THE INERRANCY ISSUE
Inerrancy is a strong issue; it is strong meat where some have choked on. It is the belief that the scriptures are free of error. Before we take on the issue of inerrancy lets us remember that many people were saved without any scriptures. Enoch walked with God without having any book to guide him. Then there is Job, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, these all died in faith. People lived by faith in God for hundredths of years until the time of Moses, before then knowledge was passed down verbally from father to son. God said that Abraham would teach his progeny well. Those ancestors knew nothing of books, chapters or verses, yet they achieved salvation thru faith alone. Abraham the father of the faith and all the faithful before him lived by faith and died in faith without a single written letter.
When the time was proper, four hundredth years after sojourning in Egypt, God inspired Moses to write the Torah out there in the Desert. The Torah with its laws, rituals and ceremonies gave the Jews a cultural identity, but Israel was not faithful to God and the Torah, and went after other Gods. God then sent his prophets who wrote more words pointing them back to the Lord. The Jews were faithful recorders of the Law and the prophets, but they were not perfect. A comparison of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Some of these scrolls have been dated to 300 years before Christ.) with the Old Testament writings indicates that they agreed 95% of the time, so there was a 5% difference. Of course most of that 5% percent was mostly difference over spellings. These few minor differences were inconsequential, so basically the Old Testament of today is the same that Jesus quotes and recognized as the word of God.
Does our ministry believes that the Old Testament scriptures were correct and without errors? Yes we actually do believe that the Old Testament was inspired by God and written by Holy men of God and without error. However we believe that; that kind of full inerrancy only applies to the originals, not to the copies. Every time a copy is made it may look like the original and it may be free of error, but the more times something is copied by human beings the greater the chances that accidental errors will enter into the text. The Hebrew scholars understood this and created a whole system of checks to prevent it from happening. Judging from their results we know that they were not 100% perfect but they did achieve such a great degree of accuracy, that we can confidently trust the Old Testament.
The early Christians mentioned in the Book of Acts only had the Old Testament for believing in Jesus. For years the early Christians did not have the New Testament for it did not exist, yet they still were saved. The early Christians did not need the gospels nor the epistles at all to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. Sorry “KJV Only” advocates but the KJV was not good for Peter and Paul for it did not exist, but then again neither did any other version.
I have always been a strong defender of the Bible and will always continue to be so, but we need to understand how the Bible came about. Some Christians have the notion that the New Testament Christians had the New Testament, which is absolutely wrong. The early Christians did not have any books of the New Testament, not even have a single word or letter of it. It was years later that the book of James was written, which was the first New Testament book, later on more books were written.
Now regarding inerrancy, there is more than one way to think about inerrancy, the book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) by Professor of Christian Theology R. Albert Mohler, Professor of Theology Kevin J. Vanhoozer, New Testament Scholar Michael F. Bird, Biblical scholar and theologian Peter E. Enns, and Professor of Missional Theology John R. Franke, explains different ways to think about inerrancy.
Our ministry believes in something that we call “Transcendental Inerrancy”. In this view the original texts were indeed inspired by God and were without errors, but that does not apply to the copies that were later created. How then can we trust the texts that we currently have? Well let us explain the principles of transcendental inerrancy.
1. Condensing. Or Partial
Reporting, is the understanding that the Scriptures come to us in a condensed
form. The writers only wrote that which they thought was important to them. So
what if Luke wrote a smaller Sermon on the Mount, it does not contradict the
longer one in Matthew. Every gospel has something that the others omit, so we
must understand that an omission is not a contradiction.
2. Culturality. (My own made
up word) Some of the things people see in the Bible as errors or contradictions
are actually a misunderstanding of the cultural norms or the way things are
done in other cultures. Once we understand the cultural setting of a text, some
of the words that appear awkward or in error, actually make sense.
3. Equivalency. The writers of
the Gospels chose their own words to tell their stories, they were not going
for an “Ipsissima verba” kind of accuracy; they were using equivalent
citations. So as long as the words are an approximation of what was said, it is
4. Language. Many people
see errors where there is none, because they fail to understand the differences
in the language. The Bible has many idioms and word puns that are lost in the
5. Translation. Some of the
problems in the Bible are actually problems with the translation not with the
original words. The original words of Jesus and his apostles were in Aramaic
and Hebrew (Jesus spoke both languages, some of his words were in Aramaic and
others in Hebrew), but the first gospels were written in Greek. Later on the
translators for other languages chose some words that perhaps were not the best
words possible for the translation. The mistake is not in the Bible but in the
poor choice of the translator.
