The Book Writing Process of the New Testament: Authors and Early Christian Scribes

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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

The Place of Writing

When we think of the apostle Paul penning his books that would make up most of the New Testament, some have had the anachronistic tendency to impose their modern way of thinking about him, such as presupposing where he would have written it. As I am writing this page, I am tucked away in my home office, seeking privacy from the hustle and bustle of our modern world. This was not the case in the ancient world where Paul lived and traveled. People of that time favored a group setting, not isolation. The apostle Paul probably would have been of this mindset. Paul would not have necessarily sought a quiet place to author his letters, to escape the noise of those around him. As for myself, I struggle to get back on track if I am interrupted for more than a couple of minutes.

Most during Paul’s day would have been surprised by this way of thinking, i.e., seeking quiet and solitude to focus all of one’s energy on the task of writing. Those of Paul’s day, including himself, would not have even noticed people talking around them, nor would they have been troubled by what we perceive as interruptions, such as others’ discussions, which were neither relevant nor applicable to the subject of their letter writing.


The Scribe of the New Testament Writer

Philip W. Comfort informs us that an amanuensis is ascribe or secretary. In ancient times a written document was first produced by an author who usually dictated the material to an amanuensis. The author would then read the text and make the final editorial adjustments before the document was sent or published. Paul used the writing services of Tertius to write the epistle to the Romans (Rom. 16:22), and Peter was assisted by Silvanus in writing his first Epistle (see 1 Pet. 5:12).”[1]

Dr. Don Wilkins, a Senior Translator for the NASB, also tells us that amanuensis is a “Latin term for a scribe or clerk (plural ‘amanuenses’). When used in the context of textual criticism, it refers specifically to a person who served as a secretary to record first-hand the words of a New Testament book if the author chose to use a secretary rather than write down the words himself. Tertius (Rom. 16:22) is our example. The degree to which an amanuensis may have contributed to the content of any particular book of the Bible is a matter of speculation and controversy. At one end of the spectrum is the amanuensis who merely took dictation (the position preferred here); at the other is the possibility that a New Testament author may have told his amanuensis what he wished to communicate in general terms, leaving it to the amanuensis to actually compose the book.” Andrews would wholeheartedly disagree with the latter view, as it was the New Testament authors alone who were inspired to give us the words of God, and the scribe was merely the vehicle for doing so.


The Ancient Greco-Roman society employed secretaries or scribes for various reasons. Of course, the government employed some scribes working for chief administrators. Then, there were the scribes who were employed in the private sector. These latter scribes (often slaves) usually were employed by the wealthy. However, even high-ranking slaves and freed slaves employed scribes. Many times, one would find scribes who would write letters for their friends. According to E. Randolph Richards, the skills of these unofficial secretaries “could range from a minimal competency with the language or the mechanics of writing to the highest proficiency at rapidly producing an accurate, proper, and charming letter.”[2] Scribes carried out a wide range of administrative, secretarial, and literary tasks, including administrative bookkeeping (keeping records of a business or person), shorthand and taking dictation, letter-writing, and copying literary texts.

The most prominent ways that a scribe would have been used in the first century C.E. would have been as (1) a recorder, (2) an editor, and (3) as a secretary for an author. At the very bottom of the writing tasks, he would be used to record information, i.e., as a record keeper. The New Testament scribes, when they were needed or desired, were being used as secretaries, writing down letters by dictation. Tertius took down the book of Romans as Paul dictated to him some 7,000+ words. He would have simply written out the very words that the apostle Paul spoke. Some have argued that longhand in dictation was not feasible in ancient times because the author would have to slow down to the point of speaking syllable-by-syllable. They usually cite Cicero as evidence for this argument because of the numerous references to dictation in his writings. Cicero stated in a letter to his friend Varro that he had to slow down his dictation to the point of “syllable by syllable” for the sake of the scribe. However, the scribe he was using at that time was inexperienced, not his regular scribe. Of course, it would be very difficult to retain one’s line of thought in such a dictation process. It should be noted that Cicero had experienced scribes who could take down dictation at a normal pace of speaking, even rapid speech.[3] Therefore, since there was evidence that there were scribes in those days who were skilled enough to take down dictation at the average speech rate, we should not assume that the apostles would not have had access to such scribes in the persons of Tertius, Silvanus, or even Timothy.


In fact, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (b. 35 C.E. d. 100 C.E.) complained that a scribe who could write at the speed of normal speech can lead to the speaker feeling rushed, to the point of not having time to ponder his thoughts.

On the other hand, there is a fault which is precisely the opposite of this, into which those fall who insist on first making a rapid draft of their subject with the utmost speed of which their pen is capable, and write in the heat and impulse of the moment. They call this their rough copy. They then revise what they have written, and arrange their hasty outpourings. But while the words and the rhythm may be corrected, the matter is still marked by the superficiality resulting from the speed with which it was thrown together. The more correct method is, therefore, to exercise care from the very beginning, and to form the work from the outset in such a manner that it merely requires being chiseled into shape, not fashioned anew. Sometimes, however, we must follow the stream of our emotions since their warmth will give us more than any diligence can secure. The condemnation which I have passed on such carelessness in writing will make it pretty clear what my views are on the luxury of dictation which is now so fashionable. For, when we write, however great our speed, the fact that the hand cannot follow the rapidity of our thoughts gives us time to think, whereas the presence of our amanuensis hurries us on, and at times we feel ashamed to hesitate or pause, or make some alteration, as though we were afraid to display such weakness before a witness. As a result, our language tends not merely to be haphazard and formless, but in our desire to produce a continuous flow we let slip positive improprieties of diction, which show neither the precision of the writer nor the impetuosity of the speaker. Again, if the amanuensis is a slow writer or lacking in intelligence, he becomes a stumbling-block, our speed is checked, and the thread of our ideas is interrupted by the delay or even perhaps by the loss of temper to which it gives rise.[4]

Therefore, again, we do have evidence that some scribes were capable, skilled to the point of writing at the normal speed of speech. While Richards says that this is by way of shorthand, saying it was more widespread than originally thought, where the secretary uses symbols in place of words, forming a rough draft that would be written out fully later,[5] this need not be the case. True, there is some evidence that shorthand existed a hundred years before Christ. However, it was still rare, with few scribes having the ability. Whether this was true of the scribes that assisted our New Testament authors is an unknown. It is highly unlikely but not necessarily impossible.

Who in the days of the New Testament authors would use the services of scribes? Foremost would be those who did not know how to read and write. Within ancient contracts and business letters, one can find a note by the scribe (illiteracy statement), who penned it, stating he had done so because his employer could not read or write. For example, an ancient letter concludes with, “Eumelus, son of Herma, has written for him because he does not know letters.”[6] It may be that they were able to read but struggled with writing. Then again, it may simply be that they wrote slowly and were not willing to spend the time on improving their skills. An ancient letter from Thebes, Egypt, penned for a certain Asklepiades, concludes, “Written for him hath Eumelus the son of Herma …, being desired so to do for that he writeth somewhat slowly.”[7]

On the other hand, whether one knew how to read and write was not always the decisive issue in the use of a secretary. John L. McKenzie writes, “Even people who could read and write did not think of submitting their readers to unprofessional penmanship. It was probably not even a concern for legibility, but rather a concern for beauty, or at least for neatness,” (McKenzie 1975, 14) which moved the ancients to turn to the services of a secretary. Although the educated could read and write, some likely felt that writing was tedious, trying, tiring, and frustrating, especially where lengthy and elaborate texts were concerned. It seems that if one could avoid the tremendous task of penning a lengthy letter, entrusting it to a scribe, so much the better.

