[Part 1], [Part 2], [Part 3], [Part 4], [Part 5], [Part 6], [Part 7], [Appendix]

Rebuttal to Johnny Bravo's Article

"Christian Scholars refuting the status of the NT as an inspired scripture"

(Part 5)

The following is Dr. James D. Price's response to Bravo's appeal to the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. My comments follow right after:

BRAVO: "The original copies of the NT books have, of course, long since disappeared. This fact should not cause surprise. In the first place, they were written on papyrus, a very fragile and perishable material. In the second place, and probably of even more importance, the original copies of the NT books were not looked upon as scripture by those of the early Christian communities." [George Arthur Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, Volume 1, pp. 599 (Under Text NT)]


The Interpreter's Bible was written by skeptical critics like Till. But the first statement above is true because all ancient literature suffered the same fate. We are blessed by what has survived. However, the statement "the original copies of the NT books were not looked upon as scripture by those of the early Christian communities" is not true. It is a supposition not consistent with the writings of the early Christian community. All the ancient Christian literature (outside of the NT) indicates that the early Christian community regarded the NT books as divinely inspired and authoritative like the OT. Statements in the NT even indicate that this was true among the apostolic church.

1 Timothy 5:18 "For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward."

The second quotation is not from the OT, but contains the words of Jesus found in the Gospels and regarded as Scripture.

2 Peter 3:16 "As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction."

Here Peter put the letters of Paul on the same par with the OT Scripture.

"It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform." [George Arthur Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, Volume 4, 1962 (1996 Print), Abingdon Press, Nashville, pp. 594-595 (Under Text, NT).]


The wording here is very misleading. The MS (manuscript) tradition consists of hundreds of hand written copies of the Biblical books. There are over 2,500 ancient manuscript copies of the Gospels. So it would be a rare thing to expect that every one of the 2,500 copies would contain a perfect reproduction of any sentence. That's true because ancient scribes, like modern ones, were inclined to miscopy, misspell, and to otherwise make minor copying mistakes. However, the consensus among so many copies makes it a rare thing not to find a sentence in which the original wording is in significant doubt.

"THE PROBLEM. The NT is now known, whole or in part, in nearly five thousand Greek MSS alone. Every one of these handwritten copies differ from every other one. In addition to these Greek MSS, the NT has been preserved in more than ten thousand MSS of the early versions and in thousands of quotations of the Church Fathers. These MSS of the versions and quotations of the Church Fathers differ from one another just as widely as do the Greek MSS. Only a fraction of this great mass of material has been fully collated and carefully studied. Until this task is completed, the uncertainty regarding the text of the NT will remain.


The wording again is misleading. It is true that no two ancient manuscripts are identical, so all disagree to some extent. But this should not be magnified beyond its significance. What is important is that only a relatively small portion of the text is affected by variations. The manuscripts agree with one another exceedingly more than they disagree, and the consensus among the manuscripts witnesses to the original wording in the vast majority of the places of variation.

It has been estimated that these MSS and quotations differ among themselves between 150,000 and 250,000 times. The actual figure is, perhaps, much higher. A study of 150 Greek MSS of the Gospel of Luke has revealed more than 30,000 different readings. It is true, of course, that the addition of the readings from another 150 MSS of Luke would not add another 30,000 readings to the list. But each MS studied does add substantially to the list of variants. It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform.


Again the wording is misleading and exaggerating. Now let's suppose that 250,000 variants happened to be the correct number (no one has ever counted them all). Then if every one of the 5,000 manuscripts were uniquely different from all the others, that would leave 250,000 / 5,000 = 50 variants per manuscripts. However, that isn't the case. While no two manuscripts are identical, none are uniquely different—they share many of the same readings. Studies indicate that the manuscripts tend to belong to one of four possible families of manuscripts. This means that if every place of variation had four possible readings, then there would be about 50 x 4 = 200 places of variation in any given manuscript. But the Greek NT contains about 140,745 words, so if any given manuscript has about 200 places of variation, then the text of that manuscript is certain about 99.86% of the time. Actually that's an oversimplification. The consensus of the manuscripts provides about 95% of the text with certainty. Only about 5% of the text has some degree of uncertainty, and a much smaller percentage has significant uncertainty. The Interpreter's Bible, and the enemies of the Bible in general, greatly exaggerate the problem, and use very big numbers like that to give a false impression.

