The bible is split into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic and has been carefully preserved over the centuries by Hebrew scribes in something known as the Masoretic Text. this is the text used for the King James Version. The New Testament was written in Greek and is what I am principally concerned with here.
It is worth mentioning here that from the time of Christ there have been small groups of persecuted believers who simply wanted to follow their Lord. If you want to know more about this you can read “The Pilgrim Church” by E.H. Broadbent. These groups had limited access to scripture but used what was available, such as the Latin Italic Bible.
The Roman Catholic Church became increasingly intolerant of these groups and generally attempted to suppress them wherever they were found. This process became more formalised from the 13th Century onwards with the establishment of the Inquisition.
For most people the only access to the scriptures was through the Roman Catholic Church which used the Latin Vulgate bible. This was a translation of the bible from the 4th Century primarily translated by Saint Jerome.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 many Greek speaking Byzantine scholars fled to the west. They brought with them thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts including many copies of the Greek New Testament. Some of these scholars began to teach in European Universities. Among their students was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. He collated the Greek manuscripts available to him and produced the first Greek New Testament in a single edition. His third edition published in 1522 produced texts with the Greek and Latin side by side. Not many scholars could read Greek but they could all read Latin and when these texts appeared it became clear that the Latin Vulgate had been corrupted to incorporate Catholic theology.
Erasmus. Hans Holbein the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Extract from 1 John in the Codex Sinaiticus. Pvasiliadis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
When people could read the bible in their own language they began to question much of Catholic doctrine. Such things as papal infallibility, the role of priests as mediators between man and God, the worship of Mary, praying to Saints, the doctrine of purgatory and the paying of penances.
In response to the success of the Reformation bibles, and particularly the Kings James Bible, Greek texts appeared which cast doubt on the immutability and authority of God’s word. These texts fall into three categories and are the basis of the majority of changes made to modern bibles.
The Codex Vaticanus
The Codex Sinaiticus
The “Alexandrian” Texts
Before these texts appeared there was agreement in the Reformation world on the text of the bible. After they appeared the words of the bible were decided by academics who were not always believers.
St Peter's Square, Vatican City. Diliff, via Wikimedia Commons
The Codex Vaticanus
In the 15th Century a manuscript suddenly appeared in Rome. It contained almost the complete Old and New Testaments. It was said to be discovered in the Vatican library in 1475. It is said to be a 4th Century manuscript. However its appearance is exactly that of a 15th Century manuscript. The reason given for this is that it had been overwritten by a 15th Century scribe. The decoration and titling is also 15th Century. The writers are not known, the date is not known, the place of writing is not known. In the gospels alone it omits 237 words, 452 clauses and 748 whole sentences. It consequently reduces scripture and diminishes it. Erasmus dismissed it as a corrupted version of scripture. Despite its lack of provenance it was adopted in the nineteenth century as the chief of all documents by those who wanted to revise the bible.
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt, via Wikimedia Commons
2. The Codex Sinaiticus.
This was a collection of manuscripts “discovered” by a man called Constantine von Tischendorf in the nineteenth century. After a meeting with the pope he went to Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt in 1844 and found old Greek Manuscripts in a waste paper basket being used as kindling by the monks. He said he recognised the scraps as scripture and in the course of three visits to the monastery between 1844 and 1859 he gathered many Old Testament manuscripts and a complete Greek New Testament. He subsequently published these as the Codex Sinaiticus. They are supposed to be from the 4th Century and so this would make it the earliest complete Greek New Testament text in the world.
The monks always denied Tischendorf’s waste paper basket story. A man called Constantine Simonides, a Greek Paleographer, claimed he had created the Codex Sinaiticus with the help of two other Greeks as a present for the Tsar of Russia.
Simonides was dismissed as a fraudster but he maintained until his death that his story was true. The Codex Sinaiticus is the most heavily altered of all the scriptural texts. The largest part of it (347 folios) is now kept at the British library. A BBC documentary on the Codex reported about 23,000 corrections had been made to the manuscript. Roughly 30 per page. It is supposed to be the earliest text and these thousands of corrections appear to prove that the Word of God is not immutable. It therefore actually undermines the authority of scripture. Like the Codex Vaticanus the Codex Sinaiticus has no history or provenance. Tischendorf just went to Egypt and immediately found exactly what he wanted to find, making himself famous as a result. To me it is clearly not scripture
The British Library, London. Jack1956, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Excavations at Oxyrhynchus, c. 1903.Picture by Arthur Surridge Hunt
3. The Alexandrian Texts
These are a collection of biblical papyri from Egypt. Some of them were found in a rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Others were bought from Egypt, through intermediaries, by wealthy collectors in the 20th Century. Most notable are the Beatty Papyri and the Bodmer Papyri. The papyri are said to be of the Alexandrian Text. Alexandria was the epicentre of Gnostic teaching in the 2nd century AD. The most famous Gnostic teachers, such as Basilides, Carpocrates and Valentinus were based there. Irenaeus, the great 2nd Century theologian, warned of their teaching and said that the Gnostic gospels did not agree with the gospels of the Apostles. This was because the Gnostics were producing their own gospels to agree with their own teachings. Irenaeus is not to be ignored as he was a student of Polycarp who had been a student of John the Apostle. Also Bishop Athanasius the great 3rd Century Church Father warned of the danger to Christian doctrine posed by the Gnostics.
