Does the Bible Contradict Itself? By: Sean McDowell|Published: February 17, 2014 12:00 AM

There are a few errors in the Bible but they are very few and they are due to obvious copying errors.

The Bible contains 66 books authored by over 40 different people writing on hundreds of subjects, including who God is and how he interacts with his creation. Could all these different authors, who wrote hundreds of years apart, be consistent and in harmony regarding its message? Critics claim that is impossible and assert there are thousands of errors and contradictions in the Bible. Is this true?

When conservative Christian theologians say the Bible is without error (inerrant) they mean that, when all the facts are known, the Scriptures as they were penned by the authors in the original writings and as properly interpreted will be shown to be true and not false in all they affirm. This is of course the case if God is actually the author of Scripture. It stands to reason that if he inspired certain men to reveal his words, he would be sure not to contradict himself, so that his Word would be error-free.

Apparent Problems

So can anyone find errors and contradictions in the Bible? There may be apparent contradictions, but we contend there are no actual errors or contradictions in the original writings, called autographs. But those autographs no longer exist. What we have are copies of what was originally penned. In fact, we have thousands of copies.

Because there were no printing presses at the time Scripture was being written (nor were there any for more than another thousand years), men had to handwrite copies to preserve the documents from one generation to another. And while those who made the copies (scribes) did their best to copy accurately, some errors were made. But just because there were copying mistakes does not mean the Bible is full of contradictions and errors. Because when you examine the “errors” it is clear how they were made and that they do not alter the intended meaning of the text.

For example, some manuscripts of the New Testament spell the name John with one “n”; other times it is spelled with two. This technically constitutes an error or contradiction. And whenever a particular “error” like this occurs, say in 3000 manuscripts, it counts as 3000 “errors.” But of course that type of “error” in no way changes the meaning of God’s Word.

Other errors can be found in both the Old and New Testaments, such as these:

In 2 Chronicles 9:25 some manuscripts read that Solomon had 4000 horse stalls for the 14,000 chariots he owned. But in 1 Kings 4:26 other manuscripts say “40,000 horse stalls.” Clearly Solomon didn’t need 40,000 stalls to accommodate 14,000 chariots. This was obviously the result of an overworked and perhaps sleepy scribe copying down 40 instead of 4. This is an understandable human error.

In 2 Chronicles 22:2, most manuscripts say that King Ahaziah was 22 years old. But in 2 Kings 8:26 some manuscripts report that he was 42. Of course he couldn’t have been 42 or he would have been older than his father. Again, this was a copying error.

In Matthew 28:2-3 it is reported that there was an angel at Jesus’ tomb. But Luke 24:4 refers to two angels being there. Is this a contradiction? It’s no more a contradiction than if I (Sean) report to you that I went to Disneyland last year. And then someone else tells you that my wife, Stephanie, and our two children went with me too. The first statement may have left you with the impression I went to the theme park alone, while the other report explains others were with me. But this is not a contradiction.

Some have made an issue of Jesus saying he would be killed and would rise from the dead in three days (Mark 8:31). Technically, Jesus wasn’t in the grave for three 24-hour days. Did he err in what he said? No, because in the Jewish culture any part of a day was considered a whole day. There was no contradiction here.

The Accuracy of the Bible’s Transmission

Because we are dealing only with copies of the original manuscripts and not the originals themselves, we are bound to have some copying errors. And it stands to reason that those copies that are closer to the originals are more likely to have fewer copying errors. Because if one error is made in copying down a manuscript, future manuscript copies are going to reproduce that error. So the earlier manuscripts tend to be more accurate because they are closer to the original. And we didn’t know just how amazingly accurate the Old Testament copies were until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.

Before 1947, the oldest complete Hebrew manuscript dated to AD 900. But with the discovery of 223 manuscripts in caves on the west side of the Dead Sea, we came into possession of Old Testament manuscripts dated by paleographers to around 125 BC. These scrolls were a thousand years older than any previously known manuscripts.

But here’s the exciting part: Once the Dead Sea Scrolls were compared with later manuscript copies, the then-current Hebrew Bible proved to be identical, word for word, in more than 95 percent of the text. The other 5 percent consisted mainly of spelling variations. For example, of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, only 17 letters were in question. Of those, 10 letters were a matter of spelling, and 4 were stylistic changes; the remaining 3 letters comprised the word light, which was added in verse 11.

In other words, the greatest manuscript discovery of all time revealed that a thousand years of copying the Old Testament had produced only very minor variations, none of which altered the clear meaning of the text or brought the manuscript’s fundamental integrity into question.

If there are apparent errors or contradictions in copied manuscripts of the Scriptures, three principles or ground rules should be used to investigate:[1]

1. Approach the Scriptures in the same way as other ancient literature, giving the benefit of the doubt to the document itself rather than the critic.

2. Exercise an open mind.

3. Submit to external, objective controls.

This chapter originally appeared in 77 FAQs About God and the Bible by Sean McDowell and Josh McDowell (2012). Used by permission from Harvest House Publishers.


[1] Details of these principles are found in chapter 18 of The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.

The Bible and Archaeology (1/5)

The Bible maintains several characteristics that prove it is from God. One of those is the fact that the Bible is accurate in every one of its details. The field of archaeology brings to light this amazing accuracy and Kyle Butt does a great job of showing that in this film series he did on “The Bible and Archaeology.”


