Why is it important for God’s revelation to mankind to be in the form of a book that we call the Bible? Would oral tradition not be sufficient?
Bernard Ramm, Ph.D., on pages 134-135 of his book entitled Special Revelation and the Word of God, states.
The great attribute of the written word is objectivity. The oral word too has its measure of objectivity, but it cannot match either the flexibility or the durability of the written word. Memory is imperfect. The desire to change or pervert is ever present.
In reference to the same matter, Greg L. Bahnsen says on page 155 of Inerrancy, a book edited by Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.:
The drawback to having revelation in oral form (or tradition) is that it is much more subject to various kinds of corrupting influences that stem from man’s imperfect abilities and sinful nature (e.g., lapses of memory and intentional distortion). To curb these forces . . ., God cast His word into written form. . . .
John 8:32 asserts, “[Y]ou shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And in John 17:17, Jesus stated with regard to God the Father, “Your Word is truth.” In other words, we can know the truth through studying the Bible, which is the Word of God. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Unfortunately, the Bible is not always clear with regard to the meaning of certain passages. Gleason L. Archer, on page 8 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, declares,
[T]he faith of some troubled souls is hindered by misunderstanding the Scripture. They are confused by what seems to them to be false statements or self-contradiction. We need, therefore, to clear away such false obstacles to faith. . . . God never asks us to crucify our intellects in order to believe.
And, in their book entitled When Critics Ask, Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., state on page 9,
The Bible has withstood the criticisms of the greatest skeptics, agnostics, and atheists down through the centuries, and it is able to withstand the feeble efforts of unbelieving critics today. Unlike many other religions today that appeal to mystical feeling or blind faith, Christianity says, “Look before you leap.”
What Is the Importance of the Original Biblical Documents?
On page 59 of Inerrancy, the previously mentioned book book edited by Geisler, the importance of the original biblical documents to have been without error is explained by Gleason L. Archer, as follows:
God’s written revelation came in inerrant form, free from discrepancies or contradictions, and this inerrancy contributes to its achieving its saving purpose. If there were genuine mistakes of any sort in the original manuscripts, it would mean, obviously, that the Bible contains error along with truth. As such it would become subject to human judgment, just like any other religious document. The validity of such judgment, of course, depends upon the judge’s own knowledge and wisdom. If he rejects the truth of the scriptural record simply because it seems to him to be unlikely or improbable, then he is in danger of eternal loss. The charge of scriptural self-contradiction or factual error is to be taken quite seriously; it cannot be brushed off as a matter of minor consequence. At stake is the credibility and reliability of the Bible as authentic revelation from God.
Subsequently, on page 81 of the same book, Archer adds,
A Bible containing mistakes in its original manuscripts is a combination of truth and error and is therefore in the same class as the religious scriptures composed by pagan authors as expressions of their own search after God. As such, it must be subjected to the judicial processes of human reason, and in the effort to sift out the valid from the false, any human judge – whoever he may be – is necessarily influenced by subjective factors. All he can be sure of is his own opinion – and even that may change from year to year. At best he comes up with conjectures and guesswork. . . . But he has no truly reliable, objective basis for knowledge of the one true God or His will for our salvation or way of living.
However, we do not have any of the autographa (i.e., the original manuscripts of the writings that comprise our Bible). In this regard, Bahnsen declares on page 172 of Inerrancy,
[T]here are only two options: either the Bible on our pulpits is the inspired Word of God, or it is the uninspired word of man. Because inspiration and inerrancy are restricted to the autographa (which are lost, and therefore not found on our pulpits), then our Bibles, it is argued, must be the uninspired words of man and not the vitally needed word of God. Others have misconstrued an epistemological argument for biblical inerrancy as holding that, if the Bible contains even one mistake, it cannot be believed true at any point; we cannot then rely on any part of it, and God cannot use it to communicate authoritatively to us. From this mistaken starting point the critics go on to say that the evangelical restriction of inerrancy to the autographa means that, because of errors in all present versions, our Bibles today cannot be trusted at all, cannot communicate God’s word to us, and cannot be the inspired Word of God. If our present Bibles, with their errors, are not inspired, then we are left with nothing (since the autographa are lost).
Bahnsen goes on to state on page 179 of the same book
Only with an inerrant autograph can we avoid attributing error to the God of truth. An error in the original would be attributable to God Himself, because He, in the pages of Scripture, takes responsibility for the very words of the biblical authors. Errors in copies, however, are the sole responsibility of the scribes involved, in which case God’s veracity is not impugned.
With regard to the inspiration of the Bibles that we presently use, Francis L. Patton, in his book entitled The Inspiration of the Scriptures, says on page 113, “Just so far as our present Scripture text corresponds with the original documents is it inspired.”