Many thousands of these different readings are variants in orthography or grammar or style and however effect upon the meaning of the text. But there are many thousands which have a definite effect upon the meaning of the text. It is true that not one of these variant readings affects the substance of Christian dogma. It is equally true that many of them do have theological significance and were introduced into the text intentionally. It may not, e.g., affect the substance of Christian dogma to accept the reading "Jacob the father of Joseph, and Joseph (to whom the virgin Mary was betrothed) the father of Jesus who is called 'Christ'" (Matt. 1:16), as does the Sinaitic Syriac; but it gives rise to a theological problem.


Again the numbers are exaggerated. While a theologically significant variant reading may exist in a given manuscript group or ancient translation, it rarely has sufficient consensus to commend it as original.

It has been said that the great majority of the variant readings in the text of the NT arose before the books of the NT were canonized and that after those books were canonized, they were very carefully copied because they were scripture. This, however, is far from being the case.

It is true, of course, that many variants arose in the very earliest period. There is no reason to suppose, e.g., that the first person who ever made a copy of the autograph of the Gospel of Luke did not change his copy to conform to the particular tradition with which he was familiar. But he was under no compulsion to do so. Once the Gospel of Luke had become scripture, however, the picture was changed completely. Then the copyist was under compulsion to change his copy, to correct it. Because it was scripture, it had to be right." [George Arthur Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, Volume 4, 1962 (1996 Print), Abingdon Press, Nashville, pp. 594-595 (Under Text, NT).]


This also is based on the assumption that the early church didn't view the NT books as inspired and canonical. This is contrary to the evidence. There is no reason to doubt that the original New Testament books were regarded as Scripture from the beginning. This doesn't mean that there was never any early discussion of canonicity, or even debate. But a discussion or debate doesn't necessarily mean that the doctrine was evolving. It really indicates that the doctrine was in place and the church was clarifying its details.

Many thousands of the variants which are found in the MSS of the NT were put there deliberately. They are not merely the result of error or of careless handling of the text. Many were created for theological or dogmatic reasons (even though they may not affect the substance of Christian dogma). It is because the books of the NT are religious books, sacred books, canonical books, that they were changed to conform to what the copyist believed to be the true reading. His interest was not in the "original reading but in the "true reading." This is precisely the attitude toward the NT which prevailed from the earliest times to the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the invention of printing. The thousands of Greek MSS, MSS of the versions, and quotations of the Church Fathers provide the source for our knowledge of the earliest or original text of the NT and of the history of the transmission of that text before the invention of printing." [George Arthur Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, Volume 4, 1962 (1996 Print), Abingdon Press, Nashville, pp. 594-595 (Under Text, NT).]


Again the numbers are exaggerated. It's interesting that the author of that article seems to have special insight to be able to identify which readings were altered deliberately. It is likely that a few may have been introduced deliberately, but thousands? Not very likely. A colleague of mine, a Greek professor, told me a few years ago that he had examined every variant reading recorded in the United Bible Society's critical Greek New Testament. He reported that not one variation had any significant effect on orthodox doctrine, except John 5:4 which may affect the doctrine of angelology.

I hope this helps.

Yours in Christ's Service,

James D. Price
Prof. of Hebrew and OT
Temple Baptist Seminary
Chattanooga, TN 37404

Christian Apologist Norman Geisler explains why the claim that 200,000 variants exist can be misleading:

"There is widespread misunderstanding among critics about ‘errors’ in the biblical manuscripts. Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. First of all, these are not ‘errors’ but variant readings, THE VAST MAJORITY OF WHICH ARE STRICTLY GRAMMATICAL. Second, these readings are spread throughout the more than 5300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter in one verse in 2000 manuscripts is counted as 2000 ‘errors.’ Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated THAT ONLY ONE IN SIXTY OF THESE VARIANTS HAVE SIGNIFICANCE. This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure. Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage,ONLY FIFTY WERE OF REAL SIGINIFICANCE, AND NOT EVEN ONE AFFECTED ‘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’ (Schaff, 177)

