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Biblical Inerrancy: Substantiating the Claim
by Daryl E. Witmer, AIIA Executive Director
ALEX ASKS, ROGER RESPONDS
So, Roger, as a Christian, your faith is based on the Bible, right?
That’s correct, Alex. The Bible is the foundation for my faith, although I would actually prefer to say that the real base and object of my faith is Jesus Christ, not the Bible.
Well, you claim that your Bible is without error, right?
What we say is that the Bible is without error in the original autographs – that is, in the actual manuscripts which God inspired the human authors to write.
And you claim there were no mistakes in those originals?
Yes, sir – that’s what I believe.
Well, then, let me ask you one simple question – does anyone that you know today have any of those originals?
No – I’d have to say “no” to that question.
Well, then, what’s the point of claiming that the Bible is inerrant? You’re citing evidence that you don’t even have! That’s wacko.
Not so fast, Alex. It’s true that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts (MSS) themselves. But we do have such a vast number of MSS copies, and their proximity in time to the originals is so great, that we end up with what you might call “virtual originals.” You know, you wouldn’t especially need to have the actual piece of paper on which I wrote you a note in order to know what the note was that I wrote you, if 25 people who had seen what I had written, or who had seen second or third generation copies of what I had written, were all telling you essentially the same thing about what that message said.
Okay, I see what you’re saying. But you’d at least have to admit that the MSS copies are full of errors. That wouldn’t give me much confidence in the final translation.
Well, I think that a better term than “errors” would be “variations.” Copying those manuscripts was obviously very tedious work. And there’s no question about it – there were times when a bleary-eyed scribe just didn’t get it right. But the vast number of copyist blunders are simple, easily-detectable, grammatical-type flaws. Of the estimated 180,000-200,000 variations in the copied New Testament manuscripts, all but about 400 involve only minor differences. Of those 400 occasions where the sense of the passage is involved, never once is a single essential doctrine of the Christian faith at issue.
How do you suppose that your argument would hold up with those who aren’t Christians?
Most folks, whether Christian or not, accept the fact that our record of Caesar’s writings in circa 50 B.C. are reliable. Yet no one has the original paper on which Caesar penned his work. The earliest copy dates to 900 A.D. – a 950-year span. The same is true for many other classical authors, e.g. Plutarch, Tacitus, Polybius. Compare that with the approximately 24,600 MSS for the New Testament, some dating to within 100 years of the originals. The case for reliability is convincing.