Lecture 14: History of the Bible
Course: Greek Tools for Bible Study
Lecture: History of the Bible
Week 6: How Do We Describe Things?
Chapter 30: The History of the English Bible, and Textual Criticism
This chapter evolved as I was working on it, and it continued to get fuller and a little away from Greek. I used some illustrations the first time we got together that showed how Bible translations are different. I wanted to talk about history to show you how textual criticism came about so it would make sense to you.
It is not because of the translations, that the angels said to the shepherds, KJV -“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The point that I was making was that behind the KJV translation, and all of the modern speech translations, are a different set of Greek manuscripts. Sometimes, the differences that we have among the translations are because they are translating differently. Other times it is because there are actual differences in the Greek manuscripts. The KJV, and therefore the NKJV, follow one set of manuscripts and every other modern speech translations follows another set of Greek manuscripts.
Mark 9:29 is another example. This verse is about an exorcism that the disciples could not do, but Jesus could and did do. Then they asked him why they could not do it. This is Jesus' response:
KJV - “And he said unto them, 'This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.'”
If you read this in the NIV or any other modern translation:
NIV - “He replied, 'This kind can come out only by prayer.'”
Is that a translational difference? Or, is there a word that can mean prayer or prayer and fasting? Some Greek manuscripts simply have “by prayer”. Other Greek manuscripts have “by prayer and fasting”. Either one set added it, or the other set took it out. That is the question.
KJV - “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
If you go to any modern speech translation, the verse does not exist. Some Greek manuscripts have that verse, others do not. Even in the KJV, there are eight or nine verse numbers that are skipped. Have you ever noticed that? At one time, there were verses. Even in the KJV tradition, they were dropped out. These are all differences that are related to differences in Greek manuscripts. Obviously it is an important question.
The best way to explain what is going on here is to talk a little about the history of the Bible and how we got it. Then, in the process, to show you the kinds of things that happen, the problems that occurred, and how we have solved those problems. I am limiting myself just to the New Testament. The Old Testament is related, but different.
Written to Specific Audiences
The way that it starts is with Paul writing a letter, Matthew writing a gospel and so on. All of these books were written to specific audiences. Matthew was probably written to a Jewish audience, Luke to a Gentile audience, the Epistles were to certain churches and people.
You have the letters of the gospels that are written, and we use the word “autograph” for the “original”. When Matthew wrote it, that actual piece of papyrus or parchment is called an autograph. Have you ever noticed in statements of inerrancy, they always say “inerrant in the autographs?” That is what is going on here. They are saying that they believe in inerrancy when it pertains to the actual documents that were originally written. Autograph refers to the original document, and they most likely would have all been written on papyrus or some kind of parchment. What do those two things have in common? They are biodegradable. So, we do not have any autographs. We do not have any New Testament documents that we know were the original ones. We have bits and pieces of ones that are twenty or thirty years removed, but we do not have any of the originals' autographs.
(written: one-to-one; verbal: one-to-many)
What happened was that the autograph was written, sent to its audience and people wanted copies. Someone else in the church would want it, or they were going to travel to another church and wanted to take a copy of it. They may have known that Paul had written to this other church, and they wanted to bring a copy back. There were lots of different reasons for wanting copies, so copies were made. Unlike, in the Old Testament, where the scribes were professional scribes, it does not appear that there were many professional scribes in the early stages of the New Testament. This is because the church was spreading, it was being persecuted, people were being saved. Copies had to be made and it out. Lots of copies were made. Evidently, some copies were made just one on one, like you might copy a recipe. We also know that fairly early on somebody would get up and read it, just as though you were all the writers and were writing down what I read to you. You can imagine the kinds of mistakes that would start creeping into the copies. Once the mistake was in the copies, if it is not caught, then it is replicated when it was used as the master, and other copies went out. The errors replicated themselves unless they were caught.
This is the area called “textual criticism” We use “criticism,” but not in a negative sense. Textual criticism is the science that looks at all the different manuscripts and tries to figure out what is going on. Text critics have split the errors down into two basic categories. Unintentional and intentional.
(spelling; transposed letters/words)
The majority of the errors that creep into the “copies”, (not the autographs), were unintentional. Being an inerrantist, I hesitate using the word “error”. Mistakes made in transposed letters, misspellings, skipping a line and those kinds of things are examples of unintentional errors. These are easy to work your way back to what was original.