"Most other ancient books are not so well authenticated. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger estimated that the Mahabharata of Hinduism is copied with only about 90 percent accuracy and Homer’s Illiad with about 95 percent. By comparison, HE ESTIMATED THE NEW TESTAMENT IS ABOUT 99.5 PERCENT..." Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI; 1999], pp. 532-533; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Renowned NT scholar Craig L. Blomberg contrasts the NT MSS with the other manuscripts of antiquity and concludes:

By contrast, the textual evidence for the New Testament from the first centuries after it was written is staggering. Scholars of almost every theological stripe agree that Christian scribes copied the New Testament with extraordinary care, matched only by the accuracy of the Jewish scribes copying the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament). In the original Greek alone, more than five thousand manuscripts or manuscript fragments of portions of the New Testament have been preserved from the centuries during the time which the Bible was copied by hand. The oldest of these is a scrap of papyrus designated P52 that contains parts of John 18:31-33 and 37-38 and dates from the first third of the second century A.D., no more than forty years after John's Gospel was first written in the 90s. More than thirty papyri date from the late second through early third centuries. Some of these contain large portions of entire NewTestament books. One of these covers most of the Gospels and Acts (P45); another most of the letters of Paul (P46). Four very reliable and nearly complete New Testaments date from the fourth (aleph and B) and fifth centuries (A and C).

All kinds of minor variations distinguish these manuscripts from one another, but THE VAST MAJORITY of these variations involve mere changes in spelling, grammar, and style, or accidental omissions or duplications of letters, words, or phrases. Only about four hundred (less than one per page in an average English translation) have any significant bearing on the meaning of the passage at hand, and the most important variations are usually noted in the footnotes of modern-language translations of the Bible. The only textual variants that affect more than a sentence or two (and most affect only individual words or phrases) are John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Neither of these passages very likely reflects what John or Mark originally wrote, though the story in John - about the woman caught in adultery - still stands a farily good chance of being historically accurate. But overall, 97 to 99 percent of the original Greek New Testament can be reconstructed BEYOND ANY REASONABLE DOUBT. Moreover, no Christian doctrine is founded solely, or even primarily, on any textually disputed passage.

Thus even the most liberal members of the Jesus Seminar agree with very conservative, evangelical scholars that there is no historical evidence whatsoever to support the claims of some modern-day Mormons or Muslims that the text of the New Testament became so corrupted over the centuries that we have no way of being sure what the original contained. These claims in fact contradict the official teachings of both religions. Joseph Smith's declarations, enshrined in the distinctive, additional Scriptures of the Latter-day Saints, and Islam's holy book, the Qur'an, both refer to the Bible as the Word of God and strongly support the accuracy of its contents, while stopping short of affirming full-fledged inerrancy. But the unofficial teachings of many leaders in both movements have, unjustifiably, often called this into question. (Blomberg, Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions [Baker Academic, A Division of Baker Book House CO, Grand Rapids, MI 2004: ISBN- 0-8010-2747-0], pp. 22-23; capital emphasis ours)

B. F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort, the editors of The New Testament in Original Greek, also commented:

"If comparative trivialities such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like are set aside, the works in our opinion still subject to doubt CAN HARDLY AMOUNT TO MORE THAN A THOUSANDTH PART OF THE WHOLE NEW TESTAMENT." (B.F. Westcott, and F.J.A. Hort, eds., New Testament in Original Greek, 1881, vol. II, 2; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The late NT scholar F.F. Bruce wrote:

The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical author, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, 5th rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988], p. 15; bold emphasis ours)

Martin Hengel, a renowned New Testament scholar and Early Judaism Emeritus Professor from the University of Tübingen, states:

... The text of the Gospels IS THE BEST TRANSMITTED IN THE WHOLE OF ANTIQUITY; about six Gospel papyri go back to the period around 200 or to the second century AD, and a further nineteen to the third century; of course most of them are only small fragments, but some contain larger parts of the text. Together with the great uncials since the fourth century, the numerous later manuscripts, and the early translations, the attestation of the early text IS SO STRONG that practically al the secondary alterations to the text and interpolations can be picked up in the UNBELIEVABLY MULTIPLE TEXTUAL TRADITION. It is therefore extremely rare for conjectures or the removal of hypothetical glosses to be necessary.

