What we claim to believe about Scripture directly reflects what we believe about God. Scripture is the word of God. It is not simply a regurgitation that resembles what God thinks; Scripture is the very breath of God.
“All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16).
That is an amazing statement that unfortunately is not commonly accepted by many Christians. Consider the wording found in many published statements of faith:
“We believe in the holy Scriptures as the full and accurate word of God in their original form”.
It is that last clarification that is most concerning. The reason many conservative groups add that phrase, is that it is well known and accepted that all existing translations of the Bible have difficulties. Many, if not all, have errors. In fact, the very nature of translation, which uses different words from other languages to try and reflect the original words, cannot ever contain the complete and exact meaning of those words in that original. That’s why they are a different language. It might get close, but it can’t be exact.
As a result, it is only the original documents that can present the exact words as recorded at that moment of inspiration by the writers of Scripture. Therein lies the problem. There are NO known copies of any original documents for any part of the Bible. Everything we have today is a copy of a translation, with who-knows-how-many iterations.
Of course, another approach that many churches take in dealing with this issue, is to claim to accept Scripture in its intended references and not specifically as something that is completely accurate and trustworthy. That is much too literal and constraining to them, so they swing along the pendulum to the other end and claim to appreciate the literature of Scripture and not get embroiled in the messy inaccuracies of the details.
So, should we accept that the Bible is completely accurate and trustworthy, if no original documents exist, and all translations have issues? This is why many faith statements claim to believe in the accuracy of Scripture only in their original form.
The glaring problem, that few seem to want to admit, is that such original Scripture doesn’t exist, so their belief in the trustworthiness of the existing Bible is invalid. They are claiming to believe in a myth.
Think about it. Does it make any sense at all to say that you believe and trust in God’s holy words in a form that doesn’t exist. What does such a statement reveal about what these groups actually believe about the book that sits in their lap on a Sunday morning?
They don’t actually trust it!
The problem here is not with the reliability of Scripture, but with the scholarly philosophy that demands material proofs. It is an evolutionary error of judgment that claims to believe in origins that can’t be proven by any existing physical evidence. Many Christians have been suckered into this lie.
The Bible that we have today can and should be trusted!
Consider the opening quote above, that God has breathed all Scripture. When the Apostle Paul wrote this statement to the minister Timothy, the existing Scripture that he had at that time, and that he was speaking about, was NOT an original. All of it was from translated copies.
The word Scripture, up to that time, was understood to mean those accepted books from Genesis to Malachi, as recorded in two primary versions: a Hebrew and a Greek. The Greek Septuagint was clearly an old and accepted translation from the original Hebrew, and one that both Jesus and the apostles quoted from (as they also did from the Hebrew version). That means that the Lord didn’t have a problem with this translation, even though it is very different in various details from the contemporary Hebrew at that time.
The reason scholars know that many New Testament quotes from the Old come from the Septuagint and not the Hebrew text is because the Hebrew wording says and means some things differently. If the living Word of God, known as Jesus, chose to quote from the Greek translation rather than from the Hebrew, then we are compelled, out of respect for his sovereign judgment as the Son of God who originally spoke those words, to accept the Greek meanings over the Hebrew ones especially in those passages, and in turn to embrace the Hebrew quoted passages over the Greek when chosen.
The Hebrew Scriptures were also in many ways a translation. When the Kingdom of Judah was taken captive to Babylon some 600 years previous to Paul’s writing, the Jews who were able to return to the land of Israel had effectively lost their native language. What they still had were Hebrew words on biblical scrolls, but few if any other writings to preserve that language or to ensure the ability to accurately define what all those words meant. You may have noticed in the footnotes of your Bible, when reading in the Old Testament, that “the meaning of this phrase or word is unknown”. That is because, for the most part, Hebrew had been lost. [There are other reason too, like Hebrew words passed down in Scripture that do not match the original due to scribal errors, but those are irrelevant to the point being made here.]
This was the time frame when devout Jews feared to speak the name of God, because the written letters of YHWH had no accompanying reference to how to rightly pronounce the holy name of God. To mis-speak and butcher God’s name was tantamount to blasphemy.
Modern Hebrew, for those who don’t know, didn’t come into existence until after WWII. The new nation of modern Israel needed their own language and Hebrew didn’t exist. Jews were coming together with a potpourri of languages from the nations where they had been scattered many generations before. Old Hebrew was a dead language.
What they did was take words from Scripture that had familiar meanings and combined them into made-up words for new things, and effectively created an entirely new language from the ashes of pieces of ancient Hebrew.
By the time of Jesus life on earth, the primary language of the Jews had long been Aramaic. The educated spoke Greek. The business and governmental groups spoke Roman. Hebrew was used as a liturgy when reading from the biblical scrolls in a synagogue or the Temple.
All this means that the Hebrew language at the time of Jesus, and at the moment that Paul wrote about Scripture being God-breathed, was effectively a translation and not an original. Paul had no qualms, however, about confirming that these Jews in his day continued to faithfully sustain God’s words, for:
“they have been entrusted with the very words of God”. (Rom 3:2)
This is the historical context within which we are supposed to accept Scripture as God-breathed. It is those translations that continue to reflect the breath of God. Notice that Paul does not qualify his statement by saying that God’s breath was somewhere in there, or gave life to those words back in ancient past, or is some kind of symbolic reference. He simply declares that the Scripture translations were, continue to be, and forever will remain the breath of God–including Old and New Testament books–right down to today, as that special book sits in your lap!
This breath cannot be verified by human study, document verification, or original proofs. No Scripture can be rightly understood absent of the Holy Spirit. This amazing truth is how a translation, by the nature of language differences, cannot be an exact, and yet can still be accepted as conveying the trustworthy and accurate truth of God.
If there is an error, or a divergent word used to translate some part of Scripture, then the Holy Spirit will heal it in the mind of the faithful and ensure the truth of God is fully conveyed. If there is a wrong translation or teaching, then the Holy Spirit will deafen ears, or in turn open ears, so that God’s very breath remains complete and life-giving. If one translation gets it wrong, the Spirit can direct a student, who strives to show themselves approved by rightly diving the word of truth, to another translation that does preserve the truth in that passage. Truth is primarily a function of the active working of the Holy Spirit in a faithful believer, and not so much a discipline of academic scholars.
Details still matter. Careful attention to what the text actually states is still very important. Accepting and obeying what it commands, even in literal terms where the context supports it, is of paramount importance. The Spirit will not guide the casual, indifferent, or flippant revisionist. The point here, is that the original details, though important, are not the key; the work of the Spirit is the most important detail in preserving and instructing through those details, even when filtered through successive layers of culture, language translations, and traditions.
Perhaps a slight modification of Paul’s words that give a general truth could help apply to this specific issue:
“In the same way no one knows Scripture, in its original or translated forms, except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may completely and accurately understand the Bible that God has freely preserved for us.” (1 Cor 2:11)
You don’t need an original document to trust what God says in his Bible. You need to submit to and trust the leading of the Master Teacher, the Spirit of God, that dwells within a faithful believer in Jesus.
Perhaps a more careful statement of faith could include the belief:
“We believe in the holy Scriptures as the full and accurate word of God as preserved, revealed, and taught by the Holy Spirit.”