The apostle Paul had over 100 traveling companions, like Aristarchus, Luke, and Timothy, who served by the apostle’s side for many years. Then, there are others such as Asyncritus, Hermas, Julia, or Philologus, of whom we barely know more than their names. Many of Paul’s friends traveled for the sake of the gospel, such as Achaicus, Fortunatus, Stephanas, Artemas, and Tychicus. We know that Tychicus was used by Paul to carry at least three letters now included in the Bible canon: the epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and Philemon. Tychicus was not simply some mail carrier. He was a well-trusted carrier for the apostle, Paul. The final greeting from Paul to the Colossians reads,

Colossians 4:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

All my affairs Tychicus, my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in the Lord, will make known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,

Richards offers the following about a letter carrier, saying he “was often a personal link between the author and the recipients in addition to the written link. . . . [One purpose] for needing a trustworthy carrier was, he often carried additional information. A letter may describe a situation briefly, frequently with the author’s assessment, but the carrier is expected to elaborate for the recipient all the details.”[8] Many of Paul’s letters deal with teachings, as well as one crisis after another; the carrier was expected to be aware of these on a much deeper level so that he could orally explain and answer any questions. Therefore, he needed to be a highly trusted messenger who was literate.

As was mention, Tertius was the scribe Paul used to pen his letter to the Romans. We cannot assume that all of Paul’s companions were proficient readers and writers. However, we can infer that Paul would task coworkers, who were able to carry and read letters, as well as understand the condition of the people or congregation where they were being sent or stationed. Yes, at a minimum, these would have been proficient readers. In addition, the scribes whom Paul used, such as Tertius, would very likely have been semi-professional or professional. It would have been simply senseless to entrust the secretarial work of taking down the monumental words of the book of Romans, for example, to an inexperienced scribe. What skills would Tertius need to carry out the task of penning the Book of Romans?

The ordinary coworker of Paul would likely have been able to read proficiently but likely possessed minimum writing skills. Paul would have chosen workers whose skills would have equipped them to carry out their assignments. Again, Tertius would have been the exception to the rule; most likely, he would have been a professional scribe. He would have to have been able to glue the sheets together if it was to be a roll or stitch the pages together if a codex. He would need to know the appropriate mixture of soot and gum to make ink and to be able to use his knife to make his own reed pen. Richards writes that a professional scribe would also “draw lines on the paper. Small holes were often pricked down each side, and then a straight edge and a lead disk were used to lightly draw evenly spaced lines across the sheet.”[9] If Tertius had not been trained as a copyist of documents, he would have made many minor errors because his attention would have been on the sense of what he was penning, as opposed to the exact words, as is typical of the unconscious mind.

Porter writes, “Textual criticism has also recognized that even original authors may have revised their work, and these works have gone through editions.” Stanley E. Porter (p. 35) How We Got the New Testament

Comfort writes, “When I speak of the original text, I am referring to the ‘published’ text— that is, the text in its final edited form as released for circulation in the Christian community.”[10]

HOW do you edit the Holy Spirit? If the author was moved along by the Holy Spirit and all original Scripture is inspired, why the need for editing?

Some might say, “We believe that the NT authors themselves penned or dictated a one-time, single, and only version of their texts, unedited and uncorrected under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

However, I would pause to ponder Paul dictating the book of Romans to Tertius. Tertius was not inspired, so is he capable in his human imperfection to go without making one single scribal error for 7,000+ words? Are we removing the Holy Spirit in any way if Paul scratches out a few words that Tertius got wrong and wrote the correct word above it? Or is it the slippery slope to consider this possibility? If we hold fast to “I believe that the NT authors themselves penned or dictated a one-time, single and only version of their texts, unedited and uncorrected under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit;” then, we have to answer those kinds of questions. We have to raise them ourselves, by writing, “some might ask, how is it …” Peter said, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account.” – 1 Peter 3:15.

We need to be willing to modify (or clarify) what we said above to include our qualification that Paul would edit the letter to the Romans as was described, as the amanuensis (i.e., Tertius) was not inspired. In the process, Paul would not change his original dictation, and the outcome would be a single document, corrected, as necessary. We would also say that Paul might not make the actual corrections but might direct the amanuensis to do that as Paul watched. We do not go beyond this, though, i.e., such as postulating a fresh copy made from the original before publication, etc.

Did Tertius take Paul’s exact dictation, word for word? Robert H. Mounce writes,

The only legitimate question about authorship relates to the role of Tertius, who in 16:22 writes, “I Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” We know that at that time in history an amanuensis [scribe], that is, one hired to write from dictation, could serve at several levels. In some cases he would receive dictation and write it down immediately in longhand. At other times he might use a form of shorthand (tachygraphy [ancient shorthand]) to take down a letter and then later write it out in longhand. In some cases an amanuensis would simply get the gist of what a person wanted to say and then be left on his own to formulate the ideas into a letter.[11]

It might seem quite the task for Tertius to take down Paul’s words in longhand. However, this is not to say that it was impossible, just difficult. Paul might have had to speak in a slow to a normal rate of speech, but not syllable-by-syllable. Tertius would indeed have been writing on a papyrus sheet with a reed pen, intending to be legible; however, he would have been very skilled in his trade. Then again, there is the slight possibility of Tertius taking it down in shorthand and after that making out a full draft, which would have been reviewed by both Paul and Tertius. This is only the case if it is comparable to what a modern-day court reporter does. In some sense, they are taking down whoever is speaking down in shorthand. Imagine a courtroom where you have a witness talking fast, the prosecution interrupts, the defense jumps in with his rebuttal and the judge snaps his ruling, and the witness resumes his or her account of things. All of that is taken down explicitly word for word in shorthand, and if ever turned into longhand, it would be exactly what was said, down to the uh and um common in speech. So, if the shorthand of the day had that kind of capability; then, it is conceivable. We must remember these are the Bible author’s dictated words to the scribe based on their inspiration, not the word choice or writing style of the scribe.

The last option by Mounce in the above is contrary to the attitudes that both the scribes and the New Testament authors would have had toward what was being penned. God chose to convey a message through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Jude, James, and Paul, not Tertius and Silvanus, Timothy, or others. We cannot say with any certainty whether Tertius or Silvanus took their authors’ words down in shorthand or longhand. We can say, however, that the human author was dictating the Word of God to the scribe, and in no way was it composed by the scribe.

Inspiration and Inerrancy in the Writing Process

All Scripture is inspired by God

In this context, inspiration is the state of a human being moved by the Holy Spirit, which results in an inspired, fully inerrant written Word of God.

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy ICBI

Article VII

We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us. We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

Article VIII

We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared. We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities. [“I would argue that if by human imperfection an author was going to choose an inappropriate word that would fail to communicate the meaning intended by God that the Holy Spirit would then override that word choice.” – Edward D. Andrews]

Article IX

We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.

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. [There is no miracle of preservation but rather, it is preservation by restoration. Today, what we have, thanks to hundreds of textual scholars over a few hundred years, is a 99.99% restored original language text.” – Edward D. Andrews]

Article XI

We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.

Inerrancy of Scripture

Inerrancy of Scripture is the result of the state of a human being moved by the Holy Spirit from God, which results in an inspired, fully inerrant written Word of God.

Article XII

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Article XIII

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Article XV 

We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration. We deny that Jesus’ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.

Article XVI

We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history. We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by Scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.

Authoritative Word of God

The authoritative aspect of Scripture is that God by way of inspiration gives the words the authors chose to use power and authority, so that the outcome (i.e., originals) is the very Word of God, as though God were speaking to us himself.

Article I

We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God. We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be fully competent, equipped for every good work.

What does this mean? The phrase “inspired by God” (Gr., theopneustos) literally means, “Breathed out by God.” A related Greek word, pneuma, means “wind,” “breath,” life, “Spirit.” Since pneuma can also mean “breath,” the process of “breathing out” can rightly be said to be the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring the Scriptures. The result is that the originals were accurate, fully inerrant, and authoritative. Thus, the Holy Spirit moved human writers so that the result can truthfully be called the Word of God, not the word of man.

