I apologize if this is a little inchoate in parts – I tried to clean it up a little, after my first draft.
Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend, and they said something along the lines of that the doctrine of inerrancy wasn’t really a thing before the New Testament, at the earliest (IIRC we were, at the time, talking about oral performance of texts). I kind of constested this; and, for reasons I’ll get in a bit, I actually first thought about the tabernacle “blueprints” given in Exodus 25 (and the temple blueprints shown to David in 1 Chronicles 28). Today, my thoughts turned to that conversation again, at the mention of 2 Timothy 3.15 – probably the locus classicus for inerrancy. In 2 Tim. 3.15, all “Scripture” (γραφή) is called θεόπνευστος, literally “God-breathed.” γραφὴ is, of course, a common designation in the New Testament (and elsewhere) for the books of the Tanakh.
In addition to the 2 Timothy passage, one of the other most-discussed New Testament passages relevant to inerrancy is Matthew 5.18: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law (τοῦ νόμου) until all is accomplished” (NRSV). Although it’s certainly possible that we have, here, a rhetorical convention of exaggeration, I think we can also detect the idea of the perfection of Scripture.
The Matthean passage (and its parallel in Luke 16) seems to be hinting at traditions that can plausibly be traced back to the Deuteronomic laws themselves – cf. Deuteronomy 4.2 and 13.1 (=12.32 in other numbering systems): “You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it” (Deut. 13.1). Further confirmation that this idea was on the radar of NT authors is found in Rev 22.19, “if anyone takes away from the words of the book…” (καὶ ἐάν τις ἀφέλῃ ἀπὸ τῶν λόγων τοῦ βιβλίου…), using the same word for “take (away),” ἀφαιρέω, as LXX Deut. 13.1 (=12.32) does.
Interestingly, however, Deut. 13.1 has clear parallels in ancient Near Eastern (and even Greek) literature. This is explored most fully in English language scholarship in a recent paper by Bernard Levinson (“The Neo-Assyrian Origins of the Canon Formula in Deuteronomy 13:1,” in Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination: Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane [Oxford University Press, 2009]: 25-45). He connects the Deuteronomy text to, among other things, a vassal treaty of Esarhaddon (VTE § 4):
šumma abutu ša Aššur-aḫu-iddina šar māt Aššur tennâni tušannâni šumma Aššur-bāni-apli mar’a šarri rabi’u ša bēt ridūti . . .
You shall neither change nor alter the word of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, but heed this very Assurbanipal, the great crown prince designate . . .
Levinson writes “The injunction [also] takes the form of a double prohibition against any change, using two synonyms in the Akkadian: enû, ‘to revoke or change’, and the D-stem of šanû, ‘to change’ (transitive), ‘to alter’” (bracketed word mine – SF).
It is this that’ll bring me back around to the “blueprints” of the tabernacle and temple.
The first part of Deut. 13.1 reads, in the Hebrew, אֵת כָּל־הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם אֹתֹו תִשְׁמְרוּ לַעֲשֹׂות (again, for clarity: “You must diligently observe everything that I command you…”). This might be connected in a way with Exodus 25.9, which gives instructions for the construction of the tabernacle: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מַרְאֶה אֹותְךָ אֵת…וְכֵן תַּעֲשֽׂוּ (“In accordance with all that I show you…so you shall make it”).
There are, of course, formulations similar to the first part of Deut. 13.1, throughout the Hebrew Bible. However, I wonder if, in conjunction with the second part of the verse – לֹא־תֹסֵף עָלָיו וְלֹא תִגְרַע מִמֶּֽנּוּ (“do not add to it or take anything from it”) – and its parallels with ancient Near Eastern treaty formulas and other things, this might lead us to interpret 13.1 as a whole as calling for the “construction” (עָשָׂה?) of God’s “treaty” with his people – a treaty that must be as precise and, we might say, perfect, as the construction of the tabernacle and temple (a precision demanded especially by the latter being an earthly reflection of the heavens, the domain of the deity) (although cf. Exodus 31, for the former).
Perhaps significantly, “observe” (“You must diligently observe everything that I command you…”), in the NRSV of Deut. 13.1, translates עָשָׂה, ‘do, make‘; and although a translation of עָשָׂה in Deut. 13.1 as “record/write” would be unique, this might be precisely the implication – which would further solidify the connection with ancient Near Eastern treaties and steles.
Taking this in an even more interesting direction, BDB cites several instances of the conjunction of עָשָׂה with שֵׁם, ‘name’: 2 Samuel 7.9, 8.13, and 1 Chron. 17.8. To this, I would add another especially relevant instance: Genesis 11.4. This is relevant in light of the provocative thesis of John T. Strong (and others), that the call of Babel’s workers to “make a name for themselves” (וְנַֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּנוּ שֵׁם) – as well as other motifs in the the Babel narrative – builds on imagery of victory steles (cf. Strong’s “Shattering the Image of God: A Response to Theodore Hiebert’s Interpretation of the Story of the Tower of Babel,” in JBL 127 : 625-634).
I note that steles, first and foremost, display the name of their “founder”; and thus the use of עָשָׂה might be even more plausibly understood as “write” in certain cases.