Does the Bible contain inaccuracies and contradictions between various texts? Is it incorrect and is it historically outdated? Christians will be inclined to answer such questions with a confined ‘No’. On the other hand, some non-believers may admit they simply do not know. Others will not hesitate to answer with a very positive ‘Yes’, and may be quick to cite various examples. In doing so they claim that this ‘proves’ that the Bible is errant and Christianity is invalid. Christians are often at a loss in knowing how to respond to this and the sometimes rather awkward silence which follows tends to strengthen the non-believer’s argument. The Christian may say that the non-believers simply do not believe; that they do not have, or have lost, faith.
However it may well be that it is not that the non-believer does not have, or has lost, faith but because they are really seeking to deepen their faith and their understanding.
You see, it is a truism to say that when we really do not care about something we tend to be rather neutral about it. Strong emotions, even when they are negative, usually indicate that the matter really is of concern to an individual. So this questioning, this doubting, may well indicate that the person is seeking a better understanding, rather than rejecting Christianity out of hand. Challenging belief is often a sign of making progress on the spiritual journey. You can read more about this in our free ebook Understanding the Spiritual Journey which you can download from our bookstore.
But to return to the accuracy or otherwise of the Bible, how can this be explained? In order to do so it is necessary to understand, first of all, that the Bible was not written primarily as a history book but as a spiritual guide. Undoubtedly some parts do reflect historical events, but that was never its main purpose.
It is also necessary to appreciate that throughout Judeo-Christian history spiritual teachers have recognized that there are four different levels or means of interpreting the Bible. These are the historical or literal sense, the allegorical sense, the tropological or moral sense, and the anagogical or mystical sense. A good explanation of these can be found at the Catholic Education Resource Center.
For example, it is not difficult to see that the Song of Songs (the Song of Solomon) and the book of Revelation cannot be understood in the literal sense. But there are also many other chapters and verses which cannot be understood in the literal sense either. Trying to understand these texts literally can all too easily lead to misunderstanding!