The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original manuscripts of Scripture were inspired by God, and thus inerrant.  Both Christians and skeptics alike have questioned the rationality and utility of the doctrine in light of the fact that we do not possess those manuscripts, and the manuscripts we do possess contain errors.

Regarding the rationality of the doctrine, why God would extend His power to inspire every word down to the very case and voice only to immediately allow some of those words to be garbled by the first few scribes who copied the inerrant text?  Why extend your power to create an inerrant text if you’re not also going to extend your power to preserve it in the same inerrant fashion?

Regarding the utility of the doctrine, what value does inerrancy have if it only applies to texts we do not have?

I haven’t come across many attempts to answer these questions, and those few attempts were less than satisfactory in my opinion.  While I do not claim to have worked it all out to my own satisfaction, here are my current thoughts on the matter.

The first point I should make is that the doctrine of inerrant originals is not a doctrine based in utility, but a logical conclusion based on the teaching of Scripture itself.  If God was superintending the writers (inspiration) to write precisely what He wanted to convey, then it follows that what they wrote must be without error.  After all, God does not make mistakes, and since He was superintending the authors as they wrote it guaranteed that they would not mistakes either.  The original autographs perfectly conveyed the spiritual truths God wanted to communicate with 100% accuracy.

That may explain why God inspired the original writers, but if God was so concerned about eliminating error in the original autographs, why didn’t God superintend each and every copyist of those texts to ensure that the copies would preserve the inerrant text for each and every reader throughout the ages?  I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, but I do know the past, and given how the text has fared without God’s superintendence of every copyist, I would venture to say that God did not deem it necessary to do so.  He could foresee that while copyists would make mistakes, the great spiritual truths God superintended the original writers to write would be preserved in every generation.  None of the errors introduced by copyists would obscure the text to such a degree that those truths would be lost.  The errors that have been introduced are mostly inconsequential.  Less than 1% of the errors are both viable and meaningful[1], and none of those affect any major Christian doctrine.

Consider this.  If God had not inspired the original autographs, the original Gospel of Mark may have contained 80% truth and 20% error because its accuracy would depend on the finite mind of Mark himself.  In such a situation, we would be left wondering how to sift the truth from the error.  The situation would only worsen through the copying process over time.  God’s involvement, however, ensured that all of it was true.  While an errant copying process may mean that we are uncertain today regarding the exact wording of some parts of the text, we are only questioning 2-3% of text, not 20% or more.  And when we consider that less than 1% of the viable errors even affect the meaning, and none of those affect any Christian doctrine, it’s not difficult to see why God did not find it necessary to superintend the copying process.  God ensured that the spiritual truths He wanted to communicate to us were communicated to us via inspiration of the original writings, and those truths have been preserved even through the errant copying process.

While we may like to have 100% certainty regarding the exact wording of the original autographs, and while we may think that God should have inspired the copyists to preserve His inerrant Scriptures, apparently God did not share our concern.  A text that is 99% accurate can still accomplish His purposes.

 

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[1]Meaning that they (1) have a decent change of reflecting the original and (2) affects the meaning of the text to some degree.

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