The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article X

Article X: “WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. WE DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.”

We do not possess the original manuscripts of Scripture. We do not have an autographed copy of Isaiah or Jeremiah from the prophets themselves, the original Gospel according to Matthew is gone, and none of Paul’s original epistles remain. What we have are copies, translations, and more copies. Does this mean that we can’t trust the copies and translations that we do possess? According to The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, not only can we trust that the ancient copies are trustworthy, but so too are our modern copies and translations.

Affirming the Inspiration of the Original Autographs and the Accuracy of the Copies

William Shakespeare lived from 1562-1616. During his lifetime as a writer, he wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and at least two narrative poems. He is, without a doubt, the most famous playwright of the English-speaking language, even to this very day. And absolutely none of his original manuscripts survive.

It is not at all unusual for original manuscripts of published works to be lost. The older the work, the more likely it is that the original manuscript (the autograph copy) has been lost or has perished with age. Most of the time, however, no one calls into question the validity of various copies. For example, if one were to go into a bookstore and purchase a copy of Shakespeare’s Plays, even though the original manuscripts no longer exist, hardly anyone is going to dispute the authorship of the plays, the validity of their wording, or their genuineness. There are, however, some that will do all three of those things—some argue Shakespeare didn’t even exist, that significant discrepancies must exist between the autographs and the republications, and that the plays may not even be rightly attributed to the phantom known as Shakespeare.

What does this have to do with the inspiration of Scripture and the original autographic texts? Everything. It tells us that people, for centuries now, have based the validity of written documents not on having possession of the original autographic manuscripts, but on their perspicuity, agreement between reprintings, and historical claims. The reason why someone can buy, for example, a copy of Romeo and Juliet and know that they’re going to read a play written by William Shakespeare is because history tells us that he wrote Romeo and Juliet, the various copies agree on the printed text, and it clearly reads as a Shakespearian play.

We can apply these same principles to our understanding of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. We can rightly conclude that it is the original autographs and manuscripts that we rightly call inspired. These were the versions that were printed by the prophets and apostles who were indwelled with the Holy Spirit in such a way that they could be said to actually be writing sacred Scripture.

But what can we say about the copies and translations we possess today? We can affirm, along with the signers of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, “that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.” In other words, we can trust our modern translations and copies—so long as they are faithful renditions of the Hebrew and Greek—for two reasons: 1. They match up well with the ancient documents that we do possess. We may not have the original autographs, but we do have very early and very ancient manuscripts, and a large volume of them, at that. They agree in their wording (minus a few inconsequential grammatical details), and our modern translations that seek to faithfully reproduce these manuscripts must be considered trustworthy. 2. We can trust that our modern translations and copies are accurate and still truly God’s Word because God is sovereign and unchanging. He absolutely, without fail, protects the transmission of His Word from one age to the next, and one people to another.

A Denial That the Absence of the Autographs Makes Inerrancy an Impossibility

The basic idea espoused by some regarding God’s Word today is that it cannot be trusted precisely because we no longer possess the original autographs. Without them, how can we be certain that there is nothing in those original autographs that would fundamentally change our understanding of the Bible as a whole? Perhaps those original autographs were inerrant, but can we really say the same of the copies and the translations? We can say that the original authors were inspired by God, but can we say the same of those who made the copies?

The answer, of course, is that while the scribes were not inspired by God, we can say that they were providentially guided by God to faithfully reproduce the biblical texts. We can trust the copies and translations we have today so long as the translators have sought to translate and reproduce the biblical languages into English faithfully and accurately. Our lack of the original autographs in no way impacts the Christian faith. If anything, it is the amazing unity and agreement between the ancient copies and manuscripts that we possess today that affirm God’s divine and sovereign hand over the transmission of His Word throughout the ages. It would be impossible for the multitude of handwritten manuscript copies, from the hands of a plethora of scribes across the centuries, to agree with such an incredibly small margin of error if it were not for the providential and sovereign hand of God leading the transmission of these documents.

In a sense, it is miraculous that the ancient manuscript copies we possess are in agreement. At the very least, it is nothing less than a divine act of God. So, we can trust our copies and translations because they have been preserved and transmitted to us over the ages by the providential hand of the Lord.

Jacob Tanner is the pastor of Christ Keystone Church in Middleburg, PA. He is married to his wife, Kayla, and together they have two sons, Josiah and Owen. He is the author of The Tinker’s Progress: The Life and Times of John Bunyan.


Jacob Tanner