How You Can Know the Bible is the Word of God?/Program 2
Editor’s Note: The charts in this transcript were provided by Dr. Geisler, and are
used by permission.
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2000|
|But are there any errors in it? The skeptic says, “Yes. There are scientific errors, historical errors.”|
Today on The John Ankerberg Show, is the Bible the word of God, or just the words of men? What does the Bible claim about itself? What evidence does the Bible provide to prove its claim is true – that it did come from God? My guest is philosopher and theologian Dr. Norman Geisler, Dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary.
- Dr. Norman Geisler: Is the Bible the word of God? Or is it the words of men? The Bible claims to be the word of God and the Bible proves to be the word of God. In this program we’re going to show how this is the only book in the world that really claims to be, and proves to be, the word of God.
Today, “Is the Bible the word of God or just the words of men?” We invite you to join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show.
- Ankerberg: Welcome. Do you think that the Bible came from God? If so, how did that Word come to us without error? Are the skeptics right when they say the Bible contains error along with truth? Our topic today is: Are there any errors in the Bible? My guest is Dr. Norman Geisler, Professor of Philosophy and Theology, and Dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary. I’d like you to listen:
- Geisler: The Bible: who wrote it? God wrote it through men of God. The entire Bible claims to be the word of God and it proves to be the word of God. Last week we showed the evidence: supernatural acts, supernatural predictions; incredible unity. The Bible is the only book in the world that claims to be and proves to be the word of God.
- But are there any errors in it? The skeptic says, “Yes. There are scientific errors, historical errors.” Let me say it very simply and very straightforwardly: The Bible is the word of God; God cannot err; therefore, the Bible is the word of God. I was at Princeton University a number of years ago and I put this up on the screen and asked the students, “How many of you believe this?”
- Not very many.
- I said, “If the Bible is not inerrant, if the Bible is not without error, then you must believe one of two things or both: either God can err or the Bible is not the word of God.
- If there were an error in the Bible, there would be an error in God. Hebrews 6:18 says it’s impossible for God to lie. Titus 1:2 says, “The God who cannot lie.” John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.” Romans 3:4, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Or Psalm 119:160, “The entirety of thy word is truth.”
- If God can’t err and the Bible is the word of God, then the Bible cannot err.
- How do we know the Bible is the word of God? Because Christ the Son of God said the Bible is the word of God.
- How do we know He is the Son of God? Because supernatural predictions, supernatural and sinless life, prediction and accomplishment of the resurrection from the dead. So if Jesus is the Son of God, this is the word of God, and if it is the word of God, it cannot err.
- Ankerberg: Now, to say that the Bible contains errors is a very serious thing. How should we approach this issue? First, we should not make the same foolish mistakes as the critics do who claim the Bible does have errors. Dr. Geisler has written a huge book on this topic and explains and warns us of 17 mistakes the critics usually make when claiming the Bible contains errors. Listen:
- Geisler: God can’t err. But the Bible, as we’ve seen, is the word of God; therefore the Bible can’t err.
- Does this mean there aren’t any difficulties in the Bible? Errors, no; difficulties, yes. And we’re going to address those difficulties.
- Number one – Assuming the unexplained is not explainable. That’s a big error of the critics. Just because we can’t explain it, doesn’t mean there isn’t an explanation. Scientists can’t explain how life grows on thermal vents in the depths of the sea. It’s too hot and too deep. But it does. And they’re working on it. I can’t explain every alleged error in the Bible. I’ve been studying it for 50 years. I wrote a book with over 800 of them in it called When Critics Ask, and yet there are things I can’t explain. Does that mean there’s no explanation? No. We treat the Bible the way scientists treat nature. When he comes upon an anomaly, he doesn’t throw in the towel and give up science. He says, “There must be an explanation and I’m going to continue to study until I find out what it is.”
