Our final characteristic is the most revealing. It says that the Word of God has been divinely preserved and has had an active role within the church throughout every age. Before we delve into this discussion, it is necessary to gain a little background information.
When looking into the history of the biblical text, we must be aware that the original manuscripts were written in the common languages of their day. Basically, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The first manuscripts of the Bible, written by the inspired authors, are no longer in existence. Only copies of copies remain as witnesses to their original words. When these copies are compared with one another, several hundred thousand differences can be noted. Most of the variants are misspellings or other obvious errors 7, but thousands of other variants must be closely evaluated.
To help evaluate variant readings, scholars have divided the manuscripts into text-types, i.e., groups of manuscripts containing similar readings. Throughout the years, scholars have examined the existing manuscripts, considered their various readings, and have constructed their own Greek or Hebrew text which they believe accurately represents the readings of the original manuscripts.
When a translation is to be produced, scholars either choose existing Greek and Hebrew texts from which to translate, or they formulate their own text.
The text of the Old Testament has been essentially settled 8 since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament text, however, has been the cause of much heated debate. For the past hundred years there has been a rivalry between two Greek texts—the Received Text9 and the Critical Text. 10
The Received Text was derived primarily from the Byzantine text-type and includes texts published by Erasmus, Stephens, Beza, and Elzevir. The New Testament of the King James Version is a translation of this Greek text.
The Critical Text is derived primarily from the Alexandrian text-type and includes such published texts as the United Bible Society, Nestle-Aland, and Westcott-Hort. The New
Testaments of most modern versions such as the RSV, TEV, NEB, and NASB are translated from these critical texts.
A Bible version is considered only as good as the text from which it is translated. 11 Therefore we must determine which Greek text is superior—the Received Text or the Critical Text. This may sound like an impossible task for someone without a background in textual criticism. But by following the biblical teaching of preservation, we will not find it difficult. The preferred Greek text must be one which has played an active role within the church throughout every age.
The Critical Text has received wide acclaim within the past hundred years, as evidenced by the large number of Bible versions translated from it. As stated above, its readings are largely influenced by the Alexandrian line of manuscripts (or text-type). Out of over 5,000 Greek manuscripts in existence, only a small handful (often less than ten) contain this text-type. 12 However, prominent among these few are two manuscripts which many scholars value more highly than most other manuscripts. They are called Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and they date a little over 200 years from the original writings. 13
Sinaiticus was discovered in 1844 by Constantine Tischendorf while visiting St. Catherine, a monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai. He found 43 leaves of it in a basket just before it was to be burned. 14 Several years later he acquired the remainder of the leaves from the monastery, and by 1862 he had published the complete manuscript.
Vaticanus' history is not as dramatic as Sinaiticus. Pope Nicholas V brought it to the Vatican in 1448.15 For hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church guarded it so closely that no Protestant scholar of ability was allowed to study it for any length of time. 16 Those who were granted permission to look at the manuscript were searched to assure they didn't have paper or ink. Then if they were caught looking too closely at any passage, two attendants would snatch the manuscript from them! 17 In 1866, however, the Vatican finally allowed Constantine Tischendorf, under supervision, to copy the manuscript. In 1867 he published it.
Realizing that these old manuscripts contained significantly different readings than those of the Received Text, Tischendorf was jubilant. He believed that his efforts had at last restored the inspired Word of God to mankind after having been lost for 1,500 years.
In Tischendorf's time, the New Testament had been in existence for approximately 1,700 years. The Alexandrian Text had been out of circulation for 1,500 of these years. If the Alexandrian Text is the pure form of the New Testament text, then it would mean that the church was deprived of its benefits for 88 percent of the time since it was written! Such an idea is strangely out of step with the biblical description of the inspired Word of God. The Scriptures have been alive and abiding in God's church throughout the ages. They have never been lost, only to be discovered in a wastepaper basket or lying on a forgotten shelf in the Vatican. In addition, the "benefits" of the Alexandrian Text to the church have been dubious indeed.
Not only does this text-type not meet our biblical standard of accurately representing the Word of God, but it has trouble meeting scholarly standards for accuracy of transcription. Minor differences within text-types are normal; however, the number of variants within the Alexandrian Text is enormous. Not including minor errors such as spelling, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other over 3,000 times in the space of the four Gospels alone. 18 This means that one or the other must be wrong
3,000 times. That averages to a disagreement on almost every verse of the Gospels! It is, in fact, easier to find two consecutive verses in which these two manuscripts differ the one from the other, than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree.19
Undoubtedly these manuscripts suffer from scribal carelessness. Vaticanus exhibits numerous places where the scribe has written the same word or phrase twice in succession,20 a clear indication that the writing was not checked. The scribe of Sinaiticus occasionally skipped lines in copying and made so many obvious errors that during the time Sinaiticus was used, ten different readers noted corrections. 21 However, instead of questioning the reliability of these manuscripts, scholars have accepted many of their peculiar readings. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are the basis for most of the two hundred omissions from the modern New Testament versions mentioned earlier in this booklet.
