The apostle Paul wrote a letter to Timothy, the first bishop of Ephesus, and told him, that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16).
The word "inspiration" in this verse comes from the Greek word "theopneustos." The Greek word "theos" means "God" and the Greek word "pneuma" means "spirit." It can also be used to mean "breath, breathe, or wind." Thus the Greek word "theopneustos" can more accurately be translated as "God's spirit" or, as some render it, "God-breathed." Thus, what Paul told Timothy is that all scripture came from God through His Spirit, or that God breathed His words into the writer.
The apostle Peter seems to confirm this when he said, "that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man but holy men of God spake (and wrote) as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost (pneuma)" (2 Peter 1:20,21).
While Peter specifically mentions that "prophecy" came as a result of God's Spirit speaking through man, Paul states that " all scripture" came, not because man willed it, but because God's Spirit directed it, either to be spoken or written. Even though mortal, fallible men actually did the writing, most Christians firmly believe that every word they uttered and every word they wrote under the inspiration of God was not their own but that of God. And it is in this sense that Christians believed that God wrote the Bible through the instrumentality of men.
This has then lead to yet another belief among Christians that, since God is perfect and never lies, the Bible is totally and completely free of any errors. By that they mean there is not one inconsistency anywhere in the Bible, nor is there one error relating to its recording of historical events, description of scientific fact, or explanation of religious doctrine.
This claim even extends to translating the scriptures from one language to another. Citing the words of Jesus when He said that "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18), most Christians believe that every time the Bible has been translated, God's Spirit has been there to make sure that every word in the new language conveyed the very thought that was contained in the old language. In this way it is said that even every period, comma, question mark, or other punctuation has been faithfully preserved in each and every Bible ever published.
As evidence of this miracle, they point out how every group of translators has diligently sought the Lord's directing Spirit in their work as they have meticulous sought to produce the most accurate interpretation of the scriptures they could. With such commitment and dedication, it is said that God has always heard their prayers and blessed their efforts.
They further argue that it makes no sense for God to inspire holy men to write His words to mankind in one language without making sure that His words were properly translated into every other language. Therefore, they reject any claim that the scriptures we have today, in whatever language we may read it, are not the very words that God wants us to have. That is why they say the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God.
However, the fact is that the Bible is full of contradictory statements, errors in historical accuracy, invalid scientific pronouncements, and confusing doctrinal teachings. Therefore, in order for Christians to maintain their beliefs about the Bible they've either had to ignore these obvious errors or find excuses to explain away these problems. But, too often, in order for them to do that, they've had to resort to using illogic and unsubstantiated theories simply because there is no other way to get around the inconsistencies that abound in the Bible. To better appreciate the predicament they have put themselves in, let's look at just a few examples.
Most Christians are of the firm belief that God created the earth, everything on it, and the entire universe out of nothing in six, twenty-four hour days. The problem with this is that every science, from astronomy to geology, to zoology, to paleontology, to genetics, all point to the fact that the earth is billions of years old. Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence of any kind to support the theory that God created everything in less than a week's time.
The answer some Christians give to explain away this fact is that God created everything to look old. In other words, instead of the earth, planets, and stars looking like they had just been made a few thousand years ago, God deliberately gave them the appearance of looking like they had been around for billions of years. While these defenders of the Bible put forth some good arguments to buttress this theory, they offer no tangible evidence to prove that what they are saying is actually true. Furthermore, the Bible tells us that everything in nature testifies that there is a God (Romans 1:20). If that is true then it doesn't make sense that God would state He made the earth in six days and then leave evidence to the contrary to verify His word.
Furthermore, according to the account in Genesis, it took God six days to create the earth and everything on it yet it took God just one day to create the entire universe of stars and planets (Genesis 1:14-19). Our earth is one million times smaller than our sun and our sun is just one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone and, so far, scientists have discovered 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. To say that it took God six days to create this one, infinitesimally small earth but it took Him just one day to create 100 billion galaxies defies logical reasoning, yet that is what we have to believe if we say that the Bible contains no scientific errors in it. (For a more in-depth look at this subject read "The Earth Is Flat" )
In the old testament it explicitly states that Solomon began building the temple 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt (1 Kings 6:1). Yet, in Acts we read of a sermon where Paul gives the start of King David's reign at 530 years after the Exodus (Acts 13:18-22). Since we know that David reigned for forty years (2 Samuel 5:4) and that work on the temple began in the fourth year of King Solomon's reign therefore, according to Paul's telling of history, that would put the start of the temple 574 years after the exodus, which is almost a century later than the date given in the Old Testament. Since both dates cannot be right, there is clearly an error in the telling of history, either in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.
