The Cape Town Commitment states,
We love God’s Word in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, echoing the joyful delight of the Psalmist in the Torah, ‘I love your commands more than gold… Oh how I love your law.’ We receive the whole Bible as the Word of God, inspired by God’s Spirit, spoken and written through human authors. We submit to it as supremely and uniquely authoritative, governing our belief and our behaviour. We testify to the power of God’s Word to accomplish his purpose of salvation. We affirm that the Bible is the final written word of God, not surpassed by any further revelation, but we also rejoice that the Holy Spirit illumines the minds of God’s people so that the Bible continues to speak God’s truth in fresh ways to people in every culture.
That’s our conviction. And we have to ask, what is the Word of God?
We receive the Bible through manuscripts - the original author wrote God’s word down on something, right? These materials included wooden tablets, clay tablets, papyrus, leather, and parchment (animal skins).
But those original documents no longer exist. All we have are copies of the originals. And these copies have different words on them. So scholars called textual critics invest their entire careers thinking about what the original document said in light of the copies that we have.
As Dr. Peter Gurry writes,
Textual criticism is that discipline that tries to recover the original wording of a work whose original documents have now been lost. Since no original document survives for the New Testament and since the existing copies disagree with one another, textual criticism is needed for all twenty-seven books. Since we cannot study, teach, and apply the Bible if we don’t know what it says, textual criticism—whether we know it or not—plays a foundational role in pastoral ministry.
Gurry summarizes the fidelity with which the text was preserved,
In fact, most of us have been reading substantially the same Greek New Testament for two thousand years thanks to careful scribes. And rather than being an impediment to faith, modern textual criticism actually supports it. Even Marcus Borg, a New Testament scholar who is far from being an Evangelical Christian, has written that “with only a few minor exceptions, we can be confident that the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole reliably report what was originally written.”
Still, we lack ‘the original autographs’ (the original texts written by the Biblical authors).
What difference does it make to the Christian faith that we don’t have the original documents?