NT Text Criticism And Inerrancy -- By: Jason Sexton

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 17:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: NT Text Criticism And Inerrancy
Author: Jason Sexton


NT Text Criticism And Inerrancy

Jason Sextona

Some contemporary, evangelical academicians and leaders are questioning the plausibility of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy because of the unavailability of the autographs of NT books. New Testament textual criticism is a vital discipline in responding to doubts of this type. One who undervalues textual criticism’s importance in defending an evangelical doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy has a serious problem of one sort or another, because that field seeks to discover and correct copyist errors that through the centuries have crept into the text. The field is vital because inerrancy pertains to the manuscripts of Scripture as they came from the original authors. Establishing a relationship between textual criticism and inerrancy is not a new endeavor. Princeton theologians such as Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield continued a long tradition of tying inerrancy to the autographs of Scripture. Their response to doubters of their day is quite appropriate to give to contemporary evangelicals who have surrendered a high view of inspiration.

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Current Milieu of Evangelicals, Inerrancy, and Textual Criticism

A recent theological meeting attended by numerous evangelical professors was the scene of a perplexing conversation around one dinner table. A professor from a noted evangelical institution, who earlier had addressed the attendees, raised the question to members at his table: “Why do you even believe in inerrancy?” After receiving clarification of certain points from the affirmations of “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,”1 among which was that inerrancy relates to the autographs as they came from the hands of the original writers (cf. article 10 of the Chicago Statement), the speaker stressed, “But we don’t even have the autographs.”

Another telling conversation with a prominent leader of Emergent and the emerging church movement stated that his approach to the biblical text had nothing to do with seeking to determine what the original author meant. He deemed, in fact, that this would be impossible and that even if one could get to the original meaning of a first-century text, it would not be very “helpful” for the community confronted by the text in the twenty-first century. The first argument to support his case was

posed this way: “We don’t even have the autographs, right?”2

The difficulty some have in accepting inerrancy is no new trend in evangelicalism, no...

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