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Biblical inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is accurate and totally free from error of any kind, that "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact." Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not.
The official statement in favor of biblical inerrancy, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1978. The signatories to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy affirm that since there are no extant original manuscripts of the Bible, those which exist cannot be considered inerrant. The signatories also affirm, however, that the existing manuscripts are faithful copies of the original manuscripts.
There are a minority of biblical inerrantists who go further than the official statement on biblical inerrancy, arguing that the original text has been perfectly preserved and passed down through time.
The original language texts that are used by modern translators as the source for translations of the Bible are reconstructions of the original text, which are based upon scholarly comparison of thousands of biblical manuscripts (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) and thousands of biblical citations in the writings of the early Church Fathers.
Another often-used adjective to characterize the Bible is "infallible". From dictionary definitions, Frame (2002) insists that this is a stronger term than "inerrant". "'Inerrant' means there are no errors; 'infallible' means there can be no errors." Yet he agrees that "modern theologians insist on redefining that word also, so that it actually says less than 'inerrancy.'" Lindsell (1978) states that "The very nature of inspiration renders the Bible infallible, which means that it cannot deceive us. It is inerrant in that it is not false, mistaken, or defective."
Judaism had never promulgated a belief in the literal word of the Hebrew Bible, hence the co-existence of the Oral Torah. Within Christianity, some mainstream Evangelical and Protestant groups adhere to the current inerrancy of Scripture as it reads today. However, some note that "Evangelical scholars ... doubt that accepting the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is the best way to assert their belief in biblical authority." The editors of the New American Bible summarize the Roman Catholic view:
In an article for The Catholic Study Bible, "The Bible in Catholic Life", Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. highlights the teachings found in the Second Vatican Council's document Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) which he says "should be taken as the authoritative climax of a long series of developments in the Church's attitude toward the Bible." This conciliar document states:
Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.
The document then cites .
Conservative theologians in some religions often use the term "inerrancy": in Christianity to refer to the Old and New Testaments, in Islam to refer to the Qur'an, and in other religions to refer to their own holy books.
Some literalist or conservative Christians teach that the Bible lacks error in every way in all matters: chronology, history, biology, sociology, psychology, politics, physics, math, art, and so on. Other Christians believe that the Scriptures are always right (do not err) only in fulfilling their primary purpose: revealing God, God's vision, God's purposes, and God's good news to humanity.
Mainstream Judaism and Christian traditions hold that the Torah or Pentateuch of the Hebrew Bible was physically written by Moses — not by God himself, although in the process of transcription many thousands of times copyists have allowed errors, or (some suggest) even forgeries in the text to accumulate. According to this position, God originally spoke through a select person to reveal his purpose, character and plan for humanity. However the Bible does record some direct statements from God (i.e.,"Thus says the Lord ...", "And God said ...", etc.). The significance of most phrases, their parts, grammar, and occasionally individual words, letters and even pronunciation in the Hebrew Bible are the subject of many rabbinic discussions in the Talmud.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, various episodes of the Bible (for example the Noahide worldwide flood, the creation in six days, and the creation of women from a man's rib) began increasingly to be seen as legendary. This led to an increasing questioning as to the veracity of Biblical texts. According to an article in Theology Today published in 1975, "There have been long periods in the history of the church when biblical inerrancy has not been a critical question. It has in fact been noted that only in the last two centuries can we legitimately speak of a formal doctrine of inerrancy. The arguments pro and con have filled many books, and almost anyone can join in the debate."
In the 1970s and '80s, however, the debate in theological circles, which centered on the issue of whether or not the Bible was infallible or both infallible and inerrant, came into the spotlight. Some notable Christian seminaries, such as Princeton Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary, were formally adopting the doctrine of infallibility while rejecting the doctrine of inerrancy.
The other side of this debate focused largely around the magazine Christianity Today and the book entitled The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell. The author asserted that losing the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture was the thread that would unravel the church. Conservative Christians rallied behind this idea, agreeing that once sola scriptura Christians disregard the ultimate truthfulness of the Bible, anything can become justifiable.
There are over 5,600 Greek manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament, as well as over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and perhaps 500 other manuscripts of various other languages. Additionally, there are the Patristic writings which contain copious quotes, across the early centuries, of the scriptures.
Most of these manuscripts date to the Middle Ages. The oldest complete copy of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, which includes two other books not now included in the accepted NT canon, dates to the 4th century. The earliest fragment of a New Testament book is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 which dates to the mid 2nd century and is the size of a business card. Very early manuscripts are rare.
