TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Canon

Transmission

Textual Criticism

Translation Methodologies

Endnotes


  1. Introduction

This study assumes that the original manuscripts of Scripture were inspired. The question that is being considered is: Is the English Bible, which we have in our hands today, reliable? Does it include all the inspired books and is the text on which it is based close enough to the original writings to be useful? Thus the topics of transmission, canon, textual criticism, and translation methodologies will be briefly studied. This study does not answer the question, is the text of the Bible accurate?

The reader will notice numerous references to Josh McDowell's book, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. The book is a great source book for quotations and references on these topics. Every student beginning college and every serious student of Scripture should be familiar with it.

A manuscript is a hand written copy. The invention of the printing press in the Western World in the middle A.D. 1400s ended the creation of manuscripts. [I1]

 

  1. Canon

The question that most ask is: How can we be sure that the Apocrypha, believed by the Roman Catholics to be inspired, is not inspired as Protestants believe?

  1. Definition:

The canon is a collection of books acknowledged to be inspired Scripture. The acknowledgment does not make a book canonical. God makes books canonical.

  1. Doctrinal Method:

  1. The Doctrine

Inspired Scripture will be recognized by those who are spiritually prepared (John 8:47; 18:37; 1 Corinthians 14:37-38; 1 John 4:6). Thus, if a very long time passes before a candidate book is acknowledged as canonical, it cannot be canonical.

"If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored (1 Corinthians 14:37-38)."

  1. Application of the Doctrine

The following table seeks to reveal which collections of books were quickly acknowledged in accordance with the doctrine of the previous book.

WHAT IS THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE?

Collection

Dating the Collections

Acknowledged by a Competent Authority--Earliest Known Dates

Evaluation

Old Testament

The first books of the Old Testament to be written were those of the Pentateuch (1450-1410 B.C.) The last book was Malachi in 450-400 B.C. [C1]

Fourth Century B.C. Jews were convinced that the voice of God had ceased (David Ewert). [C2]

Matthew 23:35 may acknowledge the collection by bracketing its beginning (the shedding of Abel's blood in Genesis) and ending (the shedding of Zechariah's blood in 2 Chronicles which is the last book in the Jewish Bible). Matthew was written in the A.D. 50s or 60s (Charles Ryrie). [C3]

The so-called Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90 was a meeting of Rabbis that questioned the inclusion of books previously acknowledged as canonical. There was no thought of removing any book (David Ewert). [C4]

Canonical

Old Testament Apocrypha [C5]

  The first books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were written in the second century B.C. The last book was Baruch or 2 Esdras (both A.D. 100). [C6] There were apocryphal books in addition to this collection.

Some of the writings themselves indicate they are non-canonical (1 Maccabees 14:41; 2 Baruch 85:3). [C7]

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament never quote the Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90) did not indicate the Old Testament Apocrypha was canonical.

Josephus, who lived A.D. 30-100, and many other church fathers specifically excluded the Apocrypha from the canon.

The Old Testament Apocrypha did not receive full canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church until A.D. 1546 as one of several anti-reformation measure during the Council of Trent (Geisler and Nix)! [C8]

Non-Canonical

New Testament

  The first book of the New Testament to be written was James in A.D. 45-49. The last book was Revelation in A.D. 90s. [C9]

The Apostles indicated the Canon was know to them as they were writing Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). 

Athanasius published the earliest list of New Testament books, exactly like the one we use today, in A.D. 367 (Josh McDowell). [C10]

The Synod of Hippo acknowledged the canon existed in its day (A.D. 393). There has been no serious disagreement over the canon since that day (F.F. Bruce). [C11]

Canonical

New Testament Apocrypha [C12]

  The first book of the New Testament Apocrypha in this list to be written was the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas in A.D. 70-79. The last was the Epistle to the Laodiceans in the 4th century. [C13]

  There has never been any serious acceptance of the New Testament Apocrypha (Geisler and Nix). [C14]

Non-Canonical

Since the Old and New Testaments were understood to be Canonical shorthly after their completition, the are Canonical. The New and Old Testament Apocrypha were nor accepted shorthly after their writing. Thus they are non-canonical.

  1. The Standards

The authorities that sought to acknowledge the canonical books used standards like the following:

 

  1. Transmission

Here the question is, how do we know Scripture has not been changed over the years? The question is answered in the next three sections.

