Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

tl;dr> Assuming:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. The Bible is inspired
  3. There are copy mistakes that occur

If so, Why?


Some assumptions for my question first.

First, God knows all things, even future events. There is nothing God doesn't know. Or, at the very least, God knows enough of future events that prophecies were provided to man.

Second, God created all things--everything that is He created; there is nothing that is that wasn't created by God.

Third, God is intelligent, far, far beyond human comprehension. He was intelligent enough to create all things, which by definition includes some pretty amazing concepts that are real (either tangible, such as DNA, or intangible, such as mathematical principles).

Fourth, it is written that the Bible was, at a minimum, inspired by God. Some hold to the further idea that every word--every jot and tittle--was intended by God. Most consider the Old and New Testaments to be a sort of Love Letter to humanity. So let's assume that God was instrumental in getting it written down in one way or another.

And now a few observations before the question is presented. Some of you may figure out where this is going. Terrific! What's the answer?

First observation: scholars say that there are no original texts of the Bible. That makes sense, since the originals were copied by hand, then copied by hand, repeatedly, because there were no printing presses or computers, of course.

Second observation: when copiests were copying the original texts, small mistakes were likely made, say the scholars. That's not hard to imagine. A missed jot or tittle, though, could change the literal meaning in some places, just as a misplaced comma can seriously change the meaning of a sentence today.

Third observation: virtually every Bible used in the modern world is a translation, but was first an interpretation of the original (but copied) Hebrew or Greek, because some of the language does not translate well. So the translators must first interpret the original meaning of scripture in order to translate it.

Fourth observation: (Hang on, almost there!) Even within English, there are numerous translations. Many translations don't agree with one another, or are filled with footnotes to give the reader hints about the original translation. Example, John 3 talks about being "born again," but the footnotes in many translations say the original wording is closer to being "born from above," which for some readers completely changes the meaning. Why didn't the translator use the latter translation, I wonder. Was it a matter of the translator's own interpretation? But that's not my question.

Thank you for staying with me this long, I know it's a tedious set up for the question, but here it is:

In light of the above, why would an omniscient, omnipotent God choose such a method of communication with his creation, knowing from the start that said communication would be subject to copy errors, interpretation and translation errors including men who would intentionally mislead readers, knowing that for many hundreds of years that most people would not have access to copies to read, that said originals (divine or not) would not survive the years, that opportunities for natural and man-made corruption would exist from the beginning? Why would he choose a method that is subject to translation and interpretation that is likely to be favorable to the translator's interpretation and not necessarily true to the original? Why would God choose to communicate in a manner that would not stay true to what he wanted to communicate? Can it be a true love letter in such a condition? How can anyone know what the true intent was?

Would you, as a man or woman, write a letter to your most beloved, using a similar process, knowing it would be subject to the same corruption before it reached your intended recipient? I know wouldn't! But I'm smart enough to write my own letter and send it in such a way that it won't be subject to corruption. Surely God was smart enough! Wasn't he?

So why would he choose this method? Or did God communicate to us (or IS God communicating to us) in an incorruptible manner that we're missing or ignoring?

And that's my question.

Whew! Thank you so much for sticking with me this far!

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by Flimzy, Jayarathina Madharasan, David Stratton Jul 15 at 2:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
"First, God knows all things, even future events." I pinpointed your problem. If such were true, God would literally be a rock. What is thinking? Processing new information. Can't ever encounter new information = can't think, PERIOD. So much for "my thoughts are higher than yours" -- what thoughts? If you know everything, literally everything, then your "brain" is just a static hard-drive!!! –  david brainerd Jul 9 at 4:59
1  
I left room for that. Read the first assumption again. At the very least, God must know certain future events, if not all. Either that, or there were a lot of lucky guesses made by those who claimed to prophesy in the name of God. Further, I'm not presenting a problem. It is merely a question of curiosity. The answer will not change my life or any situation within it. –  Steve Jul 9 at 5:03
    
Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This question would be better received by the community if you could scope it to a particular theological framework or denominational perspective. As it is now, all answers are equally valid. –  fredsbend the Grinch Jul 9 at 5:21
1  
Please see question types that the community finds acceptable. and edit this to try and mimic one of those types. To learn about this site please see What this site is about and How this site is different. –  fredsbend the Grinch Jul 9 at 5:22
1  
@Steve I'm thinking about this again and I think your three assumptions at the top do scope it well enough. There are a good deal of Christians that believe all three of those, so the question asks why they think God would choose the Bible method instead of something a little better. Only two close votes out of five needed, so it might stay open. –  fredsbend the Grinch Jul 10 at 0:00

4 Answers 4

Your main dilemma here is on the authenticity of the Bible.

