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For those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible (or those who understand the positions of those who do), how can the Bible have this status given all the opportunities for any message delivered by God to be corrupted by human failings?

In particular, humans have free will and thus fell; but a being with free will may choose to convey a different message than one they have been given, and even without such will, imperfect beings make mistakes. Did God suspend the exercise of free will and ability to err (at least without catching it later) of those who wrote the Bible and those who transcribed it?

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2 Answers 2

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By the mechanism of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - that is the supernatural power of God. The human authors of the Bible wrote under the direct inspiration of the Spirit, writing exactly and precisely what God wanted them to write in their native language. They willed to submit to God and his will was done, so neither the author's will nor God's was violated.

Note that inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts, not subsequent translations, nor even copies of them.

According to H. C. Thiessen, giving the Evangelical Pentecostal point of view:

Not only is Scripture inspired and authoritative, it is also inerrant and infallible. By this we mean that it is without error in the original manuscripts. It is inerrant in all that it affirms, whether in historical, scientific, moral, or doctrinal matters. Inerrancy extends to all of Scripture and is not limited to certain teachings of Scripture.

-- Lectures in Systematic Theology, Thiessen & Doerksen, William B. Eerdmans, 1979. [Emphasis mine.]

The Catholic position is similar, though worded less concretely, probably to protect the duality of scripture and tradition within that body:

II. Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

“For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.”

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”

107 The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

-- Catholic Catechism. [Emphasis original.]

The most salient section being the last bit: "firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures".

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What was the point of doing that if we were allowed to create so many bad translations (e.g. some translations of Deuteronomy 22) and to confuse and disagree with so many details? To me this is like God produced an HD, 3D video of THE TRUTH and then released it to 1st generation Youtube quality. If he really wanted to send an inerrant message then why put it out into such a low fidelity, poorly transmitted medium? –  zipquincy Apr 23 '12 at 20:22
    
@zipquincy: I think not; rather God produced and released "an HD, 3D video of THE TRUTH", which some people have reproduced in diminished form (for various reasons, some even quite wicked). However, we can, and scholars do, refer back to extant fragments and copies to attain an ever increasingly accurate rendition of the originals. –  Lawrence Dol 2 days ago

I think a full answer to your question requires clarifying a few main points.

  1. In what sense is the Bible inerrant?

    Some say that literally every word in the Bible was dictated by God to man. This in itself implies the mechanism by which God made the Bible inerrant. However, I don't necessarily hold this view.

    To me, it is much more accurate to use the term infallible rather than inerrant. The distinction, according to wikipedia is:

    Those who subscribe to infallibility believe that what the scriptures say regarding matters of faith and Christian practice are wholly useful and true. Some denominations that teach infallibility hold that the historical or scientific details, which may be irrelevant to matters of faith and Christian practice, may contain errors.

  2. What are the implications of infallibility on the Authors of the Bible?

    Free will, and the fact that men are fallible, does not mean that all men fail all the time. There are many writings by many Biblical authors that are not included in the Bible as we know it today.

    A fallible author can still write good (accurate/infallible) texts on occasion.

  3. What are the implications of infallibility on the process of compiling the Bible?

    (This process is further addressed in this question and this one).

    Even if the original authors of the Bible wrote works that contained errors, it is possible these works were weeded out in the compilation of scripture.

For any work of significant size to be completely infallible or inerrant, something supernatural must occur, and Christians believe God played a significant part. At minimum, God would have had to have been involved in the compilation phase, to weed out fallible documents. Although I think most Christians believe He was also involved in the writing phase.

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So, are you saying that there are documents written by some of the authors of the Bible that were not inspired by God and were, in fact, invalid and mistaken? I'm curious to know what documents they would be. (Obviously, the apocrypha comes to mind, but I thought they were written by authors that were not otherwise included in the Bible.) –  Richard Sep 26 '11 at 12:44
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@Richard: I don't have any specific examples in mind, although we know that some Bible authors did write other works that are not included in the Bible. See here. I would also be surprised if Paul/Saul never wrote anything before becoming a Christian. He probably wrote orders to murder Christians, in fact--I doubt those were "God inspired". Also, I would be surprised if anyone who can write never made an error during the learning process. –  Flimzy Sep 26 '11 at 17:21
    
Huh.. Yeah, those are good points. I wonder how we can determine if something is inspired by God. (That's off-topic, though, and a different question altogether.) Thanks. :) –  Richard Sep 26 '11 at 17:32
    
Good background and perspective! I appreciate the answer, though I think S.M.'s more directly and (apparently) definitively answers the question and thus deserves to be the accepted answer. –  Rex Kerr Sep 30 '11 at 20:44
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@Richard it is fairly clear that Paul wrote other letters that were not inspired, as they are mentioned in Scripture. –  Affable Geek Jan 11 '12 at 3:39

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