Wrestling with the Accuracy and Inspiration of the Bible

In episode #82 on the BEMA Discipleship Podcast (dealing with “textual criticism” of the Bible), Marty Solomon made the following statement about growing up in a fundamentalist church: “Inspiration means accuracy in the world I grew up in.” Now he says, “That’s not what inspiration means. Inspiration means it was inspired by God.”

Solomon is talking about one of the few verses in the Bible that gives us explicit insight into how we should view Scripture:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness….” 

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

That Scripture is “inspired by God” is what those with a “high view” of Scripture hang our hat on, but what does “inspired by God” mean exactly?

Jesus revered Scripture, and he quoted from it often, He quoted from the Torah at least 21 times and from the Prophets at least 18 times. He referenced those writings when he said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” 

Matthew 5:17-19

His words seem to suggest a high standard of accuracy in “the Law”, but I have often noted that the quotations of Jesus in the New Testament do not often match (if ever) the exact phrases from the passages he quotes. He doesn’t cite “chapter and verse” because there were no chapters or verses then.

Further, the Scriptural texts were written out carefully by scribes who were highly specialized in the tedium of copying the text verbatim, but many people could not read or write. Scripture was committed to memory and quoted often from memory.

Solomon’s comment reveals how his position has changed from the view of the church in which he grew up. He still believes the Bible is inspired by God, but he no longer believes that inspiration means accuracy.

The exact words quoted in the New Testament writings that were spoken by Jesus were likely spoken in Hebrew, or maybe Aramaic, and they were translated into Greek. We have Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and Latin manuscripts. We also have manuscripts in Coptic, Syriac, and other languages.

We have a virtual treasure of manuscripts of the biblical texts, so much that they dwarf the text of any other ancient writing many, many times over. We also have many modern translations, each with differences in words, sentence structure, phraseology, etc.

The Bible we have is magnitudes more certain in its reliability and integrity than any other ancient text. We can trust that we have a very, very close approximation in the Bible of what was originally said because of the wealth of texts we can compare to each other. But can we say it is 100%, word for word, accurate in every jot and tittle?

Solomon has a “high view” of Scripture, as I do, but he doesn’t necessarily demand, expect, or hold on to it as if every word is accurate (without error). This can be a difficult “concession” for many people who are Christians and believe the Bible must be viewed as 100% accurate in every word and detail.

A “high view” of Scripture, to me, means to view it with the utmost respect, to embrace it as authoritative and inspired, and to study it regularly as food for the soul/spirit, for guidance in knowing and understanding God and His purposes and how to live as one who would follow Christ.

The idea that the Bible is inerrant (without error) is not to be found in the Bible. Rather, we can find in the Bible that it was inspired by God. In the second letter Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy, he said:

Most people who claim to be Christians, and some people who don’t, agree that the Bible is inspired. The idea that the Bible was inspired, and inspired by God, is somewhat noncontroversial, but some people take it further: they say that every word in our modern Bible is from God; they say the Bible is without error; they say the Bible is inerrant (meaning, incapable of being wrong).

When Paul said all scripture is inspired by God, he was likely talking about the Old Testament, as there was no New Testament as we know it when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy. He also doesn’t clarify what he would include in the term, “Scripture”. We have to try to fill in those blanks.

Can we really say the Bible – every word of the text we have today – is 100% accurate to the words that were originally inspired by God, spoken and written down? Which translation? In which language?

Maybe there is a reason Paul did not say that Scripture is an accurate, word for word, and verbatim script of God’s words to the people who were inspired to receive them. Muslims claim that is what the angel Gabriel did with Muhammed. They claim the angel dictated to Muhammed, who wrote down everything exactly as it was spoken to him. The biblical text doesn’t make that claim about itself.

Paul says that Scripture is “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness“. He implicitly says we can trust it and rely on it. He holds it in the highest regard, but he doesn’t say what we try to claim about the Bible.

Maybe we shouldn’t go as far in our claims as we do. In writing this piece, I am not suggesting that we should not trust the Bible or rely on it. I am not saying we should disregard it or discount it.

I believe Scripture is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Does it need to be 100% accurate to do that? Does it need to “inerrant”?

NT Wright makes the bold claim that we have the Scripture God wanted us to have. Human beings have a strong desire to categorize, define, and reduce to certainty. Maybe we should resist that temptation.

“God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” We are finite and limited beings. We will always have a measure of uncertainty. Faith involves placing our trust in what we believe is trustworthy. Faith doesn’t require certainty.

We will never have certainty because we are finite, limited beings. We are not gods, and we are certainly not God.

I realize I have not, perhaps, brought much clarity to the subject. I do have some more thoughts on the subject, including what Peter has to say, and what Peter and Paul say about each other. I will pick where I leave off here in future writings.

