2 Timothy 3:15 "and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
Introduction and Review
Yesterday we began considering why the Bible is uniquely authoritative. By using the word translated "holy" or "sacred" in 2 Timothy 3:15, we began unfolding the answer to this question by utilizing three main meanings of that word: the Bible's character as revelation; the Bible's purity and the Bible's unity
In focusing upon the first of those meanings, we looked at whether or not the Bible exhibited evidence of fulfilled prophecy, which we termed as the chief mark of Divine revelation. We then offered a logical argument and by a brief look at some evidence, concluded that the Bible can be nothing less than the revealed Word of God.
Today we consider the second meaning of that term used by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:15, namely that the Bible is Unique in its authority due to it's purity of writing.
In the opening verse of today's post, 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul tells Timothy that everything he learned from childhood came from the "sacred writings". That is to say, the Old Testament books which Timothy would had heard read and taught to him as a child and recited to him by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5) were considered completely pure. Bible teachers use the term "inerrancy" or "without error" to describe this particular feature of scripture. Other passages such as 1 Timothy 5:18 and 2 Peter 3:16 also include the New Testament documents, thus completing the collection of books in our Bible that are called "sacred scripture". Below we will now flesh out the details of the Bible's "purity of writing" or "inerrancy" under the following three headings:
a). Defining inerrancy
b). Inerrancy's relationship to our Bible translations
c). Why inerrancy is important to the Christian
a. Defining Biblical inerrancy
When we talk particularly about inerrancy, what is meant? The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 gives an answer: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy."
In a post a few days ago I mentioned that since God by nature is perfect and Holy, and since anything He says would be perfectly and Holy, and since the Bible can be demonstrated to have been revealed by Him, then it stands to reason that the Book He would reveal would be inerrant.
This idea of the perfection of the books of the Old and New Testament as originally given by God to the Prophets and Apostles is the foundational claim of Biblical inerrancy. Passages such as Psalm 12:6-7; Proverbs 30:4-5; Matt 5:18; John 10:35; 16:13; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 advocate this truth of the absolute perfection of the Bible as originally revealed by God.
b. Inerrancy’s relationship to our Bible translations
Inerrancy, and its closely related doctrine of infallibility (incapable of leading astray or being wrong) lies at the heart of the Bible’s authority. The original documents of both Old and New Testaments, strictly speaking, were revealed without error, thus making any copy or translation that is consistent with their wording carrying forth the authority of inerrancy.
Many opponents of the Bible today like Dr. Bart Ehrman, who has written several books trying to discredit the Bible, will point out that the claim of inerrancy has no relevance when it comes to our translations or even the copies of the original documents, being that hand-copied manuscripts (of which the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament or Greek New Testament has thousands of examples). Why? Because overtime (according to the critics), when any document is hand-copied or translated into other languages, differences or “variations” will creep in, changing the document’s wording and meaning. Overtime, according to the critics, the Bible has been copied so many times that in effect, we have no idea what the original Old or New Testament Bible books really said. Is this true?
Well let’s consider some quick facts about the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. First, let’s be honest and say up front that there are differences and variations between the hand-copied Hebrew Old Testament fragments and manuscripts (roughly 3,000) and hand-copied Greek New Testament fragments and manuscripts (6,800). With that fact out in the open, the weakness of the critics' arguments is in their overstating the issue. In otherwords, though there are variations between the copies and manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments, those variants do not mean that the words of the original have been lost nor its doctrines nor contents. Whenever you consider that over 75% of the variations (whether the Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek manuscripts), they are due to spelling changes or minute issues such as the presence or the absence of the word “the” or “and”.
The differences for the Old Testament account for a fraction of a percent among the Hebrew manuscripts that were copied over a period of over 1,000 years. In a modern edition of the Hebrew Bible containing 1574 pages, all the variations could fit on 3-4 pages, with not a single variant affecting major doctrine or practice. The New Testament is remarkably even more well preserved, with an incredible 99% agreement among its 6800 Greek manuscripts and fragments and more than 20,000 ancient manuscript translations and versions. A typical Greek New Testament containing 789 pages could fit all of these small differences on just one page! Just like the Old Testament, not a single variation affects major doctrine or practice. Even though we don’t have the original manuscripts of the Old or New Testament books, nonetheless we do have for all intents and purposes every word spread among all the manuscripts and witnesses of the text.
To illustrate, the dollar bill I have in my wallet was made from an original plate at the U.S mint. That dollar bill is worn and tattered and is no longer in mint condition. However if I go to the store today and use that bill, the clerk will accept it as true currency and legal tender. It is for all practical intents and purposes and in truest sense just as authoritative as that plate. All together, the clerk, a bank and I would agree that we are pracitcally dealing with inerrant money. Proof of this can be found when people try to counterfeit. Unless the source is true and pure, the copies will be worthless and not usable. So it is with the scriptures.
To demonstrate further the authority of inerrancy carried forth by translations, consider 2 Timothy 3:15 itself. Whenever Paul told Timothy that the scriptures he learned from were “pure” or “sacred”, Paul knew that Timothy, being a Greek speaking Jew, would had learned from the Greek version of the Old Testament of his day (called the Septuagint). The Septuagint was the first ever translation of the Hebrew scriptures and had already been in existence for nearly 300 years by Paul's day. Virtually every Old Testament quotation in the New Testament comes from that translation. The point? The Apostles and Jesus never worried about their translations carrying the weight and authority of inerrancy that they would had inherited from the inerrant originals. As Paul plainly states to Timothy: the "sacred" or "holy" scriptures.
Thus the issue of inerrancy and the authority of inerrancy carried forth by the copies and translations ought not to trouble us here in the 21st century, since it did not trouble the Prophets, Jesus nor the Apostles.
So we have been considering the Bible’s authority as being due to it’s character of purity or inerrancy. We have defined inerrancy and have witnessed inerrancy’s relationship to our current translations. Let’s consider finally why inerrancy is important to the Christian.
c. Why is inerrancy important to the Christian?
As a preacher behind the pulpit or for the person in the pew, everything confessed, lived and practiced by Christians lives or dies upon the premise that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. If the Bible were wrong or in error in any of its parts, how then could Christians or the church proceed forward? Anytime a church, a Christian or denomination as denied inerrancy, other dominoes have fallen. When inerrancy is denied, preaching declines. When preaching declines, music and missions decreases. When worship and missions is absent, the church dies. Inerrancy is not just some pet doctrine invented by so-called “Bible thumping” preachers or backwoods fundamentalist Christians. To deny that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God is to do so at our peril. This is why inerrancy must be continued to be championed by preachers and church members alike.