22 April 2010

Bible Chronicles Part 3 (Errors, Omissions, Alterations)

Today I will continue my trip to the writings in the Bible and will show you a few more errors/omissions and alterations that took place in the texts. I intend to write separate blogs to cover the subjects of Crucifixion and Resurrection and, therefore, I will only refer to other subjects within the New Testament only.

As I have stated previously, although I have made my own personal extensive research into the subject, some of the comments made in this blog have been taken from the following books, as they set the information a lot clearer than I would have achieved:

     * 'Misquoting Jesus' by Bart D Ehrman

    * 'Text of the New Testament' by Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman

    * 'The Changing Faces of Jesus' by Geza Vermes

    * 'Lost Christianities' by Bart D Ehrman

One of the problems I will experience in this particular blog, mainly for my English speaking readers, is this: The books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, later on were translated in Latin and after that in all the other languages. Because of this, it would not be possible to show you exactly how the error or alteration happened as the correct version would be in ancient Greek while the alteration in modern Greek and English. Unless you can read Greek, therefore, I can only highlight the relevant parts/words and describe the error. 

To avoid any suspicion about the accuracy of the texts below, the Greek version has been taken from the 26th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece, which is the Latin name of the Greek language version of the New testament. The Greek text as presented is what biblical scholars refer to as the "critical text". The critical text is an eclectic text compiled by a committee that examines a large number of manuscripts  in order to weigh which reading is thought closest to the original. They use a number of factors to help determine probable readings, such as the date of the witness (earlier is usually better), the geographical distribution of a reading, and accidental or intentional corruptions. 

The English version has been taken from the King James' Bible.

Here we go then:

Mark 1:2

 1:2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

The first line of the above paragraph in the ancient Greek states 'as it is written by Isaiah the prophet', not 'by the prophets' in general. The problem is that the quotation is not from Isaiah at all but represents a combination of a passage from Exodus and one from Malachias from the Old Testament. Scribes recognised that this was a difficulty and so changed the text, making it say ‘Just as is written in the prophets…’. Now there is no problem with a misattribution of the quotation. But there can be little doubt concerning what Mark originally wrote: the attribution to Isaiah is found in our earliest and best manuscripts. This may not represent such an important change. However, in future blogs it will make more sense because the New Testament was amended to fit/agree with prophesies in the Old Testament in order to make these prophesies shown as being correct.

Matthew 24:36

24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

It is interesting that in the ancient Greek text it says 'no man, not the Son, not the angels...' The words 'The Son' have been omitted in the later modern Greek texts and all other later texts. Scribes found this passage difficult: the Son of God, Jesus himself, does not know when the end will come? How could that be? Isn’t he all knowing? To resolve the problem, some scribes simply modified the text by taking out the words ‘nor even the Son’. Now the angels may be ignorant, but the Son of God isn’t.

On occasion scribes modified their texts not because of theology but for liturgical reasons. As the ascetic tradition strengthened in early Christianity, it is not surprising to find this having an impact on scribal changes to the text. For example, in Mark 9, when Jesus casts out a demon that his disciples had been unable to budge, he tells them “This kind comes out only by prayer”. Later scribes made the appropriate addition, in view of their own practices, so that now fasting was also added:

Mark 9:29

 9:29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

Again, in the Greek text above only prayer is required, no fasting.

In 1715 Johann Wettstein went to England as part of a literary tour and was given full access to the Codex Alexandrinus, one of the oldest manuscripts of the Greek Bible.  One portion of the manuscript particularly caught his attention: it was one of those tiny matters with enormous implications. It involved the text of a key passage in the book of 1 Timothy.

The passage in question had long been used by advocates of orthodox theology to support the view that the New Testament itself calls Jesus God. For the text, in most manuscripts, refers to Christ as “God made manifest in the flesh, and justified in the Spirit”. However, most manuscripts abbreviate sacred names (the so called ‘nomina sacra’) and that is the case here as well, where the Greek word God (ΘΕΟΣ) is abbreviated in two letters, theta and sigma (ΘΣ), with a line drawn over the top to indicate that it is an abbreviation. What Wettstein noticed in examining Codex Alexandrinus was that the line over the top had been drawn in a different ink from the surrounding words and so appeared to have been written by a later scribe. Moreover, the horizontal line in the middle of the first letter, Θ, was not actually a part of the letter but was a line that had bled through from the other side of the old vellum.