The average NT manuscript is about 200 pages, and in all, there are about 1.3 million pages of text. No two manuscripts are identical, except in the smallest fragments, and the many manuscripts which preserve New Testament texts differ among themselves in many respects, with some estimates of 200,000 to 300,000 differences among the various manuscripts. According to Bart Ehrman,
Most changes are careless errors that are easily recognized and corrected. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive or, sometimes, inept. Indeed, the single most common mistake in our manuscripts involves "orthography", significant for little more than showing that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most of us can today. In addition, we have numerous manuscripts in which scribes have left out entire words, verses, or even pages of a book, presumably by accident. Sometimes scribes rearranged the words on the page, for example, by leaving out a word and then reinserting it later in the sentence.
In the 2008 Greer-Heard debate series, noted New Testament scholars Bart Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace discussed these variances in detail. Wallace mentioned that understanding the meaning of the number of variances is not as simple as looking at the number of variances, but one must consider also the number of manuscripts, the types of errors, and among the more serious discrepancies, what impact they do or do not have.
For hundreds of years, biblical and textual scholars have examined the manuscripts extensively. Since the eighteenth century, they have employed the techniques of textual criticism to reconstruct how the extant manuscripts of the New Testament texts might have descended, and to recover earlier recensions of the texts. However, King James Version (KJV)-only inerrantists often prefer the traditional texts (i.e., Textus Receptus which is the basis of KJV) used in their churches to modern attempts of reconstruction (i.e., Nestle-Aland Greek Text which is the basis of modern translations), arguing that the Holy Spirit is just as active in the preservation of the scriptures as in their creation. These inerrantists are found particularly in non-Protestant churches, but also a few Protestant groups hold such views.
KJV-only inerrantist Jack Moorman says that at least 356 doctrinal passages are affected by the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland Greek Text.
Some familiar examples of Gospel passages in the Textus Receptus thought to have been added by later interpolaters and omitted in the Nestle Aland Greek Text include the Pericope Adulteræ,
Many modern Bibles have footnotes to indicate areas where there is disagreement between source documents. Bible commentaries offer discussions of these.
Evangelical Christians generally accept the findings of textual criticism, and nearly all modern translations, including the popular New International Version, work from a Greek New Testament based on modern textual criticism.
Since this means that the manuscript copies are not perfect, inerrancy is only applied to the original autographs (the manuscripts written by the original authors) rather than the copies. For instance, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says, "We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture."
Less commonly, more conservative views are held by some groups:
A faction of those in the "King James Only movement" rejects the whole discipline of textual criticism and holds that the translators of the King James Version English Bible were guided by God, and that the KJV thus is to be taken as the authoritative English Bible. However, those who hold this opinion do not extend it to the KJV translation into English of the Apocryphal books, which were produced along with the rest of the Authorized Version. Modern translations differ from the KJV on numerous points, sometimes resulting from access to different early texts, largely as a result of work in the field of textual criticism. Upholders of the KJV-only position nevertheless hold that the Protestant canon of KJV is itself an inspired text and therefore remains authoritative. The King James Only movement asserts that the KJV is the sole English translation free from error.
Similar to the King James Only view is the view that translations must be derived from the Textus Receptus in order to be considered inerrant. As the King James Version is an English translation, this leaves speakers of other languages in a difficult position, hence the belief in the Textus Receptus as the inerrant source text for translations to modern languages. For example, in Spanish-speaking cultures the commonly accepted "KJV-equivalent" is the Reina-Valera 1909 revision (with different groups accepting, in addition to the 1909 or in its place, the revisions of 1862 or 1960). It should also be noted that the New King James Version was also translated from the Textus Receptus.
A number of reasons are offered by Christian theologians to justify Biblical inerrancy.
The first deductive justification is that the Bible claims to be inspired by God (for instance "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness"
Supportive of this, is the idea that God cannot lie. W J Mcrea writes:
The Bible then makes two basic claims: it asserts unequivocally that God cannot lie, and that the Bible is the Word of God. It is primarily from a combination of these facts that the argument for inerrancy comes.
And Grenz has:
Because God cannot lie and because Scripture is inspired by God, the bible must be wholly true. This syllogism may be valid for establishing inerrancy, but it cannot define the concept.
Also, from Geisler:
Those who defend inerrancy are deductivists pure and simple. They begin with certain assumptions about God and the Scriptures, namely, that God cannot lie and the Scriptures are the Word of God. From these assumptions inerrantists deduce that the Bible is without error.
A second reason offered is that Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament in a way which assumes it is inerrant. For instance in , Paul bases his argument on the fact that the word "seed" in the Genesis reference to "Abraham and his seed", is singular rather than plural. This (as claimed) sets a precedent for inerrant interpretation down to the individual letters of the words.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as (referring) to many, but (rather) to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.
