The Great (American?) Evangelical Shibboleth

This old MS Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 208 contains a fragment of the Gospel of John 16:22-30, it dates to the 3rd century, so though one of the oldest NT MSS we have it is not an autograph.

Many people, some of whom I greatly respect, make use of a shibboleth invented1 in the 1970s. The test is summed up in one word which when required to be affirmed about Scripture neatly distinguishes the Gileadites from the Ephraimites. To be on the side of Evangelical (with a very capital E) righteousness one must affirm that Scripture is “inerrant”.

Of course a quick look at any decent critical text of Scripture soon reveals a plethora of variant texts. They cannot all be “inerrant” therefore the claim is given it’s most significant escape clause. It is only the “autographic text” that is inerrant.2

My trouble is I do not believe in those “autographic texts” it might be that once there was an “autograph” of Paul’s letter to the Romans, though references like Gal 6:11 may cast some doubt on even this, but was there ever an “autograph” of Jeremiah? All the best evidence suggests that well before the book’s canonisation, indeed as far back as we can trace its history there have been (at least) two quite different books of Jeremiah (represented today more or less by the MT and the LXX) both of which have been held as Scripture by orthodox Christians (both Eastern and Western, hence the small O). It is likely (see Jer 36) that NEITHER was written by Jeremiah.

You see the very notion of the once, if no longer, existence of “autographs” is a modern invention, and the evidence of the Bible itself witnesses against it. No wonder I am happily part of a long tradition which holds such shibboleths in suspicion.

  1. I believe, though I am no historian of these matters and stand ready to be corrected. []
  2. See article X of the Chicago Statement. []