6. Redundancy. This is the
idea that God in his infinite wisdom knew that we humans would be error prone
or misunderstand his word. That is why the scriptures themselves say “In the
mouth of two or three witnesses let everything be established.” We look at the
scriptures themselves to provide confirmation of each text, if something is
important, it is bound to be repeated somewhere in the scriptures. We believe
there is a built in redundancy in the scriptures that can be used to detect the
original text of an altered text.
7. Wholeness. This means that when a text is suspected of being in error, then it is time to engage in whole text analysis. The suspected text is compared to the whole text in the book it is found in. Does this text conform to the whole context of the whole book?
We believe that the Bible is transcendent (going beyond the limits of ordinary experience), that it can reach across time (written almost 2,000 years ago), that it can cross cultural and language barriers (the gospel to the whole world); that it can reach the poorest person in Haiti and the richest person in America. That the scriptures are so robust, that they can even transcend human copying errors or mistakes. We believe the scriptures have a built in mechanism that allows the true text to compensate for any human errors or intentional changes.
The Old Testament was furiously attacked by atheists for many years; they made up lists of “errors” in the Bible usually a long one about 10 percent of its content. However over the years their list has grown smaller, thanks to Archeology and other discoveries. The list of “errors” in the bible has shrunk to less than 5 percent. If the trend continues the list might get to be 1 percent or even less. If the atheists were right, then the list should have increased rather than decreased. If someone told a story where 95 percent of the facts have been verified as correct, would it be reasonable to dismiss the whole story as fiction? Besides, most of the “discrepancies” in the Old Testament which the atheists quibble about can be reasonably explained. Let us take a modern example, when there is a major even the Police give their estimate of the crowds while the organizers of the event usually give a different estimate. Usually the organizers of the event tend to give higher numbers while the police tend to give lower numbers. Why is that? The organizers tend to be more optimistic in their estimate because it is in their best interest, they are just being optimistic. So when we read certain numbers in the Bible, those are not actual numbers, for no one went out there and actually counted the people one by one, they simply were estimates.
The Atheists favorite tactic to attack the New Testament is the “contradictions” in the Gospels. They tried to find contradictions between the stories. So what if Matthew told one story of the Birth of Jesus and Luke told a different one, a careful reading does not reveal they contradict each other, on the contrary, they complement each other, for one tells facts that the other skipped. Since when is an omission a contradiction?
Another favorite attack tactic of the atheist is to say that there was collusion between the writers of the Bible. That somehow all the writers got together and decided to plan their deception of people. That the twelve apostles somehow conspired to deceive people in order to create a new religion. Such charge is ludicrous and has already been answered by many fine apologists.
The critics of the Bible are clearly dishonest, for when the gospels do not agree, the critics cry “Contradiction” but when they do agree then they shout “Collusion”. They cannot have it both ways.
The gospels form sort of Jigsaw puzzle of the life of Jesus, with some Gospels providing some pieces while the other providing other pieces, but they all fit together (Of course some people have a hard time figuring puzzles) Not only that but Gospels are the story as told by the narrators using their own words, there were no records or video cameras back then. They were using equivalent citations when quoting Jesus or the other characters. They might differ in the details, but the overall story was correct. I have found most of the Atheists arguments to be simple misunderstandings, very little to trouble my sleep or my trust in the scriptures. I view the New Testament as 99 percent correct. Any minor mistakes in it are not from the original documents but from the later copyists. Some people are so foolish as to dismiss the whole New Testament because of the 1% amount that they find difficult to reconcile, yet they do not hold anything else to such ridiculous standard.
The New Testament took a different route than the Old Testament in its preservation. The gentile converts did not have the same attitude toward the writings of the Apostles as the Jews had of their scriptures. The writings of the Apostles were cherished and copied, but there was no system developed to check for copying mistakes. In the early centuries there were even false teachers who wrote spurious Gospels and epistles; like the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of Barnabas and many more.
Early in the first centuries some accidentally and others on purpose made minor changes to the scriptures, the evidence is there for all to see. If we look at the variants in the Bible, we can see that it was usually a letter or a word that was changed, but there were no wholesale changes in the gospels; it would be too obvious and quickly detected as a complete fraud. Seldom was it a long text that was changed, for those would be harder to pass off as legitimate. It took some time before some understood this problem and took action. The first issue was deciding which of the many gospels and epistles floating around were authentic.
