Monday, May 7, 2018

The Inspired Biblical Text

"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20–21).

The classical and orthodox Christian faith does not hold that our “translations” of the Bible are verbally inspired and inerrant. Rather, it is the original writings themselves that were directly inspired by God and are free of error. We call these original writings the “autographa.”

Nor do we maintain that no errors have ever crept into the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible as a result of copying them repeatedly. Indeed, there is an entire science of “lower criticism” that compares the manuscripts to find the reading that is most likely the original one.

Critics of orthodox Christianity have ridiculed the faith at this point. They say that if inspiration extends only to the original autographs, how can we even speak about inspiration since none of the autographs exist today? They say that we are simply copping out on the question.

Is the orthodox position a cop out? Well, suppose I am reading a passage in 2 Chronicles and I come across a statement that seems to me almost certainly to be wrong. I check all the various ancient copies of 2 Chronicles that we have with us today, and I find that every copy has this same problem. Then I say, “Well, since this is clearly wrong, then a copying error must have been made very early in the transmission of the text of 2 Chronicles. My guess is that the original, inspired text would have read in such and such a way.” Now, that would be a cop out.

But in fact, no classical exegete does this. Rather, the position of the historic church has always been that if there are difficult things in a text, and we have no other manuscript evidence, we have to live with the difficulty.

There are very few places in the Bible where the manuscripts are in dispute. It is amazing that among the thousands of copies of the Bible from the ancient and medieval world, there are so few copying errors. In other words, the inspired text of the original autographs has been “preserved” for us with astounding accuracy.

We can trust our Bibles. Yet while God has preserved His inerrant Scriptures for us, that does not guarantee an absence of interpretive problems. Identify passages which are difficult for you and work with your minister to resolve them in light of more clear and instructive Scriptures.