Is the Bible historically accurate? Here are some of the posts I have done in the past on the subject:

The Babylonian Chronicle
of Nebuchadnezzars Siege of Jerusalem

This clay tablet is a Babylonian chronicle recording events from 605-594BC. It was first translated in 1956 and is now in the British Museum. The cuneiform text on this clay tablet tells, among other things, 3 main events: 1. The Battle of Carchemish (famous battle for world supremacy where Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Pharoah Necho of Egypt, 605 BC.), 2. The accession to the throne of Nebuchadnezzar II, the Chaldean, and 3. The capture of Jerusalem on the 16th of March, 598 BC.

2. Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription.

King Hezekiah of Judah ruled from 721 to 686 BC. Fearing a siege by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, Hezekiah preserved Jerusalem’s water supply by cutting a tunnel through 1,750 feet of solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls (2 Kings 20; 2 Chron. 32). At the Siloam end of the tunnel, an inscription, presently in the archaeological museum at Istanbul, Turkey, celebrates this remarkable accomplishment.

3. Taylor Prism (Sennacherib Hexagonal Prism)

It contains the victories of Sennacherib himself, the Assyrian king who had besieged Jerusalem in 701 BC during the reign of king Hezekiah, it never mentions any defeats. On the prism Sennacherib boasts that he shut up “Hezekiah the Judahite” within Jerusalem his own royal city “like a caged bird.” This prism is among the three accounts discovered so far which have been left by the Assyrian king Sennacherib of his campaign against Israel and Judah.

4. Biblical Cities Attested Archaeologically.

In addition to Jericho, places such as Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, and many other urban sites have been excavated, quite apart from such larger and obvious locations as Jerusalem or Babylon. Such geographical markers are extremely significant in demonstrating that fact, not fantasy, is intended in the Old Testament historical narratives;

5. The Discovery of the Hittites

Most doubting scholars back then said that the Hittites were just a “mythical people that are only mentioned in the Bible.” Some skeptics pointed to the fact that the Bible pictures the Hittites as a very big nation that was worthy of being coalition partners with Egypt (II Kings 7:6), and these bible critics would assert that surely we would have found records of this great nation of Hittites.  The ironic thing is that when the Hittite nation was discovered, a vast amount of Hittite documents were found. Among those documents was the treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite King.

6.Shishak Smiting His Captives

The Bible mentions that Shishak marched his troops into the land of Judah and plundered a host of cities including Jerusalem,  this has been confirmed by archaeologists. Shishak’s own record of his campaign is inscribed on the south wall of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak in Egypt. In his campaign he presents 156 cities of Judea to his god Amon.

7. Moabite Stone

The Moabite Stone also known as the Mesha Stele is an interesting story. The Bible says in 2 Kings 3:5 that Mesha the king of Moab stopped paying tribute to Israel and rebelled and fought against Israel and later he recorded this event. This record from Mesha has been discovered.

8Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri, silver, gold, bowls of gold, chalices of gold, cups of gold, vases of gold, lead, a sceptre for the king, and spear-shafts, I have received.”


The Bible and Archaeology (2/5)


9A Verification of places in Gospel of John and Book of Acts.

Sir William Ramsay, famed archaeologist, began a study of Asia Minor with little regard for the book of Acts. He later wrote:

I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.

9B Discovery of Ebla TabletsWhen I think of discoveries like the Ebla Tablets that verify  names like Adam, Eve, Ishmael, David and Saul were in common usage when the Bible said they were, it makes me think of what amazing confirmation that is of the historical accuracy of the Bible.

10. Cyrus Cylinder

There is a well preserved cylinder seal in the Yale University Library from Cyrus which contains his commands to resettle the captive nations.

11. Puru “The lot of Yahali” 9th Century B.C.E.

This cube is inscribed with the name and titles of Yahali and a prayer: “In his year assigned to him by lot (puru) may the harvest of the land of Assyria prosper and thrive, in front of the gods Assur and Adad may his lot (puru) fall.”  It provides a prototype (the only one ever recovered) for the lots (purim) cast by Haman to fix a date for the destruction of the Jews of the Persian Empire, ostensibly in the fifth century B.C.E. (Esther 3:7; cf. 9:26).

12. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription

The Bible mentions Uzziah or Azariah as the king of the southern kingdom of Judah in 2 Kings 15. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription is a stone tablet (35 cm high x 34 cm wide x 6 cm deep) with letters inscribed in ancient Hebrew text with an Aramaic style of writing, which dates to around 30-70 AD. The text reveals the burial site of Uzziah of Judah, who died in 747 BC.

13. The Pilate Inscription

The Pilate Inscription is the only known occurrence of the name Pontius Pilate in any ancient inscription. Visitors to the Caesarea theater today see a replica, the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. There have been a few bronze coins found that were struck form 29-32 AD by Pontius Pilate

14. Caiaphas Ossuary

This beautifully decorated ossuary found in the ruins of Jerusalem, contained the bones of Caiaphas, the first century AD. high priest during the time of Jesus.

14 B Pontius Pilate Part 2      

In June 1961 Italian archaeologists led by Dr. Frova were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) and uncovered this interesting limestone block. On the face is a monumental inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar which clearly says that it was from “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”

14c. Three greatest American Archaeologists moved to accept Bible’s accuracy through archaeology.

Despite their liberal training, it was archaeological research that bolstered their confidence in the biblical text:Albright said of himself, “I must admit that I tried to be rational and empirical in my approach [but] we all have presuppositions of a philosophical order.” The same statement could be applied as easily to Gleuck and Wright, for all three were deeply imbued with the theological perceptions which infused their work.

The Bible and Archaeology (3/5)


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