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THEOLOGY > Bible > Truth > Autographs and Copies    


“Truth” is the proper word to use to describe the content or the nature of Scripture, and when used to specify the content of Scripture it is best to capitalize the word. But what exactly is meant when Truth is predicated of the Scriptures? What does it mean to affirm that the Bible is the Truth?

To say that the Bible is Truth
is to say that the Bible
(the autographs and the copies we have)
conveys exactly what God intends to convey.

To say that the Bible (the autographs and the copies we have) is Truth is to say that there is nothing within Scripture that inhibits Scripture from teaching what God intends for the Scriptures to teach, nor is there anything within Scripture that limits God from accomplishing through Scripture what God has chosen to accomplish through Scripture. To say that the Bible (the autographs and the copies we have) is Truth is to say that the Bible is entirely trustworthy and accomplishes the purpose God intended to accomplish when He inspired it, whether the purpose is one of informing and teaching, convicting, converting, maturing, or condemning.

Properly understood, the word “Truth” can be applied to the copies that we are blessed to have, and integrity should be affirmed of them as well as the autographs. In spite of copy and translation variants, Truth can be known.
Truth should be defined in relationship to the intent of the text.

Do the Scriptures teach what is intended? Can the believer come to know Truth whether he reads the autographs or the KJV, NJKV, RSV, NASB, or any other intellectually honest translation? God’s Truth is anchored to the text because of verbal revelation (see: Revelation was Verbal) but also, in a sense, God’s Truth transcends the text. Truth simply affirms that both in the autographs and in the copies we have the information that God intends for us to have. We can come to know God through the Bible we have.

There is a vital relationship between the autographs and the copies. The copies are what they are because the autographs were what they were; the copies are Truth because the autographs were Truth. Historically, the Church has equated the Bible that it has with the Word of God and has affirmed that the Bible it has contains and teaches Truth. This has been done even with the knowledge of so-called “problem passages,” “difficulties,” “inconsistencies,” and questions of text. Modern scholarship is not aware of any new problems that have not been known throughout Church history. But even with these problems confidence has been maintained in the Truth of Scripture. The Church has always, until recently, proclaimed that the Bible it has is the Truth of God. It seems proper then to have a high regard for Scripture, whether it be autograph or copy. And the word we use of either should be true of both!

Attention should focus upon the Bible we have not upon a Bible we do not have. It is, perhaps, necessary to discuss the autographs but what about the copies we currently possess. Are they reliable? Are they trustworthy? Do they have integrity? Can they be trusted? Can the word “Truth” properly be applied to current copies? Can we hold the Bible (KJV, NJKV, RSV, NASB, and others) in our hands and say: “This is the Word of God!”; can we affirm: “This is the Truth of God”? Or must we constantly make numerous qualifications and exceptions about the copies we have because they are just that—copies? Do not both the autographs and the copies teach what God intends to teach through them?

To give undue attention to the autographs detracts from the authority of the translations that are available. Instead of constantly defending the autographs (that we do not have), the Biblical theologian needs to affirm the copies that we do have. The Truth of the autographs is the Truth of the copies; that does not change. If God revealed Truth initially, then surely God has preserved that Truth even through manifold copies and translations. God would not reveal Truth and then allow that Truth to become corrupted. God protects and preserves what man most needs.

The Bible that we have today is reliable; it is trustworthy; it is Truth; it has authority; it is the Word of God. What is affirmed concerning the Scriptures must be said in such a way that it affirms the Truth that was in the autographs and that is in the copies we constantly use. It is acceptable, therefore, to use the word “Truth” of the copies, as well as the autographs, if the word is properly defined (see above definition; and see: Truth).

Some, however, prefer to speak only of the autographs. And of the autographs such words as “infallible” and “inerrant” are debated. To do so seems to overly value the originals at the expense of the copies. In a subtle way it conveys the impression that what we have is inferior to what was given, not greatly inferior, but still inferior. Those who feel compelled to apply the words “infallible” and “inerrant” only to the autographs defend scribal inerrancy in the autographs but not in the copies. In this way the originals receive elevated status and the Church must defend what it does not have (autographs) and cannot prove (scribal inerrancy in the autographs).

There is a subtle danger in doing this. An infatuation with the mechanics of inspiration focuses the attention on the autographs, not upon the current copies available; and to focus constantly upon the nature of the inspiration of the autographs is to undercut the authority of the available copies of the Bible that we do have. Unconsciously, the autographs will come to have a heightened importance. If the phrase “Word of God” is used exclusively of the autographs then what does that do to the copies? How are they impacted by an unwarranted attention given to the originals? Is the authority of the copies in a quiet way undermined? Do not the autographs come to be viewed with greater reverence than the copies?

The truth of the matter is that it is proper to refer to both
the autographs and translations as the Word of God.
One is not more the Word of God than the other—
Truth is in each of them.

The world does not need to hear the Church debating an autograph it doesn’t have but affirming the Truth of the copies that it does have!

In a definite sense, however, there is a difference. Original creation of the text is not the same process as translation work. The former is the direct result of God’s Revelation (see: Revelation); whereas, the latter is the result of man’s diligent work of preservation, although the preservation is surely providentially controlled and virtually unaltered in the finished product. Even though the processes are decidedly different, the Truth of the autographs is found in the copies. So, on the one hand, the two are different; on the other hand, one is not more the Word of God than the other. Both contain Truth.

The fundamentals of the faith would not change if we suddenly had access to the autographs and based our theological formulations upon them rather than upon the copies. A distinction between autographs and copies is of greater importance, perhaps, when a rational defense of the Scripture is being composed. However, the worth of Scripture is not dependent upon it being successfully defended philosophically. Calvin felt that the Scripture is “self-authenticated” (Institutes, I, 80) and proves what it is by what it accomplishes.

God uses His Word to accomplish His purposes, and His purposes have been accomplished through the autographs and are being accomplished through modern translations. In fact, all that God accomplishes today is accomplished through translations—no autograph is available. It should be admitted that a concept of textual purity that necessitates scribal inerrancy in the autographs is not a prerequisite to the current translations of Scripture initiating and sustaining saving faith. In other words, salvation Truth supersedes the question of absolute textual accuracy in every detail in the autographs. Questionable copies of Scripture can be used by God to save, and it is possible for an individual to reject scribal inerrancy in the autographs and still be numbered with the elect! 

The effectiveness of the Word is not dependent upon man’s estimation of it. “The Word of God stands above all scholarly debate” (Bright, Kingdom of God, 136).

Heaven and earth will pass away,
but My words will by no means pass away.
Matt. 24:35

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