Inerrant Bible, inerrant Bible Translations?

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In a recent Facebook-Post [1] someone claimed that none of the prominent Evangelical authors and teachers, such as Voddie Baucham, John MacArthur, Paul Washer, Alistair Begg, etc,, who claim to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, are able or willing to point to any translation of the Bible, in any language and of any age, nor to any manuscripts in the original languages, which actually are that inerrant Bible.

He also claimed that the “Critical Text” of the Bible, which scholars have re-constructed from thousands of manuscript fragments in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek  as the closest approximation to the text of the original manuscripts (which have not survived), is “Vatican supervised”, as are all the current translations of the Bible which are based on it—whatever that means, other than being an attempt to discredit them.

I don’t know what exactly the poster’s agenda or message is (he might be a “King-James-Only[2] type), but his post reveals both ignorance of the nature of languages and translations, as well as a massive misunderstanding of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture as it is understood by all serious scholars, whether they subscribe to it it or not:

Until the second half of the 20th century conservative Protestants[3] generally held to the doctrine of the Verbal, Plenary Inspiration of Scripture[4]. Then, in the wake of the fundamentalist–modernist controversy in the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the publication of a series of articles called The Fundamentals, re-iterating the traditional, conservative positions on a number of Christian doctrines. Fundamentalist came into use for those who held to these traditional beliefs. Because of the birth of the movement in a controversy, Fundamentalists tended to be pretty rigid and belligerent, and in the 1940s and 1950s some fundamentalist Christians tried to formulate their views in a more nuanced, irenic, and intellectually robust way; they came to be known as E.vangelicals. During the mid-twentieth century, in the face of continued challenges to traditional views on the historicity, reliabiity, and authority of the Bible, some Evangelicals felt the need to “fine tune” the doctrine of Scripture. The result was the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) meeting held in Chicago in October 1978, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

The Chicago Statement affirms the belief that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is without error or contradiction in all matters it addresses, including matters of history, science, and theology. 

Just like the earlier doctrine the claim to inerrancy applies only to the original autographs, the original manuscripts written by the human authors themselves, which we don’t have. It applies to the thousands of manuscript fragments which we do have (comparatively many more than for any other text of antiquity) only to the extent that these are accurate and reliable copies of the original text.

The science or art of reconstructing the original test, or at least the best possible approximation of the original test, from the manuscript fragments we have as well from ancient translations such as the Septuagint[5], is called textual criticism; the resulting Hebrew and Aramaic (for the Old Testament) and Greek (for the New Testament) text is referred to as the Critical Text, and most contemporary translations, in English as well as other languages, are based on that Critical Text which reflects the consensus of the majority of scholars. The Critical Text is, of course, not completely static; if new manuscript fragments are found, or new historical artifacts are found which increase or knowledge of Ancient Near East culture, improvements can be made. Neither are translations of the text completely static, eben without any shift of conviction on the part of the translator(s): if there are textual improvements, or a few years of using a translation make clear that a certain phrase leads to misunderstandings, translations are revised. 

Which brings us to translations. Scripture itself does not even mention translations of the Scriptures into other language, thus anyone who professes belief in sola scriptura should not be making  dogmatic statements about the authority of any translation. Not only for this reason no serious Christian theologian, whether he subscribes to inerrancy or not, would claim either verbal inspiration and infallibility or inerrancy for a translation. Both doctrines only apply to the original autographs in the original languages; translations, like manuscripts in the original languages are infallible or inerrant only to the extent that they faithfully reproduce the original autographs. 

Regardless of how one characterizes the original manuscripts or their copies, anyone who claims infallibility or inerrancy for a translation ignores the inherent limitation of any translation which is due to the nature of languages. Since there is no one-to-one equivalence of either words or grammatical constructs between different languages, whether they share the overall culture (i.e. West European languages), or whether their cultures are separated by geography (i.e Europe and the Middle East) and by thousands of years.) Thus, all translation work involves judgment calls on the meaning of words and phrases, and of course these judgments reflect the convictions and biases of the translator.[6]

Given all this, how can we rely on the Bible or anything it says?

