Does Inspiration Necessitate Dictation?
Once upon a time, I was one of those Christians that looked at the Bible the way a Muslim does the Qur’an. What I mean by that, is that I believed the Bible, down to every last letter, was without error. Muslims are taught that all of the manuscripts are the same–without variation. This is how I approached the Bible too, I think that being a King James Onlyist had much to do with it. (Note)
Ten years ago, this all changed for me. I started researching Bible translations, seeing how we actually got the Bible. It was a roller-coaster ride, weaving and winding down this pursuit of truth.
I researched how the early Bible was translated from the Greek and Hebrew into Latin, with St. Jerome in 404 CE, the Vetus Italia being a bit before that. Fast forward, I read how several men e. g. Huss, Wycliffe, Tyndale and others translated the Bible into the common language, and paid the price for it, martyrdom.
Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater
I saw how the King James folks so desperately wanted to crown the Textus Receptus as king (pun intended), maintaining that only it was the word of God for mankind today. (1)
Once I realized however, that the Bible *gasp* HAS ERRORS in it, I faced the music. Rather than jump ship wholesale, I researched further to see what the implications were. While I didn’t go down the deep rabbit hole of textual criticism, I did get a good overview of what it was and why these errors–or variants–were largely insignificant, as you shall see shortly.
Textual Criticism Shan’t be Ignored
Recently, I listened to a 36 part lecture series on textual criticism, by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, and it has filled in some major gaps in my thinking concerning translation issues. (2) If you don’t know who he is, it’s best that you get acquainted with him. He’s one of the premier textual criticsm scholars (3) that we have in the world today. On a quick side note, I had the pleasure of co-hosting my friend’s radio show, with him as the guest.
If you’re a Christian, and you take the Bible seriously, it would do you well to understand (put the time in, research it) these textual/translation issues, that, if you haven’t heard yet, you will in time.
In pop culture, there’s the tendency for some scholars–such as agnostic scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman–to make claims about the Bible having 400,000 variants among all the biblical manuscripts, which is the upper range I might add–lower estimates are around 200,000.
Nothing to See Here Folks
While this sounds shocking, that of all the various manuscripts of the Bible combined (concerning the NT we have close to 30,000, which includes over 5000 of the Greek, fragments, and languages other than Greek and Hebrew) we have so many “differences”, which at face value, seems like the Bible has been radically altered! (4)
However, as Dr. Daniel Wallace points out, 70% of those variants are spelling errors, and only a 1/4 of a PERCENT are meaningful and viable variants, none of which change our doctrines. Yes, the Bible has an accuracy of 99%, which, in the textual criticism world, is nearly unheard of. It’s superfluous to say that the Bible is top shelf within this. (5)
How was the Bible written?
A. Every word was specifically dictated by God.
B. Some words were specifically dictated by God.
C. No words were specifically dictated by God.
I take the position of (B) but how much or little, I think depends on the genre and/or book.
1. There’s no Textus Receptus textual criticism scholar alive today, that should tell you something. The Textus Receptus is the manuscript (there’s several actually) that the King James uses for its translation.
2. I bought this course on the Credo House website but I don’t see it listed there now. Perhaps they’ll have it back in the future.
3. Here’s a free lecture series that he has available on textual criticism on iTunes.
4. For instance, one manuscript can read as “he”, another reads “Lord” (Gk. kurios), while yet another reads “Jesus”. The’re all saying the same thing, albeit differently. (Of course Lord, could be speaking in reference to God, which Jesus is as the unique son of God)
5. Here’s a great resource, if you’d like to see some of the variants spoken of: The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism