Authors: Bible Difficulties
-even though it may occasionally be mistaken in matters of history or science--because it does not appear to contravene the findings of modern scientific or historical knowledge."
From the logical standpoint, therefore, it is a requirement of honesty that anyone who does not hold to the principle that whatever the Bible affirms is true simply because it 13
affirms it, may not preach in such a way as to imply that no further corroboration is needed for its statements to be believed.
It is a matter of basic self-contradiction for a partial-inerrantist to hold that in matters of history and science the Bible may err and yet for him to expound any text from the Scripture as having authority in its own right. While he may perhaps preserve a greater measure of integrity if the text he is preaching happens to be purely doctrinal or theological, nevertheless he is false to his own position when he fails to justify his treating the text as inherently authoritative. Nearly all the cardinal doctrines of Scripture come in a historical framework, and very frequently in a supernatural setting. It is less than candid for a Christian spokesman to assure his audience that any such doctrinal affirmation in the Bible is to be received as factual unless he at the same time furnishes them with some sort of critical verification to the effect that "in this instance the Scripture speaks the truth." If the historical framework must be corroborated and critically sifted for error, then the doctrine it contains must be regarded as suspect. If, for example, the resurrection of the body from the grave is regarded by most professional scientists as impossible, then any advocate of partial inerrancy must carefully justify his acceptance of the bodily resurrection of Christ (if accept it he does) by adducing some other confirmation besides the mere statement in the Bible itself. Otherwise his proclamation that Jesus rose bodily from the grave because the Scripture says He did amounts to an assumption of complete inerrancy, even a matter of science involving the miraculous.
Fourth, a specially attractive appeal is often made by contemporary errantists to accept "the cold, hard facts" that the Bible text as we now have it does contain discrepancies of various kinds; and, in the absence of any infallible original manuscripts, we had better give up the effort to defend inerrant autographa that no longer exist. They urge that we should simply appreciate the Bible as it is and make the very best use we can of it in the form it has come down to us--marked with occasional mistakes of a minor sort, but still eminently usable as a guide to God and a saving knowledge of His will. Is it not much more honest, they urge, for us to be perfectly frank and admit the errors, wherever they appear, and simply go on from there, relying on the main and central teaching message and not vexing ourselves about troublesome minor details.
What the advocates of this stance toward Scripture fail to observe is that it is fundamentally dishonest to adopt the line of least resistance in the face of difficulty and say to the rationalistic skeptic, "Okay, in this instance you may be right. But I still have a right to hang on to my faith, no matter how many technical errors you may be able to discover in the text of the Bible." He who assumes such a position of intellectual surrender can only be classed as a weak-kneed irrationalist who has retreated into his own shell of subjectivity. He no longer has anything meaningful to contribute in the arena of debate and intelligent consideration, which all thinking men are responsible to engage in.
It is morally indefensible to put down the Bible--which presents itself as the uniquely authoritative Word of God--as the object of man's critical judgment so that one may decide (at least for himself personally) which parts of Scripture he may accept as binding on him and which parts he may safely disregard. To treat the Bible in this way is to trifle with God, and it can only result in a process of progressive stultification and a steady loss of theological certainty and moral conviction. Indeed, it can be reasonably argued that the plea to shy away from the defense of the accuracy and trustworthiness of 14
Scripture whenever it is attacked on factual matters is hardly to be distinguished in principle from a policy of defending and adhering to the moral standards laid down in Scripture only when they do not conflict with modern standards of morality or when in one's personal life they do not conflict with what the professing Christian
to do (whether or not it is the will of God).
Times of testing come into the life of every believer, when he has to choose between the hard, flesh-denying way of obedience, of integrity before God and man, and the way of self-indulgence, of giving in to the temptation to do what is easiest and pleasant from the standpoint of the self-seeking ego. He who does not put up a determined resistance against the seductively easy, flesh-pleasing way will find that he has lost his integrity, self-respect, and, indeed (apart from abject repentance and a complete reversal of direction), all hope of salvation. There is a clear analogy between this flabby response to the challenge of self-will to the moral integrity of a Christian believer and the response that he makes to a challenge to the inerrant authority and complete trustworthiness of the written Word of God. If he casts his lot with the easy way of bland concession, hoping to salvage his position as a Christian by retaining his faith in the fundamentals of Christian doctrine, he will find that in the long run this policy of giving in to the enemy will lead to the complete takeover of his homeland by the foe. His failure to put up a credible defense of Scripture will finally result in his loss of its assurance and comfort in the times of crisis and danger that await him.
The Importance of Inerrant Original Documents
Now that the inerrancy of the original manuscripts of Scripture has been established as essential to its inerrant authority, we must deal with the very real problem of the complete disappearance of the autographa themselves. Even the earliest and best manuscripts that we possess are not totally free of transmissional errors. Numbers are occasionally miscopied, the spelling of proper names is occasionally garbled, and there are examples of the same types of scribal error that appear in other ancient documents as well. In that sense--and only to that degree--can it be said that even the finest extant manuscripts of the Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are not wholly without error. It is not that they contain actual mistakes or misinformation that cannot be rectified by the proper exercise of the science of textual criticism; but, in the sense that scribal mistakes do occur even in the best of them, it is technically true that there are no extant inerrant originals.
