Christian Apologetics Through the Lens of
Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons & Secularists
MODERN BIBLES AND THEIR HISTORY
Let me just start off by stating that I am dear friends with many Christians who do not consider the issue of Majority / Minority Greek texts an issue of great importance for them personally. Likewise, my views are also personal and come from a standpoint of a Watchtower educated background.
If you have been taught sound Christian doctrine from the beginning, this might not be that big of a deal to you. We certainly do not want to make this an issue that divides Christians. But for me, as someone who from infancy was taught Watchtower doctrines that rely on precise word-splitting, for me there is simply no way around making a choice on this matter. If this subject matter interests you, I invite you to examine a small sample of the available evidence concerning these two master Greek texts.
It has been often said that New Testament bibles and the manuscripts that they are based upon are really a tale of two cities; Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt. Over 99% of all manuscripts can be traced back to an Antioch origin and less than 1% can be traced back to an Alexandrian origin. Since most modern bibles are based on the Alexandrian manuscripts, this section will mostly deal with that line of descent.
But briefly, Antioch was where believers were first referred to as "Christians" and the believers there later set up a school known as the School of Antioch. Founded around A.D. 200, this theological school stressed scriptural literalism and the completeness of Christ’s humanity as well as his divinity. It gave rise to several significant theologians, including Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom was an extraordinary preacher and earned the title Chrysostomos; meaning Golden-Mouthed. The vast majority of Chrysostom’s writings were expositions of the Bible where he demonstrated that he was a strong advocate of a literal interpretation of the bible.
The theological School of Alexandria in Egypt was founded around 180 A.D. by Pantaenus who was a former Stoic Philosopher. This was the first well-known organized Christian institution of higher learning. It was a leading center teaching the allegorical method of Scripture interpretation, which was the same exegetical method practiced by Palestinian Rabbinical schools. This center produced such leaders as Clement (c. 150–215) and Origen (c. 185–254). The school endorsed a reestablishment of relations between the Christian faith and Greek culture including the Platonic philosophical tradition. The Alexandrians typically found allegory in most every passage of Scripture. In their accounts of the person of Christ, they tended to focus almost exclusively on His divinity.
Later, Arius a theologian who lived and taught in Alexandria (c. 250-336) took allegory to new levels by claiming and teaching that the Son of God was not eternal but was created by God as an instrument for creating the earth. The Arian heresy taught that Christ, though more than human, was inferior in substance to God and had a definite beginning. In 325 the Council of Nicaea was convened by Emperor Constatine and was made up of around 300 presiding overseers (pastors) of individual congregations from the far reaches of the Roman empire. Many more pastors were invited, but because of the intense persecutions from the previous Roman Emperors, only approximately 300 brave souls attended together with three of their ministerial servants (deacons) each. All but two voted against Arianism. This was a grass roots settlement of this issue. The Catholic Church simply did not exist at that time; though it was soon to.
From here, the City Overseer (or Bishop) of Rome came to be more and more relied upon by the Roman Emperor as an ally in the fusion of the church and state that Constantine was forging. In 330 A.D. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman empire to Constantinople (Byzantium) and this created a power vacuum in Rome. This vacuum was filled by the city overseer of Rome or Bishop (Pontiff) and thus the rise to power of the Catholic Popes began.
Many, but not all scholars date the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus manuscripts to have been originally written during this time. They are dated by most at 331 A.D. or a little later. Since just about all modern bibles heavily weight these two manuscripts in significance and are indeed based upon them, we will now examine some facts about them.
Codex Sinaiticus (Codex A) This is an ancient hand-written copy of the Greek Bible (OT & NT). It is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript, proving its origin to be Alexadria, Egypt. In 1844 forty-three leaves were found in a kindling bin at a Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai (shown at left) by the Russian evolutionary archaelogist Constantine von Tischendorf.
Tischendorf lived and studied during the height of German Rationalism which had a profound effect upon biblical textual criticism. He was taught by his university professors that the bible couldn't be trusted and the current text couldn't be known. He was on a mission to find the "real" bible.