  1. Old Testament

The text that is the basis of today's translation of the Old Testament is the text copied and preserved by the Masoretes. The final book of the Old Testament to be written was Malachi (450-400 B.C.) [OT0] Groups who preserved the text were the Sopherim (5th to 3rd century B.C.), the Zugoth (2nd and 1st centuries B.C.), the Tannaim (until A.D. 200), the Talmudists (A.D. 100-500), and the Masoretes (A.D. 500-900). [OT1]

  1. Copying Standards

In ancient times, high standards were maintained in the copying of the Old Testament. The resultant manuscripts that were judged defective were destroyed or used for practice purposes. [OT2] Here are quotes that emphasize the care exercised in the Masoretic tradition of scribes:

"The Masoretes were well disciplined and treated the text with the greatest imaginable reverence, and devised a complicated system of safeguards against scribal slips. They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible, and made even more detailed calculations than these. 'Everything countable seems to be counted,' says Wheeler Robinson, and they made up mnemonics by which the various totals might be readily remembered." [OT3]

"The scribes could tell if one consonant was left out of say the entire book of Isaiah or the entire Hebrew Bible. They built in so many safeguards that they knew when they finished that they had an exact copy." [OT4]

  1. Verification of Accuracy of the Masoretic Text

COMPARISON OF EARLIEST COMPLETE MASORETIC MANUSCRIPT WITH EARLIER MANUSCRIPTS

Document

Date of Copy

Gap Between This Document and the Leningrad Codex

Language

Differences Between This Document and the Leningrad Codex

Leningrad Codex (Masoretic)

around A.D. 1010 [OT5]

N/A

Hebrew

N/A

Codex Sarravianus (LXX, Septuagint)

4th or 5th century A.D. [OT6]

around 500 years older

Greek

"The LXX, being very close to the Masoretic Text (A.D. 916) we have today, helps to establish the reliability of it transmission through thirteen hundred years (Josh McDowell)." [OT7]

1QIsa (an Isaiah Dead Sea Scroll)

125 B.C. [OT8]

1,025 years older

Hebrew

". . . there is no significant difference . . . (Paul Enns)" [OT9]

The Hebrew text being used today is based on the Leningrad Codex. The fact that the Isaiah Dead Sea Scroll is very close to it shows that the has been great care in preserving the document.

  1. New Testament

Because of the huge number of manuscripts and early quotations of the New Testament, it is the most reliable of all ancient literature available to us.

  1. Comparison of Original Language Manuscripts

A manuscript is a hand published document as contrasted with a document produced by a printing press.

COMPARISON OF ANCIENT LITERATURE MANUSCRIPTS [NT1]

Author or Work

Book Title

Date Written

Date of Earliest Copy

Time Gap Between Date Written and Date of Earliest Manuscript Copy

Number of Manuscript Copies

Homer

Iliad

800 B.C.

about 400 B.C.

about 400 years

643

Herodotus

History

480-425 B.C.

about A.D. 900

about 1,350 years

8

Thucydides

History

460-400 B.C.

about A.D. 900

about 1,300 years

8

Plato

 

400 B.C.

about A.D. 900

about 1,300 years

7

Demosthenes

 

300 B.C.

about A.D. 1100

about 1,400 years

200

Caesar

Gallic Wars

100-44 B.C.

about A.D. 900

about 1,000 years

10

Livy

History of Rome

59 B.C. to A.D. 17

4th century (partial)

mostly 10th century

about 400 years

about 1,000 years

1 partial

19 complete

Tacitus

Annals

A.D. 100

around A.D. 1100

about 1,000 years

20

Pliny Secundus

Natural History

A.D. 61-113

around A.D. 850

around 750 years

7

NEW TESTAMENT, FRAGMENTS

   

AROUND A.D. 114

50+ YEARS

 

NEW TESTAMENT, BOOKS

   

AROUND A.D. 200

100 YEARS

 

NEW TESTAMENT, MOST OF IT

   

AROUND A.D. 250

150 YEARS

 

NEW TESTAMENT, COMPLETE

 

 

AROUND A.D. 325

225 YEARS

 

TOTAL NEW TESTAMENT

 

A.D. 50-100

   

5,686

There are two orders of magnitude more manuscripts of the New Testament available to us today than there are of manuscripts of Livy or Tacitus. Furthermore, the period between the date when the book was written and the earliest existant copy is much reduced with the New Testament Documents. The New Testament is much better attested than any of these ancient works!

