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Inerrancy: Why it Matters

 
 
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(By Mark Fontecchio)

It is an axiomatic truth that miscommunication is at the heart of many conflicts and difficult situations. Letters and emails often have unintentional errors, and even the most eloquent speaker can become tongue-tied and make disastrous mistakes. To be sure, straightforward communication can easily become muddled. It is, therefore, truly remarkable to recognize that the Word of God is without error. God communicated to mankind His revelation perfectly.

Unfortunately, altogether too many believers in Christ have an incomplete understanding of what it means that the Word of God contains no errors. The subject at hand is the doctrine of inerrancy. Specifically, this doctrine teaches:

God has graciously given man His inerrant Word in written form. It was not without eternal and infinite wisdom God chose the time, manner, and specific languages He would use to record His Word. He even chose precise linguistics, tenses, grammar, forms, meanings, and cultural differences with known dialects of the languages in which to place His exact words. He chose Hebrew (also Aramaic) and Greek as His primary languages to communicate with all men. God gave His Word using approximately 40 different authors over almost 2000 years in precisely two languages, Hebrew and Greek. All this is by infinite design and it is far more than something incidental or that which any man could do. This involves an infinite mind with exact purpose resulting in complete perfection and flawless preservation. Nothing else is inspired except God’s complete inerrant Word in the original languages (Olander 2008, 67).

The key is to understand that God inspired the original manuscripts (autographs). This is often the point of confusion for many Christians, which has significant ramifications to their understanding of the Word of God.

The Bible itself has much to say about the revelation of God to mankind. It is not insignificant that the Apostle Peter testified, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The importance of this verse cannot be overstated. Peter was testifying that the words written by the prophets did not simply come from mere men. Instead, they originated from God. Certainly men were used in the process to record God’s truth. This, however, does not mean that the men involved in writing the Scriptures were mindless robots. The teaching conveyed by Peter is that:

The Scriptures were not produced by the minds of the men who wrote the text. In 1 Peter 1:10–12, Peter states that the prophets many times did not understand what they actually wrote. It was possible for them to communicate the truth even though they did not understand it. Here in verse 21 Peter says that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will.

But God did not communicate His truth through just any man. It is clear that the writers of the Scripture were special men whom the Lord equipped to communicate His truth. They wrote only as they were ‘moved by the Holy Spirit’ (v.21). The word ‘moved’ which Peter uses to describe the cooperation of the divine and the human in the production of the Scriptures was also used of sailing ships that were blown along by the wind. The writers of the Scriptures were carried along in the writing of the text by the ‘wind’ of God, the Holy Spirit. The picture here is one of God utilizing men in the production of the Word. The writers of the text were not passive in the reception of the truth, but neither were they the originators of the truth. The personalities of the authors were not violated, but the direction which they took was controlled by the Holy Spirit (Barbieri 2003, 120-121).

It becomes evident that Got took special care in the process of recording His eternal truth. The result is that mankind has been given an absolute standard of truth that does not shift like the sand in the sea. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The word that Paul used for, “Scripture” is the Greek word, “γραφὴ.” The clear etymology of this particular word demonstrates the meaning of written words (Arndt et al. 2000, 206). This reveals that it was not just the ideas that were inspired by God; it was the very words of Scripture. God has revealed to us that His words to mankind are perfect (Ps. 19:7).

Soon after the original manuscripts were written (without error) copies were made by the Scribes. This became a necessity as believers sought to share the message of God’s Word, but this led to minor scribal errors. Because we no longer have the original manuscripts, does this mean that believers in Christ must abandon hope of having confidence that we have God’s Word today? The answer is, “hardly.” By simply comparing the thousands of manuscripts, we can tell where the minor scribal errors occurred, leaving us with the revelation of God to mankind.

A simple illustration brings clarity to the issue. Imagine that you made fifty handwritten copies of an important letter from one of your ancestors to distribute to family members. Now fast forward in time sixty years. Your descendants are gathered together at a family reunion and are looking at their copies of the letter. Only forty copies survived, but on one copy your descendants notice that a word is repeated. On another copy a word was accidently omitted. The remaining thirty-eight copies are exactly the same. Therefore, the precise message of the letter has been faithfully preserved.

In much the same way, Christ promised the preservation of His Word. In Matthew 5:18 He said, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” The jot refers to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the tittle refers to the smallest stroke of a Hebrew letter. This is significant because:

Until heaven and earth pass away points to the end of created things. Heaven does not here denote the permanent abode of the blessed but part of the physical universe; it is used with earth in this expression to convey the thought of the totality of creation. It will all in due course pass away, but what God has said in Scripture is more permanent than that. Jesus says emphatically that it will certainly not pass away. He is referring to written Scripture, as the terms he employs show clearly. The iota was the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, but here it is usually understood to refer to the yodh, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The little stroke was probably a tiny projection on some letters (that helped distinguish similar letters). Jesus is saying ‘Not the smallest letter, not the tiniest part of a letter—.’ It forms a very emphatic assertion of the permanent validity of Scripture. None of it will pass away, Jesus says, until all has taken place (Morris 1992, 109-110).

Not even the smallest letter of God’s Word will pass away during this present age. The end result is that we can have absolute confidence that God’s Word is present within the manuscripts that have been preserved. By textual comparison (much like the example of the family letter) we are able to discover God’s revelation to mankind. This is the doctrine of the preservation of God’s Word.

It is a theological mistake to believe or teach that any given Bible translation (including the King James Version) is without error. If an English translation is thought to be a perfect translation and without error, then we must be prepared to teach that God used the translators much like He used the Apostles and Prophets when His Word was first written down. It is tantamount to arguing for double inspiration. In other words, this is essentially the same as propagating the idea that God inspired a given English translation. We have no basis for such a presupposition. There is nothing in the Word of God itself that validates the suggestion that a given translation is inspired. Therefore, it is vital to recognize that it is the autographs (the original manuscripts) that were inerrant. Let us never forget that God did not reveal himself to mankind by using the English language.

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Bibliography

The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Barbieri, Lou. First and Second Peter. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2003.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.

Olander, David E. The Importance of the Biblical Languages. Edited by Christopher Cone. Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Ft. Worth, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2008.

 

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