Part One - Transmission and Corruption of Scripture

Does the world have an accurate translation of the New Testament?

When one purchases a book that was originally written in Spanish the assumption is that the English translation is simply a faithful rendition of what the author had to say but in a different language. This is the assumption that the typical Christian makes concerning the Bible.

When it comes to the New Testament of the Bible things are not that simple. To begin with, it was a long time after Jesus died before any part of the New Testament was written and a much longer time before the Gospels were written. Since the New Testament was written centuries before the invention of the printing press it had to be hand copied. The nature of hand copying inherently introduces errors. In the early years copyists tended to be amateurs.

Let us examine the time line below of the years in the first century.

If we assume that Jesus died as late as the year 33 (estimates usually ranging from 29 to 33) it was about 17 years before Paul started writing his Epistles. It was about 37 years before Mark started writing his gospel. He was the first Gospel author. It was over 60 years before the author known as John began his Gospel.

For large periods of time the gospels were carried by word of mouth. For centuries they were hand copied.

In the graph of the early centuries shown below, (A) represents the period of time during which the Gospels were written. The earliest copy that we have today of a New Testament manuscript (B) was written somewhere around 125 a.d. and it is a mere fragment - the size of a credit card. The first complete New Testament that the world has, the codex Sinaiticus, (C) was written in the second half of the 4th century. We have 5400 copies of the New Testament, mostly in Greek are in manuscript form, that is hand copies made before the invention of the printing press (D) around 1450.

None of the copies we have are originals. None of the manuscripts we have are copies of copies of the original. Not even copies of copies of copies of the originals. None of the copies that we do have, except for the earliest fragments, is identical to any of the others. There are more differences among the copies than there are words in the New Testament.

The reasons for the disparities are largely due to the method of reproduction. These documents had to be hand copied century after century because the printing press had not yet been invented.

The most common errors were mispelled words. Sometimes lines and paragraphs were double copied or omitted. These were the innocent kinds of errors one would expect in a copying process. But sometimes phrases or paragraphs were altered, added or omitted.

In a typical Bible today we might read:

1 John 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.

1 John 5:9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

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

No one can absolutely guarantee that what has come down to us from antiquity is either what the original author wrote or what was originally adopted as Canon. The Canon was a list of books to be included in the Bible; it did not prescribe content.

Scholars must use their best educated guess when producing an edition of the Bible because of the incredibly large number of variants in the manuscripts that have survived the ravages of time. They must take into consideration, the best attested, the earliest and best manuscripts, and quotes of the early church fathers about specific verses.

Part Two - The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

A book entitled The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament was published in 1993 by Bart D. Ehrmann. In his book he makes the case "how proto-orthodox scribes of the second and third centuries modified their texts of scripture to make them conform more cosely with their own christological beliefs, effecting thereby the 'orthodox corruption of Scripture.'"

A corruption represents a change from the wording of the original author of a text. The corruptions tended to be in the direction of making the text less compatible with the theology of heretics. The term proto-orthodox is a backward projection. The church in Rome became the dominant or "orthodox" church. The individuals in ancient times recognized by the orthodox church as having carried forward the true faith are referred to as pro-orthodox.

Scholars are finding evidences that there was an incredible amount of diversity in the early Christianities. Ancient partisan writings by the church fathers suggested there was only one true faith from which some dissented. The discovery of ancient documents in the desert challenged this view. We had really known all along from scripture that Paul was constantly battling views that dissented from his own. The winner is the one who gets to write the history. Nevertheless, the world views that differed from the proto-orthodox are called heresies. These included:

  1. Adoptionism - Christ was a man but not God
  2. Separationism - divine Christ and human Jesus were different beings
  3. Docetism - Christ was a God but not Man

Gnostic beliefs were diverse. Some Gnostics were Adoptionists. Some Gnostics were Separatists. Gnostic thought often involved a redeemer figure who entered into Jesus and brought knowledge (gnosis) from heaven to some entrapped here on an evil planet.