(clarify; fancier; harmonize with gospels or Old Testament)
It is very clear that someone intentionally changed the text in intentional errors. While I do not have any need to justify people who intentionally alter, they generally are not bad people. They were, for example, wanting to clarify. Maybe Paul used a word that nobody knows and they say, “That Paul, that word is too long here.”, and they substitute a simpler word, something that people could understand. Sometimes though, they liked to dress things up. There are several places where “fasting” was added, fancying it up, or, maybe a little more liturgical.
Lots of times the scribes try to harmonize the gospels. You might have the same story in Matthew and Luke. You look in Luke and notice it is a little different from how Matthew said it. And, they change Luke to match Matthew. We also find that when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, there was a desire to change the New Testament quotation to more exactly match the Old Testament. A lot of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament were done by memory. So, if it is not exactly the same word it generally does not matter. There is a lot of that kind of thing going on. Those are all classified as intentional errors.
What will come up later in the “King James debate” issue is that almost all people who are competent to do textual criticism have a basic belief that the scribes tended to add to the text, not subtract. The defenders in the King James debate will say the opposite. You can see that in the John 5 example in your book. There is a man lying by the pool in Bethesda who had been there for thirty-eight years. Jesus says, “what are you doing here?” He says, “I want to get healed.” I skipped v 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.” Is it more likely that this verse was dropped or more likely that it was added? The near universal belief is that the tendency is always to add because you want to clarify. I could see v4 being mentioned by a scribe in the margin to clarify. But, somewhere down the line, what gets in the margin, eventually gets stuck into the text and then it gets copied as part of the text. So, you have the oldest manuscripts that do not have v4, and you have a lot of manuscripts that do have v4. That was just an illustration. The belief is that people tended to add, not subtract.
Footnotes in your Bible
The above example is where all the footnotes come from in your Bible. They sometimes abbreviate manuscripts (manuscripts just means “copies”). It is ms if it is one manuscript or it is mss if it is more than one. It will say, “other mss read”. They are trying to tell you that they are in a place in the Bible where the Greek texts are different, and they are not completely sure which one is original. So, they want to let you know that there are differences. Either that, or if it is a well-known verse, especially if it is in the KJV, and then, the Greek manuscripts that the moderns' translations are using have it different, out of deference to the KJV, they will list the other manuscripts in the footnote, even though the translators are convinced that it is not original.
Along with the manuscripts being copied, there are a few historical things happening. If you are a history buff, I hope you will not be offended because I am going to go over it “centuries” at a time.
1. Persecution and books destroyed
Early on, there was a lot of persecution of Christians. Among other things, their writings were destroyed. In
fact, in 303 A.D., Diocletian issued an edict that said all Christian literature had to be destroyed. There were probably quite a number of manuscripts, Bibles at this time, that were destroyed.
2. East Church (Greek) and the West Church (Latin) split
Historically and still today, the East and the West have trouble getting along. They split around 1,054 A.D., technically called "The Great Schism." Early on, the differences were very clear. My understanding is that the Eastern/Western church officially split over the Mary Priesthood. It was also cultural. Among other things, in the Eastern church whose center was in Constantinople, modern day Turkey, they spoke Greek. The center of the Western church was Rome, and they spoke Latin. These are warring centers who want to be the head of the church. Is it the Bishop of Rome or the Bishop of Constantinople? You have cultural and language differences. So, the East and West are splitting apart. In the East there was Greek, but Rome had gone to Latin.
3. Jerome (400's)
The most important person at this time was Jerome in the late 300's or early 400's. Jerome was commissioned to write the Latin Bible. Jerome was a top scholar in the world in that day and probably did an extremely good job based on what manuscripts he had. He translated the New Testament from the Latin, the Old Testament from the Hebrew, and he produced what is called the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate was the Bible of the church for a thousand years. Even when the people could not read Latin, it was the Bible of the church. So, that was Jerome's work.
4. Resurgence of Greek in the West
In the west you have the Latin, the Vulgate. But you have a series of events that happen.
Constantinople fell (1453)
The Greek scholars fled to the west with their Greek manuscripts. One of the things that is interesting in the history of the Bible, is that the Greek manuscripts were suspect, even though everybody knew the Latin was a translation. They might have said,”This (the Latin) is the version I have always read. What is this new Bible (the Greek)? I do not know; I have never seen that before.” Well, this Bible was Greek, this is what lies underneath the Latin. It is amazing to read church history on the Bible at every stage, every level, whatever is new, is fought and whatever is old is given a sacred status. Fascinating!
