In last week’s post on the doctrine of Inspiration, we focused on the biblical claim that the Scriptures have been inspired by God. In this week’s post, we will go a little deeper into this important topic by highlighting the quality of the manuscripts that we have for the biblical texts.

I’m confident that the Bible we have (66 books with about 40 authors over 1500 years of writing) is God’s inspired Word. But just because I’m confident doesn’t mean everyone else is confident. Textual criticism is that discipline that investigates the content and reliability of ancient texts. It is a discipline used for other manuscripts, but primarily associated with the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. If it is right to hold a high view of the inspiration of Scripture (that God is the author), then it should follow that the manuscripts we have for comparison purposes would not disagree with one another and create uncertainty in the meaning of the text. Can we have confidence in the manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments?

Here are some basic facts about the manuscripts we do have. You can find out more on this subject from Jonathan Morrow’s book, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority.

  • There are 5,756 New Testament manuscripts that can be compared and contrasted for quality and consistency purposes. Other ancient writings for a comparable time and place are as follows: Greek historian Herodotus, 109 manuscripts; Greek historian Thucydides, 95 manuscripts; Greek philosopher Plato, 219 manuscripts; Roman historian Livy, 150 manuscripts; Roman historian Tacitus, 31 manuscripts; Roman historian Seutonius, 300 manuscripts; Greek classic Homer’s Iliad, 2300 manuscriptsThe sheer number of New Testament manuscripts affords confidence that the documents we are reading today are consistent with the original manuscripts.
  • The NT manuscripts are significantly earlier than other ancient literature, within 35 years in at least one case and all of the NT within 200 years of the events.
  • While there are variations between the manuscripts, they do not distort the consistency or meaning of the New Testament. Bart Ehrman, professor and author of Misquoting Jesus, claims 400,000 variants within the New Testament manuscripts. Ehrman uses this number to undercut the confidence in the New Testament documents. Essentially, he reasons if there are so many variants, how can we be confident in the accuracy of the text? However, Ehrman fails to look into the types of variations carefully. According to Jonathan Morrow, “A variant is any place among the existing NT manuscripts where there is not uniformity of wording” (p. 98). A variant then could be a misspelled word in 1 manuscript different from 2,000 manuscripts. This would count as 2,000 variants. Morrow notes, “the reason we have so many variants is because we have so many manuscripts to work with” (p. 98).
  • Note the types of variation within the New Testament manuscripts:
    1) Spelling=70-80% of all the variants.
    2) Minor differences such as word order or the use of the definite article with a proper name.
    3) Meaningful, but not viable differences such as, “gospel of God” vs. “gospel of Christ.”
    4) Meaningful and viable differences such as “let us have peace with God” vs. “we have peace with God” (less than 1% are meaningful and viable). 
  • The Old Testament manuscripts and the and the Dead Sea Scrolls affirm that the copyists of the OT were careful, and that the OT that we do have is consistent with the earliest manuscripts. According to Douglas Stuart, it is a safe estimate that 99% of original words in NT and 95% of original words in OT are recoverable (quoted by Jonathan Morrow in Questioning the Bible). In essence, we can be confident that we have the Word of God.
  • These basic facts can be found in Questioning the Bible, by Jonathan Morrow pages 96-105.

The Old and New Testaments have been questioned and critiqued for millennia. Particularly, the New Testament has faced textual and source criticism aimed at discounting its claims of the supernatural and the deity of Jesus. This critique should not surprise us. We live in a post-enlightenment age where we question and doubt anything that cannot be tested scientifically.

These facts about the New Testament manuscripts do not force one to believe the stories they relate. But here is what they do. The sheer number of manuscripts dating back so nearly to the occasions of writing provide confidence that the New Testament we are reading today was the same New Testament originally written.

If we can have confidence in the consistency and accuracy of the Old and New Testaments, then we cannot claim that over time the authors changed stories to build their case for the deity of Jesus or other theological concepts. What they wrote is what we have. You may or may not believe what they wrote. After all, that underscores the importance of faith that permeates Christianity.

But if we are honest with the data we have, we must accept that the biblical documents relate to us an accurate account of the original manuscripts. This becomes foundational to the doctrine of revelation regarding the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.

Today’s word of the week is inspiration. This is the doctrine relating how God inspired the human authors to write Scripture. Today’s post will explore inspiration from several biblical texts and highlight five different theories of inspiration. Next week, we will explore a related topic: inspiration as it relates to the manuscripts of the Bible. We are still under the doctrine of special revelation, and our next several posts will unpack various elements of special revelation.

Inspiration means “God-breathed.” We get that word specifically from 2 Timothy 3:15.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-16 (emphasis mine)

Paul made the argument to Timothy that God inspired all Scripture. At first glance, we would note that Paul was likely referring to the Old Testament Scriptures specifically. So what about the New Testament?

In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quoted both Old and New Testaments.

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 

1 Timothy 5:18 (emphasis mine)

In this verse, Paul quotes both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7.

“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.

Deuteronomy 25:4

And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.

Luke 10:7

Paul identifies both the Old and New Testament texts as Scripture. Peter does something similar with Paul’s writings in 2 Peter.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:15-16 (emphasis mine)

The bottom line is that Scripture (both New and Old Testament) claim to be inspired by God. This means that while the human author (around 40 in the 66 books of the Bible) penned the words of the Bible, each author was inspired by God to write the book. Ultimately then, God is the author of Scripture.

The assertion that God inspired the Scriptures brings us to the question of how the Scriptures are inspired. There are several theories of the doctrine of inspiration that have been suggested.

Here are five theories of inspiration:

  • Intuition—Authors had a a high degree of insight. In this theory, inspiration is essentially based on the natural abilities or genius of the Bible writer.
  • Illumination—The Holy Spirit heightened the authors experiences/insights. In this theory, the illumination of the Holy Spirit different only in degree and not in kind from the Holy Spirit’s work in all believers.
  • Dynamic—Combined the divine and human elements in the writing of Scripture. In this theory, the writers personal characteristics came through in cooperation with the Spirit’s guidance.
  • Verbal—The Holy Spirit guided the thoughts of the writers to pen specific words. This theory has also been called the plenary verbal inspiration theory reflecting the idea that every word of the original autographs was inspired by God.
  • Dictation—God dictated the passages of Scripture. This theory suggests the Holy Spirit speaking the words (dictating them) into the minds of the authors as they wrote them down.

It appears to me that the Intuition, Illumination, and Dictation theories are either insufficient or inconsistent. The first two theories leave too much room for the human authors, and open the door for questioning the inerrancy of Scripture or adding to Scripture (continued revelations that equate to the Bible). The Dictation theory makes the doctrine of inspiration too mechanical and doesn’t really comport with the reality of authorial involvement in the writing of Scripture.

The Dynamic and Verbal theories are closely related. The primary difference is the verbal theory goes so far as to state clearly that every word has been inspired by God. I hold to the Plenary Verbal Inspiration of Scripture. This view has several implications for the follower of Jesus.

If God inspired all the Scriptures, we are accountable to them. If the One True God inspired the Bible, then we cannot ignore the truth found in them.

If God inspired all the Scriptures, then we cannot pick and choose which Scriptures to believe and apply. Part of the problem with the insufficient inspiration theories is that they tend to leave too much room for accepting or rejecting parts of Scripture based on what we like or don’t like.

If God inspired all the Scriptures, then we must allow God’s Word to convict, change, and transform us. God’s Word is not merely for our information, but for “teaching, correction, reproof and training in righteousness.” We are to apply God’s Word to our lives.

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