Understanding Inerrancy – Autographa

MS2650Inerrancy. It is a word that is rather controversial today. The basic notion of it has really been held as the majority report through all of church history. The reason being that people believed it to be the word of God, and as such it was authoritative and without error since it is impossible for God to lie. With the rise of 19th century liberalism, that basic belief came under attack in a way that it never had before. Critics would try to find faults with the Bible in order to discredit it. Source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism and other forms of criticism were used as tools to destroy the Bible and Christianity. However, there was also a lot of good that came from these disciplines. We sharpened our understanding of the Bible in a very helpful way.

During this time, believers rose to defend the truthfulness of the Bible. A few of the defenses were silly and jejune, but there were also a lot of solid, and I believe convincing, arguments given in response to these challenges. Since that time, evangelicals have always held to the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, until recently. The old critics of the Bible would point out flaws in order to disprove it and dismiss it as just another man-made religion. The new critics consider themselves to be evangelicals. They point out the same things that the critics of the 19th century did with the difference that this new group claims that the Bible, in spite of all its errors, is still true. I want to explore this new, and admittedly confusing subject is a series of posts.

But in order to lay the proper groundwork for this analysis, I’d like a do a few posts on what inerracny means. To start off, inerrancy is only applicable for the original writings. I am not an inspired copyist. When I transcribe a bible verse onto an index card, I am not divinely prevented from making a mistake. The copies of scripture are not considered to be without error, only the originals.

Now it is important to note that we don’t hav any of the orginials. All we have are the manuscripts, so what difference does it make? How can we claim that the Bible (in its originals) is inerrant if we don’t have any originals? But that cuts both directions. How can one claim that the originals are in error if we don’t have the originals? The answer is the same for both sides of the debate. We can, through careful study of the manuscripts, have a very high confidence level that they accurately represent the originals. This is not the place to discuss manuscripts families, textual transmission, and eclectic texts – the answer to the “how do we know” question. It is sufficient to simply note the difference between copies and originals.

What this means is that the one claiming that there is an error has to be able to demonstrate that the claimed error is not the result of the transmission process. While we are on the topic of scholarship, it is also necessary for the critic to show that the error does not rest on faulty translations or weak lexical data. They need to demonstrate that the error does not come from a differences in culture such that we may be guilty of reading a 21st century understanding of a concept back into an ancient Near Eastern culture. There are other things to consider, but the point is that if we claim that an ancient document is in error, we need to do our homework first. And the first line to consider is whether this is an alleged error is part of the original and not a copy error.