Introduction to Textual Criticism - Lesson 2
In this lesson, you embark on an enlightening journey that unveils the Bible's complex path from original texts to modern copies. You grasp how the original authors, including the apostles and their associates, penned and dispatched their works, while acknowledging the precision of early non-professional scribes. You explore the evolution of the text, which includes scribes adapting content to align with other Gospels or to replicate previous versions. Furthermore, you comprehend the influence of Christianity's legalization under Constantine, the impact of geographical distribution, and the role of languages like Greek and Latin on the Bible's manuscript tradition. Delving deeper, you come to understand the variances in manuscripts, such as omissions, additions, substitutions, and transpositions, along with the causes of unintentional errors. Lastly, you grasp the concept of intentional alterations to the text, enriching your understanding of the intricate historical process involved in the Bible's transmission.
1. Can you walk us through the historical process, from the autographs to manuscripts
2. Types of variants:
- Examples of omissions
- Examples of additions
- Examples of differences that are not especially significant
- Examples of differences that are especially significant
- Examples of unintentional errors
- Examples of intentional errors
3. Has the church tried to hide these variants? How have our Bibles indicated where there are issues?
- In this lesson, you explore the challenges surrounding the authenticity of the Bible's Greek texts, the influences of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman, and the impact of their works on modern perception of the Bible.
- This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the Bible's complex journey from original texts to modern versions, emphasizing the transmission's human aspects and historical influences. You also gain in-depth insight into the types and origins of textual variances in manuscripts, complemented with specific examples.
- In this lesson, Dr. Wallace provides evidence of the historical reliability of biblical texts. Some of the evidence he reviews includes ancient literary works lasted hundreds of years, implying close originals of the New Testament. No central control over copying, unlike the Quran, prevented mass destruction or conformity. Alexandrian scribes' accurate copying and influence on the New Testament highlighted. Unlike classical authors with a thousand-year gap, New Testament copies exist within decades. Early translations and Church Fathers' quotes aid original text comprehension. Ehrman's copy quality concerns countered, noting scribes' precision and error detectability.
- From this lesson, you'll understand the art and science of textual criticism, the processes involved in understanding ancient texts whose originals are lost, and the ways these processes apply to the New Testament.
- This lesson immerses you in the history of the King James Bible, its roots, inaccuracies, and ensuing controversies, while emphasizing the Bible's role as a guide to Christ, not an object of worship.
- In this lesson, you gain a comprehensive understanding of the numerous variants present in the New Testament manuscripts, and how these variants, rather than hindering our understanding, actually contribute to establishing the original text. You discover the crucial role of textual criticism, underpinned by the reassurance that no variant jeopardizes any essential Christian doctrine. You learn about the pioneering work of CSNTM, and its mission to digitize all Greek New Testament manuscripts, significantly contributing to a more definitive comprehension of the New Testament's original text.
This course provides a comprehensive exploration of the veracity and textual integrity of the Bible, focusing specifically on the New Testament. You gain insight into the concerns surrounding the accuracy of the Greek texts that serve as the basis for modern translations, and how these concerns have been amplified over time due to the influence of post-modernism and skepticism in popular culture, exemplified by figures like Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman. The absence of original manuscripts and the discrepancies between the extant copies are highlighted as contributing factors to these concerns. The works of Ehrman and Brown are examined, revealing how they have provoked questions and influenced public perception of the Bible. Ehrman's claims in "Misquoting Jesus" regarding alterations to the New Testament by early scribes to align with their theology are explored, along with a critical analysis of his main argument. Ultimately, this lesson presents a nuanced perspective on the complexities of the Bible's transmission and challenges readers to delve deeper into the historical process and intricacies involved.
