Mistakes in the Bible?
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Khoo
At the True Life Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore
September 9, 2007
A young believer once asked his pastor this question, "Pastor, are there any mistakes in the Bible?" The pastor assures the young believer with what he claims to be an "honest" answer, "There are no mistakes in the Bible that should cause you any worry." Such an answer is hardly honest but the hissing of the old serpent, "Yea, hath God said?" (Gen 3:1).
As faithful believers, we affirm without doubt the Bible to be totally infallible and inerrant, our sole and supreme authority of faith and practice. We affirm the Verbal Plenary Inspiration (VPI) and Verbal Plenary Preservation (VPP) of the Holy Scriptures and identify VPI and VPP Texts to be the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Texts on which the Reformation Bible-the King James Bible-is based. But "what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged." (Rom 3:3-4).
Unbelief of VPI and/or VPP has caused some to fall short of believing that the Bible is 100% perfect, without any mistake. "Where are the mistakes?" you ask. Let us look at a few of the so-called "mistakes," and with the logic of faith, the Christian who loves the Lord and His Word will see that they are not at all mistakes.
Forty-two or Twenty-two?
Those who deny VPP believe that some words of God have been lost and remain lost leading to a "scribal error" view of the OT Scriptures. For instance, W Edward Glenny denies that God has perfectly preserved His Word so that no words have been lost. He says, "The evidence from the OT text suggests that such is not the case. We might have lost a few words ..." (One Bible Only?, p121). Based on his "lost words" view of the Bible, he was quick to point out "obvious discrepancies" in the OT like 2 Chronicles 22:2, and pontificates, "These obvious discrepancies in the KJV and the Hebrew manuscripts on which it is based show that none of them perfectly preserved the inspired autographa." (One Bible Only?, p115).
Now, know that 2 Chronicles 22:2 reads "forty-two" in the KJV. A number of the modern versions like the NASV, NIV, and ESV read "twenty-two" instead. So which is the original, inspired reading: "forty-two" (in KJV), or "twenty-two" (in NASV, NIV, and ESV)? In making such a textual decision, we must have a perfect standard, and that infallible and inerrant standard is the inspired and preserved Hebrew Scripture, and not any translation ancient or modern.
It is significant to note that every single Hebrew manuscript reads "forty-two" (arebba'im wushetha'im) in 2 Chronicles 22:2. There is no evidence of lost words-every word to the letter is preserved, and reads precisely as "forty-two" as accurately translated in the KJV. If every Hebrew manuscript reads "forty-two" in 2 Chronicles 22:2, then on what basis do the NASV, NIV, and ESV change it to "twenty-two"? They change "forty-two" to "twenty-two" on the basis of the Septuagint (LXX) which is a Greek version of the Hebrew Scripture just like the NIV is an English version of it. In other words, they use a version or translation to correct the original Hebrew text! This is "Ruckmanism" no less!
A godly approach is one that presupposes the present infallibility and inerrancy of God's Word not only when it speaks on salvation, but also when it speaks on history, geography or science. "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3:4). Such a godly approach to difficult passages seeks to compare (not correct) Scripture with Scripture. There are two possible solutions to the so-called "problem" or "error" in 2 Chronicles 22:2. "Forty-two" could be either (1) Ahaziah's years counted from the beginning of the dynasty founded by Omri, or (2) the year in which Ahaziah was actually seated as king though anointed as one at "twenty-two" (2 Kgs 8:26). Whatever the answer may be, the truth and fact is: the inspired and preserved Hebrew reading in 2 Chronicles 22:2 is "forty-two" and not "twenty-two," and no man has the right to change or correct God's Word by "conjectural emendation,"
taking heed to the serious warning not to add to or subtract from the Holy Scriptures (Rev 22:18-19).
One Year or 30/40/...Years?
Now, let us look at the next text which is 1 Samuel 13:1 which the KJV translates as, "Saul reigned one year." But the other versions read quite differently. The NASV has, "Saul was forty years old when he began to reign;" the NIV has, "Saul was thirty years old when he became king;" and the RSV and ESV has, "Saul was ... years old when he began to reign." Which of the above is correct? The only way whereby we can ascertain the correct reading is to go to the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible since day one reads Ben-shanah Shaoul, literally, "A son of a year (was) Saul," or idiomatically, "Saul was a year old."
Now, the difficulty is: How could Saul be only a year old when he began to reign? Scholars and translators who do not believe in the jot-and-tittle preservation of Scripture say that this is an actual discrepancy in the Hebrew Text which they attribute to a "scribal error." This is why Michael Harding wrote, "[I]n 1 Samuel 13:1-2 the Masoretic Text states that Saul was one year of age (ben-shanah-literally "son of a year") ... Some ancient Greek manuscripts [ie, translations or versions]... read "thirty years" instead of "one year," ... I believe the original Hebrew text also reads "thirty," even though we do not currently possess a Hebrew manuscript with that reading." (God's Word in Our Hands, pp360-361).
