by  Gleason L. Archer Jr.

Introduction: The Importance of Biblical Inerrancy

Throughout the history of the Christian church, it has been clearly understood that the Bible as originally given by God was free from error. Except for heretical groups that broke away from the church, it was always assumed that Scripture was completely authoritative and trustworthy in .all that it asserts as factual, whether in matters of theology, history, or science. In the days of the Protestant Reformation, Luther affirmed, "When the Scripture speaks, God speaks." Even his Roman Catholic opponents held to that conviction, though they tended to put church tradition on almost the same level of authority as the Bible. From the days of the earliest Gnostics, whom Paul had to contend with, until the rise of deism in the eighteenth century, no doubts were expressed concerning the inerrancy of Scripture. Even Unitarians like Socinus and Michael Servetus argued their position on the basis of the infallibility of Scripture.

The rise of rationalism and the deistic movement in the eighteenth century led a drastic modification of the inerrant status of the Bible. The lines were soon drawn quite clearly between the deists and the orthodox defenders of the historic Christian faith. An increasing aversion toward the supernatural dominated the intellectual leadership of the Protestant world during the nineteenth century, and this spirit gave rise to "historical criticism" both in Europe and America. The Bible was assumed to be a collection of religious sentiments composed by human authors completely apart from inspiration by God. If there was any such power as a Supreme Being, He was either an impersonal Force that pervaded the created universe (the pantheistic view), or else He was so far removed from man as to be Wholly Other and, as such, almost completely unknowable (the Kierkegaardian alternative). At best, Scripture could only offer some sort of unverifiable tes-mony that pointed toward the living Word of God, a reality that could never be adequately captured or formulated as propositional truth.

In the first half of the present century, the lines were clearly drawn between orthodox Evangelicals and the opponents of scriptural inerrancy. The Crisis theologians (whose views on revelation trace back to Kierkegaard) and the liberals or modernists (who subordinated the authority of Scripture to the authority of human reason and modern science) forthrightly rejected the doctrine of inerrancy. Whether or not they avowed themselves to be "Fundamentalists," all those who laid claim to being Evangelicals stood shoulder to shoulder in their insistence that the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, were free from error of any kind.

During the second half of this century, however, a new school of revisionists has risen to prominence, and this school poses a vigorous challenge to biblical inerrancy and yet lays claim to being truly and fully evangelical. The increasing popularity of this approach has resulted in the detachment of a large number of formerly evangelical seminaries from the historic position on Scripture, even here in America. As Harold Lindsell has documented this trend in his Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), virtually all the theological training centers that have embraced (or even tolerated as allowable) this modified concept of biblical authority exhibit a characteristic pattern of doctrinal erosion. They resemble ships that have slipped their moorings and are slowly drifting out to sea.

There is always a transitional period, however, during which these defecting schools maintain—especially to their rank-and-file constituency from whom they derive their financial support—that they are still completely evangelical in their theology, that they still adhere to the cardinal doctrines of the historic Christian church. They have simply shifted to firmer ground in their defense of the truth of Scripture. As one of their advocates has put it: "I believe that the Bible is without error, but I refuse to let someone else define what that means, in such a way that I have to go to ridiculous extremes to defend my faith."1 Proponents of this approach invariably argue that they alone are the honest and credible defenders of scriptural authority because the "phenomena of Scripture" include demonstrable errors (in matters of history and science, at least), and therefore full inerrancy cannot be sustained with any kind of intellectual integrity. The evidential data simply will not permit a successful defense of the historic Christian position on Scripture. Even as originally composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, we may be certain that the autographa themselves contained factual errors (except, perhaps, in matters of doctrine).

In answer to this claim, it is incumbent on consistent Evangelicals to show two things: (1) the infallible authority of Scripture is rendered logically untenable if the original manuscripts contained any such errors and (2) no specific charge of falsehood or mistake can be successfully maintained in the light of all the relevant data. For this reason the appeal to the phenomena of Scripture leads not to a demonstration of its fallibility but to added confirmation of its divine inspiration and supernatural origin. In other words, we must first show that the alternative of infallibility without inerrancy is not a viable option at all, for it cannot be maintained without logical self-contradiction. And, second, we must show that every asserted proof of mistake in the original manuscripts of Scripture is without foundation when examined in the light of the established rules of evidence.

Without Inerrancy the Scriptures Cannot Be Infallible

To all professing Christians, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ is final and supreme. If in any of His views or teachings as set forth in the New Testament He was guilty of error or mistake, He cannot be our divine Savior; and all Christianity is a delusion and a hoax. It therefore follows that any view of Scripture that is contrary to Christ's must be unqualifiedly rejected. If the New Testament means anything at all, it testifies to the deity of our Lord and Savior—all the way from Matthew to Revelation. All who claim to be Evangelicals are completely agreed on this point. If this is so, then it follows that whatever Jesus Christ believed about the trustworthiness of Scripture must be accepted as true and binding on the conscience of every true believer. If Christ believed in the complete accuracy of the Hebrew Bible in all matters of scientific or historical fact, we must acknowledge His view in these matters to be correct and trustworthy in every respect. Moreover, in view of the impossibility of God's being guilty of error, we must recognize

1. William S. LaSor in "Theology News and Notes," p. 26 of the 1976 Special Issue entitled "Life under Tension—Fuller Theological Seminary and The Battle for the Bible.'"

that even matters of history and science, though not per se theological, assume the importance of basic doctrine. Why is this so? Because Christ is God, and God cannot be mistaken. That is a theological proposition that is absolutely essential to Christian doctrine.

A careful examination of Christ's references to the Old Testament makes it unmistakably evident that He fully accepted as factual even the most controversial statements in the Hebrew Bible pertaining to history and science. Here are a few examples.

In speaking of His approaching death and resurrection, Jesus affirmed in Matthew 12:40: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (NIV). Apart from a theory-protecting bias, it is impossible to draw from this statement any other conclusion than that Jesus regarded the experience of Jonah as a type (or at the very least, a clear analogy) pointing to His own approaching experience between the hour of His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection from the tomb on Easter morning.* If the Resurrection was to be historically factual, and if it was to be antitypical of Jonah's three-day sojourn in the stomach of the huge fish, then it follows that the type itself must have been historically factual—regardless of modern skepticism on this point. The facticity of the Jonah narrative is further confirmed by Matthew 12:41: "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here" (NIV)—namely, Jesus Himself. Jesus implies that the inhabitants of Nineveh actually did respond to Jonah's stern warning and denunciation with self-abasing humility and fear—precisely as recorded in Jonah 3. Jesus declares that those raw, untaught pagans were less guilty before God than the Christ-rejecting Jews of His own generation. Such a judgment clearly presupposes that the Ninevites did precisely what Jonah says they did. This means that Jesus did not take that book to be a mere piece of fiction or allegory, as some would-be Evangelicals have suggested. Adherence to such a view is tantamount to a rejection of Christ's inerrancy and therefore of His deity.


Another account in Scripture that is often considered scientifically and historically untenable is that of Noah's ark and the great Flood found in Genesis 6-8. But Jesus in His Olivet Discourse clearly affirmed that "as in those days that were before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know it until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man be." Here again Jesus is predicting that a future historical event will take place as an antitype to an event recorded in the Old Testament. He must therefore have regarded the Flood as literal history, just as it was recorded in Genesis.

The Exodus account of the feeding of the two-million-plus Israelites by the miracle of manna for forty years in the Sinai desert is rejected by some self-styled Evangelicals as legendary. But Jesus Himself accepted it as completely historical when He said, "Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died" (John 6:49). Then in the following verse He presented Himself to the multitude as the antitype, as the true and living Bread sent down from the Father in heaven.

It is safe to say that in no recorded utterance of Jesus Himself, or any of His inspired apostles, is there the slightest suggestion that inaccuracy in matters of history or science ever occurs in the Old Testament. To the scientific or rationalistic skepticism of the Sadducees, Jesus cited the precise wording of Exodus 3:6, where Moses is addressed by God from the burning bush (the bush that burned miraculously without being consumed) in the following terms: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Matt. 22:32). From the present tense implied by the Hebrew verbless clause, our Lord drew the deduction that God would not have described Himself as the God of mere lifeless corpses moldering in the gave but only of living, enduring personalities enjoying fellowship with Him in glory. Therefore the Old Testament taught the resurrection of the dead. 5. 


