Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties

By Gleason L. Archer
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1982). 476 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
1.1 (Spring 1990) : 75-79

A widely-known defender of biblical inerrancy has added this substantial work to many others about alleged discrepancies. Archer is a longtime Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. He is the author of such books as The Epistle to the Romans, The Epistle to the Hebrews, and Survey of Old Testament Introduction, as well as many articles in scholarly journals.

The pages measure 6 x 9-1/2 inches and most are set up in two columns, making the book more lengthy than the 476 pages might suggest. The work includes good indices of persons, subjects, and Scripture references.

Archer believes that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. He holds that the right approach to it is one of humility, patience, and waiting on God with a surrendered heart and mind (p. 15). He advises careful use of context, recognizes that the same word may have several meanings and suggests using the best commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and concordances. These solve most of the problems. He points out that some difficulties result from inadvertent copyist slips, and advocates an openness to believe that the Bible can be right even if other ancient sources disagree. He reasons that Christ as God cannot err, that Christ believed the Hebrew Bible to be completely accurate in all details of science and history, and that we ought to embrace Christ's view as correct (p. 20). Jesus regarded as factual the historicity of Adam and Eve, the events of the Noahic flood, the giving of manna, the story of Jonah, etc. Rom 5:12-21 assumes the historicity of Adam, his sin, and its results just as it assumes the truth of Jesus' substitutionary death and justification through Him (p. 22). Archer contends that if the Bible errs in history or science, which can be tested, it could err and be untrustworthy in areas where it cannot be tested. Nowhere, he argues, does Scripture indicate a distinction between historical or scientific truth and doctrinal, metaphysical truth (p. 24). Old Testament authors were just as convinced that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea as the New Testament apostles were of Christ's atoning sacrifice.

The author has a section on why inerrancy is crucial. He reasons that early orthodoxy believed in inerrancy, and this view prevailed until the rise of rationalism and deism in the eighteenth century. Early in the twentieth century, critical scholars and liberals rejected inerrancy, but evangelicals defended inerrancy. Since about 1950, a group claiming to be fully evangelical denies inerrancy. Many seminaries now hold that intellectual integrity forces them to accept errors in history and science (pp. 19-20).

Among Archer's opening discussions are four answers to the criticism that without the original autographs it is only theoretical to argue inerrancy (pp. 28-29). Archer then moves through the Bible from the Pentateuch to Revelation. Some problems are more interpretive and even inerrantists disagree about them, for example, the meaning of the 144,000. Others are matters which some have argued are errors, e.g. contradictions or moral, historical, and scientific inaccuracies.

At times Archer uses logic from the perspective of his interpretation rather than logic found in the passage itself. In Gen 1:27, for instance, Adam and Eve were both created on the sixth day. Archer then states that 2:18 assumes "a considerable interval of time" between the creation of Adam and that of Eve. The latter verse to him "clearly implies" that Adam had been working for a long time. But why? The verse could reasonably fit a twenty-four-hour-day view, understanding that God did not need to wait beyond a twenty-four-hour- day to see man's need for a wife. He foresaw the need of man and could have met it immediately, within a twenty-four-hour day. Adam also could have sensed the need quickly, and in a short time named the few dozen main groups (phyla) of animals then existent. The multitudinous species of today could have developed since then. Many who hold inerrancy will not assume, as Archer does, that views other than his are unreasonable (p. 60). Unfortunately, he omits the arguments from the words of Gen 1 for the naturalness of twenty-four-hour- days of creation (cf. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record, for these arguments).

Archer's fine discussion of Gen 2:4 ff. shows how the section supplies details of creation (that of man in particular) not covered in the account of Gen 1. Not all will agree that the "sons of God" in Gen 6 are human believers rather than wicked angels, but many scholars are on both sides of this issue. Other views are also possible. Archer helps to understand how God can "repent" (Gen 6:7), the case for a universal flood, how God could allow Abraham to lie and yet become rich, that Melchizedek was a historical human being, a possible meaning of Shiloh (Gen 49:10), how the Israelites were justified in borrowing from the Egyptians without bringing the items back (Exod 3:22), how Moses could have written Deuteronomy with another writer appending the account of his death, and how Jephthah could have kept his vow by offering his daughter to perpetual virginity. Different views on Jephthah's act can be ably defended.