Similarly Jesus said that every minute detail of the Old Testament Law must be fulfilled,
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.—, KJV
Although in these verses Jesus and the apostles are only referring to the Old Testament, the argument extends to the New Testament writings, because accords the status of Scripture to New Testament writings also: "He (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters... which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures."
Another deductive argument would be the strength of falsifiability. The argument is that Biblical inerrancy is a falsifiable stance (it can be proven false). In this case, if errors are proven in the Biblical text then the stance of Biblical inerrancy is itself false.
In his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Warfield lays out an argument for inerrancy that has been virtually ignored by today's evangelicals. Essentially, he makes a case for inerrancy on the basis of inductive evidence, rather than deductive reasoning. Most evangelicals today follow E. J. Young's deductive approach toward bibliology, forgetting the great articulator of inerrancy. But Warfield starts with the evidence that the Bible is a historical document, rather than with the presupposition that it is inspired.
In the Nicene Creed Christians confess their belief that the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets." This creed has been normative for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and all mainline Protestant denominations except for those descended from the non-credal Stone-Campbell movement. As noted by Alister E. McGrath, "An important element in any discussion of the manner in which Scripture is inspired, and the significance which is attached to this, is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which speaks of Scripture as 'God-breathed' (theopneustos)." According to McGrath, "the reformers did not see the issue of inspiration as linked with the absolute historical reliability or factual inerrancy of the biblical texts." He says, "The development of ideas of 'biblical infallibility' or 'inerrancy' within Protestantism can be traced to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century."
People who believe in inerrancy think that the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but every word of it is, because of verbal inspiration, the direct, immediate word of God. The Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession identifies Holy Scripture with the Word of God and calls the Holy Spirit the author of the Bible. Because of this, Lutherans confess in the Formula of Concord, "we receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel." Lutherans (and other Protestants) believe apocryphal books are not inspired nor written by prophets, and that they contain errors and were never included in the "Palestinian Canon" that Jesus and the Apostles are said to have used, and therefore are not a part of Holy Scripture. The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are authentic as written by the prophets and apostles. A correct translation of their writings is God's Word because it has the same meaning as the original Hebrew and Greek. A mistranslation is not God's word, and no human authority can invest it with divine authority.
However, the 19th century Anglican biblical scholar S.R. Driver held a contrary view, saying that, "as inspiration does not suppress the individuality of the biblical writers, so it does not altogether neutralise their human infirmities or confer upon them immunity from error." Similarly, J.K. Mozley, an early 20th century Anglican theologian has argued:
That the Bible is inspired is, indeed, a primary Christian conviction; it is from this that certain consequences have been drawn, such as infallibility and inerrancy, which retain their place in Christian thought because they are held to be bound up with the affirmation of inspiration. But the deductions can be rejected without any ambiguity as to the fact of inspiration. Neither 'fundamentalists' nor sceptics are to be followed at this point... the Bible is inspired because it is the adequate and indispensible vehicle of revelation; but inspiration does not amount to dictation by God.
For a believer in biblical inerrancy, Holy Scripture is the Word of God, and carries the full authority of God. Every single statement of the Bible calls for instant and unqualified acceptance. Every doctrine of the Bible is the teaching of God and therefore requires full agreement. Every promise of the Bible calls for unshakable trust in its fulfillment. Every command of the Bible is the directive of God himself and therefore demands willing observance.
According to some believers, the Bible contains everything that they need to know in order to obtain salvation and to live a Christian life, and there are no deficiencies in Scripture that need to be filled with by tradition, pronouncements of the Pope, new revelations, or present-day development of doctrine.
Harold Lindsell points out that it is a "gross distortion" to state that people who believe in inerrancy suppose every statement made in the Bible is true (as opposed to accurate). He indicates there are expressly false statements in the Bible which are reported accurately. He notes that "All the Bible does, for example in the case of Satan, is to report what Satan actually said. Whether what he said was true or false is another matter. Christ stated that the devil is a liar."
Many who believe in the Inspiration of scripture teach that it is infallible but not inerrant. Those who subscribe to infallibility believe that what the scriptures say regarding matters of faith and Christian practice are wholly useful and true. Some denominations that teach infallibility hold that the historical or scientific details, which may be irrelevant to matters of faith and Christian practice, may contain errors. Those who believe in inerrancy hold that the scientific, geographic, and historic details of the scriptural texts in their original manuscripts are completely true and without error, though the scientific claims of scripture must be interpreted in the light of its phenomenological nature, not just with strict, clinical literality, which was foreign to historical narratives.
Proponents of biblical inerrancy generally do not teach that the Bible was dictated directly by God, but that God used the "distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers" of scripture and that God's inspiration guided them to flawlessly project his message through their own language and personality.
