John Blanchard Writes:
Not everything in the Bible is as clear as daylight and not every alleged contradiction can be answered as easily as these. Nor would it be sensible to claim that over many centuries of copying the Scriptures by hand there had never been a slip of the pen. Yet years of careful study show that these are few and far between, almost entirely confined to six of the Old Testament’s historical books, and are just tiny discrepancies in numbers or an occasional word. Even more importantly, not even one of these ‘slips of the pen’ makes a material difference to the meaning or significance of the passage concerned.
Five more things need to be said before we end this section of the booklet.
Firstly, an unanswered question is not the same as proof of a mistake and an unsolved problem is not necessarily an error.
Secondly, when textual criticism was at its height about 150 years ago scores of alleged errors and discrepancies were being touted, but patient research has steadily whittled away at these, and the American theologian R. C. Sproul claims, ‘There is less reason today to believe that the Bible is full of contradictions than at any time in the history of the church.’
Thirdly, it has been accepted for over 2,500 years that, with certain qualifications, the benefit of the doubt must be given to the document concerned. Simon Greenleaf, Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University, was one of the world’s greatest experts on legal evidence. At one stage in his life he set out to debunk the credibility of the New Testament, but eventually came to the conclusion that it was utterly reliable and that ‘the attributes of truth are strikingly apparent throughout the Gospel histories’. Greenleaf ’s first rule of documentary criticism was this: ‘Every document apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise’ (emphasis added). This puts the ball firmly back in the critic’s court.
Fourthly, 200 years of determined attacks seem to have left the Bible unscathed. At the end of 1974, TIME magazine ran an article entitled, ‘How true is the Bible?’ and came to this conclusion: ‘The breadth, sophistication and diversity of all this biblical investigation are impressive, but it begs a question: Has it made the Bible more credible or less? ... After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived—and is perhaps better for the siege. Even on the critics’ own terms—historical fact—the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack’ (emphasis added).
Fifthly, the person prepared to brush all of this aside and to challenge the Bible’s integrity and authority can properly be invited to ask the following questions: ‘Is my opposition to the Bible fuelled by prejudice or principle? Do I have expert knowledge of the three languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) in which the Bible was originally written? Do I have a clear grasp of the context in which each book was compiled? Do I have a correct understanding of every passage and of the sense in which the writer used words or numbers? Can I in every case identify the author’s use of language, so that I can determine whether he was employing metaphor or hyperbole, or using a simile or a localized idiom? Am I certain as to whether any given passage is an allegory, a parable or a factual narrative? Do I understand the significance of every one of the religious and civil laws and customs of all the times and places covered by the Bible’s writers? Am I certain that no amount of textual or archaeological research will shed any further light on any of the issues concerned? Am I honestly open to being convinced that the Bible really is the Word of God and that it speaks to me?’ Any individuals who can truthfully answer ‘Yes’ to all of these questions, or who feel that they have some other reliable authority on which to base their rejection of the Bible, may feel qualified to press on with their attack. If not, surely it would be wiser—and humbler—to try a different approach.