For several years the Alexandrian Text was blindly considered to be a pure or "neutral" representation of the original text of the Bible writers. But recent scholarship has confirmed that what has been restored should not be considered the original text, but simply the text that had the highest authority in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century. 22
Alexandria, Egypt, an area to which none of the original manuscripts were addressed,23 has little claim upon our confidence as possessing a pure text. A look into the history of Alexandria, especially during the time these manuscripts are believed to have been produced, is quite revealing.
Alexandria, a great center of commerce and Helenistic culture, was renowned for its schools of philosophy. Philosophical teachings permeated the community—including the Christian church. Christian "thinkers" regarded Greek philosophy as a tool for understanding and applying Scripture, and like the pagans around them, they started a school which became the main focus and stimulus of their intellectual and spiritual life. The leaders of the school were usually experts in Greek philosophy, and they greatly influenced the theology of the Christians in Alexandria.
One of the most notable leaders of this school was Origen. Origen studied deeply into Platonism and Stoicism, seeking to harmonize their philosophic principles with the Scriptures. To do so, he allegorized the Scriptures—a process that allowed him to interpret them any way he wished. Further, he questioned the authenticity of certain portions of Scripture that did not conform to his own idiosyncratic beliefs. His teachings not only promoted a critical attitude toward the Scriptures, but they helped breed numerous heresies in Alexandria, including the doctrine of Arianism. 24
The Arian controversy centered around the nature of Christ. The Arians taught that Christ was a created being, while the conservatives of the day taught that Christ was eternal, wholly uncreated, and equal with the Father. For over sixty years the controversy raged. Just when it looked as if one side had won, the other side would rise to dominance.
Constantine, the great mixer of paganism and Christianity, was emperor when the controversy began in a.d. 320. More interested in politics than pure religion, Constantine favored whichever side seemed to his advantage. At first, Constantine exiled the Arian leaders, but three years later (a.d. 328), he not only welcomed their return but made one of them his personal advisor.25
It was during this upsurge of Arianism that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are believed to have been produced.26 Several scholars believe that they may be identified with two of fifty
Bibles that Constantine ordered to be prepared in a.d. 331. 27 Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were both written on parchments of vellum by talented calligraphers, a very expensive specification included in Constantine's order.28 Constantine called upon Eusebius of Caesarea to be in charge of the preparation of the Bibles. Eusebius is well known as an enthusiastic admirer of Origen, and was inclined to favor the Arians. If such a one was in charge of preparing these manuscripts, it is no wonder the Critical Text—and consequently nearly every modern version—lacks fervent support for the deity of Christ. If Eusebius used any of the critical skills of his mentor, he was likely to dissect the Scriptures, thinking he was correcting them. This may explain some of the omissions characteristic of the Alexandrian Text and likewise of most modern versions.
Other obviously careless omissions in these manuscripts may have been because Constantine's order required extreme haste in accomplishing the work. Repeatedly, Constantine urged Eusebius to press the project with all speed. Corrections would not only be costly but time-consuming, and few were likely made.29
Of course, without further documentation, no one can be certain of the exact history of
Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. But it seems likely that they were affected by the philosophical schools of Alexandria. Whether through Eusebius, other misguided critics, or one of the countless heretics that Alexandria bred,30 it is apparent that the Alexandrians' attempt to "correct" the Scriptures failed. Within 200 years this text-type fell into discredit and disuse.31
It is interesting to realize that several of the omissions and peculiar readings of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were once found only in Roman Catholic Bibles. Dr. Benjamin G. Wilkinson, history professor and late president of Washington Missionary College, has proposed that lerome, a great admirer of both Origen and Eusebius, transmitted many Eusebio-Origen errors into the Latin Vulgate. 32 The Latin Vulgate has been the recognized Bible of Catholics for centuries. The English Rheims-Douay version is translated from it. History is replete with episodes of violence wrought by the Catholic Church against all who did not receive the Latin Vulgate. To deny their Scriptures was to deny the Church's self-appointed authority. When the modern versions began to appear with several readings previously propagated only in Catholic Bibles, Thomas S. Preston of St. Ann's Church of New York was recorded in Dr.
Warfields' Collection of Opinions and Reviews as saying, "It is to us a gratification to find that in very many instances they have adopted the reading of the Catholic Version, and have thus by their scholarship confirmed the correctness of our [Catholic] Bible."33
In summary, we find that the Critical Text hardly fits the biblical description of the Sacred Text. It is based on a text-type that lay idle for 1,500 years except for some renderings retained within the Catholic Church. In addition, the text reflects the Arian views prominent in the fourth century in Alexandria, and it contains numerous omissions likely due to misguided editing and careless copying.