To me, the Alexandrian Papyri are clearly a collection of false Gnostic gospels. Studies of the Papyri show a great range of variation among them. There are 45 of theses Greek texts which are used in the modern Critical Text. They do not all agree with each other and have variance of over 30% from the Critical Text. In contrast there are over 5,000 manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus on which the King James Version is based. They are in agreement with each other over 99% of the time.
So, none of these texts is actually reliable. The question to be looked at next is why they have been adopted in modern bibles.
Bible Texts Part 2
Bible Texts Part 2 Video
The King James Version (KJV) of the bible remained unchallenged in the English language for nearly 300 years. When people spoke about the Word of God they would be thinking about the KJV.
There was a long process that built up to the creation of the KJV. It started with John Wycliffe in the 14th Century. A Catholic priest who translated the Latin Vulgate bible into English. The invention of moveable type by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th Century sped up the production and distribution of bibles. In the 16th Century Desiderius Erasmus produced a Translation of the New Testament from original Greek Manuscripts and this became the foundation for many Reformation bibles. In England William Tyndale translated the New Testament and some of the Old Testament into English. His edition of the New Testament was published in 1525. In 1535 Myles Coverdale gave us the first complete bible in English, although it was printed in Switzerland.
William Tyndale. Anonymous Portrait. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Great Bible of 1539 was the first authorised edition of the Bible in English, authorised by King Henry VIII of England to be read aloud in the church services of the Church of England. The Great Bible was prepared by Myles Coverdale, working under commission of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Secretary to Henry VIII and Vicar General.
Eventually we got the Geneva bible. The New Testament was published in 1557 and the complete bible in 1560. The Geneva bible was translated from the original languages. The Geneva bible was the bible used by the pilgrims to America, William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell and John Bunyan.
The culmination of this rash of bible translating was the Authorised Version, also known as the King James Version (KJV).
Authentic Leaf of a Geneva Bible 1578 - Translation of the Bible used by many Protestant Reformers. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England and approved a new bible translation. Work started in 1604 and finished in 1611. The story of the meticulous manner in which the translation process was undertaken by at least 47 scholars would take too long to tell here. However it is worth mentioning that the translators used a method which is known today as verbal equivalence.
The translators were all believing Christian men of faith who believed in the inspiration of scripture. They attempted to preserve the exact meaning of the original languages while making the words comprehensible to ordinary hearers of the Word. They explain their methods in their preface, “The Translators to the Reader”. They laboured to avoid over literalism and pedantry in their translation while remaining true to the meaning of the original texts.
After the publication of the KJV it ultimately replaced all the other versions as there was general recognition of its authority.
Thomas Holland. One of the translators of the King James Version of the bible. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Fenton J.A. Hort. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It was not until the middle of the 19th Century that the KJV was seriously challenged. A committee established by the Convocation of Canterbury in February 1870 reported favourably three months later on the idea of revising the King James Version; two companies were formed, one each for the Old and New Testaments. A novel development was the inclusion of scholars representative of other major Christian traditions, except Roman Catholics (who declined the invitation to participate).
The committee was led by Fenton James Anthony Hort. His partner was an Anglican bishop named B.F. Westcott. These two used the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus to create their own Greek text. As we have seen these Codices are suspect. Westcott and Hort were both Anglo-Catholics who hated the Greek texts of the Reformation. F.H.A Scrivener was a member of the committee who later issued a rebuttal of its findings. He showed that Westcott and Hort had persuaded the committee to accept the text that they had created.
Revised Version Bible, via Wikimedia Commons
Parallel companies were formed in the United States, to whom the work of the British scholars was submitted and who in turn sent back their reactions. The instructions to the committees made clear that only a revision, not a new translation, was contemplated. The New Testament was published in Britain on May 17, 1881, and three days later in the United States, after 11 years of labour. Over 30,000 changes were made, of which more than 5,000 represent differences between the Greek text used for the new version and that used as the basis of the King James Version. Most of the other changes were made in the interest of consistency or modernization.
The committee ultimately produced the Revised Version which is regarded as the forerunner of the entire modern translation tradition.
This process of revising the bible has continued from that time on.
Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland), 28th edition, via Wikimedia Commons
In America the committee that developed the American Standard Version was led by Philip Schaff. Schaff was a follower of multi-faith religion and was one of the founders of the World Parliament of Religions which was an attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths.