Infallibility and inerrancy refer to the original texts of the Bible. And while conservative scholars acknowledge the potential for human error in transmission and translation, modern translations are considered to "faithfully represent the originals".
Biblical inerrancy has been criticized on the grounds that many statements, including, but not exclusively, history or science that are found in Scripture, if taken literally, rather than phenomenologically, are untenable or contradictory. Inerrancy is argued to be a falsifiable proposition: if the Bible is found to contain any mistakes or contradictions, the proposition of strict inerrancy has been refuted.
Theological criticism refers to criticisms which are that the Bible does not teach, or require, its own inerrancy.
Proponents of biblical inerrancy often prefer the translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 that render it as "all scripture is given by inspiration of God," and they interpret this to mean that the whole Bible is inerrant. However, critics of this doctrine think that the Bible makes no direct claim to be inerrant or infallible. C. H. Dodd argues the same sentence can also be translated "Every inspired scripture is also useful..." nor does the verse define the Biblical canon. In context, this passage refers only to the Old Testament writings understood to be scripture at the time it was written. However, there are indications that Paul's writings were being considered, at least by the author of the Second Epistle of Peter,
The idea that the Bible contains no mistakes is mainly justified by appeal to prooftexts that refer to its divine inspiration. However, this argument has been criticized as circular reasoning, because these statements only have to be accepted as true if the Bible is already thought to be inerrant. None of these texts say that because a text is inspired, it is therefore always correct in its historical statements.
In the introduction to his book Credible Christianity, Anglican Bishop Hugh Montefiore, makes this comment:
Much debate over the kind of authority that should be accorded biblical texts centers on what is meant by the "Word of God". The term can refer to Christ himself as well as to the proclamation of his ministry as kerygma. However, biblical inerrancy differs from this orthodoxy in viewing the Word of God to mean the entire text of the Bible when interpreted didactically as God's teaching. The idea of the Bible itself as Word of God, as being itself God's revelation, is criticized in neo-orthodoxy. Here the Bible is seen as a unique witness to the people and deeds that do make up the Word of God. However, it is a wholly human witness. All books of the Bible were written by human beings. Thus, whether the Bible is—in whole or in part—the Word of God is not clear. However, critics argue that the Bible can still be construed as the "Word of God" in the sense that these authors' statements may have been representative of, and perhaps even directly influenced by, God's own knowledge.
There is only one instance in the Bible where the phrase "the Word of God" refers to something "written". The reference is to the Decalogue. However, most of the other references are to reported speech that is preserved in the Bible. The New Testament also contains a number of statements which refer to passages from the Old Testament as God's words, for instance (which says that the Jews have been "entrusted with the very words of God"), or the book of Hebrews, which often prefaces Old Testament quotations with words such as "God says." The Bible also contains words spoken by human beings about God, such as Eliphaz ( ) and the prayers and songs of the Psalter. That these are God's words addressed to us was at the root of a lively medieval controversy. The idea of the word of God is more that God is encountered in scripture, than that every line of scripture is a statement made by God.
While the phrase "the Word of God" is never applied to the modern Bible within the Bible itself, supporters of inerrancy argue that that is simply because the Biblical canon was not closed. In apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.", the
Translation has given rise to a number of issues, as the original languages are often quite different in grammar as well as word meaning. While the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states that inerrancy applies only to the original languages, some believers trust their own translation to be the accurate one. One such group of believers is known as the King James Only movement. For readability, clarity, or other reasons, translators may choose different wording or sentence structure, and some translations may choose to paraphrase passages. Because some of the words in the original language have ambiguous or difficult to translate meanings, debates over the correct interpretation occur.
Criticisms are also sometimes raised because of inconsistencies arising between different English translations of the Hebrew or Greek text. Some Christian interpretations are criticized for reflecting specific doctrinal bias.
One translation problem concerns the New Testament assertion that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. If the Bible were inerrant, then this would be true. However, critics have suggested that the use of the word virgin may have been merely a translation error.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin [(almah)] shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
On this point, Browning's A Dictionary of the Bible states that in the Septuagint, "the Greek parthenos was used to translate the Hebrew almah, which means a 'young woman'". Also, "As early as the 2nd cent. CE, the Jewish contraversialist [sic?] Trypho was pointing out that the Hebrew did not mean a virgin."  The dictionary also notes that "the earliest writers of the [New Testament] (Mark and Paul) show no knowledge of such a virginal conception."
Another writer, David Strauss in The Life of Jesus, has: "... [the question] ought to be decided by the fact that the word does not signify an immaculate, but a marriageable young woman." He suggests that Isaiah was referring to events of his own time, and that the young woman in question may have been "perhaps the prophet's own wife."
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