Renaissance (14th - 16th centuries)
A lot of attention was focused on Greek learning, language, culture and philosophy.
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others split from the Holy Catholic Universal Church, which was all Latin. They are tied in with the renaissance and are interested in Greek. And, into the world of Latin comes all this Greek. What will we do with it?
Latin Byzantine Alexandrian
Wycliffe Erasmus Western
King James Version Modern Translations
1. Weigh, not count
3. Which reading explains the others
There are several things that are going to happen here. I am going to explain Byzantine in a moment (Byzantine is a general name for Greek manuscripts).
Along came a character named Erasmus, and Erasmus was contacted by a man who wanted a Greek New Testament that he could sell. There was a lot of marketing going on. The main Greek project was huge and expensive. This guy wanted something small and cheap to get out to the masses. (Getting Greek out to the masses sounds strange, but that is what he wanted to do). He contacted Erasmus and Erasmus compiled a Greek New Testament. He went out and got different Greek manuscripts and compared them. Where they were different, he made decisions as to which one would most likely be original.
Let me read to you a description of what Erasmus did, as included in GRU, by the authority on this issue, Bruce Metzger. First, do you understand what Erasmus is doing? There are different Greek manuscripts out there, there are differences among them, and he has been hired by a publisher to create one Greek New Testament. So, he has to take what he has and make them into one.
“For most of the texts, (that Erasmus was putting together), he relied on two rather inferior manuscripts from a monastic library in Basle, one of the Gospels... and one of the Acts and Epistles, both dating from about the twelfth century. (Two of the manuscripts that Erasmus used had been written in the twelfth century, about 1,100 years after the fact.) Erasmus compared them with two or three others of the same books and entered occasional corrections for the printer in the margins or between the lines of the Greek script. (So, he has these two manuscripts and he is basically comparing them.) For the Book of Revelation he had but one manuscript, dating from the twelfth century, (so he had another Greek manuscript that had been compiled in the twelfth century. Erasmus is 1469-1536. He is dealing with manuscripts that are about 250 years old), which he had borrowed from his friend Reuchlin. Unfortunately, the manuscript lacked the final leaf, (page), which had contained the last six verses of the book. For these verses, as well as a few other passages throughout the book where the Greek text of the Apocalypse (the Greek text of Revelation), and the adjoining Greek commentary with which the manuscript was supplied are so mixed up as to be almost indistinguishable, Erasmus depended upon the Latin Vulgate, translating this text into Greek.” (Text, 99-100).
He had two manuscripts that came from the twelfth century, Matthew through Jude. He compared them to two or three others and came out with his Greek text. For Revelation he had another manuscript written in the twelfth century and he copied that in. He did not have the last six verses, so he went to the Latin and translated from Latin back into the Greek. It was the best he could do.
Why is this important? Because Erasmus' text became the dominate Greek text. With all the new interests in it, this was the Greek text that was considered the best. It went through a series of revisions with other people involved. Eventually it became known as the Textus Receptus, which is Latin for “received text”, meaning that this is the text that we have received through the centuries. This is important because when Tyndale did his work he did it based on Erasmus' texts. When the King James translators did their work it was based on the Textus Receptus and Tyndale. They estimate that about eighty percent of the King James is Tyndale. In fact, the King James translators say in their preface that they made heavy use of other translations, that there were a lot of other good works out there and they used them.
So, we have these Byzantine texts. Erasmus had three from the twelfth century except for the last six verses of Revelation. He made his texts and they went through some revisions. Beza's revision of Erasmus' work is what came to be known as Textus Receptus, the received text. This was the text that Tyndale used, so when the King James came along they used Textus Receptus and relied heavily on Tyndale. They say the genius of the King James is Tyndale. I have seen listings of actual complete grammatical constructions that Tyndale created to express the Greek and it became common parlance in English. While the King James translators were awesome, it was God's Spirit in Tyndale that was simply unbelievable.
There are a few other things going on. A few hundred years before Tyndale, Wycliffe came along. Wycliffe was a revolutionary. He did not like the Catholic church, he did not like the Pope. He had absolutely no intention of agreeing with anything the Pope said. One of the things that he did that got him in all kinds of trouble was that he took the Latin Vulgate and translated it into English. When Tyndale did his translation, he was doing it with Wycliffe's translation in mind as well. There is nothing new regarding Bible translations. Everything is a revision of something else.