  1. Version (Translation) Manuscripts

Besides the manuscripts in the original language, Greek, the following manuscripts in other languages are available.

NUMBER OF NEW TESTAMENT VERSION MANUSCRIPTS [NT2]

Language

Date Translated A.D.

Number

Latin Vulgate

started 382

more than 10,000

Ethiopic

started late 4th century

more than 2,000

Slavic

 

4,101

Armenian

late 3rd century +

2,587

Syriac Pashetta

completed 5th century

more than 350

Bohairic (Egyptian)

fragments 4th century

100

Arabic

8th century

50

Old Latin

 

50

Anglo Saxon

 

7

Gothic

 

6

Sogdian

 

3

Old Syriac

 

2

Persian

 

2

Frankish

 

1

Total Version Manuscripts

 

more than 19, 284

Total Original Language Manuscripts

 

5,686

Total Manuscripts

 

more than 24,970

F.F. Bruce has written, "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament." [NT3]

  1. Quotations from Some Church Fathers

QUOTATIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT BY EARLY CHURCH FATHERS [NT4]

Father

Lifetime A.D.

Gospels

Acts

Paul's Letters

General Epistles

Revelation

Totals

Justin Martyr

around 100-165

268

10

43

6

3

330

Irenaeus

flourished around 175-195

1,038

194

499

23

65

1,819

Clement of Alexandria

around 155-220

1,107

44

1,127

207

11

2,406

Origen

around 185-254

9,231

349

7,778

399

165

17,992

Tertullian

around 160/70-215/20

3,822

502

2,609

120

205

7,258

Hippolytus

died around 236

734

42

387

27

188

1,378

Eusebius

around 265-339

3,258

211

1,592

88

27

5,176

Totals

 

19,368

1,352

14,035

870

664

36,289

Norman Geisler has said, ". . . the quotes are so numerous and widespread that if no manuscripts of the New Testament were extant, the New Testament could be reproduced from the writings of the early Fathers alone." [NT5]

  1. Conclusion

The attestation provided by the New Testament Manuscripts is overwhelming.

 

  1. Textual Criticism

With tens of thousands of manuscripts available, there are numerous descrepancies among them. There are different schools of though about how to deal with the variant readings so as to best reconstruct the original manuscripts, the autographs.

  1. Old Testament

Since worn and defective Old Testament manuscripts were usually destroyed, the number of manuscripts and thus the number of variant readings are not as great as with the New Testament manuscripts. Probably because of this reason there is less textual criticism done in the Old Testament and only one text, the Masoretic, is commonly used by translators.

  1. New Testament

  1. Textus Receptus

The King James Version is based on the so-called Textus Receptus (Received Text). Some Christians emotionally hold on to this tradition. However, there are problems with the method used to produce the text. For example, some of it is based on a translation rather than on manuscripts in the original language. Some of it was added when a scholar was tricked into adding extra-Biblical material. The thousands of manuscripts available today were not available to those who brought the text together.

"Thus it will be conceded by all reputable scholars -- even those who favour the Byzantine text [a close relative to the Textus Receptus, see below] -- that the Textus Receptus, in all its various forms, has no textual authority whatsoever." [TC1] Follow this endnote for a brief discussion on an internet site of the problems associated with the Textus Receptus.

  1. Critical Text

Most modern translations, like the New American Standard and the New International Version, are based on the Critical Text. Most conservative scholars support the Critical Text.

There are four axioms applied to develop the Critical Text:

"(1) In general the more difficult reading is to be preferred, . . .

(2) In general the shorter reading is to be preferred, . . .

(3) . . . that reading is to be preferred which stands in verbal dissidence with the other. . . .

(4) Scribes would sometimes (a) replace an unfamiliar word with a more familiar synonym, (b) alter a less refined grammatical form or less elegant lexical expression in accord with Atticizing preferences, or (c) add pronouns, conjunctions, and expletives to make a smooth text (Bruce Metzger)." [TC2]

The methods of scholars who created the Critical Text are based on theories that are unproved.

Furthermore, the application of these axioms most often put forth readings found only in a literal handful of documents that lack geographical distribution while thousands of manuscripts scattered throughout the ancient world oppose the readings.

