In my experience with the study of comparative religion and Biblical history, the most strong and frequent responses to the topic of Bible (in)fallibility are extreme ones. There's the vehement materialist response which uses the evidence in support of the Bible having been tampered with in order to bash any and all aspects of spirituality and religion and usually claim that any God powerful enough to have all the answers wouldn't lock them up in a book for everyone to mess with. Then there's the fanatical Christian response which denies the very information at hand and accuses its sources and advocates of being blasphamous and/or athiest.

It's a shame because it really keeps people from bringing up the topic: your chances of being yelled at by one side or the other are astronomically high. But the really sad part is that it's not necessary for you to take one of those sides in order to explore this issue. Let me tell you, you can accept the information in question and remain a believer with integrity, if you so chose.

Let's figure out just what we're talking about when we refer to this "information" or "evidence." The Old Testament was an oral tradition originally. There is absolutely no knowing what changes took place before it was written down. When it was finally put to paper, it was translated from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek (following Alexander the Great) and it was not until the second century CE that the contents of the Old Testament became at all fixed.

The original language of the New Testament in written form was Greek, although Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic and NO original copies still exist. The oldest currently intact copies date from the second century CE. One of the most important notes here is that before the Bible was "canonized," there were many, many other gospels with equally large and powerful congregations following them. Among these gospels were the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Hebrews, the Gospel of Egyptians, the Gospel of Ebionites, and many more. The only deciding factor as to what books would go in and what books would stay out was the Council of Nicea which convened in 325 CE. This council was put together and convened by Emperor Constantine. This council was made up of men. Not phrophets, not saints, not even clergy although there is no vouching even for the integrity of priests, as we know. Imperfect men of flesh and blood decided what books would make up what we call the Bible. They decided upon the understanding of Jesus' Godliness to be the Trinity (an issue that church goers were all very divided on) despite the fact that Constantine's Christian credentials were weak to say the least.

Emperor Augustine then complained of the "infinite variety" of Latin translatoins of the Bible that had begun to float around. And so, later, pope Jerome decided upon a Latin translation, drawing on the many available varieties and, only with the approval of the Emperor, the Latin bible was standardized in 405 CE.

The first English Bible was completed in the late 1300s by John Wycliff, an instructor in religion and philosophy. He was promptly banished and his translation considered to be blasphemy as it had not been contracted by the monarchy or church. John Hus found himself in a similar situation and was burned at the stake. Many translations followed. around 1524, William Tyndale, an Oxford and Cambridge educated linguist, who was influenced by Erasmus and Martin Luther, published a New Testament translation based on medieval Greek copies. Then Mike Coverdale's Bible appeared based on his translation of German and Greek translations, as well as drawing from Tyndale's work. John Rogers and Richard Taverner also published their particular translations drawing from and adding to each other and to Tyndale's work. This was all eventually edited by Coverdale into the Great Bible, which the King approved. The Roman Catholic church created its first English Bible, the Douay version, based directly on the Latin Vulgate. However, King James I wanted a fresh start, and pulled together Oxford and Cambridge scholars, as well as Puritan and Episcopal priests. This large group used the Catholic Douay, Luther's German translation, the available Hebrew and Greek copies, and to a very large extent Tyndale's work, and created the King James Version.

Of course, language is a fluid thing. Just how fluid can be seen in just a few examples: In 1611 "allege" meant "prove," "prevent" meant "precede," and "reprove" meant "decide." This is only at the surface of our problem as it is impossible to make an accurate translation of something the oldest available version of which is a copy of a copy of a copy. Of the many equally old copies we do have, they all vary. The decisions reguarding which versions would be "standardized" and which would not were left to men in political power and church driven bureaucratic power. Many a king and many an Emperor meant for the translation he approved of to be profitable and advantagious.

Certainly in modern times we do our best to look at what the oldest ones say, what most of them say, which ones are more likely? However, this approach still leaves the truth in the hands of human judgment. Humans are capable of error. Our linguistic issues are compounded by the fact that no two languages are identical, there can be no absolute correspondence between languages. Hence, there can be no fully exact translations. There is a Greek word in question that could mean a thought, a word, a discourse, a narrative and many other things. A translator must chose what the feels is the best eqivilent.

No one who spoke these ancient languages is around to explain any discrepancies. And, of course, languages continually change over time. New words are always being added and others take on different or added meanings. For example, only recently have we begun using the word 'Internet' as part of the everyday speech. And the word 'cool' does not always refer to temperature. Therefore, it is obvious that words do not have only one meaning, and many are not used in the same way that they were used in the past.

And of course, there is a problem of cultural understanding. Our knowledge of the ancient cultures from which the Bible emerged is imperfect at best. We cannot understand all references in the Bible without understanding their significance to their original target audience.

It probably looks like I've just tried my hardest to strip Christianity its entire following but I swear to you, that's not my goal at all. As I said in the title of this node, I don't think that you have to give up a faith in Christianity in order to accept the facts above. If you're Christian and you want to stay that way, you just have to do a little work.

Because it doesn't seem to me like it should be a surprise that the Bible's been through such a gauntlet. You can believe that every word of the Bible originally came from God but that doesn't necessarily have to entail believing that God was there at every mouth and every pen that was responsible for the Bible's transmission. A guiding principle of Christianity is man's fallibility and so, of course, even the holiest of books, in the hands of man, will be full of errors as a result of that fallibility.

I've certainly heard many of the angry Christians of the extremist side I mentioned at the begining of this write up claim that the Bible is infallible just because it says it is. This is quite circular. Any book or indeed, any bathroom wall could claim to be the infallible word of God and thus, apparently, never be argued with. The answer, I think is in believing that God did in fact speak to prophets, God did intervene in the world in mysterious and miraculous ways.

The only catch is also believeing that he then left his creation to deal with this stuff. We're forced to have a little integrity about our beliefs. You have to decide what you think is true, you have to feel for God in your own life, you don't get to pick up a book, read it and claim to have all the answers.