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Series: By Request
Message – Copies of Copies…are they Reliable?
Tonight is ‘By Request’ night and I chose the question regarding the reliability of the scriptures because we are going through the Bible on Wednesday nights and so it seemed appropriate that we address just how reliable the scriptures truly are and how do we know that?
So first off – let me define what I mean when I use the word “reliable”. I am NOT addressing HOW we can know if WHAT the Bible teaches is the truth about God. That would be a Theological question, not a question of textual authenticiy or purity.
By reliable I am addressing if the scriptures, we readily have available today are true to the originals!
So here is an overview of what we will cover tonight:
- I will begin with a few simple introductory statements…
- Then I will define a few useful terms for this teaching
- Then we will go on to learn about the reliability of our Bibles
- And somewhere in the middle of all this we will play a little-bit of a game to illustrate and drive home a main point!
Are you Ready?
Originals – are they important to have?
Now, undoubtedly this may surprise you but there are several very good reasons why, and they are NOT restricted to the scriptures either. These facts hold true for the authenticity of ANY historical document. You see, having the original of any writing (including the scriptures) is NOT necessary, since it is not the only way we can know if the document(-s) we have are authentic. In fact, there is no credible historian or literary scholar who would require ORIGINALS in order to meet the qualifications of verifying authenticity for two reasons.
1 – that would eliminate MOST historical documents and
2 – it is very difficult and in many cases completely impossible to determine if something even IS the original.
On a personal note, I believe that God deliberately has seen to it that we either DO NOT have or at least cannot confirm if we have any originals when it comes to the writings of the scriptures because the church would have enshrined them and worshiped them rather than read them.
Nevertheless, in regards to the Scriptures, we possess something FAR more valuable and reliable than “originals”, and that is THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of copies.
I’m not kidding – literally multiple thousands which is invaluable for verifying authenticity and accuracy!
In the case of the New Testament Scriptures, we have many copies which were created in the first and second century alone – not to mention a even larger body of copies which were created much later as well. These early copies have been the brunt of MUCH scrutiny and attempts at discreditation of their dates by “fringe” scholars who virtually possess no credibility whatsoever.
Early attestation is VERY important, which is WHY the attacks from those who would discredit the scriptures often seek to call into question these long accepted and well established early dates. Early attestation is called the test of apostolicity – which asserts that in order for a work to be included in the cannon of the New Testament scriptures, it had to be written by an Apostle or a close associate of an apostle in the first century!
Though historically, there have always been those who would discredit the scriptures, the promotion of the Gnostic gospels (which I will mention again in brief later) has, in recent years, stirred up more of a frontal attack against them than ever before. That having been said, it is important to note that so far as I am aware, no one of note in the world of textual criticism takes these fringe scholars seriously!
Sure, the media LOVES to stir the pot and place a spotlight on these fringe scholars and their attempts to discredit the early dating of the copies (and their originals), but that is because sensationalism sells! This is also why YouTube is at no loss for LOADS of this slipshod, couch-potato scholar-ism. People are WAY too easily convinced by sensationalized journalism. None of this, however, is due to investigative integrity or responsible reporting.
If there is any doubt that sensationalism beats responsible reporting of well documented information simply do a YouTube search for lectures on the reliability of the scriptures verses those who bring them into question. One example I can cite is from a similar search which produced video from Daniel B. Wallace which only has about 26,000 views and then in the suggested videos on the side I see a few videos by Bart Ehrman on his book, Misquoting Jesus and it had over 559,000 views. The masses LOVE sensationalism.
What are the differences between these two men? Both are eminently qualified in the field and have been highly educated. However, while Wallace encourages an approach to textual criticism which avoids extremes and admits to difficulties, Ehrman uses irresponsibly bloated language to stir his audience into agreement. Wallace tells us that it is irresponsible to assume that every word we have in our Bible corresponds to a word in the original texts. There is too much variation for that – but this does not make it impossible to walk away with a clear understanding of what the original contained. Ehrman on the other hand makes statements like this in his book Misquoting Jesus, “Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.” This statement is immediately suspect. How does he know for certain that we do not have any originals (a point which Wallace actually agrees with)? The Dead Sea scrolls, which we DO have, date back to 150BC-70AD, so who is to say that some of the ancient texts we call copies are NOT originals? Not only that, but if as he claims we do not have the originals – how could he possible know that what we have are only 4th generation copies, when many of them are dated within the 1st and 2nd century? These are NOT intellectually responsible statements, but are deliberately inflammatory in order to stir up bias! Even the title of his book is silly. How can you claim that you are Misquoting Jesus if according to you, it’s impossible to know what He actually said? The only way to verify a misquote is to verify what WAS in fact originally said!