An examination of the Received Text, on the other hand, yields quite a different story. Unlike the small number of manuscripts supporting the Alexandrian Text, the Received Text is derived from the Byzantine text-type which is represented in 80 to 90 percent of all Greek manuscripts. 34 That amounts to approximately 4,000 witnesses! Dotted over hundreds of years, these witnesses come from many different places—Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Alexandria, other parts of Africa, not to mention Sicily, southern Italy, Gaul, England, and Ireland.35 This is quite a contrast to the limited locality and time-range of the Alexandrian Text.
Although none of the Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type date before a.d. 400, most scholars agree that in order for this text-type to be so widespread and predominant among the Greek manuscripts, it had to have a much earlier existence. 36 Indeed, distinctive Byzantine readings are found in all of the oldest versions, 37 in the papyri, 38 and in the Scriptural quotations of the early church fathers. 39 In numerous places the Byzantine text-type can be shown to be as early or earlier than any text-type. 40 It was the authoritative Scriptures of the Syrian church, the Waldensian church of northern Italy, and the Greek Orthodox Church. Wilkinson's study also suggests the Byzantine text-type was the Scriptures of such early churches as the Celtic church in Scotland and Ireland, and the Gallic church in southern France. 41
During the Dark Ages, apostasy seemed almost to swallow up Christendom, but God still had a people with whom His Word would live and abide forever. As the true church fled into the wilderness (Revelation 12:6, 14), it resisted error and clung to the Scriptures. Prominent among these faithful believers were the Waldensians, who used a Latin translation of Byzantine manuscripts dating back to a.d.157. 42 Traveling about as merchants and peddlers, they quietly passed on their precious hand-copied portions of Scripture.
When Greek language and literature once again began to be studied, Europe awoke as from the dead after 1,000 years of darkness. A revival of learning ensued and God raised up a man to lay the foundation of the mightiest reformatory movement in history. Erasmus was endowed with such a giant intellect that he could do ten hours of work in one. He amazed Europe with his prodigious scholarship. Ten columns in the catalogue of the library of the British Museum are taken up with the works he translated, edited or annotated. 43 In addition, he was a prolific writer. A reformer at heart, Erasmus wrote several books that rocked Europe by exposing the ignorance of the monks, the superstitions of the priesthood, and the bigoted, coarse religion of the day. 44 Of all his publications, however, his crowning work was the New Testament in Greek. This was the first scholarly attention paid to the Greek text of the New Testament in over a thousand years. A later revision of this Greek text became known as the Textus Receptus or Received Text.
When Erasmus prepared his Greek New Testament, there were hundreds of manuscripts for him to examine, and his wide travels certainly permitted him to do so. But after much study, he chose to use but a few representative manuscripts. These manuscripts, like the vast bulk of all New Testament Greek manuscripts, were of the Byzantine text-type—the same text-type that had been preserved and used by the church in the wilderness. This was no coincidence. Through the publication of Erasmus' Greek New Testament, God's providence was preparing the way for the many subsequent translations that would guide His true Church as two-thirds of Europe broke away from the Catholic Church in the Great Protestant Reformation.
As the torch of truth was passed on to the Reformation, we find version after version translated from the Received Text. Luther, that great giant of the Reformation, used a Waldensian Bible and Erasmus Greek text (the Received Text) in producing his German translation of the New Testament. Similarly based were Olivetan's French translation, Diodati's Italian translation, and Tyndale's English translation. 45
When the time was right, God's providence directed for an English translation to be produced that would sum up the best of all ages. With Erasmus' Greek text, several Waldensian-influenced Bibles, and the literary excellence of Tyndale,46 forty-seven scholars produced the King James Version of 1611.
The translators of the KJV were men of spiritual integrity as well as outstanding scholars. The general chairman of the project was Lancelot Andrews, one of the greatest linguists of his day. Known to spend five hours a day in prayer, his personal piety was unquestioned. Even the usually arrogant King James had great respect for him. Although these men did not all agree doctrinally, they all had reverent regard for the divine inspiration of Scripture. In addition, the translating was engineered so that no one man would have undue influence upon any portion of Scripture. Every part of the work was reviewed critically at least fourteen times.
With the Old Testament based on the Masoretic text-type and the New Testament based on the Byzantine text-type, the work was accomplished just in time for it to be carried by our pilgrim fathers to America where for three hundred years it became the "authorized"
Scriptures for millions of English-speaking people in the New World. In addition, it has been the Bible of every English-speaking country on the face the globe. It has been the guide of conduct to men and women in every class of life and of every rank in learning and education. So deeply has its language entered into our common tongue, that one probably could not take up a newspaper or read a single book in which some phrase was not borrowed, consciously or unconsciously, from the KJV. The wide and positive influence of the Authorized Version cannot be exaggerated. 47
The New Testament Scriptures of the early church, the wilderness church, the Reformation church, and the Scriptures of our founding fathers were all in essence the Received Text. The blood of martyrs has been shed over it, nations have been founded upon it, and divine providence has protected it. The Received Text is the Greek text that has played an active role in the church through-out the ages, and as such it best fits our third characteristic of the inspired Word of God.
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