It’s also not an error that the gospel writers sometimes order their events differently. The authors make no claim to include all the events of Jesus’ life or to put those events in strict chronological order. In fact, each writer wrote with a slightly different purpose in mind and deliberately arranged the material to that end. Matthew, for example, wrote for a Jewish audience, so he emphasizes the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Mark, on the other hand, wrote for a non-Jewish audience and deliberately leaves out many of those details.
Theologians call it inerrancy. The idea that the Bible is completely without error in everything it says. Whether it speaks of geographical, historical, or theological details, it is completely trustworthy.
Now, some folks have a problem with the idea of the Bible’s inerrancy. They think they’ve spotted errors in Scripture. And very often, it’s because they’ve not understood some important, commonsense clarifications of what an “error” actually is.
Firstly, it’s not an error if it’s not in the original documents. Especially where numbers are concerned, there are some errors in every Hebrew and Greek copy of the Bible. Unlike the original writers of Scripture, the copyists weren’t guided into “all truth” by the Holy Spirit. Copy out the forty chapters of Exodus, and chances are you’ll have introduced one or two errors into the text. (Hopefully it wouldn’t be a major blunder, like the 1631 edition of the King James Bible that commanded its readers, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”) Thankfully, comparing the truly vast number of surviving copies of Scripture enable textual critics to reconstruct with tremendous accuracy what the original documents said before they were copied. Inerrancy relates to what the biblical authors actually wrote, and we’re able to discern what that was even though all we have are copies of what they wrote.
Second, It’s not an error if we misunderstand the author’s intention. When you open up a newspaper, you’ll see many different kinds of writing. Appearing alongside factual reports of world events, there may be celebrity gossip, infographics, stock market gains and losses, football statistics, book reviews, cartoons, and weather forecasts. Instinctively, few of us read a cartoon in the same way we read a war correspondent. In the same way, biblical authors write in a number of different genres, and they expect us to read each one accordingly. If we read a war correspondent as if he were a cartoonist and wonder why his writing isn’t funny at all, the mistake will be ours rather than his.
Also, biblical authors sometimes use metaphors and similes that aren’t intended to be taken literally. When the newspaper’s sporting correspondent informs us that a particular player is currently “on fire,” we shouldn’t become alarmed and call the fire department.