1. Adoptionism - The adoptionists thought Jesus was fully human but adopted by God for his mission at, for example, his Baptism. They did not think that he had a miraculous birth.

Corruptions aside, some passages seen in today's bible lend themselves to an Adoptionist position:

The book of Mark lends itself to an Adoptionist theology but whether Mark actually had this in mind is unknown. James, the brother of Jesus, leader of a church in Jerusalem. was likely an adoptionist.

Some Anti-Adoptionist corruptions of Scripture include the following:

Luke 2:33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

Luke 2:48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

1 Timothy 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.

Adoptionist corruptions include: Luke 2:33 Luke 2:43 Luke 2:48 Matt 1:16 John 1:13 John 5:16 Luke 3:22 Acts 10:37 John 1:34 Rom 1:4 Luke 9:35 1 John 5:18 Mark 1:1 Matt 1:18 1 Tim 3:16 John 1:18 Mark 1:3 1 John 3:23 John 10:33 John 19:40 Luke 1:17 Luke 1:76 ZLuke 2:26 2 Pet 1:2 Jude 5 Mark 3:11 Luke 7:9 Luke 8:28 Acts 10:28 1 Pet 5:1 1 Cor 10:5 1 Cor 10:9 Matt 24:36 Luke 2:40 John 19:5 Heb 2:18 Heb 10:29

2. Separatism - The Separatists believed that the divine entered Jesus at his baptism and left him before his passion and death. Jesus experienced the pain of his passion but the divine had not.

Some Anti-Separationist corruptions of Scripture include the following:

1 John 4:3a And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:

Matthew 12:30 "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.

Mark 1:10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Separatists corruptions include: 1 John 4:2 Matt 12:30 Luke 11:23 2 Cor 11:4 Matt 1:16 Matt 1:18 Luke 1:35 Mark 1:1 Matt 3:16 Luke 3:22 Mark 15:34 Heb 1:3 Heb 2:9 Rom 8:341 John 1:17 Matt 16:21 2 Cor 4:10 Acts 3:13 AQcts 4:33 Acts 13:33 1 Cor 9:1

3. Docetism - The Docetists believed that Jesus Christ was a phantom. He only appeared to be a man of flesh and blood. As such he could not experience pain; he could not die for he was a good God. The book of John lends itself to a Docetic interpretation in that it stresses the divine side of Christ's nature. Many Docetist groups thought the world was made by an evil god - the Jehova of the Old Testament. They identified many of the behaviors of the Old Testament Jehova as evil.

Some Anti-Docetic corruptions of Scripture include the following:

Luke 22:39 46 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

1 John 5:20And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

Docetists corruptions include: Luke 22:43-44 John 19:28 Matt 20:22-23 Matt 27:49 Mark 9:12 Luke 22:19-20 1 Cor 11:23 Col 1:14 Mark 14:22 Mark 14:24 1 Cor 15:50 Luke 24:3 Luke 24:6 Luke 24:12 Luke 24:39-40 Luke 23:53 Luke 24:37 Matt 28:3 John 20:30 Luke 24:51-52 Mark 16:4 Mark 16:19 1 John 22:28 Acts 20:31 Luke 23:42 1 John 5:9 1 John 5:20 Heb 2:14 Eph 5:30 John 19:5 John 7:46 Matt 8:27 Gal 4:4 Rom 1:3

"All four Evangelists begin their accounts of Jesus' ministry with the preaching of John the Baptist...What is that in each instance one or another manuscript has changed the Gospel text so as to make it clear that the Lord (Jesus) whom John precedes is none other than God himself."

What is your reaction to this article?

I was not aware that Biblical manuscripts differed from one another.
I was not aware that these manuscripts had been deliberately altered.
I was unaware of manuscript differences AND deliberate alterations.
I do not agree with any of the above assertions.
Your anonymous response will reach me.