By John W. McGarvey
January 21, 1899
A brother in a distant state sends me the following clipping from the Saturday Post and asks me to say what I think of it:
Religious precisianists have received quite a shock by the public declaration of the learned Dr. Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, that he had no doubt there were inaccuracies in the Old Testament narratives, 'though the writers told the truth as far as they knew it.' On being asked if the archbishop had really made the statement, his chaplain replied that His Grace had been correctly reported, that he was sincere in his opinion, and that he referred those who differed with him to 2 Samuel 24:13 and I Chronicles 21:12 as samples.
In these two narratives of the divine message given to the prophet Gad for delivery unto David, the first speaks of the famine as being of seven years' duration, and the second as of three years'. Both agree on the length of the flight and pestilence.
If any "religious precisianists," a new name for somebody, received "quite a shock" from the archbishop's public declaration, it must have been because they did not know the gentleman, or because they have the impression that what an archbishop says must be so. There are some people so full of reverence for lofty titles as not to know that sometimes very incompetent men attain to high dignities in hierarchical churches.
Dr. Temple, however, is a man of high rank as a scholar. He was exalted to the archbishop of Canterbury, the highest dignity in the Church of England, some two or three years ago, but not without very decided dissatisfaction on the part of a vast number of conservative members of that church. So decided was this dissatisfaction that a man who had a voice in the convocation raised a public protest against his ordination in the midst of the services - a protest unprecedented, I believe, on such an occasion. No one, then, who knows him could be surprised, and much less could he be shocked, at such an utterance as the preceding from his lips, or even an utterance much more radical than this.
The incident is not specially worthy of notice in itself, but it serves as a good introduction to some remarks I wish to make on the subject of the inerrancy of the Bible. Let me commence by saying that no man of any intelligence has ever claimed that the Bible, as we now read it, is without errors. It has been known by every man who ever wrote or read a commentary worth calling such, that the Bible contains many errors of transcription. They have been a subject of remark by Christian writers from the time of Origen and Irenaeus of the second century till the present time; for textual criticism, which has to do with the detection and correction of such errors, is one of the oldest branches of Christian learning. Origen's Hecapla, which contained in parallel columns the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the same spelt in Greek letters and four Greek translations, was intended to present the state of the Old Testament text at the close of the second Christian century. If it were extant now, it would be worth more than its weight in gold, though it was one of the largest volumes ever written.
In view of these well-known facts, when a man of Archbishop Temple's intelligence speaks flippantly of errors in the Bible, referring only to those which may be fairly classed with errors of transcription, he speaks in a way to mislead the people. For when any man of intelligence on the subject affirms the inerrancy of the Scriptures, he refers to these writings as they came from the hands of their authors, and not as they have come through the hands of uninspired copyists. In the Scriptures as thus defined, no man has yet successfully made out a single error in fact or in thought. This may appear to some who are ever ready to invalidate historical statements of the Old Testament, or to learnedly make reference to the "rabbinical" reasoning of Paul, as a reckless assertion. If so, I shall esteem it a favor if someone of them will attempt to show one or two of these errors. There are some men who throw out, in an oracular manner, deliverance unfriendly to the Bible, but never feel called upon, when their oracles are called in question, to defend them. A goose will try to protect the eggs which she has laid, but the ostrich is said to leave hers to the fate that may await them. The latter is regarded as the more unnatural way, and it has even been called a foolish way. However, the men who thus affect to leave their eggs to take care of themselves are not always as little concerned about them as they affect to be; for while they dare not come out openly in defense of their offspring, they sometimes resort to "ways that are dark and tricks that are queer."
But I must pay my respects to Dr. Temple's specification. He selects as an example of error in the Bible the evident contradiction between 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles as to the number of years of famine proposed as a punishment of David. Now, Dr. Temple knows very well that the book of Samuel, as we now have it, was in existence long before the book of Chronicles was written. There is no difference between believing and unbelieving critics on this point. While the author of Chronicles was writing, he lead the books of Samuel and of Kings before him. He accepted these books, as did all of his Jewish contemporaries, as the writings of inspired prophets. Is it then credible that in writing of the same events he would deliberately substitute for what he found in his authorities contradictory statements of his own? It is just s credible as that an honest man at the present day, in writing a careful account of a scriptural transaction, would do the same. If there had been nothing else to deter him, he would have been deterred by the certainty that his countrymen would reject his book and thus bring his work to nought.
Again, is it credible that, if this error, and many others now in Chronicles with which Dr. Temple is familiar, and which he could have specified as easily, had been in the first edition of the book of Chronicles, the Jews of that age, who are represented by our new school of critics as being worshippers of the Scriptures, would have allowed it a place in their sacred canon? I believe that every fair-minded man who will stop to reflect will answer these questions in the negative. On the other hand, is it credible that in the course of the ages after this book of Chronicles was written, and before the stringent rules which in the fifth century of our era governed Jewish copyists were in force, many mistakes were made in copying, especially mistakes in numerals, the very class of mistakes even now most commonly made by compositors in our printing offices? No man of intelligence will say that this is incredible. On the contrary, all agree that nothing short of miraculous supervision of the scribes while at their work could have prevented the occurrence of many such mistakes. When, therefore, such mistakes are found, who deals honestly, or, if you please, scientifically, with these writings, he who ascribes the mistakes to the transcribers, or he who ascribes them to the original writer? If I were charged with all the mistakes which appear in any articles almost every week and which have appeared in the first editions of all the books that I have published, I would esteem it a very great hardship; and if I were guilty of them I think that I would write no more till I could go to school a few more sessions. Why visit upon the heads of the holy men who wrote the Bible a hardship which no modem writer could bear with patience" Somebody will have to give account for this mistreatment of the men who wrote "the living oracles."
John W. McGarvey, deceased
(Editor's note: The above article is reprinted because there seems to be a growing number of misinformed people who suppose there were contradictions in the "original" manuscripts of the Bible. Also, some do not understand that "copyists" or translators were not inspired but the original writers were inspired. There is no "inspired" translation of the "Original " manuscripts. Finally, I liked brother McGarvey's illustration of goose eggs and ostrich eggs. We have a few goose-type fellows in the church who are treating their eggs like an ostrich does. They "dare not come out openly in defense of their offspring. " Do we have any man on any, high and holy hill who will publicly defend the claim that the mother of Jesus it, as a "sexually questionable woman"? I think not and throw up. - H. A. (Buster) Dobbs.)