My Personal Journey: How Are We Supposed To Live With Textual Variants in Our Bibles? Part 4: The Last Installment for Now.

I will get to my opinions on the whole matter at the end of this post, but presently I want to continue sharing my journey concerning this issue of Bible Manuscripts, Church History, and Bible Translations. There is a lot of information out there that usually gets
filtered through a denominational lens and is usually obscured by the time it reaches the average man or woman. The average man or woman really doesn't have time to sift through all of this, and even if they did, they wouldn't. Most of the time when I discuss this issue with people, their eyes glaze over and I lose them. There is a lot of technical information out there, and it can be very bland and sterile to go through. I don't know why this issue has been so big to me over the years. I suppose it is because I see inconsistencies everywhere and haven't pinned down what I think about it entirely. Over the years, if you knew me well, you would have thought of me like that guy James references in the first part of his Epistle:
"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For that man shouldn’t think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." James 1:5-8 WEB
I will admit that I have been somewhat double minded throughout the years. Being a skeptic by nature, I like to vet things before I affirm them. The main reason is that I have made some foolish decisions over the years and looked foolish in the process. It's like sharing that article on Facebook that you presume you agree with by reading the title. The problem is that later on after sharing it with the world, you get excoriated for the content and then you discover the article was very different than you presumed. That has been a little bit like my journey. Scholars most of the time are operating on a purely rationalistic system of thought without knowing much at all about the evidence and its origin, but Traditionalists hold indiscriminately to their traditions without being rational and considering the other side. One of the presumptions by Scholars that is generally accepted by all is that the older a manuscript, the better or closer to the original it must be. That sounds rational when one first hears the statement, but after learning about church history you might take a step back. It was common in the first couple of centuries after the death of the Apostles for Gnostics and other groups to take the Apostles writings and modify them. Augustine said this about the "Pericope Adulterae," or "The Story of the Woman Caught in Adultery," showcased in our Bibles in John 7:53-8:11. Augustine of Hippo made the statement concerning the text:

“Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who had said, Sin no more, had granted permission to sin.” Augustine, De Adulterinis Conjugiis, 2:6–7.
Now, scholars I think have a good case that this text probably doesn't belong in this place in John's Gospel, but to say the text is inauthentic or it doesn't have a place in our Scriptures in my opinion is a bit presumptuous. Traditionally it has been in the Christian writings a long time before Augustine, and he lived from 354 to 430 A.D. Something else to consider is that Augustine was from North Africa, and a contemporary of Vatacanus and Sinaiticus. Now if you have read the previous posts, you will know that Codex Vatacanus and Sinaiticus are the primary sources used and consulted for our Greek New Testaments. Most modern translations of the Bible come from this tradition. It is what is used and preferred today, but it wasn't until the 19th century. Byzantine Greek witnesses were preferred by the scholars and Churches before the 19th century. Codex Vatacanus is dated between 300 and 325 A.D. and, Codex Sinaiticus is dated between 330 and 360 A.D. Both manuscripts are from North Africa where Augustine is from, yet he defends a Greek text that contains the Pericope Adulterae, and not ones that excludes it. Scholars and apologists lobby for the inclusion of these manuscripts due to their age, but they readily dismiss this quote from Augustine defending the traditional reading. I find it strange personally. One last thing concerning this text. Some scholars think that the Pericope Adulterae is consistent with Luke's writing style, and that it was probably an original in his Gospel or some other text he wrote. I am inclined to agree with them, but I am not sure. I do believe the text is authentic and shouldn't be excluded from our Bibles like so many scholars would like to happen.