At this time the incipient group that would later become the Catholic Church had grown in power and could dictate its decision to the majority of the Christians. So they decided to hold councils and from those make decisions they could dictate to others. One of their first councils decided on a list of books that would constitute the New Testament canon. Even some books of the apocrypha made it into that first list. It took a little more work before the final list was selected.
Not only were the choices of what books should be included in the Canon, but also which variants were the correct ones. The gospel of Matthew itself had over 300 variations. It is claimed that the variants closest to the original texts were carefully chosen, but of course the selection of the texts was done by the Catholic Church, so there is always doubt about which variants were rejected. There are also accusations that the Catholic Church took advantage of its power and made some changes to the New Testament.
Here is a sample of some Greek variants in Matthew, of course translated into English
Matthew 1:16 …
to whom, being betrothed, a virgin Maria bore Jesus
Matthew 1:16 … Joseph, to whom was betrothed a virgin Maria, begat Jesus
Matthew 1:16 … the husband of Mary, to whom was betrothed a virgin Maria, who bore Jesus.
Matthew 1:18 The
birth of Christ thus was…
Matthew 1:18 The birth of the Messiah took place as follows…
Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus the Messiah…
Matthew 3:16 And
Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water:
Matthew 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized an immense light flashed round from the water, so that all who had come were fearful.
Matthew 6:8 ...before ye ask him.
Matthew 6:8 …before you open your mouth.
Some will say that they basically say the same thing, which is right, but the point of the “Full Inerrancy” doctrine is that there should not be any variants at all. Just one single variation renders the doctrine of “Full Inerrancy” invalid. To those who believe in the doctrine of “Full Inerrancy”, please tell me which of the following is correct, for according to your doctrine only one is correct.
Matthew 1:25 …
until she bare her first-born
Matthew 1:25 … Until she gave birth to her First-Born
Matthew 1:25… until she brought forth her firstborn son
The doctrine of “Transcendental Inerrancy” accepts all three as correct, because they are equivalent texts, but the doctrine of “Full Inerrancy” is forced to choose only one text as the correct one.
There are over 5,800 Greek manuscripts of which not one single one matches another in wording. Anyone who believes in the “Full Inerrancy” doctrine is welcome to tell us which of those 5,800 Manuscripts are the correct ones. Greek scholars have long debated on which of these variants is the original one. Perhaps we may never get to the point of having a 100% percent original New Testament, unless someday we find a hidden throve of parchments; containing all the books of the New Testament, but we can get pretty close to the original text, and that is what we should strive to achieve.
Some wonder with so many variants available how are the Bible texts chosen? Well some use the majority rule, which means the text reading that is most common is the right one. However other scholars argue that the more ancient texts should be taken as the more accurate ones.
I am not too worried about the few changes made to the New Testament because new archeological discoveries are shedding light on what the actual texts of the New Testament were. Not only that but also those new discoveries are allowing us to discover phrases and words that belong in a different century. Ancient texts using words that belong to a different century will be more easily detected as fraudulent. If a book claimed to be from the 18th century had the word nuclear on it, we would immediately detect it as a fraud, for such a word did not exist back then. A text called the Corpus Areopagiticum which was allegedly written by Dionysius the Areopagite a disciple of Paul the Apostle, for 500 years had some influence in Christian thought, until it was realized that it was a forgery written in the 5th century.
Just like every person in the world has their own individual fingerprints, they also have many other unique characteristics, like face and body dimensions, manner of speech and even style of writing. Yes every person has a unique style or pattern to their writing; Computer programs are now being created that can perform textual statistical analysis of a book. In a future time we might be able to feed a linguistic analysis program with all the known writings of the Apostle John and the program will detect words and even phrases that do not match the style that John writes in, which would make those words suspect of being written by someone else. Paleography has already confirmed that the Codex Vaticanus was written and modified by many different scribes. The Codex Sinaiticus fares no better for Kirsopp Lake says "has been corrected by so many hands that it affords a most interesting and intricate problem to the paleographer who wishes to disentangle the various stages by which it has reached its present condition...."
Our knowledge of linguistics and its rules has increased rapidly, so now we are beginning to discover that the Bible itself has a self-correcting mechanism. Amazingly this mechanism is composed of many grammatical tools, such as Grammar, Syntax, Harmony, Symmetry, Coherence, Repetition, Hermeneutics, Logic and some others; so over time its own internal consistency will tell us which texts are true to itself and belong in the scriptures and which ones do not fit in. Using all these internal grammatical rules in the Bible our ministry was able to determine that the original correct text for Matthew 28:19 was “in my name.”