That is how we got to the KJV. In all fairness, given the manuscripts they had to work with, it is an phenomenal translation. Of course, when it first came out people did not like it. They would say that it was new, it was not their Bible, they did not memorize scripture in that way, and so on. If you were in England, you wanted to be on the good side of King James. When he placed this Bible in the church, you read his Bible. There were other competing Bibles, but this was the newest one and people did not like it. But, obviously, it is a work of art in terms of its literary forms. Nobody writes like that any longer. It is a beautiful work based on the best Greek manuscripts they had. I think that is a fair estimation.
Problems with the King James debate
Here is where the problems come in. Starting about 150 years ago or so, the science of archeology was born. Digging began in Egypt where it is dry and hot. Papyrus and parchment do not disintegrate as quickly there. They started finding Greek manuscripts, after Greek manuscripts, after Greek manuscripts. They found them in trash dumps. They found Greek written on broken pots, which was a normal support to write notes or lists on. They actually found them in mummies, as well other places.
Two things that are significant about these manuscripts
First, they are different. The manuscripts in this tradition, in the center column (above), had differences but not huge differences. With these new manuscripts, Mark ends at v8. There is no, “for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever” or “This type only comes out by prayer” (there is no fasting). The translators wondered what to do with these differences and how to look at them.
Second, these manuscripts are really old. We have manuscripts from 150 A.D. We have fragments that some people date in the first century. Some of the greatest finds were dug up in the Sinai desert. “Sinaiticus,” the most significant Greek manuscript that we have in the entire Bible, was at Saint Catherine's Monastery, which is the monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. Sinaiticus is the one manuscript that plays a greater role than all the others put together, most likely.
We are now into the area of textual criticism. So, they started finding these manuscripts, and they were different and really old. They were about 800 years older than the manuscripts that the King James people have. It is a phenomenally complicated field. Part of the problem in the whole King Jame debate is that you are trying to discuss an issue that is so complicated that it is simply beyond most peoples' ability to discuss.
Let me tell you basically what text critics have done. They have looked at the manuscripts they realize that they break into four very general categories. In other words, the manuscripts that we call “Alexandrian” tend to be from Egypt, they tend to be around the same date, and tend to leave the text alone. Whoever these scribes were that created the Alexandrian manuscripts did not feel the need to harmonize, to add, or to clarify. It appears that they were really intent on copying. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are Alexandrian manuscripts and they are very old. Then you get Caesarean, Western and eventually Byzantine.
Weigh, not count
Byzantine is a group of manuscripts that is located in the Byzantine Empire, Turkey, where the Eastern church used to speak Greek. If you count them, guess which of these families of manuscripts has the most numbers? There are more Byzantine manuscripts put together by far. But, the argument is that manuscripts need to be “weighed”, not “counted”. If you have a thousand manuscripts of Matthew, they are not simply going to count how many manuscripts say one thing or another, and then, whoever has the greatest number of manuscripts wins. You can imagine the scenario of what happens here.
Let's say that I write a note and I give it to my friend Ed. Ed copies it to give it to you, but Ed makes a mistake. So, you have a copy that has a mistake, something has been added or changed. Then you make 100 copies. Do you see what has happened? You have the autograph that I sent to Ed. Then, he has a copy that has a mistake introduced. The mistake has been replicated. If all you do is count, then those hundred copies that you make are going to be more significant than the original. You can not do it that way.
The Byzantine Empire was Greek. There were a lot more manuscripts made. It was more natural. They were all still speaking Greek. The Western empire was speaking Latin. They were not making Greek manuscripts.
Text critics say that not all manuscripts are of the same value. Manuscripts that are classifies as Alexandrian “weigh” more in importance because they do not show the propensity to change that the other manuscripts did. Part of this “weighing” is age. Would you trust a manuscript that was made in the fourth century or would you trust one that was in the twelfth century? The twelfth manuscript comes, theoretically, 800 years after the other manuscripts. This is an extremely complicated topic because actually, the twelfth century manuscript could be a copy of the second century manuscript. This is why you might see other mss read on the bottom or side margin of your Bible. The basic argument is that the manuscripts need to be weighed, not counted. Some manuscripts are inherently more valuable than others.
