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The Bible

The History of the Bible

Matthew 5:17-19
17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
NKJV

We have already noted that the Bible was written by at least 40 authors over a period of some 1600 years. These authors came from different backgrounds and levels of learning. They performed a variety of different tasks while they lived. Yet, they all had two things in common. They shared a deep love of God and they faithful recorded His Words.

The original manuscripts of the Bible were written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. None of the original manuscripts exist today. The Jewish nation so revered the Holy Writing that as the scrolls wore out, they were buried so the Nation would not desecrate God's Word. Further, God knows that man would turn the scrolls themselves into idols. So, God under took to direct man's steps so that no original copies were preserved. God's Word even provides an example of this type of behavior.

Remember in the wilderness during the Exodus, the nation complained and God sent poisonous snakes into the camp (Numbers 21:1-9)? God then directed Moses to make a bronze or brass serpent and place it on a pole in the middle of the camp. They who were bit by the snakes had only to look up at this figure to be cured. This, of course, is a prefigure of Christ and His healing work on the Cross (John 3:14). But did you ever wonder what became of that brass serpent?

The underlying text on which the King James Version is translated was compiled by Erasmus. He had access to only a half dozen or so manuscripts, none of which were complete. In fact, in places, the combined manuscripts were incomplete, such as Revelation 22:19 or 1 John 5:7-8. So here, Erasmus turned to the Latin New Testament. He translated the Latin back into Greek which the translation committee formed under King James of England then translated into English.

"Erasmus' text went through five editions. Others took up where he left off, but essentially kept the text virtually the same. One of the editions of Theodore Beza, done in the late 1500s, constituted the text behind the King James NT. By 1550 the third edition of Stephanus' Greek text included in the margin textual variants from several witnesses, but the text was still largely that of Erasmus. By 1633 this text had gone through some more minor changes, but was stable enough that the edition published by the Elzevirs was called in the preface the "the text now received by all," or the Textus Receptus. Interestingly, this was more publishers' hype than consensus, for many if not most NT scholars had long noted the inherent weaknesses in this text. The text published was thus, even in the seventeenth century, more a text of convenience than one of conviction." (1)

It should be noted that the King James underwent some three published revisions. Erasmus' text as well as the text of the English translation contained scores of footnotes and marginal readings on possible alternative meanings and textual difficulties. Some of these were incorporated into subsequent revisions. So one might ask today, if as some say the King James is the only text, indeed inspired in itself, which revision is inspired?

The 1800s saw great discoveries of additional manuscripts. Today there exists over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts, of which over 5,300 are Greek. Compared to other ancient manuscripts, the weight of authority favors the accuracy and reliability of the Bible manuscripts. For example, only 643 copies of Homer's Iliad exist today. Homer wrote in about B.C. 900, but the most ancient manuscript dates only to B.C. 400. If one were to compare the manuscripts, noting differences, the Bible is 98-99% accurate, while the Iliad is only about 95% accurate. (2)

Two British scholars, Westcott and Hort, undertook a study of these manuscripts and in 1881 published their own text of the Greek New Testament. Their critical text was based upon a long string of preunderstandings about the original of various manuscripts.

What Westcott and Hort's study did was to prove that there were, generally speaking, families of texts. If two copies were made in Jerusalem, one being sent to Antioch and the other to Alexandria, Egypt, one could assume that each was identical. But then scribes in both locations copied and copied and recopied these texts. Over time, human errors were made. But the scribes in Antioch made different errors than the ones in Alexandria. Subsequent copies reflect these errors. Over the 1400 years before the printing press eliminated some of these problems, new family lines were created, i.e. copies sent to Rome were recopied with new errors being introduced. Westcott and Hort analyzed the manuscripts and assigned them to families. Rather than following the majority of manuscripts (number wise), they "recreated" the ancestors. Using a variety of assumptions as to how errors occurred, they created a set of rules for choosing between the variances in these ancestors. On this basis, it is clear that all of Erasmus' texts belonged to what Westcott and Hort called the Byzantine manuscript family or text. This text, according to the study, was itself probably a critical text created about 400 or 500 AD.

Today there are manuscripts of a much early age available for study to which Erasmus did not have access. One fragment of the gospel of John has been dated to 110-125 A.D. Since John wrote between 90-100 A.D., this is a very early copy, perhaps a first generation copy. Such close copies are unheard of when one looks at secular manuscripts. This just adds to the miracle of the survival and authentication of the Bible.

Which leads to the second important event, a discovery in 1885 by Adolf Deissman. His single volume, Bible Studies, revolutionized much critical thought. In this volume, Deissman discussed his reading of early Greek manuscripts - not biblical texts but letter, business contracts, receipts, marriage contracts. What Deissman conclude was that these papyri contained the common Greek language of the first century, the same vocabulary as is used in the New Testament! This is the first modern scholarly study of parallel language to the NT. It dispelled the view that the Greek of the NT was a language invented by the Holy Spirit. Since the NT is written in the language of the people, the people will be able to understand it.

For example, Christ's Words "It is finished" (John 19:30) is also found on receipts and means "paid in full!." The death on the Cross paid our sin debts in full. They were not just canceled or annulled but PAID IN FULL.

Also, words at which the KJV translators had merely guessed now had meaning. John 3:16's "only begotten" really means "one and only" or "unique."

Third are the philosophical influences - factors already discussed above in the concepts of presuppositions and preunderstandings.

These are the factors which have created an abundance of new translations of God's Holy Word. The modern critical texts used by most scholars for study are the result of pain staking work based, in the case of the NT, on the initial work of Westcott and Hort. For the OT, the manuscript is one based upon the Masorete text prepared over several hundred years between 400 AD and 1000 AD. This is the text which first added vowels to the Hebrew written language. The accuracy of this critical text has been attested to by the discovery of various manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Portions of all OT books but Esther have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls also help to verify the accuracy of the Septuagint. (3)

It should be noted that there are a group of scholars who would still use the "majority text," that is, the composite text prepared on nothing more than numbers. In the last decade a handful of scholars has risen in protest of textual criticism as normally practiced. In 1977 Pickering advocated that the wording of the New Testament autographs was faithfully represented in the majority of extant Greek manuscripts. This view had been argued in one form or another since John W. Burgon in 1883 sought to dismantle single-handedly the Westcott-Hort theory. To be sure, the Majority Text stands much closer to the Textus Receptus than it does to the critical text. According to this writer's count there are 6,577 differences between the Majority Text and the critical text. But that does not tell the whole story. Not by a long shot.

One might note the following when discussing "errors" in the various manuscripts. "Out of the 150,000 variants, only 400 materially alter the sense. Among these no more than about 50 have real importance for any reason whatever; and even in the case of these 50, not one touches on any article of faith or any moral commandment not forcibly supported by other entirely clear passages, or by the teaching of the Bible as a whole. The Textus Receptus (Received Test) of Stephanus, Beza and Elzevir and our present versions teach exactly the same Christianity as the unical text of the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus of the oldest manuscripts." (4)

1. Wallace, The Conspiracy, Page 1.

2. McDowell, Chapter 4, Pages 39ff.

3. Price

4. Pache, Page 193. The Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are two of the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence. Unical texts are texts written solely in capital letters.

 

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