When we say we have the “Word of God,” are we just using
religious terminology? After all, that’s a pretty bold claim! Actually, when
conservatives say this, we mean it quite literally, but is that an intellectually viable claim or must we resort to saying we should just take it “on faith”?
There is so much to say about this. Let me give just a few basic distinctions to be made if you find yourself asking this kind of question and want answers.
Inspiration, Providence, and Autographs
The first distinction to be made here is between what has been labeled the "inspiration" of Scripture (it’s being
God-breathed) and the "providence" of God in maintaining a reliable
representation of the original autographs (the documents written by the original author).
We’re only claiming that the original autographs are inspired and therefore
inerrant (without error). In fact, we might be able to agree that in some instances the copies
and translations of the autographs (which is all that we have today) do have some errors. But the claim of
inspiration of the autographs is supported by its transforming power in the lives of people, Scripture itself (2 Timothy 3:16;
2 Peter 1:20-21), and by its standing up to historiographical and literary
The notion of inspiration is coherent
That the Bible, as it exists today, contains the “very words” of God cannot be demonstrated with absolute and definitive proof. Literary and historiographical studies aren't designed to study such claims per se. Concerning inspiration, there quite simply is an element of faith, but it is not blind faith.
Concerning inspiration, there quite simply is an element of faith, but it is not blind faith.
The Bible-believer does has a strong case in demonstrating to a skeptic the coherence of inspiration in light of our worldview and the evidence at hand. Firstly, the nature of God—as seen in Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Titus 1:2, and Hebrews 6:18—entails an inability to speak falsehood and therefore divine authorship necessarily implies inerrancy. Therefore marshaling evidence in support of inerrancy is tantamount to supporting the claim that the autographs were inspired. Inerrancy does not necessitate inspiration, but inspiration does seem to be the best explanation of an inerrant work written over the course of hundreds of years by 40+ human authors. The challenge for the skeptic, then, is in finding an error in Scripture, a task that I'm convinced has been thwarted for thousands of years.
Secondly, one must demonstrate that the manuscripts that are available today are accurate representations of the originals. Textual criticism is the process by which scholars conclude, by studying the hundreds of ancient manuscripts (copies) of the text, which reading of the text (or passage) is likely to be the most representative of the original. The fact is, only ten percent of the Old Testament manuscripts are disputed and of the ten percent, most of the variances (differences) have little effect on the meaning of the texts in question. There are even fewer discrepancies in the New Testament.
Providing the evidence
It seems to me that the skeptic is quite rational is asking for evidence that a supernatural event has taken place in the instance of inspiration. That sort of thing doesn’t happen very often after all, and if we say it did, we should be able to explain why we believe that. Demonstrating the historical reliability and internal continuity of the books within Scripture go a long way in this regard. That contemporary archeology and science are consistent, or at least not at odds, with biblical claims also provide reasons to think that such an event has transpired. Demonstrating both inspiration and providence truly relies on a cumulative case of the evidence though. For instance, the incredible number of early manuscripts available for comparison along with the incredible number of messianic prophecies fulfilled by Christ both point to providence and inspiration.
Stay tuned for a future post explaining some more of this evidence. Also, we will discuss how we might approach the question of the reliability of Scripture in general. In the mean time, for reading on this cumulative case, I'd highly recommend these sources as starting points:
- Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003.
- Komoszewski, J. Ed, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace. Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006.
- Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987.