Agreement across copies
Now, of these early copies of scripture, all of them agree on nearly every single point! THAT IS HUGE!!!!
This alone makes the New Testament a veritable gold mine in terms of textual validity.
SO we need to ask – why would copies be more valuable than originals? For many reasons!
Perhaps the most important one I’ve already mentioned and that is that there is virtually no way to verify if any document of antiquity even is an “original”.
To do this, we would have to be able to verify the handwriting and that no identical document was ever penned prior to the one in question…etc.
While verifying handwriting is not completely impossible, there is no way to be 100% certain that no identical parchment predates the one we have in our possession. In addition to this, handwriting is not consistent with authorship. Not all of the letters or books in the Bible were even originally penned by their authors. We know for certain that Paul sometime employed an amanuensis – which is a scribe who acted much like a secretary recording dictation. In some cases these “co-authors” are listed in the letter. Tertius identifies himself as the one taking dictation from Paul in the writing of the book of Romans for example.
“I Tertius, who penned this epistle in the Lord, greet you.” ~ Romans 16:22
It was the custom of Paul to write the saluations in his letters, which is clearly seen in 2 Thessalonians 3:17,
“This greeting is in my own hand–Paul. This is a sign in every letter; this is how I write. (18) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.”
At very least this implies that the rest of the letter was written down by someone else though Paul authored the content. These were essentially Paul’s signature affixed to the end of his letters as a sign of authenticity. Evidently the churches had more than a passing familiarity with Paul’s handwriting.
The point being however, that while handwriting is not completely impossible to employ as a method of identifying an original versus a copy, examples are relatively rare and in all reality not necessary.
What about the Old Testament?
For the Old Testament, we have a VERY clear record of the scribing process and near 100% agreement across all the copies produced.
The highest testimony to their validity, however in any true Christian’s view should be that their Lord – Jesus Himself – relied upon these copies as trustworthy in that He taught and quoted largely from the Septuagint – WHICH WAS BOTH A COPY AND A TRANSLATION INTO ANOTHER LANGUAGE and the Septuagint is one of the translations we still currently have MANY copies of. which is important for several reasons.
The Septuagint was a translation born out of necessity. In the middle of the 3rd century BC, some 120,000 Jews were deported into bondage in Alexandria, Egypt. Later, due to the lands fertile soil and the general benevolent nature of their captivity, many other Jews moved there voluntarily. This produced a Hellenizing effect which began to influence their primary language. Eventually, Greek was being spoken more than their native Hebrew and so it was determined that the then 70 elders if Israel would translate the Pentateuch into Greek. Septuāgintā literally means “seventy”, which is where the translation derived its name. Later around the 2nd century, the other books of what we call the “old testament” were added.
The language of the Septuagint which the Hebrew scriptures were translated into was Koine Greek. This is invaluable for many reasons, the primary being that it offers us a clear basis for better understanding ancient Hebrew since Koine Greek is still very well understood today.
It was the “version” of Greek in “common” use from the time of Alexander the Great until well past the time of Christ.
In fact, Koine means “common”, so the Ancient Hebrew scriptures were translated into “common” Greek by those who spoke and wrote both languages fluently.
To offer an example of how this translation has helped us in understanding the texts of ancient Hebrew – the passage in Isaiah 7:14 which speaks of the birth of Messiah uses a term which literally means “young maiden” but the majority of the 10 places it is used in the Old Testament it is clearly referring to a virgin and that is precisely how the Septuagint translated the word. They chose the Greek word parthenos to represent Hebrew word Alamah.
There has been quite a debate over this for many years between Jews and Christians, but the overwhelming evidence supports the truth that Alamah is often used for a young woman who is of marrying age who is chaste (a virgin) [See Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25 (Hebrew, v. 26); Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3, Song of Solomon 6:8.]
