Good Question...

On...KNOWN textual errors in the Bible--don't they destroy "inerrancy"?


I received an email with TWO questions in it that might of general use. One question had to do with data for a Universal Flood, and the other question had to do with known textual errors in the bible...

First, my reply...
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Dear XXX,

Thanks for your honest heart and commitment to truth!

It is so refreshing to see that today...so many people never even face up to these issues (and others like them)...

I cannot get too detailed into these specifix today, but let me make a few comments...

1. The question about the water in the flood etc., I will have to send to a godly friend of mine--a geophysicist that knows about these things...I am sure he can get you some data for you to work through...

2. data to support a universal flood would not be limited to geophysical data (which is what I understood your comment to be referring to it)...

By far and away, the most reliable sources of information we have about life on Earth are LITERARY, MATERIAL, and ICONOGRAPHIC--not geological.


In short, there is considerable data to support the position of a universal flood--BEFORE YOU EVEN GET TO GEOLOGICAL or biblical arguments (which must likewise be considered as data)...

3. The textual problems you mention, as you point out, are generally related to textual transmission issues, and "inerrancy" is not about the copies per se, but about the originals. In my opinion, these examples are sorta evidence that God has literally protected us FROM OURSELVES. In other words, the only way we know these are problems are from OTHER BIBLICAL passages and OTHER Manuscripts! God built redundancy into the Book and checks-n-balances in the Mss data, to help us identify the challenge-issues (perhaps). In any event, we should not go around claiming that our existing text is inerrant, since in a very real since, exegetes decide what the 'real text' is passage-by-passage. When we do textual criticism, we do exactly that--we decide between mss. variants. The text thus has a fluid-edge, if you will, and thus we have to be careful about pinning our faith on extrema.

On the other hand, I have to admit that NO major (or even semi-major) article of faith is dependent on a 'fluid-edge' passage...the examples below, would not affect virtually any element of belief...

The fact that:

(1) these problems are so easily identified,
(2) that non-problematic versions of the passages exist in the ancient mss. witnessess (see below), and
(3) the evidence for the accuracy of the rest of the text is SO POWERFUL,
leads me to have great confidence in the overall process God used to get His message to me. The Book I have--in spite of the fact that new mss. which sometimes refine the accuracy of the individual words are occasionally uncovered--is trustworthy, unless IT GIVES ME DATA OTHERWISE--as in the OT Synoptic Passages you mention. [Athough see the brief comments below on the specifics you cite]

I hope this helps somewhat...I know your feeling about this, though, for the longest time I had a similar, almost debilitating worry about the old Domino Effect--"if a number could be wrong, how could we trust any of the verses about Jesus' rising from the dead?!". I learned over time that God 'over-engineered' His Word to make sure that I didn't miss any of His message...I don't have to depend on ANY SINGLE PASSAGE for what I believe; nor do I have to be slavishly dependence on a single MSS family to be spot-on correct; God seems to consistently provide pattern-data to make sure I get it (e.g. He doesn't give isolated miracles, but rather streams and sequences of theme-related miracles and signs).

Look at the data below, chew this over, and let me know what you think... and again, don't lose that honesty! God wants those who worship Him to do so in truth and in a clear conscience.

warmly,
glenn miller
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question:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been a committed Christian for a number of years now but have come to a point in my life where I am seriously questioning the truth of the scriptures. I have come to realize that the Bible is not inerrant as we have it today. This has a number of tremendous consequences. Let me give you some specific cases:

1) 1 Samuel 13:5 "Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30, 000 chariots and 6000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the se ashore in abundance;" (NASB)

The problem here is that the Philistines were not that large of a nation on the world scene at the time and even the largest empires of the Assyrians and Babylonians, never came anywhere close to 30,000 chariots. Also, the ratio of 30,000 chariots to 6000 horsemen is not consistent to what is known about ancient warfare. What probably happened is that a copyist made an error transcribing 3,000 chariots to 30,000 chariots. That's nice to know but it is still an error.

