Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties: Foreword

Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative

Dr. Gleason Archer has written this encyclopedia to show that there is nothing in the Bible inconsistent with the claim that it is the inerrant Word of God. In the last century this doctrine has increasingly come under sharp criticism. Unfortunately Christians who oppose the doctrine of biblical inerrancy usually misunderstand it. In most cases they gleaned their view of what it means from an uninstructed Sunday school teacher or an overenthusiastic radio preacher. Perhaps they have never had the occasion to consult the work of a serious-mined scholar. Readers will soon discover that the view of inerrancy set forth by Dr. Archer is the historical position of the church in all of its major branches. Behind it stand the illustrious names of Augustine, Aquinas, John of Damascus, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and a host of others. Put quite simply, this view of inerrancy holds that the Bible tells us truth and never says what is not so.

It might be helpful to begin by dispelling some of the most common misunderstandings of biblical inerrancy. Evangelicals do not try to prove that the Bible has no mistakes so that they can be sure the Bible is the Word of God. One might prove that a newspaper article is free from all mistakes, but that would not prove that the newspaper article is the Word of God. Christians hold the Bible to be the Word of God (and inerrant) because they are convinced that Jesus, the Lord of the church, believed it and taught His disciples to believe it. And ultimately their conviction of its truth rests on the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise evangelicals do not hold that inerrant inspiration eliminates the human element in the production of the Bible. True, evangelicals have stressed the divine authorship of Scripture because this is most frequently denied and it is this that gives Scripture its unique importance. But informed evangelicals have always insisted on a truly human authorship of Scripture. Even those who were willing to use the word dictation (as did Calvin and the Tridentine Council of the Roman Catholic church) always made very clear that they were not referring to the model of a boss dictating to a stenographer. Rather, they meant to stress the divine (as well as human) responsibility for the words of Scripture and that the inscripturated words are just as truly God's authoritative words as though He had dictated them.

One could argue (illogically) that God could prevent the biblical writers from error only by eliminating their freedom and their humanity, but evangelicals have not so argued. Rather, the Bible is both a thoroughly human and a thoroughly divine product. As a divine product it possesses absolute authority over the minds and hearts of believers. As a human product it displays within itself all of the essential marks of its human writing. No doubt God could have given us a Bible in the perfect language of heaven, but then who of us would have understood it? He chose to communicate his will to us through the imperfect medium of human language with all its possibilities for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. On the other hand the gift of language is one of our most trustworthy means of communicating our wishes and our ideas to one another. God, therefore, chose to communicate to us through this imperfect instrument of human language.

In writing the Bible, its authors used figures of speech, allegory, symbolic language, and the various genre of literature employed by other human authors. Moreover, because they wrote in the language of the common man of two or more millennia ago, they frequently chose not to provide specific technical data where that was not important to their purpose. Never do they speak in the vocabulary of modern science. They felt no more obligation to be precise and exact in many of their statements than we do in our ordinary conversation. Divine inspiration guaranteed only the truth of what they wrote. God preserved them from error both of ignorance and of deceptions. But He did not prevent them from speaking as humans. And only if we take the ridiculous and self-contradictory position that error is essential to all human speaking and writing, can we insist that the true humanity of Scripture necessarily carries with it false statements. While preserving their full humanity, with all that implies for the character of their writing, the Holy Spirit kept the writers of the Bible from making erroneous statements. As a result we do not need to pick and choose what is taught in Scripture. All of it is God's truth.

The attempt, like Dr. Archer's, to show that there are not mistakes or false statements in the Bible is frequently objected to from opposite viewpoints. One asks, "Why bother to defend the Bible? You do not defend a roaring lion from a mouse. Nor should we place ourselves in the false position of defending the Scripture. We need only to unleash it. It will conquer by its own power without our feeble endeavors to support it."

But the faith of some troubled souls is hindered by misunderstanding the Scripture. They are confused by what seems to them to be false statements or self-contradiction. We need, therefore, to clear away such false obstacles to faith. If there remains any obstacle to faith, it should be the stumbling block of the cross or the cost of discipleship rather than an imaginary obstacle that could easily be eliminated. In spite of what we sometimes hear, God never asks us to crucify our intellects in order to believe.

