My good friend Joe asked this on Facebook tonight:
A friend challenged me yesterday. Do you believe every word in the Old and/or New Testament is infallible? Do you believe the each author is infallible? If not, he concluded, “you’re basically agnostic.” If you’re willing, I’m interested in your thoughts.
I created a Facebook account just so I could interact with the answers. We had quite an interesting thread. Because of the importance of the subject, it’s worth a read. I started out with this as my reply:
We have 5,800 Greek manuscripts (nearly all of them partial fragments) pre-Gutenberg of the New Testament, and many thousands more of translations into other languages (e.g. Latin). The “witness” of the New Testament is unparalleled to any other historic book, and we’re still discovering new manuscripts. The amount of agreement between them is truly astonishing given the amount of human error that inevitably does occur when you are manually copying a document. It’s true that there are textual variants, as there are with any historical document, but none of them alter any doctrine or teaching. There’s a consistency across the different lines of transmission. Christianity spread so rapidly because of how many (slightly imperfect) copies were made in the early centuries. In short, if you want to argue that people made up things along the way the past 2,000 years, to be consistent you must also call into question a thousandfold anything we know Alexander the Great, Homer, etc. A high confidence in the accuracy and consistency of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament does not require faith. Belief in the actual contents does require faith.