Authors: Bible Difficulties
The real question at issue in regard to scribal error is whether an accumulation of minor slips has resulted in the obscuring or perversion of the message originally intended.
Well-trained textual critics operating on the basis of sound methodology are able to rectify almost all the misunderstandings that might result from manuscript error. But in the case of documents in which scribal copying has been carried on with a view to deliberate alteration or the indulging of personal bias on the part of the copyist himself, it is quite possible that the original message has been irrecoverably altered. The question in regard to the text of the Bible centers on the data of textual criticism. Is there objective proof from the surviving manuscripts of Scripture that these sixty-six books have been transmitted to us with such a high degree of accuracy as to assure us that the information contained in the originals has been perfectly preserved? The answer is an unqualified yes.
In contrast to most other ancient documents that have survived in multiplied copies (such as the Egyptian
Tale of Sinuhe
or the Behistun Rock trilingual inscription of Darius I), collation of many hundreds of manuscript copies from the third century B.C. to the sixth century A.D. yields an amazingly limited range of variation in actual wording.
In fact,it has been long recognized by the foremost specialists in textual criticism that if any decently attested variant were taken up from the apparatus at the bottom of the page and were substituted for the accepted reading of the standard text, there would in no case be a single, significant alteration in doctrine or message. This can only be explained as the result of a special measure of control exercised by the God who inspired the original manuscripts of Scripture so as to insure their preservation for the benefit of His people. A degree of deviation so serious as to affect the sense would issue in failure to achieve the purpose for which the revelation was originally given: that men might be assured of God's holiness and grace, and that they might know of His will for their salvation.
Readers interested in pursuing further the subject of textual criticism of the Old Testament or wanting information concerning the ancient copies of the Hebrew Scriptures discovered in the Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea are encouraged to consult Ernst Wurthwein's
The Text of the Old Testament
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957) or my
Survey of Old Testament Introduction
(chaps. 3-4). For the text of the New Testament, consult A.T. Robertson,
An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament
, 2nd ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1928) or Vincent Taylor,
The Text of the New Testament
(London: Macmillan, 1961).
Scripture and Inerrancy
The foregoing discussion has demonstrated that the objective authority of Scripture requires inerrancy in the original autographa. Also, we have argued that infallibility necessarily requires inerrancy as its indispensable corollary. But as we have observed in the opening pages of this Introduction, revisionists have charged that the so-called phenomena of Scripture do not permit a credible defense of the claim that the Bible as originally given was free from error, even in matters of history and science. The 18
contradictions and discrepancies in Scripture compel us to choose between which statement is right and which is wrong. Advocates of this approach invariably present lists of such alleged contradictions or statements that clash with findings of historical criticism and science. This challenge must not go unanswered; for if the revisionists' contention is correct, then inerrancy must indeed be surrendered--with all the devastating implications for the possibility of objective revelation. The main task of this present work is to demonstrate the unsoundness of this charge by examining the alleged discrepancies and in turn showing in each case that the charge is not well founded in fact, once all the relevant evidence has been considered.
The other chief line of evidence followed by these scholars pertains to the extensive use by New Testament authors of the Septuagint translation (Greek) of the Old Testament. It is argued that since the Septuagint often deviates substantially from the Masoretic Hebrew text, such employment of an inexact translation shows that to the New Testament authors the authority of the Old Testament was conceptual rather than verbal.
And, of course, if the authoritative teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures was to be found only in its concepts rather than in its wording, this virtually excludes any meaningful adherence to inerrancy. Particularly in those instances (rare though they may be) where the Septuagint passage is somewhat inexact in its treatment of the Hebrew original (at least as the Hebrew has been transmitted to us in the Masoretic text), it must be concluded that the New Testament writer did not consider the precise wording of the Old Testament a matter of real importance.
Logical though this deduction might seem at first glance, it fails to take into account several important considerations.
1. The very reason for using the Septuagint translation (which originated among the Jews of Alexandria, Egypt, in the third and second centuries B.C.) was rooted in the missionary outreach of the evangelists and apostles of the early church. Long before the first disciples of our Lord set out to spread the Good News, the Septuagint had found its way into nearly every Greek-speaking region of the Roman Empire. In fact, it was the only form of the Old Testament in circulation outside Palestine itself.
As the apostles went from one Gentile city to another and brought the message of Christ to the Jews of the Dispersion, it was their primary purpose to show that Jesus of Nazareth had fulfilled the types and promises of the Old Testament, that holy record of God's saving truth that they already had in their hands. What other form of the Old Testament was available to them but the Septuagint? Only the rabbis and scholars had access to the Hebrew manuscripts, and no other Greek translation was available than the time-honored version from Alexandria. And so when the "noble Bereans" went home from their synagogue to check up on the teaching of Paul and Silas, what other Scriptures could they consult but their Septuagint?
Suppose Paul had chosen to work out a new, more accurate translation into Greek directly from the Hebrew. Might not the Bereans have said in reply, "That's not the way we find it in
Bible. How do we know you have not slanted your different rendering here and there in order to favor your new teaching about Christ?" In order to avoid suspicion and misunderstanding, it was imperative for the apostles and 19
evangelists to stay with the Septuagint in their preaching and teaching, both oral and written. On the other hand, we find in the case of Matthew and Hebrews that the Septuagint plays a much less important role. The frequent and copious quotations from the Old Testament found in these two books are often non-Septuagintal in wording and are perceptibly closer to the Hebrew original than the Septuagint itself.
This is accounted for by the fact that both Matthew and the author of Hebrews were writing to a Palestinian Jewish readership, to whom the Masoretic or Sopherim text (as it is technically known) was close at hand.
