Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Introduction

There are many English Bible Versions today, differing in style and content. As an example, in Luke 2:33 the King James Version says: "JOSEPH and his mother..." The NIV, NASV, NRSV, etc. read, "The CHILD'S FATHER and mother". The word "father", normally means biological father. The Bible teaches elsewhere that Jesus did not have a biological father, so this difference is significant. As another example, Colossians 1:14 reads "In whom we have redemption THROUGH HIS BLOOD, even the forgiveness of sins:" (KJV). The NIV, NASV, RSV, and NRSV read, "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

These examples are by no means isolated. Moreover, the differences have doctrinal implications. Given the importance of every word that proceeds from God (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 11:3, Psalm 138:2) and the authority that the Bible demands, the text of the Bible is extremely important.

The reasons for the differences

Why are different Bible versions different? The answer lies in three factors:-
  1. The Hebrew and Greek manuscripts used for translation. There are many manuscripts in existence, and they don't say the same things.
  2. The translation methodology adopted.
  3. The nature of the translators.
Let us consider these problems in greater detail. First let's deal with the manuscripts.

Factor # 1: Manuscripts

The following are the sources for the Old Testament Text:
  1. The Masoretic Text, copied painstakingly by Jewish scribes over the centuries. The Second Rabbinical Bible is Daniel Bomberg's printing of the Masoretic Text edited by a Jewish Christian scribe, Jacob ben Chayyim, in 1524-25 (the image shows its first page). A reprint is the first two editions of Biblia Hebraica Kittel (BHK, 1906 and 1912). The third edition of BHK was sourced from the Leningrad Codex, a copy of the Ben Asher Codex, a loner Masoretic Text manuscript. The later iterations of Biblia Hebraica are all sourced from the Ben Asher text, and give increasing weightage to the sources mentioned below.
  2. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch was done in the third century BC and the rest of the OT in the subsequent centuries. The earliest evidence of the Septuagint is the revised version (called Hexapla) due to Origen, 200 AD.
  3. The Samaritan Pentateuch; the Samaritans were a mixture of Assyrians and Israelites, and accepted only the Pentateuch as accurate.
  4. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, in Qumran, Israel. They are thought to have belonged to the Essenes, a deviant Jewish sect living in the area. Sixty percent of Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts agree very well with the Masoretic Text.

Now, which of these sources should we trust? To answer this question, consider the following points:

  1. It is the Jews (not Greeks, Egyptians, Samaritans or Romans) to whom the Old Testament scriptures were committed (Romans 3:2, Matthew 23:2-3)
  2. The Jewish scribes were extremely painstaking in their efforts to ensure that the copies they made were accurate.
  3. The Samaritans were apostates who tried to obstruct the temple construction (see Nehemiah). They also have changed all references to Jerusalem as God's city to Mt Gerizim.
  4. Origen lived in Alexandria, the center of worldly wisdom at that time, and can be called the father of Roman Catholicism - he first put forth some of the RC doctrines. According to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Origen believed that Jesus Christ was a created being. More on Origen.
  5. The Septuagint was made for the Egyptian Jews. God severely forbade the Jews from going to Egypt, and cursed them for choosing to go (Jeremiah 42). A Jewish temple was also constructed in Egypt, which no one today has any regard for (chances are you haven't heard of it).
  6. Daniel Bomberg's Bible was right on time for the explosion of missionary activity that took the gospel from Europe to the ends of the earth.

These factors point to one conclusion: The Masoretic text is the text through which God has preserved the Old Testament.

The following are the sources for the New Testament Text:
First let us consider the NT Greek manuscript families:

  1. The Majority Text (or Byzantine Text) consists of nearly 4500 Greek manuscripts that agree very well with each other. They have a wide geographical spread and date from the 9th century onwards. The image shows the text of Mark 1 in Codex Boreelianus, a Byzantine manuscript. In the 16th century, Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza and others published Greek New Testaments, called the Received Text, or Textus Receptus (TR) based on the Byzantine manuscripts.
  2. The Alexandrian Text is defined as the text of Codex Vaticanus (abbreviated B) and Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (also called P75). A couple of hundred manuscripts originating in Egypt are also called Alexandrian manuscripts, although their agreement with each other, P75 and B is much less than the agreement of the Byzantine Manuscripts with each other. The Novum Testamentum Graece is a printed Greek New Testament giving high priority to Alexandrian manuscripts. It is also called the Nestle-Aland text, or the United Bible Societies text after the leading editors and the publishing organization. "Critical Text" is a general term for any printed Greek text based on Alexandrian Manuscripts.

