RELIABLE (article) by Dr. Abidan Paul Shah (Clearview Church, Henderson)
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on October 11, 2022)
“But we raised our child in church…” I hear that lament all-too-often from parents who sent their son or daughter off to college, only to have them return home with a skeptical and cynical attitude towards church and Christianity, especially the Bible. Typically, the instigator of this heart-wrenching shift is some professor of history or religion who took it as a personal mission to erode the faith of the newly arrived “Christian” student. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting freshman was not ready for such challenges and their faith faltered. When parents ask me “how could this happen?” I try not to add insult to injury, but I explain to them that although their child had a good Christian upbringing, they were not prepared to face the battlefield of the world. In other words, the young person did not have the proper armor to withstand the secular attacks against their faith, and “give a defense to everyone who asks…a reason for the hope that is in [them]…with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
To help our children survive such attacks and even become warriors in the faith, we must become aware of the nature and locus of these attacks. In recent decades, the onslaught has been directed against the reliability of the Bible, especially the New Testament. One representative of this view is Bart Ehrman (Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, one time “Christian” but now a self-proclaimed agnostic) who asks in his best seller Misquoting Jesus – “[H]ow does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.” Ehrman’s skepticism regarding the integrity of the New Testament text is his linchpin against the veracity of the Christian faith. In his line of reasoning, if the Bible (especially the New Testament) cannot be God’s Word, then the tenets of the Christian faith are baseless. How should Bible believing Christians respond to such a claim, especially if we want our kids to remain unshaken in their faith?
To start with, we need to understand that the doctrine of inerrancy is simply a corollary of the doctrine of inspiration. If we believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…,” then every word is God breathed; and since God does not lie, every word in the Bible is true. Inerrancy is a theological commitment that is not depended on manuscripts and scribal mistakes. Going back to Ehrman’s allegations, he is right; we don’t have the originals, or “autographs.” Keep in mind that the papyrus manuscripts could not survive the damp humid weather around the Mediterranean Sea. That’s not a problem, because it wasn’t the first documents that were inspired, but the words on the first documents. Fortunately for us, scribes
made copies of the autographs, which were then copied and recopied through the centuries. The discipline of textual criticism (my PhD dissertation) is dedicated to retrieving the text from the surviving copies. This is not as difficult as it sounds since 96% of the text is totally reliable. Even Ehrman admits in another writing (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture), “By far the vast majority [of variants] are purely ‘accidental,’ readily explained as resulting from scribal ineptitude, carelessness, or fatigue.” Most scribes were operating under the understanding that they were copying God’s Word, and they did their best to be careful. The core textual tradition is stable, and no doctrine is in jeopardy. As to the remaining 4-5% of variants, we only have to decide whether the original words are in the main text or in the footnotes.
Overall, we can repeat the Frederick Kenyon’s (text critical scholar from yesteryears) statement regarding the reliability of Scriptures: “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation, throughout the centuries.”