“Are there historical inaccuracies in the Bible? And if there are, would it make the Bible not inerrant? By ‘historical inaccuracies’ I mean the apparent contradictions between historical facts from the Bible and historical facts not from the Bible.” Nicole Dalusong
I want to first of all thank you, Nicole, for the question. It’s a great question and one that Christians face on a regular basis. In answer, I’m going to highlight two different ways that Christian apologists go about answering this question, both of which I believe can be legitimate. Then, I will say which of those two views I hold.
First, we need to make some definitions. When I use the word “inerrant” I am using it to mean free of errors. Some Christians, however, mean different things by “free of errors.” One view, which is probably the more popular one among evangelical Christians, is that the Bible is free of all errors on all subjects. This would include science and history as well as theology. There is a second view, however, which holds that the Bible is inerrant as it pertains to its primary subject matter. This means that God communicated to the authors inerrant doctrines, but did not feel obligated to remove every mistaken idea of science and history that they might have had.
These are the two views. We must clarify, however, that when we speak of the book’s “primary subject matter,” this does, in fact, include history in many cases. It may not include much history when we speak of the epistles, but the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection is the very backbone of Christianity; it is everything. If that event is not historical, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, then our faith is in vain.
With this foundation, we can answer the question more directly. I hold to the former of these two views, that the Scripture (when God is speaking) is inerrant on all subjects. I have very rarely come across a supposed historical inaccuracy that was not very easily dealt with, and have yet to come across a difficult one for which there was no explanation. I also believe that if we are to use the term correctly, we ought to only say “inerrant” when we mean free of all errors. From that view, if there were historical inaccuracies, then the Bible would not be inerrant.
However, I do not believe inerrancy to be the backbone of our faith. Why? Because the Bible does not have to be inerrant in order to be reliable. We can know with great confidence what most of the original text said, especially in comparison with other well-known texts – the number of New Testament manuscripts more than doubles that of The Iliad, for example, even though the latter’s accuracy is rarely if ever questioned. The gospels are composed of eyewitness accounts which could have been easily refuted during the time of original circulation of they were false, and yet were not. These and many other reasons, as we’ve outlined in previous posts, give us good reason to trust the scriptures, even if there were a few errors in them (a few errors would not, by the way, make the scriptures at all outliers as trusted historical documents).
There’s something else that must be mentioned in this discussion as well. Lack of historical evidence is not the same as contradicting historical evidence. At one time, many historians and archaeologists claimed the Bible was untrustworthy because of the Hittites – that is, the Bible mentions these people, but we saw no historical or archaeological evidence for them anywhere. But then, in 1906, the capital city of the Hittites was discovered. Just because evidence has not yet been found, does not mean it does not exist. Christianity is not the only culture to experience this, either. Just as recently as last week, evidence was found that supports China’s traditional first dynasty, which was previously thought fictional.
In conclusion, proven historical inaccuracies would prove the Bible is not inerrant, but no historical challenge to my knowledge has ever been proven. If it were, the Bible, while not inerrant, would still be reliable. Finally, absence of support of what Scripture records is not the same as evidence against it.