Are only the original manuscripts of the Bible inerrant?
This difficult question regarding the inerrancy (meaning without error) of the Bible is worth close examination. The content of the Bible was originally inspired by God. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches, "All Scripture is breathed out by God." Second Peter 1:21 adds, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Both verses clearly note Scripture is from God and would therefore be perfect when originally given.
But does this mean today's Bible is perfect? To answer this question requires a study of the Bible's preservation. How closely do the copies of Scripture we have today resemble the original documents? Since no original copies of the biblical manuscripts exist, we instead look at the earliest available manuscripts. For the New Testament, some portions exist from the early to mid-second century, within just a generation of the original writings. More than 5,000 copies of Greek New Testament manuscripts exist, in addition to thousands more in Latin, Coptic, and other languages.
The Old Testament is a much earlier work, yet manuscripts exist from the Dead Sea Scrolls from before the New Testament period, revealing the accuracy of the Hebrew and Aramaic text as it would have been known to people in the time of Jesus. In addition, a large finding of Old Testament manuscripts in Cairo (called the Cairo Geniza, referring to a place where worn manuscripts were stored) also supports the amazingly high degree of accuracy of the Old Testament writings. It includes more than 200,000 manuscript fragments from as early as 870 AD. Other early copies of large parts or the entire Old Testament include the Aleppo Codex (tenth century) and the Leningrad Codex (approximately 1008 AD).
Due to the vast number of early manuscripts available, those who study these documents (called textual critics) can determine the earliest, most accurate version of any passage with a strong degree of certainty. Is this level of accuracy 100 percent? In most places, the answer is yes. The majority of variants are due to spelling differences or clear "typos" by an ancient scribe. Most experts estimate the actual text in dispute at less than one percent. Even in these few situations, the accurate wording is either the one presented as most likely or one or two known variants.
God has inspired the words of the Bible, leaving us a perfect revelation of His instructions for us today. Now, more than 2,000 years later, the Bibles we read from include the same message God revealed long ago. Though inerrancy does apply only to the original revelation of Scripture, we can live confident that God's revealed words are the same words we hold today. They are powerful, living, and active (Hebrews 4:12) and can change our lives and the lives of those we serve.
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