The Codex leaves he found were shortly to be used as kindling to light a stove. Two heaps of leaves like the one he found had already been used this way by the monks who regarded them as worthless. Apparently, they had not taken the same classes that Tischendorf had. The second part of the manuscript was found in 1959 during a return trip. Parts of the Codex were eventually scattered across four libraries around the world, with the largest part residing in the British Library.
Originally, it contained the whole of both Testaments. The final codex contained an almost complete Greek Old Testament (or Septuagint) along with a complete New Testament. More recently, with much fanfare the manuscript pieces have been reunited and a copy of the manuscript has been made available online.
Between the 4th and 12th centuries, seven or more correctors worked on this codex, making it one of the most corrected manuscripts in existence. (Milne, H. J. M. and Skeat, T.C. (1938). Scribes and Correctors of Codex Sinaiticus)
Tischendorf, during his investigation in Petersburg enumerated 14,800 corrections in only the portion which was held in Petersburg (2/3 of the codex). (Metzger, Bruce M., (1991). Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography, p. 77)
This implies that the full codex could have about 20,000 corrections. In addition to these corrections some letters were marked above them by dots indicating that they were doubtful.
Tischendorf, also believed that four separate scribes copied the work (whom he named A, B, C and D) and that five correctors (whom he designated a, b, c, d and e) amended portions. He posited that one of the correctors was contemporaneous with the
original scribes, and that the others dated to the sixth and seventh centuries. It is now agreed, after Milne and Skeats reinvestigation, that scribe C never existed.
The three remaining scribes are still identified by the letters that Tischendorf gave them: A, B, and D.
According to Aland, future correctors of Sinaiticus numbered at least seven. They are known as a, b, c, ca, cb, cc, e. (Aland, Kurt and Aland, Barbara (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, p. 107-108.
The image to the right is from the Codex Sinaiticus Quire 36, folio 4 recto.
It is easy to see the faint outline of previous text, numerous scribal "corrections" and marginal notes. Since this manuscript continued to be "corrected" between the 4th and 12th centuries A.D. ' it is not difficult to see why this apparently not widely used.
It is equally easy to imagine how textual critics, eager to justify their college expenses and to make a name for themselves, could have a field day with this text and spend years trying to figure out which of the scratch-outs, write-overs, marginal notations and doubtful letters are to be preserved and which ones are to be discarded. This of course is a recipe for error, especially if it is held out to be the standard by which all other texts are measured by.
Because of the widespread acceptance of Sinaiticus in high academic ecclesiastical circles, secularists then turn around and try to use this example to "prove" the unreliability of all bibles to an uninformed public. Consider what the BBC has to say about Sinaiticus:
According to BBC news, " The Codex - and other early manuscripts - omit some mentions of ascension of Jesus into heaven, and key references to the Resurrection, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has said is essential for Christian belief. Other differences concern how Jesus behaved. In one passage of the Codex, Jesus is said to be "angry" as he healed a leper, whereas the modern text records him as healing with "compassion".... Nor are there words of forgiveness from the cross. Jesus does not say "Father forgive them for they know not what they do". Fundamentalists, who believe every word in the Bible is true, may find these differences unsettling."
The article goes on to gleefully highlight:
"Mr Ehrman was a born again Bible-believing Evangelical until he read the original Greek texts and noticed some discrepancies. 'The Bible we now use can't be the inerrant word of God', he says, 'since what we have are the sometimes mistaken words copied by fallible scribes.' "
The article wraps up by proclaiming:
" 'It should be regarded as a living text, something constantly changing as generation after generation tries to understand the mind of God,' says David Parker, a Christian working on digitising the Codex. Others may take it as more evidence that the Bible is the word of man, not God."
I would like to add just one last sentence to that BBC article:
Still others might take these findings as more evidence that the Sinaiticus manuscript should simply be placed back into the garbage can from where it was found. (Ok, I'm kidding a little here) But, millions of believers simply do not agree that this manuscript should be given such prominence in light of the thousands of other manuscripts and scriptural quotes from early church leaders, some of whom were disciples of the apostles. It just doesn't make sense to ignore all these other sources and place this suspect one above the rest.