2 Peter 1:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

The Greek word here translated “men carried along by,” “men moved by” (NASB),” phero, is used in another form at Acts 27:15, 17, which describes a ship that was driven along by the wind. So, the Holy Spirit, by analogy, ‘navigated the course’ of the Bible writers. While the Spirit did not give them each word by dictation,[12] it certainly kept the writers from inserting any information that did not convey the will and purpose of God.

The heart of what the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) stood for is apparent in “A Short Statement,” produced at the Chicago conference in 1978:


  1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
  2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
  3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
  4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
  5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
How to Interpret the Bible-1

Questions to Consider

We have been using the book of Romans as our example, so we will continue with it. We know that Paul was the author who gave us the inspired content of Romans, Tertius was the secretary who recorded Romans, and Phoebe was likely the one who carried the letter to Rome or else accompanied the one who did. Thus, we have at least three persons: the author, the secretary (amanuensis; scribe), and the carrier.

What is inspiration?

Inspiration is a “theological concept encompassing phenomena in which human action, skill, or utterance is immediately and extraordinarily supplied by the Spirit of God. Although various terms are employed in the Bible, the basic meaning is best served by Gk. theopneustos “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), meaning “breathed forth by God” rather than “breathed into by God” (Warfield).” (Myers 1987, 524) Verbal plenary inspiration holds that “every word of Scripture was God-breathed.” Human writers played a significant role. Their individual backgrounds, personal traits, and literary styles were authentically theirs but had been providentially prepared by God for use as his instrument in producing Scripture. “The Scriptures had not been dictated, but the result was as if they had been (A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield).”[13]

World-Renowned Bible Scholars Define Inspiration

Benjamin B. Warfield: “Inspiration is, therefore, usually defined as a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God, by virtue of which their writings are given Divine trustworthiness.”[14]

Edward J. Young: “Inspiration is a superintendence of God the Holy Spirit over the writers of the Scriptures, as a result of which these Scriptures possess Divine authority and trustworthiness and, possessing such Divine authority and trustworthiness, are free from error.”[15]

Charles C. Ryrie: “Inspiration is … God’s superintendence of the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs.”[16]

Paul P. Enns: “There are several important elements that belong in a proper definition of inspiration: (1) the divine element–God the Holy Spirit superintended the writers, ensuring the accuracy of the writing; (2) the human element—human authors wrote according to their individual styles and personalities; (3) the result of the divine-human authorship is the recording of God’s truth without error; (4) inspiration extends to the selection of words by the writers; (5) inspiration relates to the original manuscripts.”[17]

Were both Paul and Tertius inspired, or just Paul?

Only Paul and other Old and New Testament authors were inspired. First, as was stated above, Verbal plenary inspiration holds that “every word of Scripture was God-breathed.” However, God did not, generally speaking, dictate the books of the Bible word by word to the Bible authors as if they were dictating machines.

As the apostle Paul states, God spoke “in many ways” to his servants before the arrival of Jesus Christ. (Heb. 1:1-2) We do have one specific circumstance: The Ten Commandments, wherein the information was divinely provided in written form. Therefore, a scribe would only have to copy them into the scrolls created by Moses. (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 10:1-5) At other times, information was communicated by verbal dictation, literally word for word. When introducing the large number of laws and statutes of the covenant with Israel, “Jehovah said to Moses: ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’” (Ex. 34:27) And on other occasions, the prophets also were frequently given precise messages that were to be delivered. These were then recorded after that, which then became part of the inspired, fully inerrant Scriptures. – 1 Kings 22:14; Jeremiah 1:7; 2:1; 11:1-5; Ezekiel 3:4; 11:5.

2 Thessalonians 3:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

17 The greeting is by my hand, Paul’s,[18] which is a sign in every letter; this is the way I write.

An appended note to every letter with his signature “distinguishing mark” is like a boss signing a letter that he dictated to a secretary. It is unthinkable that Paul would sign or make a distinguishing mark on anything without reading through it and, after that, making any necessary corrections or having Tertius makes the corrections. This supposes that Paul looked over all of his letters, which would also suppose that the scribe could not have been inspired because if he were, then there would have been no mistakes in the document, which means it would not have been needed to be looked over let alone corrected. So again, there would have been no need for Paul to check the work of an inspired secretary. Again, more plainly, if Tertius had been inspired, Paul would have had no need to look the text over the moment he set the pen down. There is no need to read into silence and suggest that the secretary was inspired. While Tertius was likely a professional scribe and indeed engaged in his work, they were also coworkers and traveling companions. As was stated earlier, in a small percentage of cases, information was transmitted by verbal dictation, word for word from God by way of the Holy Spirit to the author. For example, when God delivered the large body of laws and statutes of his covenant with Israel, Jehovah instructed Moses: “Write for yourself these words.” (Ex 34:27) In another example, the prophets were often given specific messages to deliver. (1 Ki 22:14; Jer. 1:7; 2:1; 11:1-5; Eze. 3:4; 11:5) Additionally, the Bible authors did dictate word for word what they received under inspiration to their secretaries, i.e., amanuenses/scribes. In other words, any word choices or writing styles belonged to the Bible author.

Jeremiah 36:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of Jehovah that he had spoken to him. (Bold mine)

If Paul alone was inspired, how does the imperfection of Tertius affect inerrancy?

First, we should state that just because Paul used Tertius, Peter used Silvanus, or Jeremiah used Baruch to pen the Word of God; they did not thereby detract from or weaken the authority of God’s Word or the inerrancy of Scripture. The dictation that Paul gave Tertius was the result of divine inspiration as he, Paul, was moved along by the Holy Spirit. Tertius merely recorded Paul’s dictation, word by word. Whether Tertius was a professional scribe[19] or had the skills of a semi-professional scribe, he must have made at least a few slips of the pen, as the epistle to the Romans was some 7,000 words, and writing conditions were challenging. Afterward, however, Paul would have reviewed the document with Tertius, correcting any errors before publishing the official, authoritative text.

What about Phoebe? What role did the carrier have in the process?

Those used by New Testament authors to deliver the Word of God to people or congregations would have been some of Paul’s most trusted, competent coworkers. Paul had over one hundred of these. Certainly, in the case of congregations contacting Paul with questions and concerns, to which Paul responded with an inspired letter, the carrier would be made aware of those questions and concerns. Paul would have spoken to the carrier at length about these matters, going over what he meant by what he wrote. This would have provided the carrier sufficient knowledge; if the person or congregation had any question(s) that the carrier could address. This process is not indicated within the Scriptures. Are we to believe God and Paul, for that matter, would send a simple carrier who was left in the dark as to what he was carrying? And that no congregational leader would have follow-up questions, which God would have foreseen? Hardly.

THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST by Stalker-1 The TRIAL and Death of Jesus_02 THE LIFE OF Paul by Stalker-1

The Publishing, Copying, and Distributing Process

In the above, we spoke of the initial aspect of the publishing process, i.e., the moment Paul decided to pen a letter to a congregation like the Romans, the Ephesians, the Colossians, or a person such as Philemon. We discussed the process that Paul went through with his secretary (e.g., Tertius), to the carrier (e.g., Phoebe, Tychicus), and the recipients (e.g., Roman congregation). Now we turn to the circulation aspect, i.e., getting the book out to more readers. Harry Y. Gamble says the following in The Publication and Early Dissemination of Early Christian Books:

