Evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God but it is a tricky thing to define, being ‘inerrant’. On the one side you can stand and say that the Bible is without fault. It has no mistakes and is as perfect as God is. If you take this position you will attract people however, who will take great pleasure in pestering you by pointing out ‘contradictions in the text.’ Websites like the Skeptic’s Bible list contradictions of the smallest kind. ‘Contradictions’ like:
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
[Jesus] who gave himself as a ransom for all men …
An extreme skeptic would say, “Which is it? Did Jesus die as a ransom for all or for many?” Objections like that are extremely legalistic and, in my opinion, are protesting the Bible on the weakest possible ground. If the best objection you can come up with for reading the Bible is stuff like that then you have other reasons for not reading the Bible that you are not being forthright about. You are a coward and are unwilling to own the fact that you refuse to read the Bible fairly and judge it on what it actually says.
On the other hand, you can say that the Bible was originally perfect and any errors one might come up with now are from textual transmission: the process of copying that has brought the Bible from the original version to today. I think this is an even more dangerous place to camp. While attributing textual errors to transmission is a convenient answer to critics, it opens up the whole text for question. If we can’t trust this one word, why should we trust any words of the Bible?
The way the Bible was handed down to us was remarkably reliable and there are many reasons to believe this. For example, in the 1940s the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave near the Israeli town of Qumran. Included in the hundreds of scrolls that were discovered were the oldest copies of books of the Old Testament in existence; samples from every book in the Old Testament except Esther. One scroll in the set contained the entire book of Isaiah. It was 700 years older than the oldest copy known to exist at that time.
How many distinct differences do you think they found in these two copies? Almost none. The two books were virtually identical. No significant differences in what was contained in these books. The New Testament is based on a few thousand different copies of books found all over the ancient world. The big four sources (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus, Ephraemi Rescriptus) are each at least 1500 years old or older and each contains the whole New Testament (Vaticanus is missing Revelation). Dr. Stan Porter, the dean of McMaster Divinity College, and a world renown Greek scholar says the four ancient sources can be considered 95% the same. The differences that remain can almost all be accounted for.
I believe that the Bible can be read and trusted as God’s revealed word for us today. I believe the Bible is the Word of Life (Phil 2: 16) and in it we read about what God is like. Through reading the Bible we learn what Jesus was like. (Col. 1: 15; Heb. 1: 3)
I think we are supposed to read it reasonably, with the brains we have been given, and use common sense when considering what to do with the errors we find there. So in this weeks study I came upon a grammatical error in Mark 10: 46. Translated roughly, it reads:
And they enter Jericho. And as he was going out from Jericho and his disciples and a considerable crowd, the son of Timaeus – Bartimaeus – a blind beggar was seated by the road.
The use of present tense in the first part of the verse (they enter Jericho) is not a problem at all. In Greek, an author (Mark especially) can use the present tense to ‘intensify the story’. It’s called the ‘historic present tense’. You do this all the time when you tell a story.
“I went into the store and I say to the cashier, ‘You forgot to give me change!’ ” To make your story punchier, you switch from past tense to present tense to make it more vivid.
The problem comes in the next phrase. Mark uses a genitive absolute (as he was going out) but he uses the singular form, instead of the grammatically correct plural form. It’s a grammatical typo.
Does it bother you that there is a typo in the Bible? Remember that 95% textual agreement I was talking about. Part of the 5% difference is when later scribes are trying to fix grammar mistakes like this. In this case, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Ephraemi Rescriptus leave in the error; Codex Vaticanus, attempts to correct it by making it plural.
The Holy Spirit inspired writers like Mark to write the stories of Jesus so that later generations could hear about what Jesus said and did. Mark is particularly vivid in his telling of the healing of Bartimaeus. Matthew and Luke’s accounts are slightly different (Matt. 20: 29-34; Luke 18: 35 – 43) but the differences are what make the stories so believable for me. If you were ( a la Dan Brown) going to make up a story about this God Man Jesus, wouldn’t you make sure to edit out typos? You would make each account exactly the same. It would be a reflection of the cultural values of the day wouldn’t it. You wouldn’t include stuff like women finding Jesus gone. Women’s testimony wasn’t even valued. A made up gospel wouldn’t look anything like what we have in the Bible.
If, on the other hand you were writing down what you saw Jesus do, and the words you heard Jesus say, would it matter if there was a typo? No! You just told how he made a blind man see! Who cares if the genitive was singular instead of plural. Typos are part of what makes this story so believable!
Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so he didn’t become a ‘holy robot’ who cranked off the story and then snapped out of a trance! The Holy Spirit used Mark to write the story the way Mark writes stories. The Holy Spirit used Luke to research and write his Gospel (in two parts Luke-Acts) the way he writes. Paul was inspired to write letters to churches he planted or planned on visiting using his gifts. Each writer was used just as they are, human creatures who were transformed by meeting Jesus. None of these men were ever the same, but they were still men.
The Holy Spirit wants to use you too by the way. Just the way you are. It is through your little flaws that the glory of God can be seen! (2 Cor. 12: 9)