Today, the Bible is considered by many Fundamental Christians to be the infallible and inerrant Word of God. Since the time of modern textual criticism- around the 19th century, Christians have been responding to the charges scholars and laymen alike have brought against the Bible. To meet these challenges such works as “The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth” edited by A. C. Dixon from 1910-1915 were produced by Christian scholars to answer the skeptic’s attacks.
Also, in 1978 over 300 Evangelical leaders meet in Chicago to solidify a series of articles specifically about the Bible and its claims to inerrancy known as the “Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy.” The summery of the 19 articles is as follows:
- God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
- Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
- The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
- Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
- The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
However, despite all the work of the past Christian scholars to answer the charges of historical and textual critics, the Bible in the 21st century is still attacked with even greater passion by a new generation of scholars. Today, for the first time in history, a New Testament textual criticism book made the New York Times Bestsellers list. This book, “Misquoting Jesus” was written by Dr. Bart Ehrman, who was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and a student under the great Evangelical NT scholar, Bruce Metzger. Despite all his fundamental training, Ehrman chose for personal and scholarly reasons to not only abandon the Christian faith, but also all notions of Biblical inspiration and reliability.
Therefore, it is the focus of this paper to look at the most serious and trusted answers by Evangelical Biblical scholars that prove the inspiration of the New Testament. The paper will focus on the following points, (1) How did the early church view the Scriptures, (2) How were the Scriptures persevered and passed down to modern times, and (3) Do modern English versions as the NIV contain the “infallible and inerrant” Word of God?
By answering the above three questions, the main thesis should be answered well enough for the open-minded reader to come to an informed conclusion.
How did the early church view the Scriptures?
- Oral Tradition: The church fathers in the first 100 years after Jesus’ ascent to heaven lived in an oral Jewish community. Some of the first disciples had been trained to memorize the Jewish Scriptures by repeating them four hundred times and if they made a mistake they were to repeat it four hundred more times! Thus, when these Jewish believers were converted to Christianity they took very serious the stories of Jesus and the teachings of the Apostles.
- Usage and Citations: One of the greatest proofs to the validity of the NT as it is today is the usage and citations of the early church fathers in their writings. Sir David Dalrymple discovered that just from the church father’s writings from the second and third centuries the entire New Testament could be gathered together except for eleven verses. This proves the importance the Word of God had in the early church even over their own opinions and the mere words of men.
- The Canon: As can be expected in a world with lesser men, during the time of the early church people tried to forge letters and stories about Jesus to either gain money or develop their own religion. Therefore, from the time of Paul’s first letter to the last book written by John-Revelation, the disciples were determined to discover what the Word of God was and disregard the fallacious words of man. Dr. Bruce Metzger states, “The church did not create the canon, but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authentication quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church.” Within a 100 years of the last apostles death, John-90 AD, the church began listing the books they believed were the Word of God to combat heretics that either rejected some inspired books or added non-inspired books to their “bible.”
- Transmission: Two things prompted the early church to write and record the oral stories and teachings of the life of Jesus and the apostles. First, the original apostles were dying off and second, the church wanted to spread the message of Jesus around the world. As a result, how the church handled and passed down the Scriptures was taken serious. The process of transmission in the early church was to make copies of the original writings of the apostles. These copies were then copied and so on for many years. Today, there are over 5,366 ancient Greek texts that testify to the original writings of the apostles. The oldest copy dates back to within 50 years of the life of Jesus and the oldest complete NT is from 325 AD. Therefore, the Bible is the most attested book in ancient history with the most manuscripts and the oldest complete book to the date of the original writing.
How were the Scriptures persevered and passed down to modern times?
One of the most argued and heated subjects concerning the Bible is the preservation and transmission of the ancient manuscripts. Therefore, it is the job of the modern textual critic to use the best of archeology, manuscript evidence, and historical analysis to determine the Bible’s original meaning. Textual criticism in general is the study of copies of any written document whose original is unknown or nonexistent in order to determine the exact wording of the original.
Today, skeptical textual critics like Ehrman deny the Bible can even be knowable in any real way because of all the copies and the variants within the copies. However, in an interview found in the back of Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” book, he admits that his Evangelical mentor Dr. Metzger disagreed with his position even though they both had the same evidence. Therefore, textual criticism does not depend merely on the scholar’s studies and evidence, but also on their own presuppositions. Despite this being a problem for both the Christian and non-Christian scholar, it seems that when critics like Ehrman take such a “skeptical” view of the Bible, they set up a “straw man” to easily knock down and in the same “punch” they also knock down all other books of antiquity. For example, Ehrman in the same interview concerning his mentor Metzger, was asked how he viewed other ancient documents like the Old Testament and the Koran. He stated that because the Jewish people destroyed their old copies when they made new ones, it makes for less errors, thus in some way the OT is more reliable than the NT with 1,000’s of manuscripts.
