Every now and then the media cycle runs into the whole "surprising discoveries in the Bible" theme.  The idea here is that the Bible isn't perfect and that scholars have discovered errors in the text.

The problem is, scholars have always known about variations in the text.  In my own home I have two Greek / Hebrew Bibles based off of totally different manuscripts.  They don't always agree and it isn't uncommon to find a word over here that doesn't exist over there.

To quote a professor of mine:

The article has some interesting information, but is sensationalized as is the title.  Scholars have known–forever, of variations among hand-written copies of the Bible.  The prophet Jeremiah in the 7th century before Christ complained of deliberate corruptions in the text by “lying scribes.”  The book of Jeremiah’s prophecies  itself testifies to at least three editions within the prophet’s lifetime.
But to be “news” journalists have to make it sound like a bold new discovery.  Nevertheless, the article provides a good introduction to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

The problem with the Church's method of teaching about Holy Scripture and it's inerrancy or infallibility (not everybody agrees that those two terms are the same.  I think that they are related and share many different qualities) is that textual criticism is often taught at a "1st grade" type level.  In other words, congregations are rarely introduced to the idea of the thousands of manuscripts and the discrepancies between then.1

Perhaps there is a reason for this - I'm not sure that the average individual is capable of understanding textual criticism, especially if they haven't had college training  in the practice.  Certainly those who are legalists will struggle with the idea of word variation (this is why we have bible battles over which version is superior).  However, I think it would be good to consider ways to prepare our congregations for these kinds of media "revelations" so as to help soften any kind of blow that this kind of revelation may bring to various individuals.

One technique I have observed here comes from pastors who practice the exegetical preaching style.  This is relatively rare - but I do think that the method has a built in criticism training mechanism as exegetical pastors tend to deal with multiple versions in their teaching.  Therefore, audiences have some natural exposure to how texts vary, they see that authority is maintained across many different canonized texts, and they have exposure to how language naturally changes over time.

The tough thing is that most pastors employ topical or interrogative styles which don't allow for much exegetical presentation of the Word, even if an exegetical method is used to construct the overall sermon.

I think that to consider ways to introduce all audiences to textual criticism in a way that is palatable to all demographics is something that pastors need to keep in mind because it is just better to be able to say, with confidence "so, this isn't news" rather than "wait, the Bible isn't perfect in every way?"  Somehow teaching that the inerrancy or infallibility don't mean that everything is exactly the same all the time would be beneficial to congregations.

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Hmmmm.  At the risk of getting drawn into a conversation that I don't have time for.....

I have problems with words such as "infallible" and "inerrant".  It just seems to me that (whilst taking Stevo's point that pretty much all of the important doctrine doesn't ride on little potential errors in the text) there is plenty of scripture open to new readings and insights, some big arguments out there on how to read it, and different translations can bring out different flavours in the text (some are probably wrong, but which ones?). There are some words in there that we can only find occuring once in the whole of the Ancient Greek literature available to us, so we have to take an informed guess as to their meaning.... maybe God did guide the inclusion of these words (so, he has something of a sense of humour....). "Infallible" and "inerrant" strike me as rigid words used by people trying to insist on a particular reading and doctrine. I think scripture is better than that - more alive and ready for fresh readings.

It's probably better to ask questions like the following ones.....

- Do I believe that Paul wrote several (all?) of the letters attributed to him? [Yes]
- Do we have an accurate record of these letters? [Yes]
- Do I think that we can get a pretty good idea of what he was talking about by reading these letters? [Yes, but there are arguments to be had, and people have them]
- Do I think Paul was inspired by God when hew wrote the letters? [Yes]
- Do I think that God dictated it word-for-word? [No]
- Do I nevertheless believe we can get insight into the mind of God through the letters of Paul? [Yes]
- Can I treat parts of the Bible as historical records? [Yes.... but care required!]
- Is this a book worth basing my life upon? [Yes]
- How do I go about "basing my life upon" a book? [now there's a question]