The letters of Paul to his communities, the earliest extant Christian texts, were dictated to scribal associates (presumably Christian), carried to their destinations by a traveling Christian, and read aloud to the congregations.[20] But Paul also envisioned the circulation of some of his letters beyond a single Christian group (cf. Gal. 1: 2, ‘to the churches of Galatia’, Rom. 1:7 ‘to all God’s beloved in Rome’—dispersed among numerous discrete house churches, Rom. 16: 5, 10, 11, 14, 15), and the author of Colossians, if not Paul, gives instruction for the exchange of Paul’s letters between different communities (Col. 4: 16), which must indeed have taken place also soon after Paul’s time.[21] The gospel literature of early Christianity offers only meager hints of intentions or means of its publication and circulation. The prologue to Luke/Acts (Luke 1: 1–4) provides a dedication to ‘Theophilus’, who (whether or not a fictive figure) by that convention is implicitly made responsible for the dissemination of the work by encouraging and permitting copies to be made. The last chapter of the Gospel of John, an epilogue added by others after the original conclusion of the Gospel (20: 30–1), aims at least in part (21: 24–5) to insure appreciation of the book and to promote its use beyond its community of origin. To take another case, the Apocalypse, addressed to seven churches in western Asia Minor, was almost surely sent in separate copy to each. Even so, the author anticipated its wider copying and dissemination beyond those original recipients, and so warned subsequent copyists to preserve the integrity of the book, neither adding nor subtracting, for fear of religious penalty (Rev. 22:18–19). The private Christian copying and circulation that is presumed in these early writings continued to be the means for the publication and dissemination of Christian literature in the second and third centuries. It can be seen, for example, in the explicit notice in The Shepherd of Hermas (Vis. 2.4.3) that the book was to be published or released in two final copies, one for local use in Rome, the other for the transcription of further copies to be sent to Christian communities in ‘cities abroad’. It can also be seen when Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, had the letters of Ignatius copied and sent to the Christian community in Philippi, and had copies of letters from them and other churches in Asia Minor sent to Syrian Antioch (Phil. 13). It is evident too in the scribal colophons of the Martyrdom of Polycarp (22.2–4), and must be assumed also in connection with the letters of Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (fl. 170 ce; Eusebius, H.E. 4.23.1–12).

From another angle, the physical remains of early Christian books show that they were produced and disseminated privately within and between Christian communities. Early Christian texts, especially those of a scriptural sort, were almost always written in codices or leaf books—an informal, economical, and handy format—rather than on rolls, which were the traditional and standard vehicle of all other books. This was a sharp departure from convention, and particularly characteristic of Christians. Also distinctive to Christian books was the pervasive use of nomina sacra, divine names written in abbreviated forms, which was clearly an in-house practice of Christian scribes. Further, the preponderance in early Christian papyrus manuscripts of an informal quasi-documentary script rather than a professional bookhand also suggests that Christian writings were privately transcribed with a view to intramural circulation and use.[22]

If Christian books were disseminated in roughly the same way as other books, that is, by private seriatim copying, we might surmise that they spread slowly and gradually in ever-widening circles, first in proximity to their places of origin, then regionally, and then transregionally, and for some books this was doubtless the case. But it deserves notice that some early Christian texts appear to have enjoyed surprisingly rapid and wide circulation. Already by the early decades of the second century Papias of Hierapolis in western Asia Minor was acquainted at least with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (Eusebius, H.E. 3.39.15–16); Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna were all acquainted with collections of Paul’s letters; and papyrus copies of various early Christian texts were current in Egypt.[23] The Shepherd of Hermas, written in Rome near the mid-second century, was current and popular in Egypt not long after.[24] Equally interesting, Irenaeus’ Adversus haereses, written about 180 in Gaul, is shown by papyrus fragments to have found its way to Egypt by the end of the second century, and indeed also to Carthage, where it was used by Tertullian.[25]

The brisk and broad dissemination of Christian books presumes not only a lively interest in texts among Christian communities but also efficient means for their reproduction and distribution. Such interest and means may be unexpected, given that the rate of literacy within Christianity was low, on average no greater than in the empire at large, namely in the range of 10–15 percent.[26] Yet there were some literate members in almost all Christian communities, and as long as texts could be read aloud by some, they were accessible and useful to the illiterate majority. Christian congregations were not reading communities in the same sense as elite literary or scholarly circles, but books were nevertheless important to them virtually from the beginning, for even before Christians began to compose their own texts, books of Jewish scripture played an indispensable role in their worship, teaching, and missionary preaching. Indeed, Judaism and Christianity were the only religious communities in Greco-Roman antiquity in which texts had any considerable importance, and in this, as in some other respects, Christian groups bore a greater resemblance to philosophical circles than to other religious traditions.[27]

If smaller, provincial Christian congregations were not well-equipped or well-situated for the tasks of copying and disseminating texts, larger Christian centers must have had some scriptorial capacity: already in the second century: Polycarp’s handling of Ignatius’ letters and letters from other churches shows its presence in Smyrna; the instruction about the publication of Hermas’ The Shepherd suggests it for Rome; and it can hardly be doubted for Alexandria, since even in a provincial city like Oxyrhynchus many manuscripts of Christian texts were available.[28] The early third-century Alexandrian scriptorium devised for the production and distribution of the works of Origen (Eusebius, H.E. 6.23.2), though unique in its sponsorship by a private patron and its service to an individual writer, surely had precursors, more modest and yet efficient, in other Christian communities. It also had important successors, not the least of which was the library and scriptorium that flourished in Caesarea in the second half of the third century under the auspices of Pamphilus.[29] Absent such reliable intra-Christian means for the production of books, the range of texts known and used by Christian communities across the Mediterranean basin by the end of the second century would be without explanation.[30]

When we think of publishing a book today, there are some similarities to the ancient process, but it was not the same for Christian communities in the ancient world of the Roman Empire. Paul dispatched Tychicus as a carrier with a letter to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and Philemon and a potential fourth letter to the Laodiceans. Tychicus was competent, trusted, and a skilled coworker who delivered these letters hundreds of miles from an imprisoned Paul, with enough information to bring God’s Word to the first-century Christian congregations. However, in the letter to the Colossians, Paul said, “When this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Col. 4:16) In other words, it was to be a circuit letter. Paul had also stated to the Thessalonians in a letter to them, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” (1 Thess. 5:27) Paul encouraged the distribution of his letters.

Remember the process from the above; the book would be shared with friends of similar interests, and then the circles grew wider and wider to friends of friends and others. First, Paul’s primary level of friends would be his more than one hundred traveling companions and fellow workers, some being the carriers who delivered the books. Second, the friends in the Christian congregation would have the letter read to them, who would then share it with other fellow congregations. In the secular (non-Christian) circle of friends, interested readers who wished to have a copy would have their slaves (i.e., scribes) make a copy or copies of a book. The same would have been true within the Christian congregation. When the Laodiceans read the letter that Paul had sent to the Colossians, they would have had one of their wealthy members use his literate and trained scribe to make a copy for their congregation and maybe even a few copies for other members. The same would hold true when the Colossians received the letter written to the Laodiceans. Eventually, Paul’s letters would have been gathered together to circulate as a group, such as P46. Papyrus 46 is an early Greek New Testament manuscript written on papyrus, with its most probable date between 100 and 150 C.E. Michael Marlowe says that P46 contains (in order) “the last eight chapters of Romans; all of Hebrews; virtually all of 1–2 Corinthians; all of Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians; and two chapters of 1 Thessalonians. All of the leaves have lost some lines at the bottom through deterioration.”

