3 Things the Bible Does that Don’t Count as Errors

People make a big deal out of supposed errors in the Bible. It doesn’t make much sense, really. Even if there were errors in the Bible, it wouldn’t hurt Christianity one bit. But that aside, I want to help demonstrate a few basic weird things that the Bible does because it was written by ancient peoples with different ideas about how writing should work and what constitutes accurate and legitimate writing. So here are 3 things the Bible does that, when taken on their own terms, do not qualify as errors.

  1. Putting events out of chronological order. This is something that the Gospel writers do the most. Instead of putting various smaller events in chronological order, the order that they historically happened, they often put events in theological order, to drive home certain topics or themes. One example of this is the cleansing of the Temple and the cursing of the fig tree. In Matthew, Jesus curses the fig tree after He cleanses the Temple, and it withers1. In Mark, Jesus curses the fig tree, cleanses the Temple, and then returns to find the tree withered2. Obviously both of these orders can’t be what chronologically happened. But Mark ties together the meanings of the fig tree and the Temple cleansing by reordering them, to make it clear that both are about the impending judgment of Israel. This is not an error, but an intentional reordering to make a point. John, likewise, puts Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple near the beginning of His Gospel, though the reasons why are highly debatable. Examples like this abound throughout the Gospels, Acts, and even much of the Old Testament.
  2. Leaving names out of genealogies. The major point of Biblical genealogies is to trace certain historical lines of descent. With Jesus, for example, the genealogies given for Him intentionally highlight His descent from Abraham and David. Because of this major purpose, sometimes minor names which don’t contribute much are skipped, especially if that helps the genealogy end up at a significant number of names. These principles are easiest to see in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. When compared to 1 Chronicles 3:1-16, which traces the same line from David, he leaves out Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim. This is no problem, because it was a known and accepted practice, and gives Matthew his neat 3 sets of 14 names.
  3. Minor wording variations. The Gospels all report Jesus doing and saying many of the same things, but the words don’t always come out the same. This also, of course, applies not just to Jesus but to everyone else as well. A famous example of this is the sign above Jesus’ head on the Cross. The different Gospels record four different versions: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,”3 “The King of the Jews,”4 “This is the King of the Jews,”5 and “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”6 Now, obviously these wordings are all different. People have come up with various explanations, including the plausible enough one that the original text had it all: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” But in the end it doesn’t matter much. Before the days of audio and video recording, photographs, and television, no one was worried about perfect precision. The goal of writing things down was the accurately capture the message or spirit, not the precise words. Generally, Bible scholars would agree, for example, that the Gospels have the ipsissima vox, the very voice, of Jesus instead of the ipsissima verba, the very words. This is especially the case because Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, while the Gospels are in Greek, so almost everything we have of His sayings was translated from one very different language to another. None of this can constitute an error, for the gist and point of each of these texts comes out loud and clear in any case.
  1. Matt. 21:12-13, 18-2
  2. Mark 11:12-25
  3. Matt. 27:37
  4. Mark 15:26
  5. Luke 23:38
  6. John 19:19
3 Things the Bible Does that Don’t Count as Errors

2 thoughts on “3 Things the Bible Does that Don’t Count as Errors

  1. Isabelle says:

    What are your thoughts not about Young Earth Creationism per se, but the way a lot of Young Earth Creationists can be? I don’t know whether I’m a Young Earth Creationist or an Old Earth Creationist. I don’t think humans have been on the earth for more than 6,000-8,000 years, that there was any animal death prior to sin, that the Garden of Eden was a real place in Iraq, and that there was a Worldwide Flood. But I don’t know and I don’t really care how old the universe and earth are. So I guess I believe Day 5 and Day 6 were 6,000 years ago. But I don’t know about Day 1-4.

    But it seems like some Young Earth Creationists have to make a point how much they disagree or even get angry reading or hearing things like “The sun is six billion years old” or “These rivers formed millions of years ago”. It just don’t see the point of getting “righteous” anger over something saying the universe is billions of years old, regardless of whether you agree or not.

    1. It’s definitely a problematic attitude. The details of the doctrine of creation and the interpretation of Genesis 1-3, while they have value, are not primary matters and should not divide. Yet many YECs act like it is the battleground of all battlegrounds, or worse, a place to divide liberals from conservatives. For that matter, the fury many get in the YEC world is inappropriate to any issue.

So what do you think?