- Another mistake the critics make: Presuming the Bible is guilty until proven innocent. I’m glad that those critics are not on my jury, because an American citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If we treat the Bible like a friend, if we treat the Bible like someone we trust, and the Bible has proven trustworthy, has proven to be our friend, we give it the benefit of the doubt. Critics jump to conclusions about the Bible and don’t give it the benefit of the doubt. They said there were no Hittites. Well, we found out there were Hittites. The Bible is the only place in the world the Hittites were mentioned until a whole library was found in Turkey. They said that Moses couldn’t write. There was no writing in Moses’ day. Well, the critics were wrong. Writing goes back 2,000 years before Moses.
- Another mistake the critics make is: Confusing our fallible interpretations with God’s infallible revelation. There have been a lot of mistaken interpretations of the Bible. But there are also a lot of mistaken interpretations of science. I’d hate to see a book with all the mistakes scientists have made down through the years in interpreting nature. And just because some Christians have made mistakes in interpreting the Bible doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong.
- Here’s another mistake critics make: Failing to understand the context of the passage. You know, you can prove almost anything from the Bible. I was coming back from South America, looked down through a little white puffy clouds at the blue Pacific. The friend next to me opened his Bible and here is the first verse his eye hit upon: “I would not have you to be ignorant, how all our fathers were under the clouds and passed through the sea.”
- I looked at the Bible. I looked out at the blue Pacific. You see, that verse was out of context. It was about Moses and the children of Israel coming through the Red Sea, not about me coming from Ecuador. Just because a text in the Bible says, “There is no god” [Psalm 14:1] doesn’t mean there is no God. The context is, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no god.’”
- Here’s another mistake critics make: Neglecting to interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones. The Bible says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” [Phil. 2:12] Well, that’s difficult because a lot of clear passages say, “For by grace are we saved through faith… it is a gift of God.” [Eph. 2:8] “To him that does not work but trusts Jesus, his salvation is secure.” [Rom. 4:5]
- You see, there are a lot of difficult passages, but always take the clear ones to interpret the difficult ones.
- Ankerberg: We’re answering the question, What about the so-called errors in the Bible? If we seriously consider the notion that the Bible came from God and God always tells the truth and cannot err in anything He tells us, then logically the Bible cannot have errors in it. Now Dr. Geisler is listing and explaining 17 mistakes that the critics usually make when they accuse the Bible of containing errors. Here are the next few:
- Geisler: Here’s another mistake that critics make: They base teachings on obscure passages. The Mormons run across the verse in 1 Corinthians 15: “Else what shall they do…baptize for the dead.” [1 Cor. 15:29] It’s an obscure passage. It’s mentioned only once. They built a whole doctrine on it when the Bible tells us, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment.” [Heb. 9:27] You can’t do anything for someone after they die. “There’s a great gulf fixed” (Luke 16). We’ve got to take clear passages to interpret these passages that are not as clear.
- Another mistake critics make: Forgetting the Bible is a human book with human characteristics. Sure, the Bible comes from God, but it comes through human beings, written in human language, written with human metaphors like poetry and allegory, and hyperbole. The Bible is a human book in human languages. But, just because it’s written by humans doesn’t mean it errs. Jesus was human and He didn’t sin. The Bible has a human nature and it doesn’t err, but it is human. Jesus got tired, He got hungry. The Bible reflects human things, too. It speaks in human languages; speaks in human figures of speech. It talks to people where they are in their terms so they can understand it. And critics mistakenly think this is an error just because it’s human. It’s no more in error than Jesus was in sin because He got hungry or He got thirsty.
- Another very often made mistake by critics is: Assuming that a partial report is a false report. The Bible has a lot of partial reports, but they’re not necessarily false. For example, Matthew says there was one angel at the tomb after the resurrection. John says there were two angels at the tomb after the resurrection. Well, that’s not a false report. Matthew gave part of the report. There was one angel there. If there are two, there’s always one. In fact, that’s an infallible mathematical principle. Whenever you have two, you always have one. What the critics do is they read into Matthew the word “only.” The word only isn’t there. Matthew didn’t say there was “only” one angel. He said there was one, and where there are two, there is always one.
- Now, notice what we’re doing. We’re saying the Bible doesn’t have any errors, the critics have errors. They mistakenly view the Bible in different ways and then assume that the Bible was mistaken.
