Does the Bible contain errors, discrepancies, contradictions or mistakes?
It is common for some to claim that the Bible contains errors, discrepancies, contradictions or mistakes. Some claim that the Bible has many errors in the manuscript copies of the original autographs of the Bible and therefore the Bible is not trustworthy. But their claims cannot be supported by the objective facts as demonstrated in the study “How Accurate Is The Bible.” This study documents that the Bible is 99.8% accurate and no doctrine or factual statements are affected by any manuscript errors.
The purpose of this question and answer is to provide a principle for dealing with supposed Bible errors, discrepancies, contradictions or mistakes. Unfortunately, some Christians claim that the Bible contains errors when it discusses historical or scientific facts but is trustworthy when it speaks to matters of the faith. But such a conclusion is objectively inconsistent. If the Bible contains errors in any area how can we trust it in anything that it says?
The Bible Is Inerrant and Infallible
2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us that God the Holy Spirit moved men, prophets, and apostles to write Scripture.
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NASB)
This verse is powerful because it reveals that Scripture was not written or created by any man, prophet or apostle. The message of the verse is that Scripture written by God and He controlled what was written.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 expands upon 2 Peter 1:20-21 when it tells us that all scripture is inspired.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)
The Greek word that is translated as “inspired” means that all Scripture is God-breathed. He breathed it out. That is, God wrote Scripture. Therefore, the words contained in the Bible are His words to us. He selected the words and had them written by the writers by the various books of the Bible.
Since our God does not lie (Number 23:19; Titus 1:23; Hebrews 6:18) Scripture cannot make errors, discrepancies, contradictions or mistakes.
. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Hebrews 6:18 (NASB)
If Scripture contains errors, discrepancies, contradictions or mistakes, then our God is not trustworthy and what He says about anything cannot be trusted. The testimony of Scripture is that it is completely inerrant and trustworthy in everything that it addresses because God is not a man and men lie. For example, the Bible is called the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus said that Scripture is called the Word of Truth (John 17:17) and Psalm 119:160 says, “Your word is truth.” Therefore, Scripture is inerrant.
Principles For Resolving Problem Passages
When we discover a problem in the Bible, how do we resolve the supposed error, discrepancy, contradiction or mistake? Here are eight guiding steps to resolving seeming inconsistencies in the Bible.
1. Be a Christian Filled With the Holy Spirit – The most important step toward resolving apparent biblical errors, discrepancies, contradictions or mistakes is to be a Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit gives us understanding (1 Corinthians 2:12-15). Without His help we cannot correctly understand the Bible.
2. Strong knowledge of the scripture – A strong knowledge of the Bible is absolutely necessary to resolve most issues. The apostle Peter warned against those who are “untaught and unstable” in the Scriptures and as a result they “distort . . . the rest of the Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16-17).
3. Study The Bible Diligently – In addition, regular and daily study of the Bible is necessary. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” James 3:1 warns teachers to not make errors.
4. Scripture Explains Scripture – Fourth, we must remember that Scripture interprets Scripture or we can say Scripture explains Scripture. The Bible does not explain everything about a topic in one place. That is one of the reasons books are published with the title “Systematic Theology.” The word systematic reveals the authors have synthesized Scripture into coherent, understandable topics.
5. Context of The Passage – Fifth, the context of the passage before and after the verse usually resolves most issues. Many times readers fail to understand the flow of the passage and consequently the context.
6. Original Language – Sixth, the student of the Bible needs to have a working knowledge of the original languages in order to accurately understand what is being said. The point here is that the student of the Bible needs more than Bible software to understand what is occurring. There are fine points of the language that are missed by the untaught.
7. Background Information – Next, the student of the Bible needs to know or acquire tools that help him or her know the background of the peoples, cultures or nations that are mentioned in the Bible.
8. Literal Understanding– The seventh point is that we must understand the Bible literally; that is, we need to understand the plain sense of what we read. A symbolic meaning of the passage will miss the meaning of what was written. We need to understand poetry as poetry and when symbols are clearly used, we need to know that they are symbols.
These are basic principles for understanding the Bible.
Examples To Be Considered
In the next section historical and scientific errors that supposedly exist in the Bible are not addressed. For those interested in examples of supposed historical and scientific errors, you are encouraged to listen to the sermons in the Daniel series. For one example of a scientific issue, the reader is encouraged to read “How did the sun stand still in Joshua 10:12-14?” In the next section numerous supposed biblical errors are given.
Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
One example of an apparent contradiction in the Bible that has concerned some people is due to a misunderstanding between passages. For example, concern has been expressed that Ecclesiastes 9:5-7 and Matthew 22:31-32 contradict 1 Peter 3:18-21 and 1 Peter 4:3-6. But a careful examination of each passage reveals that each one has a different message and they do not conflict.
The message of Ecclesiastes is that life is empty and meaningless and the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:5-7 is that not only is life disappointing but the grave is too! The reader is encouraged to study “What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:5-6?”
The meaning of Matthew 22:31-32 is that after we die and leave this life, our spirits do not cease to live. Our God is the God of the living. The reader is encouraged to study “What does the Bible teach about the resurrection of the dead?“
1 Peter 3:18-21
1 Peter 3:18-21 is not in conflict with either Ecclesiastes 9:5-7 or Matthew 22:31-32. This passage simply states that Christ descended into hell, was resurrected and forty days later returned to heaven until His second coming. That is, Christ descended to hell and announced victory over the evil spirits or demons. The reader is encouraged to study “Where in the Bible does it speak of Jesus going to hell/hades after His death?”
1 Peter 4:3-6
Next, 1 Peter 4:3-6 teaches us that the gospel is to enable people to live eternally in the spirit and one day live in heaven. The reader is encouraged to study “Why is the gospel preached around the world?“
A comparison of these passages reveals that there are no contradictions among them.
Here are some examples of other apparent contradictions.
Examples in the Old Testament:
Examples in the Gospels:
Discipleship Training, part 1 – Did Jesus say take a staff?
Sabbath Ministry, part 2 – Did the sun set or was it setting?
Jesus – Ridiculed By His Brothers – Did Jesus plan to go to the feast?
Examples in the New Testament – Outside of the Gospels:
These are a few examples of apparent contradictions.
Most of the apparent contradictions have been explained by a careful examination of the original languages in the passages. Sometimes the solution to the conflict is due to differences in location, time, confusion or context. The “Bible Q&A Archives” contains many examples of what appears to be contradictions but are explainable after careful study.
Reference Links:How Accurate Is the Bible?
Da Vinci Code
How did the sun stand still in Joshua 10:12-14?
Book of Daniel
What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:5-6?
What does the Bible teach about the resurrection of the dead?
Does Jesus Christ give the kingdom to God the Father?
Where in the Bible does it speak of Jesus going to hell/hades after His death?
Why is the gospel preached around the world?