Inspired, Inerrant — and Which Version?

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Nov 15, 2013 No Comments ›› John Eidsmoe

Inspired, Inerrant — and Which Version?

The Bible: God’s Words to You, A Presuppositional Guide to the Reformed Doctrine of Scripture, by Dr. Robert E. Fugate, may sound like an intimidating title, and the size of the book (863 pages) might scare you away.

But that would be a mistake. Dr. Fugate writes in a most engaging style, and he has a remarkable ability to make seemingly-complex topics clear to the lay reader. And the topic — the inspiration, inerrancy, and preservation of God’s Word — is of crucial importance today.

As a Lutheran, my doctrine is a little different from that of the Reformed/Calvinist wing of the Reformation. And I tend toward evidential apologetics, although I see great value in the presuppositional approach. (The presuppositional approach to the defense of the faith begins by acknowledging that believers start with basic presuppositions such as the existence of God and the authority of the Bible, then notes that unbelievers also start with presuppositions, and then proceeds to demonstrate the fallacies of the unbeliever’s presuppositons.) But on the authority and applicability of the Bible Dr. Fugate and I are in full agreement.

Dr. Fugate certainly is not the first person to write on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, but he does so with a thoroughness and lucidity that exceeds any other work I have read on the subject (and as an apologetics professor I have read many!). There are many today who believe the Bible is inspired but not inerrant, but I do not believe that is a tenable position. If God inspired the writing of Scripture but it contains errors, that poses a dilemma: Did God inspire the errors? (A) If the answer is no, then God inspired only part of the Bible, and our ultimate faith then is placed in the modern critics who tell us which parts of the Bible are inspired and which parts are not. (B) If the answer is yes, then God inspired error. That poses another dilemma: Did God know these were errors? (A) If the answer is yes, then God is not always truthful. (B) If the answer is no, then God is not all-knowing or omniscient. Either way, a denial of inerrancy ultimately calls into question the attributes of God.

By the way, I often hear pastors say the Bible is “inerrant and infallible,” and I have always thought those two terms were redundant. Dr. Fugate is the first person I have read who makes a credible distinction between the terms: inerrant, he says, means free from error, while infallible means incapable of error. He also speaks of the “verbal and plenary” inspiration of Scripture, verbal meaning every word is inspired, and plenary meaning the whole Bible is inspired. These distinctions might be two sides of the same coin, but they are significant nevertheless.

Dr. Fugate develops the case for the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture and for the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture with meticulous detail. He proceeds logically and clearly, exhaustively presenting the Scriptures for each position and citing and quoting respected Bible scholars to support his position.

If we agree that the original manuscripts of the Bible are inspired and inerrant, the next question should be, which translation of the Bible should we use? Here we consider questions such as which translation reads the most smoothly, or which seems the most clear and understandable. But a more important question is, which translation is most faithful to the text? And an even more basic question is, which ancient manuscript is the most accurate reproduction of the original?

For centuries, the Church has assumed that the textus receptus or received text, the Byzantine text, is closest to the original, and the King James Version is translated from the Textus Receptus. But in the 1800s some older manuscripts were discovered, among them Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. From these manuscripts the Hort-Westcott text and the very similar Nestle text were compiled, and most modern translations are based upon these texts rather than the Textus Receptus.

Because these texts are arguably older, does it not follow that they are more accurate than the Textus Receptus? Dr. Fugate argues, definitely not. He notes that at least 95% of ancient manuscripts (some say over 99%) agree with Textus Receptus. He presents good reason to believe that the older manuscripts were best preserved because they were regarded as unreliable and therefore relegated to obscurity. He also observes that they were preserved by heretics, or at least by those whose interpretation of Scripture was esoteric and allegorical.

Dr. Fugate is far from the first person to make the case for the Textus Receptus and for the King James Version. But he presents the case more clearly and more completely than any other author I’ve read.

Dr. Fugate notes the uncertainty of many scholars concerning Luther’s view of the canonicity of various New Testament books, particularly the Epistle of James, which Luther once called a “right strawy epistle.” But Luther was speaking of the Epistle’s value to believers, not of its place in the canon of Scripture. All Scripture is equally inspired and inerrant, but not all Scripture is equally edifying to the reader. Luther never denied that James is part of the canon of Scripture, and he frequently used James as a text for his sermons just as he used other books of Scripture. James Swan’s 2004 treatise “Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture” is most helpful on this subject and can be found at tquid.sharpens.org/Luther_canon.htm.

As I write, I’m slowly coming to the realization that there is no way I can compress an 863-page book into a few paragraphs. But I hope I’ve whetted your interest. Dr. Fugate’s magnum opus is a remarkable masterpiece — and you WILL be able to understand it. You can order it from www.lordofthenations.com.

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