The Codex Vaticanus is a copy of the Greek New Testament. It was hidden or lost in the Vatican library for perhaps about 1000 years before it was rediscovered in the 15th century. After a lot of begging and cajoling, the Pope made the contents public. P75 was discovered in Egypt in 1952 and is dated to about 250 AD. Another prominent Alexandrian manuscript, the Codex Sinaiticus, was found in a trash can in St Catherine's monastery (Mt Sinai) by the German scholar Constantin Tischendorf in 1844. It dates to the fourth century AD.

There are also manuscripts in other languages:
  1. The Syrian Peshitta is dated to about 150 AD by Frederick Kenyon in his book Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. Antioch housed a large church in the first century (see Acts 11-13). The Peshitta was the Bible of the next few generations of believers in Syria. About 1000 Peshitta manuscripts are extant; they agree very well with each other and with the Byzantine Text.
  2. The Old Latin (Vetus Latina) is a Latin translation of the New Testament. It was translated in around 157 AD according to historian Frederic Nolan. It was used by Biblical Christians in North Italy. Out of about 100 extant manuscripts (there are thousands more that have not been cataloged), about 90 have distinctly Byzantine readings. 
  3. The Gothic version translated in 330 AD by Ulfilas, missionary to the Goths. There are only eight extant manuscripts; the text is Byzantine [Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament; Frederick Kenyon]
  4. Towards the end of the fourth century, Pope Damasus asked Jerome to produce a Latin Bible; this was called the Latin Vulgate. Jerome translated from Alexandrian Greek manuscripts.

God has preserved the New Testament through the Textus Receptus, which represents the Byzantine (Majority) Text. The following are my reasons for this position:

1.  The same distortion in a manuscript, whether intentional or not, is not easy to propagate in a large body of manuscripts having considerable geographical or chronological spread. Thus, the majority is likely to be correct.

2.  Saints will have more long term motivation to propagate the truth than heretics will have to propagate falsehood. Thus, the saintly reading is likely to be more widespread chronologically and geographically than a heretical one. Therefore, the Byzantine, which has a larger geographical and chronological spread than the Alexandrian, is the true text.

3.  Heretics will no doubt attempt to change the Bible, but there is no reason for multiple heretics to make the same distortions (the same applies for careless mistakes). Since the Byzantine manuscripts agree much better with each other than the Alexandrian do with themselves, it follows that the Byzantine manuscripts are products of care and sincerity.

4.  The oldest papyri originate in Egypt and are Alexandrian overall, yet have some distinctly Byzantine readings. This again suggests that the Alexandrian manuscripts are products of corruption, a corruption that began no later than the second century (the date of the oldest papyri) and evolved up to at least the fourth century. The John Rylands papyrus P52 (see image) is the oldest surviving Bible text.

5.  In the Bible, Egypt is almost always portrayed in a negative light. Why should we rely on Egyptian manuscripts for our Bible?

6.  The true church, made up of Bible believing Christians, is Christ's body - his members on earth. If God wants to preserve His word, He would use His people. This is indeed the case. Biblical Christians in Eastern Europe were involved in the copying of Byzantine Manuscripts, and the Old Latin was the treasured possession of Latin speaking believers such as the Waldenses and their predecessors.

7.  The book of Acts presents Antioch, in Syria, as a large center of Biblical Christians from where missionaries like Paul and others went in different directions. Therefore, the Byzantine/Syrian text (for they agree) is God's pick.

8.  In contrast to Antioch, Alexandria was a center of pagan philosophy and intellectualism and these were corrupting influences on Christianity there. Therefore, there is every reason to suspect anything that comes from the first few centuries AD from Alexandria. "In fact to judge by the comments made by Clement of Alexandria, almost every deviant sect was represented in second century Egypt...What proportion of Christians in Egypt during the second century were orthodox is not known." [Metzger, The Early versions of the New Testament, Clarendon Press, 1977, p101].

9.  The Alexandrian Text is associated with counterfeit Christianity. Codex Vaticanus belongs to the Vatican Library. Sinaiticus was found in an Orthodox monastery. The Latin Vulgate was the Catholic Bible of the Dark Ages. Both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy preach a false gospel and have done untold evils against Biblical Christians and others. Next to the communists, the Roman Catholic Church has been the largest destroyer of Bibles. Why should God allow His word to be lost for centuries in the facilities of these false churches, and then discovered by explorers like Tischendorf?

10. Till about 1900, Bible believing Christians were using the Received Text. Missionaries took the same text all over the world. If the Alexandrian text, which was "lost" for about 1500 years, is the true text, it would mean that God has been unfaithful. Note that God has promised to preserve His word (Psalm 12:6-7, 1 Peter 2:25)

11. Origen, a third century scholar in Alexandria, Egypt, testifies to the mischief going on around him: "...the differences among the manuscripts [of the Gospels] have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they lengthen or shorten, as they please." [Quoted in Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 3rd ed. (1991), pp. 151-152]. 