- Let me give you another example: Demanding that New Testament citations always be exact quotations. We don’t do that today. The newspaper paraphrases, summarizes. The New Testament, when it quotes the Old Testament, doesn’t always give the exact words but it always gives the exact meaning.
- Another mistake critics make: Assuming the divergent accounts are false ones. There are many divergent accounts in the Bible. For example, in the Gospels it says Judas hanged himself. In the book of Acts it says that Judas fell headlong and his intestines gushed out. [Matt. 27:5; Acts 1:18-19] Well, that’s not a contradictory report because if you hang yourself on a tree, you can’t touch a dead body according to Jewish custom. You have to hang yourself over the edge of a cliff or somewhere at least off the ground. Somebody comes by and they see a dead body, they have to take a knife, cut the rope. The body falls on the jagged rocks below and the intestines gush out. Perfectly harmonious. Just because it’s only part of it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give us the truth.
- Another error the critics make: Presuming the Bible approves of everything it records. I mean, there are some pretty gross stories, as my teenager used to tell me, in the Bible – sticking a knife in Ehud and the blubber coming out over it. Chopping up a woman in twelve pieces and sending one to every tribe of Israel. These are some pretty horrible stories. But the Bible doesn’t approve of them. David’s sin is recorded in the Bible, but it doesn’t approve of his sin. In fact, he confessed it in Psalm 51 and God forgave it in Psalm 32.
- Ankerberg: People ask, “Are there scientific errors in the Bible?” Also, when the Bible rounds off numbers, isn’t that a mistake? Dr. Geisler answers these questions. Listen:
- Geisler: Another mistake of the critics: Forgetting the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language. The Bible is not unscientific but it is a pre-scientific book. It was written in everyday language that anyone could understand, like: “The sun sets.” Or Joshua in Joshua 10 saying, “The sun stood still in the sky.” Now, it’s no more unscientific to say the sun stood still than to say the sun sets. And what does every scientist every day in the United States say? He’s called a meteorologist. He says, “Sunrise this morning., sunset tonight.” No scientist I’ve ever heard of looks out at the western sky ablaze with red and says to his wife, “Look at the beautiful earth rotation.” We don’t talk that way and the Bible talks in everyday language, too.
- Also, another mistake you’ll often hear people make about the Bible is Assuming that round numbers are false. Round numbers aren’t false. Pi is represented in the Bible as about 3, and pi is about three. Now more precisely it’s 3.14159 and so forth. But when it says that the little sea out in front of Solomon’s temple was 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around, that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. It means they were speaking in round numbers. Scientists today use round numbers. In fact, pi doesn’t come out even. I saw a guy who recited pi to 10,000 decimal points. It took him three hours to do it. At the end of 10,000 decimal points, he was still an infinite number away from the most precise number you could get to. But for all practical purposes, 3.1 rounds off to 3. For all practical purposes, 3.3 rounds off to 3. The Bible speaks in round numbers; speaks in everyday language.
- Another mistake: Neglecting to notice that the Bible uses different literary devices. For example, the Bible being a human book speaks in poetry: the book of Job, Psalms are written in poetry. It also uses allegories like in Galatians 4. It uses parables in the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, filled with parables. Even uses hyperbole. Paul said in Colossians 1:23, “I preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven,” meaning he evangelized the then known world. So the Bible speaks in human literary devices because it’s a human book.
- Another mistake you’ll find critics using is, Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of Scripture, is without error. We don’t believe that God inspired every copy. We believe He inspired the original and the copies are good, they’re adequate, they’re sufficient. But there are minor errors that crept in. Let me give you an example of one: 2 Kings 8:26 gives the age of King Ahaziah as 22, but in 2 Chronicles 22:2 it says he was 42. The latter number can’t be correct or he would have been older than his father. This is obviously a copyist error, but it does not alter the inerrancy of the original. There are many of these copyist errors in the Bible. It says 4,000 stalls for Solomon’s horses in one passage, another says 40,000. That’s the kind of error you like on the end of your paycheck, an extra zero. The Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts but not every copy is inerrant. Some of the minor errors are in the copying.
- But I’d like you to notice something very important here. Take a look at this graphic.