First, for the Christian, there is another old doctrine of the church: the belief that not only inspired Scripture, but also preserves it, in such a way that despite lost manuscripts, copyist’s errors and all the problems with translation, since God gave the Bible as revelation of everything we need for salvation and a life pleasing to Him, He has preserved it and still preserves it in such a way that we can know what He wants us to know.

Second, for the one who is not yet a Christian, confidence in the text of the Bible can be inspired by the fact that the text of the Bible is extremely will documented. For the New Testament, we have close to 6000 Greek manuscripts or manuscript fragments, including whole or partial copies of the New Testament books, dating from the 2nd to the 16th centuries. Also, there are numerous manuscripts or fragment of Latin other ancient translations that contain portions or whole books of the Bible. For the Old Testament or Hebrew Sciptures, the primary textual tradition is known as the Masoretic Text, which dates to the early Middle Ages, but it is based on even older textual traditions. The Hebrew Bible has been in continual use as the holy book of Judaism, and the reliability of the Jewish scribes in accurately preserving the text has been confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1947 and 1956. All of this is far better documentary evidence than for any other ancient document. For the Christian believer this is, of course, evidence for the doctrine of the Preservation of Scripture.

When it comes to translations, with the exception of some clearly partisan translations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation, all translations, both older and newer, theach the same Gospel. Yes, there are differences between translations, but they are really significant only if one wishes to base a doctrine or teaching on a single word in a single Bible verse—an absolute theological no-go. All the major doctrines of the Christian faith are based on broader evidence, and can be found in almost any translation of the Bible, including Justification by Faith in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.

Personally, I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself in words, and thus the words are important, and I hold to the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, which is infallible in what it teaches. However, not every detail in the Bible is part of what it teaches; thus slight differences in the narrative portions of the Bible which do not affect its teaching are of no concern to me.

There are those who believe that if the Bible is inspired it must be 100% correct down to the minutest detail, and that is how they interpret the doctrine of inerrancy. But this ignores the fact that God used human authors to write down His revelation, human authors who were not robots but retained their human personalities. Part of their humanness is varying recollections, and unless these variances would have corrupted the teaching, the revelation, God clearly did not see fit to prevent them That does not take away from the Bible’s reliability and infallibility, which only apply to what it teaches.


  2. King James-Onlyism adherents believe that the KJV is the only accurate and reliable translation of the Bible. They argue that it was divinely inspired in its English translation and that other modern translations lack the same level of divine guidance. They argue that the KJV is not only divinely inspired but also perfectly preserved and free from any errors or mistakes. They believe that God has supernaturally safeguarded the accuracy of the KJV throughout history.)1 In part this is based on the belief that the Textus Receptus (Received Text), a Greek text based on the Greek New Testament produced by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1516, is the only divinely inspired text of the New Testament, which is belied by Erasmus’ own characterization of his work. Consequently, KJV-Onlyists consider contemporary translations of the Bible to be corrupted to a greater or lesser degree.[]
  3. The terms evangelical and fundamentalist, as they are used today to describe certain groups or movements within conservative Protestantism, didn’t come into existence until the early (fundamentalism) or mid (evangelicalism) 20th century.[]
  4. Verbal, Plenary Inspiration: God guided the human authors in such a way that they wrote exactly what God intended them to write. This view emphasized that every word, not just the general ideas or concepts, was inspired. This inspiration is plenary, i.e. full: every part of Scripture was equally inspired by God, including historical narratives, poetry, prophecy, and doctrinal teachings. As such, Scripture is infallible, meaning it is incapable of teaching falsehood or error on matters to which it speak.

    This doctrine upholds the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible for matters of faith and practice. Scripture is the ultimate authority for matters of faith and Christian living; it is the final standard by which all teachings and beliefs should be evaluated.[]

  5. The Septuagint, abbreviated as LXX from the Roman numeral 70, is a translation of the Old Testament into Greek, produced by Jewish exiles in Alexandria between 250 B.C. and 100 A.D.[]
  6. The problem of bias in a translation tends to be minimized for translations done by a reasonably broad committee, and more pronounced by translations done by individuals.[]
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Judging But Not Being Judged?

