Posts Tagged ‘error’

Part 2: The Old Testament

With the New Testament addressed, what about the Old Testament? How do we know there were no errors in the massive amount of copying that was undertaken by the Israelites to preserve them? Unlike the NT manuscripts which are found in massive numbers and are more recent, the OT manuscripts are found in much smaller numbers[1] and are incredibly old.[2] To address skepticism of the authenticity of OT manuscripts we have to understand how these manuscripts were copied.

The Jews in biblical times preserved texts in a way no other culture had, by designating scribes and lawyers to meticulously count words and syllables to ensure accuracy when copying texts.

From 500-300 BC, the Sopherium, scribes preserved the OT manuscripts.

From 200-100 BC, the Zugoth textual scholars preserved the text.

From 100 BC to AS 200 the Tanniaim rabbinic teachers preserved the text.

From AD 100 to AD 500 the Talmudist scribes preserved the text.

AD 500 to AD 950 the Massorite scribes preserved the text.[3]

For a long time the oldest OT manuscript known was a Massoretic text dated to AD 980.[4] So the problem was obvious. If the last OT manuscript (Book of Malacai) was written in 400 BC, and the oldest manuscript we had was dated to AD 980, that meant there was a 1,300 year gap at the very least. Who knows what was changed in that 1,300 year gap!

Then one day in 1947 a shepherd boy came across some caves in the Dead Sea region. Inside these caves were clay jars. Inside these clay jars remained the most important biblical discovery yet to be made. OT manuscripts as old as 125 BC to 68 AD,[5] that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (AKA Qumran Texts). For 1900 years these scrolls remained hidden within the caves, but now unearthed they contained the answer to the problem mentioned above. If the Dead Sea scrolls were different from the Massoretic text from AD 980, then we’d know they were not preserved accurately. But if they did match, then we could rest assured that the OT was preserved accurately.

After extensive review by scholars world wide of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contained all OT books except for Ester, it was determined that scribes had done an incredibly amazing job at preserving the text word for word. When comparing the AD 980 Massoretic OT manuscripts to the Dead Sea Scrolls it was discovered that the Massoretic manuscripts retained a 95% word for word accuracy. The other 5% consisting of spelling errors and “slips of the pen.”[6] None of these “errors” created any doctoral differences between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Massoretic text. Over the course of 1,900 years… that is amazing to say the least! It just further proves the great lengths these ancient scribes took in preserving these manuscripts, and further defends the authenticity of the text in the Bible we read today.


[1] Old Testament Manuscripts were copied for preservation only, hence the small number when compared to the NT manuscripts that were being copied in a persecuted evangelical period.

[2] Old Testament Manuscripts can be anywhere from 3,000 to 2,000 years old.

[3] -Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981)

[4] Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M. Div “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical Integrity.” www.apologeticpress.org

[5] Dr. Will Varner “What is the Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls?” www.christiananswers.net, Associates for Biblical Research

[6] Archer, Gleason, Jr. (1974), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody). P. 25

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Part 1: The New Testament

When I first began going to Church and reading out of the Bible, the first doubt that crept into my mind was a concern for authenticity. How could such ancient text be kept accurate for so long. With so many men copying it year after year after year, surely at some point there were errors made which now affect every other copy made after it. Or even worse, surely the text was altered by corrupt church leaders to advance their political powers and agendas! Conspiracy theories like these weren’t mine alone though. Books like, Dr. Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story About Who Changed the Bible and Why, Christopher Hitchen’s God Is Not Great, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code make claims and provide evidence for this theory. However, all the claims made by these books can be refuted by observing 4 major principles on how the New Testament went from it’s original manuscript form to the printed book form which we read today: 1) The vast majority of errors are insignificant. 2) Textual Criticism. 3) The concern and motivation of early Chrisitans. 4) Quoting Early Church Fathers.

Principle 1: The vast majority of errors are insignificant.

In Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman claims there are over four-hundred thousand copying errors among the New Testament manuscripts alone! And guess what? He’s more right then wrong. But Ehrman left out one little important detail; the vast majority of these errors are completely insignificant. And when I say insignificant, I’m talking about spelling, word order, and relationships between nouns. In other words, a copyist simply swapped two words around, misheard a word, or skipped a line of text. All these errors are easily identifiable, and could even go unnoticed because of how insignificant they are. Here is an example: One ancient manuscript says, “Answered, the Jesus and said to him.” The mistake being “the.” The best part is that most of these errors don’t even make it into our translated Bibles because these insignificant errors don’t get translated in from one language to another. This is what the vast majority of the claimed errors are; simple mistakes that do not alter the meaning of the text at all. How big is this vast majority you ask, try 99 percent. 99 percent of all those four-hundred thousand or so errors found in manuscripts are completely insignificant. Scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix say it is closer to 99.5 percent.

