One of the things we should have realized by now is that the world around us is far crazier than we could ever have dreamed. Just when we have finally accommodated ourselves to taking yesterday’s staggering discoveries for granted, along comes another one. Our sinful hearts have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted, and even we are having trouble keeping up.
Word now comes that the language of DNA is not limited to one language. This is more than just a genetic palimpsest. This means that we have, at least in some places, a line of code that is coded in two different ways in order to perform two different functions. It is as though the boss at the factory said something like “turn on the fitzoblaster” and two different employees understood him perfectly, and went and turned on two different machines, and both employees did exactly what the boss wanted — obeying his command in two different but homophonic languages. But the boss, under evolutionary assumptions, along with the factory, both came into being as the result of a huge explosion in a nearby junkyard. As in, ka-blooie.
Malcolm Muggeridge once said that evolution in retrospect will be seen as one of the great jokes of history. If it keeps up much longer, it will be the premier howler of history.
Now my point here is to note that the God who does this kind of staggering thing is the same God who gave us Scripture. Why should we assume that His revelation is merely “inerrant”? Why should we stop there?
Whenever I write on this, I want to be extremely cautious. I do have problems with the standard understanding of inerrancy, but not because it claims too much for Scripture. My problem is that it claims far too little. Because it tends to claim too little, in the same kind of way that Muslims claim aboriginal authority for the Arabic Koran only, descended from Heaven, we tend to get stuck on petty discrepancies that are actually not discrepancies at all.
I am a biblical absolutist. But I also believe that we are only on the cusp of understanding the ramifications of this.
Commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture has to extend both into the past and the future. As far as the past is concerned, we are children of the Reformation, and so we answer to the ad fontes summons. We want to give ourselves to exegetical study of Scripture in the canonical languages, and we want to increase biblical literacy with the canonical texts as the foundation stones.
But there is a future-oriented aspect to this as well. Scripture is spring-loaded beforehand for translation. Translation into every human language is not a bug, it is a feature. Bible translation is not like the telephone game, where we are gradually moved farther and farther away from what God originally said. It works the other way around. The more we labor in the Word, taking it to the nations, the better we understand it.
Think of it this way. The Lord Jesus taught in Aramaic, a dialect descended from Hebrew. But the canonical text that we have in the gospels is all in Greek. When we get back to the autographs of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we are already one generation removed from the words that Jesus actually spoke. This, incidentally, is a help to us in resolving certain synoptic discrepancies, but I have a larger point at present.
The process of translation adds to our understanding of God’s Word. It does not subtract from it. I am, of course, assuming genuine efforts at translation, and not incompetent efforts or heretical ones. The more good and godly translations we have, the better it gets. The more we have scholars laboring in Hebrew and Greek, the better it is, and the more their work results in a vast array of Bible translations downstream, the better it is.
The Westminster Confession says that God not only gave us His Word in the original, but that He providentially preserved that Word down through history (WCF 1.8). He did not do this by means of one solitary manuscript kept in a safe box, but rather through the glorious mess that we otherwise call by the name of church history. But it just looks like a mess. God is up to something big.