Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is the text of the Bible we have today different from the originals?

First, let’s introduce New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace:

Daniel B. Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

B.A., Biola University, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., 1995.

Dr. Wallace influences students across the country through his textbook on intermediate Greek grammar. It has become the standard textbook in the English-speaking world on that subject. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society.

[...]He has been a consultant on four different Bible translations.

[...] He works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (csntm.org), an institute with an initial purpose of preserving Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts.

[...]His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, textual criticism studies at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, and the Universität Tübingen, Germany.

Eric Chabot, who blogs at Think Apologetics, found this interview that addresses the charge you often hear about how you can’t get back to the original New Testament documents.

It talks about:

  • textual criticism
  • number of New Testament manuscripts
  • earliest New Testament manuscripts
  • the number and impact of textual variants
  • responding to the “telephone game” objection
  • responding to the scribes tampered with the text objection

And here is an article by Dr. Wallace that corrects other misconceptions about the transmission and translation of the Testament.

He lists five in particular:

  • Myth 1: The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.
  • Myth 2: Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Myth 3: Heretics have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 4: Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 5: The deity of Christ was invented by emperor Constantine.

Finally, a quote from skeptical historian Bart Ehrman, as reproduced in this post on the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog:

The curious thing about Bart Ehrman is that the views he articulates in his popular-level work are not the same as those he espouses in his professional/scholarly publications. Indeed, readers may find this curious and very telling quotation, taken from the appendix (p. 252) of Misquoting Jesus, of interest:

“Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” [Emphasis added]

Finally, I think that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows us that religious texts don’t change as much as we think they do over time.

Look:

The Dead Sea Scrolls play a crucial role in assessing the accurate preservation of the Old Testament. With its hundreds of manuscripts from every book except Esther, detailed comparisons can be made with more recent texts.

The Old Testament that we use today is translated from what is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who between A.D. 500 and 950 gave the Old Testament the form that we use today. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Aleppo Codex which dates to A.D. 935.{5}

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by about one thousand years. Scholars were anxious to see how the Dead Sea documents would match up with the Masoretic Text. If a significant amount of differences were found, we could conclude that our Old Testament Text had not been well preserved. Critics, along with religious groups such as Muslims and Mormons, often make the claim that the present day Old Testament has been corrupted and is not well preserved. According to these religious groups, this would explain the contradictions between the Old Testament and their religious teachings.

After years of careful study, it has been concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that our Old Testament has been accurately preserved. The scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text. Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.'”{6}

A significant comparison study was conducted with the Isaiah Scroll written around 100 B.C. that was found among the Dead Sea documents and the book of Isaiah found in the Masoretic text. After much research, scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text.

One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”{7}

Despite the thousand year gap, scholars found the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls to be nearly identical. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved.

I hope that this post will help those who think that we can’t get back to the text of the original New Testament documents.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Has the text of the Bible been corrupted during its translation?

First, let’s introduce New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace:

Daniel B. Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

B.A., Biola University, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., 1995.

Dr. Wallace influences students across the country through his textbook on intermediate Greek grammar. It has become the standard textbook in the English-speaking world on that subject. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society.

[...]He has been a consultant on four different Bible translations.

[...] He works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (csntm.org), an institute with an initial purpose of preserving Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts.

[...]His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, textual criticism studies at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, and the Universität Tübingen, Germany.

And here is an article by Dr. Wallace that corrects many misconceptions about the transmission and translation of the Testament.

He lists five in particular:

  • Myth 1: The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.
  • Myth 2: Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Myth 3: Heretics have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 4: Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 5: The deity of Christ was invented by emperor Constantine.

And here’s the detail on number one, which I think is important:

This myth involves a naïve understanding of what Bible translators actually did. It’s as if once they translated the text, they destroyed their exemplar! Sometimes folks think that translators who were following a tradition (such as the KJV and its descendants, the RV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NKJB, NRSV, and ESV) really did not translate at all but just tweaked the English. Or that somehow the manuscripts that the translators used are now lost entirely.

The reality is that we have almost no record of Christians destroying biblical manuscripts throughout the entire history of the Church. And those who translated in a tradition both examined the English and the original tongues. Decent scholars improved on the text as they compared notes and manuscripts. Finally, we still have almost all of the manuscripts that earlier English translators used. And we have many, many more as well. The KJV New Testament, for example, was essentially based on seven Greek manuscripts, dating no earlier than the eleventh century. Today we have about 5800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including those that the KJV translators used. And they date as early as the second century. So, as time goes on, we are actually getting closer to the originals, not farther away.

All the translations that we have today are one step away from the Greek originals. There is no chain of translations that was corrupted.

Check out the rest of the myths, especially for those who favor one Bible translation over others – you know who you are!

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman debate New Testament origins and reliability

Brought to you by The Ehrman Project.

I did watch this, but there is no snarky summary, because I was busy fixing my desktop hardware while it was playing on my laptop.

For those who cannot see the debate, I do have a consolation prize – a new article I found on the “earliest” manuscript fragment (P52). I said earliest in quotes, because Daniel Wallace thinks that there is a new fragment of Mark that can be dated to the first century – and he even brings it up in his debate with Ehrman (above).

Excerpt:

This manuscript, called the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, is on exhibition at Rylands Library in Manchester, UK.  It measures 3.5 by 2.5 inches, and has writing on both front and back.  The front contains parts of 7 lines from John 18: 31-33; the back contains parts of 7 lines from John 18: 37-38.  This fragment of John is probably the oldest New Testament manuscript discovered so far.

You can see in bold (above) which Greek  letters are actually on the front side of the papyrus.  The papyrus is dated by paleographers between 117 and 138 AD.  Why is this significant?

Let’s say you found a puzzle piece that had a date stamp of 1929 on the back.  Let’s say the partial picture on the puzzle piece that has not faded matches a puzzle piece from a complete 1982 puzzle that you own.  Let’s say the shape of the puzzle piece fits perfectly into your 1982 puzzle.  You would be fairly sure that your 1982 puzzle was originally made in 1929 or before.

What do we learn from the “puzzle piece” called P52?

Early Date

1.  It suggests a 1st century date of the original writing of John’s gospel ~ not in the 2nd to 4th century, as some conspiracy theorists say.  This papyrus was found in Egypt, having been copied in a particular Alexandrian script.  Since it is dated 117-138 based on the particular script (a type of date-stamp), it means that the book of John (thought to be written in Ephesus) had to travel to Egypt and then be copied before early 2nd century.  The P52 papyrus is so fragile that scholars do not want to run other types of tests, and so the dating, though considered very reliable by many, is not iron-clad.  Some scholars even date P52 as early as 90 AD.

Accuracy

2.  It shows the accuracy of the preservation of this passage in John by its incredible agreement with later manuscripts.   P52 has no significant variance with P66, a 2nd-3rd century papyrus fragment which includes much more of the gospel of John.  P52 has no significant variance with our earliest gospels that are in codex (book) form, including 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century Codex Vaticanus, and 5th century Codex Alexandrinus.  Variations that  exist include word order and pronunciation (itacism) differences .

The early dating and  high level of accuracy of P52 indicate that the gospel of John was written in the 1st century and preserved in a way that gives us confidence in the reliability of the gospel of John that we have in our Bibles.

The article explains what P52 means to Bart Ehrman’s case. You can make a similar case for the reliability of transmission by looking at how little the Old Testament has changed from the time of the Dead Sea scrolls to the previous earliest copies we had before the Dead Sea scrolls – a gap of a 1000 years.

Excerpt:

Also on display through Dec. 31 will be three Dead Sea Scrolls, two on parchment and one on copper, on loan from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.

The scrolls were discovered in a cave, coiled inside clay vases, by a goat herder in 1947. Excavations at the Dead Sea region later discovered about 900 scrolls in 11 caves.

Despite being safely stored in a dry container, 2,000 years took a toll on the scrolls, which were eaten away by fungi, worms and moisture. The scrolls on display, like all of the documents discovered in the find, are in fragments.

After connecting about 100,000 pieces, scholars have found that the scrolls contain biblical books, hymns, prayers and other important documents many believe were written by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, who lived near the Dead Sea.

The find was of great historical significance because it was about 1,000 years older than any known version of the Bible, placing its authors much closer to the time of the Bible’s actual events.

Some of the scroll’s contents were published soon after their find, but for various reasons some were not released until the 1990s. The secrecy fueled speculation that the scrolls contained some sort of bombshell revelation that would contradict or significantly alter traditional biblical interpretations.

The eventual release of the scrolls seemed to prove just the opposite.

“To some degree, we didn’t know how reliable later translations of the Bible were,” said Risa Levitt Kohn, director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University and an associate professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism in SDSU’s Religious Studies Department. Kohn said the scrolls showed that translations of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, changed little in 2,000 years.

Peter Jones, scholar in residence and adjunct professor at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, said he studied the scrolls at Princeton University and wrote a doctoral dissertation comparing the Apostle Paul with the founder of the ancient city of Qumran, where the scrolls were discovered.

“It’s sort of amazing to see how well the text had been preserved for 1,000 years, because the text we had been using 1,000 years later can be verified by these very early texts, so that’s one good thing,” Jones said.

I don’t talk much about textual reliability on this blog, because I prefer the scientific arguments – but everybody should know this stuff. Everybody has to know how to make the case.

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