So far as the historicity of Adam and Eve is concerned, Christ implied the validity of the account in Genesis 2:24, where it is said of Adam and Eve: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" (Matt. 19:5). In the preceding verse He referred to Genesis 1:27, which states that God specially created mankind as male and female—at the beginning of human history. Regardless of modern scientific theory, the Lord Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were literal, historical personalities. Similar confirmation is found in the Epistles of Paul (who testified that he received his doctrine directly from the risen Christ [Gal. 1:12]), especially in 1 Timothy 2:13-14: "For Adam was formed [eplasthe, "molded," "fashioned"] first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (NIV). The point at issue in this passage is the historical background for the man's leadership responsibility in the home and in the church; the historicity of Genesis 3 is presupposed. In this connection it should be noted that in Romans 5:12-21 the contrast is drawn between the disobedience of Adam, who plunged the human race into a state of sin, and the obedience of Christ, who by His atoning death brought redemption to all who believe. In v. 14 Adam is stated to be a typos ("type") of Him (Christ) who was to come. If therefore Christ was a historical personage, being the antitype of Adam, it inevitably follows that Adam himself was a historical personage as well. No one can lay honest claim to loyal adherence to the doctrinal infallibility of Scripture and leave open the possibility of a mythical or legendary Adam, as the single ancestor of the human race. This highly doctrinal passage in Romans 5 (which serves as the basis for the doctrine of original sin) presupposes that Genesis 2-3 contains literal, factual history.

Without Inerrancy the Bible Cannot Be Infallible

In recent years there has been a strenuous effort made by the revisionist movement within American Evangelicalism to defend the legitimacy of maintaining a kind of infallible authority or trustworthiness of Scripture that allows for the appearance of factual errors in matters of history and science—even in the original manuscripts of Scripture. It is urged that the Bible was never intended to be a textbook of science or history, only of theology and doctrine. There may have been occasional mistakes in the area of astronomy or biology, and misunderstandings reflecting the backward views of a prescientific age may be reflected in the Hebrew text; but surely these mistakes cannot be regarded as endangering or compromising the validity of the theological teachings that constitute the main thrust of those ancient books. And if perchance now and then there may be contradictions between one statement of historical fact and another in some other passage, these errors may be freely and frankly admitted without damage to the status of the Bible as an infallible textbook in matters of metaphysics and theology.

A flexible defense such as this makes it much easier to maintain an evangelical commitment to biblical authority without appearing ridiculous to professional historians and scientists who question the truth status of the Scriptures on the ground of its many factual errors.

In response to this eloquent and plausible argument for infallibility without inerrancy, we must point out several serious weaknesses and fallacies that render it a basically untenable position to maintain. Its many self-contradictions render it hopeless as a viable option for the responsible Christian who has come to terms with the truth claims of Jesus Christ. Such a serious charge against a position held by so many outstanding leaders in the modern evangelical world must be supported by very strong and compelling arguments, and so we shall set forth these arguments for the consideration of every open-minded reader of this book.

To evade the charge that proven factual errors in Scripture are an evidence of its false status as a revelation from God is a maneuver that cannot succeed. Skeptics and detractors of the Bible have always resorted to this type of attack in order to prove their point, that the sixty-six books are basically human documents, devoid of any special inspiration from God. Despite the neo-orthodox contention that the error-filled Hebrew and Greek documents of Scripture somehow point the questing soul of a true believer to some kind of supra-historical, supra-scientific level of metaphysical truth, intellectual and moral integrity demands that we face up to the validity of the attacks of these skeptics. This via media offered by the revisionist Evangelicals and neo-orthodox theologians cannot be successfully maintained. There can be no infallibility without inerrancy—even in matters of history and science—and sooner or later the schools or denominations that accept this via media slip away from their original evangelical posture and shift into substantial departures from the historic Christian faith. There are some good and solid reasons for this doctrinal decline.

In any court of law, whether in a civil or criminal case, the trustworthiness of a witness on a stand is necessarily an important point at issue if his testimony is to be received. Therefore, the attorney for the opposing side will make every effort in his cross-examination of the witness to demonstrate that he is not a consistently truthful person. If the attorney can trap the opposing witness into statements that contradict what he has said previously or furnish evidence that in his own community the man has a reputation for untruthfulness, then the jury may be led to doubt the accuracy of the witness's testimony that bears directly on the case itself. This is true even though such untruthfulness relates to other matters having no relationship to the present litigation. While the witness on the stand may indeed be giving a true report on this particular case, the judge and jury have no way of being sure. Therefore, they are logically compelled to discount this man's testimony.

The same is true of Holy Scripture. If the statements it contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extra-biblical records, by ancient documents recovered through archaeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth, then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of religion. In other words, if the biblical record can be proved fallible in areas of fact that can be verified, then it is hardly to be trusted in areas where it cannot be tested. As a witness for God, the Bible would be discredited as untrustworthy. What solid truth it may contain would be left as a matter of mere conjecture, subject to the intuition or canons of likelihood of each individual. An attitude of sentimental attachment to traditional religion may incline one person to accept nearly all the substantive teachings of Scripture as probably true. But someone else with equal justification may pick and choose whatever teachings in the Bible happen to appeal to him and lay equal claim to legitimacy. One opinion is as good as another. All things are possible, but nothing is certain if indeed the Bible contains mistakes or errors of any kind.

Those who allow for inaccuracies or self-contradictions in the original manuscripts of the Bible usually take refuge in the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, which they receive through some sort of existential encounter with God, an encounter that takes place in the context of Bible study—fallible though that Bible may be! They trust that the Holy Spirit leads them so that they can get at the Living Word of God and enjoy all the solid benefits of redemption and fellowship with God that old-fashioned Evangelicals suppose these freethinkers have lost through their discarding biblical inerrancy. But these revisionists have nevertheless —perhaps unwittingly—set in motion a dialectical process of degeneration and spiritual decline that impels them in the direction of increasing skepticism or eclecticism. They tend to exploit their self-given freedom of choice in such a way as to conform to the prevailing opinions of the circles in which they move. Their consciences are no longer bound, as Luther put it, by the authority of the written Word of God.

The second basic difficulty with the revisionist position (i.e., infallibility without inerrancy) is that it sets up a basis of distinction that is totally rejected by the authors of Scripture and by Christ Himself. No support whatever can be found for the distinction between historical, scientific truth and doctrinal, metaphysical truth—according to which "minor, inconsequential error" may be allowed for the former but be excluded from the latter.

As we examine the Old Testament, we look in vain for any distinction between abstract theological doctrine and the miraculous events that marked the history of redemption. In Psalm 105, for example, composed at least five centuries after the Exodus, we are met with a joyous symphony of praise to Yahweh for the ten plagues He inflicted on Egypt to compel the release of Israel by Pharaoh. These miraculous events, impinging on matters of history and science, are clearly treated as factual, as real episodes in Israel's past. In the following poem, Psalm 106, the name of the Lord is exalted for His mighty deliverance in parting the waters of the Red Sea to allow the safe passage of the two-million-plus congregation of the Hebrews and in bringing the water back again just in time to drown their chariot-driving pursuers. God is here being thanked, not for some inspiring legend or myth, but for a solidly historical event—in every case an episode involving miracle, a striking departure from the usual laws of nature. The same psalm goes on to recall the sudden destruction of Dathan and Abiram as they tried to set aside Moses and his authoritative revelation from God. The very ground on which they stood opened up into great cracks as part of a seismic disturbance, and their families alone were swallowed up by the ground. Isaiah 28:21 refers to Joshua's historic victory over the Canaanite attackers of his Gibeonite allies, making it a base of comparison with a future military intervention of judgments against apostate Judah. "For Yahweh will rise up as at Mount Perazim, He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon, to do His task, His unusual task, and to work His work, His unusual work." (It was at that Battle of Gibeon that more of the enemy were killed by hailstones from the sky than by the weapons of the Israelites.)

Thus we see that the later Old Testament authors were as sure of the Red Sea crossing and the other miracles as the apostles were sure of Christ's atoning death on Calvary. The apostles were also sure of the divine inspiration of the Davidic Psalms. "Sovereign Lord," they prayed in Acts 4:24-26, "You spoke through the mouth of our father David, Your servant." Then they quoted Psalm 2:1-2. Peter affirmed that David composed Psalm 16:10: "Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:30-31).

