|A mistake is a mistake, a contradiction is a contradiction. And there’s no reason that such gaffes must necessarily mean that the rest of a book is therefore useless. Of course, the Bible is widely held not only to be God-inspired, but also inerrant – and that’s the problem.
A fundamentalist view of scripture demands that scripture be free of error and contradiction, whereas an informed, critically-based view will allow for a certain percentage of error – even when that critically-educated reader is Christian. The works of Marcus J. Borg and Raymond E. Brown clearly illustrate this “Christian but not fundamentalist” approach.
The basic informed Christian biblical view seems to go like this: “We believe that scripture contains all truths necessary for our salvation, but that not all biblical texts were written solely for that express purpose”. Thus, scripture is “permitted” to be erroneous and contradictory, as long as its essential soteriological message comes through unscathed.
Enlightened exegesis also recognizes that salvific truths are not always and necessarily facts. Truth includes, but is not limited to, quantifiable material fact. The key to a biblical text is not in its factuality, its scientific and historical accuracy. The key is its meaning: “Believe what you like about a particular biblical story. But now let’s talk about its meaning”, as Borg (RIP) used to say.
Profound spiritual meaning often cannot be expressed in the language of fact, but only in the language of poetry, allegory, analogy and parable. For example: Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan is spiritually true even if there was no historical Samaritan and no historical roadside crime victim and no uncaring passersby. Meaning trumps external issues of fact and history, and it cuts through to the numinous core of the message.
So, for critically-educated Christians, biblical error is not a game-stopper, as long as scripture’s essential messages of spiritual transformation, unattached to questions of scientific/historical fact, remain plain in the text, and as long as they successfully unfold in Christian life.