If you were to push me, for example, on the question of whether we have, word-for-word, exactly the things Jesus said in the gospels, or exactly the speeches of Paul or Stephen in Acts, I would say no. Summaries, yes. The basic message, yes. Some of the more frequent sayings that Jesus repeated often in front of his disciples (and then later translated into Greek?), yes. I'm less sure about the farewell discourses in John... they're brilliant, and wonderful, of course, but probably not precisely the words used at the time.... unless there was a dictaphone or someone taking notes?
No, you've got it all wrong. Jesus spoke in red.
Ha, I knew I was missing something..... :-)
If I tell you that  there's no red after Acts 26 until  the surprise return in Revelation will that ruin the book for you.
Hmm, I'll have to think about that.
How do i go about basing my life on a book?   Indeed, a question.  In John 6, Jesus is directing the conversation towards basing one's life on Him.  The Book merely says what He says, and He says what the Father says.  While we partake of Him, He also says "my words are spirit, and they are life."  So we read and digest the Word, which is chock-full of the Spirit of God (or we can say, full of Jesus, or full of Christ).  The Book is only a means of transporting the words of life to our crania -- but quite a means!

Do you not find that some bits of the Bible are almost closed to you until you are ready. 


I love reading my Bible and gaining an understanding and closeness.  I was told during a study with some serious Bible scholars that the fact that the Gospel accounts have different aspects of the same event and some odd observations is good.  It displays the quirky way we individually recall things.   As well, anyone making this up would try to make their accounts tally and would not included the observed oddities.   An example of this is the boy with no clothes running away from the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:50-52).  No explaination who the young man is or why he's in night clothes is in the acount.   I believe that some Scholars think this was Mark including his own story in the Gospel

The different target audiences and culture of the writers determined some of the descriptions. For instance, when lowering the young man through the roof in Luke 5, he mentions tiles. But in Mark, it's merely said that they made an opening. Generally, roofs didn't have tiles in Palestine and so-called scholars have hilighted this as an inaccuracy. However, Luke's account was written to a gentile audience who would better understand what happened in terms of their own culture which included tiled roofs. 


This even happens today  - a Wycliffe translator related once to me that he was translating the passage that said, "behold I stand at the door and knock". In the culture that he was translating for, if someone knocks on the door, he's a thief and he wants to come in and rob you. We can't have Jesus portrayed as a thief, so he translated it as "Behold, I stand at your door and I want to come in and speak with you." 


So those who insist on everything matching up exactly regardless of culture and audience are being unrealistic.

So those who insist on everything matching up exactly regardless of culture and audience are being unrealistic.
I totally agree here.  However, it seems to me that this is a difficult thing to find in practice in many churches.  The result is that there are many who don't believe this.  So when something hits the media, either the media is accused to lying, or faith is shaken because it was based on a lie.

And for those who can't take their Sunday afternoon nap on account of those disturbing tiles, the city of Kaphar-Nayoom, where Jesus was ministering, was no mean Jewish fishing village, but small cosmopolitan city with a fair degree of Hellenizing (Greek) influence - no reason for that enthusiastic scholar to completely discount the existence a house of Greek or Roman construction.

But your entire post, Stevo, is well taken and gets to the point.  

I've heard tell of a missionary who took a lot of flak (from other missionaries) for reversing pigs and sheep in some of the Gospel stories because in his target group, pigs had been clean and sheep unclean as long as anyone could remember.

Clean pigs?  Hard to imagine. I think that culture needs some re-construction!

None of the Gospels directly identify their authors -- can you imagine anyone today writing a best-seller and not signing it?  John seems to be "the disciple that Jesus loved"; Matthew is found at his tax booth in Matthew but not specified as that particular Matthew; Luke gives his addressee but not his own name; and this intriguing tidbit about Mark!  

I've read a few other 'holy books', and from a textual point of view, I indeed found them lean on human detail and fat on whatever doctrine the book was promoting.


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