The Bible vs. Other Religious Books Part 4 – Biblical Inerrancy

The doctrine of inerrancy is a hot button issue for many biblical scholars, and huge books have been written in an attempt to clarify what is meant by that term. We will take a rather simple basic definition in this article and leave you to do further research if this topic particularly appeals to you. Books listed in the footnotes might be good places to begin your own journey of exploration. 

So, what is inerrancy? Dr. Paul Fienberg suggests this definition:

“Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.”[1]

There is an important caveat here. We do not have the original autographs—that is, we do not have the actual papyrus or skins or whatever other materials the biblical authors actually wrote on. Those have been lost to time. One might suggest this is by divine design as throughout history people have been quick to make idols of religious relics.[2]

What we do have is copies, thousands and thousands of copies. Now, if you have ever attempted to make a handwritten copy of anything, you are fully aware of how difficult, if not impossible, it is to copy perfectly without making ANY mistakes! So it should not be surprising that we would find some “errors” in the scribes’ work. 

To keep those errors to a minimum, the Jewish scribes worked to exacting standards. In his article, “Process of copying the Old Testament by Jewish Scribes,” Scott Manning describes the process they used. These included:

  • They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.
  • Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.
  • They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.
  • They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word “Jehovah,” every time they wrote it.
  • There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
  • The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.[3]

So next we must ask, if there are errors in the copies we have, does that mean we cannot trust what we read in our Bibles today? Dr. Norman Geisler gave this illustration in our series, “How You Can Know the Bible is the Word of God.”

“The Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts, but not every copy is inerrant. Some of the minor errors were made in the copying. But I’d like you to notice something very important here. Take a look at this graphic: 

OU HAVE WON $10 MILLION.

YOU HAE WON $10 MILLION.

YOU HAVE WON $10 MILION.

YOU HAVE WO $10 MILLION.

“The first line has an error in it. The second line has an error. The third and the fourth lines all have an error, but the error is in a different place. Now, if you had received a telegram with that first line, would you pick up your 10 million dollars? Of course you would. Well, how do you know? Because, well, from the context it looks like the first letter should be a “Y” and “Y” means “you,” and “you” means “me,” and that means 10 million dollars. Well, good reasoning.

“But if you got a telegram that had those four lines on it and the error was in a different place, you’d be absolutely sure what it said. In fact, the more errors in the copies, the more you’re sure of what the original said. We have over 5,000 copies of the New Testament, and there are little errors in different places. But the more errors, the more we’re sure of what the original said. So minor errors in the copies do not affect us getting 100 percent of the truth from the original, and it certainly doesn’t prove there was an error in the original. No one has ever found an original manuscript with an error in it.”[4]

Quotes from other biblical scholars underscore Geisler’s point:

  • B.B. Warfield – “The great bulk of the New Testament has been transmitted to us without, or almost without, any variations. It can be asserted with confidence that the sacred text is exact and valid and that no article of faith and no moral precept in it has been distorted or lost.”[5]
  • Sir Frederic Kenyon – “The number of manuscripts of the New Testament… is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or another of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet our knowledge depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds and even thousands.”[6]

What about your holy book? Have your leaders constantly revised and significantly changed your holy book to incorporate new revelations or teachings? Has your god changed his mind repeatedly about how you should think or what you should believe? Can you trust that your holy book is telling you the truth?

  1. Paul D. Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Normal L. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1979, 1980), p. 294, emphasis added.
  2.  Good examples are the golden calf (see Exodus 32), and the bronze serpent (see Numbers 21; 2 Kings 18:4). 
  3. See https://scottmanning.com/content/process-of-copying-the-old-testament-by-jewish-scribes/
  4. https://jashow.org/resources/how-you-can-know-the-bible-is-the-word-of-god/
  5. Cited in Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, tr. Helen I. Needham (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 193, citing Benjamin B. Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Old Testament, p. 12ff.
  6. Robert C. Newman, ed., The Evidence of Prophecy: Fulfilled Predictions as Testimony to the Truth of Christianity (1994), p. 284; cf. John Warwick Montgomery, Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Probe/Word, 1991).

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