& PRESERVATION OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT
The Purpose of This Paper
The Bible -- An Amazing Book
The Problem -- Variations Among Greek Manuscripts
The Facts -- A Simple Survey
The Majority Text
The Western Text
The Alexandrian Text
The Various Views -- How God Preserved the Text
The Critical View
The King James Only View
The Majority Text View
The Conclusions -- A Statement of our View
GREEK MANUSCRIPTS, BIBLE TRANSLATIONS, AND
PRESERVATION OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away."
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God shall stand forever."
"The Word of God cannot be broken."
Words marked by (§) are defined
in the glossary at the end of this paper.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS PAPER -- AN OVERVIEW
In all ages the reliability and accuracy of God's eternal Word have been questioned by heretics and unbelievers. Continual attempts through the ages have been made to destroy, corrupt, ban, burn, discredit, question, deny, and doubt God's Word. In spite of the opposition, God's Word lives on and the scoffers die.
Our day is no different. Liberals and other unbelievers are attempting to question, corrupt, and cast doubt on the integrity of God's unchanging Word.
The purpose of this paper is to explain in as simple way as
possible the attack being made in our day and to give reasons for
the position we hold to be the truth. Recommendations are also
made regarding various translations on the market.
THE BIBLE -- AN AMAZING BOOK
II Timothy 3:16 tells us that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God . . ." (literally, "God-breathed")
II Peter 1:19 tells us that the Word of God is authoritative and we "do well to take heed unto it."
II Peter 1:20 indicates that the scripture has only one interpretation and it does not "mean whatever we want it to mean."
II Peter 1:21 tells us that none of the Bible originated in the mind of man.
II Peter 1:21 also tells us that the scripture came from God Himself as the Holy Spirit of God moved upon holy men and revealed to them God's Word.
John 14:26, 16:12,13 reveal that God would send the Holy Spirit to help the inspired writers remember things Christ had spoken and to reveal things that He had not yet spoken.
II Peter 3:16 indicates that those who wrestle with the scripture and twist it to mean things different than God intended will be destroyed.
Matthew 5:19 indicates that every letter and letter ornaments are perfect in God's Word (the dots of the "i's" and the crosses of the "t's"). Compare Galatians 3:16.
Revelation 22:18,19 indicate that the curse of God will come
on any person who adds to or takes away from the words of the
The Bible is without question the most widely sold, widely read, and widely translated book in all human history. The Bible is the only book that has continued through the ages to be read, studied, and revered as much as when it was given.
The Greek New Testament is by far the most well attested document of all human history. Today there are more handwritten copies of the Greek New Testament in libraries around the world than any other book or document written prior to the invention of the printing press.
There are more than 5000 handwritten Greek manuscript portions--some dating to within 100 years of the death of the apostle John. There are over 9000 complete and incomplete manuscripts of early Latin, Syrian, Coptic, Arabic, Gothic and other language translations of the Greek New Testament.
What thinking person could doubt that God's Word--the
Bible--is the most important and significant book of all human
(For more information on this subject, please see the writer's
paper entitled, "Is the Bible Reliable?") [ Is the Bible
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THE PROBLEM--VARIATIONS AMONG GREEK MANUSCRIPTS
The New Testament was originally written in the common Greek language of Jesus' day while the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. There is little question concerning the accuracy and reliability of the Hebrew Old Testament in spite of the fact that it is much older than the Greek New Testament. Much of the Old Testament was given during a thousand year period between 1440 B.C. and 440 B.C. However God miraculously preserved the accuracy of the Old Testament text by putting it into the hearts of meticulous Jewish scribes to painstakingly copy the Bible through the ages--even counting the letters of various books to insure accuracy.
However the Lord chose not to preserve the Greek New Testament in the same manner. As will be pointed out later in this paper God has accurately preserved the Greek New Testament and there need be no doubt about the actual words God gave the apostles. As will be shown the Lord has preserved His Word through its accurate copying by thousands of Christian scribes dispersed throughout the world of that day.
The problem that liberal scholars like to emphasize is that there are variations between the various thousands of manuscripts. Most of these are of no significance; for example--misspelled words, changes in the order of adjacent words, words or lines accidentally left out while copying and other such common copying mistakes that are quickly and easily detected when the manuscripts are compared with each other. Even the liberal scholars agree that the types of variations among the manuscripts affect no question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice.