Looking at Some of the Oldest Extant Examples of Ancient Biblical Text

By Tamar Hayardeni, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23802552
Ketef Hinnom burial caves

Some of the oldest extant examples of ancient biblical text are the Ketef Hinnom amulets.[i] The silver amulets meant to be worn around the neck are very small. They are actually tiny scrolls made of rolled silver with inscriptions on them. They were found at the First Temple funerary site of Ketef Himmom southwest of Jerusalem.[ii]

Discovered in 1979, the inscriptions on the amulets were not detected until the scrolls were painstakingly unrolled in 1994 by the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California. The inscriptions on one scroll contain text similar to the blessings found in the Tora[iii]h at Numbers 6:24-26[iv]:

6:24 Yahweh bless you and keep you;
6:25 Yahweh make his face shine upon youand be gracious to you;
6:26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

(The italicized words are not found on the scroll but may have appeared in the area where the scroll has disintegrated.)

The other scroll contained language similar to the parallel passages in the Torah of Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10 and 7:9, and the Prophets, Daniel 9:4 and Nehemiah 1:5.[v]


These amulets with the biblical inscriptions date to the First Temple period before the Babylonian exile. Conservative sources date them to the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E.[vi] More liberal sources date them to the period immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE.[vii] No one dates them after the destruction of the First Temple.

This is significant because the consensus of scholars date the Torah post exile to the Persian Period (539-333 BCE, and probably 450-350 BCE).[viii] While classic rabbinic views hold that the entire Torah was written by Moses during his life in the second millennium BCE, the consensus of modern scholars is that the Torah was written by a number of authors post exile.

The confirmed dating of the Ketef Hinnom amulets doesn’t necessarily prove that the Torah was written and in existence at the time those amulets were created. They could have been produced from oral tradition. It does establish, though, that pre-exilic Jews were familiar with the sayings in the Torah.


It’s also consistent (or not inconsistent) with the view that the Torah was written down before the exile – perhaps, even by Moses.

All five books of the Torah, and every book of the Christian Old Testament, except for Esther, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The earliest Dead Sea Scroll texts date to 300 BCE. The remarkable similarity of the versions of the Hebrew text in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the texts preserved from a millennium or more later amazed scholars. While most of the books of the Old Testament found at Qumran were fragmentary, a complete scroll of Isaiah was found dating to no earlier than the first century BCE.[ix] The Ketef Hinnom amulets, though are much older still.

I have referenced mostly sources that are secular or liberal in their leaning. I did that on purpose, as even these sources attest to a certain factual baseline that is consistent with the biblical narrative, and not contradictory to it. They don’t rule out earlier dates and facts that are not just consistent, but which match the biblical record. Thus, archaeology continues to reveal artifacts consistent with a view of the historical reliability of the Old Testament.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] See Ketef Hinnom at Wikipedia

[ii] See Miniature Writing on Ancient Amulets, by Robin Ngo for Bible History Daily at the Biblical Archaeology Society website March 5, 2021.

[iii] The first five books of the Christian New Testament known as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

[iv] See Wikipedia

[v] Ibid.

[vi] See Miniature Writing on Ancient Amulets

[vii] Wikipedia.

[viii] See Torah at Wikipedia

See Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? By Andrew Lawler for Smithsonian Magazine January 2010

[ix] See 6 Things You May Not Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jennie Cohen at History.com

Can We Trust the Bible?

Depositphotos Image ID: 28826745 Copyright: veric1513

One of the most common skeptical positions in regard to the Bible is that we can’t trust it because it has changed over time, and we don’t even have the original text anymore. We likely don’t have any of the original text, and we have very little text that goes back to the 1st or even 2nd centuries.

The “telephone game” that children play is often used as an illustration of how easily things that are communicated get twisted and changed so that we can’t even tell what the original meaning was by the time the communication comes back to us after being repeated over and over from one person to the next. This illustration is applied to the Bible as proof that it can’t be trusted because it has been translated and copied over and over and over again. How do we even know what the original text said?!

These are serious contentions. An honest person cannot just brush these contentions aside.

Yes faith is a foundation of Christian belief, but Christian faith is not a blind faith as some suppose. Christian faith means putting our trust in God, and not in ourselves. Christian faith does not insist or even ask us to throw out our minds in the process.

In fact, we are specifically instructed to love God not only with our hearts and strength, but with our minds! As I have stated previously, doubt and skepticism is not a sin according to the Bible. Thomas doubted, and he became known for his skepticism but he was a follower of Jesus. Though he was skeptical, he came to believe.

Paul urged the Thessalonians to “test everything”, and hold on to what is good and true. I call this “honest skepticism”, which should not be confused with skepticism for the sake of skepticism. Anyone who is skeptical of everything, even the certainty of truth, should not even bother looking into anything because the exercise is pointless for the pure skeptic who is unwilling to commit to any truths.

(Ironically, the contention that there is no objective truth is a self-defeating statement. The statement, itself, is offered as an objective truth, therefore it isn’t even true of itself!)

But we digress. Whether the Bible can be trusted is the question? So, let’s dive in.

Continue reading “Can We Trust the Bible?”