What Would a Biblical Error Look Like?

Bible ErrorRecent years have brought much discussion about inerrancy. Ironically skeptics and certain Christians often agree on a very rigid form of inerrancy. It is possible to find people on both sides who would agree that if the there is one error, then the entire Bible’s reliability is cast in doubt.

Because of this, some apologists work very hard to harmonize every passage and to use some pretty imaginative techniques to smooth out troublesome verses. Claiming that Peter denied Jesus six times is one example. See this post.

But before jumping into the inerrancy debate, I think it is important to define what an error is. This is how I would define a biblical error:

A true error in the Bible would be when the author is incorrect in a passage where the author was trying to be precise.

So for example, all four Gospels agree that Jesus rose from the dead. It is not just a passing thought, they are going out of their way to make this event clear. If in fact Jesus did not rise from the dead, that would be an error. The same could be said for his baptism or crucifixion as well.

What about 1 Kings 7:23 where it seems to say that the value of pi is 3? Is that an error? We need to go back to our definition. If the purpose of the author was to give a math lesson and to precisely define pi, yes it would be an error. But what if, as it seems is the case, the author was trying to give the reader a general understanding of the size of the temple? Then it is not a mistake.

Another example is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The synoptic Gospels say that Jesus did it near the end of his ministry while John says it was at the beginning. Some Christians argue that Jesus must have done it twice. That seems unlikely to me. We must ask if a strict chronology was the intention of the authors or were they open to a thematic arrangement? If the Gospel writers tried to be precise with the timing, then it would be a mistake. If that was not their intention, it is not a mistake.

When looking at a passage, we must always begin by asking what the author is trying to convey.

BibleRecommended Reading: How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. (USA) (Canada)

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One thought on “What Would a Biblical Error Look Like?”

  1. I am not satisfied with your definition of inerrancy (although I grant the importance of finding a framework in which errors can be judged).

    An example: When John narrates that Judas was a “thief” and that he took money from the common purse, John’s “intention to be precise” I think is irrelevant.

    What matters to the inerrancy debate, it seems to me, was whether what John narrated corresponded to what unfolded in reality.

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