By Joshua Stevens, Faith Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
In many churches’ core doctrines, one may find a section titled “Authority of Scripture” or “Inerrancy of Scripture,” but when people throw terms like inerrancy around, what do we mean by it and how should it apply to daily life?
To define the terms being used, “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 1994). Now, from this description several objections will arise
The first and most obvious question would be why only the original manuscripts and not all of those copied? Surely, it is within God’s power to preserve His written word seamlessly and perfectly throughout time, is it not? The simplest explanation would be God makes no claim that the copies of Scripture would be perfectly preserved. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (Crossway Bibles, 2001). So, if God is the ultimate author of all Scripture and God cannot lie, (ref., Heb. 6:18, 2 Sam 7:28) then those original written words must be true.
Some may say the question remains, why would God allow His word to be corrupted after those originals went out? In response, we could ask what “corrupted” means. As of 2018, we have over 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament with the earliest being dated back to 130 A.D. (McDowell, 2018). In an interview, Dr. Daniel Wallace, Executive Director at the center for study of New Testament manuscripts, said, “You can’t just look at the number of the variants you have to look at the nature of the variants, and the best estimates are that at least 99.8 percent of them affect nothing” (Wallace, 2019). He goes on to say in the same interview, “No essential doctrine is jeopardized by any of these textual variants.” So, even without the original manuscripts and with human error causing disagreements among the copies of those originals, the essence of the original text is preserved.
Now, then, another problem arises. If we know that the text we have today is nearly the same as the original, then what do we do about the mistakes? A common objection to the Bible being the word of God is the premise that there are contradictions within text. The first example given by “American Atheists” is a supposed contradiction found in the Bible regarding the Sabbath. (Biblical Contradictions, n.d.) They cite two verses: Exodus 20:8 which says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” and Romans 14:5, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Crossway Bibles, 2001). For most readers the way to explain this “contradiction” is simple, the book of Exodus was being written to the Jews before Christ¬a time in which they were living under the old covenant and once Jesus came to Earth, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for our sins, we were put under a new covenant. And as such, we’re no longer bound by the law (Heb. 8), but even if this wasn’t the case, the book of Exodus was written to Jews, and the book of Romans was written to gentiles. (To this, those gentiles in Rome would not fall under the old covenant in the first place.) While this may be a simple example, others are more challenging, and in the face of these challenges we have sources as old as Augustine and as recent as Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, not to mention scholars like William Lane Craig, James White, and ministries like “Capturing Christianity” dedicated to guiding and working through more difficult texts and issues.
So then why does any of this matter? Regardless of whether scripture is inerrant Jesus rose from the dead right? It’s true, but as Wayne Grudem puts it, “Once we become convinced that God has spoken falsely to us in some minor matters in Scripture, then we realize that God is capable of speaking falsely to us. This will have a detrimental effect on our ability to take God at His word and trust him completely or obey him fully in the rest of scripture.” (Grudem, 1994)
For Christians Scripture remains not just a book of wisdom or stories but it is the very chain that links together that eternal Church which will never be overcome. It provides us insight into our Savior, an opportunity to grow closer to and know our Creator better, and all of this because we know it to be inspired by God, guided by the Spirit, for our benefit.
Biblical Contradictions. (n.d.). Retrieved from Athiests.org: https://www.atheists.org/activism/resources/biblical-contradictions/
Crossway Bibles. (2001). The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton : Good News Publishers.
Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic Theology . Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Has the Bible been corrupted, altered, edited, revised, or tampered with? (n.d.). Retrieved from Gotquestions.org: https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-corrupted.html
Mauser, B. (2021, November 25). How should I respond to the claim we don’t have the original bible? Retrieved from ses.edu: https://ses.edu/how-should-i-respond-to-the-claim-we-don-t-have-the-original-bible/
McDowell, S. (2018, March 3). What is the most recent manuscript count for the New Testament . Retrieved from seanmcdowell.org: https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/what-is-the-most-recent-manuscript-count-for-the-new-testament
Wallace, D. B. (2019, March 5). How can you trust the New Testament when the original manuscripts are different? (Zondervan, Interviewer)