Question: "Does the inerrancy of the Bible only apply to the original manuscripts?"
Answer: To be inerrant is to be free from error. Only the original autographs (the original manuscripts written by the apostles, prophets, etc.) are under the divine promise of inspiration and inerrancy. The books of the Bible, as they were originally written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21), were 100 percent inerrant, accurate, authoritative, and true. There is no biblical promise that copies of the original manuscripts would be equally inerrant or free from errors. As the Bible has been copied thousands of times over thousands of years, some copyist errors have likely occurred.
It is important to remember that the biblical manuscripts we have today are in 99 percent agreement with one another. Yes, there are some minor differences, but the vast majority of the biblical text is identical from one manuscript to another. Most of the differences are in punctuation, word endings, minor grammatical issues, word order, etc.—issues easily explainable as scribal mistakes or changes in spelling rules. No important theological issue is thrown into doubt by any supposed error or contradiction. Biblical manuscripts from the fifteenth century agree completely with manuscripts from the third century. We can have absolute confidence that the Bible we have today is almost exactly identical to what the apostles and prophets wrote 2,000-plus years ago.
We should not be quick to say, “Oh, that is just a scribal error.” The Bible’s “errors” can be explained in a logical and believable manner. Discrepancies that cannot be explained—or are very difficult to explain—could very well have an answer that we simply do not know at this point. Just because we cannot find a solution does not mean that a solution doesn’t exist. Believing there to be a scribal error must be the absolute last resort in clearing up any supposed Bible “error.”
It is possible that minor errors have crept into our modern manuscripts and translations of the Bible. Copyists and translators are human beings, and they make mistakes. The fact that the Bible we have today is incredibly accurate is a testimony to its inspiration and preservation by God.
Can we still trust the Bible? Absolutely! Modern Bible translations are God’s Word. The Bible today is just as authoritative as it was in the first century AD. We can completely trust the Bible as being God’s message to us. Yes, the biblical promises of inspiration and inerrancy only apply directly to the original manuscripts. But that does not impact our modern Bible’s accuracy and authority. God’s Word endures forever, despite the occasional failings and mistakes of copyists and translators.