Scribal Variances and Bible Errors

July 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Posted in English Bible Translations, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 1 Comment

Moore to ponder asked a question in the comments section of the previous post, and the lengthy answer, which is still too brief to be a great explanation, requires more than another comment.

Theresa,

Thanks again for reading and for your comments.  I see now I should have preferenced the previous post with some things that might have kept your kinds of questions from coming up.  The post is directed to a very small target group, and some who haven’t studied these matters could understand them to say there are errors in the Bible.  I am not addressing those who prefer the KJV because they like the poetic language or because they grew up with it, but at a group that believes only the KJV should be read in English and that all others are simply wrong.  One look at your posted devotions tells one you are not in that camp; if you were you wouldn’t quote so many different versions.

However, there is a small group that believes all versions other than the KJV are heretical, and they are very vocal about it.  They base their argument on the manuscripts that the KJV was translated from.  And that opens up a whole new world of issues that could be discussed.

Have you ever heard someone say, “You can’t trust the Bible because it has thousands of errors;” or “The Bible has been translated and retranslated so many times that we really don’t know what it says.”?  These types of criticisms are addressed in the Manuscript Game to help people see that we really can trust the Bible.  There are thousands of scribal errors in the manuscripts of the New Testament; we have over 5,000 manuscripts, and no two are exactly alike.  But scribal errors in the manuscripts are not the same thing as errors in the Bible.  Without a printing press, everything had to be copied by hand over and over for centuries, and scribes, as careful as they were, sometimes made mistakes.  Read the italicized sentence again; it is very important but often ignored by liberal critics.

However, the vast majority of the scribal errors are absolutely inconsequential when it comes to the meaning of the Bible.  They are spelling variations, which were common in the old world; slight word order changes, which are meaningless in Greek; and common name and title substitutions, like substituting Jesus, Christ Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus our Lord, or Jesus Christ our Lord for one of the others.  Even with these differences, it is easy to determine the original wording in most of these cases.  The vast majority of scholars who do this kind of work are in agreement on what the original words of the New Testament were.

In answer to your question about errors in the passages you quote.  There are not any in the passages or in their meaning, but there may be some in the different manuscript copies of those passages.  A quick glance at my references tells me that there are none in Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 2:15 and Matthew 4:4.  However, there are some variances amongst the manuscripts of Romans 10:9.  Some say “confess with your mouth lord Jesus;” some “confess with your mouth lord Jesus Christ;” and a few “confess the word with your mouth that Jesus (is) lord.”  This is typical of the kind of variances there can be.  Not one of them has significance, and the meaning is perfectly clear.

By the way, variances of this type are in every piece of ancient literature.  This is not just a Bible issue.  The Bible has more of these scribal errors simply because we have so many more ancient manuscripts of the Bible.  But, even with those, is better attested than any other piece of ancient literature.  We can have more confidence in it than anything else we read from the old world.

In the few places where the meaning of a specific passage is at stake, the meaning and message of the Bible never is.  One can prove all the fundamental doctrines of Christianity from most any reputable translation of the New Testament, or from almost any ancient manuscript of the New Testament (if they can read it!), because the meaning of the Bible is clear.  I say “reputable” because there are a few translation with unchristian biases that influenced the translator’s work.  I’ve never seen you quote one of those; you may not even own one.

When I study the NT I read as much in the Greek as possible, and I refer to the ESV, NIV, NASB and NET most often.  However, since I have an interest in the history of the Bible in English, I have collected over 50 different English translations of the NT or parts of it, and sometimes I refer to all of them!  Most people have no idea there are that many.

We can have great confidence that God has clearly spoken in the Bible, and we that know what it says.  If these matters are interesting enough that someone wants to do more study, there are some books that could be read to help clarify the matter.  The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce is probably the most well known.  And a really good presentation that requires no language understanding is How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot.

P. S.  Thanks again for reading.  I have enjoyed your comments and posts since we first connected.  You’ve never heard of the Manuscript Game, because it has only been used here in our church, but some here are trying to find a way to market it on a broader scale.  It is a fun educational tool.

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  1. Thank you so much for explaining that to me! It really meant a lot.

    I knew that there are some churches that insist upon the King James Version. We belonged to a “Landmark” Missionary Baptist church for about 5 years that was like that. We live in the South and have attended lots of little country churches…both Baptist and Pentecostal types. I think I know where you are coming from now.

    I am so relieved that you explained what you meant about error.

    Sincerely,
    Theresa


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