How we got the Bible>
by Alan Jones
LESSON SIXTEEN: REASONS FOR TEXTUAL VARIANTS (O.T. AND N.T.)
God did not "inspire" those who copied His word. They were subject to human error. In this lesson we will examine the kind of errors that the most careful and conscientious of scribes might make. In the next lesson, we will discuss the number of variant readings that have come down to us because of human error and how they affect our understanding of the revelation of God.
I. Unintentional Copying Errors
B. Errors of the ear. Sometimes manuscripts were copied by several scribes while one read. If words sounded similar, then the wrong one could be written down. An example: The Greek words "hamon" (our) and "humon" (your) sound similar. Manuscripts differ making it hard to determine if John wrote that "our" joy or "your" joy may be made complete (1 Jn 1:4).
C. Errors of memory. Of course, scribes were not to write from memory, but it would be hard not to. All good manuscripts of Eph 5:9 have "fruit of light", but a few, otherwise good manuscripts have "fruit of the Spirit". Perhaps some scribes had Gal 5:22 in mind instead of the text in front of them.
D. Errors of judgment. This could result from dim lighting or poor eyesight. Also, sometimes, a scribe who was not careful, may have copied someone’s notes into the text. One miniscule copy of 2 Cor 8:4-5 incorporates "it is found thus in many of the copies" into the text, obviously adding a scribe’s notes.
II. Intentional Changes to the Text (deliberate, but with good intentions)
A. Changes to make the text more readable. Some of the scribes smoothed out language and grammar to correspond to the usage of their day. (Compare in English the old usage, "I shall" with today’s usage, "I will".) Also the scribes updated the spelling of words.
B. Changes were made to "harmonize" passages.
C. Changes were made to "correct" the text. Sometimes scribes corrected what they thought were
The unintentional human errors we find in the manuscripts of the Bible are those that we would expect to be find. If we did not find them, we would have to conclude that God guided their pens! The intentional changes made to the Scriptures were done to "help" the text in some way and can easily be spotted. The conscientious efforts of these men and the quality of the end product that they produced is our solid basis for confidence in the text of the Bible, even though they were less than perfect.
LESSON SEVENTEEN: NUMBER AND SIGNIFICANCE OF TEXTUAL VARIANTS (O.T., N.T.)
God did not guide the pen of each scribe as he copied His word. Despite conscientious effort on the part of the scribes, errors occurred. Therefore there are variations in the extant (surviving) copies of the Old and New Testaments. Just how many variants do the copies contain? How significant are the variants? Should an examination of these variants give us doubt or confidence that God’s message has been preserved until our time? In this lesson we will find the answers to these important questions.
I. Variants in the Old Testament Copies
II. Variants in the New Testament Copies
An examination of the textual variations of the Old and New Testament texts does not cause us to have doubt, but rather to have faith that the original language text from which our English Bible is translated is trustworthy. The message of God has not been lost in the copying process, but still rings as loud and clear as it did when God inspired men to write it.
LESSON EIGHTEEN: CREATING A STANDARDIZED TEXT (O.T., N.T.)
What do we do about all of the variant readings of the Scripture? How do we decide how the text should read? The process of comparing the variants and deciding how the original text read is called textual criticism or lower criticism. The result of this process is a standardized text, or a text which includes what scholars determine to be the best readings. This lesson will explain how scholars review the variants of the Old and New Testaments and arrive at a standardized text.
I. What evidence is used to reconstruct the text of Scripture?
O.T. (see lesson 11, Evidence for the Old Testament Text)
Additionally, many quotations have been preserved in the Talmud (A.D. 200). The Talmud is the Jewish book of tradition containing the Mishnah, a digest of the oral laws, and the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishnah. Also, quotations of the O.T. are found in the Midrash, a commentary on the O.T. a body of material collected together between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300.
