Ask Bob #98: What Do Interpolation, Interpretation, and Inerrancy Mean?
Today’s Question: “Can you point me to info on interpolation in the Bible? How does mainstream Christianity view this versus conservatives/evangelicals? How does this impact inerrancy or lack of inerrancy?”
My Answer: Thanks for a great question! Or maybe I should say, “Thanks for a great group of questions!” There’s a lot to discuss here, but it’s a good discussion to have, because Christians hear these words frequently. I’ll do my best to answer your questions in a logical order.
Info on Interpolation
The first thing I should say is that the words “interpolation” and “interpretation” are often confused or used interchangeably. Actually, they’re two separate words with two separate meanings. Both words are important to our understanding of the Bible. So, to make sure there’s no confusion, I’m going to talk about both of them, even though you only asked about interpolation.
Interpolation specifically refers to inserting words into the Bible text that aren’t really there. This has been done in both the Old Testament and New Testament, and it’s been done for a long time. For example, in 1611 the King James Version of the Bible was published, and it contains several interpolations. Take a look at Genesis 1:1–12, and you’ll see that there are ten instances where the translators inserted words in order to make the meaning more clear. The King James translators showed interpolated words by printing them in italics. In this passage there are five different interpolated words: and, it, was, were, and land.
There’s a passage in the New Testament that’s a bit controversial. Some scholars call it an interpolation, and some say that it’s a legitimate part of the Bible. Take a look at the Gospel of John, chapters 7 and 8. Your Bible may have some sort of annotation, similar to this: “The earliest manuscripts . . . do not have John 7:53–8:11.”
This is the story of the woman who was caught in adultery, and Jesus saved her from execution. Is this passage an interpolation, or did some scribes leave this passage out because they…