I. The Historical Process
The historical process from the original to the handwritten copies, what we call the manuscripts, to the printing press and then to the modern Bibles of today is a long and somewhat complicated process, but a really fascinating one. It is full of humanity. When the original authors of the New Testament, the apostles, and their associates, wrote these books, they dispatched them. They sent them to somewhere else. The Gospels and all of Paul’s letters were sent out to other places, the Book of Revelation, the Book of Acts; they all went somewhere else. The original then was in the procession of the recipient. Typically, the original author would also make a copy for himself. This was done frequently in the ancient world. So there may have been technically two original copies of something, but they were meant to be exact copies of each other. Then as time passed, the churches began to realize how important it was to have these letters of Paul. Even early on, when he wrote to the Thessalonians in chapter 3, verse 17 in about AD 50, he said, ‘I Paul, am writing,’ in the letter; it was a way to authenticate that this letter really was from Paul. And it was also a way to authenticate that Paul had read through this and it said what he wanted it to say. He says the same thing in Galatians 6:11 see what big letters I am writing. It is because he is using the pen to authenticate the letter. And he says in Colossians 4:16 to make sure that this letter goes to Laodicea. So there is a sense that Paul is authenticating and asking them to be distributed to other churches. So, this is even before the idea of a canon conciseness. So, I don’t think that Paul recognized that he was writing Scripture. Yet, at the same time, he recognized that he was an authority and spoke authoritatively to these churches. And as they began to copy the text; they said, hey, Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians and we want to get that letter.
So you get these non-professional scribes copying out the text to start with. But, it is an important point to recognize that these non-professional scribes were non-professional only in the sense that they weren’t really trained as Scribes. What we discover in some of our earliest manuscripts, with New Testament manuscripts, we have numbers that were written out in abbreviated form, long before Arabic numerals were invented, using Greek letters to indicate a number. If they say this is the 1st, like 1st Peter, you will see the manuscripts written as Alfa with a bar over it to indicate not to write this as the letter alfa but read it as the number one. The same thing with our earliest manuscript 666 that has Revelation 13:18, it has bars over the numbers. You have got this in a number of different places. So, what was discovered in 1977 by C.H. Roberts was that these early scribes were bureaucrats, they were ‘bean counters’, they were trained in making sure that their ledgers matched. They weren’t trained as professional literary scribes; so the quality of handwritten copies may have not be that great, but the accuracy was not affected by this. They might make the kinds of mistakes that are unintentional; we will talk about these later. So we have these kinds of things. But at the same time, there was no control over the coping of the manuscripts. There was a chaotic growth of these copies. In one regent, there was control and that was in Alexandrea where they had professionally trained Scribes from the 2nd century BC. And the Christians that picked up on the patterns, they made very accurate copies of very accurate copies and it was a proud tradition they did, whether they were Christians or not, they wanted to have literature that was accurate. They wanted to have these accurate copies.
As time went on, there begin to be this growing canon consciousness; now, you might think that would create an even greater care about the manuscripts, but the reality is, just the opposite happened. With the Gospels, you have Matthew, Mark, and Luke that can be bound along with John in one volume and when somebody is reading Mark’s Gospel after they have written out Matthew, they say, Oh, Mark is not saying it the same way Matthew is, let’s conform it to what Matthew says. I am sure the guy who wrote Mark before me made a mistake. And that is where we have some of our biggest textual problems in the synoptic Gospels. They are ubiquitous, they are everywhere. Almost every time you see wording in Matthew, you are going to see wording in Mark with variances that conform it to Matthew. And sometimes, it goes in the opposite direction. So, it is precisely because they had a high reverence to this as Scripture, but also not that high a reverence to the person who wrote before him. It is almost as if, I am copying a fallible manuscript of the infallible Word of God. So they were trying to conform it to that which created a lot of variants. But at the same time, there was a general care for what is going on. By the 4th century when Christianity became legal under Constantine, a number of things changed. He commissioned Eusebius in his workshop in Caesarea to create fifty Bibles that would be used for the church in Constantinople, the new capital.
And so Eusebius, by Constantine commissioning those Bibles, had the wealth of New Rome behind him to make these exquisite Bibles of which we might have two of those in existence today. And these started that text that would be in the East and so with the legalization of Christianity, you get a lot of copying in Constantinople and in the East. Where now you were getting copies of Greek manuscripts that are conforming to each other because it was a relatively small area and it was done by the first fifty Bibles. Meanwhile, in the west, Greek was decreasing in its influence by the 4th century with Latin becoming the lingua franca. So in Rome and other parts of the Western Europe, Latin was the language. We have almost twice as many manuscripts in Latin today for the New Testament as we have Greek. And in the south in North Africa, you had by the sixth and seventh century the invasion of Islam with Muslim destruction of churches everywhere. So the best text form was from Alexandrea as mentioned which pretty much died out after the 7th century. We find a few manuscripts here and there where they were copies of older manuscripts, even done in places like Constantinople. They found one of these older Alexandrian manuscripts where a Scribe named Ephraim copied the oldest manuscript that he could find in the 10th century. This happens to be one of our best manuscripts and its text is equal to a 4th-century manuscript because that is what he directly copied.