On the authenticity of the Bible: It is indeed a complicated topic to discuss about the authenticity of the Bible. However, there are enough manuscripts available to produce the original text of the Bible. This question "How authentic is Codex Sinaiticus?" may help you get a better idea on original texts. From my observation, 99 percent of the texts in the Bible is preserved. Though God entrusted his words to us, since we are human, we make mistakes. But it is a miracle that the Bible have survived till today!

Translation problems: Since the Bible is well preserved, we still have the original texts. The only problem we have now is in translation. The languages used in the Bible are too old and hard to understand. Classical Hebrew and Classical Greek are hard to translate. This is the reason why we have many versions of the Bible.

On Doctrine: Though there can be many translations of the Bible, the core teachings of the Bible cannot be changed. The Church Fathers had laid the foundation for the doctrines which Christians must believe. One such example is the Apostles' Creed, which says...

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

So...

Is God messy in delivering His lover letter to us? Not at all! It is humans who made a mess on God's word. Though we did not preserve God's word 100 percent accurately, it doesn't mean we are changing the words of God. God will still fulfill His promises and His prophesies just as He did in the past. The earth may pass away and all the Bibles in this world may all extinct but God's words will remain the same.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Luke 21:33, NIV)

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 for throwing Luke 21:33 into this answer. Very nice, and I'm sure it would have been overlooked. –  Jesse Jul 9 at 12:51
    
Most of this is pretty good. My one quibble is that it kind of glosses over the issue of language. There is much more to the issue of why we have so many translations that just Greek/Hebrew being "hard to translate". Even an easy to translate language (say a modern one for which usage and and context are known in all cases) would still leave us with multiple translations as that is not really the issue, only an exacerbating factor. –  Caleb Jul 10 at 6:36

What you are asking about is the rationale behind a doctrine called 'the preservation of Scripture'. The doctrine basically seeks to answer whether or not God will preserve his infalliable message, even though it is transmitted by fallable men.

How are the Scriptures Transmitted? (A Primer on Preservation)

A straw man would pit Jesus saying, "Surely I tell you not one jot nor tittle of the law shall pass away," against obvious copyist errors such as the Adulterer's Bible. Usually, the position comes down to: "The original autographs were perfect, and God has made sure that we know what the truth is."

Background reading:

  • For a strong case examining the applicability of various scriptural supports for the position, this paper from The Master's Seminary Journal does a very good job of bringing out the relevant texts and assessing them. I'm not going to reproduce it, except to say, it brings out the relevant proof texts.

  • Furthermore, preservation is a doctrine that must stem from the assumption of infalliablity, as this article by combs in The Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal points out. This article goes into depth on the history and the extent of the problem, and gives a broader theological framework for understanding the issue.

  • Finally, Karl Barth's idea of the "Word of God" being a more potent force than the Scriptures themselves informs another way through the dilemma.

Why Rely on Falliable People?

Your question, however, is why God would even give rise to a situation where preservation is a subject that need be argue.

Roman Catholics

Roman Catholics have a simple answer here: The Magesterium (i.e. the Church) has the authority to interpret God's Word, and therefore there is a direct mechanism by which God can preserve and tailor his message. By placing the preservation of his Word in living beings rather than a mechanical tool, God has the ability to tailor his Word to different circumstances while still remaining immutable and impassive i.e. He doesn't change, even if we do.

Evangelicals

For evangelicals such as myself, I would suggest that a necessary answer would involve two assumptions:

  1. God is a person, not a principle

  2. God desires faith, even more than obedience.

If these are true, then necessarily several other key parts of the argument become obvious.

  1. As a person, God's "manners" would mean that he would not force a person into any position. If God's desire is to see his people grow, then allowing them to struggle with doctrine is part of his plan.