This full trustworthiness and authority of the Hebrew Scriptures was constantly recognized by the New Testament authors as they quoted the prophetic passages that point to Christ. Matthew particularly emphasized this authoritative status, saying, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet" (see, e.g., Matt. 1:22; 2:5,15,23; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9). As L. Gaussen says, "Nowhere shall we find a single passage that permits us to detach one single part of it [i.e., the Old Testament] as less divine than all the rest" (Theopneustia: the Bible, its Divine Origin and Inspiration, trans, by D.D. Scott [Cincinnati: Blanchard, 1859], p. 67). Thus we see that the crucial distinction between the historical-scientific and the doctrinal-theological passages of the Old Testament is completely unknown either to the later Old Testament authors or to the apostolic writers of the New Testament in their treatment of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Most decisive against this division into historical-scientific and doctrinal-theological categories is the clear endorsement by our Lord Jesus Himself of even those passages in the Old Testament that speak of supernatural events most commonly rejected by rationalistic critics in our day. As we have already seen, Christ accepted as literally true (1) the historicity of Adam (Matt. 19:5), (2) the rescue of Noah and his family from the Flood by means of the ark (Matt. 24:38-39), (3) the literal accuracy of Moses* interview with God at the burning bush (Matt. 22:32), (4) the feeding of Moses* congregation by manna from heaven (John 6:49), (5) the historicity of Jonah's deliverance after three days in the belly of the whale (Matt. 12:40), and (6) the repentance of the pagan population of Nineveh in response to Jonah's preaching (Matt. 12:41). Nothing could be clearer than that our divine Savior believed in the literal truthfulness of the entire Old Testament record, whether those accounts dealt with doctrinal matters, matters of science, or history. He who refuses to go along with the Lord in this judgment stands guilty of asserting that God can err (since Jesus is God as well as Man) and that the sovereign Creator (John 1:1-3) stands in need of instruction and correction by the finite wisdom of man. It is for this reason that we cannot possibly concede that the errancy of Scripture is reconcilable with true Evangelicalism or the historic Christian faith.

Third, the advocates of partial inerrancy (whether of the confessedly neoor-thodox camp or the revisionist evangelical persuasion) fatally undermine the tenability of their theoretical position by their actual practice in the matter of teaching from the Bible. That is to say, when they preach to a congregation or teach at a Bible conference, they forsake their commitment to partial inerrancy altogether—at least insofar as they proclaim the authoritative message of Scripure itself. Whenever a preacher declares a truth from the Bible and calls on his audience to believe and act on that teaching, he thereby presupposes the total inerrancy of Scripture. In other words, he who affirms that a statement is true because the Bible affirms it, can do so with integrity only if he takes the position that whatever the Bible teaches is necessarily true. Otherwise he must always append to his proclamation of the biblical message the following additional corroboration: "In this particular case, we are warranted in believing what the Bible says—even though it may occasionally be mistaken in matters of history or science—because it does not appear to contravene the findings of modern scientific or historical knowledge." From the logical standpoint, therefore, it is a requirement of honesty that anyone who does not hold to the principle that whatever the Bible affirms is true simply because it affirms it, may not preach in such a way as to imply that no further corroboration is needed for its statements to be believed.

It is a matter of basic self-contradiction for a partial-inerrantist to hold that in matters of history and science the Bible may err and yet for him to expound any text from the Scripture as having authority in its own right. While he may perhaps preserve a greater measure of integrity if the text he is preaching happens to be purely doctrinal or theological, nevertheless he is false to his own position when he fails to justify his treating the text as inherently authoritative. Nearly all the cardinal doctrines of Scripture come in a historical framework, and very frequently in a supernatural setting. It is less than candid for a Christian spokesman to assure his audience that any such doctrinal affirmation in the Bible is to be received as factual unless he at the same time furnishes them with some sort of critical verification to the effect that "in this instance the Scripture speaks the truth." If the historical framework must be corroborated and critically sifted for error, then the doctrine it contains must be regarded as suspect. If, for example, the resurrection of the body from the grave is regarded by most professional scientists as impossible, then any advocate of partial inerrancy must carefully justify his acceptance of the bodily resurrection of Christ (if accept it he does) by adducing some other confirmation besides the mere statement in the Bible itself. Otherwise his proclamation that Jesus rose bodily from the grave because the Scripture says He did amounts to an assumption of complete inerrancy, even a matter of science involving the miraculous.

Fourth, a specially attractive appeal is often made by contemporary errantists to accept "the cold, hard facts" that the Bible text as we now have it does contain discrepancies of various kinds; and, in the absence of any infallible original manuscripts, we had better give up the effort to defend inerrant autographa that no longer exist. They urge that we should simply appreciate the Bible as it is and make the very best use we can of it in the form it has come down to us—marked with occasional mistakes of a minor sort, but still eminently usable as a guide to God and a saving knowledge of His will. Is it not much more honest, they urge, for us to be perfectly frank and admit the errors, wherever they appear, and simply go on from there, relying on the main and central teaching message and not vexing ourselves about troublesome minor details.

What the advocates of this stance toward Scripture fail to observe is that it is fundamentally dishonest to adopt the line of least resistance in the face of difficulty and say to the rationalistic skeptic, "Okay, in this instance you may be right. But I still have a right to hang on to my faith, no matter how many technical errors you may be able to discover in the text of the Bible." He who assumes such a position of intellectual surrender can only be classed as a weak-kneed irrationalist who has retreated into his own shell of subjectivity. He no longer has anything meaningful to contribute in the arena of debate and intelligent consideration, which all thinking men are responsible to engage in.

It is morally indefensible to put down the Bible—which presents itself as the uniquely authoritative Word of God—as the object of man's critical judgment so that one may decide (at least for himself personally) which parts of Scripture he may accept as binding on him and which parts he may safely disregard. To treat the Bible in this way is to trifle with God, and it can only result in a process of progressive stultification and a steady loss of theological certainty and moral conviction. Indeed, it can be reasonably argued that the plea to shy away from the defense of the accuracy and trustworthiness of Scripture whenever it is attacked on factual matters is hardly to be distinguished in principle from a policy of defending and adhering to the moral standards laid down in Scripture only when they do not conflict with modern standards of morality or when in one's personal life they do not conflict with what the professing Christian wants to do (whether or not it is the will of God).

Times of testing come into the life of every believer, when he has to choose between the hard, flesh-denying way of obedience, of integrity before God and man, and the way of self-indulgence, of giving in to the temptation to do what is easiest and pleasant from the standpoint of the self-seeking ego. He who does not put up a determined resistance against the seductively easy, flesh-pleasing way will find that he has lost his integrity, self-respect, and, indeed (apart from abject repentance and a complete reversal of direction), all hope of salvation. There is a clear analogy between this flabby response to the challenge of self-will to the moral integrity of a Christian believer and the response that he makes to a challenge to the inerrant authority and complete trustworthiness of the written Word of God. If he casts his lot with the easy way of bland concession, hoping to salvage his position as a Christian by retaining his faith in the fundamentals of Christian doctrine, he will find that in the long run this policy of giving in to the enemy will lead to the complete takeover of his homeland by the foe. His failure to put up a credible defense of Scripture will finally result in his loss of its assurance and comfort in the times of crisis and danger that await him.

The Importance of Inerrant Original Documents

Now that the inerrancy of the original manuscripts of Scripture has been established as essential to its inerrant authority, we must deal with the very real problem of the complete disappearance of the autographa themselves. Even the earliest and best manuscripts that we possess are not totally free of transmissional errors. Numbers are occasionally miscopied, the spelling of proper names is occasionally garbled, and there are examples of the same types of scribal error that appear in other ancient documents as well. In that sense—and only to that degree—can it be said that even the finest extant manuscripts of the Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are not wholly without error. It is not that they contain actual mistakes or misinformation that cannot be rectified by the proper exercise of the science of textual criticism; but, in the sense that scribal mistakes do occur even in the best of them, it is technically true that there are no extant inerrant originals.

If, then, we have none of the error-free autographa that underlie the Bible text that has been transmitted to us, why not simply content ourselves with the less-than-inerrant copies and accept the plain fact that God did not find inerrancy so vital for inscripturated revelation that He preserved it to us in that form? What is the point of arguing about a collection of manuscripts that no longer exist? Is this not simply an academic question of a most abstruse kind, a question that surely should not divide the ranks of Evangelicals?

To put the question in this way is to misrepresent the basic issue at stake in a manner that is utterly misleading. We have already seen that Christ regarded the recorded statements and affirmations of the Old Testament authors as completely accurate and trustworthy, whether they dealt with theology, history, or science. This is really what is at stake, and it is this level of truthfulness that is involved rather than technical infallibility in the art of scribal transmission. The copyist who inadvertently misspells some word in John 3:16 cannot be said to have introduced error in the sentiment or message of that salvation verse even though he may have slipped in his orthography. It is something far more essential than typographical errors that is under consideration when scriptural inerrancy comes up for discussion.

In answer to this challenge we offer the four following considerations.

1. The integrity of Scripture as the authoritative revelation of God is bound up with the issue of the inerrancy of its original inscripturation. It is impossible for a holy and righteous God to inspire any human author of the books of Scripture to write down that which is at any level misleading or false. He who sits in judgment on all wickedness and deceit will never stoop to the use or toleration of falsehood in the recording of His spoken revelation or of the historic or scientific facts chosen to compose the sixty-six books of His Bible. Nor is it conceivable that God in His perfection would allow any human agent whom He employs for the writing of Scripture to introduce elements of error or mistake simply on the ground of his humanness. The sovereign Lord who could use the wooden staff of Moses to bring down the ten plagues upon Egypt and part the waters of the Red Sea can surely use a fallible human prophet to communicate His will and His truth without blundering or confusion of any kind. The inerrancy of God's written Word as it was originally inspired is a necessary corollary to the inerrancy of God Himself. We must therefore condemn an attitude of indifference concerning the inerrancy of the original manuscripts of the Bible as a serious theological error.

