Utterly Ineffable

Sitting in an office full of Bibles, I feel well equipped for an apocalypse. At times, however, the irony of editing Bibles is almost overwhelming. Standard publishing contract boilerplate includes the assurance that the work of the author contains nothing “blasphemous.” I once had an author object to this language since just about anything said about religion or the Bible could be considered blasphemous in the right circumstances. In these days when Tea and other parties promote a literalistic reading of Scripture and some of its antiquated perceptions of humanity, I realize that the problem is the strange theological tenet known as “inerrancy.”

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The idea of inerrancy is that the Bible is without error of any kind, itself an errant assumption. Those who hold it do not fully appreciate that we have no original biblical manuscripts at all. The Bibles we read and swear on today are translations of copies of copies of copies in a long regression back to missing originals. Those translated copies have to be typeset and printed, and errors creep in at every stage, as is clear from a glimpse of the manuscript trail as well as many famous misprinted Bibles. Even when the inerrantists are pushed back to the original languages, the problem of not having the autograph remains an unsurmountable barricade to the mind of God. Bibles, like any other books, are subject to human error at each step of the publishing process. On my desk sit contracts where the editor of a Bible swears nothing blasphemous exists in the words. Such contract signers are braver than this tremulous hand.

Once I sent a hastily drafted contributor agreement to a Jewish author with the divine name accidentally misspelled. Within literal minutes of hitting the send button, my phone rang. The contributor was civil but reproving. Did I expect a Jewish man to sign off on a document with the ineffable name misspelled? I apologized but otherwise held my tongue. I had inadvertently blasphemed, perhaps, in my need to get too much done in a day. Now I am editing Bibles. One contributor to a study Bible told me his student evaluations state, “he wrote the effing Bible!” Effing? Ineffable? Inerrant? I’m not sure I have the nerves to handle this kind of pressure. Then there is that box full of leather Bible-binding samples under my desk. Bible-binders sure know their leather. Don’t tell me my thoughts have gone astray yet again.

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