Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Objection to Biblical Inerrancy #5

Continued from: Objections to Biblical Inerrancy #3 & #4

A fifth objection
is that inerrancy cannot be claimed because inerrantists base their claim on the original manuscripts that no longer exist. Inerrantists, however, are only being honest and precise. It is the original author’s document which was without error, not the copyists or translators through the years. With the thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible which we have, it is a fact that not all agree. But it is significant that the differences are miniscule and none change any doctrine.

Furthermore, we have a wealth of evidence of what the autographs said. The vast number of manuscripts from a large geographical area demonstrate that the autographs can be recovered with a great degree of accuracy. J.I. Packer says that in the New Testament, only one word per 1,000 is in any way doubtful.[1] All the documents we have agree approximately 95% of the time, and most of the other 4% are dumb copyist misspellings or mistakes. It does not mean the Bible is fallible. It means the copyists were.

We have enough copies to establish the original text without doubt more than 99% of the time. The remaining 1% gives the textual critics something to do with their time, and inerrantists welcome the work of textual scholars who work to establish exactly what the biblical writers wrote. Textual criticism is a servant and friend to inerrancy, says J.I. Packer.[2] Russ Bush would agree: “Textual criticism may not have yet absolutely settled every detail, but it has adequate evidence with which to work, and its results are eminently trustworthy.”[3] Qualifying inerrancy to the original manuscripts is not somehow deceptive, it is simply being precise.

When Episcopal priest Peter Rodgers read Bart Ehrman’s book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, it challenged his confidence in the Bible, so he went on a personal study through the Scriptures to see if Ehrman was right. Rodgers came to a different conclusion. “I discovered that time and again, in cases in which Ehrman alleged that there was orthodox corruption of the text, Ireneaus had chosen the reading that was less useful from the orthodox standpoint and more likely to strengthen the heretics’ case.”

He found that Irenaeus, as well as Tertullian and Origen resisted the temptation to make changes in the text. His reading of Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus led Rodgers back to the New Testament and early Christian writers and demonstrated again “early orthodox Christians’ scrupulous fidelity in copying the New Testament text [and a] clearer focus [for Rodgers on] the New Testament writers’ disciplined freedom in using the Old Testament. Whereas Ehrman’s journey in textual criticism has led him to increasing skepticism,” Rodgers writes, “my own has brought me to increased confidence in the New Testament documents and in the central figure to whom they bear witness.”[4] Further, perhaps it is a good thing that the Bible was not preserved perfectly as Muslims believe the Qu'ran was. Then we would worship the Bible and not the Lord of the Bible.


[1] J.I. Packer, “Text Criticism and Inerrancy,” Christianity Today, October 7, 2002, 102.

[2] J.I. Packer, 102. See also Jason Sexton, “NT Text Criticism and Inerrancy,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 17, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 51-59; and Grisanti, Michael A. “Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture,” JETS 44, no. 4 (Dec 2001): 577-98.

[3] L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 399.

[4] Peter R. Rodgers, “Beware of the Scribes,” Christian Century, July 11, 2006, 38-9.


Continue to Objection to Biblical Inerrancy #6

Also on Sunday in the South:

Objections to Biblical Inerrancy #1 & #2,
#3 & #4