Errors in the Bible

Here are a few examples (by no means all, but perhaps most) of what Christian Pharisees demand that we believe as “inerrant” fact:

  1. The Earth is a flat disk in shape, like a dinner plate, and rests upon mountain pillars.
  2. The sun revolves around the flat Earth.
  3. A metal dome,

    Those who demand that you believe the Bible is inerrant demand that you believe the Earth looks like this from space.

    translated the “firmament” in the KJV, separates the sky from the chaos waters beyond. Holes in the metal dome let rain in — in other words, the sky is a giant, upside-down colander.
  4. The stars are little lights in the sky that are capable of falling to Earth like meteorites.
  5. One day can last 930 years.
  6. Noah killed off all the okay-to-eat (“clean”) species of animal.
  7. Flying insects walk on all fours.
  8. Rabbits and hares chew their cuds, just as cows do.
  9. Moses had body odor that was strong enough to kill.
  10. Comets are evil.
  11. Ahaziah was two years older than his father, Jehoram.
  12. Pi equals exactly three.
  13. Zechariah and Jeremiah were the same person.
  14. Mustard has unique properties.
  15. Matthew tells us (1:1-17) there were 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus, inclusive, and then lists only 41 generations.
  16. Thirty-nine hours equal three days.
  17. According to Luke, Jesus thought the Hebrew Scriptures were all about him.
  18. The end of the world will come well before 100 C.E.
  19. Jesus quotes scripture that doesn't exist.
  20. Isaiah and Malachi were the same person.
  21. All pesky little details (statistics, etc.) are to be ignored.
  22. Abiathar was his own son.
  23. Jesus ascended into heaven like a yo-yo.
  24. Murder is in the eye of the beholder.
  25. God has human body parts.
  26. Christian Pharisees are committed to the principle that everything written in the Bible corresponds to external reality as you and I experience it — i.e., it's literal fact — unless it conflicts with the principle of inerrancy, in which case the “plain meaning” must be interpreted. For example, even crackpots who believe in intelligent design nevertheless believe that the Earth is a globe that revolves around the Sun, no matter what the Bible says about the Earth being a dinner plate on legs. Therefore the parts of the Bible that say the Earth is flat must be interpreted, while other parts of the Bible must be taken literally.

    Which means that an argument that to ordinary, sane people looks as though Rube Goldberg thought it up — artifical and tortured — is “plain and obvious” to people who have committed themselves to the doctrine of inerrancy no matter what.

    One problem lies in the definition of error. Goofs like mixing up Malachi and Isaiah are not a big deal to most people. However, inerrantists rarely make any distinction between an honest mistake and deliberate deception intended to lead someone astray from the truth. If Jesus said that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds (it's not) and then grows into the largest of trees (also erroneous), and he did it with the deliberate intention of misleading people about the nature of God's World, that would prove that Jesus could make mistakes. Gods don't make mistakes. Christian Pharisees say that Jesus was incapable of making a mistake, Mark 10:18 to the contrary (“Jesus said to him,  ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’”). Therefore he must have been talking about a special kind of mustard plant that is now extinct. (Except, they're not supposed to say any such thing, since officially they are forbidden to believe in evolution.)

    Fundamentalists claim that modern, evaluative ways of interpreting holy scripture are wrong because while conservatives “have always agreed that the writers of Scripture penned straight history,” those evil liberals “go beyond the accounts in Scripture to find out what lies behind them.”*

    Footnote (hide)
    Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1976), p. 205.
    Here's an example: In Mark 14:30, Jesus tells Peter that before the cock crows twice, Peter will have denied him three times. In Matthew 26:34, Luke 22:34, and John 13:38, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times before the cock crows once. Inerrantist Harold Lindsell says, well, what really happened is that Peter denied knowing Jesus six times, three before the cock crowed once, and three before the cock crowed twice.*
    Footnote (hide)
    Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1976), pp. 174-76.

    This process is called “harmonizing.” To “save” the truth of the scriptures, inerrantists construct an event that renders every biblical account untrue — in this example, Peter denied Jesus six times, and all four gospels report it incorrectly.

    Fundamentalists charge that non-fundamentalists set critical reason above scripture, permitting themselves to decide what in scripture is true and what is myth, mistake, or propaganda. No conservative would ever do such a thing! Every word in the Bible is literally true. Except, of course, for those passages that inerrantists must “interpret.”

    Sure. It's bad if non-Christian Pharisees do it, and it's good if Christian Pharisees do it. Everyone got that?


    This page owes many of its citations, including its quotations of Harold Lindsell, to Paul J. Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980.