A visit to the site “Jews for Jesus” has this to say in their article about this topic,
“A look at the Septuagint translation of almah by Semitics scholar Dr. Cyrus Gordon, provides additional insight on the matter:
The commonly held view that “virgin” is Christian, whereas “young woman” is Jewish is not quite true. The fact is that the Septuagint, which is the Jewish translation made in pre-Christian Alexandria, takes almah to mean “virgin” here. Accordingly, the New Testament follows Jewish interpretation in Isaiah 7:14. Therefore, the New Testament rendering of almah as “virgin” for Isaiah 7:14 rests on the older Jewish interpretation, which in turn is now borne out for precisely this annunciation formula by a text that is not only pre-Isaianic but is pre-Mosaic in the form that we now have it on a clay tablet.”
The New Testament
As for the New Testament, we have over 5,800 ancient Greek copies and growing!
There are 10,000 copies in Latin also.
Additionally, we have at least 10,000 more in other languages such as Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian with most of them being complete copies, though some are just fragments.
The runner up to the Bible is Homer’s Iliad which has only 1,757 manuscripts. I don’t know if you immediately grasp the significance of the difference here. There are no “Bar Erdmans” out there questioning the authenticity of our modern translations of Homer’s Iliad. The acceptance of what we have is nearly universal. Yet, the New Testament, which has multiple thousands of copies remains under tight scrutiny by naysayers.
Truth be told, there is MORE proof to biblical authenticity than ANY OTHER single historical document BY FAR!
Contrary to what the popular media and Hollywood would have you believe, the basis we have for the authenticity of the New Testament has become a type of “industry standard” for ascertaining the accuracy of other historical writings.
It is THAT reliable!
The copies we have, and the overwhelming harmony in the content between them, is nothing short of miraculous. If the solid reasons we have at our disposal, for confirming the reliability of the information the Bible contains, were commonly known – there would be far less doubters and virtually NO scoffers. Many people do not know that, but it is the truth!
Most secular ancient Greek writings have fewer than 20 copies of the now non-existent originals and these were almost never recorded until 500-1000 years AFTER the original was penned!
Not so with the scriptures!
If you were to stack these vertically they would reach a height about 4 feet. If you were to stack the New Testament manuscripts vertically it would reach over a mile high!
Most of the copies we have of the originals were written DURING THE LIFE of their authors or those who had read the originals, which gives their authenticity a tremendous boost! [See Wikipedia article on Biblical Manuscript. Make sure to read all the way to the end.]
That is why a major focal point for attack against the scriptures are specifically aimed at discrediting the dates of the copies!
In addition to this – one of the biggest attacks levied against scripture is calling into question when the originals were penned relative to the information contained in them…and no where is that more contested than with the Gospels.
If secular FRINGE scholars can artificially age the timing of the written Gospels they can call into question their veracity as well!
They attempted to do this with the promoting of the Gnostic Gospels a while back. The Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Secret Gospel of Mark…etc. (all of which have since lapsed into dis-credibility).
Most of that has died down now for two reasons.
1st and foremost – they accomplished their goal. They introduced to the simple minded what appeared like credible doubt in the scriptures reliability throughout most major countries.
Secondly, the proof against them has become overwhelming – so much so that it serves them better to simply stop talking about them.
This should seem NO surprise – It is the same techniques we witness all the time today in the liberal media.
They make artificially bloated claims and accusations – bombarding the world at large NON-STOP for days and weeks until the truth is revealed and then they simply move on to their next deception.
But all these claims are of no value since the timing of the letters are SO early as to avoid such discrepancies!
For example, if false doctrines were around in Paul’s day – he addressed them – especially when they were misquoting him. Yet, we do not have a single account of Paul or James or Peter or John…etc. warning against copies of their letters containing doctrinal errors.
In fact, the opposite is illustrated in one of the letters of Paul to the church of Thessalonica.
“(1) Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, (2) not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. (3) Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition…”
Notice, a doctrine (teaching) which was contrary to the inspired doctrine Paul taught had come to this church and Paul addressed it.
Furthermore, that such a false teaching may have come in the form of a letter seems at least possible by the encouragement to…“not be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by LETTER, as if from us.”
This serves to illustrate my point. If Paul addressed false doctrine that was not presented as “the word of Paul”, then how much more certain is it that Paul would be diligent to correct errors in teaching that were presented as coming from him?