So this is a broad history of the growth of the Bible in the earlier days of Christianity. There were variances everywhere but at the same time because there was no central control like they had in Islam where all the original Qurans was destroyed. You can get to the original text of the New Testament even though there was no control over those manuscripts down through the ages.
II. Types of Variances
Variances have to do with differences in wording from one manuscript to another. There could be spelling errors, word order errors, additions, substitutions, omission of words; all these constituted a variant. The manuscripts themselves are written documents either on papyrus or parchment and finally on paper. And we have thousands of manuscripts that created a lot more textual variances. All textual variances can be grouped into four categories: omission, where they omit as little as one word, sometimes a whole verse, sometimes more than that, but very rarely more than that. There is also addition, where they often add words or phrases or a whole verse and on two occasions twelve verses. Another one is substitution, which is the most common variant there is. Substitution is typically a spelling difference between manuscripts. Or you have a transposition where you have a different word order. Sometimes you have a variant that is a combination of these things.
Both omission and addition, if they are unintentional due to either the line or the word ends with the same as another word later in the text. This is called in Greek, hum way e-teleton and it produces two kinds of errors; the Scribes eye might see one thing and he might write it twice or he might see two things and write it once. So in 1st John 2:23, being a classic text where it says, ‘no one who denies the Son has the Father, whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.’ In the majority text which stands behind the Kings James Bible, it simply says, ‘no one who denies the Son has the Father.’ The reason for the remaining missing line is because the last three words of both these clauses end with ‘has the father’ and what is called in Greek, ton contura echi. This is a classic illustration of how later manuscripts which seems to go back to a common source for this message, skipped that second line because they saw the last three words of the first line that are skipped. I have seen places where Scribes have duplicated as much as thirteen lines of text and then realized what they had done.
Another example would be in Mark 1:1, where most translations would have, ‘the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Now Codex Sinaiticus, which is the oldest complete New Testament in any language, is from about AD 350. This was discovered in St Catherine’s Monastery at Mt Sinai, Egypt. This manuscript has, ‘the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’ It doesn’t have the Son of God. The reason is doesn’t is because you have five words in a row that end in what is called in Greek grammar, the genitive singular second declension. It ends in uh. So you have the ‘Gospel, Jesus Christ Son of God.’ These five words are going to end in upsilon because some of these are going to be abbreviated words where they don’t have the full words spelled out. The point is, here you have five words in a row that have the same ending; it is not possible that the scribe skipped a couple of those words? So I went through all the Sinaiticus where we have at least four places of the same endings. This particular ending is all I looked for and I found a lot of places where that scribe alone, accidentally skipped material, and consequently, even though scholars say that the Sinaiticus is a very important manuscript; there is another one that may not have ‘Son of God.’ I would say, no, I think you are wrong, I think it does. I think the scribe of the Codex Sinaiticus just skipped it by accident. He misses whole verses at times because of hum way e-teleton. These are just some examples of omission.
Then there is addition. Romans chapter 8:1 is a classic text on this. In our modern translations, based on the Nesli Ollen 28th edition, which is our standard Greek New Testament. It reads, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ But in the King James, it has, ‘who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’ So where did this come from? Later manuscripts have ‘who do not walk according to the flesh,’ after that absolute statement ‘of no condemnation for those who are in Christ’. And still later manuscripts add another phrase, ‘who do walk according to the Spirit.’ The text grew over time and I think it grew away from grace. That is a typical kind of thing that we see in manuscripts. So the earliest text in this instance is correct; that is where you have intentional additions. Another place is in Mark 6-8; for eighty-nine verses in a row, Jesus is never mentioned by name or title, but only by pronouns or by the 3rd person singular at the end of verbs. That’s it. Mark really has an impoverished Greek style, but he knows how to tell a story. It is a kind of a mix of country bumpkin and a brilliant storyteller. This goes on for almost three chapters where Jesus is never mentioned, except in later manuscripts that added the name Jesus in four or five key junctures where it especially lines up with lectionaries, where the church would be reading for a particular day or week and they were supposed to start at this text. And when it says, ‘he did this,’ people ask who the he is. So those lectionaries would add the word, Jesus. Lectionaries had a huge impact on the shape of later manuscripts. They were self-contained narratives of about fifteen verses or so that you would read each day. They would start with pronouns in the Biblical text, where they added the nouns which in turn impacted on the later copies of the Biblical text.
