In my presentation about the Word of God in the Canon of Scripture, I said the Bible was preserved by an act of God. In this presentation I would like to explain how that was done.
The Old Testament Manuscripts
The first thing we need to consider in looking at how the different manuscripts were preserved by an act of God is to become aware of what kind of paper they used. In the latest version of Evidence that Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell wrote this:
“The most common writing material available in biblical times was papyrus. The papyrus plant grew in the shallow lakes and rivers of Egypt and Syria.” Papyrus was used “until the third century, for classical literature until the sixth or seventh century, and even later for some documents.”
He also said that “…scrolls were made by gluing sheets of papyrus together or sewing sheets of parchment together with sinews from the muscles of a calf’s leg and then winding the resulting long strips around a stick…the average scroll, however was only about twenty to thirty feet.”
The Jewish Scribes
Papyrus Scrolls were used by ancient Jewish scribes to preserve the integrity of the 39 Old Testament books. Having the skills needed to produce additional copies of the Old Testament books made the work of the Scribe one of their most important jobs.
The Church has a huge debt to the Jewish community for preserving the Old Testament text that can never be repaid. During the 8th century C.E. a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masorites began to maintain the ancient traditions of Israel and developed a system for copying the Biblical text for liturgical and scholarly use.
The Jewish scribes known as the Masorites wrote our oldest copies of the Old Testament roughly 1200 to 900 years after Jesus Christ was born. That was the oldest handwritten copy of the Old Testament text available for Jewish and Christian scholars to study until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
In late 1946 or early 1947, Bedouin shepherds found several scrolls in a cave near an ancient site called Qumran…almost 1,050 scrolls were found in the Qumran caves. These scrolls belonged to a first century Jewish group known as the Essenes. These scrolls allowed Jewish and Christian scholars to read parts of the Old Testament from manuscripts that were written about 100 years before Jesus Christ was born.
The Essenes who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem during the first century A.D., hid all of the books they could in the Qumran caves before they had to flee the area to get away from the Roman legions.
That decision on their part to leave their books behind has allowed us the opportunity to read a version of the Old Testament that was available to the public during the time when Jesus Christ and his closest followers began preaching and teaching the hope of the Resurrection.
Interestingly enough, there are no differences between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament references we find in the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as a part of the New Testament.
In addition to the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we also have a copy of the Old Testament written in the Greek language that Alexander the Great starting spreading and the Roman Emperors continued to encourage as well.
The Greek version of the Old Testament was known as the Septuagint, and the oldest copies we have of the Old Testament in Greek were written during the 4th and 5th centuries, about 400 to 500 years after Jesus Christ was born.
The New Testament Manuscripts
While the Jewish people had a group of scribes who were responsible for preserving the Old Testament manuscripts, the Church had a completely different set of scribes who were responsible for producing copies of the New Testament.
The Jewish scribes had developed a system where each scroll was examined to make sure the scribe had the same number of lines, the same number of words, and the same number of letters as the original copy. If there was a mistake found that resulted in a different number of lines, words or letters the new copy would be destroyed and the scribe would have to start over again.
The Church scribes were not as careful as their Jewish counterparts. However, that does not mean that there were changes made in the text of the New Testament at any time by Church leaders. The New Testament has been preserved by an act of God for us.
The earliest verified Greek New Testament manuscript we have today is the John Rylands papyrus, which Bart Erhman believes was around 125 to 130 AD, about 70 to 100 years after Jesus Christ was born. There are always new discoveries being made, but as of January 2017 the Institute of New Testament Textual Research has confirmed the existence of 5, 856 different copies of the New Testament written in the first century Greek language. This number is in addition to the number of New Testament copies written in the Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, Ethopian, Syriac, Georgian, Slavic, and Latin languages available to us today.
Lost in Translation
At this point I would like to talk about the kind of mistakes scribes have made, and just to be clear these mistakes actually prove that a divine intervention by God occurred to preserve the Word of God in the Canon of Scripture for future generations.
The first thing we need to recognize are the mistakes in the Old Testament.
What changes have been made in the Old Testament? One of the genealogies in the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament contains mistakes. This confession on my part might shock you, but let me explain what I am referring to. The English Standard Version of the Bible is a translation based on the Masoretic Text. In Genesis chapter 11 there is a genealogy containing the names and ages of Noah’s descendants – beginning with Noah and ending with Abraham.
In Genesis 11:12 (ESV) we are told “When Arpachshad lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah.” This creates a problem, because there are older versions of the Old Testament which tell a different story here.
The Greek Septuagint says that “When Arpachshad lived 135 years, he fathered Shelah.” A comparison of the Greek Septuagint to the Masoretic Text will show that 100 years are missing from the lives of each person named in the genealogy used by Jewish rabbis in their synagogues.