2. It is wrong to affirm that the existence of a perfect original is a matter of no importance if that original is no longer available for examination. To take an analogy from the realm of engineering or of commerce, it makes a very great difference whether there is such a thing as a perfect measure for the meter, the foot, or the pound. It is questionable whether the yardsticks or scales used in business transactions or construction projects can be described as absolutely perfect. They may be almost completely conformable to the standard weights and measures preserved at the Bureau of Standards in our nation's capital but to the measure of their deviation from the official models in Washington, D.C., they are subject to error—however small. But how foolish it would be for any citizen to shrug his shoulders and say, "Neither you nor I have ever actually seen those standard measures in Washington; therefore we may as well disregard them—not be concerned about them at all—and simply settle realistically for the imperfect yardsticks and pound weights that we have available to us in everyday life. On the contrary, the existence of those measures in the Bureau of Standards is vital to the proper functioning of our entire economy. To the 220,000,000 Americans who have never seen them they are absolutely essential for the trustworthiness of all the standards of measurement that they resort to throughout their lifetime.

3. It may be true that we no longer possess any perfect copy of the inerrant original manuscripts of the Bible. But it is equally true that we have only imperfect copies of the Lord Jesus available to us today. Christ has ascended to His glorious throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven. All the observer has to look at now are imperfect representatives and agents of His, in the form of sanctified and committed Christians. But shall we therefore affirm that because of His physical absence we need not concern ourselves about any standards of absolute love and moral excellence? No, but Hebrews 12:2 commands us to fix our eyes on Jesus (though He is beyond our physical reach or power to touch), as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. The spotless Lamb of God is still the inerrant model for our attitudes and manner of life, even though we are not privileged to behold Him with the eye of flesh as the apostles did prior to His ascension to glory. So also, we must cherish the inerrant originals of Holy Scripture as free from all mistake of any kind, even though we have never actually seen them. 

4. If there was an admixture of error even in the original writings of the Bible, there is little point in textual criticism. The entire motivation behind this careful examination of the earliest manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek or in the ancient translations from them into other languages is based on the fundamental premise of original inerrancy. What useful purpose would be served by tracing back with painstaking care to the original reading if that reading may have contained falsehood or mistake? The Bible student would only become confused or injured by the misinformation contained by what has been described as the infallible Word of God. Thus we see that textual criticism, if it is to have any real meaning or validity, presupposes an original entirely free from deception or mistake.

The Remarkable Trustworthiness of the Received Text of Holy Scripture

Why do we not now possess infallible copies of those infallible originals? Because the production of even one perfect copy of one book is so far beyond the capacity of a human scribe as to render it necessary for God to perform a miracle in order to produce it. No reasonable person can expect even the most conscientious copyist to achieve technical infallibility in transcribing his original document into a fresh copy. No matter how earnest he may be to dot every i and cross every t and to avoid confusion of homonyms (such as "their" for "there" or "lead" for "led"), he will commit at least an occasional slip. It is for this reason that all writers have to check over whatever they have written and all publishers must employ skilled editors and proofreaders. Yet even the most attentive of these occasionally allow blunders to slip by. Such was the case of the "Immoral Bible" back in the sixteenth century, which went to press with the seventh commandment reading, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Although this edition was speedily recalled, the blunder got out to the public, much to the embarrassment of the publisher. These inadvertencies occur from time to time simply because of the imperfect quality of the attention of any human scribe. Nothing less than divine intervention could guarantee a completely errorless copy or set aside the human propensity to occasional slips in punctuation and spelling. But the important fact remains that accurate communication is possible despite technical mistakes in copying.

The real question at issue in regard to scribal error is whether an accumulation of minor slips has resulted in the obscuring or perversion of the message originally intended. Well-trained textual critics operating on the basis of sound methodology are able to rectify almost all the misunderstandings that might result from manuscript error. But in the case of documents in which scribal copying has been carried on with a view to deliberate alteration or the indulging of personal bias on the part of the copyist himself, it is quite possible that the original message has been irrecoverably altered. The question in regard to the text of the Bible centers on the data of textual criticism. Is there objective proof from the surviving manuscripts of Scripture that these sixty-six books have been transmitted to us with such a high degree of accuracy as to assure us that the information contained in the originals has been perfectly preserved? The answer is an unqualified YES.

In contrast to most other ancient documents that have survived in multiplied copies (such as the Egyptian Tale of Sinuhe or the Behistun Rock trilingual inscription of Darius I), collation of many hundreds of manuscript copies from the third century B.C. to the sixth century A.D. yields an amazingly limited range of variation in actual wording. In fact, it has long been recognized by the foremost specialists in textual criticism that if any decently attested variant were taken up from the apparatus at the bottom of the page and were substituted for the accepted reading of the standard text, there would in no case be a single, significant alteration in doctrine or message. This can only be explained as the result of a special measure of control exercised by the God who inspired the original manuscripts of Scripture so as to insure their preservation for the benefit of His people. A degree of deviation so serious as to affect the sense would issue in failure to achieve the purpose for which the revelation was originally given: that men might be assured of God's holiness and grace, and that they might know of His will for their salvation.

Readers interested in pursuing further the subject of textual criticism of the Old Testament or wanting information concerning the ancient copies of the Hebrew Scriptures discovered in the Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea are encouraged to consult Ernst Wurthwein's The Text of the Old Testament (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957) or my Survey of Old Testament Introduction (chaps. 3-4). For the text of the New Testament, consult A.T. Robertson, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 2d ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1928) or Vincent Taylor, The Text of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1961).

Scripture and Inerrancy

The foregoing discussion has demonstrated that the objective authority of Scripture requires inerrancy in the original autographa. Also, we have argued that infallibility necessarily requires inerrancy as its indispensable corollary. But as we have observed in the opening pages of this Introduction, revisionists have charged that the so-called phenomena of Scripture do not permit a credible defense of the claim that the Bible as originally given was free from error, even in matters of history and science. The contradictions and discrepancies in Scripture compel us to choose between which statement is right and which is wrong. Advocates of this approach invariably present lists of such alleged contradictions or statements that clash with findings of historical criticism and science. This challenge must not go unanswered; for if the revisionists' contention is correct, then inerrancy must indeed be surrendered—with all the devastating implications for the possibility of objective revelation. The main task of this present work is to demonstrate the unsoundness of this charge by examining the alleged discrepancies and in turn showing in each case that the charge is not well founded in fact, once all the relevant evidence has been considered.

The other chief line of evidence followed by these scholars pertains to the extensive use by New Testament authors of the Septuagint translation (Greek) of the Old Testament. It is argued that since the Septuagint often deviates substantially from the Masoretic Hebrew text, such employment of an inexact translation shows that to the New Testament authors the authority of the Old Testament was conceptual rather than verbal. And, of course, if the authoritative teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures was to be found only in its concepts rather than in its wording, this virtually excludes any meaningful adherence to inerrancy. Particularly in those instances (rare though they may be) where the Septuagint passage is somewhat inexact in its treatment of the Hebrew original (at least as the Hebrew has been transmitted to us in the Masoretic text), it must be concluded that the New Testament writer did not consider the precise wording of the Old Testament a matter of real importance.

Logical though this deduction might seem at first glance, it fails to take into account several important considerations.

1. The very reason for using the Septuagint translation (which originated among the Jews of Alexandria, Egypt, in the third and second centuries B.C.) was rooted in the missionary outreach of the evangelists and apostles of the early church. Long before the first disciples of our Lord set out to spread the Good News, the Septuagint had found its way into nearly every Greek-speaking region of the Roman Empire. In fact, it was the only form of the Old Testament in circulation outside Palestine itself. As the apostles went from one Gentile city to another and brought the message of Christ to the Jews of the Dispersion, it was their primary purpose to show that Jesus of Nazareth had fulfilled the types and promises of the Old Testament, that holy record of God's saving truth that they already had in their hands. What other form of the Old Testament was available to them but the Septuagint? Only the rabbis and scholars had access to the Hebrew manuscripts, and no other Greek translation was available than the time-honored version from Alexandria. And so when the "noble Bereans" went home from their synagogue to check up on the teaching of Paul and Silas, what other Scriptures could they consult but their Septuagint?

