The Legend of singular

original documents

By Bill Kincaid

 

 

This is a basic belief of most fundamentalists, in spite of the obvious grammatical incompatibility of the statement. It goes like this. The “original autographs” were inspired by God, and this inspiration was a “miraculous” event, so that God actually ordered the very words as they were written, in the form they were written. Inspiration of original documents simply means that as originally written these documents were inerrant, contained no errors {Fundamentalist..., Enc. Brit. 1974, 7:777}. Of course, this is also to say that no copies are inspired, no later modifications are inspired, and no translations are inspired. Inspiration can ONLY apply to the original words of the original documents.

The original documents have long ago perished, of course, all we have today are copies. Not to worry, though, the inspired originals have been “preserved.” That is, the inerrant scriptures have not perished, even though the original documents have. The fact that “perished” and “preserved” are mutually exclusive is glossed over by the theory that these original documents are somehow preserved in a different form. Even though they were inspired in one specific form, and cannot be considered inspired in any other form, their inspiration was “preserved” in a different form. If this is so, I don’t see the relevance of the clause “as originally written.”

However, “preservation” doesn’t mean to a fundamentalist that the present different form of the inspired original documents is inerrant. Inerrancy only applies to original documents, not to copies. Fundamentalists believe that somehow these errant copies have “preserved” the inerrant originals in an errant form. The inerrant scriptures are available only by piece-meal reconstruction of the original documents that were inspired, using errant copies. Those who reconstruct them are not inerrant, of course, and no actual reconstruction by errant experts will ever be exactly inerrant, yet somehow, or so it goes, the inerrancy of the originals has not perished. Perfect inerrancy (is there any other kind?) isn’t exactly preserved, but the available inerrancy is “almost inerrant” (oxymoron), or at least constantly nearing original inerrancy, therefore we can confidently say that the inspired scriptures (ONLY as originally penned) ARE preserved (though not as originally written). This is mind-boggling, of course, but it must be so, otherwise we would be modernists, not fundamentalists.

Now, the doctrine of inspiration in the Bible is a little more practical than that. It states that all scripture not only WAS given, but IS given by the inspiration of God. Inspiration is not restricted Biblically to the writing down of the document. Inspiration occurred BEFORE the writing, the prophets were inspired as they SPAKE, when they were MOVED by the Holy Spirit, in fact, the Spirit actually spake BY THE MOUTH of men. Not only so, but any Biblical doctrine of inspiration must include the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the present tense by the Scriptures (Heb. 3.7 “the Holy Ghost saith”). Christ affirmed that the scriptures his contemporaries could READ was God speaking to them (Mat. 22.31 “spoken unto you by God”), whereas God originally said it to Moses. Furthermore, Scriptural references to inerrancy inevitably refer to the present, to standard readings available in the common format of the day. It says the scripture “cannot be broken,” not “could not have been broken.” It IS written, not it WAS written. The restriction of inspiration and inerrancy to the penning down of the first draft of the original document is unbiblical. The Biblical doctrine ASSUMES the inerrancy of the common reading immediately available to God’s people.

To make this point even clearer, it should be noted that in spite of the fundamentalist fascination with original documents, the very documents universally considered inspired (by fundamentalists) are not now in the form in which they were originally penned. In fact, the inspired documents were often not the original documents at all.

For example, the book of Genesis was a compilation of earlier sources, some of them books (Gen. 5.1). If the sources had errors, then the compiler (Moses?) must have corrected them through inspiration, making the COPIES inspired and inerrant, not the original documents. If the sources were inerrant they must have been inspired, or preserved inerrant in some other way. And since the present form of the book must also have been inspired when (and ONLY when) it first assumed that form, (our “fideistic” fundamentalist point of faith), this means copies indeed CAN be inspired, not just preserved, (unless by “preservation” you mean it actually preserves the very inspiration).

