Friday, July 31, 2015

Is the Bible Really Inerrant: Part II

I continue my musing on the inerrancy of the Bible. 

Not a Science Book

The Bible is not a text book or science book though some like to use it that way. Much of the Old Testament was written according to what is called oral tradition—the Jewish method of preserving historical events. Several years ago Alex Haley wrote Roots. The story was about a black slave Kunta Kinte, Haley’s ancestor, who was kidnapped from Gambia (West Africa) and brought to America in chains. While researching the book, Haley traveled to Africa where he met with a tribal historian who told the story of Kunta Kinte’s capture. (Linda T. Wynn, “Alex Haley (1921-1992), Way Back Machine,  http://web.archive.org/web/20040803170852/http://www.tnstate.edu/library/digital/Haley.htm (accessed May 2, 2014))  

This oral tradition is similar to how many of the biblical stories of old were passed down before they were eventually penned on parchment. The Bible wasn’t written to the same standard of accuracy we have today primarily because the emphasis was not as much on linear details but on telling the stories and genealogical significance.

There are numerous discrepancies in the Bible. Here are a few.

·         Two creation accounts. In Genesis 1:1-27 God created everything before man and in the second, Genesis 2, man is created before vegetation
·         Accounts of the empty tomb vary in each gospel including different numbers of angels present
·         Gaps in genealogies. Matthew 1:1-17 lists Jesus’ genealogy, but it has holes and is considerably condensed. Some of Jesus’ predecessors’ names do not appear. It’s not usual for different accounts listing the same genealogy line to omit people. Dubbed  “telescoping” by some biblical scholars, most feel they reflect differing expectations. Writers who documented these ancient biblical genealogies were not bothered by abridging them. They sometimes cut them short to emphasize a name or connection. Today we want a complete listing of all ancestors.

Regarding these inconsistencies in chronology Raymond Dillard writes in the NIV Study Bible:4
Unimportant names are left out in order to relate an individual to a prominent ancestor, or possibly to achieve the desired number of names in the genealogy. Some Biblical genealogies, for example, omit names to achieve multiples of 7: For the period from David to the exile Matthew gives 14 generations (2 times 7), while Luke gives 21 (3 times 7), and the same authors give similar multiples of 7 for the period from the exile to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). (1 Chronicles: Introduction from the NIV Study Bible,” http://www.biblica.com/es-us/la-biblia/biblia-en-linea/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-chronicles/ (accessed May 1, 2012)

Not Error Free

We also need to keep in mind that biblical writings have been transcribed from ancient manuscripts. The printing press is a fairly recent invention. Prior to its arrival, biblical passages had to be hand written and copied. Despite attention to detail, checks and rechecks, transcribing errors happened.

If you have ever copied something by typing it or writing it, you know how easy it is to skip a word or line. Some copied manuscripts reflect human error. Later manuscripts may have them correct or may still include them.

Differences in interpretations as to the meanings of words in the original language also exist. In some cases, articles such as the word “the” may be left out purposely or accidentally omitted, but the meaning is still accurate. Transcribers might also switch word orders around though the meaning is still the same. (From the author's interview with Rev. Jeffrey Stewart, interview by author, April 1, 2014

Jonathan Dodson says there are two ways to look at these errors. First, meaningful but not plausible. In this case, the errors have meaning but to verify if they are correct, you hold them up against the rest of the passage to see if they make sense. What this means is that words, when translated need to be taken in context. (Jonathan K. Dodson, “What to Say When Someone Says the Bible Has Errors,” February 16, 2012,  http://jonathandodson.org/2012/02/what-to-say-when-someone-says-the-bible-has-errors/ (May 2, 2014))

Second, meaningful but not plausible. These are errors that have meanings. Dodson says these account for about 1% of errors so they are very infrequent. In some rare cases translations may include additions which many scholars feel should not have be included. Some of the most ancient manuscripts and writings indicate that the book of Mark originally ended with the disciples fleeing the empty tomb after an encounter with an angel.

Many Bibles have passages ending at verse 20 which covers a visit by Jesus, following His resurrection to Mary Magdalene, His appearance to two unnamed disciples, and the commissioning of the disciples with what has become known as The Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples and the ascension of Jesus. Most Bibles today include footnotes indicating this discrepancy.

It’s an incorrect presupposition to assume there was one single original manuscript from which all copies sprang. Rather, there were many ancient copies in circulation. It’s estimated that there were between 13,000 and 24,000 ancient manuscripts of the Bible. If there was only one manuscript, and all copies came from that and were copies of copies, then the errors would be astronomical.

Because multiple copies were being used and copied, this actually decreased the number of errors. Experts estimated there are somewhere around 150,000 discrepancies in the Bible. This sounds like a lot until you consider that many include the same inconsistencies multiple times. The majority of these are due to spelling errors and changes in grammar over the years.”

As you can see there is much to think about when we talk about inerrancy. My next posting will continue my look are "inerancy."  Stay tuned.  I welcome your comments.

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