The Doctrine of the Scriptures (10): Autographa (“original writings”)

Greg Strand – November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

In our EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 2, The Bible, we affirm the Scriptures are “the verbally inspired Word of God” and because of this “the Bible is without error in the original writings.” What does it mean that the Scriptures are “without error in the original writings?” Why is it important to state there are “original writings” and what is the significance of affirming they are “without error” or inerrant?

We unequivocally affirm inerrancy. However, we do not often focus on its qualifier, “in the original writings.” One of the best explanations of this affirmation and qualifier along with its importance is written by Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Inerrancy of the Autographa,” in Inerrancy edited by Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 151-193.

Here are six reasons for the importance of the inerrancy of the autographa/original writings (summarized from the Bahnsen statement below).

  • Copies of the Bible can serve the purposes of revelation and function with authority only because they are grounded in the autographic (original writings) text.
  • Present copies and translations are inerrant to the extent that they accurately reflect the biblical originals.
  • Apart from the inerrancy in the original writings, we cannot consistently confess the truthfulness of God, be assured of the biblical promise of salvation, or maintain the epistemological authority and theological principle of sola Scriptura.
  • The original writings are without error, for errors in the original would not be correctable, unlike those in transmission.
  • The manuscripts in transmission provide overwhelming evidence of an original writings and through textual criticism we can affirm that the text we have in translation is substantially identical with the autographa.
  • Therefore, the evangelical restriction of inerrancy to the original writings is warranted, important and defensible, and, additionally, it does not jeopardize the adequacy and authority of our present Bibles.

This is the full statement/summary taken from Bahnsen’s “Chapter Summary” (150, paragraphs mine).

While the Bible teaches its own inerrancy, the inscripturation and copying of God’s Word require us to identify the specific and proper object of inerrancy as the text of the original autographa.  This time-honored, common-sense view of evangelicals has been criticized and ridiculed since the days of the modernist controversy over Scripture.  Nevertheless, according to the attitude of the biblical writers, who could and did distinguish copies from the autographa, copies of the Bible could serve the purposes of revelation and function with authority only because they were assumed to be tethered to the autographic text and its criteriological authority.

The evangelical doctrine pertains to the autographic text, not the autographic codex, and maintains that present copies and translations are inerrant to the extent that they accurately reflect the biblical originals; thus the inspiration and inerrancy of present Bibles is not an all-or-nothing matter.  Evangelicals maintain the doctrine of original inerrancy, not as an apologetic artifice, but on sound theological grounds: (1) the inspiration of copyists and the perfect transmission of Scripture have not been promised by God and (2) the extraordinary quality of God’s revealed Word must be guarded against arbitrary alteration.

The importance of original inerrancy is not that God cannot accomplish His purpose except through a completely errorless text, but that without it we cannot consistently confess the veracity of God, be fully assured of the scriptural promise of salvation, or maintain the epistemological authority and theological axiom of sola Scriptura (for errors in the original, unlike those in transmission, would not be correctable in principle).  We can be assured that we possess the Word of God in our present Bibles because of God’s providence; He does not allow His aims in revealing Himself to be frustrated. Indeed, the results of textual criticism confirm that we possess a biblical text that is substantially identical with the autographa.

Finally, contrary to recent criticisms, the doctrine of original inerrancy (or inspiration) is not unprovable, is not undermined by the use of amanuenses by the biblical writers, and is not contravened by the New Testament use of the Septuagint as “Scripture.”  Therefore, the evangelical restriction of inerrancy to the original autographa is warranted, important, and defensible; further, it does not jeopardize the adequacy and authority of our present Bibles.  Accordingly, the doctrine of original inerrancy can be commended to all believers who are sensitive to the authority of the Bible as the very Word of God and who wish to propagate it as such today.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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