Harding and those like him who deny that God has preserved every jot and tittle of His inspired words (Matt 5:18) conclude that a word is lost and 1 Samuel 13:1 contains a "scribal error" even when there is no such error to begin with. Instead of attributing error to the translation (NASV, NIV, RSV, ESV), they rather fault the inspired and preserved Hebrew Text and treat it as an actual discrepancy even when there is absolutely none. This has caused many Bible believers to doubt God's Word: Do we really have God's infallible and inerrant Word in our hands? Many are indeed stumbled by such allegations of error in the Bible, and are questioning whether they can really trust the Scriptures at all if there is no such thing as a complete and perfect Word of God today.
It must be categorically stated that there is no error at all in the Hebrew Text and no mistake also in the KJV which translated 1 Samuel 13:1 accurately. So how do we explain 1 Samuel 13:1? A faithful explanation is offered by Matthew Poole who wrote, "[Saul] had now reigned one year, from his first election at Mizpeh, in which time these things were done, which are recorded in chap. xi., xii., to wit, peaceably, or righteously. Compare 2 Sam. ii.10."
In other words, the year of Saul was calculated not from the time of his birth but from his appointment as king; "Saul was a year old into his reign." This meaning is supported by the Geneva Bible which reads, "Saul now had beene King one yeere." Rest assured, there is no mistake in the Hebrew Text and in the KJV here. God has indeed inspired and preserved His OT words perfectly so that we might have an infallible, inerrant OT Bible in our hands today.
Nebuchadnezzar or Nebuchadrezzar?
These two names-Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuchadrezzar-are found in Jeremiah 29 verse 3 and verse 21 respectively to refer to the same king. Bible and Truth deniers who do not believe in VPI and/or VPP are quick to conclude that the Bible here is in error; they call it a spelling or a scribal error.
But we who believe in the present perfection and absolute authority of the Scriptures have always believed and defended the total inerrancy of Scripture, its VPI and VPP, based on the logic of faith. So, how do we explain the two spellings, one with an "n" and the other with an "r." It is really a simple solution requiring childlike faith on God's pure and perfect words (Matt 4:4, Rom 3:4, Heb 11:3, 6). The Bible being historically true and accurate would have us know that there were two ways of spelling the name of the Babylonian king. He could either be called Nebuchadnezzar or Nebuchadrezzar. It is significant to note that the switch from "r" to "n" is "not uncommon" in Semitic languages (eg, Benhadad and Barhadad). "Nebuchadnezzar" then, would be the Hebrew spelling, and "Nebuchadrezzar" the Aramaic spelling (re: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, sv, "Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadrezzar"). A modern-day example would be Singapore (English) and Singapura (Malay)-both are correct spellings (not scribal errors) and refer to the same country.
Big Fish or Whale?
There are those who fault KJV for calling the "fish" that swallowed Jonah a "whale" for a whale they say is no fish but mammal. Were the translators mistaken and not intelligent enough to know that a fish is no mammal?
We do not believe there is any translation mistake here. The technical or specific word for "fish" in the Greek is ichthus. But here in Matthew 12:40, the Greek word is not ichthus but ketos (the equivalent to the Hebrew haddag) which can mean either "a large fish" or "a huge sea creature." A whale though a mammal and not technically a "fish" (ichthus) is nevertheless a sea creature and falls within the generic usage of ketos. Spiros Zodhiates commented, "Jon 1:17 tells us that God prepared a great fish. He, who can do anything, could have made the fish capable of swallowing Jonah, preserving him in its belly and then casting him out again alive. God does not need to be assisted by natural possibilities to perform a miracle. This term was in that day, as it is today, common parlance for any kind of aquatic creature. Its non-technical usage would allow for a mammal such as a whale and would therefore contain no error." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, sv "ketos."). So, it is a misconception to think that the word ketos cannot refer to a sea mammal like the whale. It is important to know that the word ketos is a general word for any kind of creature that lives in the sea, whether fish, shark, dolphin, or whale. The context determines how the word is to be used, and the translation of ketos as "whale" in the KJV is entirely valid and accurate. Hence, no error in the Greek, and no error in the English translation, no error in God's miraculous work, and no error in God's infallible Word.
We at True Life and FEBC affirm God's forever infallible and inerrant, 100% inspired and 100% preserved words. There are no mistakes in the Bible!