Pastor Scott Summers
Student & Young Adult Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
It’s Monday evening, I grab a caffeinated beverage, flip open my computer, and get ready to watch my first lecture in my first class at Phoenix Seminary. I listen with excitement and intrigue as my instructor starts laying the foundation for the course. He starts off with some great information on Biblical history, and the reliability of the Word, and then he asks the question, “Are there any errors in the Bible?”
Now, my initial response was probably like yours: “Of course not! The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. I’ve been raised in the church; I know the right answer; get behind me Satan!” But then I had this thought, “Why is he asking this seemingly simple question? Are there errors in the Bible?”
Before answering this question, he presented the following case study:
“Who killed Goliath?” (Inside I’m like, “David! Two for two! Just hand me that degree now; I’m crushing this!”)
He said, “before you answer, read these two passages 1 Samuel 17:50, and 2 Samuel 21:19.”
1 Samuel 17:50
50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.
2 Samuel 21:19
19 And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare- oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.
So was it David or Elhanan? If it was Elhanan I swear I’m throwing out the felt-board- David I’ve used to teach kids about the Bible. The instructor then had the class try to provide possible explanations for this contradiction. These were a couple of examples:
Student A: Elhanan may be another name for David.
Instructor: If that were true, then Jaare-oregim would have to be another name for Jesse (David’s father). That is not the answer.
Student B: There could be two people named Goliath.
Instructor: This would be very unlikely for there to be two giants named Goliath, both from Gath (Gittite), and both with the same description (spear like a weaver’s beam). This is not the answer.
Instructor: What if I told you all that one of these passages is wrong?
Pause…here’s where I started to feel a little knot in my gut. I just didn’t want to even entertain the thought that there could be an error in the Bible. The instructor then pointed the class to the next passage:
1 Chronicles 20:5
5 And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.
So David did kill Goliath! Whew…I can dig felt-board David out of the trash. But what happened in the 2 Samuel passage? As it turns out, this was a scribal/copyist error. Basically, Hebrew is a tricky language (who knew), and this particular passage was originally correct but was copied wrong by a scribe. For an excellent explanation of this, here’s an article from CARM.org
How can the Bible have an error like this and still be infallible you ask? I see the answer as three-fold. First, you have to take the Bible as a whole, and even in my example, 1 Chronicles 20:5 provided the clarification that we needed. Second, for such an ancient document, the Word is supernaturally accurate. To see exactly how accurate, I recommend looking at the following resource: Josh.org
Third, with a discrepancy between the original text and a copy (which we notice in 2 Samuel 21:19), I would refer to Article 10 of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:
WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
WE DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
Other resources I can point you to are:
Footnotes in your ESV Study Bible
So why did I share this with you? Well if you’re like me, you probably have quite a few friends on social media who are not believers. Some of these people occasionally try to discredit the Word of God by posting articles on what they see as inconsistencies or errors like the example I gave. They might say something like, “Read your Bible!” in an attempt to prove that they know more about the Word than you do.
My hope is that you don’t let things like this rock your faith, but that it would drive you to find answers, to read your Bible more (isn’t it ironic…don’t you think), and to actually strengthen your faith and your confidence in God and His Word. Then you can lovingly give a defense for your faith, and maybe even rock an atheist’s point of view.
Matthew 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”