The scriptorium was a room for copying manuscripts, where a lector would read aloud from his exemplar with a room full of copyists taking down his dictation. Recent scholarship has suggested that we remove the concept of the scriptorium in the time of Jesus and the apostles of the first century C.E., on the grounds that this was not a practice until the fourth century C.E. Harry Y. Gamble addresses this effectively when he writes,

It is difficult to determine just when Christian scriptoria came into existence. The problem is partly of definition, partly of evidence. If we think of the scriptorium as simply a writing center where texts were copied by more than a single scribe, then any of the larger Christian communities, such as Antioch or Rome, may have already had scriptoria in the early second century, and in view of Polycarp’s activity something of the kind can be imagined for Smyrna. If we think instead of a scriptorium as being more structured, operating, for example, in a specially designed and designated location; employing particular methods of transcription; producing certain types of manuscripts; or multiplying copies on a significant scale, then it becomes more difficult to imagine that such institutions developed at an early date.[31]

Gamble goes on to inform us that Origen’s scriptorium of about 230 C.E. was an exception. Just a few short years later, the scriptorium of Cyprian was a more official version of what we think of when picturing scriptoria. Then, there is the scriptorium that was attached to the Christian library in Caesarea, which we know was commissioned to produce fifty New Testament manuscripts in short order. It may even have been added in the third century when Pamphilus (latter half of the 3rd century–309 C.E.) built the library. A more official type of scriptorium could likely be found in this period at other Christian epicenters, such as Rome, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Comfort tells us that “church history and certain manuscript discoveries from other parts in Egypt suggest that Alexandria had a Christian scriptorium or writing center.”[32] Gamble adds, “It was only during the fourth and fifth centuries that the scriptoria on monastic communities came into their own, also in association with monastic libraries.”[33]

While it is challenging, if not impossible, to identify a specific Alexandrian scriptorium for our early manuscripts of the second century, or even if they were produced in a scriptorium at all, we do know that professional scribes produced them. There are many possibilities: (1) the professional scribe could have produced them in a Christian scriptorium. On the other hand, (2) the professional scribe could have been a Christian who worked for a scriptorium, who then used his skills to produce copies. Then again, (3) it could have been that the scribe formerly worked in a scriptorium but now was the private scribe of a wealthy Christian who used his skills to make copies. We know that about a million Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire at the beginning of the second century (c. 130 C.E.). Therefore, the copying of manuscripts could very well have been within the Christian community, i.e., from the Christian congregation to the Christian congregation and wealthy Christians acquiring personal copies for themselves.

We have several early manuscripts that evidence that they were very likely produced in a scriptorium, even if it was simply a room attached to a Christian library, which had a handful of copyists. For example, P46 (100-150 C.E.) was certainly done by a professional scribe because it contained stichoi marks, which are notes at the end of sections, stating how many lines were copied. This was a means of calculating how much a scribe should be paid. It is likely that an employee of the scriptorium numbered the pages, indicating the stichoi marks. Moreover, this same scribe made corrections as he went. Another example would be P66 (also c. 100-150 C.E.) according to Comfort:

  It is also fairly certain that P66 was the product of a scriptorium or writing center. The first copyist of this manuscript had his work thoroughly checked by a diorthotes [corrector], according to a different exemplar—just the way it would happen in a scriptorium. Of course, it can be argued that an individual who purchased the manuscript made all the corrections, which was a common practice in ancient times. But the extent of corrections in P66 and the fact that the paginator (a different scribe) made many of the corrections speaks against this (see description of P66 in chap. 2). It was more the exception than the rule in ancient times that a manuscript would be fully checked by a diorthotes. P66 has other markings of being professionally produced. The extant manuscript still shows the pinpricks in the corners of each leaf of the papyri; these served as a guide for left hand justification and right hand. The manuscript also exhibits a consistent set of marginal and interlinear correction signs. Another sign of professionally produced manuscript is the use of the diple (>) in the margin, which was used to signal a correction in the text and/or the need for a correction in the text. There are very few of these in the extant New Testament manuscripts.[34]

The production and distribution of New Testament manuscripts were carried out at the congregation and individual Christian levels in the early days of Christianity.

Moreover, this process did not negate the use of professional scribes. Just as Paul would not have used an inexperienced scribe to produce the epistle to the Romans. Congregations and wealthy Christians would have likely used professional scribes to make copies. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and some congregations may not have had access to a professional scribe, so they would have to have chosen to use the best person available to them. Nevertheless, if a congregation had access to a semi-professional or professional scribe, it would have been a lack of good sense or practicality not to take advantage of such a person. Think of anything we want to have done in our Christian congregation today: would we not seek a professional if we had access to one as a member, be it plumbing, wiring, teaching, or computer technology? We naturally look to the most skilled person that we can find, even if we have a clogged-up commode. Would we do any less if we were in the first century and had just received a letter from the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned hundreds of miles away in Rome?

Why Would the Holy Spirit Miraculously Inspire 66 Fully Inerrant Texts and Then Allow Variant Errors in the Copies?

Agnostic New Testament textual and early Christianity scholar Dr. Bart   D. Ehrman states, “For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”[35]

New Testament textual scholar Dr. Dirk Jongkind offers a brief response, “God chose not to give us exhaustive knowledge of every detail of the text, though he could have done so. Still, he has given us abundant access to his words. In other words, to say that God inspired the words of the New Testament does not mean that God is therefore under an obligation to preserve for us each and every detail.”[36]

Why didn’t God inspire the copyists? Some have become anxious over this because this question has plagued them, or some Bible critic has challenged them. Therefore, they are looking for the silver bullet to quench their personal concern, or they want to have a ready, quick response for the Bible critic. Draw comfort in that there are hundreds, if not thousands of great responses to attacks from Bible critics that will cause them to move onto another victim in their quest to stumble God’s people. However, there are good reasons, rational responses to some questions that will not be fully answered until the second coming of Jesus Christ. What lies below is the latter.

Some people have unreceptive hearts and minds. They are Pharisaical in that they are not interested in an answer, and the Word of God, reason, and logic will not get through their callused hearts. If I have taught one thing in my 32 years, it is this, identify these people fast, or you will waste much of your life, giving reasonable, rational responses to then have the person reject it out of hand and move onto something else as though they never brought it up. Mind you, an angry person, a person with doubts, is not necessarily a Pharisaical person. There are reasons for some to doubt. There are reasons for some to be angry. If the person is treating you with disdain, mocking, talking down to you, these and other things are indications of a Pharisaical attitude.

Christian Bible students need to be familiar with Old and New Testament textual studies as the two are essential foundational studies. Why? If we fail to establish what was originally authored with reasonable certainty, how are we to do a translation or even interpret what we think is God’s actual Word? We are fortunate that there are far more existing New Testament manuscripts today than any other book from ancient history. This gives New Testament textual scholars vastly more to work within establishing the original words of the text. Some ancient Greek and Latin classics are based on one existing manuscript, while with others, there are just a handful and a few exceptions that have a few hundred available. However, the New Testament has over 5,898 Greek New Testament manuscripts that have been cataloged (As of January 2021), 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and an additional 9,300 other manuscripts in such languages as Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian.

The other difference between the New Testament manuscripts and those of the classics is that the existing copies of the New Testament date much closer to the originals. In the case of the Greek classics, some of the manuscripts are dated about a thousand years after the author had penned the book. Some of the Latin classics are dated from three to seven hundred years after the time the author wrote the book. When we look at the Greek copies of the New Testament books, some portions are within decades of the original author’s book. Seventy-nine Greek papyri, along with five majuscules[37] date from 110 C.E. to 300 C.E.

Distribution of Greek New Testament Manuscripts

  • The Papyrus is a copy of a portion of the New Testament made on papyrus. At present, we have 141 cataloged New Testament papyri, many dating between 110-350 C.E., but some as late as the 6th century C.E.
  • The Majuscule or Uncial is a script of large letters commonly used in Greek and Latin manuscripts written between the 3rd and 9th centuries C.E. that resembles a modern capital letter but is more rounded. At present, we have 323 cataloged New Testament Majuscule manuscripts.
  • The Minuscule is a small cursive style of writing used in manuscripts from the 9th to the 16th centuries, now having 2,951 Minuscule manuscripts cataloged.
  • The Lectionary is a schedule of readings from the Bible for Christian church services during the year, in both majuscules and minuscules, dating from the 4th to the 16th centuries C.E., now having 2,484 Lectionary manuscripts cataloged.
Distribution of Papyri by Century and Type
100-150/175 C.E.

