Last week we started our series on the Word of God with the understanding that the bible is inspired by God. Not simply motivated by men thinking about God but breathed out by God. 2 Peter 1:12-21 and 2 Timothy 3:10-17 are key New Testament texts on that subject. Perhaps you could read those texts out again as a reminder.
We turn this week to our next question: Even if it was God-breathed, that doesn’t mean that the bible we have today doesn’t contain mistakes, added parts from other people, or human error of many kinds. This week we look at the topic of inerrancy – does the bible contain problems and mistakes. Is the bible free from error? Is what you hold in your hand the very word of God?
The bottom line.
We will look at this topic by looking at a few passages of scripture and discuss some issues that arise. The issue, however, can be resolved quickly with the following shortcut…
Does God make mistakes? Does God lie? Is the bible God-breathed? If the answer to these questions are NO, NO and YES respectively, then our case is closed.
This is, of course, not a solid argument for everyone but, after examining the topic of inerrancy, we may see that this is not such an unsatisfactory answer.
If we cannot trust that what the Bible says is accurate, then where does this leave our faith? How sure can we be of salvation?
What sort of problems do or might people raise about the bible? You and/or your group might want to start with brainstorming this. Here is a list of things that I have come up with. Maybe you can come up with more?
- The events of the bible were written so far away from when they occurred that it is hard to believe they are accurate.
- The bible has been copied so many times that there is bound to be mistakes.
- Parts of the bible don’t seem to fit together and so it seems fair when people say it is full of contradictions.
- Many things in the bible are hard to believe or seem written by a primitive mind.
- The bible was written after the fact – the details of events and conversations could be blurred by the author’s memory.
- Perhaps the true scripture referred to by Paul is God-breathed, but how do we know that all the books in our bibles are those God-breathed ones? Wasn’t it people who decided what would go into the bible?
Do you have any more controversies? I hope that the major ones are covered in these and any other controversies you can come up with will fall somewhere under these four areas: 1. the credibility issue, 2. the accuracy of events issue, and 3. the xerox issue. I hope to satisfy these three areas in this blog.
A possible fourth issue that really fits the first issue: some people may ask about what has actually been put into the bible – isn’t it possible that either some books that haven’t been inspired by God have been included and also that some books that were have been excluded. I won’t go into this issue in this blog except for this brief statement: 1) Jesus was completely satisfied with the Old Testament material 2) Paul and Peter both spoke of each other’s writings as being part of scripture so they were aware that this is what they were doing 3) all of the NT were written a)by an Apostle, b) by a close associate of an Apostle, c) within 40 years of the resurrection, and d) were in circulation and greatly used by the early church from the beginning. Whatever was agreed upon in the 4th century to be part of the bible had .
The credibility issue.
1 Corinthians 15 for example
Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and consider the following things.
- Verses 1 and 2 talk about a message that has been received and believed. What is at stake here according to verse 2?
- How is the message described? What is it that has been preached?
- What if it weren’t true or based on hearsay?
- What is the content of the message passed on?
- Who could verify the message?
- These verses are regarded as representing the earliest text of the gospel in existence. Not only was the letter of 1 Corinthians written extremely early in the first century, but Paul is referring to what looks like a short creed that people were passing on about Christ and his work. The whole bible has been constructed in this fashion: a real event happened in the world, people witnessed it and wrote down what they saw and heard. Sometimes it was a direct eyewitness such as the disciple John. Sometimes it was an investigator like Luke. Sometimes it was a biblical writer consolidating from others such as Moses and the writers of 1-2 Kings. But in every case, the writings were penned in the era that the events happened. Even Genesis, which many believe Moses wrote from oral tradition may well have been consolidated from written accounts. What we are saying, however, is that the bible has come to us over time and written in a timely manner.
- How has the work of God and the word of God been effective in Paul?
- How does Paul’s description in verses 9-10 relate to his statement in verse 2?
- How much does our belief play in our salvation? How important is it that we believe the word of God to be true/truth?
- Look up 1 Corinthians 2:13 – what does that tell us about the word of God?
The accuracy issue.
What does the bible say about itself?
Lookup Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:96, 160, John 17:17 to notice the confidence the bible has in itself.
Paul had such trust in the scriptures that he could make an argument from a single word. Lookup Galatians 3:16 and see how trusting Paul was in the detail.
Jesus certainly took the word of God seriously. Check out the following passages from the gospels – what do each of them teach us about Christ’s trust in the scriptures? Notice how every word is significant.
