Is every word of the Bible inspired? What about the two fairly different versions of Jeremiah (DSS vs MT)?
I’m having trouble believing that every single word in the Bible is true. I do know that Jesus’ resurrection is true and can be proven to a certain degree historically and that the creation of the universe can also be proven to a certain degree with scientific data and theories. But I’m having a difficult time believing that every word in the Bible is inspired. I’m having difficulties for several reasons the first is the minor variations (the ending of Mark, the passage in John, Luke 23:34, etc.) although they don’t affect the core teachings of Christ and God it’s still important. Second the two different editions of certain books in the Old Testament (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc) that were written in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Third the passages which claim that the word is perfect (Psalm 19:7, 2 Timothy 3:16, etc) but still the Bible we have still hold minor errors. I know I’ve asked you numerous questions regarding to several subjects I mention here and I’ve read several books that have helped me but haven’t really put this doubt to peace. In addition the thing that troubles me is that I love Gods word and He asks us to follow and obey every command He has given us. But it’s difficult when you’re not sure if what you’re reading is His direct command. Sorry for the long question. Thanks John!
To be completely honest, your question here really does not make complete sense. You are asking a question about whether or not the Bible is inspired, but then you use examples which have nothing to do with whether or not the Bible (as originally written) is inspired. You already know that there have been errors in copying and in translating. God, for his own reasons, chose to use human beings both to write the original texts of the Bible and to transmit them to us by copying and translating. The first step involved inspiration. I know this, both because of the evidence for the inspiration of the Bible and because it is a clear claim of the Bible. The second step–copying and translation–definitely are not inspired by God. Copier made errors. Your example with regard to variations has nothing to do with whether the Bible, as originally written is inspired. Your example about the ending of Mark and the passages in John and Luke, again, have no impact at all on the question of whether the original biblical writings are inspired. The different “editions” of Jeremiah are perhaps more significant, but they still involve textual transmission issues, not the inspiration of the original (more discussion of Jeremiah below). When the Psalmist says that God’s words are perfect, he is not giving a biblical promise that those who copy the scriptures do so perfectly.
So…. I need you to reword your question so that I can know how to answer it. Are you asking me how to deal with the fact that there are mistakes, no matter how small, in the copying process of the Bible, or are you asking me whether the scriptures revealed to us by the writers are inspired by God? I have said many many times and I believe that you can take this one to the bank. No significant doctrinal or theological point hangs on the question of copying errors. So, I ask you, is your doubt related to the question of inspiration (in which case I need different examples for you than the ones you gave) or is it with regard to the question, not of the inspiration of the Bible, but of whether copying and translation errors significantly affect your faith.
You ask specifically about the question of the two versions of Jeremiah–that in the Masoretic Text (MT) and in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). Specifically you asked (editor’s note: this comes from a separate question from the same person) about the book, “Evangelicals and Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics,” in the article, “Jeremiah, The Septuagint, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Inerrancy” by J Daniel Hays.
I read this article carefully. It is an excellent article because it gives the facts about the different manuscripts of Jeremiah, offers several possible explanations, narrows the possibilities down to two or three which are most likely and leaves the reader to make their own decision. Bottom line, there is solid evidence for two significantly different textual lines for the book of Jeremiah. Unlike the textual variations in the New Tesatement, all of which are either extremely minor, or are relatively unimportant because scholars are fairly sure which was the original, the two texts of Jeremiah in the MT and the DSS are really sigificantly different. The MT has several sections which are not in the, presumably older, text which led to the Septuagint and the DSS Text. The difference amounts to 2700 words which are not in the DSS and Septuagint, which is about 12% of the entire book. Passages not in the DSS include Jer 33:14-26, 39:4-13, 51:44-49, 51:44-49 and 53:27-30. These are not insignificant differences. This raises questions about which is the correct, inspired version of Jeremiah. The author suggests solutions which include the possibility that Jeremiah himself produced an earlier and a later version of what came down to us as the book of Jeremiah–one completed after he went down to Egypt. Another possibility is that a later editor–the one who created what became the Masoretic Text, inserted other material from Jeremiah significantly after he had died. If this is the case, the question arises about whether this additional material is inspired.
Here is my quick analysis of this question as it relates your larger question. What it comes down to is this. Does the material we find in the Masoretic Text or in the DSS version of Jeremiah reflect a faithful rendering of original, inspired material? We know for several reasons that God used Jewish editors to compile the final versions of a number of Old Testament books. Daniel is a good example. Might God use the editor as part of his means of producing an inspired text? I say yes. I am not sure that I can “prove” that the additional material in the Masoretic Text which is not found in what was probably an earlier edition of Jeremiah, reflected in the Septuagint or the DSS is inspired. When I look at Jeremiah 33:14-26 I find a wonderful prophecy of the Messiah–that he will be the Branch of Jesse, and that God will make a new covenant with Israel. This certainly has the marks of inspiration. I am going to take a leap of faith here–not a blind one, but one based on experience with the Bible–and conclude that the additional material in the Masoretic Text is in fact inspired writing. God gave custody of the Old Testament text to the Jews, so I will make this my most reasonable conclusion and leave it at that.
To summarize, the questions you raise are legitimate ones. In the case of New Testament textual variations, we can pretty much settle the question. There are no significant issues raised for the inspiration and reliability of the Greek New Testament. In the Old Testament, as I have stated many times, there are more significant questions, but even in this case, a reasonable interpretation of the information is that, on the whole, we have a reliable Hebrew Text which reflects with remarkable (but not perfect) accuracy the original inspired text. The inspiration of the original is well established by the evidence and the reliability of transmission to us by copiers and editors is good but not absolutely perfect. Specifically, I believe the most reasonable conclusion is that the additional material in the MT of Jeremiah, but not in the Septuagint, is inspired.