The text of the earliest Gospel 'according to Mark', which can be dated quite precisely to around the year AD 69/70, and which was first used between around AD 75-80 by Luke and then around 90-100 by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, was not demonstrably very different from the form of the text which we possess in the twenty-seventh revised edition of Nestle/Aland 1993. The hypothesis of an 'original Mark' (Ur-Mark or Proto-Mark), or of a later Deutero-Mark, occasioned by the so-called 'minor agreements' between Luke and Matthew against Mark, which has been put forward time and again, has thus proved quite unnecessary. The textual tradition, which despite countless variants IS RELATIVELY RELIABLE, gives no occasion for such conjectures... It would be completely misleading on the basis of this fact to want to claim that we may no longer speak of an 'original text' in the New Testament generally; rather we must speak initially of an almost 'chaotic' diversity to which order was first brought in an 'orthodox' way, i.e. a violent way, by the process of canonization in the mainstream church. Such a judgment would be far too one-sided...

The relative consistency of the Gospel text despite all the appearances of its running wild up to the end of the second century may be connected with constant reading in worship, which on the whole REQUIRED FIXED FORMS of text. Liturgical usage is more 'conservative'; the same goes for the scribal customs in the early Christian scriptoria. The difference at precisely this point from the often romance-like apocryphal literature, say the apostolic acts, but also the Gospel of Thomas, in which the Greek fragments and the Coptic translation are often substantially different, IS STRIKING. Once again: NO ANCIENT TEXT IS AS WELL ATTESTED AS THE GOSPELS. (Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, translated by John Bowden from the German [Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 2000], pp. 28-31; underline and capital emphasis ours)

One Evangelical text critic and professor named Dr. Maurice Robinson was asked how he would defend his position that the NT is identical to the autographs we have today. Here is how he responded:

8. How would you defend your view that we now have the New Testament in the original Greek against the agnostic position that we cannot get back to the original?

I dealt with this issue in my ETS 2005 paper, "The Integrity of the Early New Testament Text: A Collation-based Comparison". In general, any claim that suggests absence of the physical autograph equals absence of textual reliability or biblical authority is bogus. The manuscript copies we possess remain substantially identical to the autographs. As demonstrated in my paper, the earliest extant (non-Byzantine) papyri compared against the text of Byzantine minuscule mss copied a thousand years later share a verbal identity approximating 92% - including orthographic and non-translatable differences. With such a large percentage of common text, even over more than a millennium of transmission, it is clear that the autograph text substantially has been preserved, even among disparate copies representing quite different textual traditions. On the same principle, dispute hardly should arise as to whether the autograph text similarly was preserved during the much shorter period between autograph composition and the earliest extant mss. Transmissional observations suggest an equally reliable transmissional history during the short period from which no evidence exists. In addition, all doctrinal essentials are clearly present within the ca. 92% average base text; no doctrine is established or negated within the remaining ca. 8% where differences occur. Also, most variants are quite minor and generally stylistic in nature. If the orthographic, non-translatable, and minor stylistic variants are excluded, the overall agreement among the earliest and latest mss rises substantially. The existing documents accurately represent the autographs in all essential points. The text we now possess is sufficient and substantial for establishing and maintaining all doctrinal positions held within orthodox Christianity, skeptics and postmodernists such as Ehrman, Epp, Parker, or the media to the contrary. (David Alan Black, Interview with Maurice Robinson (Part 2); source)

Dr. Thomas Holland, a KJV only advocate, comments on scribal corruptions as well as the Interpreter's claim that no NT MSS are alike. In his critique of Bob Sheehan's book, Holland states:

After his introduction, Sheehan states that no two manuscripts are 100% alike.

"The problem for the student of the text does not end with the volume of material to be considered. In addition he has to face the fact that no two copies of this vast number of manuscripts (he lists about 5338) are identical" (p.2).

Sheehan then accounts for this by listing several possible reasons for textual variants (p.3).

He is correct in stating that it is hard to find whole manuscripts which are 100% identical. BUT HE IS INCORRECT IN STATING THAT NONE ARE ALIKE. For example, P64 and P67 ARE IDENTICAL causing some to list them as the same manuscript. Also, we must remember that a large number of the manuscripts consist of nothing but fragments, and that a great many of the manuscripts are only portions of the New Testament (NT). So, it is not "5338 Greek manuscripts" (p. 2) of the whole NT. Rather, it is thousands of manuscripts which account for the NT as a whole with many places receiving greater attestation, while other places have few attestations...