As for the other 1 percent (or 0.5 percent), the errors made slightly alter the verse they’re in, but nothing that corrupts the overall message. Let me explain with an example; early in the gospel of Mark (1:41-42), Jesus heals a man with a skin disease. In some Greek transcripts Jesus says, “I want to,” and heals the man. Other manuscripts start off by saying, “Becoming angry and stretching out His hand.” Most skeptics point out this completely alters the message and portrayal of Jesus being compassionate. Although I do agree this does change how we understand what Jesus felt during this particular moment of healing the sick, it does not alter or corrupt the message of Jesus. At times Jesus became angry or annoyed as written in Mark 3:5 and 9:23, yet at the same time we also see He had compassion for sick people as written in Mark 6:34, 8:2, and 9:22-23. So whether he healed the man, or angrily healed the man, it doesn’t change the fact that he healed the man.

Another example of the 1 percent of significant mistakes can be found in the gospel of John, verses 1:18. Some texts say “the one and only Son.” Other texts say “the one and only God.” But let’s be honest, what does this really change? The Gospel of John numerously says that Jesus was the Son of God over and over, see John 3:16 or John 20:28. No matter which text you read of John 1:18, the message doesn’t change. As renowned theologian and professor Timothy Paul Jones concluded, “… as I carefully examine the differences between the ancient New Testament manuscripts: no textual variant affects any central element of the Christian faith…”

You may be asking youself, if this text was inspired by God, shouldn’t it have no errors what so ever? Well, Adam was created perfect, but became corrupted. And since then, nothing created by man has been perfect because man is not perfect. Even when God handed down His wisdom to us to record and guard, it would never be perfect because we who recorded it and handled it are imperfect. One also has to imagine that if the scriptures were absolutely perfect in content, people would put more emphasize on the scripture than God Himself. People would more than likely worship the bible and lose sight of God, for people like to worship what they can see, more than what they cannot, we often prefer the creation over the creator.

Principal 2: Textual Criticism

Textual criticism is the critical analysis of text. A textual critic closely examines copies of ancient documents to determine which copy is closest to the original document. Here is what ALL textual critics of the New Testament agree on: It is impossible for all copyists to make the same mistake at the same time! Most people tend to think that the Bible manuscripts were one single file line of copy after copy. If the fist copy is bad, all subsequent copies will be bad. What people need to understand is that the New Testament manuscripts were being copied all over the Roman Empire in different countries at different times!

We have unearthed 5,700 NT manuscripts in Greek, 8,000 in Latin, and 9,000 more in Armenian, Slavic, Ethiopian and other languages. A common misconception is that if a corrupt Church leader wanted to alter the text he would just have a few manuscripts modified and the rest copied after it would contain the modifications forever altering all the NT manuscripts and subsequently how our Bible reads today. For this to be true, this Church leader would have to track down every manuscript circulating around the Roman Empire that was being copied every day. Impossible.

Here is another important factor: Even though there may be 1 percent of copying errors that might be considered significant, they don’t make into our translated Bibles today, because textual critics can track copied manuscripts to find their source manuscript.

The figure above (courtesy of http://www.carm.org) represents how errors are traced back to their source. Manuscripts are categorized in tree-like diagrams as the figure shows, based on; the location found, jars they were found in, type of papyri written on, type of ink used, style of writing, etc. Therefore, if we know when and where these manuscripts were made, we can trace back the manuscripts to find their original “father” manuscript from which they were copied. Even Ehrman himself admits this is possible. This helps discover which manuscripts contain flaws and which do not, ensuring that the books you read in the bible today are as accurate as the original manuscripts.

Principal 3: The Concern and Motivation of Early Christians

 This is something many skeptics overlook. The reason the NT manuscripts were copied so extensively was due to four reasons: One, it was the Word of God, so it had to be preserved of course. Two, Churches began sending out missionaries, which required the Gospel to be in hand for the missionaries to present to people. Third, Christians were heavily persecuted in the first three hundred years and manuscripts were being destroyed by the Romans. Lastly, many corrupt churches began to spring up and spread false “gospels,” like the Gnostics. So to ensure these other “gospels,” did not become confused with the authentic gospels of Jesus Christ, great care was taken into ensuring their accuracy. Don’t forget, these early Christians believed they had the Word of God in their possession, and therefore great care was taken in their copying.

