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(Text as at 12/08/2007 10:17:46)
As a final topic in the consideration of the internals of the Bible, we need to consider the state of the text, for unless the text of the Bible is in good condition and faithfully reflects the original autographs (where such existed), much of the authority it may once have had will have been lost.
- In response to this, it may immediately be affirmed that the text of the Bible is very reliable indeed, and is supported by a larger number of earlier manuscripts than any other ancient text. These manuscripts also agree amongst themselves to a very significant degree.
- However, it has to be recognised that, as is the case with most other significant ancient works, the original autographs have all perished.
- The above assumes that there ever were original autographs. In the case of compilation texts, or those that passed through several redactions, the equivalent of the autograph would have been the "final edition" when the text stabilised.
- Though it is possible, in the vast majority of cases, to come up with a very probable reconstruction of the original (or final) text, it has to be recognised that the text is verbally uncertain in almost every passage. However, there are probably relatively few passages in which the original author's intent has become corrupted during textual transmission.
- The Old Testament has a greater appearance of textual uniformity than the New. However, this is an illusion created by the standardisation of the text by the early mediaeval Massoretes, albeit followed by a careful subsequent transmission.
- There are, however, substantial discrepancies between the Massoretic text and that underlying the Dead Sea Scrolls and again between these two textual traditions and the Septuagint. Nonetheless, these differences are not so great as to make the varying traditions speak with completely different voices.
- The above facts make it difficult to maintain any useful application of "full verbal inspiration" or "inerrancy". Applying these epithets to Scripture "as originally given" may save us from imputing error to God but offers no practical help since Scripture is not recoverable in its pristine state.
- It is to be noted, however, that the state of the text of the Bible presents no obstacle to the Bible's substantial reliability.
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