Codex Vaticanus (Codex B) The Vatican 1209 manuscript was found in the Vatican library in 1481 where is was supposedly lost or misplaced for 1000 years. It fares even worse than Sinaiticus in reliability, if that is possible. It was also written in the distinctive Alexandrian type-text, indicating its origin was from Egypt.
The following portions of Scripture are missing from the Vaticanus: Genesis 1:1-46; 28; Psalms 106-138; Matthew 16:2-3; Mark 16:9-20; The Pastoral Epistles of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as well as everything after Hebrews 9:14.
These were intentional omissions because the manuscript was found in excellent condition with no pieces missing. In the Gospels it leaves out 237 words, 452 clauses, and 748 whole sentences. These omissions were intentional since there was room left on pages to write these in. The Vaticanus manuscript was written on expensive Vellum and was in good condition when found which means that the missing areas were not due to missing sections but were intentional omissions.
The image at left is a Vaticanus leaf of Hebrews the first chapter. If you look closely you will see marginal notations in the first empty space column between the first two text columns.
Someone had erased a word in verse 3 and wrote another word in its place. Later, someone else came along and erased the "correction" and wrote back in the original word. The marginal note denounces the "corrector" using words that hardly seem Christian. The note reads, "Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don’t change it!" Instead of God-fearing Christians working on this; doesn't it seem more likely that unsaved bible critics, even non-believers have been editing this manuscript? See Matt. 5: 22b - "whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
Furthermore, the Vaticanus manuscript has nearly the entire text mutilated; almost every letter has been over-written with pen and ink. This of course makes exact identification of many of the characters impossible. Scholars think it was overwritten letter by letter in the 10th or 11th century, with accents and breathing marks added along with corrections from the 8th, 10th and 15th centuries. Missing portions were supplied in the 15th century by copying other Greek manuscripts. Many of those who have studied this manuscript agree that all this revision makes precise paleographic analysis impossible.
Consider these other comments:
1. Dean John W Burgon: "The impurity of the text exhibited by these codices is not a question of opinion but fact...In the Gospels alone, Codex B(Vatican) leaves out words or whole clauses no less than 1,491 times. It bears traces of careless transcriptions on every page…"
2. According to The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, "It should be noted . . . that there is no prominent Biblical (manuscripts) in which there occur such gross cases of misspelling, faulty grammar, and omission, as in (Codex) B."
3. Dr. David Brown observes: "I question the 'great witness' value of any manuscript that has been overwritten, doctored, changed and added to for more than 10 centuries." (The Great Unicals).
4. Linguistic scholars have observed that Codex Vaticanus is reminiscent of classical and Platonic Greek, not Koine Greek of the New Testament (see Adolf Deissman's Light of the Ancient East). Nestle admitted that he had to change his Greek text (when using Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) to make it "appear" like Koine Greek. Codex Vaticanus contains the false Roman Catholic apocryphal books such as Judith, Tobias, and Baruch, while it omits the pastoral epistles (I Timothy through Titus), the Book of Revelation, and it cuts off the Book of Hebrews at Hebrews 9:14 (a very convenient stopping point for the Catholic Church, since God forbids their priesthood in Hebrews 10 and exposes the mass as totally useless as well.
Finally, it is estimated that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other at least 7000 times. These disagreements are not minor but involve major omissions and doctrinal conflicts of scripture. Just in the gospels alone there are the following number of disagreements:
Total Gospel Disagreements Between Vaticanus and Sinaiticus 3036 +
How can anyone realistically call these manuscripts "the best" simply because they are the oldest near complete Greek NT manuscripts? There are older Greek manuscripts that are considered fragments.
Jerome's Latin Vulgate
Moving forward in time a bit; because of the numerous variant readings in Alexandrian manuscripts, Pope Damasus requested the scholar Jerome to revise and correct the New Testament. This he did in seclusion, it was a private enterprise. St. Jerome began his revision with the four Gospels and then more hurriedly revised the remaining books of the New Testament. The work was completed at Rome about A.D. 383-4.
