Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is The Bible Dependable?

II Peter 1:19-21 tells us, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.   For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 

Clearly we can trust what God has said.  Unfortunately, we do not have the original manuscripts of any of the scriptures.  How can we be sure what we know as the scriptures teach the same things as the original manuscripts say?  Other ancient manuscripts emerge occasionally, so how are we to know they are not also part of scripture.  To answer these questions, we will start with some historical information about when and where it was given.  While Bishop Ussher dated the Exodus in 1491 BC, the Biblical record and Archaeological evidence indicate it was nearly two hundred years earlier.  The evidence indicates that all of Genesis, and part of Exodus was written before that time. 

The Old Testament was written over a long period of time.  Contrary to tradition, there is evidence the most of the first five books were not written by Moses, although they may have been compiled in his day.  Several different writing styles are found in in these books, indicating They were written by several writers at various times in history.  The last part of Deuteronomy could not have been written by Moses, as it took place after his death. 

Historical records from Babylon indicate that the book of Daniel was written between about 565 and 495 BC.  Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were all written after Daniel’s day, with Malachi probably being written about 175 BC, or about the time of the Maccabees.  During the same period, the Old Testament was translated into the Greek language, and the Greek version became known as the Septuagint.  Later versions of the Septuagint contain 14 Apocryphal books not found in the earliest Greek or Hebrew manuscripts.  They appear to have been adopted by various Rabbinical counsels and were not accepted by all Jewish scholars or included in many of the later Hebrew manuscripts.

Traditionally we have been taught that the New Testament was written in Greek.  Papias, writing about 90 Ad quoted John as saying Matthew and John were originally written in Hebrew, as was James, by the authors they are named after, before 37 AD.  Mark and Luke were written later, around  45-53 AD, and were probably in Greek to make them readily available to the Gentile Christians as the church spread.  One fragment of the book of mark dates back to that time period, but cannot be proven to be part fo the original document.  Around 70-75 AD, Matthew, John and James were also translated into Greek.  John wrote the Revelation in Greek about 95 AD. 

The scriptures were translate into various local languages, with a complete Latin version appearing around 200 BC, and the Latin Vulgate appearing about 350 AD. The Greek Codex Sinaiaticus and Codex Vaticanus copies of the complete New Testament date from about the same time.  Today about 5800 Greek manuscripts or portions of Greek manuscripts exist along with over 10,000 Latin ones.  In addition, there are about 25,000 manuscripts in almost five hundred other languages.    While some manuscripts contain only a few words, scholars claim the average is nearly 450 hand written pages.  In addition, almost the entire New Testament Text can be found in writings of the early church fathers. 

The differences between those ancient manuscripts and the King James Version are very small.  The codex Sinaiaticus, is the most complete manuscript of the New Testament ever found.  There are only eight places where it differs materially from the King James Bible, The most important, in Matthew 16 leaves out 8 verses.  It appears the eight verses were simply overlooked.  The other differences involve only a verse or a single phrase from a verse.  With the exception of the Apocrypha, studies indicate that the differences between all the manuscripts amount to less than one percent of the whole, and that most of those are considered unviable because they only appear in one or two manuscripts.  Most of the other differences are the result of differences between languages or spelling mistakes. 

In 1453 AD, Constantinople fell and the Greek manuscripts held there became available for the first time since it had been conquered by the Muslim forces.  In 1516 AD, Erasmus completed the Textus Receptus based on eight of those Greek manuscripts.  Wycliffe had completed his English New Testament nearly a hundred years before based on different manuscripts.  The Tyndale and Coverdale versions were based on the Textus Receptus but the King James Version of 1611 was based on those earlier texts but drew heavily on Tyndale and Coverdale’s .translations.  Certain verses in the King James are not found in the Textus Receptus but are found in the Wescot- Hort text.  They are also found in many of the earlier texts.  While quality of translation varies among different modern versions, only a few have been deliberately changed
There are no records of other manuscripts as part of scripture in the early writings of the church fathers, and many contain factual errors or other mistakes that indicate they were not written at the time or by the author they claim to have been written by.  They are not considered part of scripture. 

All the evidence indicates the Bible teaches essentially the same thing as the original manuscripts by the various authors and can be trusted as God’s Word.  .    Perhaps the most important thing is that the church all use the same version during services to avoid confusion, because as I Corinthians 14:33 tells us, “…God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints…”

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