Basic Definition of Terms and their Significance
Before expounding upon our Statement of Faith article, it will be beneficial to define from the outset some fundamental terms we use and also to briefly indicate the significance of them. In particular the terms “inerrant,” “infallible,” “preserved,” “translation,” “inspiration,” “the received text,” and “the science of textual criticism” need to be basically defined before proceeding.
When something is said to be “inerrant” it is first of all being described as possessing no errors or mistakes, or being free from errors or mistakes. It is also being described as something that does not err, or make errors, in what it does. Therefore, being “inerrant” it possesses no errors or mistakes and makes no errors or mistakes. “Inerrant” combines into one the concepts of “inerrable” (incapable of erring or making an error) with the concept of “inerroneous” (without error or mistake). Hence, something that is “inerrant” possesses the quality of being totally without error.
Though the term “inerrant” can be applied to things in the human realm, this can only be done in a very limited and highly restricted manner. “Inerrancy” is not a quality man possesses by nature, and so being “inerrant” is not something that characterizes man. Instead, man being a sinner by nature is prone to error. “Errancy” and “errant” are the appropriate terms for man. Only within the confines of a very limited context can the term “inerrant” ever be used with respect to man and his doings.
However, “inerrancy” is the very quality God possesses by nature. “God, who cannot lie”; Who is truth and Whose “word is truth”; is obviously “inerrant” by nature. God has “inerrancy” and He is “inerrant” in all that He does. God never makes an error or a mistake. Therefore, being “inerrant” He can never bring forth anything that is in error or possesses error, and this includes all that He says, communicates, or sets forth as His word. God has never said anything that is in error or about which He is mistaken. Hence, what God says is “inerrant.” God’s word by nature is “inerrant,” because it is God’s word.
By definition, therefore, it is impossible for God’s word to be anything but “inerrant.” If we declare something to be God’s word, it must be “inerrant,” otherwise it cannot truly be called the word of God.
This being said, however, it is necessary to acknowledge that from the beginning of man’s existence on this earth one particular creature has made it his goal to impugn the word of God. That creature is Satan, who from his first encounter with man in the garden of Eden, surreptitiously charged that God’s word to Adam was erroneous. Yet Satan’s attack upon the word of God was not a one-time event. Instead, it was the institution of a policy of evil against God’s word in view of Satan’s recognition of the essential role the word of God has in man’s relationship with God. Therefore, “Yea, hath God said…” is in essence the very thought that Satan wants planted in the mind of anyone who is confronted with, hears, or considers, the word of God. Hence, any doubt, calling into question, suspicion of error, or any form of impugnation that can be brought against God’s word, along with all tactics used to foster the impugnation, serve the purpose of Satan’s policy of evil against God’s word.
It is Satan that both wants, and has need for, men to hold in some measure the idea of possessing an errant word of God. He is the author of the concept and he has put together a policy of evil against the word of God to achieve it. Hence, to think that God’s word could possess errors, or to profess to have the word of God but that there are known errors or mistakes in it, is consistent with how Satan wants us to think, but not how God would have us to think.
In view of Satan’s policy of evil against the word of God it is necessary to underscore the word “inerrant” when talking about the Bible. In doing so in our Statement of Faith, we are asserting our conviction that God has not left His word, nor us, entirely at the mercy, so to speak, of Satan’s policy of evil. Instead, in the midst of the activities of that policy of evil, God has preserved His inerrant word. And, therefore, the inerrant, preserved word of God both exists and is identifiable.
“Infallible” bears a kinship to “inerrant.” Not in etymology, but in meaning and fellowship of application. The two words appropriately belong together, especially when describing God’s word. Hence, much of what has been said concerning the significance of the word “inerrant” also applies to the word “infallible.”
To be described as “infallible” means to be entirely incapable of failing, especially by proving to be false, proving to be incapable of fulfilling a function, or proving to be untrustworthy. Like the term “inerrant,” “infallibility” is something God alone possesses. As Webster states in his dictionary, “No human being can justly lay claim to infallibility. This is an attribute of God only.” And again, “No man is infallible; to be infallible is the prerogative of God alone.”