In Acts 7, when Stephen was making his defense before the council of Elders, he said that Abraham left Haran after his father, Terah, died (Acts 7:4) But, according to the account in Genesis, Terah was about seventy years old when he had Abraham (Genesis 11:26) and Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Terah (Genesis 12:4). This means that Terah was, at most, 145 years old when Abraham left Haran. However, according to Genesis 11:32, Terah died when he was 205 years old, which is at least sixty years after Abraham left Haran. This is clearly another contradiction in biblical history.
One of the most famous sermons Christ gave was the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:1 we read (emphasis added) "And seeing the multitudes, he [Jesus] went up into a mountain : and when he was set, his disciples came unto him," and he then gave them a sermon. However, in Luke 6:17 we read (emphasis added) "And he [Jesus] came down with them (his disciples) and stood in the plain , and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all of Judea and Jerusalem and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases," and he gave them the same sermon as is recorded in Matthew.
There can be no doubt that these two accounts are of the same event but Matthew said that Jesus went up into the mountain to get away from the multitudes and gave his sermon just to his disciples, while Luke says that Jesus came down onto the plains to give his sermon to the multitudes. This is yet another clear discrepancy in biblical history and there are many more that could be cited. (For more on this subject read "The Same Standard." )
There are those who will say that there is no contradiction in this story because Jesus first went up on the mountain and gave this sermon to His disciples, and then, later, He came down and gave the same sermon to the multitudes. Although that may sound like a reasonable answer, the problem is that it is not supported by anything found in the Bible and, in fact, the way the biblical account of this event is written it seems to argue against such an interpretation. Furthermore, since many Christians believe that the Bible is the complete word of God and that we are not to add or subtract from what is in it (Revelations 22:18,19) in order for them to maintain this answer they have to contradict their own stated beliefs of not adding anything to the Bible that isn't found in it.
When reading Luke 2:14 in the King James Version (KJV) it reads "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." However, in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) it reads, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he [God] is pleased!" While in the Darby Translation (DT) it reads "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men," and in Young's Literal Translation (YLT) it reads "Glory in the highest to God, and upon earth peace, among men -- good will."
In four different translations, we are given four different interpretations of what the angels told the shepherds on the day Jesus was born. One says the angels declared, "peace on earth" and good will toward all men, while another says that peace is to be had among only those with whom God is pleased, while a third says that peace is defined as being good pleasure in all men, while the fourth says that there shall be peace toward men of good will. Clearly, not all of them are giving us the same meaning, let along the same wording that God had inspired Luke to write.
In 1 Peter 3:21 we read that baptism saves us but this is "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God" (KJV). However, the RSV reads "not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience." But the DT renders it, "not a putting away of [the] filth of flesh, but [the] demand as before God of a good conscience," while the YLT reads "not a putting away of the filth of flesh, but the question of a good conscience in regard to God."
It's clear that baptism isn't just the washing away of dirt from off the body, but is it the "answer" of a good conscience "toward" God, or the "question" of a good conscience in regard to God? Or is an "appeal" we make "to God", or is it a "demand" we make "before God?" Again, each of these versions has a subtle but significant difference in meaning.
In the KJV Bible Genesis 37:3 reads, "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors." Yet, in the RSV Bible it reads, in part "he made him a long robe with sleeves," but it doesn't say anything about it having many colors. The NIV reads, "he made a richly ornamented robe for him", while in the NLT it reads, "he gave Joseph a special gift - a beautiful robe." Again, none of these translations say that this garment had a multitude of colors. However, the DT reads, "he made him a vest of many colors."
Here are five different translations which give us five different versions of what Jacob gave Joseph. We are told that it was either a coat, a robe, or a vest, that it had many colors, a few colors, or was all one color. Furthermore we are told it was "richly ornamented" or it was just a "beautiful robe." Several of these modern translations have a footnote which states, "the exact meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain." If that is true then that means none of these translations are accurate because all of them are guessing at what word God inspired the original writer to use. So what we see is that, instead of the Bible missing just a jot or a tittle, an entire phrase has been lost in translation.
