What does that word mean and why do so many Christians get upset about it?
It means the Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching”; or, at least, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”.
Some Christians take it even further. They claim that the Bible is without fault in every letter, every word. It is the direct word of God.
I have listened to them make that statement and I have kept my mouth shut. My experience is that a Christian who makes that kind of statement is not open to a little debate.
Before we go too far and have you wondering about me, let me explain a little of my past and what I know about the Bible in its form today.
My undergraduate education at the university was not good for my faith in God. I took a class called “The English Language”. I remember my professor. She was very strict in her discussion of how language has evolved and how printing has impacted the production of books. She did not directly address the printing of the Bible but one could easily see that what she said applied to this Book also, especially if you thought it was not a special Book [which of course it is].
The bottom line is that language does change; it is not static. It evolves just as life evolves. Many word meanings change over time as some words happen and become permanent in the language, while some words disappear from use. Every time a book is printed, the printers usually make a diligent effort to reproduce a text as close to the original as they can but human error creeps in from time to time. She spent a lot of time discussing the slow, painstaking work of the manuscript writer but even there, error can occur.
At that time in my life, I let the word “error” linger in my mind too much.
I began to doubt God’s Holy Book.
I knew my Bible was in English but I also knew that it was a translation. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some passages in Aramaic. As Christianity spread, the Bible was translated into Greek.
I began to imagine monks in monasteries copying the Bible on papyrus, parchment and vellum. In my study, I knew they took their work very seriously. The handwritten word was all they had since the printing press did not exist. Owning a Bible was a privilege since the construction of the Book and the cost of the Book was prohibitive for the common man.
As I began to learn all of this, I began to doubt and the more I learned, the more I realized that the Christian who had an inerrant stance did not want to hear what I was taught.
I learned about the Dead Sea Scrolls, parchments of the Bible that were discovered in a Qumran cave. These very old parchments were the oldest dated manuscripts, going back to 980 A.D. These manuscripts were discovered 980 years after the Crucifixion of Christ. Many more years after the actual writing of the Old Testament, two to three thousand years the scholars tell us, the New Testament was written after Jesus’s ministry on earth. These writings were done by various authors, many who knew Jesus first hand: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, Jude and Paul.
The writing was again done by hand and it was transferred by hand from manuscript to manuscript.
What books made it into the New Testament? That brings in the issue of the canon or the authoritative books picked for scripture in the Bible. Who decided which book of spiritual writing made it in; which were eliminated? Again if you focus on the fact that councils of church leaders met and made these decisions, and those church leaders are men, you may have doubts.
But what if God showed up?
How can a person educated in the evolution of language and the process of printing have faith?
Because God showed up…
Dr. Willard expresses this best when he states “Inerrancy by itself is not a sufficient theory of Biblical interpretation because as everyone knows, the Bible in our hand is not the original text….Our dependence as we read the Bible today must be on God, who now speaks to us in conjunction with it and with our best efforts to understand it.”
I don’t debate with a person who claims that the Bible is without fault in every letter, every word. It is the direct word of God.
For me it is not necessary to make or believe that statement.
Was God with the original writers of the Old Testament and the New Testament? I believe He was. Was God with the people who did the serious work of transcription by hand? I believe He was. Was he with the translators as the Bible was translated from one language to another? I believe He was. Was God with the leaders who attended the councils as they determined the canon? I believe He was.
Most importantly, is God with me as I read His word?
Most importantly, I believe He is.