12. The Byzantine Text is smooth and harmonious (among the gospels). The Alexandrian Text is abrupt and less harmonious. The Byzantine Text is more Christ-honoring than the Alexandrian. In Mark 1:2, Mark quotes Malachi, but the Alexandrian Text states that he quotes Isaiah (the Byzantine says "prophets"). The Gnostic and Arian heresies of the early Christian centuries downplayed the role of Jesus Christ. These observations point to the Byzantine as God's preserved text. Heretics evidently tarnished the text as they tried to modify it to suit their tastes and/or handled it carelessly. Regarding John 7:52-8:11, which is in the Byzantine manuscripts but not the Alexandrian, fourth century theologian Augustine says: "Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord's act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who had said, Sin no more, had granted permission to sin." [Augustine, De Adulterinis Conjugiis 2:6–7. Cited in Wieland Willker, A Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels, Vol. 4b, p. 10.]

13. The Received Text is stained with the blood and sacrificial effort of true Christians. Erasmus was poor and hoped that his Greek NT would provide a much needed reformation to the "church" (He was trained as a Catholic priest - his writings, ruthlessly critical of the RCC, suggest that he may have had saving faith). William Tyndale was murdered by the RCC for his translation of the Received Text to English. Medieval Italian Christians, users of the Old Latin, were ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. Then there are the untold hardships of pioneering missionaries who tried to translate the Received Text while living in hostile, New World lands. 

14. A tree is known by its fruit. The printing of the Received Text was followed by the great spread of Christianity all over the world. The shift to the Alexandrian Text towards the end of the 19th century was followed by the decline of Biblical Christianity.

15. Received Text portions that are not present in the Alexandrian manuscripts are well attested in the writings of church fathers predating the Alexandrian manuscripts. Cyprian of Carthage, martyred in 238 AD (see image), cites Acts 8:37 and 1 John 5:7-8, two passages present in the Received Text, but not in the Alexandrian manuscripts.

The following are some arguments from advocates of the Alexandrian Text and my responses:

1. The original Bible text must have been abrupt, not so laudatory of Christ and non-harmonious. The Byzantine must be the result of Christians trying to harmonize and smooth out the text, and make it fit with their belief in Christ's deity. Thus, the Alexandrian must be closer to the original text. The ideas that 1) the original Bible text was rough or disharmonious and 2) Christians, not heretics, would change the Bible 3) Christ's deity was a later innovation; are special pleading that smacks of infidel, anti-Christian, anti-Bible bias.

2. Alexandrian Manuscripts are much older than Byzantine ones, and therefore, closer to the original text. This argument is faulty because

  1. Codex D, which is an ancient Alexandrian manuscript, contains the boldest and extensive interpolations [John Burgon, The Revision Revised]; no one believes that its unique readings represent the true text. We have here an example to show that antiquity does not guarantee fidelity.
  2. The dry climate of Egypt is ideal for the preservation of manuscripts. Thus, there is nothing remarkable in the fact that the most ancient manuscripts are Alexandrian.
  3. Even today, a worn-out Bible is indication that its owner is using it - a sign of godliness, while an "as-good-as-new" Bible is suggestive of neglect. Thus, manuscripts used by ancient, sincere Christians shouldn't be extant today (and indeed, Byzantine manuscripts are not the oldest), while it is very likely that a Bible made by a heretic had no takers, and so lasted for 17 or 18 centuries.
  4. Even within a monastery or a house, the good books would be used, and wear out. What was dumped as useless might survive for a long time if untouched. Both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were "rediscovered" and therefore, in all probability, belong to such a category. The image shows St Catherine's monastery in Egypt, where Sinaiticus was found.
  5. Although the rule that antiquity implies closeness to the originals applies in general to books, to simply apply this to the Bible is to ignore a special feature of the Bible: By virtue of its very nature, the Bible would be targeted by heretics. If Satan wanted to corrupt God's word, when would the best time be for him to try it? 15 centuries of pure copies later? No! The best time would be immediately after it was completed. 

3. Byzantine Greek manuscripts outnumber Alexandrian ones only because Latin replaced Greek in Western Europe and North Africa. The Byzantine readings of the Old Latin refute this argument.

4. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are of a high quality. If high quality means high fidelity to the originals, this is a case of begging the question. If high quality refers to the physical quality (both these manuscripts are made of vellum, high quality animal skin), it is hardly remarkable for authenticity - any rich heretic can supply vellum and ink.