  2. If God desires faith, then he would necessarily allow for a contrary position to anything he says.

  3. If God's concerns are pastoral moreso than even doctrinal, then in some circumstances, it makes sense for his people to be drawn more to certain parts than others. That means his message will necessarily be reinterpreted at different times. When, for example, man got it into his head that slavery was okay, I believe that God used his existing Word and remphasized different parts to correct it. But, to allow for faith, he had to allow man to misinterpret and mniscontextualize his word along the way.

  4. If God can use even errors in transmission, it highlights and models his own love for his own fallen creation. A perfect God perfectly capable of perfectly transmitting his own Word chooses instead to allow his fallen creation to participate in his plan, albeit imperfectly. It shows that God hasn't given up on us.

  5. It gives people a chance to exercise the critical faculties He endowed us with in the beginning.

In short, yes, God could have sent a blazing message - but it wouldn't have accomplished what he wanted. He wants people to work to know Him, in order to draw people to Him. He regularly takes imprefect things and works them together for His good. It is simply in His nature to do so.

share|improve this answer

Paul's answer is in 2 Thess 2:11-12. I don't know whether he buys into all your leading premises or not, but it does address the final question:

11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thess 2:11-12 KJV)

God is purposefully deceiving those who take pleasure in unrighteousness, enabling them to convince themselves that unrighteousness is OK and they'll still make it to heaven due to faith alone and OSAS. This deception itself comes from Paul's own epistles!!! So God has a purpose in allowing even some false doctrine into the Bible.

In other words, God's operating assumptions are that the good-hearted will take up the good message, and the evil-hearted the evil message, and thus he has allowed some tares into the wheat, knowing that the good will reject them and the evil eat them right up.

share|improve this answer
1  
-1: Paul does not say God allows false doctrine in the Bible in this passage, nor anywhere else as far as I know. 2 Tim 3:16 suggests the opposite. –  Carl Jul 9 at 7:53
    
I have to disagree with you, Carl. Paul has very well written here that God sends a great delusion to the unrighteous. A delusion, as we know, is misapprehension/misunderstanding/error. The above verse in 2 Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is God-breathed, however it does not say that mankind cannot twist and distort the Word to their liking as we know so many do. –  Jesse Jul 9 at 12:50
2  
@Jesse Sure, the Bible is misunderstood and twisted. But that does not mean it contains false doctrine. –  Carl Jul 9 at 14:27
    
@Carl I'm pretty sure we can all agree a lot of false doctrine is being taught as a result of misunderstanding and twisting of the Word. 2 Thess 2:11-12 illustrates that. God allows the unrighteous to be deluded with misunderstanding and twisting of the Word. I do not agree that God allows false doctrine into the Bible - but that it comes from twisting and misunderstanding. I see that is where we are butting heads. Clear wording would be that God allows false doctrine through misunderstanding and twisting of Scripture. This is why the Truth is so important and will make us free. –  Jesse Jul 9 at 14:49

so Steve,

Assuming:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. The Bible is inspired
  3. There are copy mistakes that occur

did you mean to omit assumptions that we can know the mind of God?

that we can reason as God does?

because the answer is pretty simple if we can admit and come to terms with the fact that we can do neither.

share|improve this answer
    
So what is the answer then? –  fredsbend the Grinch Jul 10 at 0:02
    
ah, Grasshopper, that we can even assume we can know "the basis" for how an omnipotent and omniscient and, supposedly good God has for allowing we earthen vessels to screw everything (or at least many things) up. –  robert bristow-johnson Jul 10 at 0:07
    
It was inferred with my comment about God's intelligence being far beyond our comprehension. It is very clear to me that we know very little about God except what he has revealed to us. –  Steve Jul 11 at 3:15
1  
But does that matter to the question at hand? To me, it's almost as if God had started a childhood game of telephone, you know, the game where I whisper in your ear a phrase or two and you whisper in your neighbor's ear and so on? By the time it gets to the end of the line, it is rarely the same as it started. So then the problem is, where did it go wrong? Was it intentional or accidental? –  Steve Jul 11 at 3:18
1  
If I intended a message to my grandchildren of the future, would I intentionally give the responsibility of my message to my children to relay? Perhaps I would if I wanted their involvement and wanted to give them the free will to please me and pass the message on as intended. But what if I knew that my children would accidentally or intentionally be unfaithful and mess it up? What if the message was critical for my grandchildren to know--a life or death message? What then would I do? And if I chose the former, knowing the outcome, who should be held liable? –  Steve Jul 11 at 3:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.