However, Satan uses these insignificant variations to shake
the faith of many sincere Christians and causes many others to be
hurt through needless division and misunderstanding. I am
convinced that the facts, when properly presented will greatly
bolster our faith in God's Word, not weaken it.
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THE FACTS--A SIMPLE SURVEY
As stated previously there are minor variations between the
thousands of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. A closer
look however reveals that these 5000 plus manuscripts fall
roughly into three groups.
The Majority Text §
The first group containing the vast majority of all the Greek manuscripts (80% to 90%) is widely known as the Majority Text. Among these 4000-plus manuscripts there is an amazing degree of conformity in spite of the fact that some of these vary in age by more than 1000 years. Unfortunately none of these manuscripts date earlier than 350 A.D., a fact that has caused many to reject its reliability.
However this fact does not mean that this text is not the true one for several reasons. First, some early church fathers dating before 350 A.D. use quotes similar to the Majority Text type indicating that this text was in existence. Second, most of the copies of the Greek New Testament before about 350 A.D. were on papyrus§ (see 2 John 12) and not vellum which was made from animal skins. Papyrus paper quickly deteriorates with use and age. Moist climates also increase its deterioration. Vellum was much more durable but much more expensive (more that $12 per page making the New Testament in vellum cost several hundred dollars).
According to common sense and backed by the reasoning of many
scholars, the absence of Majority Text manuscripts prior to 350
A.D. is probably more of an evidence in its favor rather than
against it. This is true since the most highly regarded
papyrus texts would be used more and would perish much quicker
than less trustworthy ones. This is true just as your
favorite Bible will wear out more rapidly than a version you
consult only occasionally.
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The Western Text §
This text type constitutes the majority for the remaining manuscripts. Although some of these manuscripts date very early, almost every scholar (not liberal and conservative) agree that this text type is marked by many corruptions.
In 1912 Kenyon said the Western text is "marked by many corruptions and additions. The difference between the Western Text and the Majority Text in the books of Luke and Acts is so great that one would come to the conclusion that Luke prepared two separate manuscripts."
In 1968, Metzger said that the Western Text is the result of the wild growth of an irreputable text. Klijer stated that the Western Text appears to be a combination of the written word and oral tradition.
Another strike against the Western Text is that there is a great deal of disagreement between the various manuscripts of this text.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the facts regarding this
text. First, it was apparently used and copied
by people who had a very low regard for the inspiration of
Scripture. Surely no God-fearing Christian would make deliberate
and wide-scale changes in the Bible. Second, it
reveals the truth that Satan was at work very early trying to
corrupt and pervert God's word. The apostle John probably saw
these heretics at work even in his lifetime giving rise to the
strong curse of Revelation 22:18,19 upon those who would add or
subtract from God's Word. Third, we must come to
the conclusion that age is no guarantee of purity. Just because a
manuscript appears to be old is not a guarantee that it is
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The Alexandrian Text §
The final text type is found primarily in two manuscripts--Vaticanus (B)§ and Sinaiticus ()§. Both of these manuscripts contain the whole New Testament and both date to the 4th century (300 A.D. to 400 A.D.). Neither of these manuscripts were discovered until the last half of the 1800's, although (B) is said to have been in the Vatican for many years. Photographic facsimiles were made of it in 1889.
By 1955 most scholars were in agreement that (B) is a recension§ (a manuscript that has arisen as a result of editing and revising). These two manuscripts are believed to have a common parent manuscript several times removed. Although (B) and () agree together more than they agree with the Majority Text they still have substantial disagreements between themselves. For example in the Book of Mark () differs from (B) 652 times whereas both differ over 1200 times from the Majority Text.
(), although professionally copied, apparently was not copied with care as there are 46 accidental omissions in the Gospels alone along with omissions on every page that were corrected by the original hand.
About 30 papyri (mostly fragmentary, containing small portions
of the New Testament) have been discovered dating earlier than
A.D.300. One of these--(p75)--contains readings very similar to
(B) and () than to
the Majority Text and in other places they agree with the
Majority Text against both (B) and ().
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The Rise of the Alexandrian Text
Due primarily to the influence of three well-known textual critics in the late 1800s, (B) and () have been catapulted to the forefront as being very authoritative. One of these--Tichendorf--was the one who discovered () in a monastery on Mount Sinai in 1859. His personal involvement with this discovery may explain his opinion that () is the most authoritative text available. Very few other scholars have shared this point of view.
