Monday, 6 February 2012

Mistakes in the Bible?

     A frequently heard assertion is that the Bible is replete with inconsistencies, contradictions, and factual mistakes. To substantiate this charge, biblical texts are sometimes pitted against each other or indiscriminately viewed as suspect when compared to other ancient sources whose accuracy is taken for granted. Many, it seems, have rejected the Bible based on second- or third-hand information (notably catalogues of perceived errors and contradictions compiled by antibiblicists), without having taken the time to examine the scriptures for themselves. But fairness demands that all charges of alleged falsehood and inaccuracies be more carefully investigated, noting the essential difference between "actual" and "apparent," and ensuring the texts in question are correctly interpreted with deliberate attention to matters of context, translation, and authorial intent. If one could step back from the debate and appraise these allegations fairly and objectively, the case against the Bible would significantly decrease in persuasive value.
     "Cherry picking" occurs when selected data are highlighted that appear to confirm a particular viewpoint while ignoring related materials that suggest otherwise. It has been alleged, for example, that Genesis 2:17 contains a false prophecy, in that Adam was supposed to die the very day he ate the forbidden fruit, yet he did not die that day (cf. 3:6 ff.; 5:5). On the surface this may seem like a compelling argument against biblical inerrancy. The problem is, the accusation shows a lack of awareness of "death" as a figure of speech and its spiritual significance. Biblically defined, physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body (James 2:26), whereas spiritual death – the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23) – is a severance from God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Ephesians 2:1, 5). While Adam did not physically expire the moment he ate the fruit (although the countdown had begun), he did consequently sever his intimate relationship with God, thus fulfilling the words of Genesis 2:17.
     Quoting references out of context is a logical fallacy in which statements are excerpted from the qualifying information surrounding them so that their intended meaning is distorted. A man once told me that he would never go to church because Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. When I asked him to justify his allegation, he replied, "Christians don’t drink, but the Bible says, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry’!" Unfortunately he would not discuss the matter further or agree to a Bible study, but by reading the immediate context of Luke 12:13-21, we learn that Jesus, in addressing the problems of greed and materialism, tells a story in which the words of v. 19 (". . . take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry") are attributed to a misguided rich man. The Bible does record this expression, but what is actually said about it?
     A "straw man" argument involves misrepresenting facts to make something seem more extreme or simplistic than it really is so that it can be more easily refuted. John Shelby Spong, in his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (107), challenges the integrity of Genesis by accusing its author of being "quite confused" about the nationality of those to whom Joseph was sold into slavery. In one reference they are identified as "Ishmaelites" (37:25), while a few verses later they are called "Midianites" (v. 28). The fallacy of this charge is that of twisting a "both-and" situation into an "either-or" predicament. If the caravan was comprised of Ishamaelites who lived in the land of Midian (cf. Genesis 25:12, 18; Exodus 2:15; Judges 8:1, 22-28), then according to ethnic descent they were Ishmaelites and according to their place of residence they were Midianites (compare Deuteronomy 26:5). If a New Zealand Maori resides in the city of Wellington, is he a Maori or a Wellingtonian? A fair-minded person sees no dilemma here, and upon closer examination Spong’s belittling accusation is not as compelling as it might have first appeared.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: The Bible in PerspectiveBiblical Inspiration, Alleged Biblical Errors, Luke's Historical Blunder?Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right Questions

Recommended Sources: Eric Lyons' Answering the Allegations; Wayne Jackson's Homer Sometimes Nodded

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