Philippians 1:14 is another example of this. Here is where the later manuscripts get it right. ‘Most of the brothers and sisters dare to speak the word fearlessly,’ is what they have. Early manuscripts of the Alexandrian variety, say, ‘dare to speak the Word of God fearlessly.’ This is a natural outgrowth when
scribes intentionally added material; it was especially for clarification. It wasn’t for theological purposes. It was also for harmonization with the Gospels, but it was especially for clarification. They dared to speak the word, what word? It was the Word of God. And then you have western manuscripts that have the word, ‘Lord’. Those are two natural outgrowths of this. We see that the overwhelming majority of these variants are insignificant, so much so that they can’t even be translated. And there is a very small percentage, if not even one percent of all the textual variances we have that are significant.
By significant, a significant variant is one that changes both the meaning of the text to some degree and also it is found in reliable enough manuscripts that we can think that it goes back to the original, not that it must. In other words, it is not going to be one later 15th-century manuscript that has no history of having that kind of wording in it. But it is going to be found in early enough witnesses or in a cluster of witnesses that we know have a great ancestry or some early church fathers or something like that. So, I would consider these to be meaningful and viable variances, and when you combine that, it is by far the smallest category of variances we have.
So, insignificant variances are everywhere and far the most common textual variance we have in our Greek manuscripts are spelling differences; and the most common spelling difference was called the movable ‘nu’. This is an ‘n’ when you put it on the end of a word where the next word starts with a vowel. We have this in English with ‘a book’ and ‘an apple.’ That is what they did in ancient Greek; it’s ubiquitous. It is everywhere. That is the most common kind of variant we have in our New Testament. It affects absolutely nothing. Then there are other spelling variances; for example every time you see the name John in the New Testament. In Greek, it is ‘lohanes’ or ‘lohannes.’ One of them has two ns in the middle and the other has one. Manuscripts spell it one way or the other and if you have a thousand manuscripts that spell it one way and a thousand manuscripts that spell it another way, it counts as one variant with a thousand witnesses that support that one variant. So you get synonymous substitutions, word order differences, the article shows up with proper names like, ‘the James’ and ‘the John’ and ‘the Jude.’ I don’t know what the article is used with proper names. There are a lot of theories about this. There are more articles in the Greek New Testament than any other work. If you learn the word ‘the’ in it forms, you get one out of seven words. It occurs twenty thousand times and still scholars debate why it is used with proper names. We are not exactly sure; it hasn’t affected any doctrine in any church in the history of the church as far as I know. So, these are the kinds of variants that we have.
I did a test one time on how many ways you could say ‘John loves Mary’ in Greek. Mary is spelled in a variety of ways and John is spelled in a couple of different ways. Using the same word love or Agape, each time, I was able to determine that I could say that phrase at least three hundred and eighty-four ways. I produced those when I gave lectures on this in different churches. It took me about eight hours to come up with these and everyone is different. That is enough to prove the point. And Bart Ehrman says that there are so many variants, we could practically go on forever talking about these variants. But it is not the number of variants that counts; it is the nature of these variances that counts. And if you could have a three-word text or a text that is translated by the same three words in English that could represent more than three hundred and fifty ways to say that in Greek where none of these affect anything, then to say that we have a few hundred thousand variants for the New Testament manuscripts doesn’t mean anything. We could have tens of millions of variants; in fact we could have ten million variants before it could affect anything at all. But we don’t really have that many variants for the New Testament comparatively speaking though. So these are examples of differences or variants that are simply not significant.
