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On Bible Error & Who Killed Goliath

Are there any mistakes in the Bible?

Is the Bible TOTALLY without error in ALL that it affirms?

Many of us who would say “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second would do so with one major qualification. “In the original autographs”, we would say, “there were/are no errors.” But exactly what does that mean? And since we no longer have access to any “originals” anyway, what point is there in even talking about them?

When we say that the Bible is without error, do we mean that there are absolutely no typographical errors or misprints to be found anywhere, in any edition of the Bible today? No. We do not mean that at all. Do we mean that there are absolutely no misspelled words to be found in any of the ancient Greek or Hebrew manuscripts from which our modern Bibles were translated? No. We do not mean that either. There are. Well then, do we mean that the scribes who copied the manuscripts down through the centuries never, ever goofed? No. That is not what we mean at all, because, quite frankly, they did goof. There is clear evidence of some of their blunders in every single Bible translation available today. As a matter of fact, some of the evidence might even shock you a bit.

I have a certain friend who is very skeptical about whether the Bible is reliable. He once called me up and asked, “Who killed Goliath?” I said, “David, of course.” So he said, “Well you better go read II Samuel 21:19!”

II Samuel 21:19 states that a man by the name of Elhanan killed Goliath! If your Bible says that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath you should note that the words “the brother of” are in italics. That means that those words are not in the manuscripts from which the translation was made. What the manuscript really says is that Elhanan killed Goliath. But we know that David killed Goliath! I Samuel 17:50 says so. Furthermore, we know that Elhanan, in fact, killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath –not Goliath himself. I Chronicles 20:5 clarifies that point beyond any reasonable doubt.

So the explanation as to what II Samuel 21:19 is all about is simple: either the copyist was so sleepy he shouldn’t have been working (this was tedious, tiring work), or the manuscript from which he was copying was blurred and unreadable. In his book, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (c1982 by Zondervan), Dr. Gleason Archer provides a detailed and very technical scenario as to how what happened happened linguistically. But let’s face it, as Dr. Archer himself says, II Samuel 21:19 is clearly a “corruption” –a goof– yes, an indisputable error in the Hebrew Massoretic text from which all of our Bibles today are translated!

Well, what does that mean? Is the entire Bible therefore suspect, unreliable, worthless? Hardly. This erratum is easily explainable. Just about anybody who really wants to can easily see what happened. And although we do not have access to the original manuscript itself, we have sufficiently supportive corroborative evidence to be quite sure of what the original text must have said.

One day last summer I entered a clock shop. There were hundreds of clocks and watches in that store. There were cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks and Swiss watches and Hamilton watches and even Mickey Mouse watches. I went over to the counter and asked the manager, “What time is it, please?” He said, “10:30, sir.” I replied, “No, I mean EXACTLY what time is it? Your clocks are obviously not reliable. Look, this clock says one thing and that one says another.” He said, “Listen, fellow, the reason that all my clocks are not set to precisely the same time is because I don’t want every clock in this shop chiming at once. Why, I couldn’t hear anything. But I know what time it is. And if I really want the EXACT time, I can always call the Bureau of Standards.” They maintain a number of highly accurate atomic clocks which measure time based on the rate of atomic vibration –9,192,631,770 times per second! “Besides,” he said, “The fact that a clock doesn’t happen to be set precisely right at just this moment certainly doesn’t make the clock unreliable or worthless!” Good point, mister. Very good point. I wish that I could introduce you and your logic to a certain friend of mine.