Finally, the supporters of the Critical Text argue that their manuscripts are older that those used by the scholars who have constructed the Majority Text (below). However, the storage conditions in the region where the older documents were found (Egypt) are far more friendlier to the preservation of documents than the rest of the ancient world. [TC3]

  1. Majority Text

The Text is also called the Byzantine Text or the Western Text. The World English Bible Revision is evolving into a Majority Text based Bible. [TC4] The Majority Text is also used in the Analytical-Literal Translation. [TC5] A small number of conservative scholars hold to the Majority Text.

". . . under normal circumstances the older a text is than its rivals, the greater are its chances to survive in a plurality or a majority of the texts extant at any subsequent period. But the oldest text of all is the autograph. Thus it ought to be taken for granted that, barring some radical dislocation in the history of transmission, a majority of texts will be far more likely to represent correctly the character of the original than a small minority of texts (Zane Hodges)." [TC6]

Mathematical support of Hodges' thesis is included in the paper from which the above quote was derived. [TC7]

". . . what modern textual critics [those who support the Critical Text] are really affirming--either implicity or explicity--constitutes nothing less than a wholesale rejection of probabilities on a sweeping scale!" [TC8]

The Majority Text is the only text of the three that is based on a thesis that can be proved.

"The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text" offers two standards by which their text was created:

"(1) Any reading overwhelmingly attested by the manuscript tradition is more likely to be original than its rival(s). . . .

(2) Final decisions about readings ought to be made on the basis of a reconstruction of their history in the manuscript tradition." [TC9]

The Majority Text is the best of the texts currently available.

  1. Conclusions and Implications

"Philip Schaff in Comparison to the Greek Testament and the English Version concluded that only 400 of the 150,000 caused doubt about the textual meaning and only 50 of these were of great significance. Not one of the variations Schaff says altered 'an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.'" [TC10]

"The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice (F. F. Bruce)." [TC11]

Scholars have adopted this viewpoint, no matter what text they support. God produced infallible autographs through inspired writers. For reasons known only to Him, the autographs have been allowed to be lost. However, all available evidence indicates that disagreements among existing manuscripts are insignificant. Therefore, it can be reasoned that God has providentially preserved His Word to the extent required for His purposes.

  1. Translation Methodologies

TYPES OF TRANSLATIONS [TM1]

Defective

Literal Translations

Free Translations

Paraphrases

New World Translation

King James

New International

Living Bible

Today's New International Version

New American Standard Bible

New English Bible

Phillips Modern English

 

Revised Standard Version

Today's English Version

 

Once the publisher of a Bible has determined which text he will use, he must then decide what methodology he should use in translating from the original languages to English.

Some methodologies are defective. They read back into the translation a predetermined, defective theology. For example the Jehovah Witness' bias against the Divinity of Christ is found in their New World Translation. [TM2] Political Correctness has influenced the translation of the Today's New International Version. [TM3]

If scholars were perfect, a free translation would probably be the best methodology. Those who read a free translation must have a lot of trust in the translators because uncertain meanings are made more certain. The Bible student who cannot use the original languages would rather use the literal translations so that he can better discern the uncertain portions and make his own decisions. For a person who finds reading difficult, a paraphrase might be just the right Bible.

While there is controversy about various translations, unless one studies a defective version, he will not be seriously misled.

 

  1. End Notes

[I1] Marvin Rogers and David B. Eisenberg, Printing, The American Educator Encyclopedia (Lake Bluff, IL: The United Educators, Inc., 1969), volume 12, page 474.

[C1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible (RSB), Expanded Edition, New International Version (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pages 1 & 1423. Ryrie does not take a stance on Job other than to indicate that it could have been written as early as the Patriarchal age prior to 1500 B.C. However, he suggests it could have been written at the time of Solomon (950 B.C.), page 749.

[C2] Reference to Ewert in John McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (NEDV) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), page 26.

[C3] RSB, pages 1455 & 1990.

[C4] Reference to Ewert in NEDV, page 26.

[C5] The Old Testament Apocrypha includes the following books: I & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Song of the Three Hebrew Children, The Prayer of Manasseh, 1 & 2 Maccabees (Reference to Ralph Earle in NEDV, pages 30-31). These are the books that are a part of the Roman Catholic Bible but rejected by Protestants.

[C6] Reference to Earle in NEDV, pages 30-31.

