Giving the Text the Benefit of the Doubt (Blomberg)

After a cursory reading of two texts that seemingly contradict each other, many New Testament critics simply say the Bible has errors.  Their logic usually goes like this: “Mark said one thing, Matthew said another.  Both can’t be right.  Therefore, the Bible has errors and you’re foolish to trust it.”

But it’s not that simple.  Different authors use different methods and different words to write about the same thing.  Some NT authors spoke more generally, some more precisely, but it doesn’t mean they erred or contradicted one another.  Craig Blomberg wrote on this quite well in his essay, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism.” In this essay, Blomberg goes through a handful of seemingly contradictory NT texts and reasonably explains how they might be harmonized.  At the end of the article, he basically says that even if his explanations are wrong, the point is that there are plausible solutions to seeming contradictions:

“…When one has examined a large number of the apparent contradictions in Scripture and time and again discovered plausible solutions – at times even more than one plausible solution – it is only natural to reach a point where one gives the text the benefit of the doubt on the rare occasions of confronting seemingly more intractable problems.  These are the kinds of replies that are important to give a professor who asks a student, whether Bart Ehrman or anyone else, ‘Why not just admit that Mark [or any other scriptural author] made an error?’

I very much agree.  I’ve had it in my own experience when I thought two texts seemed to be contradictory.  I didn’t know what to think, so I studied the texts and read other authors’ comments on them.  Indeed, I found various reasonable explanations for the seeming contradictions.  I’m at the point now that when I see something in the Bible that seems to be contradictory, I believe the weakness is in my own mind and reasoning, and I give the text the benefit of the doubt.  And, of course, I believe that “the Lord’s word is flawless” (Psalm 18:30 NIV).  My mind, however, is not!

The above article and quote by Craig Blomberg are found in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Inspiration, Criticism, and Fallacious Understanding

Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World Modern critics of Scripture argue that since we only have copies of the words God inspired, we don’t have God’s actual and inspired word.  Bart Ehrman said it like this: “If God really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place.  Given that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion must be that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them” (Misquoting Jesus, p. 211).

The book Truth Matters deals with this criticism quite well.  Here’s one part of the response to the critics’ argument:

“…Peter Williams has said, ‘Words do not lose inspiration by being copied.’  So if by working through the wide assortment of surviving manuscripts, we can reasonably deduce that what we’re looking at in our Bibles are genuine replicas and translations of the original sources, then why are these words so suspiciously second-rate, just because God didn’t keep the first ones – the first parchments – under glass in the archives?”

“In fact, Bart Ehrman’s statement quoted above about the inspiration of the Bible (or lack thereof) is based on a fallacious understanding of the doctrine of inspiration.  Christians believe that the words written in the original autographs were inspired, not the material entity (the specific piece of papyrus or parchment).  Therefore, we don’t need the original manuscript in order to have the original words.

“Again, a textual critic can certainly prove the point that particular manuscripts have been altered in a number of places.  Anyone worth his scholarly salt would agree.  But no way can they demonstrate how, among the thousands of manuscripts we can study and research and access through our biblical software, the original words of Scripture have utterly vanished.  Gone.”

“On the one hand the people who cling to them (the arguments for a corrupt text) insist that nobody can know for sure what was actually contained in the original autographs.  ‘Show me one,’ they say, ‘and then we’ll talk.’  But then they confidently argue how these numerous variants – this one, that one, and the other one – couldn’t possibly be original to the text.  Well, how can they know this to be true if they don’t have any idea what the original said?  How do we know a watch is not a Rolex unless we know what a Rolex is – and believe that Rolex watches exist?  Talk about inconsistencies….”

Well said!  Reminds me of Romans 1:18ff.

Bock, Chatraw, and Kostenberger, Truth Matters, p. 131-132.

shane lems