Jesus said, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father" (John 10:17-18) However, Paul wrote, "Which he [God] wrought in Christ, when he [God] raised him [Jesus] from the dead, and [then] set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:20).
These two statements of doctrine leave us wondering who resurrected Jesus. Did Jesus raise Himself up from the grave as John said, or did God raise Jesus from the dead as Paul said?
It was Jesus who said, "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). Paul wrote, "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10). "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1).
The Bible makes it quite clear that it is not God the Father, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who will judge all men. Yet Peter wrote that it is God the Father who will judge every man when he wrote: "And if ye call on the " Father who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear" (1 Peter 1:17, emphasis added).
According to the Bible, it says that God the Father has "committed " all judgment" unto the Son, but it also says that it is God the Father who will judge every man's work. Furthermore, the Bible tells us "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, [who is ] Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). An advocate is a defense lawyer, not the judge. Then how can we appear before "the judgment seat of Christ" if Christ is our advocate before the Father? There is a clear doctrinal discrepancy between these two statements.
But it's worst than that because Paul also wrote, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?" (1 Cor. 6:2,3). If " all judgment" has been committed unto the Son, then it is not possible that the saints will also be able to "judge the world" and angels as well. So what we see the Bible teaching is that it is Jesus who will judge all men, that it is God, the Father who will judge every man, and that the saints will judge the world and even the angels.
This is a very small sampling of errors, discrepancies and contradictions found in the Bible, and it is precisely because of doctrinal confusions like these that have created the various Christian denominations we see today. However, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such inconsistencies in the Bible don't pose a problem because we have a different understanding of what it means to be "inspired" by God.
In a set of scriptures unique to Latter-day Saints, called the Book of Mormon, on its title page the author, Mormon, wrote: "And now, if there are faults [in my record] they are the mistakes of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God [because of our mistakes], that ye be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ."
Those who wrote the Bible and the Book of Mormon were human, mortal, fallible men and, as such, were as prone to making errors in the things they wrote as anyone else. Memories can be faulty, historical facts can get mixed up, and a person's words can be flavored differently depending on circumstances that we are no longer aware of.
For example, Jesus died in 33 A.D. and scholars pretty much agree that John wrote his gospel somewhere around the year 95 A.D. That's more than sixty years after Jesus died! By then John was well past being ninety years old. But, while John may not have had a perfect memory of events sixty years ago, he did have a full and complete understanding of the doctrines that Christ taught. Perhaps his memory of specific historical details was not as clear then as it was when they happened but what was very clear to him was that Jesus was our Savior, that He died to atone for our sins, and that He was resurrected from the grave. These were things that he had no doubts about and he bore strong testimony of them.
Paul was very well versed in the Old Testament scriptures and based his calculation on when Solomon's temple was built from what he had read in them. Perhaps the accounting in the Old Testament we have today is different from what Paul had available to him in his day or perhaps when Luke wrote the book of Acts after Paul's death, he was mistaken about the dates Paul gave. But what was very clear to both Paul and Luke was the divinity and atonement of Jesus Christ.
As for their knowledge of science, there is no evidence that the Israelites or Christians had any greater understanding of the universe or the laws of nature than anyone else living in their day. Luke was a physician and practiced his trade according to the common knowledge of medicine at that time. Although he was a holy man, he no doubt held some erroneous ideas about how to heal people.
And the same was true for the apostles. Just because they were inspired to preach the message of salvation doesn't mean they had a perfect knowledge of astronomy, medicine, or history. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to expect them to make factual statements about science that were far ahead of their time or to be precise on every fact of history. Those whom God inspired to write the Bible were commissioned to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to be history and science professors.
But when people define the word "inspire" to mean that it was God Himself who wrote the Bible then they have boxed themselves into believing that it can have has no mistakes. Mormon fully understood his own imperfections as did the other prophets yet, despite their shortcoming and human weaknesses, they taught the gospel of Jesus Christ powerfully as aided by the Holy Ghost.
The apostle Paul was aware of his own weakness when he wrote, "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I" (Romans 7:15). "so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under [control] my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:26,27). The prophet Alma lamented about his weakness in proclaiming the gospel by saying, "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!" (Alma 29:1).
But, just because imperfect men made mistakes when writing the scriptures, doesn't diminish their value in being good for doctrine, reproof, correction, [and] instruction in righteousness. It is only when we have an incorrect view of what it means for holy men of God to be inspired that we have trouble with the scriptures.