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Home: Questions and Answers
Question:

How can you say we have an inerrant Bible when there are so many different translations that say so many different things?
Can you point me to one Bible that you know with certainty is infallible and inerrant?

Answer:

In order to help answer this question it is important to begin by defining our terms. I believe the word inerrant has two applied definitions: It can apply to the actual meaning of the message contained in the biblical text and it can also apply to the quality of the original document. Let me explain.

What exactly is meant by the word "inerrant?" Basically, the word means "error free," so when it is applied to scripture, we are asserting that the Bible is free from error. I would heartily agree with this claim. The scriptures are a product of the mind of God. God is holy, pure and infallible. Anything He does will be untainted with error, and because He has breathed out scripture, the scripture is then tied to His purity and holiness and can correctly said to be inerrant. This pertains to the first definition of inerrant. The scriptures are conveying a message of God's redemptive work in history. They contain historical narrative, prophetic proclamations of God's working, poetic expressions of praise to the Lord, and doctrinal truth meant to shape the character of God's people. All of these facets of scripture are inerrant in that they convey the mind of God as He moved men to write out His Word.

But, a smart objector will point out that many translations exist of scripture and all of them will disagree with each other at many places with in the text. How can we say all of them represent the inerrant Word of God when there is so much disagreement between these translations? Well, inerrancy also has a more technical meaning as it applies to the original documents of scripture. Only the autographa, the first, original documents penned by the prophet or apostle, can be correctly labeled "inerrant." That is what I mean by the quality of the original. When the biblical writer was moved along by the Holy Spirit so that what he wrote would become the inspired scripture, his epistle was inerrant, free from error. However, individuals copied the original epistle and the copies do not retain the qualitative inerrancy of the original. Copyists make mistakes, and these "copyist's errors" are common place in hand written documents transmitted over long periods of time. In fact, it is impossible to avoid copying errors popping up in handwritten documents as they are passed along from one generation to the next. It is just the reality with handwritten documents. These errors will be such things as spelling errors, differences in word order, or the miss copying of a sentence. Mistakes like these are identified in all of the biblical manuscripts and are called variants: differences that exist between two or more texts of a particular verse or passage in scripture. For example, in one manuscript, a verse may read "The Lord Jesus Christ," whereas in another manuscript of the same verse, it may just read "Christ Jesus."

How then do we determine which reading reflects the original words of the biblical author? Textual criticism, the scholarly discipline of evaluating ancient, handwritten documents, attempts to determine the exact wording of the original by comparing the value and authenticity of variants. Textual critics will weigh such things as the age of the documents, the area of the world where the document was found, its relevance to other documents with similar readings, how it compares to other ancient translations of the same document, the context where the variants exist and so on. After studying all the textual evidence, textual critics use an informed determination to establish the accuracy of the original reading. They will then edit together a text of the original Hebrew and Greek languages so that translators can translate the Bible into other languages. Because there are differences of opinion among textual critics as to the value of one variant over another, a handful of competing original language texts have emerged. Even though the difference between the texts are minor, modern translators may choose to work with one text over another and as a result slight differences occur between language translations.

Should Christians become alarmed so as to believe God's Word has been lost among all of these translations? No, because the genuine differences between these translations are insignificant and do nothing to change the inerrant message of scripture. Even though qualitative inerrancy was perhaps only achieved to a 99.2 percent accuracy as opposed to 100 percent accuracy, the message conveyed is still clearly God's inspired, inerrant and infallible word. Consider again the example I mentioned above. Is the message of God's word honestly changed or no longer inerrant if a Bible reads "Christ Jesus" rather than "the Lord Jesus Christ?" I do not think so. Any translation faithfully attempting to render into another language the message contained in scripture can rightly be called the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

King James advocates, however, argue that unless believers use only the KJV, they will not have a copy of God's inerrant Word, because they believe the King James edition of the English Bible is the only translation that contains 100 percent accuracy in its base text . Furthermore, KJV advocates create confusion by exaggerating the nature of the variants. They attempt to argue that most of the variants present in the ancient biblical manuscripts were intentionally manufactured by heretical men who desired to corrupt the Bible, even though no historical evidence exists proving a wide scale corruption of the Bible by heretics. Moreover, they would teach that God providentially guided the transmission of His Word and specifically led the King James translators to make the correct translation from the original Hebrew and Greek into English. God has promised to preserve His Word, which we can plainly see witnessed in the almost exact similarity between all of the biblical manuscripts we have, in spite of the variants; yet God nowhere promises to preserve His Word in one language translation, as KJV defenders suggest. Their beliefs about inerrancy and preservation are not only indefensible with the historic and biblical evidence, they also serve to cast doubt upon the assurance we can have in the infallibility of scripture.


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