Saint Augustine once said if he ever ran across an apparent error in the Bible, he would conclude that
a) the translator of the sacred text made a mistake when he translated the original Hebrew or Greek into the vernacular or common language;
b) the person who copied the manuscript from the original made a mistake;
c) he as the reader is misinterpreting a text and is not using the author’s intended meaning. He could never accept the premise that the Bible has any mistakes.
This idea is known as inerrancy.
No one denies that there are some difficulties in the biblical texts. Originally written in Hebrew and Greek, the Old and New Testaments were copied by hand.
Most inconsistencies or irregularities in the Bible are human error and not from the original sacred author, but from human translators who hand-copied from the original or from another copy. Misspelled words, wrong numbers (plural nouns with singular verbs and vice versa), improper gender (feminine-ending adjectives with masculineor neutral-ending nouns and vice versa), etc., can be found in many manuscripts.
Today, computers run spell checks. Back then, you had to use a human editor. These copied texts were then translated into Latin, German, French, Spanish, English, Polish, Russian, Slovenian, Czech, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic, etc.
Only the original manuscript written by the sacred author (called the “autograph” by scripture scholars) is guaranteed inerrant, infallible, and inspired. Unfortunately, there are no surviving originals. Papyrus was used back then and it was more vulnerable to climate changes than today’s paper. Historians and theologians are convinced, however, that our modern translations and versions of the Bible are pretty close to the original.
Difficulties in the Bible arise when a literal interpretation is given to a Biblical passage which should be taken figuratively.
When Jonah was sent by God to Ninevah, the Bible says it was such a large city that it took three days to go through it (Jonah 3:3). Literally interpreted, if the average person at that time could walk twenty miles in one day, it would mean the city was sixty miles in diameter.
Ever see a traffic jam in downtown Manhattan or Center City Philadelphia? When there are wall-to-wall people and streets crowded with merchants, vendors, animals, carts, etc., it is not like walking on the Appian Way to Rome. Your walking time and distance will be much different in a large city than in a rural town. If taken figuratively, three days does not mean seventy-two hours of nonstop walking.
Ancient Hebrew had no comparative or superlative as we do in English (good, better, best). So they used hyperbole to make a point. It was not intended to be interpreted literally. Jesus said in the Gospel, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Literally interpreted, a Christian would have to hate his mother and father, yet the commandments say we must honor them. Without a comparative, ancient Hebrew could not say what we can say in English, that is, to “love more than,” so it had to make an almost absurd exaggeration.
Matthew 10:37 uses the Greek concept when it says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” When you compare both these passages, you see that the proper way to understand “hate” in Luke 14:26 is as to “love less than” rather than to harbor animosity.