“Oh! I know this one! Elijah challenged hundreds of pagan priests to show the power of their gods. They set up an altar on the mountain and called to their gods to send down fire to light it. They danced and screamed and cried hour after hour. Elijah kept on calling out to them: “Maybe your god is asleep! Shout louder! Perhaps your god has gone away?” Finally it was Elijah’s turn. He ordered that a huge vase be filled with water and poured over the altar that he had set up three times – enough to fill up a small moat around it with water. Then he prayed and God sent fire from above that burned the altar up and dried up the water. In his zeal, Elijah slew the pagan priests – all of them.” I elaborated on a story that I had just read on one particular occasion at church.
“That’s correct in every detail … except, that’s the wrong story.” The teacher stated. “We’re talking about the Sermon on the Mount.”
I just watched one of the sessions of the Ineranncy Summit at the Shepherds Conference online. For the last four days, some of the biggest celebrities in Christianity have gathered together to preach about Biblical Ineranncy. It means that the Bible is “is without error or fault in all its teaching” or “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”. But we’re forgetting one key element in this puzzle: humanity.
Humanity can make no such claim. We’ve proven that we’re quite capable at being mistaken in some way shape or form, but not limited to: applying verses of scripture out of context to daily life, accepting a belief as Scriptural when it is not in the Bible (“God helps those who helps themselves.”), applying the wrong definition or meaning to a word, saying the wrong word when reading aloud, typos when copying Scripture into bulletins, and in my case, confusing one story for another. In recent years, there’s been an effort to ask people to hand-write out the epistles as they study them with pen, it’s not uncommon to come across small grammatical errors when you think you’re done with a sentence and it’s actually a comma, or you’ve confused the order of items on a list. This shows us that it would have been really easy for the scribes that copied down the letters for centuries to make the same mistakes. Which is why the original manuscripts are inerrant, but the tens of thousands of copies of the manuscripts all have small errors. It’s easy to see why:
- 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts
- 10,000 Latin manuscripts
- 9,300 manuscripts from Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian.
- The dates of these manuscripts range from: 125 B.C. to the 1500s
- In 2008, 47 new manuscripts were discovered in Albania, 17 were unknown to Western scholars
- With the exception of the smallest two fragments, none of the other copies agreed completely throughout
- Some of these variations can be explained away by the language barrier and the process of translation, but over all 400,000 variations have been estimated to exist when all of the errors (thousands of them) are taken into account.
- Errors committed by scribes include: omitted words, duplicate line, misspelling, and rearrangement of words
- Evidence of Intentional alteration exists
- More than 450 versions of the Bible are known to exist in English
- The earliest partial translations into English date back to the 7th century
- John Wycliffe’s Bible is from the 14th Century
- King James Version is from 1611
- Jefferson’s Bible 1805
- New International Version 1970s, updated in ’84 and 2011
Most of the time people talk about how the inspired word of God precluded the possibility of the original authors making errors as they wrote to the churches of the New Testament, but not much is usually said of the process of the letters getting passed around, copied down, papyrus getting washed and reused or torn worn out or what happened to the papyrus over time. The cannon of NT wasn’t officially closed until the middle of the third century. To be honest, it is a miracle that even for all the errors, the heart of the story remains consistent: the part about Jesus.
The session of ineranncy summit pointed out that once you ask the question: “Which part of Scripture is God’s Word?” you run into a problem that some parts aren’t a part of the word and can therefore be ignored or removed; you get to pick and choose which parts of the story to deny and if you aren’t careful there won’t be a part of it left to accept at all. No one has ever asked “What part of Scripture isn’t God’s Word, but an error that nobody bothered to correct?” It really does bother me more to know that people deny the Greek manuscripts because our English translation is: “… God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That seems to me to be the biggest error of them all, to just assume that a plain sense reading of Scripture is all we need to know.
Look, I speak two languages. Sometimes a word in one language turns out to be exactly like another; ‘radio’ for instance, refers to the same object in English and Spanish, but it’s pronunciation is different. ‘Red’ on the other hand, is a color English and a net in Spanish. A red radio makes sense, a radio net does not. The fun part though, is figuring out a concept that doesn’t exist in the other language. Ancient Greek is an ancient language, it’s words have multiple meanings that changed over time. Like ‘set’ or ‘run’ depending on the context. There are times I have to find a dictionary to figure out what a word means depending on how it is being used. If you ignore the Greek, your only hope to pray that the translator team of your favorite translation really did search through the Greek to get it right, but you’ll never know for yourself how close they are to the best possible translation. I think that’s part of the reason why new translation are being made to this day; we have litteral word-for-word translations that don’t always make sense. We have thought-for-thought translations that ignore specific words but focus on the concepts. We haven’t gotten it quite right yet.
I don’t really think our historical predecessors worried about inerrancy, then again, for centuries they could only hear the word one day in seven. Still, I think the question should not be whether or not the Bible is incapable of being wrong, I think the better question is whether or not people will ever get it right.