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In the lectionary of the Lutheran churches in Austria and Germant the sermon text for today, Pentecost Sunday, is 1 Cor 2:12-16, where it says, among other things,

“But he that is spiritual judges everything but is himself judged by no one.”

Retired Pastor Detlef Korsen made this comment in his Pentecost sermon today:

You can brush this passage against the grain and the result is that spiritual people can judge anything and are not judged themselves. And immediately people who like to sit in judgment are drawn to this passage and say,

“Yes, I would like that too: that nobody can judge me, nobody can say anything about me; but I can say something about everything, and what I say about everything remains unchallenged, because I’m right!”

That is not how the Holy Spirit works. This is how the spirit of the world, disguised as the Spirit of God, works. So stay away from this attitude.

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The Bible is a Communal Book

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A subject which has occupied my mind for quite some time now is the tendency among us Evangelicals to ignore and even demonize past theology–specifically, most theology prior to the founding or beginning of our own tradition, denomination, or movement.  I think the reason for this is that many Evangelical Christians misunderstand the Reformation principle of “sola Scriptura” to mean, “My Bible and Me — don’t need anything else“. This attitude of many Evangelicals would better be described as “nuda Scriptura” (the naked Scripture) and it leads to the phenomenon of each believer being his or her own pope. However, I think this is a far cry from what Martin Luther meant–after all, in his own interpretition of Scripture he frequently references the Church Fathers and their interpretations.

In this post Keneth Tanner argues that while personal Bible reading is good and useful, it is not enough: Holy Scripture must be read in and with the church in order to be properly understood.

A Guest Post by Kenneth Tanner[1]

The Bible is a communal book.

Yes, you can sit down in a chair by yourself and read the Bible, and the Spirit can illumine your mind and quicken your heart, but that is true only in a very narrow sense.

This “personal” way of reading Scripture is a minimal approach that too many make maximal.

We are meant to hear the Scriptures as we gather in the liturgy around the table with bread and wine, and to read them (as we read them!) with the whole church through time, situated as she has been (and as she is) among all sorts of persons in all sorts of places.

We cannot read the Scriptures with wisdom without the community that has over centuries across many languages, cultures, and paradigms created, gathered, preserved, interpreted, taught, prayed, and preached them, and this includes rabbinical and patristic readers.

If I’m only reading Scripture with the family that raised me or the tradition in which I was catechized or the society in which I am situated, if I am only paying attention to contemporary and not also ancient voices, to readers from my camp or clique or race or tribe without listening to the choir of time-tested Christ-wise readers, my reading will at least be mildly idiosyncratic if not ludicrously wild and potentially harmful.

When we read the Scripture with the whole church we are likelier to find the meaning of each lyric or story, prophecy or precept in the only place we will find them: the flesh of Jesus.

Jesus Christ opens our minds to understand the Scriptures and that happens in communion with his broken body.

  1. Fr. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA. This text was first posted on Facebook on February 2, 2023.

    A German translation by Wolf Paul is available here.

    Copyright © 2023 by Kenneth Tanner. Used by permission.[]

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Was Jesus actually born on December 25?

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Every year in November and December articles and posts circulate, both in the printed press and online, about the supposed pagan origins of Christmas. Lutheran theologian Chad Bird ably refutes these here.  However, just now I came across two other objections: (1) Christmas is bogus because December 25 is almost certainly not the actual birth date of Jesus, and (2) Christmas has become so thoroughly commercialized that any spiritual meaning it might have had has become irretrievally lost.