7Q4? 7Q5? P4/64/67 P32 P46 P52 P66 P75 P77/103 P87 P90 P98 (bad shape, differences) P101 P109 (too small) P118 (too small) P137 0189

P. Oxyrhynchus 405
P. Egerton 2

P104 0 0
175-250 C.E. P1 P5 P13 P20 P23 P27 P30 P35 P39 P40 P45 P47 P49/65 P71 P72 P82 P85 P95 P100 P106 P108 P110 P111 P113 P115 P121 (too small) P125 P126 (too small) P133 P136 P141 0220 0232
P. Oxyrhynchus 406
P. Egerton 3
P29 (Metzger Western & Aland Free; too small to be certain) P38 P48 P69 0171 0212 (mixed) P107 (Independent) 0 0
250-300 C.E. P8 P9 P12 P15 P16 P17 P18 P19 P24 P28 P50 P51 P53 P70 P78 P80 P86 P88 P89 (too small) P91 P92 P114 P119 P120 P129 (too small) P131 P132 too small) P134 0162 0207 0231
P. Antinoopolis 54
P37 (Free, mostly Western) 0 0
290-390 C.E. P3 P6 P7 P10 P21 P54 P62 P81 P93 P94 P102 (too small) P117 (too small) P122 (too small) P123 P127 P130 (too small) P139 (too small) 057 058 059 / 0215 071 0160 0163 0165 0169 0172 0173 0175 0176 0181 0182 0185 0188 0206 0214 0217 0218 0219 0221 0226 0227 0228 0230 0242 0264 0308 0312
P. Oxyrhynchus 4010
P. Oxyrhynchus 5073
P21 (mixed) P25 (independent) P112 (independent) P127 (independent; like no other) 0 0
4th / 5th Century C.E. P11 P14 P33/P58 P56 P57 P63 P105 (too small) P124 0254    


P. Oxyrhynchus 1077?

We should clarify that of the approximate 24,000 total manuscripts of the New Testament, not all are complete books. There are fragmented manuscripts that have just a few verses, manuscripts that contain an entire book, others that include numerous books, and some that have the whole New Testament, or nearly so. This is to be expected since the oldest manuscripts we have were copied in an era when reproducing the entire New Testament was not the norm, but rather a single book or a group of books (i.e., the Gospels or Paul’s letters). This still does not negate the vast riches of manuscripts that we possess.

What can we conclude from this short introduction to New Testament textual studies? There is some irony here in that secular scholars have no problem accepting classic authors’ wording with their minuscule amount of evidence. However, they discount the treasure trove of evidence that is available to the New Testament textual scholar. Still, this should not surprise us as the New Testament has always been under-appreciated and attacked in some way, shape, or form over the past 2,000 years.

On the contrary, in comparison to classical works, we are overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of existing New Testament manuscripts. We should also keep in mind that seventy-five percent[38] of the New Testament does not even require textual scholars’ help because that much of the text is unanimous, and thus, we know what it says. Of the other twenty-five percent, about twenty percent make up trivial scribal mistakes that are easily corrected. Therefore, textual criticism focuses mainly on a small portion of the New Testament text. The facts are clear: the Christian, who reads the New Testament, is fortunate to have so many manuscripts, with so many dating so close to the originals, with 500 hundred years of hundreds of textual scholars who have established the text with a level of certainty unimaginable for ancient secular works.

After discussing the amount of New Testament manuscripts available, Atheist commentator Bob Seidensticker, writes, “The first problem is that more manuscripts at best increase our confidence that we have the original version. That does not mean the original copy was history ….”[39] That is, Seidensticker is forced to acknowledge the reliability of the New Testament text as we have it today and can only try to deny what it says. He also tells us of the New Testament, “Compare that with 2000 copies of the Iliad, the second-best represented manuscript.”[40] Of those 2,000 copies of the Iliad, how far removed are they from the alleged originals? The Iliad is dated to about 1260–1180 B.C.E. The most notable Iliad manuscripts are from the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries C.E. That would make these manuscripts over 2,000 years removed from their original.

The Range of Textual Criticism

The Importance and scope of New Testament textual criticism could be summed up in the few words used by J. Harold Greenlee; it is “the basic biblical study, a prerequisite to all other biblical and theological work. Interpretation, systemization, and application of the teachings of the NT cannot be done until textual criticism has done at least some of its work. It is, therefore, deserving of the acquaintance and attention of every serious student of the Bible.”[41]

It is only reasonable to assume that the Old Testament’s original 39 books and the 27 books written first-hand by the New Testament authors have not survived. Instead, we only have what we must consider being imperfect copies. Why the Holy Spirit would miraculously inspire 66 fully inerrant texts and then allow human imperfection into the copies. This is not explained for us in Scripture. We do know that imperfect humans have tended to worship relics where traditions hold to have been touched by the miraculous powers of God or to have been in direct contact with one of his special servants of old. Ultimately, though, all we know is that God had his reasons for allowing the Old and New Testament autographs to be worn out by repeated use. From time to time, we hear of the discovery of a fragment possibly dated to the first century, but even if such a fragment is eventually verified, the dating alone can never serve as proof of an autograph; it will still be a copy in all likelihood.

Pondering: If we ask why didn’t God inspire copyists, then it will have to follow, why didn’t God inspire translators, why didn’t God inspire Bible scholars that author commentaries on the Bible, and so on? Suppose God’s initial purpose was to give us a fully inerrant, authoritative, authentic and accurate Word. Why not adequately protect the Scriptures in all facets of transmission from error: copy, translate, and interpret? If God did this, and people were moved along by the Holy Spirit, it would soon become noticeable that when people copy the texts, they would be unable to make an error or mistake or even willfully change something.

Where would it stop? Would this being moved along by the Holy Spirit apply to anyone who decided to make themselves a copy, testing to see if they too would be inspired? In time, this would prove to be actual evidence for God. This would negate the reasons why God has allowed sin, human imperfection to enter into humanity in the first place, to teach them an object lesson, man cannot walk on his own without his Creator. God created perfect humans, giving them a perfect start, and through the abuse of free will, they rejected his sovereignty. He did not just keep creating perfect humans again and again, as though he got something wrong. God gave us his perfect Word and has again chosen to allow us to continue in our human imperfection, learning our object lesson. God has stepped into humanity many hundreds of times in the Bible record, maybe tens of thousands of times unbeknownst to us over the past 6,000+ years to tweak things to get the desired outcome of his will and purposes. However, there is no aspect of life where his stepping in on any particular point was to be continuous until the return of the Son. Maybe God gave us a perfect copy of sixty-six books. Then like everything else, he placed the responsibility of copying, translating, and interpreting on us, just as he gave us the Great Commission of proclaiming that Word, explaining that Word, to make disciples. – Matthew 24:14;28-19-20; Acts 1:8.

Reflecting: Some Bible critics seem, to begin with, the belief that if God inspired the originals and fully inerrant, the subsequent copies must continue to be inerrant in order for the inerrancy of the originals to have value. They seem to be asking, “If only the originals were inspired, and the copies were not inspired, and we do not have the originals, how are we to be certain of any passage in Scripture?” In other words, God would never allow the inspired, inerrant Word to suffer copying errors. Why would he perform the miracle of inspiring the message to be fully inerrant and not continue with the miracle of inspiring the copyists throughout the centuries to keep it inerrant? First, we must acknowledge that God has not given us the specifics of every decision he has made in reference to humans. If we begin asking, “Why did God not do this or do that,” where would it end? For example, why didn’t God just produce the books himself and miraculously deliver them to people as he gave the commandments to Moses? Why not use angelic messengers to pen the message or produce the message miraculously instead of using humans? God has chosen not to tell us why he did not move the copyists along with the Holy Spirit to have perfect copies, and it remains an unknown. However, I would note that if we can restore the text to its original wording through the art and science of textual criticism, i.e., to an exact representation thereof, we have, in essence, the originals. This is the preservation of Scripture through the restoration of Scripture.

As for errors in all the copies that we have, however, we can say is that the vast majority of the Greek text is not affected by errors at all. The errors occur in the form of variant readings, i.e., portions of the text where different manuscripts disagree. Of the small amount of the text that is affected by variant readings, the vast majority of these are minor slips of the pen, misspelled words, etc., or intentional but quickly analyzed changes, and we are certain what the original reading is in these places. A far smaller number of changes present challenges to establishing the original reading. It has always been said and remains true that no central doctrine is affected by a textual problem. Only rarely does a textual issue change the meaning of a verse.[42] Still, establishing the original text wherever there are variant readings is vitally important. Every word matters!