2. Suppose Paul had chosen to work out a new, more accurate translation into Greek directly from the Hebrew. Might not the Bereans have said in reply, "That's not the way we find it in our Bible. How do we know you have not slanted your different rendering here and there in order to favor your new teaching about Christ?" In order to avoid suspicion and misunderstanding, it was imperative for the apostles and evangelists to stay with the Septuagint in their preaching and teaching, both oral and written. On the other hand, we find in the case of Matthew and Hebrews that the Septuagint plays a much less important role. The frequent and copious quotations from the Old Testament found in these two books are often non-Septuagintal in wording and are perceptibly closer to the Hebrew original than the Septuagint itself. This is accounted for by the fact that both Matthew and the author of Hebrews were writing to a Palestinian Jewish readership, to whom the Masoretic or Sopherim text (as it is technically known) was close at hand. In the overwhelming majority of cases where the Septuagint is quoted in the New Testament documents, the Greek rendering is beyond reproach in the matter of accuracy. The instances where a more paraphrastic rendering is quoted from the Septuagint are in the small minority—even though these few deviations have attracted much discussion on the part of critics. But even where there are noticeable differences in phraseology, there are virtually no examples of quotations from Hebrew passages that would not support the point that the New Testament author intends to make as he quotes from the Old Testament. Inasmuch as the Septuagint contains a good many sections that substantially differ from the Hebrew of the Masoretic text, it can only be inferred that the apostolic authors purposely avoided any passages of the Septuagint that perverted the sense of the original.

3. The argument from the use of the Septuagint to the effect that the New Testament authors regarded the inspiration of the Old Testament as merely conceptual, not verbal, is completely belied by the example of Christ Himself. For instance, in Matthew 22:32 our Lord pointed out the implications of the exact wording of Exodus 3:6: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." This particular quotation is verbally identical with the Septuagint, which supplies the word "am" (eimi) that is not actually expressed in the Hebrew original, even though it is clearly understood in a verbless clause such as this, according to the standard rules of Hebrew grammar. Jesus makes the point here that God would not have spoken of Himself as the God of mere corpses moldering in their graves for three or four centuries since their death. "He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living," said Jesus. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must have all been alive and well at the time Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush in the early fifteenth century B.C.


Very similar attention to the exact wording of the Old Testament original text was involved in Christ's use of Psalm 110:1 [109:1 Septuagint] in his discussion with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:43-45. This quotation differs from the Septuagint by only one word (hypopodion, "footstool"). But the point of it was that the Lord (Yahweh) said to David's Lord—who was at the same time his messianic descendant—"Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool." By this remarkable passage Jesus demonstrated that the Messiah was to not only be a physical descendant of King David (tenth century B.C.) but was also David's divine Lord and Master.

4. The whole line of reasoning that says quoting Scripture from a less-than-perfect translation of the original necessarily implies a cavalier attitude toward inspired autographon is vitiated by an obvious fallacy. All of us, even the most highly qualified experts in biblical languages, customarily quote Scripture in the standard published translations available to our audiences or readers. But such use of the various translations, whether English, German, French, or Spanish, by no means proves that we have settled for a low view of scriptural inerrancy. We, like the first-century apostles, resort to these standard translations to teach our people in terms they can verify by resorting to their own Bibles. Yet, admittedly, none of these translations is completely free of faults.

We use them, nevertheless, for the purposes of more effective communication than if we were to translate directly from the Hebrew or Greek. But this use of translations that fall short of perfection by no means implies the abandonment of conviction that the Scriptures as originally given were free from all error.

We must, therefore, conclude that the employment of the Septuagint in New Testament quotations from the Old Testament proves nothing whatever in favour of noninerrancy.

The Role of Textual Criticism in Correcting Transmissional Errors

In the preceding discussion we referred several times to the role of textual criticism in dealing with scribal errors in the transmission of the biblical text. So the reader may have some understanding of the methodology followed by scholars in handling such deviations, which appear in even the earliest and best extant manuscripts, we will indicate the guidelines to be followed in resolving such problems. The standard procedures for dealing with transmissional errors apply to all ancient documents, whether secular or sacred; but, of course, there are special features that relate to the biblical languages. These would include the shapes of the Hebrew letters as they evolved from the earlier period to later times, along with the gradual introduction of vowel-letters (i.e., consonants that indicate which vowel sounds or vowel quantities were to be used in words). In the case of the New Testament, composed in a language that used vowel characters as well as consonants (koine Greek), the changes in letter shape would also give rise to mis-copying in the course of several generations of scribes.

A.  Types of Transmissional Errors

Certain kinds of errors are apt to arise in copying any original document (Vorlage). We are all prone to substitute one homonym for another; i.e., "hole" for "whole" or "it's" for "its." English has a very difficult spelling system; the same sound may be written in a variety of ways: "way" or "weigh"; "to," "too," or "two." This problem was not so acute in ancient Hebrew or Greek; but there are occasional misspellings that occur even in the earliest copies of the biblical books, largely on the basis of similarity in sound. One of the most serious is the word Io. If it is written /-' (lamedh-aleph), it is the negative "not"; but if it is written l-w (lamedh-waw), it means "to him" or "for him." Usually the context gives a clear indication as to which of these Ios is intended; but occasionally either "not" or "for him" would be possible, and so a bit of confusion results.

One good example of the Io confusion is found in Isaiah 9:2 (9:3 in the English text). The Masoretic text (MT) reads /-', making Io mean "not." KJV's translation is "Thou hast multiplied the nation, and [supplied in italics] not increased the joy; they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest." This rendering, however, introduces a strange reversal in the flow of the thought: God has increased the nation; yet He has not increased their joy, and yet they rejoice like those who gather in a bountiful harvest. But even the Masoretic Jewish scribes perceived this to be an inadvertent misspelling; so they put in the margin the correct spelling l-w. Then the verse means "Thou hast multiplied the nation [no "and"], Thou hast increased the joy for it; they joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest." The Syriac Peshitta so renders it, and likewise the Aramaic Targum of Jonathan and twenty medieval Hebrew manuscripts read it as l-w rather than l-. Because it reads both aleph and waw, spelling Io as l-w-' lQIsa is not very helpful here. The Septuagint (LXX) is no help at all because the translator garbled the Hebrew completely and does not have either type of Io indicated in his rendering ("The majority of the people, which You have brought down in Your joy, they also will joy before You like those who rejoice in harvest." But it is at least 90 percent certain that NASB is correct in its translation: "Thou shalt multiply the nation, Thou shalt increase their gladness; they will be glad in Thy presence as with the gladness of harvest."

After considering this example of textual correction, let us survey eleven main kinds of transmissional errors known to the field of textual criticism.

1. Haplography

Essentially, haplography means writing once what should have been written twice. In student papers one often reads occurence instead of occurrence: the r has been written just once—which would make the word sound like o-cure-ence, according to our regular English spelling rules. In Hebrew it may be a single consonant that appears where there should have been two. Or it may be that two consonants are involved, or even two words. For example, in Isaiah 26:3—"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You" —the final words literally are "in you trusting," followed by "Trust in Yahweh" in v.4. In Hebrew the final word "trusting" is batuah, written b-t-w-h; the initial "trust" in v.4 is bithu, written b-trh-w. As they appear in the unpointed consonants, then, we have b-t-w-h b-t-h-w. These two words are therefore almost identical in appearance, even though the first is a masculine singular adjective and the second a plural imperative of the verb. Scroll lQIsa has only b-k b-t-h-w, omitting the previous b-t-w-h altogether. Hence the Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah condense verses 3 and 4 to read thus: "A mind supported You will keep in real peace [lit., salbm salbm, 'peace peace']; because in you... they have trusted [or else a new sentence: 'Trust'] in Yahweh forever." The MT reads (correctly): "A mind supported You will keep in real peace, because it is trusting in You. Trust in Yahweh." It should be added that the word translated "trust" implies the vowel pointing bithu; the lQIsa context might imply a different pointing; i.e., bathu, which means "they have trusted." The LXX implies only a single salbm and a single verb bathii, for it translates the whole section (including v.2) as follows: "Open the gates, let there enter in a people who observe righteousness and observe truth, laying hold of truth [apparently reading yeser ('mind') as the participle noser ('observing, keeping')] and keeping peace. For in You [v.4] they have hoped [or 'trusted'], O Lord [the regular substitution for Yahweh] forever ["ade-ad, lit., 'unto the age,' a rendering attested by both the MT and the corrected reading of lQIsa]."

In other instances haplography may have occurred in the MT itself, as is probably the case in Judges 20:13. The regular Old Testament usage is to refer to the tribesmen of Benjamin as bene-binydmin, but the Sopherim consonantal text reads the tribal name binyamin alone (which also occasionally occurs). But LXX indicates the normal "the sons of Benjamin" reading (hoi huioi Beniamin) in both the A version and the B version (Judges in the LXX has two different Greek versions, both going back to the same Hebrew Vorlage, apparently). Interestingly enough, even the Masoretic scribes believed that the "sons of should be in there, for they included the vowel points for b ene ("sons of), even though they did not feel free to put in the consonants of the word in such a way as to alter the Sopherim consonantal text that had been handed down to them.