If, then, we have none of the error-free autographa that underlie the Bible text that has been transmitted to us, why not simply content ourselves with the less-than-inerrant copies and accept the plain fact that God did not find inerrancy so vital for inscripturated revelation that He preserved it to us in that form? What is the point of arguing about a collection of manuscripts that no longer exist? Is this not simply an academic question of a most abstruse kind, a question that surely should not divide the ranks of Evangelicals?
To put the question in this way is to misrepresent the basic issue at stake in a manner that is utterly misleading. We have already seen that Christ regarded the recorded 15
statements and affirmations of the Old Testament authors as completely accurate and trustworthy, whether they dealt with theology, history, or science. This is really what is at stake, and it is this level of truthfulness that is involved rather than technical infallibility in the art of scribal transmission. The copyist who inadvertently misspells some word in John 3:16 cannot be said to have introduced error in the sentiment or message of that salvation verse even though he may have slipped in his orthography. It is something far more essential than typographical errors that is under consideration when scriptural inerrancy comes up for discussion.
In answer to this challenge we offer the four following considerations.
1. The integrity of Scripture as the authoritative revelation of God is bound up with the issue of the inerrancy of its original inscripturation. It is impossible for a holy and righteous God to inspire any human author of the books of Scripture to write down that which is at any level misleading or false. He who sits in judgment on all wickedness and deceit will never stoop to the use or toleration of falsehood in the recording of His spoken revelation or of the historic or scientific facts chosen to compose the sixty-six books of His Bible. Nor is it conceivable that God in His perfection would allow any human agent whom He employs for the writing of Scripture to introduce elements of error or mistake simply on the ground of his humanness. The sovereign Lord who could use the wooden staff of Moses to bring down the ten plagues upon Egypt and part the waters of the Red Sea can surely use a fallible human prophet to communicate His will and His truth without blundering or confusion of any kind. The inerrancy of God's written Word as it was originally inspired is a necessary corollary to the inerrancy of God Himself.
We must therefore condemn an attitude of indifference concerning the inerrancy of the original manuscripts of the Bible as a serious theological error.
2. It is wrong to affirm that the existence of a perfect original is a matter of no importance if that original is no longer available for examination. To take an analogy from the realm of engineering or of commerce, it makes a very great difference whether there is such a thing as a perfect measure for the meter, the foot, or the pound. It is questionable whether the yardsticks or scales used in business transactions or construction projects can be described as absolutely perfect. They may be almost completely conformable to the standard weights and measures preserved at the Bureau of Standards in our nation's capital but to the measure of their deviation from the official models in Washington, D.C., they are subject to error--however small. But how foolish it would be for any citizen to shrug his shoulders and say, "Neither you nor I have ever actually seen those standard measures in Washington; therefore we may as well disregard them--not be concerned about them at all--and simply settle realistically for the imperfect yardsticks and pound weights that we have available to us in in everyday life. On the contrary, the existence of those measures in the Bureau of Standards is vital to the proper functioning of our entire economy. To the 220,000,000 Americans who have never seen them they are absolutely essential for the trustworthiness of all the standards of measurement that they resort to throughout their lifetime.
3. It may be true that we no longer possess any perfect copy of the inerrant original manuscripts of the Bible. But it is equally true that we have only imperfect copies of the Lord Jesus available to us today. Christ has ascended to His glorious throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven. All the observer has to look at now are imperfect representatives and agents of His, in the form of sanctified and committed Christians. But shall we therefore affirm that because of His physical absence we need not concern ourselves about any standards of absolute love and moral excellence? No, but Hebrews 12:2 commands us to fix our eyes on Jesus (though He is beyond our physical reach or power to touch), as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. The spotless Lamb of God is still the inerrant model for our attitudes and manner of life, even though we are not privileged to behold Him with the eye of flesh as the apostles did prior to His ascension to glory. So also, we must cherish the inerrant originals of Holy Scripture as free from all mistake of any kind, even though we have never actually seen them.
4. If there was an admixture of error even in the original writings of the Bible, there is little point in textual criticism. The entire motivation behind this careful examination of the earliest manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek or in the ancient translations from them into other languages is based on the fundamental premise of original inerrancy. What useful purpose would be served by tracing back with painstaking care to the original reading if that reading may have contained falsehood or mistake? The Bible student would only become confused or injured by the misinformation contained by what has been described as the infallible Word of God. Thus we see that textual criticism, if it is to have any real meaning or validity, presupposes an original entirely free from deception or mistake.
The Remarkable Trustworthiness of The Received Text of Holy
Why do we not now possess infallible copies of those infallible originals?
Because the production of even one perfect copy of one book is so far beyond the capacity of a human scribe as to render it necessary for God to perform a miracle in order to produce it. No reasonable person can expect even the most conscientious copyist to achieve technical infallibility in transcribing his original document into a fresh copy. No matter how earnest he may be to dot every
and cross every
and to avoid confusion of homonyms (such as "their" for "there" or "lead" for "led"), he will commit at least an occasional slip. It is for this reason that all writers have to check over whatever they have written and all publishers must employ skilled editors and proofreaders. Yet even the most attentive of these occasionally allow blunders to slip by. Such was the case of the
"Immoral Bible" back in the sixteenth century, which went to press with the seventh commandment reading, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Although this edition was speedily recalled, the blunder got out to the public, much to the embarrassment of the publisher.
These inadvertencies occur from time to time simply because of the imperfect quality of the attention of any human scribe. Nothing less than divine intervention could guarantee a completely errorless copy or set aside the human propensity to occasional slips in 17
punctuation or spelling. But the important fact remains that accurate communication is possible despite technical mistakes in copying.