Many of the letters in the New Testament were called ‘circuit letters’. This is because while they were originally written to a specific city-church or group of churches in a region, they were also circulated throughout the all the early churches for purposes of establishing sound doctrine.
Now, it is naïve to think that these circuit letters were literally carried from one church to the next so that each might have a turn at the original. No, many times these letters were copied and sent to other churches throughout the ancient world – THAT is ONE source of the copies we have today – they were produced right under the noses of those who penned the originals…which goes back to dating!
In the book “Introduction to the Text of the New Testament: From the Authors and Scribes to the Modern Critical Text” by Edward D. Andrews, Chapter 2 page 75, he writes this,
“However, in the letter to the Colossians, Paul said, “When this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Col. 4:16). In other words, it was to be a circuit letter. Paul had also stated to the Thessalonians in a letter to them, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brother.” (1Thess. 5:7) Paul encouraged the distribution of his books. …
When the Laodiceans read the letter that had been send by Paul to the Colossians, they would have had one of their wealthy members use his literate and trained scribe to make a copy for their congregation and maybe even a few copies for other members. Now the same would hold true when the Colossians received the letter that had been written to the laodiceans. Eventually, Paul’s letters would be gathered together so that they circulated as a group….”
Three important terms
Now let’s address the three important terms which need to be defined tonight. They are Inerrancy, Infallibility and Inspiration.
So let’s get these defined:
Now we need to understand that there is no “official” and universally accepted definition for the word “inerrancy” when used in reference to the scriptures.
For some, inerrancy means that the entire bible was dictated out of the mouth of God to stenographers who dutifully represented every word with the exact spelling and perfect grammar of the Almighty as He slowly spoon fed them what to write. I believe this is 100% erroneous, with the exception of the Pentateuch. Certainly Genesis and possibly large sections of (perhaps all of) Exodus through Deuteronomy were spoken to Moses by God Himself. As to whether this impacted spelling and grammar one can only speculate.
To others still, it means the bible is clear and accurate concerning all the topics it touches.
To others still, it means that it is error free in its conveyance of historical information. That what IS written is consistent with what WAS written or at least with what happened.
For our teachings we are adopting the last of these since otherwise there would be an overlap with Infallibility. So, Inerrancy means that it is error free in its conveyance of historical information. That what IS written is consistent with what WAS written or at least with what happened.
This term is focused more on doctrine and is held to mean that the Bible is accurate in its teachings – that the doctrines it lays out are correct. This agrees with 2 Timothy 3:16 and introduces our third and final word of inspiration,
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine….”
Inspiration means that the scriptures accurately convey what God revealed to the writer without controlling HOW they said it. Inspiration, when used in context with the Holy Bible, means that God directly influenced the writers with the thoughts He was wanting to convey. As a result, “inspired” writers accurately delivered the specific meaning of what God wanted to say, but had lateral freedom in HOW it was said. This is why you have agreement between books like Isaiah and Amos – even though their individual writing styles, grammar and word choices could hardly be more different.
So Inspiration is both the Word of God AND the words of men.
Lewis Sperry Chafer said it this way, ‘Without violating the authors’ personalities, they wrote with their own feelings, literary abilities, and concerns. But in the end, God could say, ‘That’s exactly what I wanted to have written.’”
Perhaps an example would clarify this word.
The Gospel of Mark is very poorly written and uses the Greek version of “street language” to communicate the Gospel. Any first year translation student of Greek could tell Mark’s gospel apart from the others without even being familiar with them, since Mark’s grammar and writing style are so bad. This however, should not embarrass or challenge the faith of any Christian. God chose this young man to proclaim the good news of His Son in a way that would speak to the masses of everyday people of his time, as well as bless generations to come. The touch of humanity doesn’t impact inspiration because the scriptures are focused on ‘what’ is being communicated, not ‘how’ it is being said.
In fact, this actually adds to the authenticity of the message. In determining the reliability and genuineness of a person’s testimony in a court case, what they say is compared with the testimony of others. IF what they say is nearly 100% the same as the testimony of someone else, it actually casts doubt upon their word. Humans do not see things the exact same way and they communicate with differing degrees of verbal sophistication and this affects their testimony.