2. Dittography

This common transcriptional error consists of writing twice what is to be written only once. A clear example of this in the MT is Ezekiel 48:16: hames hames me'bt ("five five hundreds"). Noting this mistake, the Masoretes left the second hames without vowel pointing, indicating that the word should be omitted altogether in the reading. In lQIsa, Isaiah 30:30 reads hasmia* hasmia1 ("Hear, hear"), instead of the single "hasmia" that appears in the MT and is attested by the versions.

Another example of probable dittography occurs in Isaiah 9:5-6(6-7 Eng.), which reads at the end of v.5 sar-salbm ("prince of peace") and at the beginning of v.6 lemarbeh hammisrah ("of the increase of government"). Now this makes perfectly good sense in Hebrew as it stands, but there is one peculiar feature about the spelling of lemarbeh. The m (mem) is written in the special form that occurs at the end of a word. This clearly indicates that the Sopherim scribes found two different traditions concerning this reading: one that read only salbm (at the end of v.5) and began v.6 with r-b-h (which should be vocalized as rabbdh, "great"; i.e., "Great shall be the government").

A final example of dittography is taken from the last verse of Psalm 23: "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." As pointed by the Masoretes, the verb form w sabot would have to mean "And I will return [to the house]"—as if the psalmist had left the Lord's house and now expected to return to it permanently. But if the consonants are pointed wesibti, then we have the reading of the LXX: kai to katoikein me ("And my dwelling" [will be in the house]). This is rather unusual from the standpoint of Hebrew style, even though it is by no means impossible. Perhaps the most attractive option, however, is to understand this word as a case of haplography. With the introduction of the square Hebrew form of the alphabet after the return from Babylonian Exile, the shape of w (waw) greatly resembled that of y (yodh); and by the period of lQIsa, it often happened that a long-tailed yodh looked precisely like a short-tailed waw. That being the case, it would be easy for haplography to occur whenever a yodh and a waw occurred together. The Greek copyist, then, might have seen what looked like two waw's together and figured that this was a mistake for a single waw, and hence left out the second one—which actually should have been a yodh. If this reconstruction is correct, then the original wording used by David was weydsabti, meaning, "And I will dwell," expressed in the normal and customary Hebrew way.

3. Metathesis

This involves an inadvertent exchange in the proper order of letters or words. For example, lQIsa has at the end of Isaiah 32:19 the phrase "the forest will fall" rather than MT's corrected reading "the city is leveled completely." It so happens that the word for "forest" (ya'ar) is written with the same consonants as the word for "city" ('ir). Since the verb tispal ("is leveled completely") is in the feminine and ya'ar is masculine, the word for "city"—which is feminine—is the only possible reading. But the confusion of the Isaiah-scroll scribe is understandable since the word ya'ar does occur in the preceding clause of this verse: "though hail flattens the forest [hayyd'ar]."

In Ezekiel 42:16, however, it is obviously the MT that is in error, reading, "five cubits rods" (ha mess emote qanim) instead of "five hundred rods" (ha mes meot qanim), which is the correction indicated by the Masoretes by having their vowel points go with the word for "hundreds" rather than with the word for "cubits." The LXX, the Latin Vulgate, and all the other versions read "five hundred" here rather than "five cubits."

4. Fusion

This consists of combining the last letter of the first word with the first letter of he following word, or else of combining two separate words into a single compound word. A probable example of the latter type is found in Amos 6:12, where the MT reads, "Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow with oxen?" Obviously a farmer does plow with oxen, whereas horses do not run on rocky crags. Now it is possible to insert a "them" after the word "plow" (so NASB) or to insert an adverb "there" (so KJV, NIV). But actually there is no word in the Hebrew for either "them" or "there"; and it might therefore be better to split off the plural ending -i(y)m from the word be qdri(y)m ("oxen") and understand it as the word yam ("sea"). Then the amended clause would read thus: "Does an ox plow the sea?"—an illustration of futile or senseless procedure, similar to horses running on bare rock. The only problem with this emendation, advocated by the critical apparatus of Kittel's Biblia Hebraica, is that no ancient version or surviving Hebrew manuscript so divides it.

Another textual problem of more far-reaching consequence is the apparent reference to a mysterious "Azazel" in Leviticus 16:8. In the procedure prescribed for the Day of Atonement, the high priest is to cast two lots for the two goats chosen for sacrifice. The NIV reads, "One lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat "[tazd'zel]." The MT indicates some otherwise unknown proper name, Azazel, which was explained by the medieval rabbis as a designation of a hairy desert demon. Aaron, then, would be casting a lot for a demon. Now since there is no allowance made for the service or the worship of demons anywhere else in the Torah, it is most improbable that it should appear here (and in the following verses of the same chapter). The obvious solution to this enigma is found in separating the two parts of i(lzazel into 'ez 'azel, that is, the "goat of departure, or dismissal." In other words, as v.10 makes clear, this second goat is to be led off into the wilderness and there let go, thus symbolically bearing away the sins of all Israel from the camp of the Hebrew nation. Unquestionably the LXX so understood it, with its to apopompaid ("for the one to be sent off) and likewise the Vulgate with its capro emissario ("for the goat that is to be sent away"). So if we separate the two words that were improperly fused together in the Hebrew text, we have a reading that makes perfect sense in context, and which does not bring up an otherwise unexampled concession to demonology. In other words, "scape-goaf (KJV, NASB, NIV) is really the right rendering to follow, rather than "for Azazel" (ASV, RSV).

5. Fission

This refers to the improper separation of one word into two. For example, in Isaiah 61:1 the final word in Hebrew is p'qah-qah, according to the MT. Apart from this passage, there is no such separate qoah known in the Old Testament, or, indeed, in all Hebrew literature. Even lQIsa reads this word as one reduplicated stem, pq2hqwh, and so do many later Hebrew manuscripts. None of the versions indicate an awareness of two words here, but they all translate the Hebrew as "liberation" or "release" or even "recovery of sight"—relating pqhqwh to the root pqh, which refers to the opening of one's eyes in order to see clearly. Without doubt, therefore, the hyphen (or maqqef) should be removed from the text and the word read as a single unit.

Another interesting example of fission is in Isaiah 2:20, where the MT reads lahpbr perot ("to a hole of rats"). This is by no means a difficult reading, and it yields satisfactory sense as a proper place for discarding heathen idols. But on the other hand, the lQIsa reading fuses the two into Ihrprm (with a masculine plural ending rather than feminine), which would probably mean "to the field mice." The Theodotion Greek does not know what to make of the word and so simply transcribes it into the meaningless pharpharoth; but at least it indicates that the Hebrew Vorlage read the two parts as a single word. The meaning would then be that the field mice would do a good job of gnawing to bits the heathen idols discarded in the field by their disillusioned worshipers. However, it must be admitted that the case for this emendation is not quite conclusive, and it should be regarded as merely a tentative correction.

6. Homophony

It often happens in every language that words of entirely different meaning may sound alike, like the English words "beat" and "beet"; or even the noun "well," the verb "well (up)," and the adverb "well." We have already alluded to a potable example in Isaiah 9, where lo ("for him") was incorrectly given in the MT as lo ("not"). Another obvious example is Micah 1:15, where the MT reads abi lak ("my father to you") rather than 'abi lak ("I will bring to you"—the meaning obviously demanded by the context). The Masoretic notation in the margin favors the addition of an ' (aleph) to 'abi. The LXX so translates it (agago soi) and also the Vulgate (adducam tibi). As a matter of fact, it is conceivable that in Micah's day (eighth century B.C.) the imperfect of the verb "to bring" may have been optionally spelled without the aleph, owing to a greater brevity in the indication of sound.

7. Misreading similar-appearing letters

This type of error can actually be dated in history because at various stages of the alphabet development some letters, which later were written quite differently, resembled one another in shape. A notable example of this is the letter y (yodh), which greatly resembled the w (waw) from the postexilic period, when the square Hebrew form of the alphabet was introduced. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the "jot" (yodh) as the smallest letter in the alphabet—"One jot or one tittle of the law shall not pass away until all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). But up until the early sixth century B.C., yodh was as large a letter as many others in the alphabet and bore no resemblance whatever to the waw. Therefore we may confidently date all examples of confusion between yodh and waw to the third century B.C. or later.