The other two men--Westcott§ and Hort§--worked together on a project in the 1890s in which their goal was to reconstruct the original New Testament text. Their method was to look critically at all the available manuscripts and then decide where variations existed which they felt was the most accurate. This project caught the acclaim of the religious world in spite of the fact the Hort was probably not a Christian and certainly held a low view of inspiration. Westcott and Hort came to the opinion that (B) was the most authoritative of all Greek manuscripts. In places they have placed readings in critical text that appear in (B) but do not appear in one other Greek manuscript! In almost every place where (B) and () have agreed together against all other manuscripts they have chosen the (B) reading. This is similar to choosing the witness of two people against thousands.
Due primarily to the high esteem of the liberal§
scholars for the work of Westcott and
Hort, most Greek New Testaments published since 1900
have employed this "Critical
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THE VARIOUS VIEWS--HOW GOD HAS PRESERVED
The Critical Text View §
This view is held by all liberal theologians
as well as a number of neo-evangelical and some fundamentalist
scholars. This view states that the best way to determine the
words in the original manuscripts (called autographs) is to take
all available manuscripts and try to decide what reading God
would have used. To a person who believes in the preservation of
the very words and letters of the Bible this would require us to
believe several things:
1. God inspired the very letters of the scripture in the
original autographs then did not preserve them. And, He allowed
His Word to remain corrupted and hidden from man for nearly 1900
2. God has chosen to use editorial committees composed largely
of unbelieving scholars to reconstruct His Word. Many of the
decisions are admitted by the critics themselves to be uncertain
and subjective in nature. In the newest Critical Texts the
editors rate their degree of certainty about a reading. As an
example in the first 10 chapters of Matthew variant readings are
rated as follows: Very certain - 6 readings, Fairly certain - 26
readings, Not sure - 3 readings, Unsure - 3 readings.
3. We would have to say that almost no one ever copied the
truest texts of the Bible (since only two available manuscripts
are considered accurate) but tenaciously copied with astounding
conformity a corrupt text.
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The King James Only View
This view holds that only the English King James Version translated in A.D. 1611, contains the perfect Word of God. It also holds that Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are not authoritative and that translations done by missionaries into foreign languages should be done from the King James Version. Many would say that no translations should be done but foreigners should be taught to speak 17th century English.
This view is primarily propounded by a self-acclaimed scholar Peter Ruckman and held surprisingly by a number of fundamentalists. To hold this view one would have to believe the following:
1. That God obscured His Word for 1611 years until an English translation could be made and has now permanently preserved it in the King James Version.
2. That God helped translators to take faulty manuscripts and translate a perfect Bible.
3. That it is wrong to update the King James Version as the English language changes. (Most do not realize that our King James Bible has been updated 4 times--1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769--to modernize spelling, punctuation, make corrections, etc.).
4. That the obvious translation errors of the King James Version are not errors at all but are God's way of correcting the faulty text. (For example, translating "Easter" in Acts 12:4 instead of "Passover" as it should be.)
5. That no appeal should ever be made to the Greek or Hebrew text for clarification but only to the King James Version.
The Majority Text
This view believes that God has preserved His Word through a natural process of careful copying through the ages. It holds that the majority of the Greek manuscripts which agree together with astounding correspondence are the true text of the New Testament.
This view is held mostly by fundamental
Bible-believers. This view requires us to believe the
1. That God has preserved His Word accurate through all ages.
2. That God does not leave the preservation of His Word to the subjective decisions of liberal theologians who have a very low view of inspiration.
3. That inspiration extends only to the autographs§ and not to copyist translators but that normal reverent copying by hundreds of independent scribes would preserve His Word.
4. That "textual criticism§:" is necessary only to establish the Majority Text. This is a relatively simple non-subjective task in which the Majority Text manuscripts are compared and the reading of the majority of these is established.
CONCLUSIONS--A STATEMENT OF OUR VIEW
It is the view of this writer that the Majority Text is an
accurate representation of the original autographs. This view is
held for several reasons.
1. Liberal theologians always gravitate to the pole opposite the truth. They reject the Virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of scripture and all other fundamentals of the faith. Why should we expect that they should accidentally hold the truth on this subject?
One way to discern truth is to determine what the admitted liberals and infidels believe and then believe the opposite. Romans 8:7 says, The unsaved mind is at enmity with God and refuses to submit to God's law. How could any believer think that unsaved scholars could subjectively decide what God's Word says?