As an explanation for the failure of the Alexandrian Text to persist beyond the fourth century, one explanation offered by its advocates, Westcott and Hort, is: Somebody must have produced and enforced the Byzantine Text in the fourth century. Surely such a major recension of the text, if it had occurred, would have been documented in church history. This is especially so, as major doctrinal issues of that period are recorded in considerable detail, e.g. the Council of Nicea 325 AD which dealt with the Arian heresy. History is silent about any revision of the Text in Syria, Antioch or Constantinople! Another scholar, John Burgon, responds that if at all the Syrians met together, they would have brought together all the manuscripts at their disposal, knowing the particulars of each. Taking everything into account, they rejected the Alexandrian text. What does Hort know that they didn't?

Conclusion: God has preserved the New Testament through the Received Text.

Factor # 2: Translation methodology

We now turn to the question of translation methodology. The two methodologies are:

  1. Formal equivalence: A word for word translation is attempted, except where the word for word rendering is unintelligible. The culture or style of the original is retained (this may make it slightly different from our way of speech)
  2. Dynamic equivalence: An attempt is made to rephrase the content to make it relevant to the audience for which the translation is intended. When a translator following dynamic equivalence looks at a passage in the Greek New Testament, he asks himself, "How would an English speaker in the 21st century convey the same thoughts?"

Note the following.

  1. Dynamic equivalence involves subjectivity, that is, the judgment of the translator, and is thus to be rejected when God's word is being translated.
  2. In 1 Samuel 9:9, we read that at the time of writing, "seer" was becoming a culturally irrelevant term, the new term being "prophet" - "seer" was in use when the events being recorded were taking place. So how does the author choose to report direct speech a few sentences later? He uses the word "seer"! (1 Samuel 9:11) Thus, the Bible itself demands formal equivalence.
  3. God has allowed the personality and distinctive styles of the different writers of the Bible to come through in their writings. Such nuances are destroyed in dynamic translation.
  4. God has chosen the Jewish and Greek culture through which to communicate Himself to the world. God has reasons for His choices, and it is none of our business to over-rule God's choices and make Paul or Peter sound like a 21st century American.

Conclusion: Formal equivalence is right and dynamic equivalence is wrong.

Factor # 3: The translators

Next comes the nature of the translators and others involved in the making of the Bible version. The issues are:

  1. How scholarly were the translators?
  2. How godly were they? Did they think of the Bible as just another book or God's Word that God had promised he would preserve? 

The Various Versions - their manuscripts, translation methodology and translators

The following chart compares various English Bible Versions. The + indicates significant weightage given to the Septuagint and other OT sources.
 Version Source Texts
 Translation Philosophy
 KJV, NKJV, MKJV, LITV, YLT, VW Edition  Masoretic Text, Textus Receptus
 Formal Equivalence
 NET Bible, The Message
 Masoretic Text+, Critical Text  Dynamic Equivalence
 NIV, NLT, HCSB, CEB Masoretic Text+, Critical Text
 Mixed
 NASV, ESV, NRSV
 Masoretic Text+, Critical Text  Formal Equivalence 
 
As you can see, among the commonly available Bibles, only the KJV and the NKJV are formally equivalent and based on the Masoretic Text and the Received Text. These are God's word in English. The others are not. Let us compare the two of them:
  • The NKJV (as the name suggests) uses more contemporary English than the KJV, and is therefore easier to understand. Both are not as easy to understand as the some of the translations using dynamic equivalence, but ask yourself: which would be the God-honoring position – to read a Bible that is difficult to understand, but correctly translated from the correct Greek texts, or a subjective treatment of Greek texts from Egypt?
  • The KJV is not copyrighted; this means it can be made cheaply available, and is the default translation in most free applications and software. The KJV is thus beyond the manipulation abilities of big corporations.
  • The NKJV copyright is owned by Thomas Nelson, which in turn is owned by HarperCollins – this is the same company that publishes books such as The Joy of Gay Sex, and The Satanic Bible. Incidentally, the NIV has the same problem – it is published by Zondervan, another subsidiary of HarperCollins.
Below are listed some names involved in the various translations. As you can see, most modern versions have unholy hands tainting them.
  1. The KJV translators
  2. Westcott and Hort (instrumental in getting translators to shift from the Received Text to the Critical Text)
  3. Mark Woudstra and Virginia Mollenkot, NIV
  4. Frank Logsdon, NASB
  5. J B Phillips, J B Phillips translation
  6. Other translators

Further reading

Burgon, John W, 1990. Unholy hands on the Bible. An Introduction to Textual Criticism, ed. Jay Green. Sovereign Grace Trust Fund. 

"I want to know one thing — the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a Book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God!" — John Wesley