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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I don't know that I would classify the idea of a totally perfect text as one that is promoted by denominations themselves.  Just about every denomination has Biblical scholars employed to help draft theology and doctrine that assist the denomination's bias.


However, I've heard many many sermons done by pastors who have only BS (not BA) and lesser training insist on an absolute perfection that doesn't exist.


I will say this, the Church as a whole has gotten a lot better at talking openly about the discrepancies in the texts which we base our Bible on, especially over the last 10-20 years.


However the topic has a habit of causing people to flip out.  

On the contrary, the statement of infallibility often explicitly states that it refers to the autographs, and that the texts were preserved and passed to us by God's providence, sufficient in the form we have received them to accurately communicate God's revelation to us.
Very true.  It makes me wonder: how often do people pick on discrepancies in the text (including people who call themselves Christians) just to justify their departure from Biblical teachings?

The number of textual variations in the Hebrew Bible is practically zero. It's a completely different situation than the New Testament where you actually have two main approaches - majority text and critical text with a few versions of each. Those two approaches have thousands of manuscripts to work with. The amazing thing is that with this many manuscripts, we still have unprecedented agreement. No other text in history has this many witnesses - not even close.


And I can't think of any major doctrine that actually hinges on the difference between majority and critical texts. On the contrary, if you see a person arguing a major doctrine from one little Greek word or some missing text that was found in Aleph, or B or Codex whatever, they were out in left field before they started. 99.99% of the textual variations (my number) amount to nothing doctrinally.


Geisler said it best - we have the exact text from God in front of us. It's in there amongst the thousands of manuscripts.


I'm a majority text man myself.

I think that what is coming out is simply a difference in interpretations. I have just finished a class on interpreting the Bible, and it stated that the reader will have to take the Historical situation, the definition of the words and the context they were being used into account before any kind of life application can be made, then , after it has become a part of the life of the presenter can it be communicated to an audience. 

I see where there are differences that you may see in how people interpret the Word, and there are many differing translations or paraphrases, so I don't see where there is error other than Human error. If all of the facts are taken into account when writing a message about the Word, it can be a very helpful and interesting read. If you just leave it up to the congregation, I can see there being many holes in may theories. 

But this is just my opinion, I am merely going for a Bachelors of Science Degree, so I must not know the whole truth...(since it seems that you put the B.S. and B.A. teachings in different categories...)  The Word is the absolute truth. How you choose to interpret it is another story altogether. Without prayerful consideration for the Holy Spirit to use you to communicate the Word, it might as well just be words....


Yes, but there are actually differing underlying Greek texts that show conflicting phrases and words in places. And there are a few puzzling passages that we have always struggled with. On the first account, I just say that somewhere within the Greek copies, we have the absolute word of God. To the second, I accept that I may never know the exact answers about interpretation or facts until the Lord returns.

Don't be surprised if you get some huge responses on this.  But tonight (at least), I'll be short, because it's actually tomorrow.

There has always been textual criticism of the Bible.  The Fathers fine-toothed a lot of Scripture and at various councils tossed certain books.  Some segments of the Church accept several "apocryphal" books, some fully, some as a "lesser Scripture", and others not at all (Gospel of Thomas, etc.).

Of more current concern is something called "higher criticism", a product of the last few centuries, which applies legal-proof thinking to Scripture.  Hence, the remorseful suicide of Judas of Matthew and the proud Judas falling to a grisly death (Acts) are considered two unreconcilable incidents, and thus only one could be true.  Opposing this line of thought are scholars who are determined that all the words will fit (the information is true; we are missing facts which would show us how the two accounts actually are part of a single true story).  

One article by a liberal scholar I read said that there were 20,000 textual discrepancies in the Bible.  Now, such a person must be counting "Peace I give you" and "not peace, but a sword" (both spoken by Jesus) as discrepancies.  Remember, Jesus was always tweaking our consciousness and consciences with paradox and riddle.  "He never spoke without a parable!"  

I think what I am saying is that even before we can discuss discrepancies, we have to decide what a discrepancy is.


Excellent point. If a scholar doesn't commit to "letting the text stand", I think he's not on the right path. Respecting that God can/has caused a text to exist that is without error seems the first and only reasonable position to take. After that, the choices are between this Greek text and that one. Nineveh was thought to be a complete fabrication by scholars because they had not found it. But finally it was discovered and the Biblical text was vindicated. This keeps happening time after time, yet some scholars are intent on proving that there is no innerant text.
"I think what I am saying is that even before we can discuss discrepancies, we have to decide what a discrepancy is." I'm so totally with you on this! :)
There are so many things like that and when someone uncovers the key, it's a great victory.

Our assumptions about the meaning of a Bible passage can be affected by our own attitudes.  My post last night mentioned the "Judas question".  I could get all involved over whether people were hanged by nooses or impaled in Bible days, and miss the matter of the man's state of soul, far more important.  In this case Jesus said, prophesying, "it would be better for that man if he had never been born", which has major implications for us whenever we are considering an act of betrayal (it is God's concern over whether Judas dies remorseful or proud -- He dealt with Judas, but I need to deal with my own decisions).  

Part of life is learning to live with loose ends, letters that are in the mail, ambiguous boxes on forms we fill out, and so on.  God made gravity; yet His Son asked Peter to "come" and walk upon deep water.

Yes, agreed. But as long as that means that we accept them to be accurate. There is much grief in multiplying books, (to paraphrase Solomon) but I have to be able to believe that God has transmitted an accurate record. I think that's what you're last paragraph must be about.

The simple belief that God has given us information accurately, and that people have recognized that He has done this, has never harmed anyone.  It's kind of amazing, when you think about it, that with all the miscellaneous holy-writing about, that such a large number of churches agree on a specific collection of writings (the "canon" of Scripture) that they see as superior to, or a wellspring for, all other writings about God.  

It's when people say, "The Scripture says this and you are doing that, and therefore you are a heretic or a hellion, and since the Scripture is infallible and literally correct you have no choice but to accept my judgment on you" that I get irritated.  That's the Exegesis of the Pharisee.  But if a person says, "I trust the Scripture which has Peter put down his sword" and becomes a conscientious objector, and another says, "honor the king" and takes up the gun to defend his countrymen, I find no contradiction in the Scriptures, only two valid modes of living.

The Scriptures have been subjected to ferocious scrutiny, not just by enemies, but by Christians who really want to be able to discern the truth about passages which seem confusing or contradictory.  Yet they continue to sow God's character into those who read them, and they have a way of withstanding the onslaught of biased logic and intentional distortion of meaning.  They are designed by God to transmit truth, and they do.


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