The tendency is to go with the shorter because the belief is that people tend to add, not subtract. The defenders of the King James tradition would say the opposite, that the tendency was to drop out, not add.
Which reading explains others
Let's go back to John 5, an easy example. Which reading, which option explains the other best? Is it more believable that the verse about the angels was added? Or, is it more believable that it was taken out? Which one best explains the others in the way they say it? Is it easier to believe that a complicated word was made simple, or that a simple word was made complicated? Well, it is not that simple. Sometimes, some scribes want to make things fancy. Text criticism is unbelievably complicated because you have to know the tendencies of the manuscripts, the tendencies of all the scribes and all the correctors that work with all the manuscripts. You have to know the tendencies of the families, and so on.
Final comments on text criticism
1. No debate among scholars of any theological position
There is virtually no debate among almost all scholars of any theological position as to the superiority of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. There are a few good scholars who still support the superiority of the Byzantine of Textus Receptus. But, the vast majority of scholars very clearly have come down on the side of the superiority of the Alexandrian manuscripts. That is why almost all modern translations follow the Alexandrian manuscripts, the manuscripts that have been dug up more recently that are, in fact, much older. The NKJ is the only real exception to this. Just because the vast majority of scholars hold this position, it does not make it right. We need to be fair about that. Still it is significant to know, especially if you ever get into the King James debate that anyone who holds to the superiority of the Textus Receptus, in scholarly circles anyway, is in the extreme minority.
2. Realm of the specialist
Text criticism is really the realm of the specialist. As I have tried to point out to you, this is very complicated. Just because a person can read Greek, does not even mean that he or she are capable of entering into the text critical debate, much less other people who can not read Greek. The problem in all of this is the whole current Kings James debate. If you are not aware of it, in certain circles there is a debate, (sometimes a raging debate), where people are claiming that the KJV and the Byzantine texts are completely and totally the only Greek manuscripts that you should look at. And, that the KJV is the only English translation you should look at. The debate can turn very ugly. Among other things, they connect this belief with whether you are saved or not. Of course, there are many people who love the KJV and are outside of the debate. There are also people who are involved in the debate who know their Greek, who understand text types, and all these things, and would never in a million years connect your salvation with whether you follow the Alexandrian or the Byzantine families. Yet, there is a movement in many circles today that do precisely that.
I came across a church's website that was vile, because they did connect salvation with whether you read the KJV and believe in the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine text. Or, whether you were an agent of Satan purposely misinterpreting scripture, perverting the Word of God. These were the kinds of things that are being said on the website. Ignorant and ungodly. Unfortunately that attitude can be found in quite a few places. Let me emphasize, text criticism is in the realm of the specialist, someone who really knows their Greek and has put years and years into working with text criticism. My suggestion is that if the debate starts up and the person is not a specialist in Greek, just do not get involved in it, walk away. Certainly, do not let it get into your church. This can not add to our sanctification at all.
3. No Christian doctrine questioned
No major Christian doctrine is properly questioned by any of the text critical issues. Really, in either set of the manuscripts, whether they are Alexandrian or Byzantine, despite claims to the contrary made by the same people, the Alexandrian manuscripts do not have a lower view of Christ and his divinity. These are not substantiated claims. If you want some more detail on this, I recommend D.A. Carson's book, “The King James Version Debate”, (Baker, 1979). But, no major Christian doctrine comes under scrutiny or real question by these textual critical issues. God, in his sovereignty, made sure that did not happen.
4. We can trust our Bibles
We have in excess of 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Some complete, some partial. Because we have so many manuscripts, and because in the vast majority of places they agree, there is really no question as to the bulk of the NT, that what we have is what was originally written. I do not want you to leave here thinking that you can not trust your Bible because of text critical issues. Yes, you can trust your Bible. We are sure of the vast majority of the NT texts. That little bit that maybe we are not completely sure whether the differences outside of the Byzantine texts, or even differences between the Alexandrian and the Byzantine texts, (those passages) contain no significant Biblical doctrine at all. The text critical issues should not be a concern when it comes to whether you can trust your Bible or not.
That is the end of six weeks. Again, thank you so much for your patience and attention. I hope that what you learned was helpful. I hope and trust that in the years to come, as you study your Bible, and as you wrestle with translational differences, and you do your word studies, and you read the better commentaries, that the information that you learned will be helpful.