I have a few thoughts on that:

  1. The first of these objections stems from a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the  church  or liturgical year, which is not about commemorating actual historical dates. Rather, it tells the story of Jesu’ earthly ministry in two commemorative cycles: The first one commemorates the promise of and waiting for a Redeemer, as well as His Second Coming, in Advent, and comes to a climax in the celebration of the Redeemer’s birth at Christmas and his revelation to the world at Epiphany, and the second one starts on Ash Wednesday with Lent, a period of 40 days of preparation for the central events of salvation history, from Christ’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), to His crucifixion and death (Good Friday), and culminates with in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Finally it celebrates the Ascension of the risen Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the triune nature of God on Trinity Sunday. The remainder of the year, variously known as the Sundays after Pentecost or after Easter, or simply as Ordinary Time, is often seen as representing the age of the church from Pentecost until Christ’s Second Coming, and in several church traditions closes with the feast of Christ the King on the Sunday before Advent.  So the actual date of Christ’s birth is no more relevant to the date of Christmas than the actual dates of Jesus’ death and resurrection are to the date of Easter (which changes every year, anyway).
  2. Yes, Christmas has become extremely commercialized and we sometimes wonder if it can be redeemed. But (a) we all, as individuals, as families, as church communities, have a choice of how far we go along with the commercialized aspects & traditions, we can all still focus on the real significance of Christmas: the birth of our redeemer. This is obviously easier if one is part of a church community which actually celebrates the liturgical seasons and feasts. And (b) Christmas seems to be a time when people are more receptive to spiritual things, and people who will not ordinarily set a foot in church will be open to attend special Advent and Christmas concerts, plays, and services.

While the seasons and feasts of the church year are nor biblically mandated, they, just like the biblical feasts of the Older Testament, are designed to remind us of God’s redemptive acts on our behalf, and to celebrate them. And and as with the biblical feasts, explaining their significance to our children and others who do not yet believe is an important part of that.

So while the observance  of the liturgical year with its seasons and feasts is not biblically commanded, those of us who do observe them ought not to look down on or disparage those individuals and church communities who don’t observe them; conversely, those of us who do not follow the liturgical year should not look down on or disparage those who do.


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Is Artificial Superintelligence Dangerous?

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In an opinion piece[1] in the Washington Post, the philosopher Émile P. Torres speculates about the likelihood of AI research accomplishing, within the foreseeable future, the development of Artificial Superintelligence (ASI), and whether that would be not only beneficial but also dangerous, and says,

Surely no research organization would design a malicious, Terminator-style ASI hellbent on destroying humanity, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the worry. If we’re all wiped out by an ASI, it will almost certainly be on accident.

I find this puzzling. How can any intelligent, thinking human being doubt, in the face of two world wars, the holocaust, numerous other wars and acts of terrorism since then (most notably the Russian attack on and invasion of Ukraine), and an increasing number of leaders who, in the event of an election loss, would likely do a Trump and suggest to their followers that they they should storm and occupy the democratic institutions of their country, that if a technology like ASI existed or was within reach, someone would not try—and probably succeed—to exploit this technology for nefarious ends?

In 1942 the Russian-born American scientist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov  invented his Three Laws of Robotics which say,

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In the eighty years since then numerous systems have been invented which, while not humanoid in form like most of Asimov’s and other science fiction writers’ robots, are nonetheless in a real sense robots as Asimov had in mind in formulating his laws but which do not abide by these laws, with many of them, like the quadruped military robot Cheetah or autonomous drones like the MQ-1 Predator, being expressly designed to harm humans or assist with harming them. Wikipedia even has an article on the Artificial Intelligence arms race which evidently is a thing.

These are powered by our current Artificial Intelligence systems and generally are only capable of performing one specific task; in this they are still sub-human machine intelligence, yet in the wrong hands they can wreak devastation. Many scientists are now working on human-level machine intelligence, on a par with human intelligence, and predict success within the next fifty years or so; others are already working on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) as a stepping stone to Artificial Superintelligence which will far surpass human intelligence.

Torres recognizes and describes in his article the ways that such ASI systems could, strictly by accident, wipe out the human race (which from a purely naturalistic perspective would of course not be evil because there would be no human beings left to suffer), and for this reason recommends that governments should stop all research on AGI and ASI.

I don’t believe that this will happen. It might happen if all governments had only the common good at heart; this is totally unrealistic, just look at Vladimir Putin, China or North Korea but also, as lesser, more harmless examples, our own politicians who as often as not are motivated by their country’s, their party’s or even their own good rather than the common good.

And even if all governments halted and prohibited such research, how do you ensure that some rogue actors don’t continue to research and develop such systems, without resorting to the repressive measures of a police state?

