The ‘get out clause’ – the original manuscripts were inerrant.
Wayne Grudem, in his chapter on biblical inerrancy in Systematic Theology, defines inerrancy in the following way: ‘The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact’ (90).
I think even very conservative readers of the Bible will agree, the Bible as we now have it has errors. And undeniably, the original manuscripts and autographs are lost – they don’t exists. All we have are x-generation hand copied texts that approximate the originals only to a greater or lesser extent. This fact has enabled some to argue that the existence of some errors and contradictions in the bible must be due to copyist errors. In this way, many have found a quasi-argument for explaining errors like those I outlined in part 3 of my series on inerrancy. As Grudem writes:
‘... if we have mistakes in the copies (as we do), then these are only the mistakes of men. But if we have mistakes in the original manuscripts, then we are forced to say not only that men made mistakes, but that God himself made a mistake and spoke falsely. This we cannot do’ (97)
But I don’t buy this ‘get out clause’, not for a minute. Why?
- The oft quoted 2 Tim 3:16 passage, in light of the fact that the quotes from the OT in 2 Tim come from the LXX, not the original autographs or even original Hebrew, suggests the author/editor of 2 Tim seemed happy to ascribe inspiration to (faulty) copies, not original autographs.
- Why was God so careful to inspire texts so thoroughly, overriding human imperfections, only to give up once the final ‘full stop’ was penned, and allow for variety and error? Can a reasonable theological explanation for this be given? It suggests that what God starts, he won’t bring to completion (cf. Phil 1:6).
- If God can mediate his truth through imperfect copies, which inerrantists will insist, then isn’t the necessity for the theory of flawless autographs immediately nullified? (For these three points, cf. the discussion in Law’s Inspiration, 90-93)
- And most importantly - there are errors in the Bible that simply cannot be accounted for by copyist errors. The gospels, for example, cannot be harmonised with reference to copyist errors. Rather, they are all interpretations of the life and work of Christ, with slightly different theologies and agendas. Unless one argues that copyist errors are so substantial, as to pervert the originals so seriously, this variety of interpretation and difference in detail at the original autograph level must also be assumed.
- Besides, I have already demonstrated in my previous posts why the understanding ‘inspiration = inerrancy’ is to be rejected. Hence, the statement of Grudem, that errors means ‘God himself made a mistake and spoke falsely’ is simply a gross misunderstanding of the texts themselves.
Were the original manuscripts without error? Only if you are willing to suggest that there is a considerable and substantial difference between the autographs on the one hand, and the copies we now have on the other. If this is so, however, the old argument that the bible we now have is inspired because it is basically the same as the originals, is immediately to be rejected.
There are a few more posts in this series to come, so I look forward to your continuing response.