N.T. (see lesson 15, Evidence for the New Testament Text)
II. How is a standardized text created from the manuscript evidence? Scholars consider many factors.
The following are listed in order of importance:
The reading is found in an older and/or more dependable source? With the O.T., many extant translations are much older than the extant Hebrew manuscripts, but the later original language manuscripts are more important. With the N.T., it is not necessarily the manuscript that is older that has the preferred reading, but the reading that comes from the oldest and best text "type". A "type" is a family of manuscripts that originated in a certain time and place. There are four major textual families, Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, and Byzantine, in order of importance. The more families that support a reading the more weight in its favor.
More difficult reading? The scribe may have tried to smooth out differences with parallel
accounts or differences he thought existed with other Scriptures (cp. Lesson 16, II, B., C.)
Shorter reading? Unless there is evidence of accidental or intentional omission, the shorter reading is preferred. The tendency of scribes was to add rather than subtract from the text.
Scholars’ tedious study of the manuscripts and rules for determining the best reading among the variants give us every confidence that we have the best possible text of Scripture to use for translation into English, a text that has been faithfully preserved so as to reflect the mind of God, not man.
LESSON NINETEEN: SOME "SIGNIFICANT" NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL VARIANTS
None of the variants in the O.T. or N.T. text are "significant" in that they affect our understanding of God or His will for our lives. However, some variants are "significant" in the fact that they consist of more than a difference in spelling or one omitted word. In this lesson, we will examine the five most "significant" variants in the N.T. These affect a verse or a group of verses.
"waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he as afflicted." (KJV)
The earliest and best manuscripts do not contain this ending to vs. 3 or vs. 4.
It is not found in the Bodmer Papyri A.D. 200 or the oldest complete N.T. manuscripts, Sinaiaticus and Vaticanus (4th century);
Alexandrian (5th century) contains this text.
1 John 5:7
"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." (KJV).
The ASV and RSV omit without explanation due to the lack of any credible textual evidence.
This sentence had support from Vulgate, but not from any Greek manuscript. Erasmus was challenged as to why he did not include it in his Greek text of 1516 and 1519, he replied that if anyone would produce evidence for it one Greek manuscript, he would include it in his next edition. One 16th century miniscule from 1520 was found and in 1522, Erasmus kept his promise and put the verse in his the third edition of his Greek text. William Tyndale was the first to translate the N.T. into English from Greek and he used Erasmus’ third edition. All English translations down to and including the KJV followed Erasmus’ third and included the verse. So on the basis of one insignificant, late manuscript all the weight of some 5,000 Greek manuscripts was disregarded in favor of this text. What an injustice to the rules of textual criticism!! Later, one other late Greek manuscript was found containing 1 Jn 5:7. Both manuscripts containing the verse were translated from Latin.
"And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God."
Not found in the ASV or RSV.
Supported by a seventh century uncial, some good miniscules, and the Old Latin version, but all other manuscripts and versions stand against it.
This section is put in brackets by the ASV with a note that most ancient authorities omit it. It is in a footnote of RSV with a note that other ancient authorities place it there, at the end of John’s gospel, or after Lk 21:38.
It is not in the oldest and best Gr. manuscripts.
Not in any Gr. manuscripts until Bezae (A.D. 550) (known for peculiar readings). It is not found in any other manuscripts again until the 8th century.
Not in Tatian (parallel gospel from A.D. 170) or early translations such as Old Syriac, Syriac Peshitta, Coptic, Gothic, and Old Latin.
No Greek writer refers to it until the 12th century.
Scribes placed it in several other locations: some after Jn 7:36, after Jn 21:24; after Jn 7:44; or after Lk 21:38. Many of the manuscripts of these indicate that this text is doubtful.
Verses are lacking in many of the oldest and best Greek manuscripts, including Vatican and Sinaiaticus (4th century).
They are also missing from the earliest known manuscript of the Old Syriac translation.
Many of the ancient Fathers show no knowledge of it. Jerome (A.D. 340-420) said "almost all Greek copies do not have this concluding portion." Some who did include it had an asterisk or other symbol to indicate that it is a spurious addition.