As to the accounting of the variants found among the manuscripts, some things should be noted. First, Sheehan lists various possible types of scribal errors without providing for the possibility that some of the differences were deliberate. When one considers the heretical doctrines of Tatian, it is hard to say that his harmony of the Gospels is without some doctrinal corruptions. In fact, many early Christians rejected it because they considered it impure. The same is true of Marcion, who was noted for omitting sections from the Gospel of Luke. Thus, some manuscripts omit the physical resurrection of Jesus found in Luke 24:40 because Marcion denied this truth based on his Gnostic belief that "the Christ" rose from the dead, but Jesus did not. Nor, for that matter, do most who support modern textual criticism comment on the fact that many of the early Egyptian manuscripts were discovered with the Gnostic Gospels, showing some link between the two. (For more examples, please see my MSS Evidence online class: Lesson 4).

Second, Biblical preservation does not call for manuscripts to be inerrant. The manuscripts are simply witnesses to the existence of this or that reading at a given time. Biblical preservation teaches that in each generation there was (and is) the perfect inerrant word of God; thus, we have God's inerrant word today. We no more need perfectly preserved manuscripts to attest to this than we do the original autographs. The fact that God said He would keep and preserve His Word is evidence enough (Psalm 12:6-7). The manuscripts are only witnesses in the courtroom of debate that God has done as He promised. They are not the preserved words themselves, they are witnesses to the account that the preserved word existed.

Third, Sheehan failed to note the amount of agreement within the Byzantine textual line as opposed to the amount of disagreement within the Alexandrian textual line. He does discuss the "97% agreement," which I will reference later. But it should be noted that the Byzantine textual line, which accounts for the vast majority of the existing Greek manuscripts, has a greater percentage of agreement throughout its whole than does the Alexandrian textual line. The Alexandrian line, which has fewer witnesses than the Byzantine, is notorious for its textual variations in both degree and number. If harmony is a factor, the Byzantine textual line is by far more congruent than any other textual line. (Source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

We therefore see that not only are there MSS that are identical, but there is actually a higher degree of uniformity amongst the Byzantine textual line, about 97%, as opposed to the Alexandrian textual tradition. More on the Byzantine textual tradition later. Holland also agrees that it was the heretics, not orthodox believers, who were trying to corrupt the scriptures in order to agree with their doctrinal perversions.

The following quotes are taken and adapted from David T. King’s monumental work, Holy Scriptures: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume I: A Biblical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura (Christian Resources, Inc., October 2001, ISBN 1893531023), pp. 154-157. All emphasis is the author’s unless noted otherwise:

Carl F.H. Henry stated in regard to the OT MSS:

... these copies may be said to be infallible in that these extant derivatives of the autographs do not corrupt the original content but convey the truth of revelation in reliable verbal form, and infallibly lead the penitent reader to salvation. Jesus of Nazareth regarded the Old Testament copies of his day so approximate to and identical with the prophetic writings that he rebuked the religious leaders with the warning, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures’ (Matt. 22:29, KJV), and appealed to the Word of God as authoritative in its objective written form of the then-existing scrolls.

Henry then says in regard to the NT:

F.J.A. Hort’s verdict remains timely, however, that ‘for practical purposes in the case of the New Testament, critics have been successful in restoring the [copies] to within 99.9% accuracy’ and that ‘only about one word in every thousand has upon it substantial variation supported by such evidence as to call out the efforts of the critic in deciding the readings.’ According to Joseph P. Free this is the equivalent of about a half page in a five hundred page New Testament. And [F.F.] Bruce writes that ‘the variant readings about which any doubt remains ... affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice.’ Whatever uncertainties copying has contributed, the Bible remains virtually unchanged and its teaching undimmed. The text of the Old and New Testaments alike has been preserved even in the copies in a remarkably pure form. Not a single article of faith, not a single moral precept is in doubt.

