In my efforts to better understand how the text of the Bible came to be as it is today, I’m currently reading a book entitled ‘How We Got the Bible’ by Neil R. Lightfoot. A passage I was reading today stood out, and I would like to share it, as I think it highlights a flaw in the thought of many Christians concerning God’s relationship with human beings.
In the ninth chapter of the book (p95), Lightfoot writes the following:
It is a fact that the New Testament text has been transmitted to us through the hands of copyists. It is also a fact that, since these hands were human, they were susceptible to the slips and faults of all human hands. It is not true, therefore, that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying the Sacred Scriptures. The Scriptures, although divine, have been handed down through the centuries by means of copies, just like any other ancient book. [emphasis added]
I find this reasoning to be problematic. If God was not involved in the process of scribes copying manuscripts, it is illogical to say that it is by God’s providence that we have the Bible in the form(s) it takes today. To take God out of the lives of the scribes is to remove God from the history of human activity and deny His ability to unfold the events of history in the way He chooses.
It would make much more sense to say that God is in sovereign control of His creation, and that He was in control of the copying process embarked upon by the scribes. That way, we can say with full confidence that when we are reading the Bible the words on the page are as God intended them to be. The fact that there are errors and contested readings is a part of God’s plan, as He doesn’t like humans to be perfect in every way all the time.
Theologians have a clear choice to consider. Either God is sovereign over creation and we can read the Bible knowing that we are reading the words God intended for us to read, or if we maintain that God was not guiding the scribes, as Lightfoot suggests, our confidence in reading evaporates and chance and circumstance necessarily come into the equation, depriving God of His sovereignty and depriving our modern Bibles of their authority.