Know Your Bible

VOL. 7                           July 13, 2008                           NO. 25

Is Today's Bible Like The Original?

    It is obvious that we do not have any of the original autographs of the Bible writings. (By "autographs" we mean the actual letters written by the hand of Matthew, Luke, Paul, Moses, Isaiah, etc.) Therefore, the question arises as to the accuracy of our copies. How do we know that they are like the original?

    Textual criticism is the field of study which is devoted to examining this issue. Thousands of volumes have been written about this scholarly area of investigation. At the risk of oversimplification, let us illustrate how the process works:

1. Joe writes a letter to Sam.

2. Sam decides that others need to read Joe's message.

3. Having no copy machine available, Sam sends hand-written copies to Jack, Fred, and Bill, while keeping the original himself.

4. Later, Joe (the original letter-writer) dies and the original letter is inadvertently destroyed.

5. At this point, how can Jack be sure that his copy of the letter is true to the one originally written by Joe?

6. There is only one way: He can compare his copy to the ones held by Fred and Bill. If all three are identical, then Jack can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that his copy is accurate. Obviously, the level of confidence increases with the number of copies available for comparison. This is how textual criticism works.

    We should be impressed that there are thousands of manuscripts and early versions of the Bible which are available for the kind of comparison we have just explained. (Manuscripts are copies written in the same language as the original letters, and versions are the translations of the original text into other languages.) Concerning the New Testament alone, there are over 5,000 manuscripts and 10,000 documents of versions. These provide abundant evidence for the purposes of textual criticism. Some of these date to the second century A.D., reducing the time period when any errors might have crept into the text.

    The writings of secular authors who quote and make reference to the inspired writings help us in this search to determine the accuracy of our Bibles. Men who lived in the same time as the apostles, or very shortly thereafter, wrote documents which quote the New Testament books and confirm their accurate transmission to us today. Some of the best known of these include Clement of Rome (A.D. 30-100), Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165), and lrenaeus (A.D. 125-192?).

    When all of the evidence has been examined, what conclusion can be made concerning the accuracy of our Bibles? Listen to these experts:

John W. Haley: "...there is reason to believe, that no work of antiquity has descended to the present age so free from alteration, as the Hebrew Bible" (Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, p. 44)

Sir Frederic Kenyon (Director of the British Museum): "The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that what he holds in it is the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries" (quoted by Neil Lightfoot, How We Got The Bible, p68).

Henry C. Theissen: "It is some times asked, to what extent we may trust the present critical text to be the true text. It should be emphasized therefore, that concerning the great bulk of the words in the New Testament there is complete agreement among textual critics" (Introduction to the New Testament, p.77).

---Greg Gwin

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Books "Missing" From The Bible?

    In recent times we have seen an explosion of material alleging that the Bible that we have is not complete. Many theories have been advanced that speak of all kinds of other books that were "banned" from the Bible, "taken out" of the Bible, and other such ideas, and that such was done by the Catholics in the fourth century.

    These ideas, which have been circulating for some time, have received renewed interest on account of the popularity of Dan Brown's book, The da Vinci Code, the movie based on the book that has recently been released, and the recent unveiling of the discovery of the "lost" Gospel of Judas. Many television channels, taking advantage of the popularity of this subject, have aired stories involving professors and some "authorities" from various denominations talking about these various books and calling into question the validity of the Bibles we possess.

    Perhaps you have heard something about these stories, read some of the information, or perhaps have seen the movie or the television shows. Maybe you are wondering: were there books taken out of the Bible? Can we trust the Bible?

    Unfortunately, the subject matter at hand is rather obscure and most often left to the academic community, and involves a lot of names and people from days gone by. We will try to make some sense of this matter now.

    We should first say that yes, there are books claiming to be gospels or letters of Apostles or other such works that were written in the second through fourth centuries. These books are not present in the Bible. It is important to note, however, exactly why these books are not present in the Bible. They are not present in the Bible, not because they were banned from it or taken out of it by some conspiring Catholics, but because they were not written by the Apostles, and more often than not, were written by a group of heretics called the Gnostics.

    The Gnostics were people who mixed Greek philosophy and Christianity and developed a religion unsuitable to either. On the Christian end, they were roundly condemned even in the New Testament on account of their denial that Jesus was really a man, that He really died, and that the God of the Old Testament is the one true God. We can read about such matters in 2 Timothy 2:16-18, John 1:1-18; 1 John 1:1; 1 John 4:2-3; and 2 John 1:7, where both Paul and John teach against the ideas that the resurrection was past and that Jesus was not born in the flesh, both concepts present in Gnosticism and featured in the various gospels and other works attributed to them. We can see why, then, the Gnostic writings were rejected. These "missing" books were never really missing; we knew of their existence because the early Christians who opposed them would write about their beliefs and the books they were writing.

    In the end, we must recognize that these books are not in the Bible because they have no right to be in the Bible. They were not written by inspired men, the majority of them were written by people who were trying to advance views contrary to those found in the New Testament, and they were rejected on the basis of sound deliberation, and rejected as soon as they were written. Let us not be disturbed in our faith because of these books, and we can be confident in the truth of the Bible.

---Ethan R. Longhenry

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