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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Don't Expect Robot Reporting

I've been going through some of the so-called contradictions that many Internet skeptics accuse the Bible of having. We're currently talking about the assumption of "Robot" Reporting, that is expecting historical books like the Gospel accounts to have been written in mechanical fashion instead of understanding that the authors would write history the same way other ancient writers recorded the events of their day. We've already talked about one way skeptics fall into the Robot Reporting trap: assuming the Gospel accounts should read like court transcripts.

Photo courtesy Mirko Tobias Schaefer

Another reason not to expect robot reporting is the issue of language.  Jesus probably taught the Judean crowds in Aramaic, the language of that land.  However, the world wouldn't understand Aramaic, so the gospel writers wrote in Greek.  Any time you translate from one language to another, it's impossible to record a word-for-word transcription of a teaching—and that's true even today.

Accounts are factual, but not balance sheets

Since writing was such a big deal, most of the stories of ancient times were received and passed on through verbal repetition.  In other words, people talked to one another and would tell the stories that they had heard. As we said in chapter five, people in ancient days made up for the fact they didn't write by honing their skills to memorize long narratives of text with remarkable accuracy.

Because memorizing played such an important role in keeping the stories clear and correct, writers of the ancient world had to different approach to recounting lists and facts.  Using abbreviated lists or rounding numbers to keep them simpler and easier to remember was not only an accepted practice, but the audience would understand that the writer wasn't trying to give exact counts or name every father/son relationship from person A to person B.

Example: Genealogy in Matthew 1

"So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations."

The genealogy of Jesus we read in Matthew 1:1-17 is a prime example of how ancient writers would keep the integrity of a list intact, but make is easier for people to remember. If we were to compare the lists of Judean kings presented in the books of Kings and Chronicles with Matthew's list, we'll find that Matthew purposely left out some of the kings in order to have three equal groupings of fourteen with each grouping tying into a landmark event in the nation's past. Since the term "father" can also mean grandfather or ancestor, we can see that it being used in a different manner, and therefore is not a contradiction.

There were no Xerox machines in Ancient Rome

The last way that critics make the mistake of Robot Reporting is to assume that any errors found in the text must've been placed there by the authors themselves.  We can see through history that this is clearly false, as many times scholars have identified an error in a number that a scribe made while copying the text. Indeed, a famous example of this was the so-called "Sinner's Bible" that was published in 1631.  This King James Version accidentally left out one "not" from the entire bible when printed — unfortunately, it was left out of the seventh commandment which then read "Thou shalt commit adultery!"

God never promised that every copy of a Bible book would be preserved. 2 Peter 1:21 locates the Spirit's work of inspiration at the moment of the production of the texts by the authors. But no biblical text indicates that copies would be kept free from errors. Now, as we talked about in chapter five, sine we have so many copies of New Testament texts, we can know with over 99% certainty what the original texts actually said.  And since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, we've seen that the Hebrew Old Testament text has been preserved with amazing accuracy even after 1,000 years of copying.

Example: Solomon's Horses — 4,000 or 40,000?
2 Chronicles 9:25 reports Solomon had 4,000 horses while 1 Kings 4:26 reports 40,000. Since letters were used for numbers in ancient Hebrew (like Roman Numerals) a copyist mistook one character for another, similar looking one and thus the error.


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