Biblical Inerrantists, What Do You Do About the Following?

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I used to believe that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God. I believed this because I was told to believe it, and to question such things was to question God. And if I questioned God too much, or too often, then perhaps he was going to someday get tired of me and throw me into a lake of fire. The Bible was clear.

Well, that may have been what I was told, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Sound logic and reason have shown me that.

Nevertheless, many believers still cling to a theory of inspiration of Scripture that states: “If it’s in the Bible [the Protestant canon, no doubt], then it must be true—theologically, historically, everything.” For these, I offer the following question: What do you do about the following?

  1. Who incited David to take a census of Israel?

2 Samuel 24:1 tells us that “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

But . . .

1 Chronicles 21:1 begs to differ: “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.”

  1. Did God desire Jehu to slaughter the house of Ahab at Jezreel?

2 Kings 9:7–8 tells us: “You shall strike down the house of your master Ahab, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants and prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.”

But . . .

Hosea 1:4 begs to differ: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.”

  1. Who killed Goliath?

1 Samuel 17:49–51 says: “David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.”

But . . .

2 Samuel 21:18–19 begs to differ: “After this a battle took place with the Philistines, at Gob; then Sibbecai the Hushathhite killed Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”

  1. Which genealogy of Jesus is correct?

Matthew 1:16 reads: “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”

But . . .

Luke 3:23 begs to differ: “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli.”

  1. Was Jairus’ daughter alive or dead when Jesus is approached for healing?

Mark 5:22–23 tells us: “Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’”

But . . .

Matthew 9:18 begs to differ: “While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’”

  1. When did Jesus die?

According to Mark, Jesus has a Passover meal, is arrested, spends the night in jail, and then is executed at “nine o’clock in the morning” (Mark 15:25).

But . . .

John 19:14 begs to differ: “Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon.”

  1. Did both thieves on the cross revile Jesus?

Mark 15:27–32 tells us: “And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.”

But . . .

Luke 23:32, 39–43 begs to differ: “Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him . . . One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


I could go on and on, but I think that will suffice for now. What I’m trying to get at is that the Bible is not 100% accurate, 100% of the time. Please, though, do not take such a statement as an attack on the Bible. It is far from that. I revere the Bible, study it diligently, and even affirm that it is “inspired by God.” After all, it is the great tale of how we arrive at our Savior, Jesus Christ. There is just no reason to then believe the entire tale is inerrant—theologically, historically, or otherwise. If you do, then that’s fine. Just don’t expect most rational people to agree with you. Which is perfectly fine too.

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  • Scooter

    Matthew, A few years ago one of my high school students, a Muslim, gave me a booklet titled “101 Contradictions in the Bible” compiled by a Muslim cleric. We had been talking about some religious questions and this student wanted to prove to me that the Bible contains errors and therefore cannot be trusted. It was a worthwhile exercise to check out each of these so-called contradictions. I found helpful material such as to prove these accusations unfounded.

  • Calling these “accusations” is unnecessary rhetoric.

  • I read through some of these and it seems the author is blending gospel accounts in order to write his own gospel account, so to speak.

  • And as for the genealogies, it seems more likely that the authors are making a theological point rather than an historical one.

  • dcsloan

    Why inerrancy doesn’t work.

  • Frank Blasi

    May I make an offering: That there may have been more than one Goliath in the Philistine army. Also according to the first two chapters of Job, Satan had to receive permission from God before he could inflict harm on his possessions, his sons and on his health. Therefore, although Satan actually did the harm, it was authorised by God.The same could be applied to David taking of the census. As for the genealogy of Jesus’ ancestry, Matthew goes back via Joseph the son of Solomon the son of David, whilst Luke’s version goes back via Mary the daughter of Nathan, also David’s son (but not the prophet Nathan who rebuked David over Bathsheba), the brother of Solomon. As for the two thieves, they had up to three hours hanging on their crosses with Jesus. That is plenty of time for one of them to have changed his mind and realised that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who did nothing wrong, enough to rebuke the other thief.
    However, I admit the inconsistency between Mark and John’s timing of the Crucifixion. But according to Matthew’s record along with Luke’s, which features a trip to Herod’s palace, it does look as if a post-noon crucifixion was more likely.

  • Timothy Weston

    I ditched inerrancy about four years ago. This is something I will definitely share.

  • Maybe. The problem with the interpretation of Satan here is that it leads to some pretty ugly theological implications. And I’ve heard the Mary genealogy but find it rather unconvincing. So do many scholars. But I’m sure conservative scholars would disagree.

  • Frank Blasi

    The genealogies does cause problems, especially between Matthew and Luke. Mainly in the area of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. In Matthew’s version the father of Shealtiel is Jeconiah, in Luke it’s Neri. Likewise, the son of Zerubbabel according to Matthew is Abiud. In Luke, the son of Zerubbabel is Rhesa. According to some research I carried out a few years ago, when a Hebrew groom marries, the bride’s father becomes his actual father, rather than father-in law as we know at present. This could be why Luke writes that the supposed father of Jesus was Joseph the biological son of Jacob and son in law of Heli, Mary’s biological father.

  • I’ve also heard the theory that it could be because of the Levirate marriage custom (where, under certain circumstances, a man would have to marry his brother’s widow).