Although biblical inerrancy has been a cornerstone of Christian doctrine in recent years, it has not always been so. Errors in the text were taken for granted by many church leaders. Martin Luther said, “When discrepancies occur in Holy Scripture and we cannot harmonize them, let it pass. It does not endanger the article of the Christian faith.” In fact, we risk idolatry when we elevate the written word above the “word made flesh.” Jesus fully reveals the God who is agape. His testimony is unambiguous, unlike the biblical narrative. Jesus’ life is the perfect lens through which the flawed scriptures are to be interpreted.
Consider this partial list of biblical errors:
- Joseph the son of Jacob (Matthew 1:16)
Joseph the son of Heli (Luke 3:23)
- Jesus born during the Roman census of 6 AD, while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2)
Jesus born under Herod the Great, who died 10 years before the census (Matthew 2:1)
- The 12 are sent with a staff (Matthew 10:10; Luke 9:3)
The 12 are sent without a staff (Mark 6:8)
- Matthew quotes “Jeremiah” (Matthew 27:9)
Quote is actually from Zechariah 11:12-13
- Two demon-possessed men healed (Matthew 8:28)
One demon-possessed man healed (Mark 5:2)
- Two blind men healed (Matthew 20:30)
One blind man healed (Mark 10:46)
- After six days, Jesus transfigured (Matthew 17:1)
After eight days, Jesus transfigured (Luke 9:28)
- Jesus said not a word to Pilate (Matthew 27:14)
Jesus answered Pilate (John 18:34)
- Chief priests buy the field of blood (Matthew 27:7)
Judas buys the field of blood (Acts 1:18)
- Jesus crucified at 9 AM (Mark 15:25)
Jesus crucified at noon (John 19:14)
- Two Marys went to the tomb (Matthew 28:1)
Two Marys and Salome went to the tomb (Mark 16:1)
Mary went alone to the tomb (John 20:1-4)
- They arrived at the tomb after sunrise (Mark 16:2)
They arrived while it was still dark (John 20:1)
- Two angels at the tomb (Luke 24:4)
One angel at the tomb (Mark 16:5)
- Women report the resurrection to the disciples (Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:9)
Women say nothing to anyone (Mark 16:8)
Mary alone reports to the disciples (John 20:18)
- Lying lips are an abomination (Proverbs 12:22)
God gave prophets a lying spirit (1 Kings 22:23)
- Nebuzaradan came on the seventh day (2 Kings 25:8)
Nebuzaradan came on the tenth day (Jeremiah 52:12)
- Michal remained barren (2 Samuel 6:23)
Michal had five sons (2 Samuel 21:8)
- Jehoiachin’s reign began at age 18 (2 Kings 24:8)
Jehoiachin’s reign began at age 8 (2 Chronicles 36:9)
- Ahaziah’s reign began at age 22 (2 Kings 8:26)
Ahaziah’s reign began at age 42 (2 Chronicles 22:2)
- God told the Israelites to spy out the land, then punished them severely (Numbers 13:1-2)
God blames Israel for spying out the land, claiming it was their idea (Deuteronomy 1:22)
- God told David to take a census, then punished him by killing 70,000 men (2 Samuel 24:1)
David decided to take a census, then God killed 70,000 men (1 Chronicles 21:1)
This list says nothing of passages that were added, deleted or edited throughout the centuries by biased or careless editors. It says nothing of the fluid biblical canon, which is still disputed by Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals and Ethiopians. They can’t all be inerrant. Why is ours?
The single-most striking error in the Bible is how human authors, swayed by deeply-held superstitions, myths and prejudices, described a god who wholeheartedly endorses genocide, misogyny and xenophobia; who says things like “I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen” (Jeremiah 13:26) and “Happy is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9).
The harms of inerrancy are enormous, especially as Christians have put their own spin on the literal text and discovered superior races and genders that “God” endorses. History shouts its warning from the millions who were killed in the Catholic Inquisitions and by Christian imperialistic “missions.” Over 1.7 million died in the Crusades, and over 7 million more in European Wars of Religion. In today’s context, Christian Nationalism threatens harm toward “sexual deviants,” pro-choice mothers and non-believers. These harms need not happen, if Christians will only bend the errant word to the living example of Jesus, who lovingly showed us how to engage with sinners … who painfully showed us how to “stand up to the enemy.”
Thankfully, Jesus corrected the skewed narrative by demonstrating God’s true nature. In Matthew 5, he even showed us how to think critically and correct textual errors (“You have heard it said … But I tell you …”).
Christians need not worry about God’s reputation being tarnished by the fact that flawed humans like you and me made errors, big and small, and interjected their human biases into scripture. The truth remains. The living example of the “word made flesh” shows us the precise nature of God, while refining and correcting the written text.
Image: The scribe Jean Miélot, painted by Jean Le Tavernier in 1462, public domain; Wikimedia Commons.
 N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987), chapter 6.
 Mark Oliver, “10 Bible Verses that were Changed in Translation,” Listverse, 29 July 2018, https://listverse.com/2018/07/29/10-bible-verses-that-were-changed-in-translation/.
“List of New Testament Verses not Included in Modern English Translations, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_verses_not_included_in_modern_English_translations.