Inerrancy and the Death by a Thousand Qualifications brought up some interesting points about how to defend the truth that the original writings of scripture were without error. If you offer too many qualifications then it seems to neuter your statement, but you do need to offer some sort of support.
I prefer to say that the original writings turned out exactly as God and the human writers desired, and that we can easily demonstrate that they have been faithfully transmitted to us in our language.
That appeals to the simple truth that the real God could — and would — easily ensure such a thing.
To the latter point I have found it persuasive to share a brief reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls and/or to the way even atheist Bart Ehrman will strenuously argue about what he thinks the originals really said on some finer point (meaning that even he thinks it can be known). I have seen skeptics, Mormons, etc. immediately change their views on the transmission process (if not the inspiration) once they hear that.
Even though I believe that the original writings of the Bible were without error, God-breathed and incapable of error, those views aren’t required for belief in God or the resurrection. You can take a minimal facts approach and see that even if there were slight discrepancies in the accounts about Jesus that the resurrection could still be true.
Just look at key facts that virtually all historians agree on, such as the following, and realize that his resurrection is the best explanation for those facts.
- Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
- Jesus’ disciples believed He rose from the dead and appeared to them.
- Paul believed that Jesus appeared to him. Even skeptics concede that Paul wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, Galatians, I & II Corinthians and others.
- Jesus’ brother, James, was a skeptic who converted after Jesus died.
There are skeptics who endorse alternatives to the resurrection (e.g., Jesus’ body was stolen, it was ripped up by dogs, the swoon theory, etc.). These folks unwittingly give a lot of support for the resurrection: They show that the historical facts are so strong that one must concede that a real person named Jesus lived and died on a Roman cross and the body did not stay in the tomb.
Claims of Biblical inerrancy, inspiration and infallibility apply to the original writings. I have researched countless difficulties and found answers that satisfied me. Some are tougher than others. Some things are in the Job category (as in, I’m not capable of understanding them or God doesn’t need me to understand them).
I learned enough about the book to be comfortable that God “wrote” it, and I trust that if there is something in the 1% that appears to be a contradiction then either there was a translation error or – much more likely – there is something I’m just not understanding properly.
In short, after working through enough difficulties with satisfactory answers I tend to give God and his Word the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure this thrills him to no end. I say that tongue-in-cheek, because on the one hand He certainly doesn’t need the Neil-seal-of-approval but on the other hand He does love it when we exercise faith. Not blind faith, not faith despite the evidence, but faith grounded in the truths He has revealed to us.
Are there passages in the currently published Bibles that don’t belong? Perhaps. The ending of Mark and the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery are not in the earliest and best manuscripts.
Also, some verses sometimes lose a little meaning in certain translations. For example, when Exodus 21:22-25 is properly understood it is a pro-life passage, yet pro-choice people will use a poorer translation (for that passage) such as the RSV because it supports their position.
These issues don’t bother me that much because they show that the system works: We have so many copies of ancient manuscripts and different translations that it possible to figure out what the originals said. The exceptions are limited and we can show why they are exceptions.
But on most of what really matters there is no debate. Every version I’ve seen says, “Love your enemies.” There are 100 clear passages saying that Jesus is the only way. That is plenty for me.
I know enough of the Bible and the difficulties to have great faith (trust in evidence) that God inspired the originals. And I have faith in the copying and translation process so that I can read the Bible with confidence. For difficult or controversial passages there are plenty of ways to resolve issues on the essentials. But on the non-essentials I don’t lose sleep.
If people want to have church meetings to debate how often to serve communion, whether to use wine or grape juice, etc., I say go ahead and have a swell time. Just don’t make me participate.
We can read the Bible with confidence that God has transmitted his Word to us accurately. Sometimes the words inerrant, infallible and inspired are too loaded with various meanings to be helpful, so I like to emphasize that the original writings of the Bible turned out just the way God and the human writers wanted them to.