A second objection to dealing seriously with alleged discrepancies and mistakes in the Bible comes from the opposite position that it is not worthwhile to do so because it is perfectly obvious that the Bible is full of errors. There is no uniformity in the way in which this second type of judgment comes, but all forms of it stem basically from too little faith in the Bible. World-famous theologian, Karl Barth, for example, declares that the Bible shouts from the housetop that it is a human book and that an essential part of its humanity is to err. Others hold that the Bible is a book God inspired in order to give us religious truth but not precise facts of science and history. To waste time defending the Bible in these latter areas is to do it a disservice, they say. It diverts attention away from the real purpose of the Bible, which is rather to instruct us in spiritual and moral matters. A variant of this position is that the purpose of the Bible is to lead us to the personal truth of Christ. The Bible may be wrong on many points, but it points to the Savior; and to focus attention on points of geography, history, astronomy, and biology is only to divert it from its true goal-personal faith in Christ.

Of course, there are also others who hold that the Bible is full of errors because its authors were simply children of their times. Miller Burrows, former professor of New Testament at Yale University, accurately summarizes this rather typical modern viewpoint: "The Bible is full of things which to an intelligent educated person of today are either quite incredible or at best highly questionable…. The protracted struggle of theology to defend the inerrancy of the Bible (i.e. its complete truth) against the findings of astronomy, geology, and biology has been a series of retreats ending in a defeat which has led all wise theologians to move to a better position." (Outline of Biblical Theology [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1946], pp. 9, 44)

Common to all of these objections is the conviction that any defense of biblical inerrancy is at best a waste of time and at worst positively harmful because it leads one away from the true purpose of the Bible, which is to bring us to God.

The inerrantist's response is quite simple. For him the basic issue is: "Who is Jesus Christ?" If the Bible is so far from the truth that it is all wrong as to who Jesus Christ is, then there can be no question about it: the Bible is full of erroneous statements. It is nonsense to discuss whether or not the Bible tells us only the truth in all it teaches if, in fact, it is really dead wrong on the main thrust of its teaching. In short, evangelical inerrantists have no quarrel with radicals who reject Jesus Christ as their religious guide. But for those who accept Jesus Christ as their divine Lord, the teaching of Jesus Christ must be taken with dreadful seriousness. It is consistent to deny Jesus Christ as Lord and also to reject the full authority of the Bible, but it is inconsistent to confess Him as Lord and then reject His teaching. On this matter, the evangelical seeks only to be consistent. Jesus is Lord, and the evangelical believes what He taught about the full truthfulness of the Old Testament. By the Holy Spirit He also promised to give similar authority to His disciples for their guidance of the church after He had completed His own earthly ministry.

The evangelical, moreover, does not feel the overwhelming force of the discrepancies and errors alleged by some to be profusely scattered throughout the Bible. He finds that most such problems dissolve the moment one sees clearly that the Bible is a human book written in the ordinary language of two thousand and more years ago. It is only when we try to make the Bible into a book written in the exact, precise style that we have become accustomed to in a modern laboratory report that we run into difficulty.

For the same reason the evangelical considers it unreasonable for anyone to demand that he must be able to demonstrate the complete harmony of all Bible passages before he can reasonably accept them as true. The Bible was written millennia ago by independent authors drawn from various cultures and scattered over many centuries. In view of the nature of the Bible, it is much more reasonable that we should not be able to demonstrate on the basis of our limited knowledge a neat harmony of all biblical data. Quite to the contrary, the evangelical is amazed that there are as few apparently insoluble problems as there are. Inerrancy is not unbelievable nor does it require a sacrifice of the intellect. Rather, the actual situation with respect to biblical problems is precisely what we should expect in view of the fact that the Bible is a book of inerrant truth coming to us from across many centuries and alien cultures.

Finally, just a word needs to be said about Dr. Archer and his special qualifications for this task. Few scholars are so uniquely equipped in their command of ancient languages and of the tools of biblical scholarship as in Dr. Archer. In addition to his own integrity as a scholar, he is a dedicated student of Scripture and a trustworthy guide for those who wish to understand Scripture better. His book will be a rich gold mine for those who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and who need help in seeking to bring that conviction into harmony both with what they read in the Bible and the facts of the empirical world about them. I believe this book will prove immensely valuable to many earnest Christians and I heartily commend it to the church and to all serious Bible students.

Kenneth S. Kantzer

Taken from ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BIBLE DIFFICULTIES by GLEASON ARCHER. Copyright ©1982 by the Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House (

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