2. In the overwhelming majority of cases where the Septuagint is quoted in the New Testament documents, the Greek rendering is beyond reproach in the matter of accuracy. The instances where a more paraphrastic rendering is quoted from the Septuagint are in the small minority--even though these few deviations have attracted much discussion on the part of critics. But even where there are noticeable differences in phraseology, there are virtually no examples of quotations from Hebrew passages that would not support the point that the New Testament author intends to make as he quotes from the Old Testament. Inasmuch as the Septuagint contains a good many sections that substantially differ from the Hebrew of the Masoretic text, it can only be inferred that the apostolic authors purposely avoided any passages of the Septuagint that perverted the sense of the original.
3. The argument from the use of the Septuagint to the effect that the New Testament authors regarded the inspiration of the Old Testament as merely conceptual, not verbal, is completely belied by the example of Christ Himself. For instance, in Matthew 22:32 our Lord pointed out the implications of the exact wording of Exodus 3:6: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." This particular quotation is verbally identical with the Septuagint, which supplies the word "am" (
) that is not actually expressed in the Hebrew original, even though it is clearly understood in a verbless clause such as this, according to the standard rules of Hebrew grammar. Jesus makes the point here that God would not have spoken of Himself as the God of mere corpses moldering in their graves for three or four centuries since their death. "He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living," said Jesus. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must have all been alive and well at the time Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush in the early fifteenth century B.C.
Very similar attention to the exact wording of the Old Testament original text was involved in Christ's use of Psalm 110:1 [Psalm 109:1 Septuagint] in His discussion with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:43-45. This quotation differs from the Septuagint by only one word (
, "footstool"). But the point of it was that the LORD
(Yahweh) said to David's Lord--who was at the same time his messianic descendant-
- "Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool." By this remarkable passage Jesus demonstrated that the Messiah was to not only be a physical descendant of King David (tenth century B.C.) but was also David's divine Lord and Master.
4. The whole line of reasoning that says quoting Scripture from a less-than-perfect translation of the original necessarily implies a cavalier attitude toward inspired autographon is vitiated by an obvious fallacy. All of us, even the most highly qualified experts in biblical languages, customarily quote Scripture in the standard published translations available to our audiences or readers. But such use of the various translations, whether English, German, French, or Spanish, by no means proves that we have settled for a low view of scriptural inerrancy. We, like the first-century apostles, resort to these standard translations to teach our people in terms they can verify by resorting to their own Bibles. Yet, admittedly, none of these translations is completely free of faults. We use them, nevertheless, for the purposes of more effective communication than if we were to translate directly from the Hebrew or Greek. But this use of translations that fall short of perfection by no means implies the abandonment of conviction that the Scriptures as originally given were free from all error.
We must, therefore, conclude that the employment of the Septuagint in New Testament quotations from the Old Testament proves nothing whatever in favor of noninerrancy.
The Role of Textual Criticism in Correcting Transmissional
In the preceding discussion we referred several times to the role of textual criticism in dealing with scribal errors in the transmission of the biblical text. So the reader may have some understanding of the methodology followed by scholars in handling such deviations, which appear in even the earliest and best extant manuscripts, we will indicate the guidelines to be followed in resolving such problems. The standard procedures for dealing with transmissional errors apply to all ancient documents, whether secular or sacred; but, of course, there are special features that relate to the biblical languages. These would include the shapes of the Hebrew letters as they evolved from the earlier period to later times, along with the gradual introduction of vowel-letters (i.e., consonants that indicate which vowel sounds or vowel quantities were to be used in words). In the case of the New Testament, composed in a language that used vowel characters as well as consonants (koine Greek), the changes in letter shape would also give rise to miscopying in the course of several generations of scribes.
Types of Transmissional Errors
Certain kinds of errors are apt to arise in copying any original document (
). We are all prone to substitute one homonym for another; i.e., "hole" for
"whole" or "it's" for "its." English has a very difficult spelling system; the same sound may be written in a variety of ways: "way" or "weigh"; "to," "too," or "two." This problem was not so acute in ancient Hebrew or Greek; but there are occasional misspellings that occur even in the earliest copies of the biblical books, largely on the 21
basis of similarity in sound. One of the most serious is the word
. If it is written
(lamedh-aleph), it is the negative "not"; but if it is written
(lamedh-waw), it means "to him" or "for him." Usually the context gives a clear indication as to which of these
is intended; but occasionally either "not" or "for him" would be possible, and so a bit of confusion results.
One good example of the
confusion is found in Isaiah 9:3 (Isaiah 9:2 in the Hebrew text). The Masoretic text (MT) reads
mean "not." KJV's translation is "Thou hast multiplied the nation,
[supplied in italics] not increased the joy; they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest." This rendering, however, introduces a strange reversal in the flow of the thought: God has increased the nation; yet He has not increased their joy, and yet they rejoice like those who gather in a bountiful harvest. But even the Masoretic Jewish scribes perceived this to be an inadvertent misspelling; so they put in the margin the correct spelling
. Then the verse means "Thou hast multiplied the nation [no "and"], Thou hast increased the joy for it; they joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest." The Syriac Peshitta so renders it, and likewise the Aramaic Targum of Jonathan and twenty medieval Hebrew manuscripts read it as
. Because it reads both aleph and waw, spelling
, 1QIsa is not very helpful here. The Septuagint (LXX) is no help at all because the translator garbled the Hebrew completely and does not have either type of
indicated in his rendering ("The majority of the people, which You have brought down in Your joy, they also will joy before You like those who rejoice in harvest.") But it is at least 90 percent certain that NASB is correct in its translation: "Thou shalt multiply the nation, Thou shalt increase their gladness; they will be glad in Thy presence as with the gladness of harvest."