However, Benjamin B. Warfield believes that the current issue is whether or not any version of the Bible is trustworthy. On pages 581-582 of his book entitled The Inerrancy of the Original Autographs, he states,
The present controversy concerns something much more vital than the bare “inerrancy” of the Scriptures, whether in the copies or in the “autographs.” . . . The issue raised is whether we are to look upon the Bible as containing a divinely guaranteed and wholly trustworthy account of God’s redemptive revelation, and the course of his gracious dealings with his people; or as merely a mass of more or less trustworthy materials, out of which we are to sift the facts in order to put together a trustworthy account of God’s redemptive revelation and the course of his dealings with his people.
John W. Haley, M.A., on page 3 of his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, argues, “God who is wisdom and truth, can neither lie nor contradict himself. Hence, should it be discovered that falsehoods or actual contradictions exist in the Bible, our conclusion must be, that . . . these things do not come from God. . . .”
Is the Bible Inerrant in Every Detail?
Many people believe that the Bible is authoritative and perhaps even the Word of God, but not all of them think that the Bible has to be inerrant in every detail with regard to every matter it addresses. On page 8 of his previously cited book, Archer notes that some people hold the following belief about the Bible:
[T]he Bible is a book God inspired in order to give us religious truth but not precise facts of science and history. To waste time defending the Bible in these latter areas is to do it a disservice, they say. It diverts attention away from the real purpose of the Bible, which is rather to instruct us in spiritual and moral matters. A variant of this position is that the purpose of the Bible is to lead us to the personal truth of Christ. The Bible may be wrong on many points, but it points to the Savior; and to focus attention on points of geography, history, astronomy, and biology is only to divert it from its true goal – personal faith in Christ.
Then, on page 22 of the same book, Archer says,
[T]here 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.
However, Archer makes it clear that he strongly disagrees with this position. On pages 23 and 24 of the book, he declares,
There can be no infallibility without inerrancy – even in matters of history and science. . . .
If the statements [the Bible] contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extrabiblical 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. . . . All things are possible, but nothing is certain if indeed the Bible contains mistakes or errors of any kind.
And, on pages 59-60 of Geisler’s book entitled Inerrancy, Archer declares,
If any part of the Bible can be proved to be in error, then any other part of it – including the doctrinal, theological parts – may also be in error. We are referring here, of course, to the original manuscripts . . .; we make no such claim concerning later copies of those manuscripts.
Bahnsen, on page 153 of the same book, asks,
[I]f God sets forth false assertions in minor areas where our research can check His accuracy (such as historical or geographical details), how do we know that He does not also err in major concerns like theology? If we cannot believe the Lord’s Word when He speaks of earthly things, how can we believe Him when He tells us of heavenly things?
Archer, on page 26 of his own aforementioned book, addresses the matter of partial inerrancy, as follows:
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.”
And, on page 229 of his book entitled Evidences of the Authenticity, Inspiration and Canonical Authority of the Holy Scriptures, Archibald Alexander says, “[C]ould it be shown that the evangelists [i.e., the writers of the New Testament scriptures] had fallen into palpable mistakes in facts of minor importance, it would be impossible to demonstrate that they wrote anything by inspiration.”
Archer, on page 76 of Inerrancy, contends,
If God Himself is not concerned with total truth – including the area of history – then the Bible must be submitted to the scrutiny and judgment of man in order to determine what portions of it are valid and what are invalid. No longer does God’s Word sit in judgment on man; man sits in judgment on God’s Word. We cannot rely on God to speak the truth, or at least always to have guided the human authors of Scripture into truth.
On page 154 of the same book, Bahnsen states concisely the importance of the inerrancy of the Bible, when he says, “If the Bible is not wholly true, then our assurance of salvation has no dependable and divine warrant; it rests rather on the minimal and fallible authority of men.”
The following statements by John Skilton on page 143 of The Infallible Word provide a fitting conclusion regarding the inerrancy of the Bible:
We will grant that God’s care and providence. . . have not preserved for us any of the original manuscripts either of the Old Testament or of the New Testament. We will furthermore grant that God did not keep from error those who copied the Scriptures. . . . But we must maintain that the God who gave the Scripture . . . has exercised a remarkable care over his Word, has preserved it in all ages in a state of essential purity, and has enabled it to accomplish the purpose for which he gave it. It is inconceivable that the sovereign God who was pleased to give his Word as a vital and necessary instrument in the salvation of his people would permit his Word to become completely marred in its transmission and unable to accomplish its ordained end. Rather, as surely as that he is God, we would expect to find him exercising a singular care in the preservation of his written revelation.