Do I believe the Bible is the word of God? Absolutely, do I believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures? Yes, I do, but that does not mean I believe in the doctrine of “Full Inerrancy”. Some Christians have fallen into the trap of believing that they need the New Testament and that is has to be completely inerrant in order to bring salvation. But do we really need an inerrant New Testament in order to be saved? Well I have news for them; the early Christians were saved without any New Testament, they used the Old Testament to preach Jesus Christ. So really there is no reason why we should need one either. Does this mean we should discard the New Testament as unreliable? No it does not. The Apostles and early Christians were able to use the Old Testament to preach Jesus Christ, but that would be asking too much from modern preachers, indeed it would be an impossible task for most of them. The New Testament is basically correct, perhaps there are a few things here and there that are spurious insertions, but the majority of the text is reliable.
The problem is not really an inerrant or not New Testament, but errant human beings. We human beings are the problem. The problem is not different texts or bibles; some denominations will only preach and teach from the KJV yet they still differ in their doctrines from others who also only use the KJV. So since we all have the same text shouldn’t we all have the same doctrines? Despite having the same Bible with the same words, denominations still disagree on their meaning. A false teacher can preach error from the KJV just as well as from any other version. Peter mentioned that even while he was still alive some false prophets twisted the recent words of the Apostle Paul to their own destruction. We all have basically the same version of the Bible, yet Christianity has about 3,000 different sects each claiming to have the truth.
I have no problem at all in preaching from the New Testament, for I do know that they are the writings of the Apostles of my Lord. There is truth and knowledge in the scripture, no matter what version is used. By this I do not mean that all the translations are equal. Some translations are pretty good while others were pretty badly done and I would not use them if I could avoid them. Every translation has an issue, one is either too loose in its language, another is inconsistent with the words transliterated and others have different drawbacks.
I prefer to preach from the KJV text, but I find it too obscure for most people, that is why I sometimes complement it with the NIV or the Amplified version. But I can preach the same message from just about any translation of the Bible; I preach the same message from just about every Spanish translation or almost every English translation. I can even preach from the New World Translation (Jehovah’s witness translation) Acts 2:38 “Peter said to them: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.”, the same for Acts 8:16, 10:48, 19:5. But of course I would prefer not to use it. I have studied the bible for over 30 years, yet I often study a biblical text in a great variety of versions to get the full meaning of the text. Sometimes I consult over ten versions of a text, for I want to make sure I understand what the text is really saying.
It is not that God could not have kept the scriptures 100% inerrant, but that we being errant would still find the way to interpret them wrong. There is not one single person that has perfect theology not one and anyone who even pretends to have the perfect way is self-deceived. The truth is that no denomination has perfect truth and a perfect doctrine. Our ministry does not claim nor even pretend to have perfect doctrine, we are probably mistaken in some areas, but we will change those when the Spirit of Truth guide us to change them. All we can do is to ask God to guide us in his mercy, and follow faithfully what he has revealed to us. If I am lost and I do not make it into heaven it is all going to be my fault, I will be held fully responsible for my actions, I won’t be able to blame anyone else for the results of my actions. If a person decides to follow a false prophet or a false religion, that person will be held accountable for that decision; no one will be able to shift the blame to a false prophet or a false religion, for you chose to believe them or not.
God has never needed nor does he now need an inerrant 100% perfect New Testament in order to save anybody, and we do not need an inerrant New Testament, and we do not need a perfect theology to be saved. If we needed to have perfect theology to be saved then absolutely no one would be saved, for no one has perfect theology. We need to simply read the Bible and obey what we do understand and for what we do not understand, then we need to ask for understanding and in the proper time he will reveal it to us. God makes the decision as to who is saved and who is not, not some man sitting in some church or someone shouting from a pulpit. It is God who saves and does not save, it is his decision alone. All we can do is to submit and obey what he has taught us.
Our Ministry believes that the traditional variant text in Matthew 28:19 is incorrect, that this was an early corruption of the Gospel of Matthew. We believe that it should end saying “In My Name”; that there is enough internal and external evidence and arguments to convince others of this truth. We give a defense of this text in our Jesus name Appendix of the Holy Apostolic New Testament. We made this change using the citations of Eusebius, the citation of the Monk Annarikhus, the Shem-Tov and the Greek Manuscript (Nestle-Aland) NA25. Hopefully our contribution to restoring the original text will take root.