I am not inerrant. Ask my husband, or my kids, or anyone who knows me, for that matter. No, the set of beings “incapable of making a mistake” is mighty small, containing in fact just one Being. The Creator God of the Bible is inerrant. His message to human beings, the Bible, is also inerrant, in this case meaning “containing no mistakes.” Here’s where people start snorting and saying “yeah, right.” Sometimes this response reflects a deep desire to not acknowledge God’s existence and sovereignty over His creation, but sometimes people just misunderstand what Christians mean by this claim.
“Inerrancy means that when all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs, properly interpreted, will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether this has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” Josh McDowell in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
Original autographs means the handwritten originals, inspired by God and written by the various human authors. But, you may object, we don’t have the original autographs. The manuscripts have been copied a bazillion times, and into different languages. They must be full of errors by now, (and we don’t claim that no copying errors have ever been made), so what difference does it make if the originals were inerrant? We can‘t possibly know at this late date, what the originals said.
Relax. There is good reason to be confident that the copies of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts we use today to translate the Bible into various languages are reliable representatives of the original content. Jewish scribes have always taken their work extremely seriously, using scrupulous care to copy accurately. Analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, has provided dramatic confirmation of the accuracy of our existing Old Testament manuscripts. These scrolls, written a hundred years or more before Jesus’ birth, match copies made a thousand years later to an astonishing degree. They are about 95% identical. As for New Testament books, the great number of manuscript copies in existence (around 25,000) and the short time between the events and the recording of them make a strong case for their authenticity and accuracy. You can read lots more about that in various scholarly books.
There is a more serious heart issue involved in the debate about inerrancy. We who are Christians believe that the Creator God of the Bible made all of space, time, natural laws and every atom of matter, from nothing. The Bible is His primary message to us. The text claims in various places to be the Word of God. To be uncertain whether an omnipotent God would be able to transmit and preserve the precise message He desired us to have, without corruption creeping in over time, is to completely misunderstand “omnipotent.”
We understand only the mere edges of God’s ways. If we were making up a religion and a ‘scripture,’ surely we would make it all simpler, write the whole thing ourselves, stamp the one authorized copy with a bright red “original” stamp, and magically preserve it in some golden cave. But God almost never does things the way we would. He used humans (forty of them) to transmit His message to us in three different languages. He took His time about it. The process lasted about 1600 years altogether. He allowed many copies to be made while—astounding decision—permitting the originals to be lost. Why? We don’t know, though it’s easy to think of a couple of good reasons. The important thing to remember is that the Omnipotent Creator of everything made us, He loves us, He died for us and desires for us to live with Him in peace and joy forever. Why on earth do we worry that He might not have made sure that the Bible we read today says what He meant for it to say? That’s just plain ridiculous. I can understand an atheist adding such concerns to his long list of reasons not to take God seriously. But the atheist doesn’t conceive of the real God; omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, who is Love and Holiness, the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of His creatures. The atheist has no proper perspective from which to have confidence in the inerrancy of God’s Word, and will not until he comes to know Jesus. We do know Him, and when His word abides in us He lives in us, empowering us to live and grow and love and endure until we see Him face to face. Then we will see and touch and hear the inerrant Word, Jesus Christ, in all His glory.