For example, the four Gospels have been compared to the four faces of the Cherubim (Ezekiel 1:10) as representing the many sided views of Christ. I will show you…
Matthew views and writes about Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah in all His royalty.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” ~ Matthew 4:1
Mark has Jesus as the suffering servant, like a beast of burden…like an Ox. In reference to the same event, Mark says,
“Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” ~ Mark 1:12
Luke was a Gentile doctor and viewed Christ as the God-MAN. He represents Jesus as loving the the whole world and ministering to their needs especially making mention of Gentiles, women and those who were outcasts. Luke includes many of the parables not mentioned in the other Gospels.
John represents Christ as an eagle – high, majestic and Deistic. John focused more on the intentions of Christ in His actions rather than upon the actions themselves. He made use of many words which pointed to the Deity of Christ – like glory, life, light, love and truth. In John’s eyes Jesus is portrayed as God.
Not one of these Gospel writers are incorrect. They all see the truth of Christ, but WHAT they see and how they represent it is unique to the writer.
THIS is inspiration!
Now some burning questions every thinking Christian asks at some point or another are these:
➢ Are there any differences between the copies? Of course! I will address this in the next portion of tonight’s teaching entitled, Variations…copies of copies.*
➢ Do any of these differences challenge any long held, foundational, doctrinal Christian beliefs? Absolutely NOT!
➢ Do any of these differences affect HOW we live the injunctions in scripture? One or two at most and I will address them towards the end when I discuss Discrepancies.**
*Variations…copies of copies
One of the first things you will hear from those who question the reliability of the Scriptures is that they are copies of copies and that like, “The Telephone Game” the last copy bears little in common with the original.
This comparison however is flawed.
For those of you who are not familiar with this entertaining party game, let me explain it.
The “telephone game” consists of a single line of people all of whom are whispering sequentially from the “original” person to the ear of the last in line. So that the “original statement” is never given to the group all at once, but only to first person in line and then it is repeated one person at a time, who in turn tells the next person.
Whatever phrase was originally spoken, often becomes distorted by the time it reaches the last in the line.
When the last person announces what they heard, those at the front of the line many times hear little resemblance between what they were told and what the last person just announced.
Now, to be fair, the game would be no fun if the phrase did not get distorted in some way. The humor comes from how badly the original gets distorted by the time it reaches the last ear. This encourages mistakes for the sake of fun.
Scribing on the other hand is not a game and does not become humorous if the resulting copy bares little resemblance to the original.
The process of scribing is RADICALLY different than the party game “Telephone”. While the game of “telephone” is a test of verbal memory from an original source through multiple people in succession to the last, textual scribing deals with WRITTEN tradition from multiple sources along with eye-witnesses to a final copy which has a corrective effect on any errors.
While “telephone” is a poor comparison, there is a more reliable test to demonstrate the process and we will participate in that in just a little while.
My introduction to this “game” was through reading an interview with Daniel B. Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.
The game is called the Textual Critic Game and has been used as a way of illustrating how textual criticism can succeed in reconstructing texts which are missing parts & pieces.
This is of course a more severe situation than biblical scribes typically dealt with since they nearly always had a complete copy of a text or several texts from which to draw.
Now, in this game, untrained people serve as scribes. Their job is to copy out a text to be submitted to a group of make shift textual critics. There are several generations of copies from which to make their copy. Nearly all of the scribes make mistakes, some intentionally some unintentionally. This only adds to the value of the game in that these copies are always more corrupt than any of the ancient copies of the scriptures.
To illustrate just HOW corrupt we are talking about with real figures, consider that in a 50 word document these “make-shift scribes” produced literally hundreds of textual variations.
Later these are submitted to the “textual critics” in various groups. These do not have the benefit of special training, they have NO other text to use for comparison like scribes often did historically for the Bible and there are many breaks in the chain. Their job is to come as close as possible to what the original text said.
After having played this game over 50 times in churches, colleges & seminaries, they have never failed to reconstruct the original by less than three words and that only happened one time.
There are of course, always doubts like whether a word should be translated as too as opposed to also, but the original meaning remains unaltered and in most cases the text was recovered exactly.
So let’s try our hand at this game. In our case I have served as the scribe who is passing on to YOU (the textual critics) flawed copies of an original and it is your job to decipher the text. I will give you 15 minutes.
