Thursday, March 11, 2010

Do We Have a Reliable Word of God or a Bible Fully of Holes?

In 1973, after high school graduation, a buddy and I drove from Kansas City, Kansas to spend the summer in San Bernardino, Californian at the then Arrowhead Springs Headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ. We had enrolled in their Institute of Biblical Studies summer program and would spend most of the summer there studying before heading off to the pursuit of our academic degrees at the University of Kansas.

I can still remember the shock my friend and I both felt when we got to the point in the theology course when the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy was discussed. The instructor made a statement to the effect that, “Only the original autographs or manuscripts were inspired and without error and that the copies of the Greek and Hebrew texts and subsequent translations we have today are not.” I felt like I had been slammed with a brick. After the class I thought that a nice cot with an attending nurse was in order. So did my friend. We, however, survived.

The facts, we would learn, is that only the originals, that which was God breathed to the Apostles and Prophets, from the Old Testament through to the New, had the promise of inspiration and to be without error. The guarantee of 100% inspiration and without mistakes applies to the originals and not to the copies of the originals and translations. The self-attesting verses in the Bible to its accuracy applies to the original autographs. My “just-out-of-high school” reaction was a bit justifiable as I thought: “If the Greek and Hebrew texts from which all translations flowed were not without error and given by inspiration of God, then to what was I committing my life to as a believer? If I am commanded in Scripture to obey God’s Word, walk by faith and not by sight, then are the commandments I am to obey reliable or not?” –a dilemma worth considering.

I would go on to learn that through the seemingly endless copies of the original texts of Scripture something called “copyist errors” have most certainly crept into the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that exist today. However, these so-called mistakes, as well as other alleged “errors” do not affect the doctrine or history of redemption presented in the context of the passages in which they occur. A classic example is the numbering of King Solomon’s horse stalls in I Kings 4: 26 and in II Chronicles 9:25.

In the I Kings passage it is recorded that Solomon had 40,000 horse stalls while in II Chronicles it is stated that Solomon had only 4,000. Which is correct in this apparent contradiction? An answer commonly given is that I Kings records a different time than II Chronicles. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign he had 40,000 horse stalls while at the end of his reign he had in II Chronicles only 4,000. While convenient, it is more likely than not that this is a simple “copyist’s error.” There are issues other than “copyist errors” that creep into discussions on the inerrancy question.

Some alleged “discrepancies” might occur in situations in which details of an event might vary. In other words certain details in a biblical event might not be mentioned in another author’s account of the same event. What comes to mind are the following texts that seem to present a problem: 1) The account of Mary Magdalene and the Mary the mother of Jesus meeting one or two angels at Jesus’ tomb (Luke 23:55-24:9;John 20:1-2). And, 2) The blind man or men—two or one?—healed by Jesus at Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34, Mar10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43).

But the point of the real existence of so-called and alleged “errors” exiting in copies of the originals is: Is what we have today reliable or so corrupted that it should be, as some have done, thrown out in the trash? The short and long answer is, no!

None of what constitutes discrepancies in the Bible constitute a contradiction. It is not like a writer of Scripture says in one place, “Christ rose from the dead,” while another writer in yet another places says, “Christ did NOT rise from the dead.” What we are talking about is something that appears to be an “error” and the explanation is not known. It is an “error” that can be explained, an “error” that is a simple leaving out of a zero or two, or an “error” that is simply a mystery that may or may not be explainable, ever. The solution to coming to a comfort zone with this is in the Science of Textual Criticism.

The discipline of Textual Criticism is one in which scholars are able to compare the copies with one another to determine the meaning of the original autographs. In the New Testament, for example, there are an amazing 24,000 copies entailing almost complete manuscripts to fragments. Through the painstaking process of comparing these copies to one another it could be discovered, for example, that one copy differs so greatly from the other thousands that scholars make the determination that a scribal addition was made to the text warranting an alert to study the variation more closely.

Another point in Textual Criticism is that in spite of the massive manuscript evidence of the New Testament so-called discrepancies are not what or as extensive as one might think. The difficulties generally are mere misspelled words, word order, some changed, added, or missing words. Depending on the source, scholars estimate a 99.5% accuracy rate to the originals found in the Greek manuscript copies. The alleged problems do not affect doctrine in the Old or New Testaments. And, the variations in the Greek or Hebrew manuscripts are mostly recorded in footnotes. This is also true in the better translations of the Bible.

We should take seriously the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy because as in any book, the Bible reflects the thoughts and intentions of its author. We can have confidence in the better translations we have from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, even though we do not have the originals, that we have The Word of God. Scoffers would have us believe the texts of Holy Scripture has been so corrupted so as to be unreliable. This is hardly the case.

“Though inerrancy applies only to the original autographs, it does also apply to the Greek and Hebrew texts in this sense: the vast majority of verses in the Bible are not disputed…The vast majority are undisputed, the rest we're just unsure which one is the right reading (but no doctrine is changed in any case). God has indeed preserved His Word!” (Joseph A. Vusich; M.Div, Master’s Seminary)



Christian Dating

Christian Music