It is true that the Jewish copyists, as well as the later Christian copyists, were not led along by the Holy Spirit, and therefore their manuscripts were not inerrant, infallible. Errors (textual variants) crept into the documents unintentionally and intentionally. However, the vast majority of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament has not been infected with textual errors. The portions impacted with textual errors are the many tens of thousands of copies that we have to help us weed out the errors. How? Well, not every copyist made the same textual errors. Hence, by comparing the work of different copyists and different manuscripts, textual scholars can identify the textual variants (errors) and remove those, which leaves us with the original content.

Yes, it would be the most significant discovery of all time if we found the original five books penned by Moses himself, Genesis through Deuteronomy, or the original Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, first, there would be no way of establishing that they were the originals. Second, we do not need the originals. Third, we do not need those original documents. What is so important about the documents? It is the content on the original documents that we are after. And truly miraculously, we have more copies than needed to do just that. We do not need miraculous preservation because we have miraculous restoration. We now know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament critical texts are a 99% reflection of the content that was in those ancient original manuscripts.

How did God inspire the Bible Authors? How Were They Moved Along by the Holy Spirit? How Did Jesus Bring Remembrance to the Apostles?

Biblical inspiration is the quality or state of being moved along or by or under the Holy Spirit’s direction from God.

2 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

2 Peter 1:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

John 14:26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 But the Helper,[43] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

How Were the Bible Authors Inspired By God, That Is, Given Divine Direction?

Inspired By θεόπνευστος (theopneustos)

The Greek phrase “inspired by God” translates the compound Greek word θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), which literally means, literally, “God-breathed” or “breathed by God.” The Greek phrase here needs to be nuanced so at not to be less than what was meant or go beyond what was meant. The Bible author was under God’s influence, to the extent that he was guided or directed by God but not to the extent of dictation. To a lesser extent, Christians are guided by the inspired Word of God if they have an accurate understanding and apply it correctly in their lives. The Bible author was allowed to convey God’s Word within their own writing style but would be controlled or guided to the point that he would not choose words, phrases, sentences that would miscommunicate the wrong message.

Carried Along By φερόμενοι (pheromenoi)

The Greek word φερόμενοι (pheromenoi) literally means to cause the Bible author to be carried along or moved along by the Holy Spirit. It means to guide, direct, lead.

Bring to Remembrance ὑπομνήσει (hupomnēsei)

The Greek word ὑπομνήσει (hupomnēsei) literally means to God put in the mind of the Gospel authors. God caused the Gospel authors (Matthew and John, Mark by way of Peter, Luke by Peter, research, and others) to recall in detail what they had formerly experienced.

The apostle Paul says that God spoke “in many ways” to his servants in Old Testament times before Christ coming. (Heb 1:1-2) The Ten Commandments were divinely provided in written form. Scribes, thereafter, would have had to merely copy it into the scrolls used by Moses. (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 10:1-5) In some very special cases, the words that would be put into Scripture by a Bible author inspired by God, moved along by the Holy Spirit, would have been transmitted by verbal dictation, literally word for word. This would have likely been the case in situations such as the Mosaic Law that was given to Israel. Jehovah commanded Moses: “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Ex 34:27) The prophets who would author Bible books were also frequently given precise messages from God that they were to deliver, and then God put these same words in the mind of the prophetic authors. God caused the prophet (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others) to recall in detail what they had formerly delivered to others, now becoming Scriptures. – 1 Kings 22:14; Jeremiah 1:7; 2:1; 11:1-5; Ezekiel 3:4; 11:5.

There are other ways that the Bible authors, such as dreams and visions. We are told, “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.” (Dan. 2:19) “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter.” (Dan. 7:1) Readers might not know that Bible authors were more often given visions while they were awake, fully conscious, giving the author the thoughts of God directly to his mind. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” (Eze 1:1) “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first.” (Dan. 8:1) “And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.” (Rev. 9:17) Other visions were given to the Bible author when he was in a trance. Even though the author was clearly awake and conscious, he was extremely, deeply absorbed by what he saw, blocking out all else around him. – Ac 10:9-17; 11:5-10; 22:17-21.

Another way Bible authors received the Word of God was through angelic messengers. “For if the word spoken through angels proved reliably certain, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty.” (Heb 2:2) “You who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Ac 7:53) “Why, then, the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19) The angelic representatives spoke in God’s name. Therefore, the message they delivered could therefore correctly be called “the word of Jehovah.” – Gen 22:11-12, 15-18; Zech. 1:7, 9.

Regardless of how the Bible author received the Word of God, be it, dictation, God directly putting words in the minds of the author, perfect recall, dreams, visions, angelic representatives, being led along by the Holy Spirit, it was all inspired by God or “God-breathed.”


Authors evidenced individuality that is still compatible with the Bible’s being inspired by God.

The Bible authors were not merely robots who put down dictated words, literally word for word. “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Rev. 1:1-2) The “God-breathed” revelation was given to him through an angel, which John then conveyed in his own words. Like many things, God allowed humans to use their God’s given minds, and in the case of His Word, in choosing words and expressions (Hab. 2:2), he allowed them to use their own style, but he always maintained adequate control and guided them so that the Bible book would be accurate and true. In addition, it would also be according to God’s will and purposes. (Prov. 30:5-6) This concept is even conveyed in Scripture itself. “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.” – See also Lu 1:1-4.

This is why every Bible commentary volume explains to its reader the style of that particular author, as well as the background of the individual author. The ones chosen to be Bible authors were not only qualified to do so but had qualities and characteristics that moved God to choose them. In some cases, God likely got them ready before having to serve this particular purpose of being a Bible author. Matthew was a tax collector before being chosen as a disciple, so we note that he makes many particular references to numbers and money amounts. (Matt. 17:27; 26:15; 27:3) On the other hand, Luke was a “physician” (Col 4:14), so we find him using unique expressions that show that he had a medical background. – Lu 4:38; 5:12; 16:20.

In many cases where the Bible speaks about the Bible author receiving “the word of Jehovah” (UASV) or things that were said, it is likely that this was given, not word for word, but rather the author was given an image in his mind of God’s purpose. After that, the author would put it in his own words.   This can be inferred by the author’s sating he ‘saw’ things rather than his ‘hearing’ what God said or “the word of Jehovah.” – Isaiah 13:1; Micah 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; 2:1-2.

The authors of God’s Word express it that “God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. Jehovah God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.” (Isa 50:4-5) These authors were ready and submissive to being guided by God. Isaiah was eager to do God’s will and sought to be led. “My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” (Isa 26:9) In the case of Luke, he had specific objectives that he sought to carry out. (Lu 1:1-4) In many cases, Paul was writing to fill a need. (1 Cor. 1:10-11; 5:1; 7:1) God guided these authors so that their words in their style went along with his purpose. (Prov. 16:9) These men were chosen because their hearts and minds were already in harmony with God’s will and purposes. In fact, they already ‘had the mind of Christ.’ They were not interested in human wisdom nor in “speak[ing] visions of their own minds,” as was the case with the false prophets, “who follow their own spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 2:13-16; Jeremiah 23:16; Eze 13:2-3, 17.

As to the being led along by the Holy Spirit, “there are varieties of activities” that would come upon these Bible authors. (1 Cor 12:6) Much information was already at the fingertips of the authors. In other words, it already existed in manuscript evidence, such as genealogies and specific historical accounts. (Lu 1:3; 3:23-38; Num. 21:14, 15; 1 Kings 14:19, 29; 2 Kings 15:31; 24:5) In the case of using historical records, the Holy Spirit would serve as a protection against inaccurate information being part of the Bible author’s book. Not everything that had been said by other persons that would end up in the Word of God was inspired by God, but the Holy Spirit guided the author to make it part of the Scriptures and to record it accurately. (Gen. 3:4-5; Job 42:3; Matt. 16:21-23) We end up with clear evidence of why it is good to heed God’s Word and apply it correctly in our lives. Doing or saying what we think, feel, or believe, ignoring God’s Word, or being ignorant of God and his message leads to much heartache.