In support of this ending of Mark, there is a plain statement from Irenaeus in the second century that shows the existence of Mark 16:9-20 and the belief that Mark was its author. Also this ending of Mark is found in a vast number of uncial manuscripts, most miniscules, most old Latin manuscripts, the Vulgate, and in some Syriac and Coptic manuscripts.
There is an insertion into Mk 16:9-20 found only in Codex W (fourth or fifth century). After Mk 16:14, the manuscript reads:
"And they excused themselves, saying, "This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now"- thus they spoke of Christ. And Christ replied to them, "The term of years for Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven."
There is another ending which occurs in several uncials, a few minuscules and several copies of ancient versions- "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."
The evidence is against the above passages being included in the New Testament text. But not even these "major" variants call in to question anything about our knowledge of God and His Son or affect the teaching and practice of Christianity in any way.
LESSON TWENTY: THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE
We have studied how the inspired writings were collected, received as inspired, and copied, as well as how reliable standardized texts have been made from the copies. In all of this we have found abundant evidence to trust that the Bible is the Word of God. All that remains to be studied is the translation of the reconstructed texts of the original languages into English. A reliable translation into our language is the last link in the chain to complete our confidence that what God breathed out long ago is what we are able to read, study, obey, and be saved by today. Let’s begin to look at this last link.
I. The earliest translations of the Bible into Old English (prior to A.D. 1100)
II. Middle English: Partial Versions & the First Complete Translation (A.D. 1100-1400)
III. The Tyndale Bible, the first English Bible translated from the Original Languages
William Tyndale ( 1492-1536) True "father" of the English Bible. In 1509, Erasmus came to Cambridge as professor of Greek. In 1510, Tyndale came as a student, after studying at Oxford. While in college, he made it his ambition to give the English people a translation based on the original languages. In those days, a man told Tyndale, "better without God’s law than without the Pope’s". Tyndale replied, "I defy the Pope and all His laws; if God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest." Perhaps he derived his inspiration from his teacher, Erasmus, who once said, "I would to God the plowman would sing a text of the scripture at his plow, and the weaver at his loom with this would drive away the tediousness of time. I would that the wayfaring man with this pastime would expel the weariness of his journey."
In 1524, Tyndale began his work of translation. Because of opposition in England, he had to go to Hamburg, Germany to do it. But even living abroad, at times he had to flee. His work identified him with Luther who had just finished his German translation and, of course, was leading Reformation efforts. The first printing of Tyndale’s N.T. was made in 1526. Copies were smuggled into England. Officials of the Church condemned the translation. They paid for incoming copies. They burned them in public ceremonies.
By 1530, Tyndale had translated the Pentateuch and by 1531 he had done Jonah. He published a revision of Genesis in 1534 and two additional editions of his N.T. in 1534-35. He was imprisoned in 1534. He continued to work on the rest of the O.T. However, he never completed it. In 1536. He was strangled and burned at the stake. His final words were, "Lord open the king of England’s eyes."
Truly, as one writer said of Tyndale, "he was a man of sufficient scholarship to work from Hebrew and Greek, with genius to fashion a fitting English idiom, and faith and courage to persist whatever it cost him."
IV. Other Early English Bibles
Coverdale Bible (1535)- Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) was the first to translate the complete Bible from the original languages. He was a friend and associate of Tyndale. He used Latin, German, and Tyndale’s translation to come up what has been described as a translation that is Tyndale’s revised by the German. He was the first to separate the Apocrypha from the rest of the O.T. His translation became the first to circulate in England without official hindrance.
Matthews Bible (1537)- This was the work of another one of Tyndale’s friends, John Rogers (1500-1555). His pen name was Thomas Matthew. He used a pen name so that the translation would not bear his name. He did not think that his name should be attached to the translation since it was essentially the work of others. His translation combined the work of Tyndale and Coverdale. It was the first English Bible to be circulated with the King of England’s consent.
Taverner’s Bible (1539)- This was an independent revision of Matthew’s Bible. The translation
of the N.T. was improved.