The copies am giving each group are in different handwritings, have different parts missing – including punctuation and are by FAR more fragmented than the typical letters the bible copies were made from.
GO! (15 minutes later….) [Because this article is taken from an actual service, we played this “game” real time and it worked out rather well!]
The text I gave them was of a business lunch which involved serveral people, a location, various ethnicities and both genders but each group had differing pieces of information missing.
The following are the questions I asked them in order to see if they were able to recover the original text….
Did these people meet at noon or did the lunch come at noon?
Of the three ethnicities which one was the woman?
What were they discussing?
What type of restaurant did they meet at to finalize their merger?
Considering that these papers I handed out were highly fragmented letters and that NONE in the group were in any way trained in the discipline of textual criticism, it is amazing that they reconstructed the original with accuracy!
THIS is a MUCH better representation of scribing than the “telephone game”!
This game demonstrates very effectively how powerful textual criticism is in recovering texts which are badly damaged or missing parts. If a group of people who know nothing about the process can reconstruct a document which is missing key components and is poorly preserved with that high of accuracy, we have great room for confidence in seasoned textual critics who are working with very well preserved ancient texts of the Bible.
“Quite simply, we have more witnesses to the text of the New Testament than to any other ancient Greek or Latin literature,” Daniel B. Wallace.
Of course the media LOVES to report variations in the scriptures as errors which fundamentally call into question everything the Holy Bible says.
After all, it is “news”.
No headlines are made by someone saying, “We’ve placed the text of the Bible through every test for authenticity known to man and you know what – the Bible we have is over 99% accurate and no doctrine has been compromised over the centuries whatsoever.”
No, what makes news is, “there are over 400,000 textual variations across thousands of copies so that we actually have no way of knowing what the original authors were trying to say.”
Like the lies of satan, there is some truth to the statement, but the conclusion they are leading you to make is completely wrong! The media LOVES to call the validity of scripture into question!
Most of the things reported by the popular media as errors however, are actually called variants (which means variations), and is an altogether different matter!
There are in fact, anywhere from 200,000 – 400,000 variants in the thousands of copies we have of the scriptures. Now this fact is often used by “spin doctors” to make the reliability of the scriptures suspect because other documents of antiquity have comparatively few variations. One of the reasons why the count of variations is SO high when it comes to the scriptures is because we have such an overwhelming glut of copies from which to work! If you only have 3 or 10 copies, then they may contain only a few hundred variants, but when compared to the size of the text and the few number of copies there are to get these variations from that is a very high percentage. When you are working with the New Testament, we have multiple thousands of copies each containing about 140k words each. So, that number actually represents a percentage which is far more reasonable! The number of copies we have from which we can compare and use for clarification and fact checking is often referred to in the world of Theological studies as an “embarrassment of riches”!
Now I know what you are thinking…anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000?
Which is it? Isn’t that a rather large gap?
Well, yes it is, but that is due to how different scholars and textual critics define “variants”.
If you take the larger number of 400,000 as accurate, nearly 320,000 of them are simple differences in spelling where the intended word is still completely discernible.
To be super clear here, that represents a full 80% of the reported errors are simply a matter of spelling.
Even Wikipedia’s article on Biblical Manuscripts agrees that, “If you spread those 400,000 variations over 5,600 manuscripts, that comes out to only about 71 variations per manuscript…and some of these manuscripts are the equivalent of several hundred pages of text, hand-written.”
If you are a person who holds to the idea that all scripture was recorded by means of dictation, then this presents a very real and insurmountable problem.
This is NOT a problem however, for those who understand inerrancy and inspiration as accurately conveying the intended thought of God – rather than His spelling and grammar.
A large portion of the additional variants are genuine mistakes but where the meaning of the passage in question is still obvious.
An example of this is the word ‘Kai’ which means ‘and’ being scribed in place of the word ‘Kurios’ which means ‘Lord’. Overwhelmingly the sentence in most cases will make it clear whether the word ‘and’ or the word “Lord” belongs in any particular text. Typically the context works to clarify any lingering doubts.
So using this example which of the following do you think is correct:
“But we believe that through the grace of the and Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” – Acts 15:11
“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” – Acts 15:11
I think the intended text is pretty clear, even though you are probably not a linguist nor a textual critic.
