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Friday, August 12, 2011

A Bible! A Bible! We Have Got A Bible, And There Cannot Be Any More Bible.

Many who reject the Book of Mormon do so on the grounds that the Bible is perfect, complete, and it is all we will ever need. This is part of the idea of Biblical Inerrancy. It is the idea that the Bible came to us through centuries of translation free of error or linguistic corruption. The Bible is allegedly free of error and it is all we will ever need.

However, one must wonder to which Bible they refer. Not all Bibles are the same, but are they all perfect and complete? There is the Armenian Bible, which includes books like Aseneth and Joseph that are not found in most European Bibles. There is also the Catholic Bible which typically includes apocryphal books not found in Protestant Bibles. Then there are two versions of the Ethiopic Bible (the narrower or wider canon) with several books not familiar to most Christians, such as Sirate Tsion (the book of order).

Even if we decide that a particular collection of books is somehow more perfect or more complete than others, we must face problems of translation. Once again, it becomes unclear which translation of these books is the most complete.

Bart Ehrman, for example, was a Biblical scholar and inerrantist at the start of his career studying the New Testament at the Moody Bible Institute. He eventually conceded that there were 200,000 to 400,000 variant readings of the New Testament. He wrote, "There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament."

Also, the Bible has no original manuscript evidence, just the word of the translators, and many changes have been made without checking with any original manuscript, since the originals were supposedly destroyed, lost, etc.

However, the majority of Bible scholars agree that 95% of the Old Testament is correctly translated, and 99% of the New Testament is correctly translated. That is, there may be many, many variations between manuscripts, but early Christians were able to tell which are more likely authentic versions. This is discerned by looking at correlations between other very early writings which directly quote the original texts, and whether or not the manuscripts agree with each other.

That means that 50 pages of the Old testament and 3 pages of the New Testament were mistranslated. And these are not 53 consecutive pages, but simply that much total material. Some say that these errors are simple spelling errors and word order variations with no effect on the doctrine. While that may be true in some cases, there are also widely recognized instances of doctrinal alteration.

For a milder example, various translations of 1 Samuel 13:1 run as follows,

1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

New International Version:
1. Saul was thirty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

New English Bible:
1. Saul was fifty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.

Contemporary English Version:
1. Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.

The Jerusalem Bible:
1. . . . [The entire verse is missing, replaced by an ellipsis.]

New Revised Standard Version (here it is the same as the Revised Standard Version):
1. Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.

Good News Bible:
[The verse is missing: Chapter 13 begins with verse 2.]

It is explained in footnotes in some editions that the available Hebrew text for this verse is missing a couple words. The first number is missing entirely, and in the second number, it's clear that it ends with a two but the first digit is unknown.

What's important here is not the fact that the translations differ and involved some degree of apparent  guesswork, but that the available Hebrew text itself clearly has problems. How can it be maintained that it has been preserved without error, without any loss or corruption, when there are many examples like 1 Samuel 13:1 that clearly show corruption of the text, and even the loss of entire words?

Old Biblical manuscript. Clearly in perfect condition.

This verse is not of particular doctrinal significance, but if rejection of sacred scripture in modern times, such as the Book of Mormon, is based on the non-Biblical notion that the Bible is complete and perfect, and that no further guidance from God is needed, then such a position needs to be reevaluated.

A more severe example is a verse in 1 John 5:7-8, which reads,
" For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."
The infamous Comma Johanneum, is accepted as a later insertion by virtually every scholar. It is most interesting that it is the only explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament, yet it is not part of the original epistle, but dates from probably the fourth century. This is clearly an alteration of doctrinal significance.

A somewhat humorous example is Hebrews 1:3, which reads, "reveals (phaneron) all things" in the Codex Vaticanus, while most manuscripts read "sustains (pheron) all things". This is particularly interesting because there's a scribe's marginal note in the CV that reads "Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don't change it!", indicating contention over an intentional change in the passage.

A matter of smaller doctrinal significance is Matthew 5:22,
"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
The phrase "without a cause" appears in some early manuscripts and some writings of early church fathers, but this phrase does not appear in the earliest manuscript (Papyrus 67 dated AD 125-150) nor in the earliest church father writing (Justin dated about 165 AD) of Matthew 5:22. Virtually all scholars believe that this phrase was added by the third century. (It is notable that this phrase is in the King James Bible but it is not in the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 5:22.)

There is also the controversial case of The Sinners' Bible. This was an edition of the Bible published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, which was meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. The name is derived from the compositors' mistake: in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) the word not in the sentence "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was omitted, thus changing the sentence into "Thou shalt commit adultery". This blunder was spread in a number of copies.

Verse 14.

The fact that this edition of the Bible contained such a flagrant mistake outraged Charles I of England and George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said then:
"I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned."

Latter-Day Saints are commonly derided for their belief that the Bible is not perfect and inerrant, but they must not be the only ones who feel this way, because every year it seems a new translation, or a new edition, of the perfect Bible is released, somehow improving on the past perfection. Every new work of translation and every commentary written is prima facie evidence that the translators or commentators believe the bible to be true only as translated correctly. If this were not so, then why would they bother translating it?

That said, I do believe in the Bible. I do believe it is the word of God, so far as it is translated correctly. My belief that the Bible is not inerrant is not an indication of my lack of faith in God. It is merely an indication of my lack of faith in people. Errors occur in translation, whether by accident or design, and plain and precious truths are lost in the process.

These significant errors are few enough that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has adopted the common practice of simply using an existing edition of the Bible (in our case, the King James Version) with a few explanatory footnotes. Nevertheless, those few errors are of some doctrinal significance and it stands to reason that if there is a God, he would want to rectify those errors.


Latter-day Saints do not rely on scripture—biblical or otherwise—for their knowledge of Christ. They rely instead upon that which provided the scripture in the first place: revelation by the Holy Ghost. They treasure the scriptural witnesses, but do not require perfection from any mortal or mortal work to have faith in the revelations of God.

And when we remember that, we might remember that God has never said that He will cease speaking to us. We might realize that it's possible that if there is a God, He can still send prophets and new revelation and new scripture just as He did in the past (like the New Testament, which was all new scripture to a people who thought they already had the complete word of God).

This is not something new. It is something old restored.


Hoku said...

Your blogs are very deep (some things are beyond MY understanding). Very thought provoking and enjoyable to read and ponder over. You obviously "know your stuff." :)

Cristofer Urlaub said...

Thank you very much!

Bwendo said...

Is challenging to confront it when you write it like that. But there are so many pressing problems with the world, like the environment that need our attention.

Cristofer Urlaub said...

I agree. While I don't necessarily believe a lot of the gloom and doom rhetoric of environmentalists and some other groups, I do agree that there are several environmental, political, and social issues which will become major problems for us in the next few decades. That, though, is a topic for another blog.

Gary W Carlson said...

The Bible testifies of its incompleteness. In Colossians 4:16 for example, Paul asks them to share their epistle with the Laodiceans and to get the epistle he sent to Laodicea and read it. That one never made it to our Bible, but with Paul recommending it, good Christians should want to read it if the epistle to the Laodiceans ever comes to light.

Cristofer Urlaub said...

Very good point! Thank you!

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