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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: Don’t the Missing Autographs Disprove Inerrancy?

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Question 24

Don’t the Missing Autographs Disprove Inerrancy?

Since the original, or the autograph, of each biblical book has been lost, it is wrong to argue for an inerrant original that no longer exists. How can the Christian church assert the Bible is inerrant if it does not have the original writings? How can a person claim inerrancy for a book that no longer exists? Isn’t this an absurd and irrational position?

A number of comments need to be made.

Inerrancy Is Not an Irrational Belief

The position of inerrancy, with respect to this question, is neither irrational nor is it absurd. The fact that there was an original of every book of the Bible goes without saying. The copies were made from something!

There Is Not a Constant Appeal to Some Lost Original

In addition, we do not have to appeal to the lost original manuscripts in order to hold the doctrine of inerrancy. The number of places where there are scribal discrepancies in the text are few, and have plausible solutions. It is not the case that the Christian has to continually appeal to some “lost original” to solve the problems discovered in the text, or to argue for an inerrant Scripture.

In fact, rarely, if ever, is the reading of the text the issue as to whether or not there is an error in Scripture. Difficulties are dealt with as the text presently stands in Scripture; they are not put aside and attributed to “textual corruptions.” Scribal error is appealed to only when the evidence warrants it. It is not used as a convenient device to explain away difficulties.

Basically, the only time scribal error is considered as a possible solution to a problem is in the area of numbers and proper names. Apart from these instances, it is rarely appealed to. Thus, the doctrine of inerrancy is concerned with the Bible as we now possess it.

No One Has Ever Seen an Errant Original

While we have not seen inerrant originals, we have not seen errant ones either. In addition, the church has never seen the risen Christ, but still believes in Him. Simon Peter wrote of Jesus Christ:

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9 NRSV)

We love Jesus and believe Him to be the Savior based upon the best evidence. The same holds true for an inerrant Bible. We base our belief not on blind faith, but upon the weight of the evidence. The idea that we cannot see an inerrant autograph should not destroy our faith in one.

A Lesson from Jesus about the Old Testament

We learn a lesson from Jesus. While the originals of the Old Testament were, most likely, not around in His day, that did not stop Him from trusting its contents. Jesus believed and taught that our present Old Testament is the infallible, inerrant, Word of God. We should do likewise.

Luke tells us that Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah at a synagogue in Nazareth. When Jesus read from the Scripture He said the following:

Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” (Luke 4:21 NET)

From Jesus’ statement, we learn at least two things. First, there is such a thing as an authoritative Scripture. Second, this Scripture has made predictions that have come true. Yet, the portion of Scripture from which Jesus read was not the original writing of Isaiah the prophet but rather a copy of the original. Yet Jesus assumed this copy was authoritative Scripture.

Lessons from Other New Testament Characters

We also learn the same lesson from other New Testament characters. Paul read from the Scripture in the city of Thessalonica. The Book of Acts explains it as follows:

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3 NET)

This assumes that there was such a thing as a group of writings called “Scripture.”

In addition, the Bible says that Philip heard the Ethiopian eunuch reading Scripture. The Book of Acts records it as follows:

Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33 ESV)

In each of these instances, the Bible says they were reading portions of Scripture. However, they were not reading the autographs—they were reading copies of copies of the original. These copies contained scribal errors. Yet these copies of Scripture were considered to be divinely authoritative by Jesus and the other New Testament characters. They considered these Scripture portions to be the very Word of God. We should do likewise.

Therefore, the missing autographs argument is not one that should be used against the idea of an inerrant Bible.

Summary - Question 24
Don’t the Missing Autographs of Scripture Disprove Inerrancy?

As far as we know, all the original writings of Scripture have long since vanished. Thus, we are dependent upon copies to reconstruct the text. The fact that the originals do not exist is a popular argument used against inerrancy. How can there be an inerrant Bible without any originals—particularly when there are scribal errors in the manuscripts that still exist?

This argument does not carry much weight. The fact that there were originals to each biblical book is beyond all doubt—the copies were made from something. In addition, the appeal is not often made to some “lost” original to hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. The present copies give us sufficient reason to trust its contents.

We also learn a lesson from Jesus. He had the present Old Testament that we have—without the originals. Yet He trusted it completely, and so should we.

The inerrancy of Scripture is not based upon any missing autograph—it is based upon what the Bible says about itself. It is God’s Word, and God does not make mistakes. Add to this the reliable way in which the Scriptures have been transmitted. There is no evidence that any part of Scripture has been changed or tampered with.

How Can the Bible Be Inerrant Since Human Beings Are Not? ← Prior Section
What about the Mistakes in the Various Copies of the Bible? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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