Does the inerrancy of the Bible only apply to the original manuscripts?
Question: "Does the inerrancy of the Bible only apply to the original manuscripts?"
This is truly a difficult issue to grasp. Only the original autographs (original manuscripts written by the apostles, prophets, etc.) are under the divine promise of inspiration and inerrancy. The books of the Bible, as they were originally written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), were 100% inerrant, accurate, authoritative, and true. There is no Biblical promise that copies of the original manuscripts would equally be inerrant or free from copyist errors. As the Bible has been copied thousands of times over thousands of years, some copyist errors have likely occurred.
How do we deal with this? First, it is important to remember that the biblical manuscripts we have today are in 99% agreement with one another. Yes, there are some minor differences, but the vast majority of the biblical text is identical from one manuscript to another. Most of the differences are in punctuation, word endings, minor grammatical issues, word order, etc. – issues easily explainable as scribal mistakes. No important theological or biblical issue is thrown into doubt by any supposed error or contradiction. Biblical manuscripts from the 15th century agree completely with manuscripts from the 3rd century. We can have absolute confidence that the Bible we have today is almost exactly identical to what the apostles and prophets wrote 2000+ years ago.
Second, we should not be quick to say “Oh, that is just a scribal error.” The vast majority, if not all, of Bible “errors” can be explained in a logical and believable manner. Those that cannot by explained, or are very difficult to explain – could very well have an answer that we simply do not know at this point. Just because we cannot find a solution does not mean that a solution doesn’t exist. Believing there to be a scribal error must be the absolute last resort in any supposed Bible “error.”
Ultimately, though, it is possible that errors have crept into our modern manuscripts and translations of the Bible. Copyists and translators are human beings and they make mistakes. The fact that the Bible is incredibly accurate is a testimony to its inspiration and preservation by God.
Can we still trust the Bible? Absolutely! The Bible translations we have today are God’s Word. The Bible today is just as authoritative as it was in the 1st century A.D. We can completely trust the Bible as being God’s message to us today. Yes, the biblical promises of inspiration and inerrancy only apply directly to the original manuscripts. That does not impact, though, whether our modern Bibles are accurate and authoritative. God’s Word endures forever, despite the occasional failings and mistakes of copyists and translators.