Examples of misreading similar letters abound in lQIsa. In Isaiah 33:13 it reads yd'w ("let them know") rather than MT's wd'w ("and know ye"). More significantly we find in the MT of Psalm 22:17 (16 Eng.) the strange phrase "like the lion my hands and my feet" (ka ri yaday w raglan) in a context that reads "dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me—like the lion my hands and my feet!" This really makes no sense, for lions do not surround the feet of their victims. Rather, they pounce on them and bite them through with their teeth. Furthermore, this spelling of the word for "lion" ('ari) is rendered more than doubtful by the fact that in v.13 (14MT) the word "lion" appears in the normal way as 'aryeh. It is most unlikely that the author would have used two different spellings of the same word within three verses of each other. Far more likely is the reading supported by most of the versions: ka'ru ("They [i.e., the dogs or evildoers] have pierced" my hands and my feet). This involves merely reading the final letter yodh as a waw, which would make it the past tense of a third person plural verb. This is apparently what the LXX read, for oryxan ("they have bored through") reflects a karu from the verb kur ("pierce, dig through"). The Vulgate conforms to this with foderunt ("they have dug through"). The Syriac Peshitta has baz'w, which means "they have pierced through/penetrated." Probably the ' (aleph) in karu represents a mere vowel lengthener that occasionally appears in the Hasmonean manuscripts such as lQIsa and the sectarian literature of the second century B.C.

Another pair of easily confused letters is d (daleth) and r (resh). It so happens that at all stages of the Hebrew alphabet, both the old epigraphic and the later square Hebrew, these two always looked alike. Thus we find that the race referred to in Genesis 10:4 as the "Dodanim" appears in 1 Chronicles 1:7 as the "Rodanim." It is generally thought that Rodanim is the better reading because the reference seems to be to the Rhodians of the Asia Minor coastline. A rather bizarre aberration in the LXX rendering of Zechariah 12:10 is best accounted for by a confusion of r and d. The MT reads, "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced [ddqdru]" But the Greek version reads, "They shall look on me, because they will dance in triumph over [me]." The incongruous "dance" comes from misreading daqaru as raqadu, which involves reading the d as r and the r as d, all in the same word. But Theodotion preserves the correct reading by rendering exekentesan ("they pierced through").


8. Homoeoteleuton

This Greek term means "having the same ending" and identifies the loss of text that can result when the eye of the copyist inadvertently passes over all the words preceding a final phrase that is identical with that which closes the sentence immediately preceding, or immediately following. Having taken his eyes off the Vorlage in order to copy down what he has just read, he turns back to it and sees the words he has just finished writing down. Supposing that he is ready to move on to the next sentence, he fails to observe that he has left out all the words preceding the second appearance of the repeated phrase. For example, in Isaiah 4:4-6 the copyist who wrote out lQIsa encountered verses that had two occurrences of yomam ("by day"). The complete text should read as follows: "Then Yahweh will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for overall the glory there will be a canopy. And there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and rain." Now when the eye of the scribe jumped from the first "by day" to the second "by day," he left out fourteen Hebrew words in between. Unfortunately this could happen even in the more carefully preserved text-tradition of the MT itself. One notable instance occurs in Psalm 145, which is an alphabetic acrostic. Each successive verse begins with the next letter of the twenty-two-letter Hebrew alphabet. Now it so happens that the MT of v. 13 begins with m (mem), that is, the first word is malkut ka ("your kingdom"). But then v. 14 begins, not with n (nun, the following letter in the alphabet), but with s (samekh, the letter following after nun): somek YHWH lkol-hannopelim ("Yahweh upholds all those who fall down"). Where is the verse in between? Fortunately it has been preserved in the Greek of the LXX; and by translating this back to Hebrew, we come out with the probable original line: …("Yahweh is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his works"). The recurrence of YHWH ("Yahweh in all") soon after YHWH ("Yaweh to all") was enough to throw the scribe off; and some time after the LXX translation of the Psalter had been completed, the verse beginning with n became entirely lost in the Masoretic text.

9. Homoeoarkton

This means "that which has a similhr beginning" and involves a similar loss of intervening words, as the eye of the scribe jumps from one beginning to another. A striking example may be found in 1 Samuel 14:41, where the MT reads, "And Saul said to Yahweh, *0 God of Israel, grant a perfect one [i.e., a perfect lot].'" The situation demanded a discovery of God's leading in a time of national crisis. But according to the LXX version, Saul prefaced this request for a correct lot by a lengthy petition, saying, "Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim; but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim." The spelling of "a perfect one" (tamim) and "Thummim" (tummim) would have been the same in the consonantal text of the Hebrew Vorlage. (It should be explained that the Urim and Thummim were the two precious gems contained in a special compartment of the breastplate of the high priest and were to be used in ascertaining God's will when a choice was to be made between two alternatives.) Saul and his army, pursuing the defeated Philistines, needed to know whether God would have them continue the pursuit for another day; but God withheld giving them any clear guidance. Therefore Saul concluded that someone in his army must have transgressed against the Lord, and he was ready to resort to the casting of lots to find out who the culprit was. It so happened that Jonathan, unaware of Saul's vow invoked on anyone who would partake of food before the Philistines had been completely destroyed, had come across a comb of wild honey in the woods; and so he had quickly snatched up some of the honey to his mouth. Thus it came about that he who was the greatest hero of the hour—for he had started the rout of the Philistines against overwhelming odds—was about to be marked for death. But the eye of the Hebrew scribe unfortunately jumped from the first 'eldhe yisrael ("O God of Israel") to the second one, passing over no less than twenty-six Hebrew words in between. But here again the LXX supplies us with all the missing words in Greek, and from these we can reconstruct them in Hebrew, as has been done in the critical apparatus of Kittel's edition.

10. Accidental omission of words

Homoeoteleuton and homoeoarkton account for the omission of substantial numbers of words. Here, however, we are considering the loss of an occasional word, where similar phrases are not the source of the difficulty, but where some ancient version, such as the LXX, furnishes us with a clue that a word has been lost in the received Hebrew text. Sometimes this omission occurred before the third century B.C., and so not even the LXX can retrieve it for us. Such an instance is 1 Samuel 13:1, which in the MT says, "Saul was ... years old when he began to reign." The numeral has dropped out completely, and there is no way of ascertaining what it was. Many textual critics suggest other passages where a word has dropped out; but this falls into the class of mere conjecture and remains a matter of opinion, nothing more. We had best content ourselves with the objective data of the received text and the early versions. In the absence of special guidance from God, no such suggestion has any higher value than mere guesswork.

11. Variants based on vowel points only

As we have already seen, the Hebrew Scriptures existed only in the form of consonants all during the Old Testament period and indeed until well into the seventh or eighth century A.D. There is no clear evidence of the use of vowel indicators until the age of the Masoretes. A similar delay in the insertion of vowel points is demonstrable for Syriac and Arabic as well. But there was a very definite oral tradition preserved by the scribal order as to how the consonants were to be vocalized. From the LXX we can learn much as to the earlier pronunciation of Hebrew in the third and second centuries B.C., for there are many proper names spelled out with Greek vowels. As a matter of fact, a scholar named Origen in the third century A.D. prepared a vocalization of the Old Testament by the use of a Greek transliteration in column 2 of his Hexapla; but unfortunately rather little of that has been preserved.

The late origin of vowel points, which were not systematically inserted into the consonantal text until the Masoretic period, means that we must rely heavily on the oral tradition of the Jewish custodians of the Old Testament original. We can safely assume that in the vast majority of cases their voweling is true to the meaning of the original author. But there remain a small percentage of arguable passages where a slightly different pointing might significantly affect the meaning. In general, of course, Hebrew is perfectly understandable to those who regularly speak Hebrew, even though there are no vowel points indicated. Virtually all documents in Israel today are printed in consonants only, and there is never any dispute as to the sound or meaning of the words so written. (The same is true of Arabic and Syriac as well.) Nevertheless in dealing with literature written two thousand years ago, it remains true that speech patterns are far more varied— particularly in poetic genres—than would be true with modern Hebrew; and vowel points are a very necessary safeguard for accurate interpretation.

To illustrate some of the problems involving correct vowel pointing, let me discuss a few passages relating to the Lord Jesus. Each of these has been pointed differently by the Masoretes from what is indicated by the early versions or (in some cases) by the New Testament.

1. Isaiah 7:11 contains the invitation to King Ahaz to name any miraculous sign he wishes to confirm that Isaiah's message of deliverance for Judah by God is truly of the Lord. Isaiah then says (according to the MT): "Ask for a sign for yourself from Yahweh your God; make the request [s'alah] deep, or exalt it on high." This amounts to inviting him to name any kind of miracle in the heaven above or in the earth beneath. Interestingly enough, the Greek versions all point to a different voweling of  s alah, namely, s alah, meaning "to Sheol [Hades]." The LXX has eis bathos ("to the deep"); likewise Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion render it either eis bathos or eis Haden ("to Hades"). So also does Jerome in the Vulgate:  in profundum inferni ("to the depth of Hades"). This adds up to considerable weight on the side of the emendation.