A great example of this can be found from Origen of Alexandria of the 3rd century, who angrily wrote, “The differences between these manuscripts have become great.” Here’s the good part: We have a collection of all the original manuscripts Origen kept, and under critical analysis it was determined his manuscripts had only 1 percent error in them. The same errors mentioned earlier I might add. This clearly demonstrates the concern over copying these texts accurately, as Origen was very upset over the smallest of errors.

Another great example can be found in the Codex Vaticanus of the 4th century which was copied incorrectly having one word missing. A copyist found this error later while copying the Codex Vaticanus and wrote in the margin, “Fool and knave! Leave the old reading, don’t change it!”

For those who still believe that the early Church leaders were corrupt and purposefully altered the text there is something else to consider: why would anyone want to modify the Bible in ancient times to what it currently reads as? The teachings of the bible, were at the time, very controversial; don’t worship worldly kings, worship God. Give your money to the poor and live a life of love and forgiveness. These teachings were not popular among the masses at the time as they did not benefit anyone person. No one would purposely alter manuscripts to teach love and peace because there is no motive. The teachings of the bible are from God and are not intended for any one man’s benefit (other than salvation). There is a reason people were tortured and killed for being Christians. In fact, the first 300 years of Christianity was one of intense persecution from the Roman Empire, not one of power. There is a reason Kings and Emperors would burn Bibles in piles. There is a reason Christians were massively killed and tortured in the Roman Coliseum. Knowing this, you must ask yourself why anyone would have bothered altering the bible’s content to be what it is?

“It [Bible] condemns much which men in the flesh highly prize, and commends much which they despise. Its thought is not the thoughts of men.”

-B.C. Goodpastor

Principle 4: Quoting Early Church Fathers.

Here is something many people also aren’t aware of either. Church leaders of the 2nd and 3rd century quoted the New Testament extensively in their own personal writings. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) quoted the NT 330 times, Irenaeus (AD 120-202) quoted the NT 1,819 times. Clement (AD 150-216) did the same 2,406 times. Origen (AD 185-253) 17,922 times. Tertullian (AD 155-220) 7,258 times. Lastly, Hippolytus (AD 170-236) quoted the NT 1,378 times. In fact, you could destroy ever New Testament manuscript in the world, and re-create it from the quotes of these men alone! That’s how many times they quoted the NT.

So think about it. There are all these claims from skeptics that the NT was mis-copied and mis-quoted to be in-accurate today, yet we have writings from the 2nd century of men who quoted the entire NT. If the bible had such damaging copy and translation errors then later manuscripts shouldn’t match the writings of these men… but they do. Case closed.

If you want to be sure you’re reading a Bible that has the most accurate text possible, purchase a Bible with extensive textual notes. These Bibles have footnotes that give the reader an idea of what the original manuscripts said. One verse might have a footnote that reads, “The oldest manuscripts omit this verse,” or “Other Greek manuscripts read as _____,” for example. Reading one of these Bibles will guarantee you’re getting the Bible in its most original form possible. And let me tell you from personally owning one of these Bibles that in reading the footnotes, I too can agree with Timothy Jones in that the differences do not alter the message or meaning of the text. Besides, no one verse can change the New Testament as a whole, there are too many other verses that provide parallel similarity not to mention too many other manuscripts without error available to refute anyone’s opinion that the New Testament has been altered in such a fashion to mislead all of its readers and followers.

References:

[1] Typically I would not even mention the Da Vinci Code with these other books on the simple premise that it is a book of fiction, with no real legit sources to back it’s claims. However, due to the book’s popularity and cult following, I felt it should be addressed here as well.

[2] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross. (Lake Mary, FL FrontLine: A Strang Company 2008) P. 74

[3]  D. Wallace, “The Gospel according to Bart,” Journal of Evangelical Theology Society 49 (June 2006) P. 330

[4] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007)

[5] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross. (Lake Mary, FL FrontLine: A Strang Company 2008) P. 76

[6] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007)

[7] Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. P. 208 and 211

[8] Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. P. 52

[9] Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. P. 56

[10] These 300 years of persecution are recorded by various anti-Christian Roman  historians. Pliny the Younger, Gaius Suetonius, Cornelius Tactius, etc.

[11] Goodpasture, B.C., “Inspiration of the Bible,” The Church Faces Liberalism, ed. T.B. Warren (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College 1970).

[12] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007)