Being “infallible,” God cannot fail, fall short, be inadequate, be incapable, prove false, or be unreliable in anything that He does. And this naturally holds true with respect to His word. The word of God, because it is the word of God, by nature is “infallible.” What God says will not prove false, be in error, or be mistaken about anything. It will not fail in the accomplishment of any action or operation it ascribes to itself. It will not prove to be untrustworthy with regards to any promise, prophesy, or assertion it makes. Infallibility is by nature an attribute of the word of God.
Fallible, therefore, is not a term that can truthfully be applied to God’s word. It is not a concept that can be entertained when speaking about God’s word. There can be no such thing as the fallible word of God. However, endeavoring to render God’s word fallible, either in appearance or in actuality, is something Satan wants to achieve in his policy of evil against it. The absolute minimum he works for is to have men hold the idea that the Bible may not mean what it says. The most he is after is the actual textual altering of God’s very words, or the precise meaning of those words, so that what God actually says and means is at the least obscured, and at the best is altered in meaning or not even there to be dealt with.
In view of what the word of God is designed to do within man, the term “infallible” conveys more than just the issue of God’s promises and prophesies assuredly coming to pass. It also means that the preciseness of what God has communicated must be preserved not only in content, but also in meaning, so that it can and will unfailingly accomplish all that God has designed for it to do.
Preservation is the action of preserving or keeping something from harm, injury, or destruction, with the result that it remains in existence, is intact, and is undiminished in any of its properties. Preservation, therefore, involves protection from hostile action. As such, the concept of preservation recognizes the existence of certain agents and/or activities that are specifically hostile to the enduring presence and function of the thing being preserved. Hence, when something is being preserved, or is in a state of preservation, it is the recipient of particular care, provisions, and safeguards. These are specifically designed to prevent or counter the effects of any hostile actions it might receive, and so effectually produce, and ensure, the object’s preservation.
In view of the Satanic policy of evil against the word of God, God has both promised to preserve His word and the Bible repeatedly refers to its enduring existence. [ Note: This issue is focused upon in The Doctrine of Divine Preservation. ] Regarding attempts to corrupt the word of God, God has not said that it will not be subjected to the activities of the policy of evil, but that He will preserve it in the midst of those activities. The doctrine of Divine Preservation, therefore, specifies not only the enduring existence of the pure word of God, but also the simultaneous existence of corrupted and tampered with versions and/or renditions of it.
“Translation” involves the issue of transference; that is, the bearing, conveying, or removing from one person, place, or condition to another person, place, or condition. Therefore, with respect to communication, “translation” is the issue of transferring the meaning contained in the words of one language to the words of another language so as to express the exact same meaning in that other language, and produce through the words of that other language the same effect the words in the original language are designed to produce.
In view of the fact that God brought the issue of multiple languages into existence when He confounded the language of all the earth as described in Genesis 11, the translation of His word into the various languages is of necessity. This, however, is not a hindrance to the word of God, nor to its inerrancy or infallibility.
The functional quality of translation is dependent upon both the linguistic skill and the determined objective of the translator(s). Regarding the determined objective of the translator(s), generally speaking there are two major types of translation work — Formal or Verbal Equivalency, and Dynamic Equivalency.
— Formal or Verbal Equivalency is translation work that strives to produce in the target language (the language into which the text is being translated) an exact equivalency of verbal form and structure to that which is contained in the host language, along with (as much as the languages will allow) a word-for-word translation from the text of the host language to the text of the target language. As such, formal and verbal equivalency avoids as much as is possible such things as paraphrasing, linguistic/poetic license, and the like. Formal equivalency is highly objective, concerning itself with producing a precisely accurate verbal and formal translation, even when the exact meaning of certain expressions, phrases, sentences, or passages is not necessarily understood by the translator(s).
— Dynamic Equivalency is translation work that is less concerned with producing in the target language an exact equivalency of verbal form, structure, and word-for-word renderings. Instead, the primary focus is upon the resultant thoughts and ideas produced by words. As such, dynamic equivalency seeks to reproduce in the target language the same kind of thoughts and ideas found in the text of the host language, but without necessarily being bound to honor the verbal form, structure, and precise words of the host language. Dynamic equivalency regularly employs various degrees of paraphrasing, interpretation, linguistic/poetic license, colloquialisms, and the like. Dynamic equivalency translations can be highly subjective, being the product of what the translator(s) personally understands about the intended thoughts and ideas contained in the host text.