How did this happen? Why did this happen?
During the first century, we see that the Apostle Paul spoke and wrote in agreement with the Greek Septuagint in the New Testament. We also have the Samaritan Pentateuch which agrees with the Greek Septuagint and the New Testament. On top of that, we have a first century Jewish historian named Josephus who also contradicts the oldest copies of the Masoretic Text (which were written 900 years after Jesus Christ was born).
That should give you a clue when the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was changed. But why…why would the Rabbis and Jewish scribes of the first century change the text of the Old Testament?
What could have possibly happened in the first century that would make the Jewish Rabbis and Scribes willing to edit the version of the Bible used in their synagogues? The answer is that a man named Jesus came and was encouraging people to believe that He was there Messiah.
Making a change like this privately allowed the people who controlled the synagogues to lie to their audiences about Jesus Christ…because their audiences never listened to the Greek or Samaritan versions of the Old Testament text. Making a change like this in the version of the Old Testament used in synagogues allowed them to encourage anyone looking for God in Judaism to deny Jesus, a denial still happening today, some 2000 years later.
The arrival of the Messiah was the most important even in Judaism, and the rabbis and scribes of the first century conspired together to hide it from the Jewish people by changing the text of the Old Testament in a way that allows them to ignore Jesus Christ and the Message of Christianity.
The change that Rabbis made back in the first century is the reason we have not been able to reconcile Biblical history with the Egyptian history put together by our historians and archaeologists, which has allowed non Jewish people to ignore Jesus Christ and the Message of Christianity as well.
What a tragedy. I would like to have a moment of silence for the Jews who have been kept away from their Messiah by the Rabbis and scribes of the first century before moving on to the mistakes found in the New Testament.
The New Testament
Now we can look at the mistakes in our copies of the New Testament. There are three problems we can find in the New Testament writings, and none of them compromise the Message of Christianity. When I get to the end of explaining all this, you will be able to see that an act of God has occurred to make sure a reliable version of the New Testament is still available today.
The first thing I want to look at are called Textual Variants. That is the technical term for it. A Textual Variant simply means one of the scribes wrote a manuscript of the New Testament with a single misspelled word in it.
This kind of mistake is easy to correct if you have more than one copy of the New Testament to examine carefully, and having computers to make digital versions that can be passed around on the Internet by people who write our English translations.
The next thing we find in the New Testament manuscripts are called Omissions. Let me give you an example of an omission by comparing two versions of the Bible. We will be looking at a single passage found in the King James Version and the New International Version for clarity on this issue.
In the King James Version (KJV), 1 John 5:7-8 says “there are three that testify in heaven: The Father, The Word and the Spirit and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: spirit, water and blood, and the three are one.”
In the New International Version (NIV), the same passage says “There are three that testify: the spirit, the water and the blood.”
Why is the same passage from the KJV and the NIV different? I can explain what happened here, and just for the record, I want to say no there is not a conspiracy among Bible translators to change the Bible or anything like that.
What happened here? Well, in order to explain it, I need to lay down some facts for you.
Fact #1 – The New Testament was originally written in Greek.
Fact #2 – During the Fourth Century a man named Jerome wrote the Vulgate, which is a version of the New Testament written in the Latin language.
Fact #3 – The OLDEST handwritten copies we have of the Latin Vulgate read like the New International Version, and the YOUNGER handwritten copies we have of the Latin Vulgate read like the King James Version.
Fact #4 – Every Greek copy we have of the New Testament that was written during or after the 14th century reads like the King James Version of the Bible, but every Greek copy that is older than 600 years reads like the New International Version.
Fact #5 – When the younger manuscripts disagree with the older manuscripts, our modern day Bible translators will trust the older ones -which were not available to the scholars who wrote the King James Version of the Bible – more than the younger ones.
This is why the more recent versions of the Bible are “missing” passages that were included in the King James Version of the Bible – our modern day scholars are giving the older manuscripts more authority than the younger ones.
I have one final thing to say about the relationship between the original manuscripts and our modern Bible translations. We also have to consider what can be called printing errors, which brings up one of my favorite stories about Bible translations.
Back when the Printing Press was first built, the words that were going to be printed on the paper had to be set in place by hand one letter at a time. As a result, the first 10 – 20 copies of the Bible made on a printing press contained a mistake.
The person who arranged the letters forget to put the word “Not” into the Ten Commandments, and the resulting text is known as “the Sinner’s Bible” which says “You Shall Steal, You Shall Kill, You Shall Commit Adultery, You Shall Take The Name of the LORD your God in vain.”
This is a true story. Today every copy of “The Sinner’s Bible” is currently owned by Museums.