In other words, rather than being the abbreviation (theta – sigma) for God (ΘΣ), the word was actually an omicron and a sigma (ΟΣ), a different word altogether, which means Who. The original reading of the manuscript thus did not speak of Christ as “God made manifest in the flesh” but Christ “who was made manifest in the flesh”. According to the ancient testimony of the Codex Alexandrinus, Christ is no longer explicitly called God in this passage:

1 Timothy 3:16

3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

For those of you who can't read Greek, the particular word in the Greek text above is the second one of the second paragraph (Ος), which means 'who' and not 'God' (Θεος).

The account in 1 John, which scholars have called the Johannine Comma, is found in the manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate but not in the vast majority of the early Greek manuscripts . It is a passage that had long been a favourite among Christian theologians, since it is the only passage in the entire Bible that explicitly delineates the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons in the godhead, but that the three all constitute just one God.

1 John 5:7-8

5:6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

Note: It is very interesting that in the old Greek text above, 5:7 simply states 'there are three that bear witness', while 5:8 states 'the spirit, and the water and the blood and these three agree in one'. In other words, the old text says nothing about whether they are witnesses on earth or in heaven and, especially, says nothing about Father, Word and Holy Ghost!

It is a mysterious passage, but unequivocal in its support of the traditional teachings of the church on the triune God who is one. Without this verse, the doctrine of the Trinity must be inferred from a range of passages combined to show that Christ is God, as is the Spirit and the Father, and that there is nonetheless only one God. This passage, in contrast, states the doctrine directly and succinctly.

But Erasmus, the dutch scholar who first produced and published the first edition of the Greek New Testament (the Complutensian Polyglot was the first printed version, but was not the first published), did not find this verse in 1 John in his Greek manuscripts. His manuscripts simple read:

“There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one”

Where did the Father/Word/Spirit go? They were not in Erasmus’ primary manuscript, or in any of the others he consulted and so, naturally, he left them out of his first edition of the Greek text.

It was this action that outraged the theologians of his day, who accused Erasmus of tampering with the text in an attempt to eliminate the doctrine of the Trinity and to devalue its corollary, the doctrine of the full divinity of Christ. As the story goes, Erasmus agreed that he would insert the verse in a future edition of his Greek New Testament on one condition: that his opponents produce a Greek manuscript in which the verse could be found (finding it in Latin manuscripts was not enough). In fact, it was produced for the occasion. It appears that someone copied out the Greek text of the Epistles and when he came to the passage in question, he translated the Latin text into Greek, giving the Johannine Comma in its familiar, theologically useful form.

Despite his misgivings, Erasmus was true to his word and included the Johannine Comma in his next edition and in all his subsequent editions. These editions became the basis for the editions of the Greek New Testament that were then reproduced time and time again and that provided the form of the text that the translators of the King James Bible eventually used.

A less obvious example of text alteration comes in Matthew’s crucifixion scene:

Matthew 27:34

27:34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.

Note: The Greek text above states 'wine mingled with gall', not 'vinegar'.

A large number of manuscripts indicate that it was not wine that he was given, but vinegar. The change may have been made to confirm the text more closely with the Old Testament passage that is quoted to explain the action (Psalms 69:22).

But one might wonder if something else was motivating the scribes as well. It is interesting to note that at the Last Supper Jesus explicitly states that he will not drink wine again until he does so in the kingdom of the Father:

Matthew 26:29
26:29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

Was the change from wine to vinegar meant to safeguard that prediction, so that he in fact did not taste wine after claiming that he would not? 

So, my fellow readers, you can clearly see a picture emerging here. The oldest versions of the Scriptures seem to say something and their newer versions seem to say something completely different which is very close to how today's church wants us to observe the Christian Faith and the, supposedly, word of God.  It seems to me like a scam of unimaginable proportions. But stay tuned, as the most shocking stories will follow in the future parts of this series.



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