Great Writings on Biblical Inerrancy: How to answer critics who claim that discrepencies in the Biblical manuscripts and translations renders Biblical inerrancy meaningless

Introduction:                                                                                                                                In this series of blogposts we have been exploring great writings on Biblical inerrancy by significant authors, theologians and scholars who espoused a high view of scripture in the face of modern critics. The whole point of this series has been two-fold: 1). to equip the reader with various methods for responding to criticism’s about the Bible from skeptics; 2). to introduce readers to great writers and theologians who not only write on Biblical inerrancy but other relevant topics pertaining to doctrine, Biblical interpretation and life.

Today’s post features an excerpt from the great 19th century theologian A.A Hodge who taught theology for many years at Princeton Theological Seminary.1 Dr. Hodge is known for his seminal three-volume work: “Systematic Theology” and “Outlines of Theology” from whence the below excerpt derives. What makes Hodges’ piece so helpful for those of us who aim to proclaim, know or defend the scriptures is the question and answer format that he writes, making the reader interact with what is being said.  My prayer is that these series of blogs will both inform and edify the wider Christian community and reminds us all that the Bible we have today are indeed the Word of God.

What objection to the doctrine of Plenary Inspiration is drawn from the alleged fact that “Discrepancies” exist in the Scriptural Text? and how is this objection to be answered?

Dr. A.A Hodge gives the following answer in his work – “Outlines of Theology”:

“It is objected that the sacred text contains numerous statements which are inconsistent with other statements made in some part of Scripture itself, or with some certainly ascertained facts of history or of science.

                It is obvious that such a state of facts, even if it could be proved to exist, would not, in opposition to the abundant positive evidence above adduced, avail to disprove the claim that the Scriptures are to some extent and in some degree the product of divine inspiration. The force of the objection would depend essentially upon the number and character of the instances of discrepancy actually proved to exist, and would bear not upon the fact of Inspiration, but upon its nature and degree and extent.

The fact of the actual existence of any such “discrepancies,” it is evident, can be determined only by the careful examination of each alleged case separately. This examination belongs to the departments of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis. The following considerations, however, are evidently well–grounded, and sufficient to allay all apprehension on the subject.

1st.  The Church has never held the verbal infallibility of our translations, nor the perfect accuracy of the copies of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures now possessed by us. These copies confessedly contain many “discrepancies” resulting from frequent transcription. It is, nevertheless, the unanimous testimony of Christian scholars, that while these variations embarrass the interpretation of many details, they neither involve the loss nor abate the evidence of a single essential fact or doctrine of Christianity.

                And it is moreover reassuring to know that believing criticism, by the discovery and collation of more ancient and accurate copies, is constantly advancing the Church to the possession of a more perfect text of the original Scriptures than she has enjoyed since the apostolic age.

                2nd.  The Church has asserted absolute infallibility only of the original autograph copies of the Scriptures as they came from the hands of their inspired writers. And even of these she has not asserted infinite knowledge, but only absolute infallibility in stating the matters designed to be asserted. A “discrepancy,” therefore, in the sense in which the new critics affirm and the Church denies its existence, is a form of statement existing in the original text of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures evidently designed to assert as true that which is in plain irreconcilable contradiction to other statements existing in some other portions of the same original text of Scripture, or to some other certainly ascertained element of human knowledge. A “discrepancy” fulfilling in every particular this definition must be proved to exist, or the Church’s doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration remains unaffected.

                3rd.  It is beyond question, that, in the light of all that the Scriptures themselves assert or disclose as to the nature and the extent of the divine influence controlling their genesis, and as to their authority over man’s conscience and life as the voice of God, the existence of any such “discrepancies” as above defined is a violent improbability. Those who assert the existence of one or more of them must bring them out, and prove to the community of competent judges, that all the elements of the above definition meet in each alleged instance, not merely probably, but beyond the possibility of doubt. The onusprobandi rests exclusively on them.

                4th.  But observe that this is for them a very difficult task to perform, one in any instance indeed hardly possible. For to make good their point against the vast presumptions opposed to it, they must prove over and over again in the case of each alleged discrepancy each of the following points:

                (1) That the alleged discrepant statement certainly occurred in the veritable autograph copy of the inspired writing containing it.

               (2) That their interpretation of the statement, which occasions the discrepancy, is the only possible one, the one it was certainly intended to bear. The difficulty of this will be apprehended when we estimate the inherent obscurity of ancient narratives, unchronological, and fragmentary, with a background and surroundings of almost unrelieved darkness. This condition of things which so often puzzles the interpreter, and prevents the apologist from proving the harmony of the narrative, with equal force baffles all the ingenious efforts of the rationalistic critic to demonstrate the “discrepancy.” Yet this he must do, or the presumption will remain that it does not exist.

               (3) He must also prove that the facts of science or of history, or the Scriptural statements, with which the statement in question is asserted to be inconsistent, are real fact or real parts of the autograph text of canonical Scripture, and that the sense in which they are found to be inconsistent with the statement in question is the only sense they can rationally bear.

                (4) When the reality of the opposing facts or statements is determined, and their true interpretation is ascertained, then it must, in conclusion, be shown not only that they appear inconsistent, nor merely that their reconciliation is impossible in our present state of knowledge, but that they are in themselves essentially incapable of being reconciled.

                5th.  Finally it is sufficient for the present purpose, to point to the fact that no single case of   “discrepancy,” as above defined, has been so proved to exist as to secure the recognition of the community of believing scholars. Difficulties in interpretation and apparently irreconcilable statements exist, but no “discrepancy” has been proved. Advancing knowledge removes some difficulties and discovers others. It is in the highest degree probable that perfect knowledge would remove all.”

Endnotes:                                                                                                                                            1.The Link for this quote is found at the website:  http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/Outlines%20of%20Theology_Online.html#quiet4

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About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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3 Responses to Great Writings on Biblical Inerrancy: How to answer critics who claim that discrepencies in the Biblical manuscripts and translations renders Biblical inerrancy meaningless

  1. Ken Hardee, retired SBC Pastor! says:

    I did leave 3 relies; however, someone who peruses them, apparently thinks my thoughts, question, observations, are not worthy, or “intellectually challenged”, thus, they choose neither to answer, or regarepd them deemable for print,….

    • pastormahlon says:

      Dear Ken:
      It is good to hear from you my precious brother. Please don’t take offense about the moderation of comments. That feature is what so happens to be a part of this blogging program and is what is used for anyone who comments on the blog. It is a good feature to have in this day and age.

      Blessings
      Mahlon

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