Great Bible (1539)- another revision of Matthew’s Bible. It was edited by Coverdale. Henry
VIII authorized it to be used in the churches saying, "In God’s name, let it go abroad among our
people." The preface read, "This Bible is appointed to the use of the churches." A copy was
placed in every church in the land. Preachers complained because the people chose to read the
Bible rather than to listen to their sermons.
Geneva Bible (1560)- This translation was different in that it was a careful collaboration of many scholars rather than only one or a few. It was also called the "Breeches Bible" because of its translation of Gen 3:7 where it reads that Adam and Eve "sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches." The basic text of the translation was Tyndale, but it used the latest textual evidence available. It was the family Bible, the home Bible, while the Great Bible was the Bible of the church. It was the first Bible to print each verse as a paragraph and to put words in italics that were not represented in the original texts. It went through 140 editions prior to 1644. It retained its popularity through the first generation of the KJV. It was the Bible of Shakespeare and the Pilgrims. The commentary it contained reflected the views of John Calvin and the Reformation.
Bishop’s Bible (1568)- As the name suggests, most of the translators were bishops in the Anglican Church. This was a revision of the Great Bible used in the churches. Church leaders did not like the Geneva Bible because of its commentary. Yet, because of the popularity of the Geneva Bible, the people did not like the Great Bible. So, the Church leaders put out a new translation, what they called "a compromise- a dignified and ‘safe’ version for public reading." This was the Bible used by the churches from 1568-1611. A second edition was published in 1572 and its last printing was in 1602.
Rheims-Douai Bible (1582; 1609-10)- Though the Catholic Church opposed the Bible being put into the hands of the common man in his own language and did everything they could to stop it, it happened anyway. So, eventually they were forced to "join the parade" and make their own English translation, one in which they could put their own commentary, answering the Protestants, and one in which they could place the Apocrypha in the "canonical" position that was decreed in the Council of Trent in 1546. In the preface, the translators said that they guarded themselves "against the idea that the Scriptures should always be in our mother tongue, or that they ought, or were ordained by God, to be read indifferently by all." Their translation was from the Latin Vulgate. Still trying to keep the understanding of the Bible from the common man, they introduced excessive "Latinisms", that is they were overly literal in their translation, making it harder to be understood in English.
History can only help us to imagine what kind of struggle that it took to get the Bible into the hands of the common man in his own language, so that he did not have to be well versed in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin to understand it. Those who translated the Bible into English surely were in the forefront of this battle. Some men paid with their lives. We are indebted. Let us show our appreciation by reading and by studying, and especially by living the Scriptures. Putting the Scriptures into our life is the best translation of all.
LESSON TWENTY-ONE: THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE CONTINUED
From William Tyndale to the Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible great strides had been made in providing the English-speaking world with an accurate understanding of the Word of God. The process of making new translations to increase accuracy and to keep up with current English usage continued with the King James Version. We must understand that it will ever be ongoing due to the discovery of new manuscript evidence and changes in the English language. In this lesson, we will track many of the English translations from the King James Version until our day.
I. The King James Version
II. The English Revised Version; The American Standard Version
III. The Revised Standard Version
IV. The New American Standard Version
V. The New King James Version
VI. Independent Versions
THE ENGLISH BIBLE: FROM TYNDALE TO TODAY
Tyndale (INCOMPLETE) (1524-1536) Coverdale(COMPLETE) (1535)
TAVERNER'S (1539) GREAT BIBLE (1539)
Geneva (independent) (1560) BISHOP'S BIBLE (1568)
KING JAMES VERSION (1611)
ENGLISH REVISED (1881/1885) AMERICAN STANDARD (1901)
REVISED STANDARD (1946/1952) NEW AMERICAN STANDARD (1963/1971)
NEW ENGLISH BIBLE (1961) NEW KING JAMES VERSION (1979/1982)
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (1973/1978)
The history of the English Bible is the story of how English speaking men who are experts in the original languages of the Bible have spent countless hours making sure that their generation understands as accurately and as clearly as possible the Word of God in the English language. Thanks to their efforts we who are unlearned in the original languages may understand and obey our Creator and, through His Son Jesus Christ, we may enter into a relationship with Him now that lasts forever.