There are far fewer significant differences, but these are always the ones that get discussed in scholarly meetings. These are always the ones that are put forth now is popular books to show how Christianity has corrupted itself from the original. It is meant for sensationalism in part, but it is also meant to show there are some changes that the scribes have made. What is interesting about all of these, in every place where we see what looks like a significant change, we have another reading where we said that it must have come from this. And consequently, we know where the original text came from. For example, in John 3:13, we have a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus; however, we aren’t sure where we should put the end of quotation, either by Jesus and then start John’s narrative after that point. It might be at verse 13 or earlier or later, but here we have, ‘no one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man.’ There are a lot of manuscripts, in fact, most manuscripts add, ‘who is in heaven’ at the end. So you have ‘the Son of Man who has ascended into heaven’ and he is the same one who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven. If Jesus is saying this to Nicodemus, it is kind of weird. Does that mean, while you are talking to me, you are in heaven now or is somebody else he is talking about? Is this where the quotation ends? Now John is saying he has ascended into heaven and he is there right now? There are a number of issues here as this is a significant variant. What is it saying and is it authentic?
Romans chapter 5:1 is a classic text of a textual variant, where it was almost surly created by a mistake with two significant differences. You have two different words, ‘therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God,’ or ‘therefore, having been justified by faith, let us have peace with God.’ The difference in Greek is one letter in one word; it is either echomen (indicative) or echoomen (subjunctive) and sometimes both of them, one with a short ‘o’ in the middle and the other with a long ‘o’. Both of them would have been pronounced exactly the same way in the 1st century. Tertius, Paul’s Scribe for the Book of Romans is listening to Paul dictate this letter to him. When Paul gets to his therefore where he is summing things up, Tertius, who may have known how Paul wrote some of his other letters, realizes that Paul may be shifting now to his final conclusions where he is bringing all to an application, giving it a theological basis and he has moved from the indicatives to the imperatives. So he may have heard Paul say, ‘let us have peace.’ That is what Tertius thinks Paul is going to say, but Paul doesn’t say that. In fact, he doesn’t get to that point until Romans 12 where he really gets to what the Christian faith is about. So, the difference is a single letter and I think Tertius is the one who wrote the wrong letter. Bruce Metsker, in his textual commentary suggests the same thing, and I think he got the suggestion from Earl Ellis, who is a prominent evangelical scholar. So Metsker says that Tertius made a mistake in the original manuscript. Yes, I believe he did, but Metsker doesn’t say the next thing that needs to be said, which is ‘as far as we know Paul signed off on all of his letters’ which meant that he read those letters, thus saying that it was exactly what he wanted to say; here is my signature, I’m letting you know that. So, he read through this letter that Tertius wrote by dictation. He is going to look at that echomen and say no, no, no Tertius, it is not echomen and he probably crossed out that omega and put in an omicron. So, it gets to Rome and what do they do? Well, who changed the text here, they may have asked?
So, most of our early manuscripts actually have the subjunctive, echoomen. But the very earliest manuscript of which we have is just a fragment of Romans 4 and 5 from the 3rd century have the indicative. You can see how the Scribes wondered about this, whether to use the indicative or the
subjunctive. Do we say, we have peace or let us have peace but ultimately you need to determine it by the context? I think there are three places where Paul changed what the scribe wrote in the original manuscript. So, if you believe in inerrancy, that doesn’t mean that the original text is necessarily neat; it
may be messy, there may be some corrections before it gets sent out. That is a fabulous textual problem to think about.
What I mean by unintentional is that a scribe may make a mistake because of eyesight. He may read something once that should have been read twice. He may have read something twice and should have been read once. It could have been a manuscript in front of him or it could have been smudge on the
manuscript. It could have been late in the day as fatigue accounts for a lot of variants. I have seen scribes make some very stupid mistakes, even really good scribes; every scribe made mistakes, even several times, because every manuscript was written letter by letter by frail sinful human beings. And
consequently by putting all these together, this is how we see what God’s word really says. Another intentional mistake is that they often drop words or letters or change them and at times, they even add words unintentionally. This caused by writing more than just two or three words at a time. There is one
scribe who wrote out as many as nine words at a time. And so, he is reading the text and then he copies it out. It happens to be one of our most bizarre Greek New Testaments because he wasn’t writing in small groups. One of our most faithful scribes, the scribe who wrote P75, wrote out one letter at a time. It is not a particular clean manuscript; it looks like chicken scratches. He wasn’t a professional scribe but he was one of the most careful scribes. So they don’t show up in the apparatus of our Greek New Testament at all.