So while errors like this really have occurred in the copies we have from antiquity, they are the type of errors which nearly anyone could correct with 100% accuracy.
Of the remaining variants there are a large number of synonyms, which, though they are clear as to who they are referencing, it is still considered a variant.
An example of such a variant would be a sentence like, “Jesus knew” versus “the Lord knew”. Both meanings are identical, but the word variation is “considered an error” by some because a proper noun was replaced with a pronoun representing the same person. This accounts for an additional 76,000 variants of the original 400,000.
So let’s tally these up and see where we sit at this point…
We have 320,000 are spelling variations + 76,000 are synonym variations….this equals 396,000 of the possible 400,000 variants – all of which are simple variations which transfer ZERO impact on the meaning. This leaves 1% of the variants which have a chance of effecting meaning in any way.
Already, the numbers of errors, variations and claims of misinformation reported in popular media can be seen for what they truly are! Books like Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus“, or poorly written documentaries like Religulous by Bill Maher and major Hollywood movies like The Davinci Code by Ron Howard go out of their way to be deliberately and perversely misleading – but even still that is not the TRUE problem.
The true problem is what it always is and that is a gullible public who will believe anything so long as it sold with the words “New York Times Best Seller” inscribed on the label or has Hollywood special effects and top rated actors playing the part – surely that makes the information the books and movies contain 100% credible….doesn’t it?! Lol
Truth is, modern people are lazy and are sheep led about by the most entertaining shepherds and nowhere is this more true than in America!
Now to wrap things up let’s look at the last 1% of variations which I am calling Discrepancies**
Earlier I asked, “Do any of these differences affect HOW we live the injunctions in scripture?” To which I said, “One or two at most”, and these are actually identified as discrepancies, in most modern Bibles either as a footnote or a side note. If you read your Bible at all, you have without question read over or past them many times without ever noticing.
Below, I will address the “worst of the worst” and let you be the judge on how much they affect the doctrines brought to us in the Holy Scriptures.
The most famous one which could do the most damage – is of virtually no consequence at all. The passage is found in Mark 9:29 and though it actually does not affect doctrine – it “could” affect practice and that alone is what makes it stand out as the VERY WORSE of the WORST.
This is the verse, where Jesus addressed His disciples about a unique deliverance from demonic possession. Many copies only have, “This kind only comes out by prayer” while others have “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting”.
While it could be argued that fasting is a type of prayer and therefore is not a discrepancy at all, I believe it is still a clear example of variant that could affect the practice of casting out certain demonic spirits and therefore is a real discrepancy and it should be noted that this one discrepancy is considered the most embarrassing textual variation in all of the copies of scripture.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already feeling MUCH better about the reliability of my Bible!
In the end, the question is – has any doctrine, whether minor or major been altered by this discrepancy?
I would argue against it being a problem IF one truly follows the teachings of Christ. You see, Jesus Himself told the pharisees of His day that when He departed, His true followers would fast – Matt. 9:15.
Clearly Jesus intended fasting to be a regular practice in the church, however, it is one teaching of Christ which most Christians largely ignore. If however, Christians took the words of their Lord seriously and did as He said, casting such a demon out by prayer would be all that was required, since they would be those who already fasted often.
Such being the case, no doctrine nor Christian practice is actually challenged at all.
In closing I will offer two other examples which, while they are substantial, they do not really affect the overall message of the gospel which is why I still hold that there is in all reality only one major discrepancy in scripture.
The things taught in these two passages are clearly stated in other passages or it is clearly demonstrated in the life of other New Testament persons so that the net result is that these discrepancies transfer 0% impact on the doctrines of scripture in terms of practice!
These two examples are:
- The entire latter section of Mark 16 which do not appear in MOST of the copies of Mark and is considered by MOST as having being added to the original. Specifically the verses in question are 9-20.
- The example of the woman caught in the act of adultery found in John. 8:7.
This later example is sad to be sure because it is arguably one of the most beloved scriptures of the New Testament. That having been said, there is nothing about the passage that points back to the original and it is clear to any qualified textual critic that it was – without question – added to the content of the originals in some copies.
While it is clear that Jesus most likely did something ‘like’ this in His ministry and that subsequent examples of the type of forgiveness this passage illustrates are abundant in the New Testament, the actual story itself cannot be relied upon in its details.
