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Tuesday
Feb092010

Theological Term of the Week

autographs
The original writings of the Biblical authors; the documents of scripture that came from the pens of the sacred writers; also called autographa.

  • From scripture:

    I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. (Romans 16:22 ESV)

    I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. (2 Thessalonians 3:17 ESV)

    Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 ESV)
  • From The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 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.

  • From Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame: 

    We use the term autographa, or autographs, to refer to the original, authoritative manuscripts of Bible books. Now, there is no promise in Scripture that when people make copies of these books, they will be perfect copies. Try it yourself: write out a copy of, say, Leviticus. Chances are, you’ll make some mistakes. This is why we say that only the autographs are perfectly authoritative.

    Some critics of our position say that this destroys our whole view of biblical authority; for if only the autographs are fully authoritative, and we don’t have the autographs, then for all practical purposes we don’t have a infallible, authoritative Bible. But take the following points into account:

    • Though we don’t have the actual autographs, we have access to the original text through the science of textual criticism, which compares various manuscript readings to determine the original. The important thing is to have the text, not to have the manuscript. 
    • Some textual problems remain unsolved; but these are very minor, for the most part, and they never affect any doctrine.

Learn more:

  1. Paul Mizzi: The Autographs of Scripture
  2. Frederic G. Kenyon: How the Books of the New Testament Were Written
  3. Michael Kruger: The Difference Between Original Autographs and Original Texts

Related terms:

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. I’ll give you credit and a link back to your blog if I use your suggestion.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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