Two examples of unintentional errors that I’ve seen: one is in codex L, this is an 8th century manuscript of the Gospels where the scribe is copying a good text, an Alexandrian text, but he is not a good scribe. He makes some of the biggest mistakes of any scribe we have ever seen. In John 1:30, John the Baptist says, ‘After me comes a man’ and codex L says after me comes ‘air’. The difference between a man and air is one letter. So this manuscript says, ‘after me comes air.’ This becomes a gnostic gospel because Jesus isn’t human now. It really becomes a silly thing and it is obviously a mistake. Now my favorite one is in 1st Thessalonians 2:7 where we have two very important variants that have exercised a lot of textual scholars just in recent times; the New Testament has gone in a different directly than before. Paul says either we became little children among us or we became gentle among you. Those two are legitimate variants with good solid manuscript testimony behind them. With little children and gentle, the difference between the two is one letter, either nepioi or epioi. And the word before it is egenethemen; so here is the second place where I would say that the scribe misunderstood or misread what Paul was saying. He said, ‘egenthemen nepiori.’ Did I just say nepiori or epioi? And that scribe probably wrote the wrong word and Paul corrects it. In this context, it look strange for Paul to speak of himself as a little child because he goes on to say, ‘as a nursing mother’ in the next sentence. But he also says that we were orphaned, he uses every family relationship he could think of. Paul is not against mixing his metaphors; he likes to do that a lot. I think it due to his getting passionate about what he is saying. There is one scribe in a 14th-century manuscript that doesn’t have apioi or nepiori, but instead, it has hippoi; we became horses among you.
In Codex D, which is also known as Codex Bezae, this is an early 5th-century manuscript that has Greek on one side and Latin on the other side. It is our most eccentric manuscript, yet, it has early readings that go back into the 2nd century which may represent the original. In the genealogy of Matthew, it mixes that in with the genealogy of Luke; it kind of combines them. There is a harmonization between the two genealogies. This is a good illustration of a scribe who wants to see the text harmonized. He is not someone who is a heretic; he was a man who was diligently trying to preserve the text and have
agreement in the manuscripts in the Gospels at times where there was no controversy, but he still wanted to do this. That is an intentional kind of a change. Another one would be at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13: where it says, ‘for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ We get this in the King James Bible but not in our earliest manuscripts. It was most likely added because of a parallel in 1st Chronicles and we also see that kind of statement in the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. But no scribe in his right mind would take these words out because they always wanted to affirm who Jesus was. If you see such great language, ‘for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,’ this is very liturgical; they are not going to throw this out. If a scribe doesn’t have those words, it means that the manuscript that the scribe was copying didn’t have those words. That is a kind of intentional change.
In Roman 1:7 and Romans 1:15, there are two manuscripts that omit the words, ‘who are in Rome.’ In other words, it omits that this is the letter to Roman Christians. That did so most likely to say, that this is a letter that is universally meant for all Christians. Now, Romans is the best closest statement of a
systematic theology source of what salvation is all about. So these early scribes, I think, understood that and so they got rid of the words, ‘all who are in Rome.’ There are others, like John 5:3b-4 where modern translations don’t have 3b or 4. Instead it has, ‘a great number of sick blind, lame, paralyzed people were lying in these walkways.’ Then in verse 5, ‘Now a man was there who had been disabled for thirty-eight years.’ In the King James Version, it has, ‘in these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered’ and then it adds, ‘waiting for the moving of the water.’ Then it adds a whole verse, verse 4: ‘for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.’ Then it goes on in verse 5, ‘and a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.’ They add this verse to explain why these people were at the pool of Bethesda and why this man was there that says that no one had thrown him into the pool when Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well. Throughout church history what we discovered is that there were pilgrims who came to the Pool of Bethesda for a long time and they thought that an angel stirred up the water. We see this as early as the 6th century in some writings.