And once such systems exist, the biggest danger won’t be the annihilation of the human race but the use of this ASI to oppress and cause great harm to a still existing human race.

The Christian Scriptures predict a time of great tribulation (Mt 24:21, Rev 7:14) immediately prior to the return of Christ, and the havoc wreaked by ASI may well form part of that tribulation; as Christians, whether we believe in the rapture (1 Thess 4:17)[2] or not, we still have hope in the face of that prospect because we know that Christ’s ultimate victory over sin, sickness and death is assured (Rev 20:11-15; Rev 20).

Banner Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

  1. Since the Washington Post is behind a pay wall, here is a summary of Torres’ arguments, although without the paragraph I quote and which prompted this post[]
  2. The interpretation of these verses, and how the events before, during and after Christ’s return will unfold, is something Christians have disagreed about for a long time, at least since the Prophecy Conferences of the 19th century but probably throughout the history of the Christian church[]
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Regulative and Normative Principles

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In a recent discussion on Facebook someone denigrated Anglicanism (even the conservative version of GAFCON, ACNA, etc) as not sufficiently reformed, because, while the English Reformation got rid of the heretical practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, it retained other practices “which should not be part of any church.”

In reply I asked, What things other than “heretical practices and beliefs” shouldn’t be part of any church?

He has, so far, not replied to my questions, but this reminds me of what, in Reformed theology, is called the regulative principle of worship.

Theopedia says, 

The Regulative principle of worship in Christian theology teaches that the public worship of God should include those and only those elements that are instituted, commanded, or appointed by command or example in the Bible. In other words, it is the belief that God institutes in Scripture whatever he requires for worship in the Church, and everything else should be avoided.

The regulative principle is often contrasted with the Normative Principle of Worship, which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, so long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In other words, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.

These two ways of looking at worship can also be applied to church practice in general (i.e. church governance), and and while both in worship and in general church practice I hold with the normative way of looking at things, I respect those who follow the regulative principle and would never belittle that stand.

This is how I understand Scripture:

  1. Any practice that is expressly forbidden in Scripure is heretical and shouldn’t be part of any church.
  2. Any practice that is commanded or commended in Scripture is orthodox and should be part of every church.
  3. Anything that is neither prohibited nor commanded/commended in Scripture is a matter for prudential judgment and freedom which (as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the the church and doesn’t contradict biblical principles) a church can decide to adopt or not while still respecting those who decide differently.

The reformers of the 16th century rightly rejected the authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility of the Roman pope and insisted on Scripture as the only binding standard for both the church and the individual believer. Ever since then there have been people in the church who have claimed for themselves that authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility, and have disparaged and condemned anyone who didn’t agree with them on every point.

It is very sad that there are those in the church who have given up on Sola Scriptura; unlike the Roman Catholic Church they are not guided by Sacred Tradition but by the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. They seek to be relevant in this post-modern age by abandoning “the faith once delivered to the saints” and instead adopting the mores of the new, “progressive” secular public morality.

It is even sadder, however, when those who claim to still be comitted to the authority of Scripture disparage, castigate, and maul each other over what are, after all, adiaphora, peripheral matters. 

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Biblical? Christ-Like?

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(I borrowed this text from Craig Greenfield)

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah (representing the Prophets and the Law of the OT). (Mt 17:1-9)

God’s command is “This is my son, Listen to him!”

In this powerful moment,
with these powerful words,
Jesus is lifted above and beyond all other teachers
and all other parts of scripture.

This is why we must read the Bible though the lens of the life and teachings of Jesus.

This is why Jesus can dare to say, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye (in Exodus 21:23), but I say to you, Love your enemies”

This is why we seek,
not to be Biblical,
but to be Christlike.

Note from Wolf: I am fully aware that this hermeneutical principle can be (and has been) distorted and abused. That doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And I know one can argue about the word “biblical” in the meme above, but I think readers of good will know what is meant.

And finally, a common temptation seems to be to read all Scripture not through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings, but rather through the lens of that image of Christ we have constructed in our own head.

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