2. The Majority Text view most closely aligns with a fundamentalist's philosophy of how God would preserve His Word.
a. If God says "not one jot or one tittle shall in any wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled" then surely God meant to preserve His Word accurate through the ages.
b. The example of how God had put it into the hearts of the Masoretic scribes (the Jewish scribes) to painstakingly copy the Hebrew Old Testament with almost complete perfection for centuries would indicate that he would also desire to do the same for the New Testament.
c. This view conforms with the fundamentalist's doctrine of inspiration and transmission:
1) that every word in the original documents was perfect,
2) that inspiration does not extend to the copying, but
3) that God has preserved His word accurate through the ages. Therefore we must also believe that it was copied accurately through the ages.
d. The Lord would never allow a system of transmission that depended on men to disobey His Word. He says a curse will come on anyone who adds to or takes away from His Word. Yet this is the very activity that many say is necessary to maintain the purity of the text.
Therefore, it is the position of this writer
that true Bible-believing people should adhere to reverent
translations of the Bible that use the Majority Text of the Greek
New Testament as their basis.
 A text
type represented by two manuscripts of the Greek New Testament--Codex
Vaticanus and Codex Sinainiticus. A few
papyri also originating around the North African city of
Alexandria have a similar text. This text forms the basis of most
Critical Editions of the New Testament.
original documents upon which the Apostles and Prophets recorded
the very Words of God. Being recorded on papyrus, they have long
since perished with use and age.
An edition of the Greek New Testament which has come as a result
of editors taking all available manuscripts and then weaving them
into one final product based on their subjective opinions.
Erastmus A sixteenth
century scholar who is known for producing the "Textus
Receptus"--meaning "the Received Text." (See below for
Hort A very influential
liberal textual critic of the 1890s who believed that Codex Vaticanus was the
most authoritative of all Greek manuscripts.
who reject the basic fundamentals of the faith such as the:
inspiration of scripture, deity of Christ, virgin birth, miracles
of the Bible, need for the new birth, reality of hell, etc.
The text of the Greek New Testament represented by over 80% of
the extant (available) hand written Greek manuscripts. These
4,000 plus manuscripts are of amazing conformity with very few
variations between them in spite of age differences in cases of
over 1,000 years.
A family of manuscripts is a group of manuscripts that apparently
originated from a single parent manuscript.
Nestle's Text A
well known edition of the Critical Text of the Greek New
Testament done in 1898 based on Wescott and Hort's work.
Papyri Very old
fragments of papyrus manuscripts that have been primarily found
in North Africa due to the preserving ability of dry hot weather.
Papyrus paper was made from the papyrus plant and was the common
writing material of the New Testament age. They are very fragile
and perish quickly with use and age.
edition of the Greek New Testament made by the editing of a
textual critic. Vaticanus
are considered by most to be early recentions.
[ ] A
fourth century codex of the New Testament found by a textual
critic named Tichendorf in 1859 in a monastery on Mount Sinai.
The work of textual critics in which they try to reconstruct the
actual words of the autographs.
Textus Receptus The Greek text that formed the basis of the King James Version in 1611. This complete manuscript of the Greek Bible was put together by Erastmus in 1515-16 AD from 6 partial manuscripts of the New Testament. These 6 manuscripts were of the majority text type and thus the resulting manuscript was basically the Majority Text. However, because he did not have more than two manuscripts of any one portion of the New Testament and in many cases only one, the Textus Receptus differs slightly from the Majority Text as a whole in a few minor places.
By far the most significant difference occurs in 1 John 5. It
is generally agreed that a portion of 1 John 5:7-8 was inserted
by Erastmus in the Textus Receptus under pressure from the Roman
Catholic Church. No other Greek manuscripts prior to his work
contain the inserted words.
term for the manner in which the Bible was passed down to us
through the ages.
Vaticanus[ ] A fourth
century codex of the Greek New Testament said to have been in the
Vatican for years but remained unknown until 1889 when
photographic facimilies of it were produced and distributed. By
1955 most scholars agreed that [ ] itself was a recention and not
a manuscript descending without deliberate editing from the
autograph. It was considered by Westcott and Hort to be the most
accurate Greek text available.
Westcott A textual
critic of the 1890s. (See Hort.)
Western Text A large text family admitted by most to have been corrupted very early. This family is of little value in textual criticism.
Written at Truth Baptist Church, 1981-1982.