When we reflect on our faith, in the evangelical world (of which I am a part) one of the tenets of our faith is generally an adherence to biblical inerrancy (a position Catholicism also holds), along with a statement that our faith and practice are guided by scripture. Here are two typical examples. The first from the North American Baptist statement of beliefs and the second from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
We believe the Bible is God’s Word given by divine inspiration, the record of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity (II Timothy 3:16). It is trustworthy, sufficient, without error – the supreme authority and guide for all doctrine and conduct (I Peter 1:23-25; John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16-17). It is the truth by which God brings people into a saving relationship with Himself and leads them to Christian maturity (John 20:31; I John 5:9-12; Matthew 4:4; I Peter 2:2).
The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the written revelation of God’s character and saving purposes for humanity and for all creation. (Ps. 119; John 20:30-31; Rom. 15:4). As God’s revelation, the entire Bible is true and trustworthy, and is the final and absolute authority for belief and conduct. (2Tim 3:16-17; Heb 4:12). The Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible enables its interpretation and application. (2Pet. 1:20-21; John 16:13; 1Cor. 2:12-13).
My experience over the years is that most of us don’t really examine what this means in our day to day lives. Thus, we shall begin that examination process. First, we will look at what the concept of inerrancy means along with the idea the scriptures are the authority for our belief and conduct. One is anchored in the other.
Inerrancy does not mean that there are zero errors in our present scriptural text. The idea of inerrancy points to the original manuscripts being without error and God communicating what He wanted to communicate to us via scripture. However, even knowing that our present text is not inerrant need not be a major concern. The reason being that with both the Old and New Testaments, no major doctrine related to salvation is challenged or threatened by the differences we have in the text. One of the reasons I like the New King James Version is that it captures the textual differences in notes throughout both testaments. Most of the differences are in the New Testament (NT) text. For example, the longer ending of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, the longer ending of Mark 16 and the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7-8. There are three main textual streams in the Greek manuscripts of the NT and we have over 5,000 copies of the NT in Greek.
It is important to point out that in the three streams and numerous manuscripts they are in complete agreement regarding the vast majority of the NT. Critics like to focus on the differences but as I noted earlier, they repudiate no major doctrine. There is a whole area of study referred to as textual criticism that focuses on looking at timelines, locations of writing and patterns of scribal errors in seeking to present the most accurate manuscript. I have done some research out of my own interest, yet in terms of action regarding our faith we do best when we focus on what is referred to as the ‘main and plain.’
The idea of the ‘main and plain’ is that for the most part the instructions in scripture are clear. Here are some examples.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1–3 (NKJV)
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:8–10 (NKJV)
There are no disputes about the accuracy of the verses above, or as previously noted, almost all the NT. Thus we can confidently live in these truths and leave the differences in other areas to the scholars to sort through as we walk with Jesus trusting what He has communicated through His word.
In my next post I will look at some of the difficult texts like how to apply removing an offensive eye, the importance of context, and the different types of literature that make up the scriptures.