Years ago, when I was getting my Bachelor of Science degree in Ministry and Leadership, I had a professor who was part of the emergent church. While taking a New Testament Survey course, this professor stated that I could not know definitively what God said because the word came down through the mouthpiece of man. Because of this, he reasoned that we could only know glimpses of what God wanted us to know.
Well, this was something that I could not accept. I remember crying to the Lord, saying, “I want to know you exactly as you want me to know you.” That was it. This became my goal — to know God through His word. I reasoned that since God created us and gave His word through prophets, and even became flesh to give us His word, then He obviously wants us to know Him without confusion. Shortly after this, a TMS graduate came to Alaska where I was living at the time, and (long story short) I ended up at TMS studying God’s word.
One of my first classes was with Dr. Harris who asked a question, “What was the first question in the Bible?” After some guessing, he revealed to us that the first question was by Satan to bring doubt to God’s word. The question was “Did God really say?” Satan was challenging the knowledge and fidelity of Eve to God’s word.
This brought me to the real issue in the inerrancy debate: authority. People who do not want God’s word to be authoritative in their life will do whatever they can to try and invalidate that word. People who would rather be the authority and be their own gods must find a way to put themselves over the word of God. This is easily seen in a simple example. If I wrote someone a note about how I love Coke, no one would have problems with it, even if there were some errors in how I wrote it.
Say then I wrote a note that told the person they should get me a Coke. Well, there is still not a problem, but the level of involvement has increased. This person must now decide whether they should get me a Coke or not. But, then say I wrote, “You must repent and serve me alone.” Well now, we might have a problem. As the level of responsibility to us increases, so does our questioning of the authority of the one commanding us.
If we do not like what is being demanded of us, we will find ways to undermine or reasons to sneak out from under that authority. The current way that we see people doing this today is by trying to undermine the authority of God by attacking His revealed word to us.
Should We Demand One-Hundred Percent Accuracy?
One such way is with demanding 100 percent agreement of the earliest manuscripts. I was talking with a quality assessment manager who deals with technology. Certain products today have an error margin to the thousandth degree. He was saying, when people in his field, such as engineers, hear about 85 percent correlations amongst the original manuscripts, they would scoff at it. He does bring up a valuable point about specific textual differences and scribal errors we see in the earliest manuscripts.
How do we answer this issue of having our earliest documents only having 85-90% correlations? Following are three reasons we can still call the Bible inerrant. Also, as we explore these three reasons, it is good to remember Dr. Barrick’s words at the Masters International Inerrancy Symposium, “Only the originals are inerrant, but God’s word is not bound by bad translations.”
1. Overcoming Minor Spelling Differences and the Ability to Grammar Check
First is the ability to overcome minor spelling differences and the ability to check with grammar. One interesting thing I heard when I was at the Masters International Summit on Inerrancy in Burbank was from David Bleakley who said, “When God confused the languages, He did not confuse the grammar.” This was such a great saying because in it we can see that there are grammatical rules which are universal.
Whenever you learn a language, you learn that every language uses verbs, subjects, and objects. Every language has grammatical rules, and these rules can easily be used to check the accuracy of a translation or manuscript. We know the grammar rules of the original languages and, therefore, have a powerful tool to help us understand and check the accuracy of the documents we have.
Also, the ability to overcome minor spelling errors or missing letters shows our ability to easily locate these differences to get at what the original manuscripts were. We can see this in what was called the “Cambridge University Word Scramble Study.” Although not validated by Cambridge, the results of this study are easily verified. It is shown that no matter what order you put the letters in a sentence, we can still read it. One example is “ Hi, I lvoe Ckoe and so sulhod yuo.” At first glance, you might get a little tripped up on this, but it is easily seen that it is “Hi, I love Coke and so should you.”
This ability to overcome these minor spelling and grammatical errors greatly increases the accuracy and correlation of the manuscripts and leads us to better see what were the original manuscripts.
2. Testing the Majority Correlation
Second is the great number of manuscript copies at an early state. There are 24,000 copies of the Bible in different languages and over 5,000 copies in the original languages. The reason this is important is because it allows us to test a majority correlation.
If we have 5 sentences, and 3 out of 5 agree, then we can get to a conclusion on which copy was the most true to the original.
For example; 1) I eat yellow grapes on Tuesday 2) I eat red grapes on Tuesday 3) I eat yellow grapes on Tuesday 4)I eat blue grapes on Tuesday 5) I eat yellow grapes on Tuesday. We can easily come to the conclusion that the author ate yellow grapes on Tuesday.
Also, with this we see that the discrepancies or areas that lack exact correlation are on minor issues and not on anything that we depend on greatly for core theological truths. The great veracity and integrity of the scribes who spent hours copiously copying the original manuscripts have made us indebted to them and have given us many reasons to trust in the word of God.
3. Live by Faith
Third, we have the faith that God has given us. We have heard the word of truth and it has convicted us of sin and the reality that Jesus Christ is God in flesh who died for our sins. The Holy Spirit who convicts us of the truth of Jesus Christ also convicts us of the veracity, infallibility, and inerrancy of the word of God handed down to us. When we read that it is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), that it cannot be broken (John 10:35), and that it endures forever (Psalm 119:160), then we can trust that we have absolutely the inerrant word of God in our hands.
When we teach the doctrines of God, they, in themselves, will sanctify (John 17:17). When someone comes and tries to deflect, discourage, or deny the truth by bringing up supposed discrepancies or inerrancy, simply preach to them the principle truths — that they are a sinner in need of a savior. Until they are convicted of sin and of their need for Jesus Christ as a savior, they will continue to argue against the Bible. But, for those who are convicted of Christ, then they must be convicted of the Word of Christ and His loving care of it.
If Jesus Christ is the core of our faith, then His word, which reveals Him, is as pure as He is.
God is a God of revelation who wants His creation to know Him. He is not a God of disorder or confusion. He has clearly given us His word, and through hard, honest study of it, we will see by faith and with good reason that it is inerrant and true.