The Bible Is Not Inerrant

One of the common claims about the Bible is that it is inerrant--in other words, it is the divinely inspired word of God and every word of it is true.  

This notion is false, and it's actually quite easy to disprove via the thousands of early biblical manuscripts in our possession today.  

The ramifications of this are two-fold.

  1. If there are errors and mistakes in the Bible, then can we trust it?
  2. Would an omnipotent and omniscient God (who is SO powerful that he created the whole cosmos, millions of earth species and the entire human race) not bother to preserve the word that he divinely inspired? Especially if it were a matter of eternal life and death for his beloved children?

The Bible was Copied by Hand

In antiquity, there were no printing presses or copying machines.  Any material (not just the Bible) obviously had to be copied by hand by scribes.  Comparisons between manuscripts show that scribes made errors all the time--spelling errors, word switching, line skipping, or even skipping entire pages.  Although these types of errors are understandably human and might not affect doctrine, they do show that God was not in the driver's seat during the copying process.  Humans were.  The scribes copying the Bible were affected by fatigue, impatience, and simple error, just as we are today.

An English theologian named John Mill compiled over 30,000 discrepancies between 100 New Testament manuscripts. 

Scribes Made Purposeful Changes

Some differences between manuscripts seem to be scribes making intentional changes. These are all discussed in Dr. Bart Ehrman's fabulous lecture
  • Matthew 24:36: "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the son, but the Father only".
    • The portion "nor the son" appears to have been removed by scribes in some later manuscripts, probably because it was theologically problematic for Jesus to not know the exact time of the second coming.  Some may have interpreted this as meaning Christ was not fully God. 
  • John 7:53-8:11: This is the famous story about the woman caught in adultery.  The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into saying she should be stoned according to OT law, but Jesus replied, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."  
    • This entire story was not present in the earliest manuscripts. Not only that, but the writing style is completely different. It uses vocabulary not found in any other part of John, such as the word "scribe".
  • Mark 16:9-20: The ending of Mark is probably the most famous instance of scribal tampering.  The earliest versions of Mark did not contain these verses, and ended at "[the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid".  This abrupt ending may have been unsatisfactory for some, so at some point, another ending was invented. There is also an alternative "shorter" ending seen in a manuscript from the 3rd century.
  • Mark 1:41: When Jesus heals the leper, was he angry, indignant, or compassionate? 

What Differences Don't We Know About?

Setting aside the smaller differences, we know about a fair number of major scriptural changes through the centuries. The question is--how many more major scriptural changes are there from the original text?  How closely do Bibles today resemble the original manuscripts?  Since we see so many differences, it casts doubt over the entire Bible's message.

If every modern Bible and every ancient manuscript matched exactly, it would go a long way toward demonstrating that the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant.  And it would be trivial for an omnipotent God to preserve his divinely inspired words throughout the centuries.

But that clearly isn't what happened.  The only intellectually honest conclusion to draw is that the writing and replication of the Bible was entirely a work of humans.  To conclude otherwise would be to imply that God either has no interest in preserving his precious word--or that he can't.


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