Embracing The Mystery of Textual Variants and Loving Our Neighbor
Dr Michael Heiser responded to an inquiry once that I sent to him on this issue. He said a lot of different things, but the part that stuck out to me is the following:
"Instead of saying "we can't know anything" opt for "we can know a lot with a high degree of certainty, but not everything -- there will always be some things we don't know." That's far more coherent."
Since I have been a believing Christian, I have held largely to the Traditional Text position concerning the New Testament, and I've been back and forth concerning the Old. This is mainly because most of the New Testament quotes of the Old Testament came from the Septuagint, and some are a mixture of Septuagint and Masoretic Hebrew texts. The Church used the Septuagint translation from the time of the Apostles until the era of Jerome and Augustine. It makes sense, since the peoples of that time generally spoke Koine Greek. This is also a good reason why we need translations of the Bible in many languages. When I spent a considerable amount of time studying Church History and the writings of the Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Fathers, I grew even more perplexed over this issue of Bible manuscripts and its preservation throughout the years. You see, there is an incoherence between most Church Traditions and reality when concerning the Scriptures and the interpretation of them. The Ancients didn't look at things like we do today, and so this begs the question: "How should we view textual variants and the contents of the Bible?" Opponents of the Bible tend to point to this issue of manuscript variants as a reason to "reject the Christian Faith," Traditional Protestant groups tend to say it's the "work of the devil," the Eastern Orthodox Churches say that "it is all tradition" along with the Roman Catholics, but Rome is willing to compromise (ecumenicism) with Evangelicalism and adopt the new way of determining what Scriptures are authentic and what isn't based on the latest and greatest scientific methods (giving rise to a host of conspiracy theories), and most Evangelicals think that science can help "get us closer to the original writings." Finding the exact truth among all of that is near to impossible.
So this brings us back to the issue of faith. Everyone, even Atheists mesh the element of faith with science. What do I mean when I say "science?" I mean it the same way Webster did in 1828, which is the following:
"In philosophy, a collection of the general principles or leading truths relating to any subject. Pure science as the mathematics, is built on self-evident truths; but the term science is also applied to other subjects founded on generally acknowledged truths, as metaphysics; or on experiment and observation, as chemistry and natural philosophy; or even to an assemblage of the general principles of an art, as the science of agriculture; the science of navigation. Arts relate to practice, as painting and sculpture."
As twenty-first century people, when most of us think of science, we think of it in the mathematical sense: "Pure science as the mathematics, is built on self-evident truths." But science can go beyond that into more speculative realms, and that's when people begin to argue. Unfortunately, this isn't just an issue in the secular world, but also in the Christian one because of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12:
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
Seeing through a glass darkly or dimly is an illustration that we aren't able to see clearly. That is why Paul ends the chapter with the following:
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." 1 Corinthians 13:13
I am still learning to be charitable, it just isn't in my nature. Just when I think that I am charitable, something happens to reveal the depth of my selfishness. The Greek word translated "Charity" is translated "Love" in most modern translations, and while "Love" isn't totally wrong, "Charity" is more specific and accurate to the original intent. You have probably heard people say something like: "Love isn't a feeling, but an action!" Well, they are correct, and "Charity" is the action they are referring to whether they know it or not. God calls us to be "Charitable" in many things, even doctrinal issues within the church. Sure, we need to be vigilant and watchful for seeds of corruption being sown, but we can't prevent everything, and God certainly doesn't expect us to figure everything out. It is far more important for us to "love our neighbor" than to "win the argument." It's tempting to want to win the argument, I come from a long line of arguers. However, I have found that most debates end in hatred and resentment. Jesus said:
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Matthew 5:9
"If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Romans 12:18
So even with our differences, as Christians we are charged by our King to live this way with our friends, but also our enemies. Sure, speak the truth, but don't be an ass about it. I know it's hard. I understand, I also come from a long line of assholes too! But we have to try and do better.
So with all of this in mind, the best thing we can do is patiently have faith in what God has given us. Some people cringe when what I am about to say, but it is true, and it is this:
"Most textual variants have little or no effect on the meaning of the text of Scripture; therefore, the ones that do have an effect are minute and do not influence any major doctrine as a whole."
If you are struggling with the issue of textual variants, take heart. Whether or not you are a Traditional Text, Majority Text, Byzantine Priority, or Modern Critical Text proponent, you can trust your Bible and the content of it. Yes there are some differences, but where one verse is missing, there is one somewhere else that teaches the verse that is missing. Where a verse may be added, there is no heresy taught in that addition. If you like the KJV great! Read it, teach from it, study it! If you like the ESV, great! Read it, teach from it, study it! Then when you are done, apply it and live it! Most of the problems in our churches aren't from using a modern or a traditional translation of the Bible, it is not applying what they teach us.