No, the Bible doesn’t contain any mistakes. Everything it says is reliable and true, since it is given by inspiration of God. This
is what makes it “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”
(2 Timothy 3:16 ESV).
Yet, skeptics are challenging the reliability of the Bible all the time, usually for one of three reasons: a failure to read the text of Scripture from the perspective of those who wrote it, an inability to understand the difference between Law and Gospel, or a refusal to submit to the teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness which God’s Word provides.
With regard to the first reason, a simple example will suffice. Jesus told the Jews who asked for a sign from Him, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 ESV). Jesus died in the afternoon on Good Friday and was placed in the tomb shortly before sundown. He was raised already early Sunday morning. So, by our calculations, Jesus was “in the heart of the earth” a small portion of Friday, all of Saturday, and then only a small portion of Sunday. That would be two nights and less than two days. But when one takes into account that the Jews counted any portion of a day as a whole day, the supposed mistake goes away. He was in the tomb Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and, from their perspective, that would be counted as three days and three nights. Many of the challenges to the Bible’s reliability are over just such matters.
Secondly, challenges to Biblical reliability often arise simply because of a failure to understand the difference between the Law and the Gospel. In giving us His Law, God did not intend for mankind to think that we could ever earn heaven by obeying it. Indeed, “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers” (1 Timothy 1:9 ESV). In short, the Law shows our sin and our need for a Savior. The Gospel, on the other hand, does give sinners a way to heaven in that it teaches us about Jesus, Who fulfilled the Law for us and also took away our sins against God’s Law. Confusing these two great teachings will often cause one to see an apparent contradiction where no true contradiction exists.
Finally, some simply refuse to submit to the authority of God’s Word because they don’t like what it says. Consequently, they will “find” errors in order to justify their rebellion against God’s Word. This is common in our day, as people attempt to justify their idolatrous, adulterous, and blasphemous living. They pit Moses against Paul, and Matthew against John, and Jesus against all of them. “Jesus never condemned homosexuality the way Paul did,” they say. “Matthew says this, but John says that,” they opine. Yet, in their rejection of the authority of God’s Word, this truth is demonstrated: “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Unbelievers think that they find contradictions and mistakes in God’s Word only because the Holy Spirit alone can teach one to see the reliability and the authority of God’s Word. But to those in whom the Holy Spirit works understanding, God’s Word is revealed to be a true lamp to their feet and a light to their path (Psalm 119:105). It alone lights the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Savior.
This is a very brief answer to the question. There certainly is more to consider, and your pastor will be happy to help you delve more deeply into the matter, since it is his calling to use God’s reliable Word to teach, reprove, correct, and instruct in righteousness.
Frank Gantt is pastor of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota.