Bible: Translation, circulation, survival; variants or errors

(Taken from a small part of ch.6, 10 More Myths of Modern Academia)

{Perhaps the best book written on this subject, among many, would be “Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1 and 2 by Josh McDowell, and I highly recommend these to the reader}

But how is the bible unique among other books in translation or transmission? First, it was one of the first books ever to be translated when the Jewish scribes translated it into the Greek language back in 250 BC. Since then, it has been translated into more languages than any other book in history, both in whole and/or in part, having been translated into almost 1,280 languages by 1966, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica (McDowell).

Secondly, no book in the world has had the circulation and been in use continually like the bible. It was written over a 1500 year time span, and has been in constant use since the time of Moses, over 3 thousand years ago. It was the first major book ever printed, on the Gutenberg Press, and every year, literally millions of copies are printed and dispersed all over the world. By the time the Koran came into being, the Old Testament had been around in complete form for over a thousand years, and the New Testament for over 600 years. And the Koran, not only repeats many of the Old and New Testament stories, it recognizes them as valid. The Koran states;

“And God spoke directly to Moses”, (The Koran, Sura 4:164)

“We caused Jesus son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps confirming that which was before him, and bestowed on him the Gospel where in is a guidance and a light, confirming that which was before it in the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament)”

{Koran, Sura 5:46)

Unlike the Vedas and ancient Sanskrit writings of Hinduism that had to be rediscovered by the English after having fallen into obscurity in India, the Bible, coming from a small tribe in the middle east, spread throughout the entire world and has remained in constant use ever since.

Thirdly, no book has been transmitted as carefully as the Old Testament. The Jewish Scribes took pains in its transmission that made the process almost as reliable as computerized copying. McDowell quotes Bernard Ramm who says;

“Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved…they kept tabs on every letter, every word, every syllable and paragraph. They had special classes of men whose whole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity…who ever counted the letters or syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?”

(Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences, Chicago, Moody Press)

In number of manuscripts preserved over time, no other ancient text even comes close. For example, of New Testament manuscripts, there are 24,633 surviving.

In contrast, the Iliad has only 643

Caesar, 10

Livy, 20

Plato, 7

And it pretty much goes downhill from there. In time span between the time of writing and the first surviving copy, the New Testament has a span of approximately 25 years. Homer (the Iliad) has a span of 500 years between the time it was authored and its first copy. For most other ancient writings the spans exceed over a thousand years.

For the Old Testament, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, took the O.T. back to at least a century before Christ, leaving a very small gap between the completion of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi and the most recent extant copies.

What about the alleged tens of thousands of variants or errors found in the many different manuscripts and groups of manuscripts? Those figures really can throw a person who doesn’t understand the type of variants we are talking about or how they are counted. First let’s look at the variants commonly found in the N.T. manuscripts.

-Spelling errors are relatively common and one reason is there really were no widely used spelling standards in the first century AD.

-Variation in word order was not uncommon, probably the result of tired scribes or letters being copied in haste. These variants or errors do not disrupt the meaning of the passage because in Greek the word order is not as significant as it is in English. As Princeton scholar Bruce Metzger acknowledged in an interview with Lee Strobel;

“…It makes a whole lot of difference in English if you say dog bites man instead of man bites dog…But in Greek it doesn’t. One words functions as the subject of the sentence regardless of where it stands in the sequence; consequently the meaning of the sentence is not distorted if the words are out of what we consider to be the right order.” (1)

-added or dropped words can cause variation between manuscript types such as, “the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in one manuscript may be written, “The Lord Jesus Christ” in another. Again, no meaning is lost, and the various texts can be compared to gain a good understanding of the original wording.

Finally the numbers are really quite misleading. If one word (The same word) is misspelled in one set of 1500 hundred manuscripts, it is counted as 1500 errors or variants. Since there are over twenty-four thousand existing New Testament manuscripts it is not difficult to see how the number count can balloon.

In fact, no other ancient document even comes close to the transmission accuracy of the ancient Jewish and Greek texts, either in the low numbers of actual variants or the high number of existing manuscripts, or in the closeness in time of copying to the originals. If we have to scrap the biblical documents for alleged unreliability; what are we going to do with all the other scraps of secular and pagan writings?

And fourthly, the bible has been under almost constant attack since it first appeared on the scene in the hands of the Hebrew Prophets and later in the hands of the early followers of Jesus, who firmly believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the Jews were scattered, they, along with their book, were subject to almost constant persecution. In the early 4th century Diocletian sent out an edict ordering Christians to be stopped from worshipping and for their Scriptures to be burned.

Of Christians and their book, Voltaire laughed and boasted they would be gone from the face of the earth in less than one hundred years. But they and the book have persisted, along with their Jewish progenitors. Mao viciously attacked Christians, Stalin and Lenin and Trotsky had them thrown into prison camps and slaughtered and their book and religion banned. Any form of theism was outlawed from the schools and from public display.

In America and Western Europe, the bible and prayer have been removed from schools, and in colleges across the continents anyone who takes the Bible at face value is scorned and laughed at. Even on many conservative Christian campuses an extremely sophisticated form of interpretation allows the bible to be characterized as a book which can accommodate secular scientific beliefs that have their roots deeply embedded in atheistic theories.

But, like the Jewish people, the Bible survives and speaks the same truths to each succeeding generation. Jesus, a Jew who claimed to be the Son of God, said this;

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mt. 24:35,

That was over 2000 years ago, and seems to be one more fulfillment of Jewish prophecy that defies explanation from a secular, materialist world.


About notmanynoble

woodcutter from Washington State
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