Evangelicals believe that the canonized Scripture is the authoritative and inerrant word of God communicated to the ancient authors under divine inspiration. The 1978-1982 Chicago statement of inerrancy and hermeneutics is held to be the standard by evangelicals today to define what they mean by inerrancy.
Inerrancy and the "final edited version"
What I don't understand is why do I frequently hear that the use of historical criticism is discouraged or even prohibited in evangelical circles, if what matters for inerrancy is the final edited version of each Biblical book (what Chicago terms as the lost "original manuscript")? Of course, historical criticism can be used by non Christians to show that some Biblical books were not authored by the traditional author (such as like Moses for the Pentateuch, or Isaiah for the whole book of Isaiah). But inerrancy doesn't require us to believe that they are the sole authors. Therefore, if we use historical criticism judiciously while holding that behind all the editing and authoring process to arrive at the eventual form of each Biblical book there was God's providence and God's revelation inspiring every author/editor contributing to the final edited version, why are evangelicals against it?
Providence over preservation of each Biblical book across ages
Secondly, don't evangelicals believe that God not only guarantees the inerrancy of the "final edited version" / "original manuscript" of each book, but also providentially preserving the various copies of each book, as each book was copied through the ages (producing the many versions in the codices and fragments that survived), so that throughout the 2000 year Christian history every believer has access to an accurate-enough copy? In my understanding, the Chicago statement "applies only to the original manuscript which no longer exist" (cf. wikipedia). Although lost, today we still have a rough copy of the "final edited version" of each book, which "can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy" (Article 10).
Therefore, isn't today's constructability of a roughly accurate copy of the "final edited version" the most important consequence of the doctrine of inerrancy? If that's the most important consequence, what is the problem with historical criticism?
Comparison with the Catholics' use of historical criticism
In contrast, since the mid 20th century, the Catholic church has been more open in using historical criticism judiciously in the interpretation of Scripture, also covered in Dei Verbum, a functionally equivalent document to the Chicago statement. From a 2015 talk by Timothy A. Lenchak, SVD The Fiftieth Anniversary of Vatican II’s Dei Verbum (emphasis mine):
This insistence on going back to the spirit of the times was confirmed in 1964 by a document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on The Historicity of the Gospels (Sancta Mater Ecclesia). Note that this document was published during Vatican II but before the final text of Dei Verbum was approved. It had great influence on Dei Verbum, especially on paragraph 19. Both documents note that the text of the Gospels as we have them was affected by three distinct historical traditions: (1) the historical Jesus; (2) the oral preaching of the apostles; and (3) the work of the evangelists themselves. “Implicit in this scenario is that the Gospels are not necessarily ‘literally’ true in every detail, as the process allowed for accretions and alterations over time. This teaching now appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#126).”
This is enabled through the influence of the Nouvelle théologie thinkers which includes Joseph Ratzinger (a peritus to the Second Vatican Council, who later became Pope Benedict XVI) who was instrumental in having Dei Verbum approved in the council. The fundamental principle is through a concept of revelation and inspiration that is more personal and sacramental rather than propositional as explained in these articles:
- Scott W. Hahn's 2014 article The Sacramentality of Scripture: “Dei Verbum” and the Biblical insights of Joseph Ratzinger
- Thomas Gourlay's 2014 article The Understanding of Revelation in “Dei Verbum” and the Response of Faith
- Adam Rasmussen's 2020 article Ratzinger on biblical inerrancy: Dei Verbum, chapter 3
While the use of historical criticism for Scripture seems settled, more work still needs to be done for historical criticism for Tradition. From the abstract of a 2020 book Dei Verbum: Scripture, Tradition, and Historical Criticism (emphasis mine):
The Council Fathers at Vatican II struggled to negotiate the Council's teaching on divine revelation with regard to the teaching of Trent, but more immediately with regard to the modern theology of the Magisterium and the modern value of historical criticism that had recently been recognized by Pius XII as having a legitimate role in the interpretation of Scripture. Dei Verbum's teaching stressed the unity of Scripture and tradition in the revelation of God's word, but never considered the role of historical criticism in the interpretation of God's word in tradition that it affirmed in God's revelation in the biblical word. This article argues that the recognition of the legitimate role of historical criticism in the interpretation of tradition remains an issue of needed development in the teaching of Dei Verbum.
"final edited version" / "original manuscript" vs. text edition
I understand that the "final edited version" is not clear cut because there can be multiple editions depending on various priorities given to various surviving codices / fragments. For NT books we have a Textus Receptus edition still used by the KJV family of translations, or the Nestle-Aland edition used by the majority of modern translations. But creating and choosing the "right" edition is a task of textual criticism rather than historical criticism, a separate issue and beyond the scope of this question.