Then, again, there is information in the Bible that is far beyond human abilities to acquire. We can consider what happened before the creation of the heavens and the earth, as well as man. (Gen. 1:1-26) Humans are also oblivious to what happens in the spiritual heavens as well. (Job 1:6-12, etc.) Then, we have prophecies that foretell events that are to take place decades, centuries, or millenniums after the prophets penned them. We also have revelations as to what God’s will and purposes are for humanity. When we think of Solomon’s wise sayings, he certainly had much life experience to share. Others had vast knowledge of the Scriptures themselves, not to mention their experience at living by God’s Word. These ones still needed to be moved along by the Holy Spirit, so that, the information that they conveyed would be “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12.

There are times that Paul said things that were not taken from anything that Jesus had taught. “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.” (1 Corinthians 7:12-15) The first thing to notice is Paul saying, God inspires me, so I can say this and the Lord (Jesus), did not touch on this, but I am. Let us take a look at the context and historical setting. Paul says, “Now concerning virgins I do not have a command from the Lord, but I am giving an opinion as one shown mercy by the Lord to be trustworthy.” (1 Cor. 7:25) “But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 7:40) Paul’s point is clear; he too is inspired and moved along by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s direction was “God-breathed” and so was Scripture, having the same authority as the rest of those Scriptures. – 2 Peter 3:15-16.




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[1] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 379.

[2] E. Randolph Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (Heidelberg, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1991, 11

[3] E. Randolph Richards, PAUL AND FIRST-CENTURY LETTER WRITING: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 29-30; Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer, 9–11; Shorthand references Plutarch, Cato Minor, 23.3–5; Caesar, 7.4–5; Seneca, Epistles, 14.208.

[4] Retrieved Tuesday, February 12, 2019 (Institutio Oratoria, 10.3.17–21)

[5] E. Randolph Richards, PAUL AND FIRST-CENTURY LETTER WRITING: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 72.

[6] See examples in Francis Exler, The Form of the Ancient Greek Letter: A Study In Greek Epistolography (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1922), pp. 126-7

[7] Adolf Deissmann, LIGHT FROM THE ANCIENT EAST: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World (New York and London. 1910). 166-7.

[8] E. Randolph Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (Heidelberg, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1991, 7.

[9] E. Randolph Richards, PAUL AND FIRST-CENTURY LETTER WRITING: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 29.

[10] Philip W. Comfort (p. 19), The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992)

[11] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 22.

[12] Dr. Don Wilkins, Senior Translator of the NASB writes, “Exactly how the Spirit guided the writers is a mystery, and the words “thus says the Lord” in prophecy most likely do introduce a dictated message. However, those familiar with Greek can easily see stylistic differences between the NT writers which seem to reflect different personalities and rule out verbatim dictation from a single source.”

[13] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 525.

[14] B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1948), p. 131.

[15] Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 27.

[16] Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody, 1972), p. 38.

[17] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), p. 161.

[18] Lit the greeting by my hand of Paul

[19] In the strictest sense, a professional scribe is one who was specifically trained in that vocation and was paid for his services.

[20] On the dictation of Paul’s letters to a scribe, see E. R. Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (WUNT 42; Tubingen: Mohr, 1991), 169–98; for couriers see Rom. 16: 1, 1 Cor. 16: 10, Eph. 6: 21, Col. 4: 7, cf. 2 Cor. 8: 16–17. Reference to their carriers is common in other early Christian letters (e.g., 1 Pet. 5: 12, 1 Clem. 65: 1, Ignatius, Phil. 11.2, Smyr. 12.1, Polycarp, Phil. 14.1). For the general practice see E. Epp, ‘New Testament Papyrus Manuscripts and Letter Carrying in Greco-Roman Times’, in B. A. Pearson (ed.), The Future of Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 35–56. Reading a letter aloud to the community, which seems to be presupposed by all the letters, is stipulated only in 1 Thess. 5: 27.

[21] This is shown for an early time by the generalization of the original particular addresses of some of Paul’s letters (Rom. 1: 7, 15; 1 Cor. 1: 2; cf. Eph. 1: 1).

[22] On these features see H. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 66–81, and L. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

[23] For Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, see A. F. Gregory and C. M. Tuckett, eds., The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 142–53, 162–72, 201–18, 226–7. For early Christian papyri in Egypt see Hurtado, Earliest Christian Artifacts, appendix 1 (209–29). The most notable case is P52 (a fragment of the Gospel of John, customarily dated to the early 2nd cent.).

[24] Some papyrus fragments of Hermas are 2nd cent. (P.Oxy. 4706 and 3528, P.Mich. 130, P.Iand. 1.4).

[25] For the A.H. in Egypt: P.Oxy. 405; for Tertullian’s use of A.H. in Carthage, see T. D. Barnes, Tertullian (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 127–8, 220–1.

[26] The fundamental study of literacy in antiquity is still W. V. Harris, Ancient Literacy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989); see now also the essays in J. H. Humphrey, ed., Literacy in the Roman World (Journal of Roman Archaeology, suppl. ser. 3; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1991), and in W. A. Johnson and H. N. Parker, eds., Ancient Literacies (Oxford: OUP, 2009).

[27] M. Beard, ‘Writing and Religion: Ancient Religion and the Function of the Written Word in Roman Religion’, in Humphrey, Literacy in the Roman World, 353–8, argues that texts played a relatively large role in Greco-Roman religions, yet characterizes that role as ‘symbolic rather than utilitarian’, which was clearly not the case in early Christianity. The kind of careful reading, interpretation, and exposition of texts that we see in early Christianity and in early Judaism (whether in worship or school settings) provides, mutatis mutandis, an interesting analogy to the activity of elite literary circles.

[28] On the question of early Christian scriptoria (the term may be variously construed), see Gamble, Books and Readers, 121–6. Hurtado, Earliest Christian Artifacts, 185–9, rightly calls attention to corrections by contemporary hands in early Christian papyri as pointing to at least limited activity of a scriptorial kind.

[29] The role of Pamphilus and the Caesarean library/scriptorium in the private production and dissemination of early Christian literature, esp. of scriptural materials, was highlighted by Eusebius in his Life of Pamphilus, as quoted by Jerome in his Apology against Rufinus (1.9).

[30] Charles E. Hill; Michael J. Kruger, THE EARLY TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2012), 32-35.

Beyond the uses of Christian texts in congregational settings, there were already in the 2nd cent. some Christian circles that pursued specialized and technical engagements with texts, usually in the service of theological arguments and exegetical agendas. The ‘school-settings’ of teachers such as Valentinus and Justin, and a little later of Theodotus, Clement, and Origen, were Christian approximations to the kinds of literary activity associated with ‘elite’ reading communities in the early empire.

[31] Henry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven, CT, New Haven University Press, 1995), 121.

[32] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 22.

[33] Henry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven, CT, New Haven University Press, 1995), 121-2.

[34] Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 26.

[35] Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 211.

[36] An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge, Crossway.

[37] Large lettering, often called “capital” or uncial, in which all the letters are usually the same height.

[38] The numbers in this paragraph are rounded for simplicity purposes.

[39] 25,000 New Testament Manuscripts? Big Deal. – Patheos, (Retrieved Monday, August 10, 2020).

[40] Ibid

[41] J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995), 8-9.

[42] Leading textual scholar Daniel Wallace tells us, after looking at all of the evidence, that the percentage of instances where the reading is uncertain and a well-attested alternative reading could change the meaning of the verse is a quarter of one percent, i.e., 0.0025%

[43] Or, Advocate. Or, Comforter. Gr., ho … parakletos, masc.


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