- OU HAVE WON $10 MILLION.
- YOU HAVE WON $10 MILLON.
- YOU HAV WON $10 MILLION.
- YOU HAVE WOM $10 MILLION.
- The first line has an error in it. The second line has an error. The third and the fourth lines all have an error, but the error is in a different place. Now, if you had received a telegram with that first line, would you pick up your 10 million dollars? Of course you would. Well, how do you know? Well, from the context it looks like the first letter should be a “Y” and “Y” means “you” and “you” means “me” and that means 10 million dollars. Well, good reasoning.
- But if you got a telegram that had those four lines on it and the error was in a different place, you’d be absolutely sure what it said. In fact, the more errors in the copies, the more you’re sure of what the original said. We have over 5,000 copies of the New Testament, and there are little errors in different places. But the more errors, the more we’re sure of what the original said. So minor errors in the copies do not affect us getting 100 percent of the truth from the original and it certainly doesn’t prove there was an error in the original. No one has ever found an original manuscript with an error in it.
- Ankerberg: Now, maybe you’re listening and saying, “I can tell why Dr. Geisler got his Ph.D. in philosophy. But I’m wondering, is there any criteria you would accept as demonstrating there might be legitimate error in the Bible? The answer is, “Yes.” Dr. Geisler explains:
- Geisler: Now, I know the skeptic might be saying, “Well, look, what could be an error in the Bible?” Well, if you could find an original manuscript with an error in it, that would prove the Bible is not inerrant. Or, if you can find a good copy with an error in it. In other words, our view can be disproven, but it’s based on facts. Show me the facts. Show me a good copy that has an error in it, or find an original with an error in it before you can tell me that the original Bible can’t be the inerrant word of God.
- Let me put it another way. The Bible says Jesus rose from the dead. It says Christianity is based on it. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:16-19] we are still in our sins and our faith is vain and we are of all men most miserable. Christianity is something that is based on facts. If you could produce the body of Jesus, you could disprove Christianity. But the fact is, there are over 500 people who saw Jesus after the resurrection; put their finger in His hand, their hand in His side. The Bible is based on fact and history that can be verified.
- Ankerberg: Now, we are outlining 17 mistakes critics usually make when they accuse the Bible of containing errors. There are two more mistakes we want to examine today: Confusing general statements with universal ones, and forgetting that later revelations are sometimes specifically stated by God to supersede previous ones. Listen:
- Geisler: Look at this mistake the critics make: Confusing general statements with universal ones. You can find all sorts of alleged errors in the Bible. Proverbs 16:7 says, “If a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes his enemies to be at peace with him.” And then you look over at Paul, who was pleasing the Lord and his enemies were stoning him in Acts 14. Or Jesus who was pleasing the Lord and His enemies crucified Him. Well, Proverbs is just general statements, not universally true. In general, if you please the Lord your enemies will be at peace with you. Don’t confuse a general statement and a universal one.
- Or last, a mistake critics make: Forgetting that later revelations supersede previous ones. You can read the Bible says, “Bring a lamb to the temple.” And then later on in the Bible it says Jesus is our Passover Lamb slain for us. Well, later revelation, He fulfilled those previous ones. So not everything that you read in the Bible like “Don’t eat shrimp” or “Don’t eat pork” in Leviticus is true later because Jesus did away with that distinction in Peter when the net was let down from heaven in the Book of Acts showing that he could eat things that were previously called unclean.
- Let me illustrate this. When our children were very small, they ate with their fingers. A little later, when they can hold a spoon, they ate with a spoon. Then a little later, I said, “No. Don’t use your spoon. Use your fork.” That’s progressive revelation, adapted to the stage at which the person is. The Bible has progressive revelation, where God adapted His message to the level the people were until He got a fuller and final revelation in the New Testament.
- Now, notice, we’ve just looked at a number of mistakes that critics make about the Bible. The Bible doesn’t have any mistakes. God can’t make mistakes. The Bible is the word of God, therefore the Bible doesn’t have any mistakes. Difficulties, yes. But all the difficulties are based on mistakes made by critics, not mistakes made by God.