Take another example. The “covenant” was written in a “book” (Ex. 24.4,7), and the book was not Exodus since Exodus was in process, nor was it Deuteronomy, since it wasn’t written till much later. What was written in this book? The ten commandments? Apparently. They were written down by Moses in a book shortly after they were spoken to the congregation from the fire. Later they were written by God on two tables of stone, on two different occasions. Then they were written into the book of Exodus, and then into the book of Deuteronomy. God spoke it inerrantly, Moses wrote it inerrantly (the original document), then God copied twice with his finger on stone (inerrantly), and then it made its way into two “inspired” books, the only ones preserved. But neither of these is original, and as it turns out, they are quite different from each other. Nevertheless, both of these different copies are considered inspired by fundamentalists, against their own theory of “inspiration ONLY as originally written.” Then, by a curious return to fundamentalist orthodoxy, the fundamentalist openly declares that no copies after these copies could possibly be inspired, or even preserved inerrant. Moses was inspired, they say, later copyists could not be inspired, or even preserved inerrant.

And yet, the soup gets thicker still. It turns out that Moses did not write all of Deuteronomy (if any). In fact, the account of Moses death and burial (Deu. 34.5-12) was clearly added by someone outliving him substantially. The suggestion that Moses could have penned his epilogue prophetically is impossible, for the writer speaks of time passing “since” his death, that no man knows of his sepulchre “unto this day,” and that there arose not a prophet like him SINCE the event of his death. If Moses had written “unto this day” it would not have been prophecy, it would have been pure fiction. Therefore, the original document of Moses was added to, and it is necessarily supposed by fundamentalists that these additions were also inspired. Of course, they then insist that no further additions could be inspired, nor further copies.

But it isn’t even that simple. (It never is.) The fact is Moses had made an END of writing the book of “this” law long before he died (Deu. 31.24), and after it was FINISHED it was put into the side of the ark, before the events related thereafter in Deuteronomy, and therefore the original finished document did not even include the song of Moses. Furthermore, that this book of the law is not the present Deuteronomy is evident, for it is written that Joshua ADDED to this book of Moses words that are not found in our present Deuteronomy (Josh. 24.26). It is obvious then, that Deuteronomy is not the original book of Moses, and the modified book of Moses is not found complete in our Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, laws found in Deuteronomy, and ONLY in Deuteronomy, are subsequently attributed to Moses (Josh. 8.31, 2 Kings 14.6, Neh. 13.1). The evidence is conducive to only one conclusion. Our present Deuteronomy contains laws written by Moses, but is not the original document written by Moses and added to by Joshua. If part of present Deuteronomy was the book written by Moses, Joshua’s declared additions are missing, and some other additions are present. If the book of the law written by Moses was not Deuteronomy, but the still missing “proto-Deuteronomy” as some critics call it, the only copy of those laws originally written are found in our present Deuteronomy, which is NOT the original document (and is missing Joshua’s additions as well). In short, we see the original document was modified, partially copied, partially edited, and substantially added to, and yet the present modified Deuteronomy is that which fundamentalists would try to reconstruct as the original inspired document, even though it isn’t the original document at all. Nevertheless, incredibly, according to the creed, no further copies of Deuteronomy can be considered inerrant.

Many more examples, even from the NT, are possible. They all cry out that the present popular doctrine of “inspiration ONLY of original documents” is FLAWED. It fails to admit the inspiration and/or preservation of sources, of editing scribes, the preservation of inspiration in existing, substantially modified copies (such as our present Deuteronomy), it ignores the continual role of God’s people in preservation, and it denies the practical applicability of the doctrine in the present tense. The fact is, the Scriptures are preserved in USE by God’s people. The standard reading of the common Bible IS inspired, IS inerrant, IS precisely what God has spoken to us, no matter how it might have been modified from the relatively insignificant, unimportant, unpreserved, perishable original documents. How can we know this? The same faith (or fideism) that causes fundamentalists to insist on inspiration of original documents. God said so.
 


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