However, Dr. Wallace in his book, “Reinventing Jesus,” states that the mass amount of ancient manuscripts is actually the reason why the NT is more reliable than the OT and any other ancient document because it kept its older copies to be compared with the newer ones. This process of studying the manuscripts actually gives the NT textual critic an “embarrassment of riches.”
Therefore, the following points describe the transmission and preservation of the New Testament, which give the NT textual critic a massive amount of evidence of the Bible’s reliability:
- Manuscripts: Manuscripts from the Bible can be broken down into the following groups (a) papyri: manuscripts identified by the material they are made of, (b) uncials: manuscripts written in all capitol letters, (c) minuscules: written in all lower case letters, and (d) lectionaries: texts that do not contain the NT as books, but rather as daily studies of the early church, .i.e. “devotions.” The number of these Greek manuscripts is as follows, (a) papyri: 118, (b) uncials: 317, (c) minuscules: 2,877, and (d) lectionaries: 2,433 for a total of 5,745. Therefore, the New Testament has over 3x the amount of manuscripts of the second most attested ancient manuscript.
- Versions: The NT was not only copied in Greek, its original language, but it was also translated into the other languages of the people it reached. These ancient versions provide a wealth of information on what the originals say because textual critics can study how the different ancient versions were translated from the Greek versions. The most used and best versions textual critics use are the Latin, Coptic, and Syriac versions. Therefore, the NT versions bring the total number of ancient manuscripts to over 24,000! This is 6x more than any other ancient document.
- Variants: These are the differences in words, grammar, and content between the 24,000+ total manuscripts. A naive or skeptical textual critic may be discouraged to know that there are more variants in the NT than there are words, over 300,000. However, to the trusted and experienced NT critic, these variants are not discouraging, but rather encouraging because it proves the NT was never in the hands of one “Christian group” that changed the Scriptures to be fit their agenda. Rather, it shows that the Scriptures were organic in the hands of their followers and grew to reach the world. Thus, the differences preserve the truth of the Scriptures, not disprove them.
- Spelling and nonsense errors: these are mistakes in spelling and grammar. For example: to misspell the name of John as Jon.
- Non-viable variants: variants that do matter to the passage, such as “God loves Paul” being copied as “Loves God Paul.”
- Meaningful variants: variants that may change the sentence, but do not change the main point, such as “the Gospel of God” being copied as “the Gospel of Christ.”
- Viable variants: variants that can change the sentence and context, but not doctrine, for example: “We have peace” being copied as “Let us have peace.” Wallace, along with Metzger and other textual critics have stated that the vast majority of the errors in the NT are spelling and nonsense errors that are easy to resolve.
Therefore, only about 1% of the variants are actually viable. However, these variants do not change the overall message or passage in anyway. Also, no major doctrine is affected by these kinds of variants. Also, the textual critic is left with a “this or that” option, not a black space. Thus, the translating committee will place the option at the bottom of page where the issue is.
Do modern English versions such as the NIV contain the “infallible and inerrant” Word of God?
In conclusion, it is clear that the New Testament Scriptures have been preserved and passed down faithfully by the church fathers despite the claims by modern skeptics like Dr. Ehrman. Also, the numerous variants have been accounted for and the texts have clarity despite what some doubters may claim. The NIV, which stands for the New International Version, is an English version of the Bible, which was translated in 1973 from the best available Greek manuscripts at the time. The NIV falls somewhere between a dynamic equivalence (thought-for-thought) and formal equivalence (word-for-word). The NIV was translated by a committee over 100 evangelical scholars from America, England, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand- hence the name “international.
Therefore, it is a true statement to say for those carrying around the NIV Bible that they have the “infallible and inerrant” Word of God. Infallible because the version makes clear the passages of Scripture from the original Greek to English and thus are true to what God had spoken to the apostles. Inerrant because whatever viable variants are present in the different manuscripts they are noted in the passage and be read at the bottom of the page in small print.
As a result, the Word of God is alive and active in such modern translations as the NIV and should be revered as such. Despite the many attacks the Bible itself has gone through, it still remains with the church today. May people from all generations can be encouraged by the words of God spoken by Paul as found in the NIV, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).