This was prompted by an answer to another question of mine which quoted a source that noted alternative vocalization of the Masoretic text as an example of liberal tendencies in the NRSV.

This question is aimed at understanding the viewpoint of those groups who endorse the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as outlined in the Chicago Statement. I understand that there are likely sub-groups under this umbrella, and this is intended as an overview question of perspectives within that group. From the statement:

WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy.

Clearly, neither the consonantal decisions of the Masoretic text nor vowels of any sort were part of the autographs, with the implication that these are, strictly speaking, outside the purview of the statement. However, as noted above and in the linked answer, people (myself included!) seem to feel uneasy when encountering emendations to the Masoretic text.

To what extent do various traditions under the umbrella of 'inerrancy' value the Masoretic text, both its vocalization and consonantal textual decisions? This may include the degree to which these decisions are considered inspired, instructive, illustrative of authorial intent, or whatever other facets of 'valuable' can be brought to bear.


A few examples of questions on Biblical Hermeneutics where we have discussed emendations to the MT that are understood by many Christian translations: Psalm 22:16, Deut 32:8, Psalm 19:4, Obad 7, Ecc 7:27, Job 6:14, Hosea 11:12.

These include some examples where the emendations are purely conjectural and others where they are based on alternative witnesses, most prominently the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint.

2 Answers 2


Inerrantists do not view the Masoretic text as inerrant in itself, but they consider it highly reliable. John Wenham, in Christ and the Bible (170ff.), outlines a variety of evidence for its faithful transmission of the original, all the while implying its imperfection:

It was well known that the copying of the Scriptures had been carried out with almost unimaginable care and reverence, with the result that the differences between existing Hebrew manuscripts were small. [...] Vowel pointing was not in use during the early centuries of our era, and these sources do not always corroborate the vowels that were later adopted and standardized by the Massoretes, but all the sources show a remarkable constancy in the transmission of the consonantal text.

But this dependence on indirect evidence to establish the fidelity of the transmission of the text gave place to direct proof with the amazing discoveries at Qumran [...] showing only very small differences from the Massoretic text. Indeed, they appeared if anything to be slightly inferior in text to the Massoretic manuscripts that were written a thousand years later.

So how then do inerrantists view emendations to this Masoretic text? Extremely cautiously, but not because of Masoretic inerrancy. John MacArthur writes in The Inerrant Word, quoting Douglas Petrovich:

Is there really a high likelihood that a modern scholar (without any textual evidence for his emendation) might correctly impeach all extant ancient witnesses to the biblical text? If "a reading found in only one single translation, without any corroborating witnesses or original-language manuscripts, has an extremely small chance of possessing the correct reading found in the autographa," what are the odds of a reading without support in any ancient translation?

Three observations concerning conjectural emendation help to identify their nature: (1) a conjectural emendation exhibits a high degree of subjectivity; (2) with increased knowledge and evidence, most such emendations later prove to be unnecessary; and (3) scholars should consider conjectural emendation only as a last resort. In other words, as long as there is any moderately reasonable explanation for the text as it stands, that option ought always to be preferred.

MacArthur describes the mindset he sees as necessary to the inerrantist:

Adhering consistently to biblical inerrancy requires an admission of one's own ignorance and inability to resolve every problem. [...] Our first assumption should be that we are in error rather than applying the hermeneutic of doubt to the text.


In matters of chronology/numbers, the bible has many demonstrable copy errors. These are found more in the kings books than any other, and most of them of the single digit variety. Haley has done a good job comparing the parallel passages showing how we can arrive at the correct figure. As far as emendations are concerned, if they are emendations, they too appear in questionable chronological/historical statements, and as has been said, should only be proposed as a last resort.

Haley, John W., "Alleged Discrpencies of the Bible" 1992 whitaker house.

  • Hello and welcome to the site. I'm not too sure you've really answered the question here.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 22:35
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    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 17:15

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