Though Formal Equivalency translation work differs from Dynamic Equivalency in definition, it is the translator’s own personal convictions about the document being translated that determines the nature of the work. With Bible translating, the determined objective of the translator(s), and hence the quality of the translation, is naturally going to be materially affected by the stand that is taken by the translator(s) on such issues as inspiration and preservation.
Literally, “inspiration” refers to the act, or action, of breathing in, or breathing into something. With respect to the physical process of respiration, inspiration is teamed up with expiration to describe the total breathing in and out process of the lungs. However, since the breathing process is also involved in oral communication, “inspiration” also has a meaning that applies to communication.
Unfortunately, with communication “inspiration” has a wide range of meanings, from the awakening of some idea or emotion in the mind through the simple suggestive properties of some sight, sound, or sensation, all the way to the issue of a supernatural implanting of an idea or message in one’s mind. Therefore, the proper meaning of “inspiration” with respect to the Bible must be determined by what the Bible itself says.
The claim of the Scripture, the Bible, is that it is “given by inspiration of God.” (II Timothy 3:16) Exactly what this means is easy to determine from other statements and declarations in the Scripture regarding itself and where it came from. For example, when the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the devil quoted from the Scripture about the issue of man’s need to operate on God’s word, He said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) What the Lord said to the devil that man needed to do, was exactly what He Himself was doing. He was living “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” and those words He was living by were the words of Scripture. Hence, “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” is what the Scripture is. Scripture is “inspired” because it is the written record of the very words that God has given, which written record He has designed to effectually work in the hearts and minds of men by means of those very words He has given. Scripture, therefore, is the record of the words that proceeded out of God’s mouth as He communicated them to the ones He chose to record them, and they wrote them down. The Scripture, though physically penned by men, is the inspired word of God. It is the product of His mouth. Chosen men just recorded what He said.
In view of the wide range given to the word’s use, there are many adjectives that are used to specify a particular kind of “inspiration.” In accordance with the Bible’s testimony concerning “inspiration,” the designation ‘verbal, plenary inspiration’ most accurately describes the Bible’s inspiration. Other designations such as ‘natural inspiration,’ (i.e. inspiration equal to that which is possessed by any gifted writer); ‘dynamic inspiration,’ (i.e. inspiration that extends only to the thoughts or ideas, but not to the precise words); ‘partial inspiration,’ (i.e. inspiration extending only to the parts of Scripture designated by such expressions as “Thus saith the Lord,…); ‘spiritual rule inspiration,’ (i.e. inspiration only extending to spiritual issues, but not historical or scientific matters); ‘existential inspiration,’ (i.e. inspiration only as a verse or passage speaks to the reader and is found to be relevant and meaningful to him); and the like, not only fall far short of the truth, but oppose it.
The Received Text
The “Received Text” is the English equivalent for the Latin designation “textus receptus,” which is derived from a seven word Latin expression set forth in a 1633 document by the Elzevir brothers. That document was the preface to the edition of the Greek text they published at that time. It cited the work of the science of textual criticism during the Protestant reformation and the result of its work being ‘the text received by all.’ Generally speaking, as a text it stands in contrast to another kind of text. This other text is that which is supported by a small fraction of the total manuscript evidence, and headed up by the Vaticanus manuscript of the Roman Catholic church.
In accordance with the tenets and practices of the science of textual criticism at work during the Protestant reformation, the King James Version translators generally rejected the differing readings peculiar to the small number of divergent manuscripts in existence, especially the leading manuscript espoused by the Roman Catholic church. Therefore, the King James Version is a translation of the Received Text.
The Science of Textual Criticism
The Science of Textual Criticism is the field of study concerned with the manuscript evidence for any given historical document. It seeks to evaluate manuscript evidence and determine the exact verbal contents of an original document. It operates on a prescribed system of criteria for evaluating manuscript evidence, which has been developed from accepted theories regarding the causes for textual variations among the extant manuscripts of the document.
The Science of Textual Criticism is a valid field of Biblical study. However, this science, along with any science, is capable of being a “science, falsely so called” when it doesn’t operate on the testimony of “the word of truth.” In connection with this, generally speaking the science of textual criticism has had two major phases to its recent history. During the time of the Protestant Reformation it operated on a sound Biblical foundation that, among other things, recognized both the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures and the reality of Divine Preservation. However, during the past two hundred years it has moved off of this foundation, preferring one that views inspiration differently and makes little or no acknowledgment of Divine Preservation.