A Theology of Typos (and Worse)

Today I received a question from one reader of Lit!

Hey Tony,

On page 26 you say that Scripture “needs no editing or revision. It is Perfect.” I’m trying to understand what you mean by that. Would you elaborate on or paraphrase this for me, please?

Thanks very much,

SW

Certainly! The reference is to this line in chapter 1:

Scripture is unique. It is eternal. It never contradicts itself. It needs no editing or revision. It is perfect (Ps. 19:7).

That point comes in my attempted summary of the character of scripture. Earlier I made the point about Scripture’s inerrancy, which then builds up to this closing thought in question.

When I say Scripture requires no editing or revision I cite Psalm 19:7, but it is really an attempted summary of Psalm 19:7–11. The whole of God’s written word (i.e. his law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and rules) require no editing (i.e. it’s perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true).

Another way to look at this is to take a step back to see a much more fundamental point: God himself is perfect and requires no improvement. Therefore, all “God breathed” writings will require no editing, since they are breathed out from an infallible mouth. That applies to the original autographs of what was written by God, beginning with the very first published edition of the Bible carried by Moses down from Mt. Sinai in the form of stone tablets written by the finger of God. I believe this same point now applies to the whole of canonical Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

Infallibility, however, stops with the original autographs and does not extend to the many copies made throughout the centuries by scribes nor, of course, does inerrancy extend to Bible translations. Copies and translations do contain errors which requires the constant attention of keen biblical scholars, for whom I am deeply grateful.

By contrast, I’m a sinful man in need of much grace and personal change. Therefore everything I write contains errors and will require hours of editing and constant improvement, a taxing labor for my poor wife and friends and for my publisher! And I am painfully aware of the mistakes that managed to get into Lit! (for which I take full responsibility). For example, on the top of page 185 that should be “efficiently” not “inefficiently.” In footnote 25 on page 196 the parallelism should be “acute/acute” not “acute/astute.” Duh. And in the acknowledgments on page 188, I’m afraid my thanks to two dear pastor-friends got miffed by the inclusion of one extra word, see if you can find it: “When I speak of the pastor’s ability to encourage Christians to read, these are two faithful examples have deeply impacted my own life.” The spare “are” breaks the sentence and kills the sentiment.

When I find errors like these I palm-slap my forehead. Of course these are all relatively minor mistakes, but they fluster me. I don’t doubt that other errors lurk unnoticed, my point is that I am a redeemed sinner, and that means I am a work in progress. God is, he is not a work in progress. Therefore, I will have errors in my writings. God will not. My book requires hours of editing to weed out mistakes. God’s word, as it was originally given in the original autographs, is infallible and requires no editing or revision, it is breathed out infallibly. God writes no second drafts.

That was the point I was trying to make there. Is that clearer?

Thanks for the question!

Tony

The Tapestry of Scripture

That list of biblical references running down the gutter of each page the ESV Study Bible is a compilation of thousands of cross-references that point to other thematically related parts of Scripture. All told the ESVSB has 80,000 of those cross-references.

There’s a history to who actually made those connections. The references found in the ESVSB were compiled by a team of Bible scholars from Oxford and Cambridge Universities over 100 years ago. Their work was first used in the English Revised Version (RV), a version that appeared in 1881.

A few years back Lutheran pastor Christoph Römhild wondered if an infographic could capture cross-references like these for the purpose of visualizing the tapestry of Scripture. He contacted Chris Harrison, who said yes, and together they created this:

Each bar along the bottom represents a chapter from Genesis (left) to Revelation (right). The length of the bar correspond to the length of the chapter (Psalm 119 is easy to find in the middle). The cross-references are arched and colored by arch length. In all this graphic represents 63,779 colorful cross-references (I’m unsure how they arrived at this number, cross-referencing being something of an art — the Thompson’s Chain-Reference Bible has over 100,000, for example).

Beautiful graphic, isn’t it? This is a wonderful visual reminder of the thematic unity of Scripture, and it serves as a great personal reminder to read every verse in light of the bigger biblical storyline.

You can find a large version of the graphic and more information here.

Extrabiblical Books and Scripture’s Sufficiency

Without extrabiblical literature we cannot make use of the Bible, argues John Frame. He makes this point in a chapter on the sufficiency of scripture (ch 32) in his new book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010), 220–238. On pages 232–233, Frame writes this of our need of extrabiblical books in order to properly apply Scripture to our lives:

All our use of Scripture depends on our knowledge of extrabiblical data. Scripture contains no lessons in Hebrew or Greek grammar. To learn that, we must study extrabiblical information. Similarly, the other means that enable us to use Scripture, such as textual criticism, text editing, translation, publication, teaching, preaching, concordances, and commentaries, all depend on extrabiblical data. So in one sense even the first premises of moral syllogisms, the normative premises, depend on extrabiblical knowledge. So without extrabiblical premises, without general revelation, we cannot use Scripture at all.

Then he writes:

None of those considerations detracts from the primacy of Scripture as we have described it. Once we have a settled conviction of what Scripture teaches, that conviction must prevail over all other sources of knowledge. So Scripture must govern even the sciences that are used to analyze it: textual criticism, hermeneutics, and so on. … Scripture must remain primary. …

Frame’s argument culminates here:

Certainly, it is a misunderstanding, then, to think that the sufficiency of Scripture rules out the necessity of extrabiblical information. At every stage of our use of Scripture, we should legitimately refer both to the content of Scripture and to extrabiblical revelation. But each in its proper place: when we are convinced that a teaching is the teaching of Scripture itself (even when we used extrabiblical information in reaching that conviction), that teaching must take precedence over any conclusion derived from outside Scripture.