At some point, you may have heard or read that conservative Christian theologians assert that the Bible is without error (inerrant).
To call the Bible inerrant means that when all the facts are known, the Scriptures as they were penned by the writers in the original autographs, and as properly interpreted, will be shown to be true and not false in all they affirm.
It stands to reason that if God inspired certain men to reveal His words, He would be sure not to contradict Himself, so that His Word would be error-free.
With that said, we are still faced with many critics saying that the Bible contains errors. Such allegations of error in the Bible often flow from a failure to observe the basic standards for interpreting ancient literature.
There are certain interpretive principles that guide scholars in discerning whether there is a clear error or a contradiction in any literature. Here are six that are the most critical as they apply to the Bible.
Principle 1: The unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable.
Scientists once had no natural explanation for meteors, eclipses, tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes, but they did not conclude that all things within science were unexplainable.
Christian scholars likewise approach the Bible with the same presumption that what is currently unexplained isn't unexplainable. They simply continue to do research. It is a mistake to assume that what has not yet been explained will never be explained.
Principle 2: The context of the passage controls the meaning.
You can prove anything from the Bible if you take words out of context. For example, the Bible says, "There is no God" (Psalm 14:1, New International Version).
Taken literally, that would constitute a major contradiction. But here's the context: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (emphasis added). Failure to consider passages in context is one of the major errors of Bible critics.
Principle 3: Clear passages illuminate cloudy ones.
Some Bible passages appear to contradict others. John 3:16 speaks of God's loving the world, while the same author in 1 John 2:15 tells us, "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you."
But as we read on in 1 John, we find the clear explanation: John speaks of resisting the evil temptations the world offers, whereas in John 3:16 the clear meaning is that God loves the people of the world. To assume these passages are contradictory is to abandon the common sense we use in interpreting everyday language.
Principle 4: The Bible is a book for humans with human characteristics.
Critics point to Psalm 19:6 as an obvious case of the Bible’s fallibility: "The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end."
We've known for centuries that the sun does not move around the earth; the earth's rotation merely causes the sun to appear to move. The same critic can speak in the next breath of watching a beautiful "sunset," ignoring the fact that a term can be nonscientific without being inaccurate.
The Bible uses nontechnical, everyday figures of speech, common expressions, and well-known literary devices. None of these instances of normal use of language amounts to a contradiction.
Principle 5: An incomplete report is not a false report.
Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39 speak of Jesus's encounter with a demoniac in Gadara, whereas the parallel account in Matthew 8:28-34 tells us there were two demoniacs. Is this a contradiction?
Mark and Luke, neither of whom were eyewitnesses to the event, could have recorded a report that focused on the more prominent of two demoniacs and ignored the other. Their accounts may be less complete, but they are not contradictory. Matthew supplies more information.
This kind of difference may be jolting for modern readers, but that is because we have a tendency to approach the text like a history textbook which is made for detailed precision.
The authors of Scripture, rather, are recording history for theological purposes with a theological direction, and that means they have more freedom to choose the kinds of details they wish to include.
Principle 6: Errors in copies do not equate to errors in the originals.
We have already touched on this principle. The doctrine of inerrancy concerns the original writings, not the copies of those writings. We accept that copies contain errors because copies are made by humans who make mistakes. However, scholars are able to determine many of the copyists' errors by common sense and by comparing later copies with earlier copies.