The Bible is the inspired word of God. Though I am not as dogmatic about it as some fellow-evangelicals, I do believe that the Bible is in fact inerrant, and that, though a few items require speculation as to how they can reconcile, I think it is easier and wiser to trust that there is just something we are missing than to think the Bible is flawed. I am not disparaging the inerrant word of God in any way.
What I am saying is that it is important to remember that the Bible, though accurate in everything it does say, doesn’t say everything in the world that has ever been said. That may seem rather obvious, but it seems to not always be obvious in theological circles.
I. WE SEE UNBELIEVERS DO THIS
For the unbeliever and skeptic, it is not terribly uncommon to point to Acts 20:35:
“In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
It is said to be a contradiction because when you scour the Gospels looking for where Jesus said “it is more blessed to receive,” it isn’t there. Of course, this has been answered a million times, and is one of the easiest Bible contradiction to answer. If only they were always this easy!
Fist of all, even if Paul is wrong, the point is moot because Paul didn’t write Acts in the first place. As I explained in a previous post, there is a difference between the Bible saying something and the Bible saying that someone said something.This isn’t the Bible saying something (that Jesus said he phrase in question); it is the Bible saying that someone said something (that Paul said that Jesus said it). So for the purposes of apologetics all that matters is that Paul actually said what it says he said, whether or not what he said is accurate. And we have no reason to doubt that Paul said what Acts 20:35 records him saying.
But even if the Bible itself were saying that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” we can’t say this was a contradiction because nowhere does the Bible ever say that Jesus didn’t say that. True, nowhere in the Gospels does it ever say that Jesus did say that, but nowhere does the Bibles say that the Gospels contain every word that Jesus ever said. Why would we even think they do? Combined, they are only about 100 pages or so in our English Bibles (this will vary significantly due to differences in font size and so forth); that’s not even enough to record what a person might say in a day, let alone a lifetime or even a 3-year ministry. And Paul never says that these words were in the Gospels or even written, so how can anyone fairly say that Jesus never said that to anyone in all of His years of teaching (or perhaps, to Paul after He was resurrected)?
That seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? The only reason any problem arises is because some assume that Jesus couldn’t have said anything that wasn’t recorded int he Bible, which is absurd. And yet…
II. …WE SEE BELIEVERS MAKING THE SAME MISTAKE
One example of this I see is in regards to Eve and how she responds to the serpent in Genesis 3:2-3. To see the apparent problem, we need to see how it differs from what God said to Adam in the previous chapter:
“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
“The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die'” (emphasis added) (Genesis 3:2-3).
When Eve tells the serpent what she was commanded, she tells him something that God didn’t tell Adam in Genesis 2:17, that they were not even to touch the tree. Now, I work as an accountant, and yet even my eye for detail didn’t make me think twice about this until it was brought up to me. After all, obviously time had passed. Perhaps something had changed, or Adam or God had elaborated on what was meant before. The way I saw it, she was pretty much saying the same thing as Adam, but with slight differences that surely had an explanation. But some have taken this and really read a lot into it.
One example of this appears in a small, now out-of-print book by Dr. Harold Wilmington called The Doctrine of Man:
“In these verses [Genesis 3.2-3] Eve commits two fatal mistakes. She adds to the word of God (God did not say, “Neither shall ye touch it), and then she takes from God’s Word (she omitted the original command, “Thou shalt surely die”)” (48).
Now, the latter point is just an overt error. The words “thou shalt” don’t automatically make for a command, as is apparent in any other translation (or even in the KJV if you don’t rip the words out of their context). I suppose it’s possible that he meant ‘from the original command,” in which case it is in error for the same reason as the stink about Eve saying “neither shall ye touch it,” which will be discussed below.
Bob Deffinbaugh of Bible.org follows suit:
Likewise Eve had a distorted impression of the severity of God in prohibiting the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…While exaggerating the prohibition to the point where even touching the tree was evil, Eve had unconsciously downplayed the judgment of God by omitting the word ‘surely,’ and by failing to report that death would come on the day of the offense.”
Frankly, this kind of thing drives me nuts, as it makes two unwarranted assumptions.
– It assumes that Eve heard Verbatim the command that God had Adam.
Not only does Genesis 2:17 only refer to “the man” (meaning we can’t say that she was necessarily there), but we know from a few verses later that she had yet to be created! Obviously, then, she wasn’t there to hear it. However she came to know about the tree, we can’t assume that she heard everything in that passage, no more and no less, as she was not present when it was said.
– It assumes that nothing happened in the interim that would explain the slight differences
We don’t know if God told her directly, or if Adam did, or if there was a sign over the tree, or if an angel told her in a dream or what happened. Let’s say Adam told her; if that is the case, maybe he added the part about not touching because it seemed safe and left out the part about “on that day” because it was something that they could assume. Or maybe God added the part about not touching it when He told her because, I don’t know, why not? Or maybe Adam had wanted to break a branch off for some reason, and they weren’t sure if that was okay so they asked God if they could, and, realizing that they might get too close and be tempted, He then told them not to even touch it. Maybe he even put a fence around it that they climbed over or something. It could have been years or even centuries between the creation of Eve and the fall, so who knows? We can’t say because it does not tell us. For all we know, Eve was accurately repeating what she had been told, and for all we knew, she said exactly what God would have wanted her to.
Ultimately, it all goes back to this sort of subconscious assumption that Bible is always exhaustive. We assume the only other time the command about the tree was spoken of was in Genesis 2:17 because that’s the only time it is mentioned in the Bible (even though, since Eve didn’t exist yet, that is darn near impossible). And this leads us to read way more into the passages than are clearly there.
I’m sure we can think of more examples, but this was what was on my mind now, and so I’ll leave it there for now.
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-24).” Bible.org. Bible.org, n.d. Web. 24 Feb 2013.
New American Standard Bible (NASB). N.p.: Lockman Foundation, 1995. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB/>.
Wilmington, Harold. The Doctrine of Man. 2nd ed. N.p.: N.p., 1986. Print.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
(Originally published 02/24/2013: http://3-ringbinder.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-bible-isn.html Immaterial changes have been made).