|Is the Bible Inspired; Inerrant?|
(See also, Biblical Authority)
Producing documents is a human effort.
There are many religious, moral, and historical writings from antiquity. While many come from a great number of peoples and circumstances, most think of a certain number of documents collected by the Hebrew/Yisra'eli/Jewish people as being the "Bible". We owe most of our lterary knowledge of the ancient world to scribes, and the scribal profession, which was an important occupation far beyond and long before the Hebrew vÓfÇrÏm. Because of the professional history of this vocation, and because scribes were most often attached to the higher levels of the nation, pains were taken and accuracy of transmission was more consistent.
Transmission of a document today takes place through printing and digital distribution. In ancient times, when an author committed his thoughts to writing, "he" would perhaps paint on a wall (De'ir `Alla), make impressions on clay (cuneiform, or the Gezer Calendar, for example), and to create a document of the type we are most familar with from Qumran scrolls, more extensive efforts were required.
Reeds, ink, but most of all parchment or vellum, or papyrus were needed. And all had to be manufactured laboriously. Parchment enough to create a biblical codex took fifty to several hundred sheep or goat skins. Such documents, whether in codex or scroll form, were heavy and awkward. The Isaiah Scroll from Qumran is 28 feet long. Once the document written, to "publish" it, every copy was hand made from sheet to penstroke. Few could own a "book" in early days before printing because of the costs involved. How much would you require to hand-produce a whole book the length of the NT? or the Bible? Try an experiment: get ten people in a room and copy a book word for word, dot for dot, perfectly.
The NT not inerrant.
The documents contained in the Tanak are without noticeable variation in all the ancient manuscripts (and codices) we have. Compare to this the fact that in the so-called "New Testament" collection of writings it is not hard to find variations and mistakes. No two ancient NT documents are the same (and then most are only portions of the present Christian writings). The differences between the Bible and the Christian NT are the quality and intent of the (writers and) scribes.
The writings of the Hebrew canon were seen as sacred early, and treated as such. Even though there were factions within the Yahwistic Faith, the scrolls were held above human agendas once the text was established. Men devoted their lives (the Masoretes, as example) to making sure that letter, and later, vowel-point, accent, and scribal notations were worthy of the sacred nature of the words.
Christianity/ Paulism has always been polemic and apologetic, and highly splintered. Each faction or even congregation has had an overt and covert agenda. The "Church" took over 500 years to decide was "sacred",1 i.e., what writings it felt could totally repurpose (repurposing the Sacred Book of a people Roman and Byzantine christians had attempted to destroy and victimize). Each christian congregation, it seems, had a holy document to justify its religious preferences. Each document were local products. If copying occured locally or elsewhere, conditions and quality of transmission were poor and undisciplined. Later errors and even opinions of the scribes became part of the christian writings. (Unlike the Masorah notes of the Hebrew Bible written separated from the main text, christian scribes often added their comments within their "sacred" texts.) Are inspiration and inerrancy schemes necessary devices to lock out questions concerning the questionable providence of christianity and its writings?
The "NT" is not inspired.
Some churches were more powerful and influential with the Roman government, and the government stepped in to solidify the "Church". The rest is history of a gentile phenomenon unworthy of space. Allow me this sorted example, for comparison sake:
imagine that the US decided that christian infighting was reaching its limit. President Clinton at the insistence of Jim Baker, for example, gathered the leaders of the Southern Baptists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Latter Day Saints, the Catholics, Church of God, Zion Coptic Church, and Unitarians. He says, `bring the best tract your group has produced and come to a convention in Las Vegas. The Lord wants peace in the churches to ready ourselves against the godless enemies of our nation under god. Ah, we have a "goodbook" but its theology must be clarified to include the revelations to the apostles of our churches. We'll call it the LCP!!--- the Last Covenant Probably. To make sure we have continuity of theology, Anton LaVey will preside.' (I use LaVey not for his satanism, but because that theological system could be considered as antithetical to the system such an "LCP" would probably expouse.)
The "NT" is as sacred as we could expect the "LCP" would be. The books of the NT were written, collected, and canonized by men and committees, not magically "breathed" into scribes. If no two individual ancient Greek manuscripts (from which later translations were made) of the more than 5400 containing portions of the NT are the same textually, then which one of these is the "inspired" text?
Even 1600 years later, the best christian scholars cannot determine the original words of "Jesus Christ". Yet christians have warred against each other over the most ridiculous nuances of their eclectic assemblage of writings. The first to start the "NT" canon was a man named Marcion. What was his agenda? He collected the letters of Paul of Tarsus, understandibly, to promote the belief that the god of the Jews was an evil, worldly, hateful deity with designs to rule the earth through laws. Iesous was the new god, subduing the Jewish god, and bringing in a spiritual age via a extremely lax holy spirit. (Sounds like dispensationalism!)
Are modern "critical" scholars the first to question the providence of the NT? Not at all. The collecting and "canonization" of books included was a long process (See NT Canon). As mentioned above, ancient "books" were not comparable to what we have today. Scrolls were long and heavy, codexes (which had sewn pages) were large and heavy, and both could only include a limited amount of information found in a few letters, gospels, or a prophet or two. This is why that you will find few ancient codexes containing all of what is today understood as a "New Testament." Until the printed book after the 1540s, and probably later than this, very few christians ever saw a "New Testament."
A Christian Canon?
What is the Christian Canon of Scripture? There is agreement among the churches that what they call the "Old Testament" (i.e., the Tanak) is authoritative and to be used by christians for questions of doctrine and faith. Catholics add apocryphal writings to their menu as deuterocanonicals. (The first King James bibles also included the Apocrypha.)
But the "church" does not agree on the NT canon or canonical writing of the christian age. The Syrian Church does not include 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, or Revelations. The Ethiopic Church includes books called Synodos, Clement, Book of the Covenant (with Testament of the Lord), and the Didascalia. Both churches are very ancient. And they have been using these writings canonically since the 300-400s CE. The Catholic Church itself did not close the canon until 1545 (Council of Trent), in reaction to Martin Luther.
Martin Luther could not accept all the books of the church canon as proper. He had a problem with James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelations. (They did not square with Paul of Tarsus in his mind.) These he placed in an appendix to his translation of the christian bible. And other reformers, the foundations of today's fundamentalist Protestantism, held the christian canon under suspicion as they did all the other Catholic inventions. Most Protestant groups do not officially "close" their canon of scripture, and may still be adding (for example, the Book of Mormon by the Latter Day Saints).
Typical christians (like typical members of any group) are ignorant of their history, and just stay in line. To make known any questions concerning the divine status of their church attacks their security in their way of life. Inerrany and inspiration issues really have little to do with the text of the NT. The doctrines of Inerrancy and Inspiration are designed to place the historical development, culture, and conclusions of Christianity beyond the questions concerning its biblical legitimacy.
Is the NT worthless?
The NT writings and most ancient writings are hardly worthless. Something important happened concerning Yahshua ben Yosef and an actual movement started because of him. Even though historical christianity is better called Paulism, and is not a result of intimate understanding of Yahwism, there are clues of what Yahshua said and taught in several NT books. But using the correct criteria of biblical authority allows one to be independent of this, and able to analyze uninspired, yet valuable contributions buried in the NT. That criteria is ongoing and based on scholarly procedures---which means it will at times be subjective and always inconclusive. So even this information must be taken on faith. But there is no reason for blind, unsupported faith.
Robert Funk. Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millenium. San Francisco:HarperCollins, 1996. Used throughout this section.
Harry Y. Gamble. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and
Meaning. Philadelphia: Fortress Press,1985. This is a convenient guide to
Last Updated 10/04/99