2. In Isaiah 9:5(6 Eng.) the MT reads, "And one [or 'he'] shall call" his name Wonderful. But the LXX (which is very sloppy in its rendering of this passage, to be sure) makes it the present passive kaleitai, which means "his name is called." The Vulgate vocabitur is likewise passive: "will be called"; the Syriac ethqri is present passive, just like the LXX. All this adds up to a pretty strong case for re-pointing the MT yiqra to the passive yiqqare' ("shall be called"). It makes a little better sense in the context and involves no change in the consonants.

3. In Micah 5:1(2 Eng.), the prophecy concerning Christ's birth in Bethlehem, the MT reads, "You are little to be among the thousands ['alpe] of Juidah," meaning "to be counted among the communities having a thousand families or more." But in Matthew 2:6 it is quoted thus: "You are very small among the leaders of Judah." The Greek word for "leaders" (hegemosin) reflects a Hebrew 'allupe instead of alpe. This does not reflect the LXX, incidentally, for it supports the MT with chiliasin ("thousands"). Therefore it must come from some earlier, independent tradition.

4. Psalm 2:9, which is addressed by God the Father to His messianic Son, says according to the MT, "You shall smash them with an iron rod," referring to hostile kings who will rebel against Him. This pointing of ("smash") seems to be confirmed by the second half of the verse: "You will dash them to pieces like pottery." On the other hand, the LXX reads poimaneis ("You will rule"), implying the vowel pointing tir'em. This is confirmed by the word for "rod," which is sebet, the regular word for the staff of a shepherd or the scepter of a king. It is highly significant that this verse is quoted in Revelation 2:27: "He will rule [or 'pasture'] them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery." Again, in Revelation 12:5 we read, "She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule [poimainein] all the nations with an iron scepter." In both passages the emphasis is not so much on destruction or smashing as it is on shepherding or governing as a ruler over all the earth. The probabilities are, then, that we should repoint the MT's fro'em as tir'em. This latter reading is the one followed by the Vulgate (regis) and the Syriac (ter'e'), for both mean "you will rule."


B. The Canons of Textual Criticism

After sampling the eleven classes of textual error just described, in summary fashion we will list the seven "canons" or procedural rules textual critics use to come to an intelligent decision about divergent readings. These canons are arranged in the order of their priority or relative value.

Canon I. Generally speaking, the older reading is to be preferred over a reading found in later manuscripts. There may be, however, less reliable readings in as old a manuscript as lQIsa, simply because the latter was a rapidly made copy, intended for private use rather than for public worship or official instruction. But normally the older a manuscript is, the less likelihood there is of deviation from the reading of the autograph.

Canon 2. The more difficult reading (lectio difficilior) is to be preferred over the easier reading. This results from the greater likelihood on the part of a copyist to simplify a difficult word or phrase in his Vorlage, rather than to make a simple reading more difficult. But it should of course be added that when the more difficult reading seems to have resulted from confusion or inadvertence on the part of the scribe, this rule does not apply. The same is true if the reading is so difficult that it does not really make sense, or, again, if the more difficult reading expresses an idea or viewpoint quite contradictory to the sentiments expressed elsewhere in the book.

Canon 3. The shorter reading is generally to be preferred over the longer one. The reason for this is that copyists are more inclined to amplify or insert additional material for the purpose of clarification or embellishment than they are to leave out words already appearing in their Vorlage. But this rule does not apply if the shorter reading seems to result from haplography or homoeoteleuton, as described above.

Canon 4. The reading that best explains all the variants is most likely the original one. An excellent example of this was discussed above in connection with Psalm 22:16(17 Eng.), where we saw that a kd'ru ("they have pierced") misread as kd'ari (at a time when waw and yodh greatly resembled each other) most satisfactorily accounted for the MT reading; whereas it would be far less likely that "like the lion" would have been the original lying behind a kd'ru, which makes perfect sense in the context.

Canon 5. The reading with the widest geographical support is to be preferred over one that predominants only within a single region or a single manuscript family. Thus a reading attested by the LXX, the Old Latin, and the Coptic Egyptian versions does not have as much to commend it as one attested by the Vulgate and the LXX (outside of the Psalms, that is), or the LXX and the Samaritan. The reason for this is that both the Old Latin and the Coptic were translated originally from the LXX rather than from the Hebrew. For example, in Numbers 22:35 the Samaritan and the LXX agree on tismor l dabber ("you will be careful to speak"), as against MT's simple l dabber ("you will speak"). Even though some LXX manuscripts were found in the Qumran library, it is safe to say that the LXX and the Samaritan had very little influence on each other. Therefore if they unite on a reading divergent from that of the MT, it is quite possible they are correct.

Canon 6. The reading that more closely conforms to the style, diction, or viewpoint of the author in the rest of the book is to be preferred over a reading that seems markedly divergent. Of course this criterion must be applied with caution, for the author may be capable of a wider range of viewpoints and sentiments than modern liberals think admissible. We must firmly resist any emendation that merely reflects our own personal preference or opinion on a largely subjective basis.

Canon 7. A reading that reflects no doctrinal bias on the part of the copyist himself is to be preferred over one that betrays a partisan viewpoint. Thus we find in Isaiah 1:12 that the Masoretes have shied away from the alleged anthropomorphism of the MT's "When you enter to appear [lerd'ot] before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample my courts?" The obvious reading of the unpointed text would be, not the abbreviated form of a medio-passive infinitive (lera'ot for lehera'ot), but rather the active infinitive lira's ("to behold"). The reason for reading it as medio-passive is a theological one. Since no man can ever see God, the prophet would not be foolish enough to forbid Israel to do something that the people could never do anyway. But the problem with the MT pointing is that "before" is normally written le pansy ("before me") rather than the simple pansy, which means "my face," not "before." These two factors lead to the conclusion that the MT has resorted to an antianthropomorphic device, the false pointing of lire 'ot as the passive infinitive rather than the active. The Masoretes' high view of God as a transcendent spirit made them reluctant to allow the figurative expression "to behold my face," which was probably what Isaiah really intended to say. Yet it is quite possible that by Isaiah's time this had become an idiomatic expression for coming to the temple for worship and prayer. The word panim meant both "face" and "presence"; and since the presence of Yahweh rested over the ark of the covenant in the inner sanctum, the so-called table of shewbread was actually called in Hebrew "the table and the bread of the Presence" (sultan w'leem panim). The twelve loaves were so designated because they were offered before the Presence of the Lord, concealed on the other side of the curtain separating the Holy Place from the innermost sanctum.

C. Ground Rules for Competent Textual Correction

Having gone through the general guidelines for choosing between alternative readings on the basis of the seven canons, we now come to a concluding summary that appears in Ernst Wurthwein's excellent volume The Text of the Old Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1957), pp. 80-81. Wurthwein is not an Evangelical scholar, but he does represent a very high level of German scholarship in the area of textual criticism; and his recommended procedures are beyond reproach—except perhaps on the part of critics who wish to alter the received text of Scripture in order to suit their own ideas of what it should have said. Here, then, is Wurthwein's formula.

1. Where the MT and the other witnesses present the same reading, and it is sensible and intelligent, then let it stand without tampering. (It is inadmissible to reject this reading and resort to conjecture, as so many have ventured to do.)

2. Where there is a genuine deviation from the MT on the part of other witnesses, and both readings seem equally sensible, then the preference should clearly be given to the MT.

3. Where the text of the MT is for some reason doubtful or virtually impossible— whether from the standpoint of grammar or sense-in-context—and the reading offered by other witnesses offers a satisfactory sense, then the latter should be given careful consideration. This is especially true if it can be seen how the MT reading might have resulted through one of the familiar scribal errors (described above). But if, on the other hand, there is reason to believe that the ancient translator produced a clear reading only because he could not make out the meaning of the Hebrew text before him, and therefore guessed at what it might have intended to say, then we have a textual obscurity that can only be tentatively solved by resorting to conjecture.

4. Where neither the MT nor the other witnesses offer a plausible reading, then conjecture is the only course left to the critic. But he must do his best to reconstruct a reading that is as close as possible to the corrupted words in the received text, taking full cognizance of the standard types of scribal error and the various alternative readings that may most easily have developed from this original wording—if such it was.

5. In all his work with textual problems, the critic must pay due regard to the psychology of the scribe himself. How might he have fallen into this error, if error it was? How well does it conform to his habit of mind or procedure observable in the rest of the book?

6. By means of this carefully worked-out formula, Wurthwein has devised a sound method of scientific objectivity and systematic procedure that serves to eliminate much of the reckless and ill-considered emendation foisted on the public as bona fide textual criticism.





Keith Hunt