Bruce M. Metzger writes:

... the overwhelming majority of such variant readings involve inconsequential details, such as alternative spellings, order of words, and interchange of synonyms. In these cases, as well as in the relatively few instances involving the substance of the record, scholars apply the techniques of textual criticism in order to determine with more or less probability what the original wording was. In any event, no doctrine of the Christian faith depends solely upon a passage tat is textually uncertain.

Roger Nicole states:

We have ample reasons to be grateful for the marvelous state of conservation of the text of Scripture: the New Testament possesses a degree of certainty no doubt unequaled by any other ancient text transmitted to us by manuscript.

Moises Silva remarks:

When it comes to virtually every issue of substance, we are as certain as it is possible to be regarding what the autographs (originals) said.

J. Harold Greenlee observes:

In the NT and in other ancient literature as well, there is no question concerning the reading of most of the words. Textual criticism needs to operate in only a limited portion of the text. When one is engaged in this study, and the number and importance of the variants are made the center of attention, it is well to remember that the main body of the text and its general sense are left untouched and that textual criticism engages in turning a magnifying glass upon some of the details.

Here is F.F. Bruce again:

By the ‘singular providence of’ God, the text of Scripture has come down to us in such substantial purity that even the most uncritical edition of the Hebrew and Greek, or the most incompetent (or even the most tendentious) translation of such an edition, cannot effectively obscure its essential message or neutralize its saving power.

G.L. Prestige noted:

When the Bible has been subjected to a critical examination more severe than has been applied to any other body of literary material, the historical facts on which the Gospel rests stand out sharp and clear.

We conclude this section of citations taken from the work of David King with his quote of John Steinmueller:

In spite of the large number of variant readings, the Greek text has reached us substantially uncorrupted ... Since, however, the greater part of the text shows perfect uniformity, we can say with Westcott and Hort that seven-eighths of the Greek New Testament is critically certain. Of the remaining one-eighth many of the variant readings concern the same word or phrase, and most of these readings consist merely in changes of spelling or particles, in the order of words, in grammatical differences and the usage of synonyms, or in the conscious or unconscious faults of copyists. However, all of these are immaterial changes, which do not obscure the meaning of the text. Of the variants which remain, there are hardly 200 which affect the meaning of the text, and of these only 15 are of major importance. Yet, these and the other variants neither add to or detract from a single dogma of the Church.

With these facts in mind, we can reach a genuine appraisal of the Greek text of the New Testament. No other book has been copied so diligently and quoted so frequently in ancient times. The greater number of MSS., their variety and independence, the greater must be of the value of those readings which display harmony. Hence, where biblical MSS. agree, no other book in the world possesses such certainty as to its critical value. In regard to the readings where the MSS. disagree, critical scholars have reduced the question of doubtful readings to the minimum. The Greek New Testament is, therefore, not only substantially correct, but even in readings of secondary importance the variations are inconsequential.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible writes:

Debates have raged within the churches with regard to the reliability of this biblical text in its various forms. For our purposes, the Bible can be said to be reliable if it can be reasonably claimed that its contents as preserved through the centuries are, in substance, what the original writers spoke and said.

None of the original writings is likely to have survived, although some manuscripts are now available that date no later than a few decades after the time of the original writing. In light of such a long period of writing, copying, and editing, do contemporary readers have reason to believe that the biblical translation they read and study provides them with a reasonable approximation of the original writings?

The CONSENSUS OF BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP is that readers DO INDEED HAVE REASON to accept current translations of the Bible AS CLOSE APPROXIMATIONS TO WHAT THE BIBLICAL AUTHORS SAID AND WROTE. Contemporary translators of the Bible work from published critical or scholarly editions of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text. These critical editions are based upon centuries of study of the actual manuscripts of the biblical books, collected and preserved in libraries, museums, and other repositories around the world. Most of the manuscripts are of portions of the Bible, but several are available that contain (or once contained) the entire Bible in Greek (OT and NT and much of the Apocrypha). A few medieval manuscripts of the entire Hebrew Bible/OT exist. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a large collection of additional manuscripts of the OT is available to compare with later Hebrew manuscripts, offering further confirmation of the general reliability of our biblical text ...