So, was Jerome influenced by the sophistry of the Alexandrians? Well, curiously Philo, an Alexandrian secular statesman was included by Jerome in his work De viris illustribus (On illustrious men). This was a thumb-nail compilation of 135 men of prominence in Church history up until that time. All but three were Christians. It is striking that Jerome includes sketches of Philo the Roman statesman, the philosopher Seneca, and the Jewish historian Josephus among all these Christian worthies. Of these three chapters, the one on Philo is the longest. Why is the Alexandrian Jew Philo given such a prominent place in this work?
It is apparent that Philo was well-known in some "Christian" circles and that his works were enthusiastically received. In fact a close reading of the sources shows that most Christian intellectuals were quite well aware that Philo was a Jew who had lived at about the time of Jesus, may have met the Apostle Mark, and they were familiar with his writings. It is most revealing that Jerome includes a list of his writings, something he also does for Josephus and various Christian protagonists. He does not tell us from where he gets this list.
Jerome also informs us that Philo had countless outstanding writings on the five books of Moses to his credit. Jerome gives us a long list, which he concludes with the following words:
Concerning this man the following statement is in circulation among the Greeks: h Platwn filwnizei h, filwn platonizei (either Plato philonizes or Philo platonizes), that is to say, either Plato follows Philo or Philo follows Plato, so great is the similarity of thought and style.
Philo regarded the physical nature of man as something defective and as an obstacle to his development that can never be fully surmounted, but still as something indispensable in view of the nature of his being. Philo is not entirely certain whether the body in itself or merely in its preponderance over the spirit is evil. But the body in any case is a source of danger. His concept of the Logos as God's creative principle apparently influenced early Christology. To him Logos was God's "blueprint for the world", a governing plan. (3)
Philo used allegory to fuse and harmonize Greek philosophy and Judaism. His method followed the practices of both Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy. "The sophists of literalness," as he calls them, "opened their eyes superciliously" when he explained to them the marvels of his exegesis. In other words, those who simply read the bible literally were made to realize just how little they knew once Philo expounded on his allegorical (spiritual) interpretations. Sound familiar?
If Arius was a forerunner of Charles Taze Russell in his jettisoning of the divinity of the Son, then certainly Philo is a forerunner of Fred Franz with all his "type" and "anti-type" interpretations. In other words, the practice of spiritualizing any scripture that is not to your liking has a very long history, apparently back to the days of the apostles through the unsaved bible critic Philo of Alexandria.
Also listed as "illustrious men" are both Clement of Alexandria and Origen of Alexandria. They both heavily drew upon Philo and furthered his methods and philosophy into the Christian era applying them to Christian teachings. Origen went so far as to castrate himself.
These are just some of the Alexandrian influences that Jerome bore as he carried out his solitary work in creating the Latin Vulgate, which was the bible of the Catholic Church for well over a thousand years. In addition to these influences, we have Jerome's own words here:
"I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails."
Letter of Jerome to Pope Damasus, 374 A.D. 15,2 J1346 .
"Heretics bring sentence upon themselves since they by their own choice withdraw from the Church, a withdrawal which, since they are aware of it, constitutes damnation."
Commentaries on the Epistle to Titus, 376 A.D. 3,10 J1371a
It is obvious from these quotes that Jerome was a "company man" and regarded church membership as a prerequisite for salvation and that faith outside of that organizational structure would constitute damnation. Over 20 Catholic Popes over an 800 year period carried on inquisitions enforcing this view whereby up to 50 million European people were excommunicated, had their property confiscated and were murdered in horrific ways for the crime of exercising faith in Christ alone outside of the Catholic hierarchy. The Walsensenses, Vaudois, and other indigenous Christians throughout Europe were virtually wiped out during the Catholic Inquisitions.
Eventually, the dark ages began to fade and a new day began to dawn during the 16th and 17th centuries when a number of "recognized" bibles began to be produced. (These readings had in fact always abundantly existed) These were based upon the very different "majority text" (99% of all known manuscripts) of Antioch origin. They were discretely copied and handed down throughout Europe during the unrestrained governance of the Popes. Centuries of bible burnings, tortures, and burning Christians while alive at the stake could not wipe out these texts. The greatest of these compilation works resulted in the King James 1611 version.
The King James or Authorised Version reigned supreme for 277 years until two men revived the Alexandrian influence that had effected Christianity for most of the previous 1800 years.