LESSON TWENTY-TWO: A REVIEW OF A FEW ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS
The author of these lessons has not made reviews of translations, nor does he possess the skills to do so. In this lesson, he will present information from reviews of some English translations that those with the expertise to do so have taken the time to make a careful review.
I. The King James Version
II. The American Standard Version
This revision of the KJV cleared up many archaic expressions. Some examples are "spoke first to him" replaced "prevented him" (Mt 17:25), "baggage" replaced "carriages (Acts 21:15), "made a circuit" replaced "fetched a compass" (Acts 28:13), "hinder" replaced "let" (Rom 1:13), "in nothing be anxious" replaced "be careful for nothing" (Phil 4:6); and "grandchildren" replaced "nephews" (1 Tim 5:4)
However, some archaic expressions were retained, such as "glory" (Mt 6:2, better translated "praise"), "dispute" (Mk 9:34; better translated "discuss"), "doctor" (Lk 5:17; better translated "teacher"), "allege" (Acts 17:3; better translated "prove") "communicate" (Gal 6:6; better translated "share"). The verb archaic verb ending "eth" was also retained.
And, unfortunately many archaisms were added by the translators to give the text a more "Biblical" flavor; words such as "aforetime" (Rom 15:4), "would fain" (Lk 15:16), "howbeit" (Gal 4:8), "lest haply" (Acts 5:39), "God-ward" (1 Thess 1:8), "us-ward" (Eph 1:19) and "you-ward" (Gal 5:10) found their way into the text.
Though the ASV is considered very true to the original languages, Charles Spurgeon reflected the thought of many about it when he said that it was "strong in Greek, weak in English."
III. The Revised Standard Version
IV. The New English Bible
V. The New International Version
No translation of the Bible is any language is perfect. To those who hold the KJV to be the version "inspired and authorized by God", what about the translation of "Easter" for Passover" in Acts 12:4 or the transliteration "baptism" instead of the translation "immersion"? On the other hand no legitimate attempt to translate the Bible from the original languages is so flawed that man cannot understand the will of God in his own language. The imperfections of the translation process point out the value of referring to several translations, especially when the understanding of a word or phrase is crucial to one’s obedience to God.
LESSON TWENTY-THREE: HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR BIBLE
We must be careful in choosing our Bibles so that when we read we can rest assured that what we are reading are not the words of men, but the words of God, who revealed His mind to us in human language. Here are some questions that we need to ask when we are considering which translation to use for reading and study.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Bible
1. Is this a translation or a paraphrase?
2. Was this translation made from the original languages in which God revealed His will?
3. What original language text was this translation based on?
4. Was the translation done by a committee or just one man?
5. What religious background did the translators come from? Was the translation made by men
from different denominations or were they all from the same one?
6. Is the translation "word for word" as much as is possible or is it primarily "thought for thought"?
7. When the translators had to go away from a "word for word" translation in order to express the
Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek idioms in English, did they supply the literal "word for word"
translation as a footnote? Did they put any words that they supplied in italics?
8. Is the translation easily understandable to you?
Several reliable translations are available. Have several in your home to use for reading and study. Don’t rely on only one translation. Compare several reliable ones so that you may clearly and accurately understand the Word of God.
We conclude our series of lessons with the words of Neil Lightfoot that we now understand so well, "How the Bible has come down to us is a story of adventure and devotion. It is a story of toil and faith by those who, sometimes at great cost, passed down from to generation the message of salvation. The Bible did not just happen nor has it been preserved through the years by mere chance." - How We Got the Bible, p. 11. "The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever." (1 Pet 1:24)
Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction
Geisler, Norman and Nix, William. A General Introduction to the Bible
Lightfoot, Neil. How We Got the Bible
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