The revision of 1881 created a new Greek text which was actually Westcott and Hort’s version of the New Testament. This was known as the Critical Text and became the standard Greek text used for modern interpretation and translation. This was just the beginning of the revision process. In 1904 the Nestle Text, named after the German translator Eberhard Nestle, was published which combined the work of Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort and other scholars. This new text underwent thirteen editions between 1904 and 1927
In the 1950s another scholar named Kurt Aland revised the text again and by 1963 a twenty fifth edition was produced with the name Nestle-Aland on the cover.
United Bible Societies logo, via Wikimedia Commons
Aland did not believe in the authority of scripture as he did not believe it was written by eyewitnesses. He suggested dropping 2 Peter, Hebrews and Revelation from the canon of scripture altogether.
Aland worked closely with Bruce Metzger (1914 - 2007) who became the leading American textual critic of his time. Metzger believed Genesis contained myths and told his readers that the books of Moses contained myth and legend.
In the 1960s the United Bible Societies took on the role of revising the Greek text producing their first edition in 1966. From that time on they have continually updated and changed scripture with the aim of producing a bible that is acceptable to all denominations. From 1979 the official Greek text of the Catholic church was the United Bible Societies text.
Bible Texts Part 3
Bible Texts Video. Part 3
The Christian world has largely bought into modern bible translations which are in my opinion unreliable.
One of the main areas where there has been a change is in the area of the deity of Christ. Jesus Christ is God and is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is something that only a born again Christian is able to truly accept because it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to accept it. When faced with someone who believes they are a Christian and yet does not accept that Jesus is God (a Jehovah's witness for example) we need to have clear verses to demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity. The best verses I know for this are quite clear in the King James Version. However in modern bible translations they are not so clear. The following chart demonstrates this.
Holy Trinity with Saints Eleftherios, Athanasios, Ioannis Prodromos and Charalambos. 1738. Byzantine and Christian Museum (Athens), Greece, via Wikimedia Commons
There are a huge number of changes and omissions to be found when comparing the KJV with modern bibles. There are also passages included but which have doubt cast on them by the footnotes. For example if you read the book of Mark chapter 16 in the New International Version you will find a note that says:
The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.
By earliest manuscripts they are talking about the totally unreliable texts discussed in the first part of this series. If you actually believed the above footnote then you would believe that the Gospel of Mark finished with the verse:
[Mar 16:8 NIV] 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
To me it is clear that the Gospel was not intended to finish in this depressing way.
Eugene Nida, via Wikimedia Commons
The list of changes goes on and on and continues to change every time the bible translators produce a new revision of the text.
When Westcott and Hort started revising the bible the issue for them was about replacing the Textus Receptus on which the KJV was based with their own Greek text. However in the 20th Century the actual idea of producing a literal translation was abandoned altogether by many bible translators. Foremost among these was a man called Eugene Nida (1914 - 2011) who developed the dynamic equivalence bible translation theory. He believed that God inspired ideas rather than words. Therefore we have to understand the idea behind the idea and translate that. Rather than saying the scriptures are inspired he said that the scriptures inspire the reader.
Traditionally in bible translating the translator translates the words God gave and the reader interprets them. Now we have moved to a position where the translator decides what the meaning (or message) is for the reader. The words themselves are no longer the authority. The translator is.
James White, via Wikimedia Commons
The problem is that we have moved from a position where the bible was translated by godly Christian men to one where it is being translated by academics. This can never work because the bible explains:
[1Co 2:14-16 KJV] 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Even Christian theologians such as James White and John Piper have gone along with the idea that it is alright for non believers to translate scripture. James White said if he wanted a heart operation he would get the best surgeon regardless of the surgeon’s beliefs and if he wanted the best translator he would get the best academic regardless of his or her beliefs. This reduces bible translation to being an academic subject rather than something that requires the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Bruce Metzger via Wikimedia Commons
John Piper was a student of Bruce Metzger. Metzger did not believe in the divine preservation of scripture. He believed that we do not have enough manuscript evidence to recover the original text (thus eliminating the authority of the the scriptures we have). Despite this John Piper regarded him as the greatest American authority on New Testament textual criticism.
Metzger was a brilliant man but not what I would call a bible believer. Christians are what the bible calls the foolish things of the world. We get impressed by very brilliant people but the bible tells us this:
[1Co 3:19-20 KJV] 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
Frank Logsdon was a project member of the translation committee for the New American Standard Version (NASB). After its publication he realised that he had been deceived and renounced any connection with it. He said:
I must, under God, renounce every attachment to the New American Standard Version. I’m afraid I’m in trouble with the Lord… We laid the groundwork; I wrote the format; I helped interview some of the translators; I sat with the translator; I wrote the preface… I’m in trouble; I can’t refute these arguments; it’s wrong, terribly wrong… The deletions are absolutely frightening. . .there are so many. Are we so naive that we do not suspect Satanic deception in all of this?
People said that this repudiation was a fake story but you can hear an audio recording of it on YouTube and other places on the internet. Here is one link:
The question for all of us to ask is whether we believe that God has preserved his Word down through the centuries or whether it changes every time a committee produces a new version.