The author proposes 3,000 rather 30,000 chariots in 1 Sam 13:5 because of a similarity in Hebrew words, 3,000 being miscopied as 30,000. He sees God as just in commanding extermination of the Midianites (Num 31). Midianite seduction to fornication and idolatry was a great threat to the purity of Israel and her ability to conquer the promised land. Drastic action was justified as resolute surgery is to deal with cancer. On 1 Kgs 6:1, Archer devotes about eight pages to discussing early and late dates of Exodus, ca. 1446 and ca. 1290 B.C., accepting the former one as correct. In Ps 5:5 and 11:5, God is consistent in hating the wicked in relation to sin but loving them in relation to repentance and trust (p. 242). In Dan 9, Archer locates the sixty-nine weeks from 457 B.C. to A.D. 26, with an A.D. 30 crucifixion and the seventieth "seven" yet future. Some who hold inerrancy will agree; others will favor another dating, as 444 B.C. to A.D. 33 (cf. Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ). Archer discusses the pertinent question, "Doesn't the Old Testament present a different kind of God than the New Testament?" He emphasizes the presence of God's mercy and love in the Old Testament as in the New and His wrath in the New Testament as in the Old, yet the cross in the NT was the highest revelation of God's love (pp. 309-310).

In Matthew, Archer supports the mustard seed as the smallest in Palestine in the days of Jesus, since the smaller seed of the orchid was not grown there and hence not relevant to the hearers. Judas died by hanging (cf. Matt 27:3-10 with Acts 1:18), and also fell and burst open since the branch could have broken, especially in the earthquake. Four-and-a-half pages prove the Bible's teaching of the Trinity (pp. 357-61). In John 14:28, the Father is greater than Jesus when Jesus speaks as a man; however, as deity Jesus is equal with the Father. In Acts 9 and 22, according to Greek words, those with Paul heard a sound but could not distinguish the words of the message. As to baptism for the dead (1 Cor 15:29), Archer takes one of several views possible for an inerrantist. New converts fill up the ranks of believers who die, being baptized "for the sake of the dead" (pp. 401-402). In three-and-a-half pages, Archer answers "yes" to the question, "Are the heathen really lost?" (pp. 385-388). On 1 Pet 3:19, he concludes that Christ preached to men in Noah's day through the Holy Spirit via Noah, "a preacher of righteousness" (p. 423). Many inerrantists agree with this view; on the other hand, many ably see a reference to Christ's preaching in Hades after His death. But, as Archer says, it cannot mean a second chance for salvation after death.

Archer's work often points to plausible answers to problems where some assume errors. On some points more knowledgeable persons will agree on inerrancy but prefer better resolutions to the problems. This would be true no matter whose view is expressed, however. One does not always sense that Archer is fair to other views, even those held by inerrantists. An example is his discussion of the 144,000 in Rev 7. With many he holds that these are both Jewish and Gentile missionaries of the future tribulation period. Archer devotes only about one-ninth of his space to a bare mention of the dispensational view that the 144,000 are only Jewish. He does not give his readers the valid hermeneutical grounds that put the dispensationalist view in a much more natural light for many (p. 434). That the 144,000 are from "the sons of Israel" and the listing of specific tribes go unmentioned. In addition, various natural distinctions between Jews in 7:3-8 and the multitude from all nations in 7:9 ff. are quite evident.

Any such book by a competent scholar will help at some points more than others, depending on the reader's perspectives. All in all, Archer provides sensible comments on most passages and issues. The book will hopefully help give the Bible a fairer hearing with some, provided they are open to reasonable evidence. Those who hold the Bible suspect or think it wrong until proven right, Archer may encourage to consider the Bible right until proven wrong. He expresses his conviction on p. 210: "Up until now, so far as this writer is aware, there is no biblical record that has ever been proven false by any evidence exhumed by the excavator's spade." And, as Archer develops this conviction, no Bible text has been proven definitely wrong. The Bible is inerrant, and there are reasonable ways to resolve the problems if readers are fair.