Have critics discredited the early manuscripts?


"Even on the critics' own terms - historical fact - the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack."

- Time Magazine, December 30, 1974

"Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it."

- George Orwell

9.1 Criticism and perceived contradictions.

Criticism is the formal investigation of literary documents. It is not criticism in the sense of denigration, but in the sense of careful analysis. Previous sections have already introduced lower and higher criticism. Three more forms include historical criticism, which studies the period and circumstances during which the text was written, literary criticism, which examines word meanings, grammar and the style of the text, and redaction criticism focusing on the final compilers of the Gospels themselves.

We have seen how critics who once believed that writing did not exist prior to 1000 BC (and so theorized no biblical writings could have occurred before that time) have turned out to be in error. Discoveries concerning early precedents of written records of history, and the very high degree of accuracy of the Hebrew transmission process, have refuted earlier arguments to the contrary. But this does not mean that Bible skeptics have run out of objections, nor are all objections as easily answered.

The far most common type of objection is that of a paradox or perceived contradiction. For example: "The book of Mark says Jesus was crucified at the third hour and John indicates his trial was still in progress during the sixth hour - a clear contradiction!". A simple reading of the texts reveals that this truly is how the passages are worded. So what is the answer? As always, the answer is: study.

First, if the Bible were fictitious, subject to change, and a work of man, not of God, why would this contradiction have knowingly been left in the Bible? Why was it not fixed hundreds of years ago? Or yesterday? The fact that no one did, and the original words were let stand, however paradoxical, is itself grand testimony to Scripture's fidelity.

Second, John not once but consistently cites the time of day differently in his writing than do the other gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke's accounts follow the Hebrew tradition of the day beginning at sunrise (6:00 A.M. being the first hour), John's accounts are consistent with the Roman tradition of the day beginning at midnight (12:00 A.M. being the first hour). The belief that the book of John may have been written in the capital of the Roman province of Asia would support this. Thus once both gospels are adjusted to today's timetables, a trial in progress at 6:00 A.M. is in no contradiction with a crucifixion following at 9:00 A.M.

9.2 Where to continue this discussion.

If you are unfamiliar with alleged contradictions/factual errors in the Bible, collections of them can be found on the internet. I initially wondered if I was up to the challenge, but upon closer inspection, I found that most pages featured roughly the same one hundred or so traditional criticisms. Of those I have thought worthy to research, none have yet proven to be without a very reasonable answer.

Of course, the Bible is of such length that any number of conceivable objections could be raised about its tens of thousands of verses. Therefore, if there is any specific passage or paradox that you have been confronted with, or believe is unanswerable, consult the many books dedicated towards answering such questions.

Two such popular works include Gleason Archer's Bible Difficulties (Zondervan) and Geisler's When Critics Ask (Victor Books). Both works spend hundreds of pages giving intimately detailed answers on just about every conceivable accusation from all forms of criticism. For internet-based resources, start with this links page under "Defense of the Christian Faith".


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Those who admit to the Bible's historicity, age, completeness, and transmission might still have problems with perceived contradictions or factual errors.

As a matter of routine Bible study, Christians ask themselves how what they're reading right now meshes with what they've read before. We know a difficult verse, one that takes historical background or other scriptural references to put into proper context, is not terribly hard to find; especially for those with weaker Bible familiarity.

So if you're an atheist searching for a Bible difficulty to stump some young Christian, here's a twisted piece of advice for you: ask an old Christian.

Just like back in college, if you want to stump some dormy in a 201 level physics class, don't ask your buddy the fine arts major what equation to give him, ask a 401 level physics student. Makes for fun & interesting debate; plus you'll learn something. (Yeah, you knew there'd be a catch.)

Anyway . . . I can't justify each of the 800,000+ words in the Bible, but I will provide you a cursory glance at the issue and offer excellent links to some real 401 level folks for those of you with specific verses/difficulties in mind. You might also take a look at the "Objections" tab at the very top.