Another conundrum in this study is the Christian Old Testament. Augustine was a contemporary of Jerome, and Jerome brought to us the Latin Vulgate. The Vulgate was a text critical edition that sought to use the Masoretic Hebrew Text for its Old Testament rather than the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was the Old Testament of choice for the Christian world up to that point. Augustine criticized Jerome heavily for abandoning the Septuagint and didn't relent for a long time. It is very similar to how Textual scholars in the 19th and 20th century were criticized for abandoning the Traditional Texts of the New Testament in their day. The Masoretic Text is a reconstruction of the Hebrew by Masoretic Jews. The earliest texts we have of this is from the Medieval era, and the Septuagint is much older but is a translation of an older Hebrew source. Up to the time of Jerome and Augustine the Greek Septuagint was the text of choice for the church. It still is being used by most Eastern Orthodox Churches. In fact, the writers of the New Testament quoted the Septuagint more in their works than anything that resembles the Masoretic Text. That is why the translations of Old Testament quotes in your New Testament aren't exact; but, if you compared the New Testament authors when they quote the Old Testament to the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, well they would match.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are something that we need to examine here also. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946. They are dated from 408 B.C. to 318 A.D. and contain a large amount of Biblical and extra-biblical sources. The Hebrew texts of the scrolls match more consistently with the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament than the Masoretic Hebrew text. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic scholars say that the Masoretic Hebrew Text was produced by Masoretic Jews to to obscure Christological texts from the Old Testament. If you read an English translation of the Septuagint and compare it with the Masoretic text, it seems like what they are saying is true. Most New Testament quotes equal the Septuagint and not the Masoretic. While it's not convenient, it is the cold hard facts. It is said by Dr. Michael Heiser that Paul made up his own mangled Greek quotes of the Old Testament in his writings in certain places. It's kind of like how we loosely quote things said by others from our feeble memory. It gets the message across, but it isn't exact. I think this method of quotation by Paul should instruct us somewhat concerning this issue of Manuscripts and Translations. The Ancients weren't obsessed with exactness like we are today in our modern Western context. That is why I don't get offended at Paraphrase translations of the Bible and even translations from different sources like the Latin Vulgate, or some other source. The only ones that I have a problem with are the ones that we "know" have been modified like the Jehovah's Witness Bible and others like it. Paul's loose quote wasn't really a big problem to people who knew the Old Testament in his day. Exactness was preferred, but understanding was most important. Due to the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, most scholars today think that the original Hebrew Old Testament was more like the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint is an older text and translation from an older Hebrew source. The age of the Dead Sea Scrolls isn't what is compelling to me, though that does raise an eyebrow. What is compelling to me is the use of the Septuagint by the early church. Also, the use of the traditional writings of the New Testament and not Vatacanus or Sinaiticus by the Ante-Nicene Fathers afterward causes me to pause when accepting the Modern Critical Text of the New Testament and the Masoretic Hebrew. Even the ESV Translators used the Septuagint often in their translation of the Old Testament, and have retained a lot of the Traditional Greek sources. The ESV isn't a pure translation from the Masoretic Hebrew or Codex Vatacanus and Sinaiticus.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not against scholarship. Rather, I'm against presumption that isn't labeled as such. Sure, I have my theories and opinions, but at the end of the day, that is just what they are. I personally believe that there are many texts in the Traditional Text of the New Testament that are authentic and shouldn't be questioned or taken out of our New Testaments. Scholars presumptuously do it all of the time, and now that Atheists and Agnostics are involved in this process, you will see more deletions and strange additions. That being said, I understand why scholars struggle with the Traditional Greek Texts and know that they have many other things in view. I do think that we shouldn't be so anal about using the Greek Septuagint at least as a reference in our churches. Sure, it goes against many of the Protestant traditions, but new evidence has toppled that presumption. At the end of the day, I think that God speaks through imperfect vessels. It's a mystery, but He used Moses, David, Paul, Peter, James, and a whole host of other flawed men and women. He also used imperfect vessels to preserve His written revelation, and that is why there are so many variants. It seems strange to us, but it shows to me that we have a part to play in this story.

The whole process displays His matchless grace and power by exacting good from our foibles. I have heard some say that God providentially allowed textual variants so that we wouldn't worship our Bibles. I personally think that is an astute observation. Besides, only God can open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. God is more interested that we take our Bibles be they Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Critical Text, Traditional Text, Byzantine Priority Text, Majority Text, Septuagint, Latin Vulgate, Masoretic, Syriac, etc... and follow their message. In the end, while they contradict each other in certain rare and specific texts, overall, they promote the same message. The truth is that I am still hammering out the details on what I think about all of this, but this represents where I am currently. I trust in God and believe that His Son Jesus Christ or Yeshua Messiah if you prefer is the Savior of the world. It is important that all Christians hold to the truths laid out in the Bible and the three ecumenical Creeds. If you hold to that, believe the Gospel, and live accordingly, you are a Christian in my opinion.

I want to share with you a video by Dr. Heiser on the subject of the Bible. I think you will find it helpful and instructive:

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