[C7] ". . . also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet; . . . (1 Maccabees 14:41; The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha with an English Translation and with Various Readings and Critical Notes (SVOT) [unknown location: Zondervan Publishing House, undated], page 178-179 of the Apocrypha section)." "The prophets have fallen asleep, . . . (2 Baruch 85:3; Ewert in NEDV, page 26)."

[C8] Reference to Geisler and Nix in NEDV, pages 31-32. Some church fathers and inferior councils did believe the Apocrypha was canonical prior to the reformation. But the official action taken by the Catholic Church waited until a counter was needed against the reformers emphasis of the non-apocryphal books (R. K. Harrison, "Apocrypha," The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975], volume 1, pages 205-206).

[C9] RSB, page 1445.

[C10] Athanasius quoted in NEDV, pages 23-24.

[C11] F. F. Bruce quoted in NEDV, pages 24-25.

[C12] Some of the New Testament Apocrypha listed by Geisler are the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas, the Epistle to the Corinthians, Ancient Homily (Second Epistle of Clement), Shepherd of Hermas, Didache (Teaching of the Twelve), Apocalypse of Peter, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, The Gospel According to the Hebrews, the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, and the Seven Epistles of Ignatius (NEDV, page 25).

[C13] Reference to Geisler in NEDV, page 25.

[C14] Reference to Geisler and Nix in NEDV, page 26.

[C15] Ibid., pages 21-22.

[OT0] RSB, page 1423.

[OT1] Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (SOTI) (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), pages 62-63.

[OT2] References to Davidson and Kenyon in NEDV, pages 74-75.

[OT3] Reference to Bruce in NEDV, page 76.

[OT4] NEDV, page 76.

[OT5] Though once complete in modern times, portions of the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 900) were destroyed in Syria in 1947 (NEDV, pages 73, 76). So, the Leningrad B 19A manuscript, dated A.D. 1010, is the basis of Rudolf Kittel, Biblia Hebraica, 3rd ed., pages XXVI-XXVII. See also SOTI, page 43-44. It is also called the Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus (reference to Geisler in NEDV, page 73).

[OT6] SOTI, page 46.

[OT7] NEDV, page 83.

[OT8] SOTI, pages 38-39.

[OT9] Reference to Enns in NEDV, page 81.

[NT1] The data in this table is from the reference to numerous scholars on pages 34-35 and the table on page 38 of NEDV.

[NT2] The data in this table is from the reference to numerous scholars on pages 34-35 of NEDV. However, the dates are from J. D. Doublas, Editor, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Revised Edition (NIDCC) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), pages 61, 69, 336, 354, 949, 1024.

[NT3] Referenced in NEDV, page 37.

[NT4] This table is from NEDV, page 43. However, the dates are from NIDCC, pages 234, 356, 472, 516, 558, 732, 960.

[NT5] Ibid.

[TC1] Robert Waltz, The Textus Receptus, http://www.skypoint.com/~waltzmn/TR.html, no date page created, consulted June 12, 2003. See also Bruce M Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (TNT) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), pages 95-108, especially pages 100-103, 105.

[TC2] TNT, pages 209-210.

[TC3] Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text (GNT) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), page ix.

[TC4] The World English Bible, http://ebible.org/bible/web/webfaq.htm#Original, page updated October 21, 2000, consulted June 12, 2003. The text may be found at http://WorldEnglishBible.org.

[TC5] The Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible, http://www.dtl.org/alt/index.html, no date page created, consulted June 12, 2003. The text is available here: http://www.dtl.org/books/preview/alt.htm.

[TC6] Zane C. Hodges, A Defense of the Majority-Text (an unpublished paper written for his students at Dallas Theological Seminary, undated), page 4.

[TC7] Ibid., pages 4-11.

[TC8] Ibid., page 9.

[TC9] GNT, pages xi-xii.

[TC10] Schaff referenced in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pages 43-45.

[TC11] F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960), page 19-20.

[TM1] Most of the data in the last three columns is from Robert Thomas, Christian Life, October 1978, page 32.

[TM2] For example, John 1:1 reads: "In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures [New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 1961], page 1151)."

[TM3] Wayne Grudem, Are the Criticisms of the TNIV Bible Really Justified? An Interaction With Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, Peter Bradley, D.A. Carson, and Bruce Waltke, in Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Fall 2002, Volume 7, Number 2, page 63.


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