One major problem with it is that Jesus came teaching the Kingdom of God, while supporting the Old Testament law and that has a major impact on this passage. For example, in Luke 5 Jesus cleanses a leper – something which without question was indicative of the Gospel of the Kingdom according to Jesus’ own words in Luke 7:22, yet, He also has the leper go and present himself before the priest and offer the required offering according to the law in Leviticus 14.
Here however, you have a woman who was reportedly caught in the very act of adultery which according to the law required death by stoning, yet Jesus compares her sin to that of those around her, forgives her and lets her go. While it would be consistent to forgive her since we know the Lord had “power of earth to forgive sins” according to Matt. 9:6, it seems to some that He would still have been required to agree that the law had to be honored in stoning her.
Now, there is ONE caveat… One of the requirements of the administration of capital punishment according to the Law was that there must be agreement between two or three witnesses in order to condemn a person (Deut. 17:6; 19:5). However, when the witnesses were not in agreement, they were dismissed until two that were in agreement could be found. In THIS case, the leaders presented the accused woman to Jesus, and He wrote whatever it is that He wrote on the ground and invited them to stone her begin with the first person who was without sin. In response, those levying the accusation who stood there to condemn her, each in turn, were convicted and dropped their stones and walked away. This is why Jesus asked, “where are those who would condemn you?” There were none, so with no eye-witnesses to accuse her, Jesus was justified in letting her go. He is not violating the Mosaic Law referenced by these Jewish leaders as there were no remaining eye-witnesses to provide the testimony necessary to condemn her.
Now, I have just demonstrated to you the VERY worst of the worst, in terms of discrepancies and these really do not affect any New Testament doctrine for living whatsoever!
They also, do not pose a problem if you hold to the definition of inerrancy and infallibility that states that the scriptures are true in what they touch and teach in terms of doctrine. Nor does it call into question inspiration since what God intended to be conveyed to man through the scriptures are not in any way challenged by their addition or subtraction.
So there you have it, that the Bible is without question the VERY BEST example of a reliable copy of documents from deep history represented in a copy readable today!
Truth is, people do not disagree with the authenticity of scripture on intellectual grounds but on bias’ and desires to escape accountability for what they teach! If I were to inform most scriptural critics that everything we know about Alexander the Great was written by Plutarch about 500 years after Alexander the Great died, they would still largely accept what was written as accurate enough to teach as history. How do I know that? Because it IS taught as history all over the globe by professors and teachers who DO know this! However, the scriptures, whose reliability are light years beyond that example in terms of proven and traceable authenticity – remain under skepticism! That alone proves to me that the Bible we have today is not only authentic to the originals, but that what it teaches is truth. Because the rejection of it’s reliability is SO widespread, yet without ANY credible reason other than an inner bias…which is exactly what we’d expect if the scriptures ARE true…for in them Jesus is reported as saying,
John 3:19-21, NKJV “(19) And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (21) But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
So, in the end, I agree with a British scholar who once said, “We should treat the Bible like any other book in order to show it’s not like any other book.”
- “Introduction to the Text of the New Testament: From the Authors and Scribes to the Modern Critical Text”1 by Edward D. Andrews, Chapter 2 page 75. Copyright © 2019 Christian Publishing House.
Also, in the recording I made mention of some of the problems with “King James Only” approach to Christianity and so I thought it prudent to add this clip from Daniel B. Wallace, an American professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. This clip concerns the reason why there are a few non-essential differences and in fact errors in the King James Version of the Bible. – King James Version.
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Two other videos which I believe would be very helpful in terms of both information and collaboration with all that is stated above would be two brief lectures given at Biola University totaling less that 1 hour all together and it would be well worth your time!
Video 1 – Part 1 of “Is what we have now, what they had then?”
Video 2 – Part 2 of “Is what we have now, what they had then?”
I hope this message will bless you richly…not because I taught it, but because it reveals Christ. He alone is our blessing and if in any way – whether big or small, 100% accurate or even just partially so – I have revealed our great God and Savior to you in a relationally knowable way, then this was time well spent on both our parts.
We at Living Grace Fellowship encourage you to place your trust in Jesus Christ, deliberately choosing Him and bowing the knee to Him as your Master and Lord, so as to come to realize Him as your Savior.
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