[This is a purely textual problem, actually. If you notice, the NIV has '3,000' here instead of '30,000'. The 30k figure is in the MT which is generally considered to be flawed in this verse. For example, the first part of the verse--'coming against them'--does NOT even show up in the MT, but does show up in the LXX. (Scholars believe the words were lost in the MT due to 'homoioteleuton'--a copyist error due to a similar ending in lines, allowing the copyist to look back at the original at a different point--causes an omission). In our case, 5a, the number 3,000 is preserved in the Lucian Recension of the LXX and in the Syriac Version. On the basis of this text-critical process, the problem has a very plausible solution.]

2) 2 Samuel 8:4/ 1 Chronicles 18:4: Samuel says that David captured 1,700 horsemen and Chronicles says he captured 7,000 in the exact same battle. 1,700 does not equal 7,000 no matter what you do so one or the other must be in error. Again, you can claim copyist error but it is yet another error in our current version of scripture.

[Yes, it is an 'error' in ONE of the MSS families--the MT...Other families such as 2 Samuel in the LXX and (most probably) in the Dead Sea Scroll version of this--4QSam(a)--reflect identical wording in the two passages...it is simply a text-critical decision that someone made that created a conflict (in this case). Again, we have mss. data that resolves the issue plausibly.]

3) 1 Kings 4:26/2 Chronicles 9:25: Kings says that Solomon had 40,000 stalls and Chronicles says he had 4,000 stalls. Again it looks like a copyist error but it is yet another error in our "inerrant" scripture.

[Remember, inerrancy does NOT apply to any specific group's opinion of which textual variants are the best in these extreme cases...and you are right, it looks like a copyist error, since some of the Greek versions have the smaller number...but notice that in each case so far, we DO HAVE a manuscript carrying a possible 'inerrant original'--someone has decided whether or not to use that variant as the 'probable' reading...]

4) 2 Kings 8:26/2 Chronicles 22:2: Either Ahaziah was 22 when he took the throne or 42. 22 makes a lot more sense because he would have had to have been older than his father to take the throne at 42 but here is another "copyist" error.

[Again, we have another mss tradition--the LXX--that preserves the 22 number in the 2 chronicles passage.]

There are others, but these are sufficient to make my point. I have found 8 total with a number of others that can be explained away with a bit of luck and "faith" or "wishful thinking" depending on your point of view. So, obviously, the scriptures as we have them today are *not* inerrant. Perhaps they were when they were written but what we have today is not. Now, I would be willing to live with this since it is easy to see how the Hebrew numbers could be incorrectly copied in each case since the Hebrew numbers are very similar if it were not for another problem.

I have worked through Biblical difficulties on a number of subjects and have come to a reasonable answer for topics ranging from Judas' death to the Creation (by the way, I am a day-age creationist) but there is one event that I can find no answer for. In Genesis 7:19-24 it quite clearly states,

"And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted our every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. And the water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days." (NASB)
It seems very clear that the flood was universal, there really isn't any room for debate here since the scripture not only says that, "everywhere under the heavens were covered" it also emphasizes it by saying that, "all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life died." The problem is that there is no evidence of a universal flood. Such a cataclysmic event would have left tremendous scars on the landscape, not to speak of the phenomenal amount of water required, God would have had to create so much water that it probably would have affected the orbital mechanics of the earth, etc.

[Tanknote: we actually have more than enough water...if you bulldozed the earth level today, the current amount of water would cover the entire land surface by over a mile. Flood geologists generally considered the pre-flood terrain to be very homogen]


[snip]

We are to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind. I can not simply turn off my mind and choose to believe something my mind can not accept. I am cursed with being over analytical. If you have any thoughts on this, I would appreciate a response. I am not demanding that I know all the answers, or even to have this particular answer, I simply need to know that it is possible that there is an answer.

XXX


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