But in 1896, a Roman Catholic Archaeological group came and excavated the Pool of Bethesda which is about the size of two Olympic pools, it’s massive; and they found an underground spring, a mineral spring and every once in a while the minerals would bubble up giving some therapeutic value. And so people thought it was an angel who was stirring up the water. If this verse is authentic, if John 5:4 is authentic, think how cruel that would be because this guy had been sitting there for thirty-eight years, trying to be the first into this massive pool, thinking that it would get him healed. If that verse is in the Bible, then it is saying that God helps those who help themselves. But it isn’t found in our earliest and best manuscripts; it doesn’t fit John’s style of writing; it doesn’t fit his vocabulary. There are so many things that John doesn’t talk about, even angels as much as the other Gospels do. My suspicion is it was added in the margin of an earlier manuscript where somebody was trying to explain why they went into the pool and he knew this tradition and it got into these later manuscripts. Many of the manuscripts, where the scribe forgets a sentence or word, what he would do would be to mark that word and then put that word in the margin. This was where it was supposed to go; sometimes they even used arrows. There are times where they put that in the margin and you know that it is a comment on this. So a later scribe comes along and he’s thinking about this marginal note; is it a comment on Scripture or is it Scripture? I don’t know, but I have seen him do other marginal notes where he has left things out. And so the principle that the scribes seemed to follow, if in doubt, you put it in, not leave it out. And I think this is how this reading got into the text.
III. Bibles and the listing of Variants
The first published Greek New Testament which was done by Desiderius Erasmus in 1516 on a printing press. He gave in his preference to this whole work; he talked about a number of variants and said that he was printing this even though I don’t think that it is authentic. And he talked about the long ending of Mark’s Gospel and the story of the woman caught in adultery. And even though he put those in, he said that he had his doubts about whether they were authentic or not. Now, that preface did not get published in later editions, just as his Greek New Testament did. There was no longer a sense of doubt over the authenticity of these verses. Erasmus was a decent scholar but he only used eight manuscripts to put his Greek New Testament together. They were the ones that he had access to, even though they weren’t very old. But he still read the Church Fathers and found that other Fathers had different wordings. So he was being honest with the text. Later additions, his Greek New Testament had more than three hundred thousand copies made in his lifetime. It exploded, especially the study of ancient Greek New Testament. He was the 16th centuries’ leading ancient Greek scholar and leading Latin scholar, both of them in one person. Erasmus’ Greek New Testament was in Luther’s hand and the reformation was started precisely twenty months almost to the day after the Greek New Testament’s publication.
In later editions, they started to put variants in; they started to list these and then for a long there weren’t any listed. So he does this in AD 1516 but then in AD 1551, Robert Estian who later became a protestant, put in the first verse numbers in his Greek New Testament, which are the same verse numbers we use today. But his previous edition, his 3 rd edition of 1550 was the first Greek New Testament that listed variants that were found in some of the manuscripts that he had access to from Paris, France. He listed variants from eighteen different manuscripts and he wasn’t trying to hide anything. He was really trying to reveal these variants. In 1707, John Mill, an Oxford scholar, really went through the manuscripts spending thirty years working on the Greek New Testament, publishing one book, The Greek New Testament with thirty thousand textual variances that he had found in ninety-nine Greek New Testament manuscripts, statements by the Church Fathers and as many ancient versions as he could get. But, he got heavily criticized for that and I will talk more of him later. He got heavily criticized both by Protestants and Catholics. Some Protestants thought the work he had done was the work of the devil. But, doing serious historical research is never the work of the devil. Presupposing what the Bible says on philosophical constructs, maybe, but not doing real historical research. So they were against it and Catholics scorned it saying, ‘you protestants, you have a paper pope and he has footnotes and we don’t know he is saying, but our Pope speaks ex-cathedra. They really thought that this destroyed Protestantism. And six years later, a person by the name of Richard Bentley, who is recognized today as one of the great textual critics, far ahead of his time; and he defended John Mill’s work and talked about how producing all these variants actually helps us get back to the original text.
But John Mill was the one to really bring this out of the shadows. It was a protestant scholar who did so and Catholics had no problem with that. They just thought because Protestants rely so much on the Bible. As time went on, more and more scholars came to recognize that we need to make this information available to lay people. The King James Bible in 1611 originally had eight thousand marginal notes. And a lot of these were places that either acknowledged that they didn’t know what the original wording was or this is what we think it means. Those marginal readings have been scripted out. There hasn’t been a conspiracy as much as there has been a publishing issue in seeing the need of wanting to get the Bible out to the people. Modern translations have brought the marginal notes back in of the more significant variances. They say that some ancient manuscripts say this or most ancient manuscripts read this. And so, they at least say that this is another possibility of what the original text says.