- Matthew 22:32
- Matthew 5:17-20
- Mark 12:36-37
- Luke 21:33
- Luke 24:25-27, 44-48
- John 10:34-35
So, key people ini the bible too all of scripture seriously and we’re confident in everything that it said.
What about the Xerox issue?
Paul spoke of passing on the message to us who have received it and believed it and been saved. How has this process of passing down the message been preserved over the centuries. The printing press wasn’t invented until the 1500’s – that’s 1.5 thousand years of copying stuff down! Where are the originals? How reliable are the copies that have come to us?
There is a lot that we can be confident of in this area – although explaining it is not easy. Let me try. Here are three things you need to know in order to be confident that our bibles are legit.
- The copiers were experts and took their jobs very seriously!
- We have oodles of copies to compare against one another and this is actually great news.
- We know when there is something we are not sure of. That is, known mistakes give us more confidence than a spotless record.
So, let me expand on each of those.
1. Expert copiers:
What we call the Old Testament was well recorded and distributed at the time of Jesus and Jesus gave it his seal of approval.
When the letters and gospels of the early church were created and moved around, communities and churches took very good care of them – remember that they knew what they were handling – not the words of men but the words of God (1 Peter 2).
Copies began to be made of everything. The science of copying an important document was very precise with rules and standards and a system that allowed the copiers and their supervisors to check that everything was copied correctly. It was important for them to know that they could trust the copies. Just as we have experts in our day and age, there were experts back then too – and making copies of things was important.
2. Oodles of copies:
We also have the advantage of accessing oodles and oodles of copies. We may not have original documents of anything, but when you have so many copies which have been passed around, stored in different areas of the world – these copies can be compared against one another. Where they agree, our confidence of accuracy increases. Where they disagree, we have the applied science of ‘textual criticism’ to help us decide on which copy is the correct one. This is not the place to explain what these techniques are – but textual criticism is applied to work out what copies look wrong and which look right.
3. When we know that we don’t know:
there are times when differences in texts are found and it is not 100% certain which copy is the right one. When this happens, notes on the text are supplied with the printed version so that the reader has a chance to see the options. These do occur in the bible but the variance never makes significant differences to the meaning of the bible.
In 1 Corinthians 14:38 – just prior to the chapter 15 bit we studied, there is a textual variant – an issue with the text. The NIV and most other bible translations will make a note of that and put it into the footer of the bible. Take a look at your bible and see what it says for verse 38. The NIV text reads, “But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.” The footnote tells me that some manuscript copies say, “But anyone who is ignorant of this will be ignorant.” There is a different meaning depending on which line is correct, but it doesn’t make the world of difference. The NIV translators will put the one they are confident with in the body of the book but let you know that there is an alternative out there. Have you ever noticed those before? This difference will have been noted because there is a chance that the footnote is the real text. Many other differences don’t get mentioned because they are clearly wrong.
- The bible describes itself as the word of God and the truth.
- The bible is God-breathed and inspired and directed and authored by God. Since he is sovereign over everything, he is able to direct not just the writing of the bible but the pathway that it has taken to get into our hands. Whether we like it or not, we have the bible that we have – thanks to God.
- The writers of the bible believed they were passing on a truth that was so important and necessary for salvation.
- The bible reports events and the explanation of the events very, very close to the actual occurrence of these events – at the time of publishing, plenty of people were still alive to verify. This is true of both the New and the Old Testaments.
- The copiers were equally impressed with the importance of the bible and became experts at passing on what was handed to them.
- Modern scholars know quite a lot about the original texts without even having access to them. It’s not guess work or settling for ‘close enough.’ In fact, the bibles we have today are better than those being published in the 1500’s because a) we have a better understanding of the Koine Greek language and of Hebrew and b) we have more copies to work from that have been discovered through archaeology.
- When discrepancies appear to exist in the text, the translators tell us about them. There is no secret hidden society trying to convince us that this book as come to us directly from the hand of God – without touching the hands of any men. No, we have a book that records God’s activity in this world for our salvation and which has been written, transported, copied, read, translated, retranslated and gone out into all the world for every eye to read and ear to hear the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ: that he died for our sins, was buried and raised on the third day, appeared to Peter and his disciples and many more saw him – this I believe and hold firmly onto for my own salvation.
Prayer for the week
Dear Lord and God, thank you for your word! It is amazing to know that the message we have received for salvation is the same message the disciples were passing on with their own mouths. Help us to treasure the message of this book and to be amazed at how well you have preserved it throughout the history of mankind. Help us to love, know, read and learn from your word daily. Amen.