The Bible is old. Not as old as it’s content – but it’s old. When something has been translated so many times and into so many languages, reasonable folks might assume it contains a few errors. The debate on Bible inerrancy continues moving forward under full steam.
If there are, does it really matter? Let’s consider the question from two angles. One, from a Christian blogger. The other, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. If you’re curious, scan this post. If you’re a student or have sincere doubt, take the time to read it carefully.
A Creative “Imperfect Bible” Argument
In his article, The Bible Isn’t Perfect and it Says So Itself, author Zack Hunt shares his opinion of inerrancy;
If Paul believed the Bible, or what parts of it he had, was perfect he would have simply said “We fully know because we have scripture.” But he didn’t because he knew that even with scripture as his source of knowledge that knowledge was imperfect because it was God-breathed not God Himself.
Zack’s leap of logic might span the Grand Canyon. Which was a pretty good stunt for Evil Kneivel and may influence some of his readers. He begins his article by claiming that he’s been labeled heretical by some for believing the Bible is imperfect. I don’t think so. This may be nothing more than a case of semantics. He says toe-may-toe and I say toe-mah-toe. It’s still a red fruit. Or vegetable. Whatever.
I don’t know precisely what Zack thinks or what his words mean to him. They’re words – inference, intent, and usage affect word choice for writers and meaning to readers. I do believe Zack correctly states his position. His article is a true representation of Zack. Since I’m not him, I have to interpret what he writes and ask questions.
Zack is the only guy with the authority to answer my inquiry about what he wrote.
Jesus quoted scripture. So did the Apostles. That’s pretty good evidence of it’s accuracy and utility. That is, of course, unless you want to mud wrestle over whether or not the Bible accurately quotes Jesus and His twelve.
If that’s a concern, pop over to a companion article to this before continuing.
Absence Doesn’t Prove Non-Existence
Did Paul know that scripture was imperfect as Zack suggests? There is no evidence of it in scripture. Perhaps Zack assumes he did because Paul didn’t explain his view in words that satisfy Zack’s curiosity. Using the absence of something to prove the opposite true is an interesting argument; just not a convincing one.
- If you didn’t tell your mother last Sunday that you love your husband, does that mean you don’t? Hardly.
- She would have said she likes chocolate if she did. She didn’t, so she must not like it. (I do. If it’s 90% dark.)
- He’s not wearing a wedding ring, therefore he isn’t married.
In all fairness to Mr. Hunt, one wonders what he means by the word imperfect. Does he mean flawed or incomplete? There’s a huge difference between errant and leaving room for inspiration. Which, by the way, is one role of the Holy Spirit. To open the scriptures for us.
Revelation of scripture expands our understanding beyond the limitation of vocabulary. Especially when translating from Greek to English. Some things don’t make the trip with complete context. Here’s one fact you can take to the bank – the Holy Spirit will never correct God’s Word. Explain, expand, and reveal, but never improve.
The first touch of a mother’s lips to her newborn’s cheek cannot be put into words. Gifted (inspired) writers might get close, but they’ll never be able to exhaustively communicate the totality of the moment. The depth of emotion. The rush of hormones. The burst of new love. That, my friends, is the Bible.
Some things you have to experience to fully understand. Most profound experiences retain some element of mystery.
The Bible is intentionally incomplete
The Bible isn’t faith-by-numbers. God intends for us to seek the connection between seeming contradictions by directing our questions to Him. He provides the Teacher, the Helper, the Spirit to assist our quest for understanding.
When should we make disciples and when refrain from casting holy pearls?
Discernment and wisdom are key elements of God’s Word. Solomon beautifully expresses why in Ecclesiastes chapter two; for everything there is a season.
- A time for yes and a time for no.
- A time to act and time to refrain from acting.
- A time for authority and a time for humility.
- A time to lead and a time to submit.
The Bible isn’t a book of rules anyone can apply. If it were it would have no Spirit. It would be lifeless and two-dimensional. It lives because the Author lives and is eager to discuss any word with you at any time. You don’t have to wonder, “What does God mean?”
Ask. Seek. Knock.
Wisdom is always near. Yet she is silent until you approach and ask your question.
Ponder this for a moment; the Bible accurately describes every human who ever lived or lives, regardless of location, era, or circumstance. It nails us. From Adam to Trump and Eve to Princess Di, the Bible knows more about us than we know about ourselves.
Chicago Statement on Bible Inerrancy
In 1978, three hundred evangelical leaders from a wide range of positions and denominations, met to discuss the trend away from the standard of biblical inerrancy. Noteworthy among the signers are R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, Norman L. Geisler, and James Boice.
Given the opportunity, I’d add my signature. Here are some highlights:
From the Preface:
The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word.
The following Statement affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word which marks true Christian faith. We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstandings of this doctrine in the world at large.
Bible Inerrancy by “His inward witness”
From A Short Statement:
God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
From the Articles of Affirmation and Denial
WE AFFIRM that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.
WE DENY that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.
We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.
WE AFFIRM that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.
WE DENY that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.
Inspiration cannot be reduced to human insight
WE AFFIRM that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
WE DENY that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.
WE AFFIRM that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
WE DENY that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.
WE AFFIRM that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.
WE DENY that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.
We affirm, that … Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
WE AFFIRM that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
WE DENY the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.
From the Exposition:
Since the Renaissance, and more particularly since the Enlightenment, world-views have been developed which involve skepticism about basic Christian tenets. Such are the agnosticism which denies that God is knowable, the rationalism which denies that He is incomprehensible, the idealism which denies that He is transcendent, and the existentialism which denies rationality in His relationships with us. When these un- and anti-biblical principles seep into men’s theologies at [a] presuppositional level, as today they frequently do, faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture becomes impossible.
Transmission and Translation:
Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appear to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.
Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autographa. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
Inerrancy and Authority –
In our affirmation of the authority of Scripture as involving its total truth, we are consciously standing with Christ and His apostles, indeed with the whole Bible and with the main stream of Church history from the first days until very recently. We are concerned at the casual, inadvertent, and seemingly thoughtless way in which a belief of such far-reaching importance has been given up by so many in our day.
We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible which God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.
We affirm that what Scripture says, God says. May He be glorified. Amen and Amen.
You may read the entire Chicago Statement here
Internal Accuracy of The Bible
Does translation matter? I think so. More special-interest bibles are being published with editing appealing to a narrow audience. They have value, but less authority that traditional translations that seek only to carry God’s message. To everyone.
Precious little has changed in the millennia since the first oral record of God’s Word. Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek became Latin, German, and English. Still, nothing material has changed. Fragments of earlier manuscripts or copies are the same as what you read today. There are no significant changes or errors.
Has the Bible changed over centuries? Yes. But not in any material way. Which is astounding!! Watch Antiques Roadshow a few times and you discover than family lore isn’t always accurate. Things change. Centuries and locales are incorrect.
The Bible today is the scripture preserved by God’s hand for our benefit. So little has changed that one could believe it’s supernatural quality on that alone. It hasn’t changed enough to make a whit of difference.
Is there any material difference between these sentences?
- It’s red.
- It’s the color of blood.
- It’s crimson.
There isn’t a specific example of a color discrepancy in the Bible (as far as I know), but such variation is used to prove error by critics.
If God can’t protect His Word from human frailty, then Eternity is a problem.
Faith is or is not.