70.

1 Samuel 13:1: “Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty two years over Israel.” Note the italics for “thirty” and “forty” as used in the NASB; the Hebrew does not include either of these numbers. In fact, the Hebrew gives no age for Saul when he began to reign, and states only that he reigned for two years! Furthermore, Acts 13:21 tells us that Saul reigned for 40 years. What to do?

What we can logically conclude is this: Saul did reign for 40 years (based on Acts 13), but we don’t know how old he was when he began to reign. Regarding the Hebrew text saying he reigned 2 years, many Bible scholars believe Saul ruled 2 years “in good standing,” but that he spent the remaining 38 years in rebellion to God. Maybe, maybe not.

1 Samuel 13:5: “Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen …” The big problem here is that no army in all of ancient recorded history has had such a massive amount of chariots, even among the most powerful empires. More likely, the Philistines had 3,000 chariots, not 30,000.

2 Samuel 8:4: “David captured from him [general Hadadezer] 1,700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers …” However, 1 Chronicles 18:4 tells us: “David took from him 1,000 chariots and 7,000 horsemen …” Which was it, 1,700 horsemen or 7,000 horsemen? The 1 Chronicles account – 7,000 horsemen – in likely correct. The 1,700 of 2 Samuel probably refers to chariots, but the word “chariots” was eventually omitted in the early Hebrew texts.

2 Samuel 15:7: This chapter recounts Absalom’s rebellion against his father King David, which likely covered 4 to 5 years. Yet, the verse reads: “Now it came about at the end of forty years that Absalom said to the king, ‘Please let me go and pay my vow which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron.’” An obvious error!

The Answer
There is no debating that these are legitimate errors, and yet we hold that the Bible is inerrant. How do these two facts mesh?

The answer is simple. When God the Father through the Holy Spirit communicated Scripture to His 40 authors over 1,500 years, the information they received was perfect and flawless. However, the Lord left it to men – scribes and copyists – to write down His truth. Being how there was no printing press in ancient times, all Scripture was handwritten. As the need for more manuscripts mounted for growing populations, more scribes and copyists were employed, all working off whatever manuscripts were available to them. Eventually, the original manuscripts became damaged or were lost, and all manuscripts were copied from copied manuscripts.

God assigned human beings to write down His Holy Word, but human beings are flawed. Combine this truth with the fact that scribal work was tedious, exacting, and terrible on the eyes and back, and you have a recipe for human error.

This is the reason for the real errors in the Bible: They are all scribal. The Holy Spirit communicated them perfectly, but over time human error began to creep into the biblical manuscripts.

However, the most important thing to remember is that there are NO doctrinal or theological errors in the Bible. Though there are some difficult-to-understand passages (Hebrews 6:1-6 comes to mind), there are no doctrinal discrepancies in the Bible.

Why did God allow human scribal error into His Holy Book? I’m not sure, and I wish He hadn’t. Perhaps He wanted to display just how flawed and imperfect humanity is and how needful we are of a Savior.

Full-length books have been written about this topic, but I just wanted to touch upon it. I know some of you have studied this fascinating subject in more depth, and if you can contribute more to this post, please do so in the comments below!

Note: After writing this blog, a friend informed me that inerrancy applies only to the original manuscript, not the translations.