There were and are variations, however. Other manuscripts found in the caves of the Dead Sea area differ considerably from the medieval biblical codices. Scholars through the centuries have noted the differences between the medieval Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible and the text that lies behind the Geek translations made in Egypt by the 2nd cent. BCE, known as the Septuagint (LXX). Codices of the entire Hebrew Bible in Greek translation have survived dating to the late 4th and the early 5th cents. CE, providing Greek witnesses about 600 years older than the medieval Hebrew codices. Some of the Dead Sea manuscripts contain a Hebrew text close to the Hebrew underlying various parts of these ancient Greek codices. Moreover, other Dead Sea copies have a text that differs from both the medieval Hebrew and the LXX text, a phenomenon that has led some scholars to propose that there once existed a fixed text of the Hebrew Scriptures in Egypt, from which our Greek LXX tradition stems, another fixed text developed in Babylonia, from which the medieval Hebrew tradition comes, and a third text, perhaps not quite so firmly fixed, developed in Israel/Palestine. Other scholars prefer to think of a single fixed text of the Hebrew Scriptures, completed no later than the 2nd cent. BCE, with the text traditions of Egypt, Babylonia, and Israel/Palestine preserving variations from that single text. In any event, hundreds of different biblical manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts from the Dead Sea caves NOW ATTEST THE ANTIQUITY AND GENERAL RELIABLILITY OF BOTH THE LATER GREEK AND HEBREW COPIES OF THE OT ...

Hundreds of manuscripts of the NT and of portions of its have survived from early centuries. The text of the NT differs in a number of ways among these manuscripts, but the differences (for example, the several endings of the Gospel of Mark) ARE MINOR. THE NT TEXT IS EXTREMELY WELL SECURED FROM EARLY TIMES ...

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF BIBLICAL SCHOLARS HAVE WORKED FOR CENTURIES to examine and evaluate the received text of the OT, the Apocrypha, and the NT. The discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscript findings have demonstrated over and over again that the Jewish and Christian scholars who for centuries copied and passed along the documents that we call the Bible DID SO FAITHFULLY AND WELL. It remains true that we almost certainly do not have a single manuscript or portion of manuscript that is the original writing of the document in question, but it is equally true that scholars working today on the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of the Bible have at their disposal all of the needed resources (critically edited texts, concordances, dictionaries, commentaries, and special studies) for offering a sound translation of any portion of the Bible. There remain terms and texts that are still a mystery (the meaning of the Hebrew term "Selah" in the psalms, for example), but their number diminishes with each generation of biblical scholars. (The New Interpreter’s Bible - New Revised Standard Version With The Apocrypha [Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2003], pp. 2243-2245, 2247; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Finally, we end here with the more balanced and accurate comments of the Interpreter's One-Volume Bible, Abingdon Press-Nashville, 1971. Regarding the extant Greek NT MSS and their textual variants, the volume states:

... The very magnitude of the Greek evidence complicates the textual problem. There are nearly 5,000 Greek MSS and thousands of biblical quotations in the writings of the church fathers- A TRANSMISSION HISTORY MORE INTRICATE THAN FOR ANY OTHER ANCIENT DOCUMENTS. Early in the 20th cent. Hermann von Soden printed evidence on 45,000 NT variants. To put this in proper perspective, however, we should note THAT MANY OF THESE ARE OF A MINOR NATURE, and NO DENOMINATIONAL DOGMAS seem to have been revamped because of textual criticism. Indeed, the very amount of evidence SHOWS THE CONCERN OF THE CHRISTIANS WITH THE TRANSMISSION OF THE SACRED TEXT. By contrast the poems of Catullas and Tacitus' Annals are preserved IN ONLY ONE LATIN MS EACH, and even of Homer's Odyssey there are only 100 MSS. Plato is extant chiefly in 13TH-cent. MSS, and few classical authors are preserved in MSS copied before 1000, BUT THE NT UNCIALS GO BACK TO THE 4TH AND 3RD CENTS. (p. 1231; bold and capital emphasis ours)


In all this we need to recognize THE BASIC TRUSTWORTHINESS OF OUR BIBLE TEXT compared with other documents transmitted from antiquity... (p. 1236; bold and capital emphasis ours)

This concludes this section. More rebuttals to follow shortly, Lord Jesus willing.

Sam Shamoun

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